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Soviet reaction to Battle of the Denmark Strait

Soviet reaction to Battle of the Denmark Strait



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At the time of the Battle of the Denmark Strait - 1941-05-24 - Soviets were still officially friendly with Germany. I wonder what the reaction to the battle was, e.g.,

  1. Did they send an official letter of congratulations to the German government?
  2. Did they cover the event in the newspapers (and what was the tilt of the coverage)?

Similarly, what was the reaction to the Last battle of the battleship Bismarck on 1941-05-27? Did they express condolences?


I found May 1941 issues of the Izvestiya newspaper at libinfo.org, and the coverage of WWII at that time seems quite neutral. Regarding the questions,

  1. No official reaction of the Soviet authorities is mentioned at all, so I assume that if any sort of congratulations, condolescences or whatsoever were made, they were made nonpublicly.
  2. Yes, they did, and there was no apparent tilt.

The same applies to the sinking of Bismarck.

I attach scans (sorry for their bad quality) of the articles with my brief commentaries so that anyone who reads Russian could see it for himself.

  • A large battle in the Atlantic Ocean and the fact HMS Hood had been sunken after magazine explosion, was first mentioned on Monday, May 26, and some reference information about both battleships was given:

  • On May 27 the newspaper covered the search for the German battleship:

  • Next day the last battle of the battleship was described using reports of both sides:

  • A separate article in the same issue retold W. Churchill's speech in the House of Commons (see HC Deb 27 May 1941 vol 371 cc1714-8):

  • On Thursday the newspaper expounded the battle chronology since May 23 evening according to Reuters:


World War II: Convoy PQ-17

Germany’s ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 gave England an unlikely and problematic ally. Unlikely because Great Britain’s government was ardently anti-Communist, and problematical because of the vast distances involved in supplying aid under the protection of an already hard-pressed Royal Navy.

Political differences aside, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill felt that any nation warring with Germany was already an ally and deserved aid, from Britain as well as the United States. England’s commitments elsewhere around the globe precluded providing manpower or seizing the initiative. For now, the only aid readily available was a constant flow of supplies.

Originally, an informal agreement provided for the delivery of all goods to Soviet ships at British and American ports. The responsibility for ferrying supplies back to the Soviet Union would then rest entirely with the Soviets. But there were not enough ships in the Soviet navy to handle such a monumental task, and eventually the convoys to the Soviet Union came to consist mainly of British and American ships.

Axis domination of the Mediterranean left only two Allied supply routes to the Soviet Union open. One, through Iran, required a sea journey of more than 13,000 miles. The second was a more practical northern route of less than 2,500 miles, but it crossed the cruelest sea of all, the Arctic Ocean. This Arctic route became known as the Murmansk Run.

Sailing around the northern tip of Norway, the convoys would be exposed to one of the largest concentrations of German U-boats, surface raiders and aircraft anywhere in the world. Attacks by more than a dozen subs and literally hundreds of planes at one time would not be uncommon. Strict orders forbade the halting of any ship for even a moment for fear of being attacked by prowling German U-boats, and individuals who fell overboard or survivors seen adrift on the waters had to be ruthlessly ignored. In the first two years of the run, more than one-fifth of the supplies sent to Murmansk would be lost.

Late in August 1941 a small, unnumbered convoy of seven ships made the trip from Iceland to the Soviet port of Archangel in 10 days without incident. The convoy, which had been hurriedly assembled, made the trip both as an experiment and as a gesture of good faith.

That September a military mission was sent to work out a formal aid program for the beleaguered Soviets. Negotiations at first were difficult. The Soviets dismissed all discussion concerning aid and demanded the immediate opening of a second front. They were convinced that only an offensive somewhere else could reduce the pressure the Germans were putting on them.

Several times the talks broke up after bitter disagreement. Marshal Josef Stalin often pointed out that while the Soviet Union was saddled with the burden of carrying 90 percent of the war, all the British were offering was ‘the loss of a few ships in support of the common cause. It was only after it looked as if the negotiations would break down altogether that the Soviets were finally willing to listen to aid proposals. The British and American representatives agreed to furnish all the planes, tanks and other war materiel that the Soviets felt they needed. For an industrial giant like the United States, the manufacturing would be the easy part getting the goods safely halfway around the world would prove more difficult.

Originally, the Allied convoys went unnamed and unnumbered. After several round trips were successfully completed, a coding system was established. All convoys bound for the Soviet Union were designated PQ, and those returning were designated QP.

At first the Germans had to ignore the Allied crossings because they had few warships available to track the supply convoys. By the end of 1941, seven convoys had delivered 750 tanks, 800 planes, 2,300 vehicles and more than 100,000 tons of general cargo to the Soviet Union. Convoy PQ-8 was attacked by a U-boat but safely reached Murmansk on January 19, 1942. By early February 1942, 12 northbound convoys including 93 ships had made the journey with the loss of only one ship to a U-boat.

Although the early convoys encountered little German opposition, they still had to traverse the treacherous Barents Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean. Winter brought nearly four months of unbroken darkness, which helped conceal the convoys from the enemy but made navigation difficult. Polar ice also pushed down from the north, forcing all ships to make a closer voyage to German-held Norway. The subzero winds howling off the polar cap could easily reach hurricane velocity and whip waves to a height of 70 feet. At such temperatures, sea spray froze immediately and created a top-heavy covering on anything exposed to it. The ice had to be chipped away to prevent the Allied ships from capsizing. Binoculars iced up, as well as guns and torpedoes. Freezing decks could become mirror-smooth, making it impossible for the crewmen to walk on them.

Any man who fell into the sea during the Arctic winter was as good as lost. On January 17, 1942, the British destroyer Matabele was torpedoed and sunk. Although a rescue ship arrived on the scene within minutes, only two survivors out of a crew of 200 were safely pulled from the water. The rest had all frozen to death.

Visibility was also frequently a problem. When the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream blended with the frigid Arctic waters, the result was often an unimaginably thick fog and occassionally blinding snow. Ships had to drastically reduce speed to prevent collisions. Escorting or intercepting the convoys became even riskier.

The Germans did not remain inactive in the Arctic for long. British commando raids along the Norwegian coast had convinced Adolf Hitler that sooner or later Britain would choose that country to begin its invasion of Europe. Every ship that is not in Norway, said the Führer, is in the wrong place.

While Hitler did not want to expose the newly launched battleship Tirpitz to action in the Atlantic, he had agreed to Grand Admiral Erich Raeder’s request that Tirpitz be moved to the safety of the Norwegian fjords. The battleship not only would help deter a British invasion but also would be available to pounce on passing convoys. Hitler’s permission for the move carried a proviso, however: Until the British carriers covering the convoys were neutralized, Tirpitz would not be risked on prolonged operations at sea. The Allies were unaware of the restrictions placed on Tirpitz’s movement.

The mighty Tirpitz had arrived in the northern waters on January 16, 1942. She was later joined by the cruiser Admiral Hipper, the pocket battleships Admiral Scheer and Lützow, and many attending destroyers. In early March, convoys QP-8 and PQ-12 narrowly missed being intercepted by the newly arrived enemy battle squadron.

The Germans soon began to achieve some coordination in their attacks on the Allied convoys. PQ-13, which sailed for the Soviet Union on March 20, lost five ships to German dive bombers and torpedo planes. Two ships were lost to U-boats and one to a force of marauding destroyers. In the attempt to beat back the enemy surface ships, the escorting cruiser Trinidad was sunk by one of her own rogue torpedoes.

The pack ice soon began to retreat, and the convoys were able to pass north of Bear Island and farther away from the hostile coasts. But summer also brought its own perils. It was the time of the midnight sun, when the days were nearly endless and darkness never really came. Under those conditions, concealment from a vigilant enemy was all but impossible. German long-range bombers and surface ships had little trouble locating and attacking the convoys. The greater travel distance of the northern route also added several days to the voyage.

Despite the dangers and hardships, the Allies were unanimous in their desire to keep the Soviet Union in the fight. They feared that if the Soviets were knocked out of the war, as the Russians had been in 1917, the entire weight of the German army would be unleashed in the West before the United States was really ready to fight. The British had no choice but to grit their teeth and continue to honor their pledge to send supplies to the Soviets through the ports of Murmansk and Archangel, even at the risk of shortchanging their own forces, which were stretched thinly around the world.

Realizing the strategic importance of the supplies flowing to the Soviets, Germany planned to make the trip so costly in lives and ships that the Allies would be forced to abandon any further attempts. They assembled a force of more than 260 aircraft and about 30 U-boats to greet any convoys that attempted the voyage.

Despite the increased danger from the Germans and protests from some within the Admiralty, political commitments forced PQ-16 to set out as scheduled in May 1942. A total of seven ships were lost during the run, all but one to aircraft. Clearly, Germany was gaining the upper hand in the Arctic, and sooner or later there would be a real disaster–but it was impossible to determine where and when.

By the end of June 1942, PQ-17, the largest and most valuable convoy in the history of the run, was formed up and ready to sail for Murmansk and Archangel. Its cargo was worth a staggering $700 million. Crammed into bulging holds were nearly 300 aircraft, 600 tanks, more than 4,000 trucks and trailers, and a general cargo that exceeded 150,000 tons. It was more than enough to completely equip an army of 50,000. Although some argued that PQ-17’s run should be postponed until the shorter days of winter, it was considered politically prudent to continue supplying Russia without interruption, and the convoy left as scheduled.

Leaving Reykjavik, Iceland, on June 27, 1942, PQ-17 was an impressive sight. Thirty-five cargo ships󈞂 American, eight British, two Russian, two Panamanian and one Dutch–were escorted by six destroyers and 15 other armed vessels. One ship, S.S. Empire Tide, was a catapult-armed merchantman that carried a Hawker Hurricane fighter which could be launched to intercept enemy aircraft and perform reconnaissance. A cruiser force, consisting of HMS London and Norfolk, USS Tuscaloosa and Wichita, and three U.S. destroyers, steamed 40 miles north of the convoy to provide close cover. As the ships moved out in single file, Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., serving aboard Wichita, observed the move. The actor wrote that the ships waddled out to sea like so many dirty ducks…everyone who was watching paid a silent tribute and offered some half-thought prayer. Once out to sea, the ships took up their appointed positions in nine columns and plodded ahead at only 7 or 8 knots. Straight away, two ships were lost one ran aground, and the other, suffering from engine trouble, was ordered back to the harbor.

For additional protection, the British Home Fleet was set to sail from its base at Scapa Flow on the following day. It was to trail PQ-17 at a distance of 200 miles and provide distant cover. The fleet included the battleship HMS Duke of York, two cruisers and 14 destroyers reinforced by the battleship USS Washington and the carrier HMS Victorious.

Unknown to the men of PQ-17, details of the convoy’s size and importance were already in the hands of German Intelligence. The patrolling submarine U-456 spotted the convoy as soon as it reached open water.

Early on July 1, 1942, a German reconnaissance plane arrived just as PQ-17 was passing a returning convoy, QP-13. Because of the intermingling of ships and escorts as the two convoys passed each other, the German pilot incorrectly reported the convoy’s size. In an effort to clarify the situation, the Germans dispatched U-255 and U-408 from their Ice Devil Group. After sorting things out, the Germans decided to ignore the returning convoy and to concentrate on the heavily laden PQ-17. Spared by the Germans, QP-13 unfortunately sailed into a friendly minefield in the Denmark Strait and lost four ships.

Although PQ-17 was closely shadowed by U-boats, visual contact between the Germans and the Allied convoy was suddenly broken when the icy polar winds flowing over the warmer waters created a vast and welcome fog. Visibility was severely restricted for the ships of the convoy, as well, but PQ-17’s crews took comfort in the fact that if they could not see, then neither could they be seen by the enemy.

Although every crewman hoped that the protective fog would remain, in the still, bright afternoon the fog began to lift, and another long-range German scout plane appeared. Veterans aboard the convoy vessels knew that it would circle well out of gun range and remain only long enough to replot course and speed.

Now the men of the convoy waited for the inevitable attack. At 6:30 p.m. on July 2, seven Heinkel He-115 torpedo bombers struck. Loosely organized and lacking determination, the planes were driven off before any ships could be destroyed. Concentrated anti-aircraft fire kept the attackers at bay and prevented them from making accurate passes. After losing two planes, the Germans dropped their torpedoes well outside effective range and returned to their base.

