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© Marshall Cavendish Ltd 1977
•Recommended retail price Editor: Len Cacutt Art Editor: Eric North Deputy Editor: Randal Gray Sub-Editor: Paul Hutchinson Picture Research: John MacClancy Editorial Secretary: Annabelle Fritch
Peter Samson/Tony Bryan/Malcolm McGregor
1 Operation Weserübung 1940………………………………………… John Weeks
10 D’ Force, Burma 1 943-45 ………………………………………Patrick Turnbull
18 B29 Super fortress……………………………………………… Rodney Steel
26 Loos 1915…………………………………………………………Joseph Trainer
34 U1 56 at Aruba 1942………………………………………………Chris Harrison
42 Centurion……………………………………………………………David Miller
Denmark and Norway were helpless as Hitler unleashed the first paratroop forces to be used against an enemy
‘General, may I as an old soldier tell you something? As soldier to soldier? You Germans have done the incredible again! One must admit that it is magnificent work!’ With these words the aged and morally broken King Christian of Denmark passed judgments on the start of the first operational airborne invasion ever undertaken He was talking to the German Minister to Denmark in the early morning of 9 April 1940 in the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen
The Germans had taken just five hours to occupy his country But for a quirk of geography Denmark might have spent World War II enjoying the same neutrality as she had done in World War I. but her position was a vital area that the German war machine needed. So the unlucky Danes spent five miserable years under occupation.
Weserübung (Exercise Weser’) the plan that started it all was born from fear rather than military aggrandizement. Hitler always imagined that the British and French intended to occupy Norway and cut off Germany from Swedish iron ore through the port of Narvik There was some truth in this, though Hitler can never have realized it, and Churchill often turned his eyes towards northern Norway not only for the iron ore, which was a good strategically reason for closing the ports, but also to land troops and supplies to help the Finns in their fight against the Soviet Army in the Winter War Hitler was also haunted by the thought of British naval vessels harboring just above Germany’s north coast and raiding down into Kiel and Hamburg
Grand Admiral Erich Raeder also had his reasons. He wanted to extend the range of his U-boats and give them extra harbors to ODerate from British anti-submarine activities were to be stretched to the limit, and more safe harbors were needed for Raeder’s commerce raiders to run to when chased He also knew full well what a British blockade could do to Germany if it was allowed to take hold, so he intended to stretch the blockading forces with Norway’s 1,000-mile coastline.
The first indication of Hitler’s intentions came in middle December 1939 after he had had a meeting with the Norwegian collaborator. Major Vidkun Quisling, in Berlin This conversation was not recorded, but Quisling evidently told Hitler something that alarmed him for he ordered an immediate study into the requirements for a military seizure of Norway. Within two days he had another meeting with Quisling. After that he called for Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) to set up a special planning cell to study the Scandinavian Peninsula and to recommend plans for a quick invasion. With that he left the staff to their deliberations and concentrated on more pressing matters. The pocket battleship Graf Spee had just been scuttled off Montevideo and there was much crisis and tension in Berlin throughout December
Hitler returned to the Norwegian invasion late in January of 1940 and ordered OKW to speed up the operation. Within a few days the code Weserübung was chosen and serious detailed planning began The British, meanwhile, were also thinking about Norway. Two divisions were held back from going to France as possible reinforcements for Finland, and shipping was earmarked to carry them to Narvik From there it was hoped to carry them along the single-line railway across Sweden and so to Finland This caused the Royal Navy to concentrate some attention on the Norwegian coast Then, on 14 February came the electrifying news that Graf Spee’s supply ship, Altmark had entered Norwegian waters carrying a large number of British and Allied seamen as prisoners Norwegian authorities boarded the ship but were not allowed to search it and found nothing In London it was decided that Altmark must be captured. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill personally ordered the commander of a destroyer flotilla to seize the ship, and men from the destroyer Cossack boarded the Altmark on 16 February; 299 prisoners were released.
