NARVIK 1940: THE BATTLE FOR NORTHERN NORWAY

December 2, 2022
Posted by: ANDREW LAMBERT

Narvik was the site of two ferocious naval battles in April 1940, when all 10 of the German destroyers were sunk, around one third of the entire German force, the second engagement saw the battleship Warspite, complete with Swordfish spotter plane, deep inside the fjord. The German ships had landed 2,000 mountain troops to seize the town and secure the Norwegian end of the strategic rail line connecting the port with the Swedish iron mines in Lulea. The German attack had been a reaction to Anglo-French plans to deny Germany access to this vital flow of ore in winter when the Gulf of Bothnia was frozen solid. Naval success paved the way for British, French, and Polish troops to be landed, joining Norwegian formations driving the Germans down the railway toward the Swedish border. The Germans were reading some British signals during the opening phases of the campaign, until new ciphers were introduced. The allies’ intention was to hold northern Norway, closing Germany’s iron ore supply line, and securing control of the northern exit from the North Seas. Reinforced by air and clandestinely through Sweden, German forces held out until the establishment of an effective air base near Trondheim, which shifted the balance of power, and the German invasion of France and the Low Countries shifted priorities south. By the second week in June the allies were withdrawing, an operation that saw the loss of HMS Glorious. While primarily a study of the little-known land operations, this is a rounded examination of the entire campaign, highlighting the importance of land and sea-based aviation, along with the work of British destroyers supporting land offensives deep inside the fjords. On land the skill and initiative displayed by German forces, at all levels, is contrasted with the uneven performance of the allies. The illustrations emphasise both the striking terrain and the problems that it posed for units unfamiliar with sub-zero operations. A very good introduction to a misunderstood campaign.