It was not until the third day that the Germans scored a hit. The victim was the American Liberty ship Christopher Newport. Severely damaged, she began taking on water and was finally given up. Despite the loss, the men of the convoy felt that they had resisted brilliantly. They were confident that together with their escort they could complete the rest of the journey in good order.

All went well until the following afternoon, when elements of the Luftwaffe tried to press home another attack. Again, stubborn anti-aircraft fire drove the planes off. Later that same day, a flight of 25 planes was observed splitting into two groups before attacking–an attempt to divide the murderous defensive fire. With the convoy gunners busy defending against level bombers overhead, several torpedo planes, flying just above the water, were able to get in close. They launched at least 20 torpedoes, but only three found their mark. The Soviet tanker Azerbaijan was hit, but her crew managed to control the damage, and she eventually made it to port. Not so lucky were the merchantmen Navarino and William Hooper damaged beyond repair, they both went down.

Back in London, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound–nervous, war-weary and possibly suffering from an undiagnosed brain tumor–monitored developments. His sporadic intelligence reports, supplied by Ultra intelligence intercepts, confirmed that Tirpitz had slipped her moorings at Trondheim on July 3 and appeared to be moving out to sea. Due to the delays in decoding all incoming transmissions, it was impossible for the Admiralty to know exactly where Tirpitz was, only where she had been.

Tirpitz was only shifting berths, but the move was enough to put the Admiralty into action. It was obvious to Admiral Pound that Tirpitz and her battle group were undertaking a strike position. Without knowledge of Hitler’s stipulation concerning British carriers, Pound was gripped by an overwhelming fear. Even with just a cursory look at his charts, he easily calculated that Tirpitz, steaming at 30 knots, could successfully evade the Home Fleet, overpower the cruiser force and slaughter the merchant ships.

Without confirmation of Tirpitz‘s exact whereabouts, Pound believed the enemy force could already be closing on the convoy at high speed. His only alternative to maintaining the convoy was dispersal. The admiral called an emergency meeting of his naval operations staff, but his mind was already made up. Surrounded by about a dozen officers, Pound asked each one in turn which action they would pursue in light of the latest intelligence. Vice Admiral Sir Henry Moore, vice chief of the naval staff, recommended that if, and only if, the convoy was to be dispersed, there was no time to waste. The longer the delay in giving the order, the less sea room was available for dispersal, because the ships had to avoid the ice. Every other officer was against dispersal at that time. Pound politely thanked the men for their opinions, turned to an aide and said, The convoy is to disperse.

The stunned escort commanders received the Admiralty’s orders in the form of three rapid and poorly worded messages. First message: 2111…Most Immediate and Secret. Cruiser Force withdraw to Westward at high speed…. Second message: 2123…Immediate. Owing to threat of surface ships, convoy is to disperse and proceed to Russian ports…. Third message: 2136…Most Immediate. Convoy is to scatter….

PQ-17 was stripped of all protection and abandoned. Admiral Pound had decided to save the warships and let the merchantmen fend for themselves. Individual ships stood a better chance of survival against superior surface forces than vessels that were crowded together in the restrictions of a convoy. But scattering in the narrow confines north of the Arctic Circle would prove fatal. After confirmation of the orders was received, the men of the convoy could only stare in disbelief as their protection turned at high speed to join the cruiser force some 40 miles away.

Many of the escort commanders felt that the Admiralty must have hard proof that Tirpitz and her battle fleet were on the prowl and could be expected at any moment. They erroneously believed that the escorts had been ordered to move away in a maneuver to draw out Tirpitz for a showdown. One final message read: Escort to merchant ships…sorry to leave you like this…good luck…looks like a bloody business….

Lieutenant Fairbanks wrote, It was such a terrible feeling to be running away from the convoy at a speed twice theirs and to leave them to the mercies of the enemy…. While every man aboard the merchant ships was a volunteer and had expected a hazardous run, none had bargained for a journey such as this.

Before the last of the escorts had disappeared over the western horizon, the ships of the convoy began starring–breaking up their well-disciplined lines. Some fanned out to the north toward the ice edge, some due east toward Novaya Zemlya, and some southeast, directly toward the Russian ports. The American ships were seen lowering their colors as if in surrender. But they were only defiantly replacing their faded and tattered flags with bright, new oversized ones. For the Americans in the convoy it was Independence Day, July 4, 1942.

When news of the dispersal was reported to German naval headquarters, Admiral Raeder ordered Tirpitz to make ready to sail. At noon on July 5, 1942, Tirpitz–along with Scheer, Hipper and six destroyers–set sail to intercept PQ-17. Still uncertain of the location of the Allied covering force, and with reports of successful attacks on the Allied merchantment beginning to come in from U-boats and aircraft, Raeder then reconsidered. Apparently there was no need to risk the pride of the German navy. Tirpitz was ordered back to port at 9:30 p.m. The destruction of PQ-17 was to be left to the forces already engaged.

At Whitehall, 2,000 miles away, the decoders suddenly fell silent. Tirpitz, re-anchored, was now receiving all her messages overland. Only one wireless intercept from the German naval command came in, informing the U-boats near the convoy that no German surface ships would be operating in their area and they were free to continue their attacks. That information was hurriedly forwarded to Admiral Pound in hopes that he would recall the escorts and regroup the convoy. But it made no difference. The admiral knew that his orders had been sent and were probably already being acted upon. By now the ships were well within the range of German aircraft, and they could no longer be protected by the Home Fleet. As far as Admiral Pound was concerned, the matter was closed. The order to scatter would not be rescinded.

The slaughter had begun about 8:30 a.m. on July 5. Soon the Arctic airwaves were filled with frantic distress signals from stricken ships. A British freighter, Empire Byron, was among the first victims, going down after being torpedoed by a U-boat. Next to go was an American ship, Carlton. Then a flight of nine dive bombers concentrated on Daniel Morgan and the freighter Washington, while U-boats accounted for another American vessel, Honomu. Before semidarkness mercifully put an end to the massacre, PQ-17 also lost Bolton Castle, Paulus Potter, Earlston, Pankraft, River Afton, Aldersdale, Zaafaran, Fairfield City and Peter Kerr.

The attacks continued for three more days without respite. Roving aircraft caught up with and sank Pan Atlantic, while prowling U-boats, working alone or in small wolfpacks, dealt death blows to John Witherspoon, Alcoa Ranger, Olopana and Hartlebury. One ship, Winston Salem, miraculously evaded numerous attacks only to be intentionally beached on the island of Novaya Zemyla, where she floundered until some of her cargo was salvaged. July 9 passed without incident however, on the 10th, enemy planes caught Hoosier and El Capitan while they were making a desperate run for landfall southeast of Murmansk. They, too, were pounded to pieces and sent to the bottom within 100 miles of safety.

Two little-known incidents illustrate the merchant ships’ dramatic struggle for survival in the Arctic. During the height of the attacks on July 5, the armed trawler Ayrshire made a desperate move. Serving as escort for Silver Sword, Ironclad and Troubadour, she led them in a mad dash directly into the ice barrier. Once anchored, the ships’ crews hurriedly painted their superstructures white to camouflage the vessels. Then, moving slowly along the ice edge and skirting the eastern extremes of the Barents Sea, the four ships eventually made for port.

Another incident involved the men of the naval armed guard serving aboard Washington, who actually chose to make the last leg of their trip to the Soviet Union in open lifeboats. Washington was carrying more than 600 tons of high explosives when she came under dive-bomber attack on July 5. Several hits had set the deck cargo ablaze, and with the flames raging out of control, the order to abandon ship was given. The gun crews loaded into two lifeboats and pulled away from the fiery wreck as fast as they could. When another ship tried to save them, the survivors repeatedly waved off all rescue attempts. They reasoned that they would simply be leaving one target for another and voted to remain adrift. It was their hope that once in the lifeboats they would be ignored by the attacking Germans. Within hours, just as anticipated, they witnessed the sinking of their would-be rescuers, hit by three torpedoes. Rigging sails and rowing in shifts, they reached the Soviet Union after 10 freezing days.

Air attacks by the Luftwaffe had temporarily closed the port of Murmansk, further disrupting deliveries of supplies, and the remaining ships of PQ-17 were rerouted. Only two ships made it across the White Sea to be unloaded at Archangel on July 9. Over the next few days, more stragglers came limping in, but it would take until July 28 for the last of the survivors of PQ-17 to arrive.

The toll taken on the abandoned convoy was horrendous. Only 11 of the 35 merchantmen that left Iceland finally made it to the Soviet Union. Fourteen of the sunken ships were American. More than two-thirds of the convoy had gone to the bottom, along with 210 combat planes, 430 Sherman tanks, 3,350 vehicles and nearly 100,000 tons of other cargo. More than 120 seamen were killed and countless others were crippled and maimed. The financial loss exceeded half a billion dollars.

For the Royal Navy, the massacre of PQ-17 and the abandonment of the convoy was one of the most shameful episodes of the war at sea. Details of the losses were kept from the public until after the war. The British decision to withdraw its protection from the convoy strained Anglo-American relations. Admiral Ernest J. King, chief of U.S. naval operations, was so enraged that he was very reluctant to have American and British ships continue operating together. Churchill lamented the fate of PQ-17 and wrote in his memoirs years later, All risks should have been taken in the defense of the merchant ships.

To make matters worse, the suspicious Soviets refused to believe that 24 ships from one convoy had been sunk. They openly accused their Western allies of lying about the disaster, and remained oblivious to the dangers and hardships endured by the merchantmen and escorts alike. No thanks were ever extended for the safe delivery of 5,000 tanks and more than 7,000 fighters and bombers. The Soviets never acknowledged that the 4 million tons of supplies that did arrive through the Arctic ports and the Persian Gulf may have kept their forces from being defeated by the Germans in the summer of 1942.

Shaken by the colossal losses taken by PQ-17, Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, over strong Soviet protest, postponed the sailing of PQ-18 until autumn. When the convoy did sail, it was protected by 53 warships, including two submarines and the aircraft carrier Avenger. Once again, the Germans mounted a major effort to prevent the delivery of supplies and weapons. They managed to sink 13 ships of PQ-18. Bowing to pleas from within the Admiralty and in the wake of such unacceptable losses, all further sailings were suspended until winter.

With the exception of several months in 1943, when the Battle of the Atlantic was at its peak, the convoys to the Soviet Union ran from 1941 until the war’s end. Campaign ribbons were awarded for service in almost every other theater of the war, but not one was awarded for service in the Arctic. Before the fighting ended, however, Allied seamen had taken 1,526 individual ships in 77 convoys on the Murmansk Run. Nearly 100 ships were lost to enemy action and the unyielding weather. Allied losses in the Arctic eventually exceeded those in the North Atlantic sea lanes, and before the war ended the Arctic route had accounted for nearly 37 percent of all Allied surface ships sunk in all theaters of the war.

After the tremendous losses incurred by PQ-17, the Admiralty developed improved defensive tactics for convoys, including assigning greater numbers of escort vessels for each convoy as well as using radar, sonar and improved weaponry aboard the escort vessels. Because of the Allies’ improved defensive tactics and its own worsening military situation after 1942, Germany would never again be able to dominate the northern seas. Later convoys would still be subject to attack, but no other convoy, before or since, suffered such death and destruction as PQ-17.

This article was written by Raymond A. Denkhaus and originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!


Soviet reaction to Battle of the Denmark Strait - History

By Henrick O. Lunde

The second week in April 1940 was a stormy period in the North and Norwegian Seas. The weather deteriorated during April 7, with low cloud cover and fog. The wind increased to gale force on April 8 and reached hurricane strength in the Norwegian Sea, which had towering 50-foot waves. But another storm was about to break on the Norwegian coast. World War II was under way, and military forces, both Allied and Axis, were about to pounce on Norway.

Hitler’s Preemptive War on Norway

Allied plans to send military forces to aid the Finns against the Soviet Union were widely reported in the press in late 1939 and early 1940. The only way such aid could reach the Finns was through Norway and Sweden, and this would accomplish the main Allied objective of cutting off Germany from its source of iron ore, Sweden. The Germans might then be drawn into a hasty and risky operation in Scandinavia.