Hitler’s invasion directive
News of this threw Hitler into a fury and he ordered the immediate completion of the Weserübung plans Events moved quickly, and on 1 March Hitler issued his formal military directive The last few sentences are worth quoting in full since they show that he had appreciated the dangers and difficulties inherent in Weserübung, and had already decided how to overcome them: ‘ In view of our military and political power in comparison with that of the Scandinavian States, the force to be employed in the Fall (‘Case’) Weserübung will be kept as small as possible. The numerical weakness will be balanced by daring actions and surprise execution on principle; we will do our utmost to make the operations appear as a peaceful occupation, the object of which is the military protection of the neutrality of the Scandinavian States. Corresponding demands will be transmitted to their governments at the beginning of the occupation If necessary, demonstrations by the Navy and Air Force will provide the necessary emphasis If in spite of this resistance should be met, all military means will be used to crush it
The interesting point here is that Hitler apparently appreciated the dangers in the invasion, but quite deliberately introduced the use of surprise and the unexpected to tip the balance his way He was fully justified, but not before he had to overcome the inertia of his own generals.
It is remarkable how bad the Germans were at that time at what is now termed joint planning. The squabbles and jealousies among the different arms and services were continuous and in 1 940, when there had been little time to practice the art, the differences were deep indeed. For one thing, the special planning staff that Hitler had ordered found itself at odds with Oberkornmando Des Hires (OKH), the German Army High Command (not to be confused with OKW in overall charge of all the armed forces). The main trouble was over the numbers of troops to be used The Luftwaffe now joined in and insisted that Denmark be completely occupied and not just by-passed as was the original idea The Luftwaffe wanted fighter airfields farther north and wished to extend its early warning system This placed further demands on the OKH who were at the same time completing the detail of Fall Gelb («Case Yellow’) the attack on France and the Low Countries Many of the planning officers looked resentfully upon the Norwegian venture as a second priority which was interfering with their more serious work. Meanwhile, the plan grew and grew until nine divisions were to be committed, together with a complete fleet of warships and supply vessels in early March there was another hastener to the planners. As the Finnish Army’s position grew daily more desperate the Allies once again asked to send reinforcement through Norway and Sweden. Once again it was refused The news reached Berlin via Stockholm and made Hitler all the more determined not to be forestalled The invasion was now fixed for the earliest possible day after the Spring ice packs had cleared from the northern ports. This was forecast to happen in early April finally; the planners chose the 9th because of the moon rise time the crux of the plan lay in having air support throughout. For this the airfields had to be captured at the outset as the range was too great for fighters to operate over Norway from their German bases.
The only satisfactory way to capture the airfields without damaging them was to put troops down on them without warning, and the only way to do this was by parachute. With no experience to guide them, no real idea of the opposition and heavy commitments to Fall Gelb the Luftwaffe earmarked a ludicrously small force — one battalion. It was the best they could do
The 7th Air Division was needed for the offensive in the West, and Hitler was not going to commit it to what was a secondary campaign The transport aircraft were also earmarked for the mainland of Europe, but were made available on a fairly generous scale, on condition that they were used with care and not put to any risk. So General Nikolas van Falkenhorst, commanding Weserübung was given the 1st Battalion, 1st Parachute Regiment. The unit was led by Hauptmann (Captain) Erich Walther, an energetic and able commander. Walther was given four main jobs three of his four companies were allotted to Norway; 3rd Company would jump onto Sola airfield at Stavanger and occupy it until follow-up troops were air landed Battalion HQ with 1st and 2nd companies were assigned to Fornebu airfield Oslo the largest and most important in Norway. The remaining company (4th) had two different tasks in Denmark One platoon, incredible as it now sounds, was to seize two separate airfields at Aalborg in Northern Jutland. What was left of the company was to secure a two-mile long bridge leading to Copenhagen, over 100 miles away from the Aalborg platoon
It was reckoned, with reasonable accuracy as it turned out. that the tiny Danish conscript army would be overwhelmed before it knew what was happening and would offer no resistance Norway would be tougher, but it was hoped that surprise and threats would be sufficient to make the government surrender and the Army cease fighting In broad outline the Weserübung plan called for the Krieg marine (German Navy) to mount one enormous expedition along the entire Norwegian coast and to land assault troops and their supplies at Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Kristiansand and Oslo all at the same time Having done so, the Navy then has to open a permanent sea line of communication to Oslo, because the major build-up was to be through the capital After the landings it was foreseen that there could be some reinforcement of the western ports from the air, but the tide of invasion was planned to fan out from Oslo to connect with each initial stronghold, and then engulf the country in the shortest possible time. In Denmark, troops were to be landed at a few convenient ports such as Copenhagen and the country simply marched over In Norway it was foreseen that there could be checks to this ambitious idea, and the Germans planned to use a combination of threats, ruthless force towards any resistance and the treachery of Quisling to overpower any will to resist. But the entire Norwegian plan depended on the success of the initial landings Speed was the paramount feature of all the planning This fact, combined with the possibility that the Norwegians might defend their harbors, led the German Naval planners to use warships to carry the assault troops The normal troop transports would be too slow and vulnerable, so the infantry battalions would be embarked on the destroyers, fast patrol boats and torpedo boats which formed such a large proportion of the German Navy. By commandeering just about every ship, and cramming them, it was just possible to carry two battalions to each of the main ports — Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik Only one battalion could be carried to Kristiansand The total was roughly 9,000 men. all in acute discomfort.
