The Battle for Kvam

 
Map from Krigen i Norge 1940.
 

General conditions

Terrain

At the bend of the river Lågen, known as the "Kvams knee", the valley widens in a flat and open farmland, giving good fields of fire. The farms usually lies scattered over the farmland, and a farm usually consisted of a number of wooden buildings grouped together. The fields are usually strips, 100 to 300 m wide, running down from the hillside. The fields are separated by small ditches, sometimes with thin screens of shrubberies. There are also shrubberies along the shorelines.

At the "knee" and on Viksöy the terrain is very open. Further west, closer to Kvam,  the farms and other buildings lies closer together. Sometimes in long rows, and there are also some small woods on low ridges. 

Up on the hillside there is evergreen spruce and pine forest, while the vegetation in the valley is bare at this time of the year, not giving much cover.

Weather and ground conditions

The weather before and during the battle was clear and sunny, with cold nights.

Most of the snow was gone down in the valley, though there were spots here and there at shadowy places, in ditches and along roadsides. Higher up on the hillside there was still snow, and on the high plateau the snow was still more than knee deep. The melting snow made the creeks running down the hillside full of swiftly running water.

There were still ice on the rivers, except where the water was running more swiftly. From my sources it's unfortunately not possible to get a clear picture on where the creeks and the river were covered with ice. German and Norwegian patrols crossed the river back and forth further down the river, but some sources claim that the river was open between Viksöy and the south side of the river. On the other hand the British troops on Viksöy crossed to the south side of the river when they retreated from Viksöy

Ground conditions were soft from the melted snow. The German tanks seldom left the road, and seems to have bogged down on occations. The surface was dry though, as can be seen from the forest fires that on more than one occation were started by German artillery.

Actions on 25.April

Having arrived the evening before, the British battalion I/KOYLI, reinforced by the AT-company of the 15.Brigade (8 25mm Hotchkiss) and a pioneer unit, start to prepare positions east of Kvam early in the morning. The Norwegian defences further down the valley collapsed the evening before, so the Germans might arrive any moment.

Co.A, together with an AT-gun, is positioned at the east end of the flat and open Viksöy and co.B, with 4 AT-guns, north of co.A, from the water up to the mountain side (in the area of the farms Klomstad, Kjestad and Frostad). Co.C is positioned behind co.A, on Viksöy with one platoon on the south side of the river. Co.E is positioned along the road behind co.B, from the church to Klomstad. Co.D is positioned on the left flank, well behind co.B, in the area Veikle-Brenna. The HQ and staff company was positioned near the railway station. Three AT-guns are held in reserve.

At the same time the newly arrived fighter squadroon (18 Gladiator) at Vangsmjösa began operating. They had trouble starting the machines though, due to the cold night, and at the same time Luftwaffe began pounding on the base. From about 9:00 three Gladiators began patroling over the British lines though.

At 9:00 the advancing Germans came to the first halt due to a roadblock guarded by a small Norwegian pioneer detachment, at Svarthaugen (about 5 km south of the British lines). After some fighting, some of them are taken prisoner and the rest retreats to Rustberget.

At Rustberget (about 4 km south of the British lines) the German column is forced to stop again, to dispose of the Norwegians guarding a roadblock.

At Fjellheim they are delayed by a road demolition.

At Kvamsporten (about 3 km south of the British lines) they have to stop one hour due to a road demolition (not very successful) guarded by a Norwegian pioneer detachment (30 men with 6 heavy machine guns under fenrik Trygve Fladby). Treatened by a German flank move they have to retreat.

At Myren the German column comes under fire from British patrols at Enget, west of the river. Fire from the leading German tanks silences the opposition.

At Borsåa (about 2 km south of the British lines) there were a British forpost of 40 men. They defended the position until the Germans came near enough to make a close assault with hand grenades.

At Svaet they were taken under fire from British patrols at the farms Engum and Bergum, west of the river. Fire from the leading German tanks silences the opposition.

The German column now approached the British main line of defence. The column was headed by a Pz II a Pz I and an armoured car. After them came marching infantry, motorcycles, artillery and motorized infantry. The column passed the side road leading to the farm Stormorken, and when the lading elements came within 300 m of the AT-gun at Viksöy, they were taken under fire by the AT-gun and the companies A and B. The AT-gun quickly immobilized both the leading tanks. The armoured car retreaded back to safety.

The Germans responds with artillery against the British positions, and especially co.A at Viksöy takes severe losses. The British commander of the 15th Brigade, Brigadier Smyth, is up at the front and is hit by sharpnels in the leg, and has to be taken under medical care. He is replaced by the commander of I/Y&L, Lieut-Colonel A. L. Kent-Lemon.

First the Germans tries to assault co.B, but is beaten back from the well dug-in positions. They try to assault co.A, but is pushed back. Co.A takes severe losses though, esp. from the inf.guns, and at about 16:00 they retreat back to co.C on the western part of the island.

The Germans also tries to turn the British left flank, advancing from Teige, through Kjestad toward Veikle. They make progress, but the arrival of co.C of I/Y&L at 17:30 saves the situation. They are sent to the British left flank, east of Veikle. Along the road, where co.E is defending, another PzII is put out of action. German attempts to clear Viksöy fails.