The Germans were well aware of Allied plans to interfere with their importation of iron ore and their landings in Norway and the Allied plans had not ended with the March 1940 peace agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union. Therefore, to frustrate Allied plans, secure the source of iron ore, extend the operational range of the German Navy, complicate Allied blockade measures, and prevent the threat that Allied bases in Norway would pose for German naval operations in the Baltic and North Seas, Hitler decided to carry out a preemptive strike.

Allied action started on April 8 with the mining of Norwegian territorial waters. The plan was to deny the Germans the use of those waters for importing iron ore through the port of Narvik, to provoke German counteraction that could lead to quick Allied victories, and to open a new theater of operations away from the front line in France. British troops were loaded on warships and transports for the occupation of various coastal cities in western and northern Norway.

The second week of April witnessed the largest concentration of naval forces in the North and Norwegian Seas since the Battle of Jutland a generation earlier. The British Home Fleet and all available naval units in northern Europe were at sea. These were reinforced by units from the French fleet. Practically every ship in the German Navy was involved in the attack on Norway. The only German naval units not at sea on April 9, 1940, were those undergoing repairs—three cruisers, six destroyers, and four torpedo boats. Eight German tankers and 45 transports carrying 18,276 troops were at sea or leaving northern German ports. A further 40,000 troops were ready for transport to Norway as shipping became available. The Luftwaffe was prepared to support the operation with more than 1,000 aircraft and the largest airlift operation (approximately 500 transports) up to that time in military history.

Thus, as the Allies were carrying out mining operations and readying their forces for action in Norway, nearly every ship in the German Navy was on its way to Norway with assault elements to capture Norway’s population centers. The success of the operation—which the German general staff considered “lunatic”— rested on three pillars: complete tactical surprise, the determination and professionalism of those involved, and mistakes by the enemy. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, the commander in chief of the German Navy, told Hitler that the operation broke all rules of naval warfare but would succeed if the element of surprise were maintained. The Germans were prepared to lose at least half their navy in the enterprise.

Germany’s Invasion Force

The assault elements of the German invasion force were carried on warships divided into six task forces that were expected to land at the same time, 4:15 am on April 9, along the 1,000 miles of coastline from Oslo to Narvik. The German Task Force 5 (TF 5) had the mission of capturing the Norwegian capital, and it was hoped that the surprise operation would lead to the capture of the government, royal family, and the military commands. The Germans expected that this would lead to Norwegian capitulation and a peaceful occupation of the country.

The naval contingent of TF 5 consisted of the heavy cruisers Blücher and Lützow, the light cruiser Emden, three torpedo boats (small destroyers), eight R-boats (small minesweepers), and two auxiliaries (armed trawlers). Blücher was the newest of the major German surface units, launched on June 8, 1939, and commissioned on September 10, 1939. Its actual displacement was 18,200 tons although it was officially listed at 14,050 tons. Sea trials had just been completed prior to the Norwegian invasion. The Lützow was originally classified as a pocket battleship and named Deutschland. It was reclassified as a heavy cruiser on January 25, 1940, and given a new name. Hitler thought there would be undesirable psychological and propaganda consequences if a ship named Deutschland should be sunk.

The ships of TF 5 carried a combined crew of 3,800. Rear Admiral Oskar Kummetz commanded the naval component. The assault force of 2,000 men, commanded by Maj. Gen. Erwin Engelbrecht, consisted of two battalions of the 307th Infantry Regiment, one battalion of the 138th Mountain Regiment, plus artillery, engineer, and support units.

The capture of the Norwegian capital was a tall order for three infantry battalions. It was therefore planned that two airborne companies would seize Fornebu Airfield, a short distance southwest of the city. These companies would secure the airfield for the landing of two battalions and an engineer company from the 324th Infantry Regiment.

TF 5 left Swinemüde at 10 pm on April 7, and the major units (cruisers and torpedo boats) assembled in the Bay of Kiel at 2 am on April 8. The smaller and slower units had already departed with orders to link up with the rest of the task force at the entrance to Oslofjord during the night of April 8-9. The German ships sailed through the Great Belt, the main strait between the Danish islands, in full daylight on April 8. The progress of the group was followed closely by Danish observation posts and reported to the Danish Naval Ministry. The reports were passed to the intelligence section of the Norwegian naval staff throughout the day.

Light Norwegian Opposition

The Norwegians did not take immediate action to meet the threat since the consensus in the navy was that the German activities had nothing to do with an attack on Norway. Such an eventuality was ruled unrealistic in view of their estimation of German capabilities and overwhelming British superiority at sea.

TF 5 rounded the northern point of Denmark at 7 pm on April 8. It steered a westerly course while within sight of land in order not to give away its destination. The Germans changed course to the north after they were out of sight of land and headed for Oslofjord at high speed. Two British submarines, Triton and Sunfish, spotted the task force north of Denmark during the night. Triton made an unsuccessful attack on the German ships. The faster ships in the task force were joined by the slower vessels as they approached the entrance to the fjord.

Two lines of forts at Oslofjord and Oscarborg protected the sea approach to Oslo. The Oslofjord forts had four battery positions, Bolærne, Rauøy, Måkerøy, and Håøy, on both sides of the fjord as well as a number of small ships. The Oscarborg fortress complex had batteries located on South and North Kaholm, two small islands in Drøbak Strait at the entrance to Oslo harbor. There was a main battery of three 280mm guns on South Kaholm and a torpedo battery of three 450mm torpedo tubes on North Kaholm. The three 280mm Krupp guns had been delivered in 1892. There had been an accident while they were under transport, and one barrel had fallen into the sea. It was immediately named Moses, and the other two were also given appropriate biblical names—Aaron and Joshua. A battery of 150mm guns and one of three 57mm guns were located on the mainland, on the east side of Drøbak Strait.

Although its crew was required to service this 280mm cannon in the open, the Norwegians used it and other heavy artillery pieces to devastating effect against the German invaders. This weapon is positioned at Oscarborg Fortress.

The antiaircraft protection for the forts consisted primarily of machine guns. The forts had only token infantry complements to protect against an overland attack. At full strength, the two fortress lines were to have 3,298 personnel, but only 957 were available at the time of the German attack. This left some batteries unmanned while others were critically undermanned.

The First Norwegian Casualty of World War II

There were four small patrol vessels in the outer part of Oslofjord in the evening of April 8. One of the vessels, Pol III, was the first to make contact with the German invasion force. Pol III was a small ship of only 214 tons, had a crew of 13, carried a single 76mm gun, and could manage a speed of only 11 knots. The Germans sighted Pol III, and the torpedo boat Albatros was ordered to take care of it. Albatros had a displacement of 924 tons, carried three 105mm guns, four 20mm guns, and six 210mm torpedo tubes. It had a crew of 122 and could reach a top speed of 33 knots.

The Norwegian patrol boat headed toward the German ships at full speed and fired a warning shot shortly before 11 pm. Albatros stopped, but the other ships proceeded toward Oslo. Pol III ended up ramming the German torpedo boat—apparently by accident—and tore a large hole in its side. The two vessels drifted apart, and at 11:15 the Norwegians fired three flares, the prearranged signal that foreign warships were entering the restricted area. After the Norwegians refused a demand to surrender, the Germans opened fire with machine guns and raked the Norwegian patrol boat. Although the German and Norwegian accounts differ, the Germans may have interpreted Norwegian activities to secure the deck gun as intention to open fire. The captain of the Norwegian vessel was mortally wounded and the first Norwegian to die in the conflict.

Passing the Norwegian Fortress Lines

The German task force had meanwhile continued on a northerly course and was closing in on the outer line of forts. The invaders were hoping to pass the forts without having to fire. The forts were prepared and the gun crews in place, but several fog banks rolled in and obscured the attackers. The German ships were visible to the battery on Rauøy for a short period and it managed to get off two warning shots and five live rounds before the ships disappeared into the fog. The Germans later related that the Norwegian rounds fell so far short that they were believed to be warning shots.

The German naval force stopped after passing the first fortress line. The troops on Emden were transferred to eight minesweepers. Four were to land troops to capture two of the battery positions in the outer line of forts so that the route would be clear for the transports bringing in reinforcements. Two minesweepers, assisted by the torpedo boats Albatros and Kondor, set out to capture the Norwegian naval base at Horten. The remaining two minesweepers followed the main force to land troops to capture Oscarborg in case the German ships were unable to force their way past that fort. The passage through the Drøbak Strait and the attack on Horten were to take place at the same time, 4:15 am. The day was beginning to dawn as the German ships approached Oscarborg.

Colonel Birger Eriksen, the commander of Oscarborg, had been kept informed about events in Oslofjord. Fate sometimes places the right person at the right location in war. Colonel Eriksen had a reputation among his colleagues for being a little trigger happy. He did not know whether the approaching warships were German or British, but he decided that such details were of little consequence. He ignored a subordinate’s suggestion to seek advice from higher headquarters before opening fire. He also decided that there would be no warning shots. His decisions had a devastating effect on the approaching German task force and saved the Norwegian government and royal family from capture.

“Three Hurrahs for Our Ship, Our Führer, Our People, and Our Country”

The German ships approached the Drøbak Strait in a column formation at 12 knots. The flagship, Blücher, led the column, followed by the Lützow, Emden, the torpedo boat Möwe, and the minesweepers R18 and R19, in that order. The distances between ships were about 600 meters. The German ships were dark, and all lights at Oscarborg and along the fjord were extinguished.

Admiral Kummetz interpreted the silence from the fort as an indication that the Norwegians would allow the Germans to pass. The delay, however, was a deliberate action by Colonel Eriksen. He calculated that the old, slow-firing guns of the main battery, manned by partial crews with little training, would only have time to fire one shot each before the lead German ship passed the fort. Colonel Eriksen wanted to be sure that the ship was close enough to make it virtually certain that the shells would find their intended target.

Colonel Eriksen ordered the batteries to open fire when the range finder showed 1,800 meters. The time was 4:21. The two shells from the 280mm guns were direct hits. The batteries on the east side of the strait also opened fire on Blücher. Two 280mm, 13 150mm, and 30 57mm projectiles hit the heavy cruiser before it passed through the fields of fire. The results were devastating. The first 280mm shell hit the base of the bridge and blew part of that structure into the water. The second 280mm shell entered Blücher’s port side behind the funnel and exploded inside the ship, killing many soldiers on the middle deck.

One of the heavy Norwegian cannons at Oscarberg Fortress is shown in the position it occupied in 1940. This weapon, nicknamed “Aron” was instrumental in the sinking of the German heavy cruiser Blücher.

The fire from the shore batteries also hit the airplane hangar on deck, loaded with three aircraft and barrels of fuel. A powerful explosion ignited the gasoline. The inferno spread rapidly and set off aerial bombs, ammunition, and hand grenades stowed in containers on deck. The second round from the main battery also destroyed Blücher’s rudder controls. The cruiser avoided striking the shore by reversing its engines.

While the German ships were at full battle stations, the operational directive required that they leave their main batteries in secured position—that is, the guns were pointing directly forward or aft. They hoped that the Norwegians would interpret this as a sign of peaceful intent. While the main gun orientations may have slowed the German response, they were quick to react with their secondary batteries. The German fire in the short but intense exchange that followed was inaccurate since the shoreline was dark and the only way to pick targets was by observing the flashes from the Norwegian guns. The shore batteries sustained no serious damage.

It was too late for Kummetz to take his flagship out of the danger zone. The Germans tried to increase speed in order to get out of the reach of the Norwegian guns as quickly as possible, but this proved impossible since the ship’s engines were partially out of action. The burning cruiser presented an eerie sight as it slowly passed the batteries on the eastern side of the strait. The gun crews on shore could hear the cries of the wounded and dying aboard the ship. However, they reportedly also heard something else.

Crew members of the crippled ship were singing the German national anthem. However, this is not mentioned by Korvettenkapitän (Lt. Cmdr.) Kurt Zoepffel, Blücher’s adjutant. He relates that the assembled survivors, before abandoning ship, “joined in three hurrahs for our ship, our Führer, our people, and our country.” Whatever the case, the nationality of the attackers was now known.

