The Battles in Valdres

Perhaps the most pitched battles between Norwegian and German forces in Norway was the fighting at the entrance to the Valdres district, around Bagn, Tonsåsen and Höljerasta, from 19.April to 27.April. These battles are seldom covered in the literature. One reason is that no English troops were involved, making it less interesting for English writers. Another is that it, for all its ferocity, was a side show with little impact on the overall war, compared with for instance the German drive up Gudbrandsdal, or the battles around Narvik. 

The area of the operations

After the initial German landings, when it became clear that the Norwegians wouldn't accept German "protection" but fight back, first priority for the Germans, after securing of the area around Oslofjord, became to link up with the isolated German forces in the very strategically positioned city Trondheim. From Trondheim they could continue up north to relieve the Narvik force, which held a very precarious position. Other isolated German positions (Bergen, Stavanger and Kristiansand) would have to wait as their positions were considered less threatened. The advance north were made on all routes available, with I.D.163 under General Engelbrecht west of Mjösa, and I.D.196 under General Pellengahr east of Mjösa.

On the 14.April Hönefoss fell to Kampfgruppe Adlhoch, a regimental sized Kampfgruppe (battle group) from I.D.163. Hönefoss was an important garrison town and the eastern terminus of the railway over the mountains to Bergen. After the fall of Hönefoss the Kampfgruppe were to advance north toward Gjövik and the mouth of Gudbrandsdal. Oberst Adlhoch separated his force into two columns. A main column that would advance east of Randsfjord, and a lighter force that would advance into Ådalen along river Begna to act as flank protection for the main column. Only smaller patrols were sent up along the Bergen railway in Hallingdal.

The Norwegian high command (H.O.K) decided to leave the defence of Hallingdal and the Bergen railway to 4.Division in the Bergen area, while IR6 from Hönefoss defended the roads leading north from Hönefoss. The local defence battalion fought a delaying battle along river Begna in Ådalen, while the two field battalions tried to stop the German advance south of Randsfjord.

Kampfgruppe Adlhoch
Gruppe Adlhoch:
I, II / IR236
two Pz II, four Pz I from 3./Pz.Abt.z.b.V.40 (from 16.April)**
four 10.5 cm how, two 7.5 cm guns from I/AR222 (from 16.April evening)***
detachment of Pi.234
two mountain companies
Gruppe Daubert:
III / IR236, III / IR159
two Pz I from Pz.Abt.z.b.V.40 (from 17.April*)
11/AR234 (two captured Norwegian 7.5cm guns)**

* [1] s.61
** [2] s.166
*** [2] s.278 

Gruppe Daubert advance up river Begna

The local defence battalion of IR6, under major Haneborg-Hansen, fought delaying battles against the advancing Gruppe Daubert, up along river Begna. On 14.April a small battle was fought at Hen, 5 km outside Hönefoss, against German patrols. It was only a temporary position, and next position was set up at Hallingby about 5 km further up the valley. On the following day Gruppe Daubert began their advance up river Begna and a prolonged battle was fought from Hallingby and back a couple of kilometres during the day. While the local defence battalion fought rather well it had severe losses and got exhausted, and the commander decided to fall back a considerable distance, leaving only a small rearguard. Fortunately Gruppe Daubert didn't pursue during the night and the following morning. One might speculate that they also were exhausted and perhaps taken aback a little by the stiff resistance. Thus the Norwegian troops could recover and a company that were cut off when attempting a flank attack on the German troops could get back to their own lines. On 16.April Haneborg-Hansen decided to withdraw the main force all the way to Bagn, leaving a small force at Bjonevika about 30km to the north. A short battle was fought against the advancing Germans there on the evening of 16.April. On 17.April there were no contact between the Germans and the Norwegians in Ådalen. The Norwegians prepared their positions in Bagn while the Germans were busy clearing up roadblocks and repairing bridges along the 60km from Bjonevika to Bagn.

The main force of Gruppe Adlhoch made slower progress along Randsfjord, and Daubert planned to make a swift attack on Bagn and then turn east and fall the Norwegians fighting between Randsfjord and Mjösa in the back.

Meanwhile the Norwegian high command (H.O.K) were contemplating to move the 4.Brigade from Voss, outside Bergen, to the main theatre along lake Mjösa. The 4.Brigade was the only bigger formation in southern Norway that had been able to organize itself according to plan (more or less) and in relative calm. Thus it was considered very important unit by H.O.K. The planned move from Voss to the area between Randsfjord and Mjösa, that would go by rail to Gol and then by road from Gol to Aurdal and Dokka, made the position at Bagn very important. If Bagn fell the only road from the Voss and Sognefjord area would be immediately threatened.  The first battalion (I/IR10) were transported east on the night to 17.April and was located in Aurdal on 17.April.