When darkness falls, co.B falls back to a position north of the road, at the railway station. Behind them, on their left flank is co.C/Y&L. Behind co.C/Y&L is co.D. Co.E is defending the road at the railway station. Co.A and C is holding the west end of Viksöya.

In a German report from 19:30 they claim 20 norwegian and 28 British prisoners. They have 2 dead and 10 wounded. Among them a Liutenant Preiss.

Actions on 26.April

Early in the morning the German begin the day with a long artillery and machine gun preparation of known and suspected British positions.

Three Gladiators from Vangsmjösa begin patroling the air over Kvam.

At 06:30 an assault in battalion strength against C/Y&L at the British left flank is beaten back.

At 09:00 a renewed assault fails to dislodge the British defenders. A force moving up on the mountain side is however working its way past the British flank. At the small farmlet Hillingen, up on the top of the mountain side, they are taken under fire by three Norwegian stragglers. The Norwegians are all killed.

At 11:00 the Germans managed to infiltrate between co.B and co.C/Y&L. forcing co.B to use its reserve platoon as rear protection. The flanking unit did engage co.C/Y&L and co.D. Luftwaffe now began straifing and bombing the British positions, presumably because the British Gladiators had disappeared, allowing the Germans to establish machine guns close to the British positions.

At 12:00 the Germans pushed forward in the center, along the road. It was held after heavy fighting, but they had managed to establish a machine gun in a position that dominated the road through the village. The British ercted a screen over the road to get some protection from the machine gun.

At 13:00 or 14:00 a couple of PzI arrived to support the German infantry in the center. They could advance all the way up to the village due to the screen, but after a volunteer had removed the screen under fire, an AT-gun could knock out both tanks. The AT-gun was shortly after knocked out by an artillery shell. Then the German heavy tank, a NBfz.IV, advances up the road, but it is immobilized a little west of the farm Heimstad. Later it is blown up by the Germans, not to block the road.

At 16:00 German infiltrations threatens to put wedges between the British companies, and a unit advancing down the Veikle road threatens the left flank. A daring assault by a platoon from co.C/Y&L restores the situation. At about the same time a Norwegian ski detachment (about 40 men with 6 machine guns under fenrik Paul Jörgenvåg) that marched over the mountain from Otta, takes the German under fire from the farmlet Hillingen. The effect of the fire was probably negliable due to the long distance, but the appearance of troops behind the German flanking force was probably disturbing to the Germans.

At 17:00 a retreat order is issued. The retreat is to be executed at 23:00, throgh a second position established at Kjörem by I/Y&L (less co.C) and co.B/Green Howards.

On Viksöy the Germans manages to force co.A and C back. They retreat over to the south side of the river, and further up.

At 18:00 the Germans controls Viksöy and the land between the main road and the Veikle road. The forest is set on fire by German artillery and the British is forced to fall back a few hours early. The two companies of the left flank, co.D and co.C/Y&L is not reached by the new retreat order and is cut of. The Germans do not interfere with the retreat though, and the British companies can retreat through the woods, and over the mountain, back to their own lines.

 

British TOO/TOE

The 15:th Brigade was a regular army unit (i.e. not from the territorial army). It was motorized, though most of the vehicles had been left in France.
It had HQ, staff, an AT-company with 8 25mm AT-guns and three infantry battalions:
I/K.O.Y.L.I.
I/Y.& L.
I/G.H.

K.O.Y.L.I.: Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Y & L: York and Lancaster
G.H.: Green Howards

The on paper strength of the battalions of the 15th Brigade was:
21 officers, 637 NCO and privates  

4 rifle companies, with 3 platoons each. 
Each platoon had 1 2" mortar, 1 AT-rifle and 3 light Bren gun  

1 staff company, with
 - signal platoon (telephone + 1 radio set)
 - MG-platoon (4 Bren guns with AA-mount as option)
 - mortar platoon (2 3" mortars)
 - reccon platoon (10 Bren-carriers - left in France)
 - pioneer platoon
 - administrative platoon

Actual strength of I/KOYLI

The Brigade had been motorized, but for I/KOYLI all such equipment had been left in France. The drivers and others (the reccon platoon?) had been used to form a fifth company (Co.E).

There were no mortars available at the battle of Kvam.

The Brigade had a AT-company with 8 25mm Hotchkiss AT-guns. These were attached to I/KYOLI at the battle of Kvam

There were also some engineers available at Kvam (preparing defences).

Actual strength of I/Y&L

The organization of I/Y&L was closer to the specified, with only the usual four companies, and with the reccon platoon with Bren.carriers and the mortar platoon.

British Commanders

15th Brigade commander: Brigadier H.E.F.Smyth
He was replaced by Lieut-Colonel Kent-Lemonwhen wounded on noon the 25.April

I/KOYLI:  Lieut-Colonel Cass

Staff company:    major B. M. Jones 
Co.A:    capt. R. L. N. Gowans
Co.B:    major H. N. Burr
Co.C:   capt. S. R. Fox
Co.D:   capt. A. M. Vickers
Co.E:   capt. A. F. McC. Riggs

I/Y&L:   Lieut-Colonel A.L. Kent-Lemon; He was replaced by major Tennant when replacing Brig. Smyth

Co.C:   capt. F. H. Jordan

Sources:

Derry T.K.  "The Norwegian Campaign" 
Munthe-Kaas O.  "Krigen i Norge 1940; Romerike, Hedmarken, Gudbrandsd., Romsdalen II"