“Torpedo the Ship”

As it moved slowly northward, Blücher came into the sector of the torpedo battery. The acting commander of the battery, Captain Andreas Anderssen, saw the burning ship approaching. He called Colonel Eriksen and asked if he should launch the torpedoes. Colonel Eriksen’s answer was short and left no room for misunderstanding, “Torpedo the ship.”

As he launched them against the German cruiser, Anderssen wondered if the 40-year-old torpedoes would function. The Germans did not see the wakes as the torpedoes hissed through the water. The first struck the Blücher forward, while the second struck amidships. Both torpedoes, but particularly the second, caused massive explosions inside the German warship. The engines were no longer functioning, and great amounts of water were streaming into the damaged ship. Captain Heinrich Woldag, Blücher’s skipper, ordered anchors dropped, and the great ship remained motionless with an 18-degree starboard list.

A mass of smoke and flames, the German heavy cruiser Blücher victim of Norwegian land-based artillery, rolls over and begins to sink during the invasion of Norway,

The Germans still hoped to save the ship by use of the auxiliary engines. The raging fire was their main problem. The ship’s torpedoes were fired to prevent their detonation. They exploded against the shore on both sides of the fjord. The 105mm magazine was located amidships and could not be flooded. The ship’s fate was sealed when this magazine exploded at 5:30 am, and the captain ordered the ship abandoned. The Germans had not displayed a flag while trying to force passage, but now the German battle flag was hoisted. The starboard list was increasing, and the great ship finally overturned and sank by the bow in deep waters at 6:22 am, with many personnel still on deck.

Oil spilled from Blücher covered the water and caught fire. The immediate area around the sunken vessel became an inferno. Scores of those who abandoned ship perished in the flames. Survivors came ashore on both sides of the strait, but mostly on the east side. Many were saved by Norwegian fishing vessels. Those who reached the shore were captured by Norwegian troops. Among them were Admiral Kummetz, General Engelbrecht, and Captain Woldag, who was seriously wounded and died within a few days at a Norwegian hospital. The loss of approximately 1,000 sailors and soldiers and one of the newest and most modern ships in the German Navy was a serious blow that disrupted the German timetable.

The Mistakes of Admiral Kummetz

After Blücher slowly passed outside their fields of fire, the Norwegian batteries shifted their guns to the next ship in the German column, Lützow. The cruiser also opened fire on the forts with its 150mm guns. Lützow received three direct hits from the Norwegian guns on the eastern side of the strait. The ship’s forward 280mm turret was put out of action. Captain August Thiele—Lützow’s captain—assumed that Blücher had struck mines in the narrows. This assumption and the fact that he was receiving heavy and accurate fire from the Norwegian guns caused him to conclude that the strait could not be forced successfully, and he decided to pull Lützow out of the danger zone before it was too late.

German naval forces were roughly handed during the opening phase of the invasion of Norway. Operations were extremely difficult in the confines of the Norwegian fjords.

The other ships in the formation followed his example by reversing course and heading out of the fjord at high speed. The turning movement caused both Lützow and Emden to present their broadsides to the Norwegian batteries, which continued to fire. Several projectiles hit both ships. Thiele, while involved in this maneuver, received a signal from Admiral Kummetz directing him to assume command of TF 5. The German fire caused no casualties and very little physical damage to the Norwegian batteries.

Admiral Kummetz has been criticized for the tactics he employed in the attack. He undoubtedly felt pressured by his directive to land the troops in the capital around 5 am, but this alone fails to explain some of his actions. His decision to lead the column with his flagship is difficult to understand. It would have been more prudent to let the torpedo boat or minesweepers take the lead to test the Norwegian defenses, particularly in view of intelligence that there was an electrically controlled minefield in the waters off Drøbak. Admiral Kummetz’s after-action report fails to explain the slow speed used in the attempt to pass Oscarborg. It would have been wiser to pass the fort at high speed to reduce Norwegian reaction time and limit the time his ships were exposed. The loss of Blücher did not end Kummetz’s career. He was promoted to Generaladmiral (Admiral) and given command in the Baltic.

Colonel Eriksen Surrenders

Captain Thiele started preparations for a new attack on Oscarborg as soon as he had withdrawn what remained of TF 5 to safety. The Germans began landing troops on the east side of the fjord at 6 am, and within two hours about 850 German troops were ashore. General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, the planner and overall commander during the German invasions of Norway and Denmark, was concerned by the delay in capturing Oslo. He issued a directive making the capture of the shore batteries at Drøbak the main objective. The Germans began advancing north toward Drøbak after capturing the nearby towns of Son and Moss.

Colonel Eriksen knew that the German withdrawal after their first attempt to pierce the fortress line was only a temporary pause. The bombing of the fortress by German aircraft started at 8 am and continued, except for a short period around midday, until 6 pm. The guns had no revetments, and the crews had to take cover in old tunnels that served as air raid shelters. The weak air defenses kept up a steady fire against the German aircraft, but the effects were minor. One Ju-52 transport plane was shot down and several sustained damage and had to make emergency landings. Lützow also participated in the bombardment.

The continuous air and naval bombardment caused few casualties at Oscarborg, but the material damage was substantial and the morale of the personnel deteriorated quickly since it was impossible to operate the exposed gun batteries while under constant aerial attack. The damage would have been more severe, but a large number of bombs failed to explode on impact.

The situation became untenable when German infantry captured the unprotected batteries on the eastern shore of the strait late in the afternoon. Colonel Eriksen could no longer prevent Germans ships from passing the fort. He decided that further resistance was hopeless and would only lead to unnecessary loss of lives. Negotiations leading to surrender began at 6:30 pm. The surrender took place at 9 pm on April 10, and TF 5 passed through the strait shortly thereafter. The surrender conditions were lenient. The enlisted personnel were to remain at the fort until conditions permitted demobilization. The officers were guaranteed their freedom and allowed to keep their personal weapons. The Norwegian flag flew over the fort alongside the German until April 21.

One Last Chance for Victory

General von Falkenhorst had received several situation reports on April 9, and with respect to the operations against Oslo all conveyed bad news. He learned that TF 5 was driven back in its first attempt to reach the Norwegian capital, the cruiser Blücher was sunk with great loss of life, the cruiser Lützow had sustained serious damage, and both the army and naval commanders were either killed or captured. The Horten naval base had not been captured, and the same was true for the forts controlling the approaches to Oslo. Finally, the Norwegians had rejected the German ultimatum and stated that they considered themselves at war with Germany.

Moments before its final plunge, the battered hulk of the Blücher is photographed from a German destroyer waiting nearby to pick up survivors.

The only chance left for the Germans to capture Oslo on April 9 rested with the airborne and air assault components of the operation. The Germans planned to capture Fornebu Airport by parachuting two airborne companies directly on the airfield. The plan called for these troops to seize the airfield quickly, allowing German transport aircraft to land two infantry battalions and an engineer company. It was a risky operation and would be the first use (along with the attack on Sola Airfield near Stavanger) of airborne troops to seize an enemy airfield hundreds of miles from their base.

The Norwegian force at Fornebu consisted of only three machine-gun positions and seven Gloster Gladiator fighters. Fornebu was not alerted until 4:30 am, more than five hours after the first contact with German warships in Oslofjord. The machine-gun positions were manned, and the fighter aircraft were prepared for takeoff.

There was a thick layer of fog over Oslo in the early hours of April 9. Breaks in the fog began to appear about 5 am, and five Gladiators took off to investigate the sound of aircraft overhead. As they broke through the fog, the pilots saw a number of aircraft of unknown nationality. The foreign aircraft disappeared in a southerly direction after the Norwegians opened fire. The slow-moving Gladiators could not match the speed of the foreign aircraft, and they returned to Fornebu.

Battle in the Skies Above Oslo

The German parachute operation was canceled when the aircraft carrying the paratroopers encountered heavy fog over the target area. The aircraft were directed to turn around and land at the airfield in Aalborg, Denmark, captured by the Germans earlier in the morning. The landing of transport aircraft at Fornebu was predicated upon the airfield being secured by German airborne troops. Since this had not taken place, orders were issued canceling the air operation after consulting headquarters.

It appeared that the Germans had suffered another serious setback. Then, one of those bizarre events occurred that often decides the outcome of a battle. This time the fortune of war favored the Germans. There are two versions of what happened. The official Norwegian naval history, based on General von Falkenhorst’s report, states that the cancelation order reached the first wave of aircraft but the following waves failed to receive it. Other sources relate a different story. Their version of what happened is that when the commander of one wave read the order to turn around he noted that it came from X Air Corps. He was subordinate to another command and therefore believed that the order was false or intended for someone else. He decided to ignore it and continue on to Fornebu.

Stunned that their warship has been vanquished by Norwegian shore batteries, sailors from the German cruiser Blücher reach temporary safety on the rocky shoreline.

The version given by Falkenhorst is more convincing. With all planes carrying the landing force airborne, it is obvious that the order to abort came via radio and its authenticity could easily be validated. All air elements in the invasion of Norway came under the operational control of X Air Corps, and each commander was no doubt fully aware of this fact. The operation was canceled because German paratroopers had not secured the airfield, and it would be strange for this not to be mentioned when the order to abort was given.

The Norwegian Gladiators returned to Fornebu to refuel, and all seven took off about 6:30 am. The pilots were not sure if Norway was at war, but as they climbed in a southerly direction they saw a dark cloud of smoke rise from the spot near Oscarborg where Blücher had sunk. Any lingering doubts were dispelled almost immediately as they saw a wave of 80 German aircraft heading in their direction. The Norwegian aircraft were at a greater height than the Germans, and Lieutenant Torbjørn Tradin, the squadron commander, gave the order to attack.

The Norwegian formation broke up as the squadron dived in among the German aircraft. The airspace over Oslo was filled with planes, and dogfights took place both above and below the cloud cover. One Norwegian aircraft was damaged and crash-landed at Fornebu. The rest of the Gladiators exhausted their ammunition and returned individually to Fornebu. Two managed to land before a radio message told them not to set down since the airfield was under attack. The remaining four aircraft landed on frozen lakes in the interior of the country. The Norwegian Gladiators acquitted themselves well, shooting down three Heinkel He-111 bombers and two Messerschmitt Me-110 twin-engine fighters.

A squadron of Me-110s that were to have protected and supported the German paratroops had not received the news that the airdrop was canceled. These aircraft were circling the airfield, and they destroyed the three Norwegian Gladiators that returned to Fornebu.

A Bold Landing

In the meantime, the first wave of Ju-52 transport aircraft arrived over the airfield. German fighter aircraft were circling, and fires were seen on the ground. The German commander interpreted what he saw as proof that the paratroopers had jumped and were involved in fighting on the ground. Therefore, he ordered his wave to land. The lead aircraft met heavy fire from Norwegian machine guns. The pilot gave full throttle, but before he was airborne again, the commander and several others were killed.

The transport planes began to circle the airfield, uncertain about what they should do. It looked like another part of the German plan to capture the Norwegian capital had failed. However, the fortunes of war took a favorable turn for the Germans. Plans called for the Me-110s to land at Fornebu to refuel after they had protected the landing of the paratroopers because they did not have sufficient fuel to return to Germany or Denmark. This is another example of the risks the Germans were willing to take in their operational planning.

A German Junkers Ju-52 transport aircraft sits at Fornebu airfield in Norway on April 9,1940. The smoke of an ongoing battle between German and Norwegian troops rises in the distance.

The Me-110s had used up all their fuel waiting for the paratroopers, and the squadron commander decided to land his aircraft at Fornebu. He did not have much choice. When the transport aircraft saw the Messerschmitts land, they decided to do the same, and one by one the German planes landed despite heavy Norwegian fire. Two German aircraft were destroyed and five severely damaged. The number of Germans killed is unknown, but they were held at bay until the Norwegians ran out of ammunition and were forced to withdraw at 8:30 am. The Germans quickly took control of the airfield and signaled for subsequent waves to land. Six companies of Germans— about 900 men—were on the ground by noon.

The Fall of Oslo

The German air attaché arrived at the airport and briefed Colonel Helmuth Nickelmann, the landing force commander (commander of the 324th Infantry Regiment), on the situation in Oslo. As the companies were ready, they marched in close order formation toward Oslo.