A follow-up force of freighters was to move in to each port as soon as possible and land the heavier weapons, ammunition, radios and vehicles the assault forces needed A tanker force would come with them to refuel the thirsty warships for the journey home Most of these support ships were allocated to the northerly ports, Trondheim and Narvik, where it was thought that there would be only one chance to get supplies ashore before the Royal Navy arrived and cut off the coast entirely Indeed, the return journey was going to be at best risky for these assault ships. It turned out to be disastrous the main build-up effort was directed towards Oslo which could be quickly and easily supplied across the Skagerrak. but it was intended to continue to send ships to Bergen and the more southerly ports for as long as the sea lanes could be kept open Oslo was the key to the entire plan It had to be captured more or less intact and its deep water harbor brought fully into use without delay if the build-up was to succeed.
The role of the Luftwaffe in this operation was limited to long range sea-reconnaissance, the protection of the shipping while en route, and the provision of fighter ground attack while the assaults were being made. The latter type of support was obviously going to be impossible with the northern ports, and indeed for even the southern ones the only fighters which could operate with any useful loiter time over the targets were the twin-engine Messerschmitt 1 10s
It was a tremendously risky plan of great daring If the landings were not exactly simultaneous, all the Norwegian coast would be altered. Late landings would thus end in disaster, for there were no proper landing craft, and the only way to put troops ashore was to come alongside a jetty and put down gang-planks. As soon as the landings had been made it was vital that the Luftwaffe give them continuous reconnaissance and support For this the airfields had to be taken, hence the urgency of the parachute operation The sea landings were to go in three hours later, after the Luftwaffe had strafed the airfields and cleared off any fighter opposition More than 500 troop planes had been allocated to the operation, 10 Gruppen of Ju52s for the parachutists and assault infantry, and one Gruppe of Ju90 and FockeWulf FW200 Condors for the follow-up forces. All now depended on the weather.
Weather almost foils invasion the weather of 9 April was atrocious and nearly wrecked the entire operation there was low cloud, rain and varying wind up to gale force. The day before had been a day of storms at sea and the fleet creeping north along the Norwegian coast had had a rough time Things did not look too promising
The cloud had cleared Aalborg and the 30-man platoon dropped without any trouble exactly on its intended drop zone The two assault parties raced for their airfields, meeting no resistance at all Within 30 minutes of landing they had both under control, and the Luftwaffe began operating from the runways that very morning Slightly bemused by the success of their first operational jump, if not the first operational jump of all time, the paratroop platoon collected their gear and waited for the rest of the battalion to catch up with them.
