The Allied forces in Norway

Army Order of Battle - Naval Order of Battle - Operations - Timeline

British, French and Polish forces participated in the struggle for Norway. While this site focuses on the period that precluded the arrival of the Allied forces, I nevertheless find them so important, both when they are present and absent, that I just can't ignore them. 

France and Britain had made their own plans for Norway during the winter 1939-40, and it was their fortune (or misfortune) that it was Germany and not the Allies that came to stand as the invaders of Norway in the history books. More about that in Political Prelude.

The Allied expeditionary force to Norway was a joint venture between Britain and France. While virtually all naval and air units were British, a substantial portion of the ground forces were French. 

Strategy

From the first day the Allied contribution to the fighting in Norway was plagued by a mixture of bad luck, bad planning and misfortune. An Allied invasion force was already embarked in British ports, when the German invasion fleet was spotted (but not identified as an invasion force), and the units embarked on cruisers was ordered to disembark in haste, and the cruisers went out on a fruitless chase after the German navy. When the units were finally transported to Norway, they were dispersed between Narvik, Namsos and Aandalsnes, as the Allied high command had trouble to decide the objective of the operations. Should they put all resources on taking Narvik, which was the main strategic objective of the Allied, or should they let Narvik wait until the German advance in the south was halted. If the latter, they must decide how to accomplish that. Trondheim was an obvious key. Could it be retaken by a direct assault, or by a pincer move, and how could the German advance from south be halted before they could relieve Trondheim? Such questions plagued the Allied supreme command, and they never got to a satisfactory conclusion.

Troubles

One of the most persistent trouble for the Allied operation in Norway was the logistics. As the Germans had occupied all major ports, the Allied forces had to use secondary ports with small capacity, especially for heavy equipment like vehicles and artillery. Moreover the nature of the campaign in central Norway confined each Allied force to a single port. The Germans had total control over the skies, and as soon as they had discovered the Allied landings they began bombing their supply ports, reducing their capacity drastically.

The cooperation with the Norwegians were also less than perfect. The mere reason that the Norwegians saw it as a realistic option to continue the opposition against the German invasion was that they expected a prompt British reaction, but as the days passed without any significant British help arriving, there was a certain disappointment among the Norwegian leaders, not to mention the troops. Nevertheless, when the first British troops arrived it was a big moral boost to the Norwegians. Unfortunately they had unrealistic expectations of what the British would accomplish, and had a tendency to quickly place the responsibility for the defense on their shoulders. And when the British troops soon were forced back with the same speed as the Norwegians earlier, the morale boost turned into its reverse. If the Norwegians expected to much of the Allies, the opposite can be said about the Allied attitude toward the Norwegians. Especially the British commanders showed a great distrust of their Norwegian fellows in arms. Regarding their fighting abilities but especially their trustworthiness. Perhaps due to the Quisling phenomena they regarded the Norwegians as notorious security leaks.

Southern Norway

The first serious fighting for the Allied troops was in Southern Norway, where the British 148th Brigade tried to prevent German entry into the Gudbrandsdal - one of the two routes from southern Norway toward Trondheim. When the Allied troops finally arrived at the scene, the Norwegian troops were already exhausted, and the Germans were gathering momentum. As the Allied forces arrived in driblets, due to both the limited port capacity and the dispersal of their initial forces, they had to be thrown into the line without preparations and were worn down in the same pace as they arrived. The Germans had got momentum, and they kept it all the way up the Gudbrandsdal, and neither the British nor the Norwegians were able to stem their advance. Only at the end of the campaign in the south, near Otta, the 15th Brigade had some success in halting the Germans, but then the complete withdrawal from Southern Norway had already been decided.

Central Norway

As part of a planned pincer move against the German troops in Trondheim, allied troops were landed in Namsos, which was the only port with any capacity north of Trondheim, that was near enough to act as staging point for an attack. The conditions were much more favourable here than in southern Norway, as they faced an isolated and rather small German unit that had little artillery and no tanks. The first Allied advance by British territorials were however quickly routed by a German counter attack. The Allied regrouped and reinforced with French mountain troops they prepared a new thrust against Trondheim, when the order to withdraw from south and central Norway came.

Northen Norway

The best British troops in the first wave (the Guards Brigade) were sent to the Narvik area, in spite of the fact that the most pressing needs were in the south. This was probably due to the fact that the plans were a hastily made up modification of the original Allied plans, made up before the German invasion. In these plans the main force had Narvik as the target, with only small units going to strategic points in the south.

A possible opportunity to make a swift end to the operations in the north were lost when the British army commander, General Mackesy, refused to made a direct assault on Narvik, recomended by Admiral Cork. Instead a slow build-up commenced, followed by an as slow advance. Finally, at the end of May, Narvik was retaken, but by then the strategic decision to give up Norway had already been taken.

 




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