There were about 1,000 uniformed Norwegian soldiers in Oslo that morning, but many were students at the various military schools. The 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment in the Tradum training area 50 kilometers north of Oslo was the nearest sizable Norwegian combat force. The only organized formations in the city were a squadron of cavalry at the cavalry school and three companies of Royal Guards. One of the three companies had just demobilized and turned in its weapons and equipment at the Akershus Citadel. Maj. Gen. Hvinden-Haug, the Norwegian commander in the Oslo area, had dispatched one company of the Guards and the cavalry school squadron to capture the Blücher survivors, and this force could not be recalled since it had no radios.

The only available Guard company was quickly dispatched to stop the Germans at Fornebu from reaching Oslo. The Norwegian commander decided to use back roads on the way to the airport, and the Germans and Norwegians managed to pass each other without making contact. The demobilized Guard company tried to retrieve its weapons and equipment at Akershus, but the Germans arrived before the Guards could rearm themselves.

Colonel Nickelmann met the acting commandant in Oslo, Colonel H.P. Schnitler, at Akershus and demanded the city’s surrender. The two colonels had a conference with the city’s chief of police, and Colonel Schnitler telephoned the prime minister, Johan Nygaardsvold, now located in Hamar, and explained the situation. The Germans stated that they did not wish to become involved in the civil administration, promised not to occupy the royal palace, and would allow the Guards to continue their routine. Nygaardsvold gave Colonel Schnitler permission to surrender Oslo. The document surrendering the capital was signed at 2 pm.

The determined and decisive action of one individual—Colonel Eriksen—had upset the ambitious German timetable, and this delay enabled the Norwegian government and royal family to escape the capital before the Germans arrived. The military commands and the gold reserves of the central bank were also evacuated. Instead of the hoped-for quick coup to assure a peaceful occupation like that of Denmark, the Germans were forced to undertake a grueling 62-day campaign to subdue Norway in the longest campaign of the war prior to the attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.


Here Are 30 Of The Most Ridiculous Facts In History

Giedrė Vaičiulaitytė
Community member

There are so many things in our interesting history that simply make sense. Someone marching into battle in the cold Russian winter in hopes of a victory only to meet a crushing loss? Someone coming into power on hate-filled rhetoric against a minority only to eventually commit unimaginable atrocities against the said minority? While some historical events might seem like an obvious outcome of one's actions, some weird history facts entirely deny our preconceptions.

You might not know, but our weird history is filled with crazy unknown facts like those in the list below. For example, when Churchill sent in bombers to destroy German cities and break the morale of the people, the first bombing turned out to be a complete failure with the only real casualty being an elephant? Or that at some point in history, Pepsi owned 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer? If these weird facts piqued your interest, then this list is just for you. So scroll down below, indulge in these fun facts, and, oh, don't forget to comment and vote for your favorites!

In 1983, one man prevented a nuclear war between the USSR and the USA. Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported that a missile had been launched from the United States, followed by up to five more. Petrov judged the reports to be a false alarm, and his decision to disobey orders, against Soviet military protocol, is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war. Investigation later confirmed that the Soviet satellite warning system had indeed malfunctioned.

The real life Fail Safe movie and novel

In the early 90s, Pepsi owned 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer, all because of a deal with the Soviet Union in which they exchanged soda for military equipment.

For over 3 decades, Canada and Denmark have been playfully fighting for control of a tiny island near Greenland called Hans Island. Every once in a while, when officials from each country visit, they leave a bottle of their country's liquor.

At US President Andrew Jackson's funeral in 1845, his pet parrot had to be removed because it was swearing loudly.

awww I hope my feather babies make a giant fuss when I pass away. (My Blue and Gold macaws are most likely going to out live me)

The men's marathon at the 1904 Summer Olympics was a disaster. The first to arrive at the finish line was Fred Lorz, who had actually dropped out of the race after nine miles and hitched a ride back to the stadium in a car, waving at spectators and runners alike during the ride. When the car broke down at the 19th mile, Lorz re-entered the race and jogged across the finish line. After being hailed as the winner, he had his photograph taken with Alice Roosevelt, daughter of then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and was about to be awarded the gold medal when his subterfuge was revealed. Upon being confronted by officials, Lorz immediately admitted his deception, and despite his claims he was joking, the AAU responded by banning for a year. He later won the 1905 Boston Marathon.

Thomas Hicks ended up the winner of the event, although he was aided by measures that would not have been permitted in later years. Ten miles from the finish Hicks led the race by a mile and a half, but he had to be restrained from stopping and lying down by his trainers. From then until the end of the race, Hicks received several doses of strychnine (a common rat poison, which stimulates the nervous system in small doses) mixed with brandy. He continued to battle onwards, hallucinating, barely able to walk for most of the course. When he reached the stadium his support team carried him over the line, holding him in the air while he shuffled his feet as if still running. Hicks had to be carried off the track, and might have died in the stadium had he not been treated by several doctors. He lost eight pounds during the course of the marathon.

Another near-fatality during the event was William Garcia of the United States. He was found lying in the road along the marathon course with severe internal injuries caused by breathing the clouds of dust kicked up by the race officials' cars. Postman Andarín Carvajal joined the marathon, arriving at the last minute. After losing all of his money in New Orleans, Louisiana, he hitchhiked to St. Louis and had to run the event in street clothes that he cut around the legs to make them look like shorts. Not having eaten in 40 hours, he stopped off in an orchard en route to have a snack on some apples, which turned out to be rotten. The rotten apples caused him to have strong stomach cramps and to have to lie down and take a nap. Despite falling ill from the apples and taking a nap, he finished in fourth place.

The marathon included the first two black Africans to compete in the Olympics: two Tswana tribesmen named Len Tau and Jan Mashiani. Len Tau finished ninth and Mashiani came in twelfth. This was a disappointment, as many observers were sure Len Tau could have done better if he had not been chased nearly a mile off course by aggressive dogs.


Reformation and Absolutism (1536 - 1720 AD.)

1536 - 1661
The Denmark of today was only a small part of the huge kingdom which Christian III took over in 1536 after victory in the civil war. At that time, Denmark included Scania, Halland, Blekinge, Gothland and Oesel. Furthermore, Norway and its extensive North Atlantic possessions (the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland) had formed a personal union with Denmark since the Kalmar Union was established in 1397. The section concerning Norway in Christian III's coronation charter emphasised that Norway was as much part of Denmark as Jutland. Furthermore, the Oldenburg monarch was Duke of Holstein and also Duke of Schleswig, which was under an oath of fealty to the Danish Crown.
The system of government which was obtained between 1536-1660 is generally known as aristocratic government. It was a constitutional form of government in that the king was formally elected by the estates of the realm, in practice by the nobles in the Rigsråd, which, however, always elected the king's oldest son. The king, in turn, had to sign a constitutional charter which divided the power between the Crown and the Rigsråd.
Around 1560, both Denmark and Sweden changed rulers, and the period of peaceful coexistence came to an end. Under the leadership of Erik XIV, Sweden was intent on destroying the supremacy of the Danes, and Frederik II dreamt of resurrecting the Kalmar Union under Danish leadership. These differences finally resulted in Den Nordiske Syvårskrig (the Scandinavian Seven Years' War) (1563-70), which eventually ended in mutual exhaustion without any frontiers having been moved. The next confrontation was the Kalmar War (1611-13) which was initiated by the Danes. Once again the aim was to force Sweden back under Danish supremacy, and once again the attempt failed. This war was to be Denmark's last attempt to resurrect the old union. The balance of power in the North now shifted in favour of a dynamic Sweden under the leadership of Gustav II Adolf.
The decisive turning point in Denmark's foreign policy came in 1625-29 with Christian IV's involvement in the Thirty Years' War. His catastrophic defeat at Lutter am Barenberg in 1626 broke Denmark in military terms. The humiliating peace agreement in 1629 and Gustav II Adolf's military triumphs in Germany from 1630 onwards clearly showed that Sweden had become the leading power in the Baltic region while Denmark, though its territory was intact, had been beaten and isolated.

1661 - 1720
In October 1660, the estates - the nobility only reluctantly - create a hereditary monarchy. The new system meant that the king was no longer dependent on the Rigsråd, and he immediately used his new power to introduce absolutism, which was temporarily established on 10 January 1661 in the Hereditary Monarchy Act before being fully set out in Kongeloven (the King's Law) of 1665, the basic law of Danish absolutism.
The last two Dano-Swedish wars, the Skånske Krig (Scania War) 1675-79, and Store Nordiske Krig (Great Nordic War) 1709-20, were both started by the Danes in an attempt to win back Scania from the ailing Swedish superpower. Even though the Danes more or less won both wars, they did not succeed in reclaiming Scania since the big European powers opposed it. In acknowledgement of this, and because Sweden had again been reduced to the same level as Denmark, the government dropped the Dano-Swedish issue from the foreign policy agenda. The border through the Sound was there to stay. The lengthy Danish-Swedish rivalry was soon replaced by a new partnership in the shadow of the emerging Russian power. The peace of 1720 introduced a long period of peaceful coexistence between the two Nordic kingdoms.


WI: The Wegener thesis became the basis of the Kriegsmarine strategy in WW2?

The basic thesis sounds interesting but maybe we should unpick it a bit more.

First, does it fit in with Hitler's geo-political goals in 1933? At this point AIUI his goals were
1) Regain German lands lost under the Treaty of Versailles
2) Build a German dominated economic zone in much of Europe, the Grossraum. To achieve this, France's encirclement of Germany through the 'Little Entente' has to be broken and France defeated militarily - to make re-annexation of Alsace Lorraine feasible.
3) Use the industrial resources of Continental Europe to destroy the USSR and control gain the agricultural and mineral resources of Russia west of the Urals.
A long way behind
4) Then build a Gross Deutschland that can overawe the British Empire (or defeat it if need be) and challenge the USA for global preeminence - with Japan and whoever else could be dragged in as allies/tools.

Does the Wegener plan fit with these? Only if it doesn't provoke the UK to ally with France earlier than OTL. In this the Anglo-German Naval Agreement made the British a bit complacent about the Kriegsmarine as details of its buildup in this time line become known you might find the British rearming earlier and being less keen on Appeasement after the Anschluss. What if no Munich agreement and war then?

Secondly, is it feasible with resources allocated to the KM in 1933-9? If not, what do you sacrifice in capabilities for the Heer and Luftwaffe? No point in having a better commerce raiding fleet if it's trapped in the North Sea by no Fall of France. Taking Norway might be practical anyway but is that enough to make raiding through the GIUK gap only decisive?

Thirdly, is it feasible given plausible British reactions?Both before war breaks out (building plans, doctrine, political actions) and during it.
Some modest proposals
Order Trade Protection Carriers of around 10,000 tonnes not covered by the LNT in addition to the Armoured Fleet Carriers. (after the LNT has expired make them Light Fleets.)
Also some CVEs and MAC conversions before 1939
Don't push for the 8,000 ton and 6" gun limit for cruisers at the LNT II - instead build a Colony class on 10,000 tonnes with 8-8" guns.
Attach the small carriers to cruiser anti-raider groups
Refit the 'R' class with gun elevation to 30 degrees - they can scare off any "O" class raider
"Q" ships to trap Armed Merchant ship raiders
Extra "Tribals' built with 6-4.7" (ideally 6-4.5" DP), X turret and maybe 1 TT set removed for extra fuel. Long range mini cruisers to deal with AMS raiders
Build the KGV class with 9-15" guns (3x3) - likely to be completed earlier than OTL given no redesign from 3x4 to 2x4 & 1x2.
Get the FAA back under RN control a year or two earlier and allow it operational control of Coastal Command
Earlier emphasis on land-based torpedo bombers - Blenheims and Whitleys maybe in 1938.

* not all likely to feasible or affordable together . Critiques welcomed

Pretty realistic.
But what if as I said, the Kriegsmarine only built a couple O-class battleships and finished all the other heavy cruisers that were under construction at the time instead of converting them into whatever else
Simultaneously, shipyards would be ordered to start building U-boats, S boats, R-boats, better destroyers, and a few light cruisers

And have Hitler proclaim that those ships are only there to defend Germany from the Soviet Navy at Kronstadt
OTL the Soviets were building some really, really big battleships and a lot of subs and who knows what else
Their naval expansion would mean the Baltic Sea becoming a Soviet lake, something that Germany cannot allow
And there were many at the time who feared the red menace more than the brown menace
When in doubt, blame the reds


When war does break out:
Base em in Norway and periodically sail them through the Denmark strait. Maybe shell Iceland a couple times to wake the Brits up there.