The bridge to Copenhagen was more dramatic. Hauptmann (Captain) Gerlicke split his tiny force in two putting one platoon at each end of the bridge it was known that the Danes had at least a platoon in defense at each end and it was thought that this might be increased to a company Gerlicke reasoned that he had to get in among the defenders before there was any reaction; he briefed his men accordingly. The platoons were to drop separately, one at each end of the two-mile long bridge, the Junkers flying in two well-spaced views. The two drops went in together. As the paratroopers hit the ground, each man ran as fast as he could for the nearest guard post, disregarding his fellows, and not stopping to pick up any weapons from the containers which floated down with them. As they ran they pulled out their pistols and fired them into the air, shouting as loud as they could the unprepared Danes were terrified and immediately surrendered. Within a few minutes of landing, Garlicky had the entire bridge under his control He had done it all with just 60 men. Only then did they go back to their containers and unpack their rifles and machine-guns to await 305th Infantry Regiment which had crossed from Germany on the regular ferry route and motored up shortly afterwards.
so far, so good. Daring was paying off. Sola airfield, just inland from Stavanger, was a bit tougher The approach flight was through thick murk and cloud and the Jub2s were down to 30ft in order to find their way The escorting fighters found navigation almost impossible and most of them turned back But six Me1 10s had strafed the airfield an hour before the drop was due and had done a great deal of damage to the few defensive positions that were around the perimeter Unluckily for Sola, it had no permanent AA installations, and the only weapons in place were MGs Some of these survived the attack, and the small garrison was thoroughly alerted. For 3rd Company, flying through continuous cloud, it looked like an inauspicious start but the navigation was good and the air cleared just before the target enabling the Junkers to close up into dropping formation. Roaring in. still just above the ground, they pulled up just before the drop zone to 400ft, and immediately sounded the jump signal motors inside each fuselage Out went the company, straight into a hail of fire from the defending machine-gunners. They may not have appreciated it at the time, but they were making another record for 1st Parachute Regiment — the first ever jump onto a defended drop zone. It could have been a total disaster, for the German parachutist depended on collecting his weapons from a container before going into action, and so he was virtually helpless until he could find the container on the drop zone and unpack it
Me110 strafing saves the day
Luckily for 3rd Company another two of the escorting fighters turned up in the nick of time, both Mel 10s. They strafed the Norwegian gunners long enough to allow the company to collect itself and rush the defenses. The bullets came from two concrete pillboxes that dominated the entire airfield Without proper support weapons the paratroopers had no option but to race through the MG fire right up to the walls of the bunkers and throw grenades through the embrasures It cost casualties, but it worked and within a couple of hours the runways were cleared and the field was ready to receive the follow-up transports.
By the end of the day two infantry battalions and regimental HQ had been landed and the town and harbor were secured. The rest of the regiment arrived on time by sea and occupied the whole area with almost impudent ease
So far the paratroops had more than proved themselves, and the confidence of the Luftwaffe planners in using such tiny forces seemed fully justified. But things were getting more and more difficult The seaborne landings near Oslo were driven off by the Norwegian coast defenses (see ‘War Monthly’ Issue 20) and the cruiser Bleacher was sunk, blocking the channel. The troop-carrying warships had temporarily withdrawn It now became vital to capture Fornebu airfield General Falkenhorst had taken the precaution of secretly flying in a liaison officer on 8 April so that he could be kept closely informed of events in the capital. This officer was Lieutenant Colonel Pohlman, and another of his duties had been to carry instructions from Falkenhorst to the German Minister in Oslo ordering him to inform the Norwegian Government of the forthcoming invasion. No sooner was this message given than the Government met to consider the implications bravely, but with little hope of success, they rejected the German ultimatum and decided to fight. A partial mobilization had already been ordered, but it was clumsily done and the notices had gone out by normal post instead of radio The BUtzkreig moved faster than any post office.