RN counters:
All the RN ships you described would have cost quite a bit more than OTL
If their budget stays the same then the money will be taken away from other projects.
Which might mess a lot of things up


Great War

  • Communists seize power in Serbia. The assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Communist sympathizers, sparks tensions over Europe. French forces invade the German protectorate of Togoland in West Africa. The Great War begins. 
  • As the war rages Communism is secured in Russia as the remaining parties are crushed in a series of bombings.
  • Germany invades France. The British Empire remains neutral while the United States enters the war.
  •  Vladimir Lenin officially declared the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, or the Soviet Union

After the Soviet invasion and the decisive victory by the Allies at the Battle of Paris, Germany requests a ceasefire with Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The Great War finally ends in favor over Soviet Union crippling Europe over the next few years.

The Treaty of London is signed and the Great War officially ends. Germany abandons its military rule and established a democratic provisional government in order to meet peace talk conditions. A key point of the Treaty of London calls for the formation of the Council for Economic Assistance Organization (CEAO). The organization is formed to encourage all European nations to work together to establish peace.


Part VI: The Western campaign


Disabled Char B1 bis, credits wikimedia commons – Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie/National Archives USA (col. Normandie Mémoire)

Norway, 1940
Most operations in this theater were performed by paratroopers and infantry alone, with limited artillery support and virtually no tanks. The reasons were obvious, dictated by the rough terrain in the areas of major interest, more suitable for lightly equipped mountain troops. Nevertheless, Germany landed a single unit comprising Panzer Is to support infantry against the committed Norwegians. The latter lacked any form of armored vehicles save for a few armored cars used for police purposes and had a limited number of antitank guns.

Alongside the Panzer Is, Germany also committed three of its new heavy tanks, with limited purposes other than propaganda. These stayed in Norway until the end of the war, stationed near the Oslo Fortress. Despite taking heavy losses at sea, the German forces held their ground and Allied efforts to recapture major objectives failed against a resolute defense. By May, the concentration of forces in the west rendered all upcoming operations useless and the Allies evacuated.

Opposing forces
One of the most thrilling issues of WWII, still debated among historians, is how the Allies – who on paper largely outnumbered the Germans – could have taken such a blow in a few days.

The Germans held French tanks in high esteem, especially the heavy B1 bis. Except for the still large numbers of WWI era FTs and the gargantuan FCM 2Cs, most French tanks were built in the mid and late thirties, assembled by welding with cast parts and featured excellent protection. But they were slow (infantry pace), according to the tactics of the time, used short-barrel guns to deal with fortifications and machine-gun nests, and had small turrets which forced the tank commander to multi-task. This was aggravated by the lack of intercom or radio.

The chain of command was utterly rigid movements were carefully planned with a combination of artillery and infantry, with tanks in support. Tank commanders were not supposed to take initiative on the field. The British forces also fielded excellent tanks, the best being the Matilda II, with a frontal armor superior to anything the Germans could offer. The professional and well-trained BEF was also well equipped with Cruiser I, II and IIIs for breakthroughs and Light Mk. IV, V, and VIs for reconnaissance, plus numerous armored cars. However, British tanks were constructed with rivets, had two-man turrets and also lacked radio or intercom. The chain of command was equally rigid, as late-WWI tactics dominated the minds of both General Staffs.

The Belgian army was built to stand its ground for some time, but relied on neutrality and several fortifications like the formidable Eben-Emael fort which controlled crucial crossroads and was deemed impregnable. The Belgian army fielded around two hundred 47 mm (1.85 in) AT guns, and around four hundred light tanks, some designed for infantry support and only armed with a heavy machine gun and others with light AT guns. Most of their successes were attributed to well-placed ambushing units. The worst came when German paratroopers faultlessly seized Eben-Emael. This was a serious blow to Allied plans, which conducted a rush of the 1st French Army into Belgium, long before the expected schedule. The Netherlands also saw heavy fighting for several days, until Rotterdam was bombed and they subsequently surrendered. Their army was poorly equipped, and only counted a handful of armored cars, some recent and some obsolete. The bulk of its armored forces was stationed abroad, in the Dutch East Indies.

In stark contrast, the Germans fielded fewer tanks, and their philosophy of use was quite different. Heinz Guderian and Erich Von Manstein were both keen to try the new armored warfare tactics, experimented with for some time in Great Britain. The real novelty was the use of large, autonomous armored formations (the Panzer divisions). The tactics called for the use of synchronized air support. Armored formations were set to produce decisive breakthroughs at specific locations along the enemy lines (the “Schwerpunkt”), and then either converging to the rear of the enemy to create large pockets, to be left afterwards to the artillery, infantry and aviation.

The German tanks were designed to fulfill such tactics. They were generally fast, with reasonably good armor and weaponry. They also used modern building and assembly techniques (welding) and, at least on the main battle tank, the Panzer III, and the support Panzer IV, roomy three-man turrets with intercom and radios for individual tanks. This allowed the tank commander to have a great deal of autonomy and, at the same time, versatility and coordination with others in real time.

Given the protection of the time, the Panzer I was of limited value, but kept for scouting operations. The light Panzer II was equally kept for the same task, and the Czech-built Panzer 38(t) served as a battle-line tank, for screening and flanking. Even the main battle tank, the Panzer III, was certainly not invincible.

The frontal armor was 30-40 mm (1.18-1.57 in) thick at best for the early series, and 45-50 mm (1.77-1.97 in) for the hundred Ausf. Fs fielded in May 1940. Most were still equipped with a puny 37 mm (1.46 in) gun derived from the standard Waffenamt 3.7 cm Pak 36, of limited value against most of the French tanks. These guns were called by the Allies and Germans alike “door knockers”. However, a few of the new Ausf. Fs, up-gunned with a 50 mm (1.97 in) gun, could deal with most Allied tanks with efficiency. The few Panzer IVs were support tanks, equipped with a short-barrel 75 mm (2.95 in) howitzer and not intended to deal with other tanks.

Despite these limitations, the Germans prevailed due to a combination of several factors combined.
-Tactics. German tanks were used in a concentrated manner, while Allied tanks were dispersed to support the infantry. Despite their numbers, Allied units were destroyed piecemeal because of their local inferiority in numbers.

-Coordination. When dealing with superior tanks (like the B1), the Germans used coordination and cooperation, well-exercised in training, along with real-time communication. They overwhelmed tanks individually, and then dealt with another, akin to a pack of wolves. By contrast, French tank commanders were having difficulties loading, aiming, firing and scanning the battlefield at the same time.

-Air support. The BEF provided limited air support and the French air force had been already largely destroyed on the ground by the Luftwaffe. As a result of a rigid use of the air force, scattered in numerous units, each dependent on specific areas related to the army group, and the lack of coordination, the Allied high command was unable to use aviation support properly, while the Luftwaffe (especially the Stukas) were available to any unit and could be alerted by radio by a tank commander for immediate support at any location. The Luftwaffe decimated entire tank units on the move to intercept the main advance.

-The chain of command was similarly organized on both sides and the Allied side had a unified supreme command. However, on the Allied side, the aspects of local command and tactical independence at any level clearly marked the dominance of rigid WWI era tactics. Many French units were without orders for days, lacking the most elementary form of communication with all the echelons, and were virtually paralyzed. Intelligence crucially lacked from the lower echelons to the heads of staff. There was but a single telephone on Gamelin’s desk.

-Psychological warfare. The French command was quite confident, even overly-optimistic about their capacity to deal with the Germans. When the situation changed dramatically for the worst, their plans were shattered, followed by confused orders and counter-orders. The sheer speed of the German advance surprised the hierarchy and threw the heads of staff into disarray. All the superior officers, with few exceptions, were mentally stuck in an infantry-pace style of warfare – set-piece battles carefully planned. Many officers also showed poor management of the situation, reacting “by the book” with obsolete tactics which further aggravated the situation.

Lacking training, equipment and orders, and left with loose discipline, French soldiers were found facing a highly motivated, well-trained, younger and well-equipped autonomous German infantry. With the full use of air support (especially the terrifying Stukas), ensuring French ground forces were unable to resist for long, or -in most cases- unable to fight at all, and the French were surrounded and taken prisoner en masse. The fleeing civilians (from Belgium and Northern France) hampered and blocked the roads, and thus the movements of troops, reinforcements and supplies, and left entire units deprived of fuel, orders or both.


Second World War (1939-1945)

Unlike many wars, blame for outbreak of the Second World War can be firmly placed on the hands of a single individual, Adolf Hitler, chancellor of Germany from 1933. His program for power was set down in Mein Kampf, 'My Struggle', written in part while he was in jail after a failed attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic in 1923. In it, Hitler outlined his vision of a future in which all Germans would be united in a single Reich which would thus include Austria, the Sudentenland in Czechoslovakia, and those areas of Poland lost by Germany after 1918, in which France would have been humbled by Germany and reduced to the status of a small nation, and finally, in which Germany would control a large empire in eastern Europe, carved largely out of Russia and Poland. Once he came to power, he immediately began a program of rearmament, at first hidden, but eventually openly, and started to organize the Germany economy on a war footing. He soon started to achieve his aims. First was the reoccupation of the Rhineland, forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. In 7 March 1936 German troops marched across the Rhine bridges, under orders to retreat if the French, who at that point massively outnumbered the German army, took any action. Hitler was well aware that his regime would not survive such a humiliation, but the French did not act. Once in the Rhineland, Hitler was able to built the West Wall, a system of fortifications that severely limited any French ability to attack Germany if her eastern allies were threatened. Hitler next moved to Austria, where after a campaign of terror inside Austria he was able to launch a bloodless invasion (March 1938). Hitler quickly moved on to Czechoslovakia, where the presence of three million Germans, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, gave him his excuse. Under intense pressure from their apparent allies, Britain and France, the Czechs were forced to give in (29 September 1938), and hand over the Sudentenland, which contained the well built Czech fortifications. Once again, any French attack against the badly weakened German border would have resulted in an easy victory while the bulk of the German army would have been held up in the Czech defences, where they were faced by an army equal in size to their own. In 1939, Hitler moved on to Poland. This time Danzig and the Polish Corridor were his excuse, but his first attempt, in March, was rebuffed by strong Polish resistance, and joint English and French support of the Poles. Hitler had a deadline of September for military action, and he spent the summer building up to his invasion. During August, Hitler started to built up his forces on the Polish border. On 23 August, Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression pact, secretly agreeing to partition Poland between them. Finally, after a manufactured incident on 31 August, on 1 September 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. On 3 September, both France and Britain declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.

Poland

Hitler's attack on Poland met with rapid success. On the first day of the attack, massive air raids disrupted the Polish Air force, while fast moving Panzer units cut through the thin Polish border defences. Bombing of the railways and airbases cut all lines of communication, while the rapidly advancing armies left clusters of isolated Polish armies to be picked off later. Within a few days of the start of the attack, the Poles were powerless to act, and their defence lost any coordination. Despite this, the Poles fought valiantly, and despite suffering the Russian invasion on 17 September, the Poles held on for just over a month, with fighting only ending on 5 October. The invasion of Poland saw the first of many successful uses of Blitzkrieg, later to have such startling success in France. The leaders of both sides misunderstood the German successes in Poland. Hitler though that his own military genius had won the day, while the Western leaders though that Polish mistakes had resulted in their rapid defeat. In reality, it was the highly professional German soldiers whose skills and superior equipment had overwhelmed the Poles, helped by the near total inaction of the French and British on the relatively undefended western German frontier.