Lieutenant Colonel Pohlman was in touch with Falkenhorst by radio from the German Embassy, and he passed continual bulletins one which intensified the need for an airfield, was that King Haakon VII and the Government had moved out of the capital and Oslo was without leaders, direction or armed defense. Hauptmann Walther was immediately alerted and sent off with his parachute force three hours earlier than he had expected. But the weather over Oslo was even worse than over Stavanger and all 29 of the Junkers turned back, quite unable to find the coast. Visibility was down to 20 yards and two planes collided and crashed before Walther reluctantly ordered a return to an advanced base at Aalborg But the follow-up force of air-landed infantry was already on its way, also in Ju52s, when Walther touched down at Aalborg. With no paratroops holding the field, a landing would be suicidal and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering had issued explicit instructions on this point Transport planes were too valuable to be used for one-way journeys, quite apart from the wreckage that would block the runway
Hauptmann Wagner in the leading plane heard the recall signal perfectly clearly just as Fornebu airfield appeared dead ahead, in a patch of clear weather Uncertain of what had prompted the radio message, he carried on He could see a flight of Me1 10s flying around and strafing the AA positions on the airfield boundary, so he assumed that the recall was either a trick or a genuine mistake It seemed obvious to him that the paratroopers were on the ground. His own formation were less sure, and most heeded the recall signal and turned back to Aalborg before seeing the target
The Me 11 Os had no idea that the plan had changed, though they were aware that something was wrong since so few planes had arrived. They were astonished when they saw Wagner’s plane bank round and turn in on its final approach to land, using the smoke from burning Norwegian fighters to judge the wind In this case it seems that the fighters and transports were on different radio frequencies and could not talk to each other, otherwise Wagner would never have tried what he did As his plane leveled out above the runway it was hit by a long burst of MG fire from the ground. Wagner and many others were hit and the inside of the troop compartment was a shambles The co-pilot survived and pulled the machine up and clear of the guns.
The Messerschmitt’s were now in a quandary They had next to no fuel left and so far as they could see the transport planes were trying to land troops without the paratroops seizing the ground first The ob. of the Messerschmitt’s was to provide fire support, and it seemed to the flight leader Lieutenant Hansen that if he could no longer provide it from the air. then he had better provide it from the ground he landed his planes along the runway forthwith Each one swung outwards as it parked thereby pointing its tail towards the boundary where the defenders were entrenched This allowed the rear gunners to use their single MG 15 to the best advantage, although they could have been in a highly vulnerable position had the Norwegians chosen to fight it out But it was never put to the test By one of the extraordinary quirks of fate the Norwegians gave up the fight Hansen never had to fire his tail guns He was in complete command of Fornebu — with no troops to occupy it
Wagner’s flying mortuary finally landed, and together with the Me1 10s that was all that the Germans had on Fornebu for the next three hours After that a flight of Junkers landed a platoon and Walther brought in his paratroops soon after, but it was not until mid-day that proper reinforcements arrived when 324th Infantry Regiment were flown in and had mustered six companies and the regimental band They were pretty green troops, the 1 63rd Division had only been formed four months before, but they behaved with great calmness and formed up to march behind their band and capture Oslo
Six companies of infantry is a ridiculous force to use to capture a capital city and Lt. Col Pohlman took a great risk in ordering it. But he knew that the population was s completely stunned by the news of the German invasion and as usual in such situation, rumors were around every corner A display of strength by flying bombers low over the city also helped the illusion and kept the citizens on edge. So the six companies marched into the city almost as if for a ceremonial parade Once in the center they quickly spread out and took over the communications centers while the band played on in one of the squares Meanwhile, the paratroops continued to show the aggressiveness that had marked the day for them Hearing that the Government and the King were about 70 miles to the north in the town of Hamar, two companies, led by the Air Attaches Hauptmann Spiller. commandeered motor buses and set off to capture the King and as many of the ministers as they could find Fortunately for the Norwegians, they were not as slow as the Germans thought, and before the buses had gone many miles they met a roadblock manned by two determined battalions of infantry There was a short sharp skirmish Spiller was killed and the paratroops returned to Oslo The Norwegians could have followed them with ease and cleared Oslo without too much trouble But the myth of the German invincibility was already strong and they never thought to move from their barriers and trenches The paratroopers licked their wounds and rested, and the opportunity was soon lost
The tiny force of Germans was slowly built up during the remainder of the day. and on 10 April the first of the delayed seaborne force began to disembark over the jetties I and a division was ashore by noon Two more divisions J followed within a week and the Luftwaffe set up a full s operational base on Norway the Fornebu had lost all initiative and was about to be overwhelmed Weserübung had I succeeded John Weeks