Denmark & Norway

The Fall of France

Meanwhile, the Germans turned on the in effect already defeated French. Their assault started on 5 June. The French army fought stubbornly, but was quickly broken. The French government fled to Bordeaux on 10 June, the same day Italy entered the war, and Paris fell on 14 June. By the time the French government capitulated on 21 June the Germans had advanced as far south as a line from Bordeaux east to Switzerland. Only against Italy did the French have any success. A 32 division strong Italian invasion on 21 June was defeated by six French divisions, proving Mussolini correct in his frequent claims that Italy was not ready for war. The collapse of France left Great Britain alone against German. Hitler now ruled an empire that included three fifths of France, with the remaining two fifths controlled by the pro-German Vichy government of Marshal Petain, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

The Battle of Britain

The Balkans and Greece

The War in the Desert

The War at Sea

The German surface fleet was in no way capable of any fleet actions against the Royal Navy of the sort that had been at least expected during the First World War, and that happened in the Pacific war against Japan. Instead, the Germans intended to use their fleet for commerce raiding, and in preparation for that, the Graf Spee and Deutschland, two pocket battleships, had moved into the Atlantic before the outbreak of war. The presence of such powerful ships hidden on the worlds shipping lanes posed a serious threat to the Royal Navy, which although much larger than the German fleet had worldwide concerns. After initial successes, the Graf Spee was cornered, and badly damaged at the Battle of the River Plate (13 December 1939), and was scuttled by her captain three days later, while the Deutschland was forced back to Germany by engine trouble. The Admiral Scheer, another pocket battleship, slipped past the British blockade in October 1940 and managed to remain undefeated for four months before returning to port, while in

November the heavy cruiser Hipper also managed to escape, but was soon forced back, again by engine failure. 1941 saw two great surface raids. In January-March 1941 the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, two battle cruisers, entered the north Atlantic, and managed to find a convoy separated from it's battleship escort in March, sinking 16 ships over two days before escaping the rapidly closing British battleships. The Royal Navy finally gained a success, although at heavy cost, in May. The Bismark, newly launched, and then the biggest battleship in the world, left Gdynia for Bergenfjord on its way to the North Atlantic on 18 May. On 21 May, it was spotted by the British, who started to concentrate all of their naval forces on stopping the Bismark. On the same day the Germans sailed under cover of fog. On 24 May (battle of Denmark Strait), the Royal Navy attempted to stop her, but a single shot caused an explosion that destroyed H.M.S. Hood, one of the newest British ships, and damaged the Prince of Wales, and the Bismark escaped into the Atlantic. After a tense chase, during which contact was lost for over a day, aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal managed to do enough damage to slow down the Bismark, and the pursuing British ships were able to catch, and then sink, the great German battleship. In 1942 the emphasis of the German surface fleet altered, and the Tirpitz, Scheer and Hipper concentrated on the supply convoys to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel, which suffered very heavy casualties. However, after March 1943 supplies to Russia were able to use a safer southern route through the Mediterranean and Iran, and the Arctic convoys were no longer needed. The last major surface success of the German fleet was an attack on Spitsbergen led by the Tirpitz and the Scharnhorst (6-9 September 1943). On 21-22 September British midget submarines managed to damage the Tirpitz, while on 24-26 December the Scharnhorst, in an attempt to attack a British convoy was intercepted by the Royal Navy and sunk, in part by radar guided gunnery. For most of 1944, the British made repeated attempts to sink the Tirpitz before she could be repaired, and although many raids were required, eventually (12 November), she was hit by 6-ton 'Blockbuster' bombs, and sunk.

The main German naval threat came from the U-Boats. After an initial flurry of sinkings at the outbreak of war, the submarines remained quiet for the rest of 1939, in the hope that Britain's declaration of war was more for show than anything else, but was stepped up in 1940, when it first started to bite. The Royal Navy was very short of destroyers for escort duty, and on 3 September 1940 a deal was struck with the United States in which Britain gained fifty, admittedly older, destroyers, in return for allowing the U.S. to build bases in British colonies. 1941 saw the introduction of the Wolf Packs, groups of up to fifteen U-boats operating together against convoys, and causing a serious rise in sinkings, in combination with long range German bombers based in France and Norway. The British response was introduce escort carriers, which extended air support across the entire Atlantic, and managed to reduce somewhat the toll from the Wolf Packs. 1942 saw the U-Boats at their most dangerous. The U.S., now in the war, was unprepared for submarine warfare, and from January to April 1942 the U-Boats were able to cause great damage on ships close to the American coast, where defences were at their weakest. As the American countermeasures improved, the U-Boats moved north to the shortest trans-Atlantic routes, and south into the Caribbean. By the end of the year, the U-Boat was still a serious danger, but over 80 had been sunk, and American ship production was coming close to making up for the sinkings. Regardless, January-March 1943 saw the U-Boat campaign come clossest to victory, and at one point Britain had only three months of food supplies. The tide turned in May. The British, aided by new microwave radar, concentrated on the Bay of Biscay area, an area all U-Boats from French bases had to cross, and bombers based on the south coast inflicted heavy losses on the U-Boat fleet. From June, the US Tenth Fleet put in place 'killer groups', each composed of an escort carrier with 24 fighter-bombers and a destroyer escort, and with orders to hunt and kill any U-Boat they came across. This inflicted very heavy casualties on the U-Boats, and in particular on the essential supply subs that allowed them to keep at sea for longer. Despite some individual successes, the U-Boat menace had been seen off. Despite some technical improvements to the U-Boat in early 1944, the improved Allied detection techniques held the field. Only after November 1944, when Doenitz limited his U-Boats to attacks in shallow coastal waters, where the new detection methods were ineffective, did losses rise again, but never to the heights of 1941 or 1942, and with the liberation of France he was forced to use Scandinavian and Baltic bases. Despite this, losses rose during the first months of 1945, and it was only after a double screen of escort carriers and destroyers was put in place north of the Azores that the U-Boats were finally knocked out of the war. By the end of the war, 781 U-Boats had been sunk, with the loss of 32,000 sailors, having sunk 2,575 ships, with 50,000 casualties.

The Russian Front

1941 The timing of Hitler's attack on Russia came as a total surprise to the Russian forces on the ground, despite obvious signs of a military buildup against them. The attack, on 22 June, started with an intense air attack, which virtually wiped out the Soviet air forces along the front, followed by a rapid, and devastating armoured attack, which by mid July had advanced over three hundred miles into Russia, and taken nearly 400,000 prisoners. The central German armies were only two hundred miles from Moscow, and despite increasing problems of supply as the advance created longer and longer supply lines, looked likely to take Moscow before winter, until Hitler, worried that the northern and southern armies were moving too slowly, weakened the attack towards Moscow. At first, this looked to have been a successful move. In the south, Kiev was captured, along 665,000 prisoners (September), and by the end of the year the Crimea had been captured, while in the north Leningrad came under attack from October, although an attack from Norway aimed at cutting the supply lines from Murmansk to Leningrad failed to achieve it's objective. From late September another attack on Moscow was ordered, but the time gained had allowed the defences of the city to be greatly strengthened, and the German attack ground to a halt, although only after taking another 600,000 prisoners. The year ended with a Russian counterattack, launched on 6 December with largely fresh, if untried troops, and troops from Siberia, better able to deal with the Russian winter than the Germans, and despite fierce German resistance, for the first time they were forced to give ground. However, a bigger setback for the Germans was that once it was clear Moscow would not fall, he removed many of the senior generals commanding in the east, and took personal control of the campaign, initially from Berlin.

1942 Stiff German defence finally stopped the Russian counterattack by the end of February. Nothing was possible between March and May during the Russian thaw. An initial German attack in May-June took back most of the ground lost to the Russian counterattack. The initial German plans for the main summer offensive were to first take Stalingrad, and then move on to attack the oil-rich Caucasus. However, Hitler intervened, and decided to launch both attacks at the same time, weakening them both. Both attacks started well, and the attack on the Caucasus reached within 70 miles of the Caspian Sea, which if reached would have cut off the Soviet oil supply from the Caucasus. However, Hitler intervened again, to weaken this attack in favour of the attack on Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad (24 August 1942-2 February 1943) was one of the turning points of the war in Russia. The Germans were far too stretched, with a very weak flank protecting the supply lines to the army attacking Stalingrad. While the Germans did capture the city, on 19 November a Russian counterattack shredded the front all around them, isolating the German troops, who were now under siege in the same city they had themselves attacked. Hitler, against all advice from his generals, ordered von Paulus to stand his ground, and despite attempts to relieve the siege, Paulus surrendered on 2 February 1943.

1943 The Russians kept up the pressure at the start of 1943, and only a quite amazing display of skill by Manstein, outnumbered seven to one, in February and March, prevented the collapse of the German line and saw the recapture of Kharkov. By now, the Russians outnumbered the Germans by four to one, and had received 3,000 planes and 2,400 tanks from the Americans alone. Even Hitler realised that no more great offensives would be possible, and instead planed for a more limited attack at Kursk. The Battle of Kursk (5-16 July) was the largest tank battle ever, and a combination of German delays and good Russian preparation made it a disaster for Germany. From now on, the Russians launched all of the offensives, pushing the Germans back through out the rest of the year. On 2 August, Hitler ordered his troops to Hold in the East, forbidding any organised retreats. This doomed the German forces in the east, as even when a pause in the Russian attack would have given them time to pull back to new defensive lines, Hitler would not allow it, and salient after salient was cut off by the Russian advance.

1944 The year started with the liberation of Leningrad (15-19 January), and continued with a series of successful Russian attacks. By the end of April, Odessa had been recaptured, and Romania threatened. The Russian summer campaign, timed to coincide with operation Overlord in the west, liberated White Russian during June-July, liberating Minsk on 3 July. Once again, Hitler's refusal to retreat had left his armies thinly spread, with no reserve, over a 1,400 mile long front, which was impossible to defend. July-August saw the Russians enter Poland, and reach close to Warsaw. At this point Stalin showed his own evil side. On 1 August, the Warsaw Revolt broke out, led by the anti-Communist Polish underground, in an attempt to gain control of Warsaw, and expecting the Russians, who were within easy striking distance, to come to their aid, but instead, Stalin ordered his troops to wait until the revolt had been crushed, and no more progress was made until after 30 September, when the revolt was finally over, Hitler having done Stalin's work for him. Meanwhile, other Russian offensives pushed the Germans out of Eastern Europe. Romania was conquered between 20 August and 14 September, while Bulgaria changed sides on 8 September. From November, Russian forces pushed towards the Baltic, finally reaching it, and cutting off an entire German army group in Latvia, while in the south the Germans pulled out of Greece, and were forced out of Yugoslavia. The only German victory was the defeat of the first Russian attack on East Prussia. As the year ended, Hitler had lost almost all of his conquests, but German soil, at least in the east, had not yet seen the fighting.

1945 The end finally came in 1945. By the end of January, the Russians had reached the Oder, Vienna fell on 15 April, and by the end of April East Prussia had been evacuated, in the last operation of the German Navy. Finally, the attack on Berlin was launched. Berlin was reached on 22 April, and surrounded on 25 April, the same day the Russian and American troops met at Torgau on the Elbe. Five days later (30 April), Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, and on 2 May all fighting in Berlin ended. Hitler's successors rapidly moved to surrender, and the war on the west officially ended at midnight on the night on 8-9 May 1945. Russia suffered more than any other country during the war. Between ten and fifteen million Russian civilians died, as did seven and a half million Russian soldiers, over half of all deaths during the war.

Invasion of Italy

D Day and the Liberation of Western Europe

The long awaited second front in Europe was launched on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Operation 'Overlord' saw the greatest amphibious assault in history hit the Normandy beaches, with American forces landing on Utah and Omaha, and British and Empire troops on Gold, Juno and Sword. On the first day all the landings but Omaha were expanded to a comfortable depth, and two artificial harbours set up (reduced to one by a storm on 19 June). Hitler was convinced that the real attack would be around the Pas de Calais, and refused to let Rommel use the panzer reserves located there, while the allies slowly expanded their beachhead. By 12 June, the beachheads had been united, and while the British concentrated on Caen, the Americans cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and laid siege to Cherbourg. The British advance on Caen was slow, only taking it on 13 July, but the German armour was sucked into the defence of the town, and when the Americans broke through the German lines on the right they were able to make rapid progress, with Patton's Third Army freeing Brittany, before turning east to Le Mans, and most German resistance in France collapsed.

One German army corp in the south actually had trouble finding an allied army to surrender to, and by 14 September 1944 the front line had reached the German borders, liberating most of France and Belgium, and giving the allies new ports to shorten their now stretched supply lines. The Germans were now defending the Siegfried Line, understandably not well maintained after years where it seemed unnecessary. The first allies attempt to break the line was a total disaster. Operation 'Market Garden' was meant to capture the bridges over a series of rivers, including the Rhine, using airborne troops, and a rapid relief column. While the airborne troops landed successfully, they found the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem defended by much stronger forces than expected, and while the minor objectives were achieved, the battle of Arnhem (17-26 September) saw the outnumbered British 1st Airborne Division defeated. The emphasis now turned to the American attacks on the Siegfried line, which were initially unsuccessful. At this point, Hitler launched his last major attack in the west, the battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945). Having managed to gather together one last offensive panzer army, and a bare minimum of fuel, the attack was launched through the Ardennes on 16 December. The aim was to repeat the success of 1940, and isolate the Allied armies in Belgium, but this time the balance of power was against him, and despite initial successes the attack was doomed. The attacking forces soon ran out of fuel, and failed to capture the allied fuel dumps, which were their first objective, and the weather cleared allowing the allied air forces to play their part, and by 16 January 1945 the bulge gained as so much expense had been removed. The allies could now go back onto the offensive. By the middle of March, allied armies lined the Rhine, the last natural barrier baring their way into Germany. The main planed attack was to be launched at Wesel by Montgomery on 23 March. One day before that, Patton launched his own surprise attack over the Rhine, and managed to cross with only 34 casualties. Within six days he had advance over 100 miles east of the Rhine. Montgomery's attack was also a success, and within days he controlled twelve bridges over the Rhine. The end was now close for the German armies. The western allies advanced to the Elbe (26 April), where they made contact with the Russians (2 May). Meanwhile, Hitler had committed suicide (30 April) during the Battle for Berlin, and his successors engaged in peace negotiations. The last main American campaign was directed south, against what turned out to be a fictional stronghold in the German alps. On 7 May the Germans surrendered. The armistice that ended the Second World War in Europe came into force at Midnight on the night of 8-9 May 1945.

The War in the East

The Buildup to War

The Japanese Onrush

The Japanese plan was to start the war with a knockout blow against the US Pacific fleet, while at the same time conquering the Southern Resource Zone (the Philippines, Malaya, modern Indonesia and Burma), where the mineral wealth Japan lacks could be taken, and also taking a wide defensive zone around the Zone, where they would build strong jungle fortresses, from where they could destroy any allied attempt to counter attack.

The first blow of the Japanese war was the famous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, on 7 December 1941 (8 December west of the International Date Line). A Japanese carrier fleet managed to reach position north of the Hawaii without being detected, and the air attack came as a total surprise to the Americans at Pearl Harbor, despite their having enough intelligence reports to expect a surprise attack somewhere. The US Pacific fleet suffered heavy losses - of 8 battleships in port, three sank, one capsized, and the rest were seriously damaged, as were three light cruisers and three destroyers and 250 aircraft. Luckily, all three American Aircraft Carriers were at sea, and escaped, reducing the impact of the attack. Within days, Hitler declared war on the United States, removing any last difficulties Roosevelt might have had getting a U.S. declaration of war on Germany, while the public revulsion at the surprise attack did more than anything to unit the American public behind the war effort.

The most outstanding feature of the Japanese attack was the speed with which it opened. One of the first places to come under attack was Wake Island, a U.S. base roughly half way between the Philippines and Hawaii, which was also attacked on 8 December, and fell after an heroic defence on 23 December. An attack on Guam, also in American hands, on 10 December was immediately successful. Also on 8 December were the first attacks on Hong Kong, Malaya and the Philippines.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Burma

The first British possession to come under attack in the east was Hong Kong. Once again, the attack started on 8 December, with a quickly victorious attack on Kowloon that forced the British back onto Hong Kong Island, where after a stubborn defence they were forced to surrender on 25 December.

The most important British base in the far east was Singapore, said to be invincible. However, the heavy defences of Singapore were all facing out to sea, and the Japanese decided to attack overland. Once again, the attack began on 8 December, with a landing in Northern Malaya, which rapidly pushed down the Malaya peninsular, reaching the Strait of Johore facing Singapore itself on 31 January 1942. The landward side of Singapore was without heavy defences, and British morale had already collapsed. The Japanese, who were themselves close to running out of supplies and retreated, launched their attack on 8 February, and to their surprise the city surrendered on 15 February 1942, the single largest surrender of British troops in history. The fall of Singapore was a crushing blow to the British Empire in the far east, from which it never truly recovered, even after the final defeat of Japan.

The Japanese war plan included a plan to conquer Burma, with the intention of using the mountainous Burma-Indian border as part of the defensive ring around the Southern Resource Zone. Accordingly, on 12 January 1942 two strong divisions with air support crossed from Thailand, occupied in December 1941. Facing them were two weakened British divisions, poorly equipped and under supported, which were unable to stand up to the Japanese attack. During March and April, both sides were reinforced, with two Chinese armies joining the British, and planned offensives. The Japanese attacked first, and during the course of April the British position in Burma became untenable. Finally, in May, the British fell back to the Indian border, marked by the Chindwin River, and rough hilly country, where the front stabilised.

The Turning of the Tide

Emboldened by their quick success, by the middle of 1942 the Japanese expanded their aims to include Midway and the Solomon Islands, thinking that they would make their defensive zone much stronger. However, this led them into a series of defeats that mark the turning point in the Pacific.

The turning point in the Pacific came with two naval battles, both of which saw Japanese attacks foiled. First was the Battle of the Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942), the first naval battle at which no surface ships came into contact, fought entirely by carrier based aircraft. Two Japanese fleets, one heading to the southern Solomons, the other to Port Moresby on the south coast of Papua New Guinea, facing Australia, left port on 1 May. American intelligence was aware of these plans, and two carriers were sent to oppose them. The battle itself was a draw, with both sides losing one carrier, but the Japanese were forced to abandon their advance, a major Allied victory. The second, and more clear cut victory was the Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942). The Japanese assembled the largest fleet yet seen in the war, containing 165 warships, and including all four of Japans fleet carriers, supported by 51,000 troops, with the intention of capturing Midway Island, from where they would be able to attack Hawaii. Once again, American intelligence was aware of the Japanese movement, and had managed to get three carriers into place to defend Midway, while the Japanese were convinced the carriers were elsewhere. The battle was a total American victory. All four Japanese carriers were sunk, for the loss of one American carrier, forever changing the balance of power in the Pacific, away from the Japanese and decisively towards the Americans.

Guadalcanal Some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific, both on land and at sea, was centred on the Island of Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon Islands. In the summer of 1942 the Americans had been planning to attack the Japanese in the southern Solomons. News reached them of Japanese plans to build an airbase on Guadalcanal, and in reaction the American landings were pushed forward. The Marines landed on the island on 7 August 1942, and easily overwhelmed the small Japanese garrison, capturing the as yet unfinished airbase. However, Japanese air cover forced the U.S. Navy to withdraw for some days, leaving the Marines unsupported for ten days. However, the airbase was completed on 20 August, and supplies were able to reach both sides. On 23-25 October, the Japanese launched their attack (Land battle of Guadalcanal), but their attacks were piecemeal, and never really threatened the American positions. An attempt by the Japanese to land 13,000 reinforcements on the Island was, if not stopped, at least greatly hampered (Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942), and the Japanese naval losses during the battle gave control of the seas around Guadalcanal firmly to the Americans. Finally, the Americans launched their own offensive on 10 January 1943, and despite a determined defence the Japanese were eventually forced to evacuate the island. The last Japanese soldiers left on 7 February. This was the first large scale Allied victory over the Japanese, and the first major setback suffered by the Japanese.

Towards Victory

Despite their setbacks in 1942, the Japanese were still confident. Their original war plan had, after all, predicted a change from the offensive to the defensive once the Southern Resource Zone was captured, based on a series of jungle fortresses that would cost the allies massive casualties to take. They thus began 1943 still confident that their plans were intact. The allies spent most of the year reducing the threat to Australia, and then preparing to return to the Philippines in the next year. By now, it was starting to become clear that the United States had much more military potential that anyone had expected, and the allied plan to simply hold the Japanese until after the defeat of Germany was modified to allow increasing pressure on Japan. Still, it was only towards the end of 1944 that the decisive battles began. The U.S. plan was to begin with an attack on Leyte (Philippines), after which MacArthur would take Luzon, while Nimitz moved against Iwo Jima and Okinawa, in preparation for the invasion of Japan itself. The Japanese had a plan to deal with any attempt on the Philippines, using part of their fleet to draw of the American carriers, and the rest to destroy and landings. However, the Japanese were now sadly lacking in carrier pilots, and when battle was joined (battle of Leyte Gulf, 17-25 October 1944), the American fleet was able to in effect destroy the Japanese fleet. The Japanese lost nearly half of their fleet, and it was never again able to play a major part in the fighting. By 25 December, Leyte was secured, after fighting which cost 70,000 Japanese and 15,584 American casualties.

The two campaigns for 1945 now began. On 9 January U.S. troops landed on Luzon, freeing Manila by 4 March. However, the Japanese retreated into the mountains, and fighting went on right until the end of the war, with the last 50,000 Japanese troops only surrendering on 15 August. Despite this, US casualties were relatively light compared to the Japanese - 7,933 U.S. dead compared to 192,000 Japanese dead, a tribute to MacArthur's skill.

The attack on Iwo Jima was more expensive, although quicker. The US landed on 19 February, and had conquered the tiny island by 24 March, losing 6,891 dead. The Japanese had put in place one of the strongest systems of defence seen in the war, including a maze of tunnels that reduced the impact of the American bombardment. However, by the end of the war the lives of close to 25,000 U.S. airmen had been saved by using Iwo Jima to make emergency landing.

Okinawa was the only part of Japan proper to be assaulted during the war. As on Iwo Jima, the Japanese had constructed a massive system of defences, garrisoned by 130,000 men. The American landings began on 1 April, against very light initial opposition, but any relief was short lived, and on 4 April the US troops came up against the Machinato Line of defences, part of an interlocking series of mountain fortresses. The Japanese were able to resist the American assault for two months, with the fighting only ending on 22 June. The U.S. lost 12,500 killed to Japans 107,500.

It was the fanatical resistance on Okinawa that convinced the allied command to use the Atomic Bomb. After Japan gave no response to the Potsdam Declaration of 26 July demanding their surrender, the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, and the second of Nagasaki on 9 August. Japan offered to surrender the following day. The cease fire came into effect on 15 August, and the surrender was officially signed on 2 September 1945. There has been much debate over the use of the Atomic bombs, which killed 110,000 people directly, and many more since, but there is little doubt that any invasion of the Japanese home islands would have cost far more lives, both Japanese and Allied.


George Washington assigned to lead the Continental Army

On June 15, 1775, George Washington, who would one day become the first American president, accepts an assignment to lead the Continental Army.

Washington had been managing his family’s plantation and serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses when the second Continental Congress unanimously voted to have him lead the revolutionary army. He had earlier distinguished himself, in the eyes of his contemporaries, as a commander for the British army in the French and Indian War of 1754.

Born a British citizen and a former Redcoat, Washington had, by the 1770s, joined the growing ranks of colonists who were dismayed by what they considered to be Britain’s exploitative policies in North America. In 1774, Washington joined the Continental Congress as a delegate from Virginia. The next year, the Congress offered Washington the role of commander in chief of the Continental Army.

After accepting the position, Washington sat down and wrote a letter to his wife, Martha, in which he revealed his concerns about his new role. He expressed uneasiness at leaving her alone, told her he had updated his will and hoped that he would be home by the fall. He closed the letter with a postscript, saying he had found some of “the prettiest muslin” but did not indicate whether it was intended for her or for himself.

On July 3, 1775, Washington officially took command of the poorly trained and under-supplied Continental Army. After six years of struggle and despite frequent setbacks, Washington managed to lead the army to key victories and Great Britain eventually surrendered in 1781. Due largely to his military fame and humble personality, Americans overwhelmingly elected Washington their first president in 1789.


Watch the video: Πως γίνονταν οι Κομμουνιστικές εκτελέσεις στη Σοβιετική Ένωση. (August 2022).

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