The Battlefield

Lets for a moment consider the geography of the position. Bagn lies were the narrow valley of the river Begna widens and gives place to a small open area with fields in the otherwise heavily forested area. The main road crosses the river at the northeast edge of the open area, and the steep mountainside on the north side of the river dominates the area south of the bridge.

17.April - The calm before the storm
Situation map 17.April

The local defence battalion used 17.April to prepare the positions in Bagn that had been reconnoitred on 16.April by Haneborg-Hansen. There were three companies available. The machine gun company (kp.4) and two rifle companies (kp.2 and kp.3). Kp.1 was reserve and positioned about 5km north of the Bagn position. The main defensive force, the heavy machine guns of kp.4 were placed on a ledge on the mountain side just north of the bridge at Bagn, except for a couple placed at the church, east of the river, and one at the crossroad just south of the bridge. Kp.3 were positioned at the church and surrounding houses while kp.2 had one platoon up on the mountainside on the far left (east) flank, and one platoon together with kp.4 at the main position. Patrols (10 men strong each) were sent south on both sides of Begna. They took up positions about three kilometres south of Bagn church on east side of the river, at the farm Plassen, and three kilometres south Bagn bridge, near the farm Dalen.

Lv.bat is designed Valdres-group by H.O.K, and Haneborg-Hansen is given command over all units in Valdres. In the evening I/IR10, under major Löken, arrives at Björgo, about 10 km northwest Bagn. It is the first of the units transferred from 4.Division command in Voss. It is placed under the command of Haneborg-Hansen and contact is established between the commanders. 

Gruppe Daubert fights against roadblocks and demolitions on the road toward Bagn during the day. III/IR159 reach Nes, and III/IR236 reach Strömmen 10 km further north.

18.April - The first battle of Bagn  
Situation map 18.April

Haneborg-Hansen and Löken discuss replacement of Lv.bat. in the front line. Haneborg-Hansen (H-H) gets in contact with H.O.K in the morning. H.O.K orders Lv.bat. to establish a number of positions south of Bagn with smaller units, to be able to fight a delaying battle in front of Bagn. They also tell him that I/IR10 will be available only temporary and that two of the companies will not be at his disposition. Still unaware that the Germans are approaching H-H orders south to take up position at the Leite defile 4 km south Bagn.

At 16:00 the Germans (III/IR236) arrive at Bagn. After skirmishes with Norwegian patrols at the Leite defile (4km south Bagn) they advanced toward the main positions with Kp.10 on the right flank toward the church on the east side of Begna and kp.11 on the left flank up on the hillside toward Torsrud and Leisterud, while kp.9 and the two Pz I followed the main road. They meet which hurriedly withdraws up the hillside, to take up a position between Brattrud and Leisterud. At 18:30 the head of kp.9 and the tanks approached the bridge. The defenders were well prepared and met them with intensive fire. The Germans got nowhere and could not locate the Norwegian positions, so after about half an hour they withdrew into cover. On their left flank repeated attacks against the improvised positions of gets nowhere either. On the east side of Begna kp.10 does make some progress though, advancing up to the church where they broke off the attack. The Norwegian defenders took up positions further up the hillside.

In Dauberts plans III/IR236 would take Bagn, opening the way toward Tonsåsen and east toward Dokka for III/IR159. When the attack by III/IR236 failed Daubert ordered a night attack by III/IR159.

I/IR10 spent much of the day and night moving around. First to get to the area in the first place, then to follow a confusing chain of orders and contra orders over the disposition of the companies. Gruppe Adlhoch had got a good speed on their advance east of Randsfjord, and H.O.K had trouble to decide which group that posed the greatest threat to the communication line between 4.Div at Voss and the main Norwegian forces around lake Mjösa.

The night attack

The sky was clear and it was cold; about -12ºC. At about 22:00 III/IR159 began their attack. Kp.10 advanced up the road to try to take the area around the bridge by frontal assault. They came all the way to the riverbank before the defenders opened fire at them. An intensive fire fight began, but the machineguns of the Lv.bat. in their prepared positions dominated the field, and shortly after midnight the combat died down, only leaving a number of burning houses to light up the night.

Daubert decided that a new frontal assault was pointless and ordered his remaining troops, kp.9 and kp.11/IR159 to try to take the ridge on the west flank, while kp.9/IR236 reinforced with a platoon of kp.10 would try to get around the flank of the defenders on the eastern slopes, above the church. 

19.April  German flanking attack at Bagn

I and II/IR10 takes position in the area Bagn-Tonsåsen-Höljerasten, and relives Lvbat./IR6, that has been in the frontline for five days.
At Bagn, on the east side of the river, a German outflanking manoeuvre by kp.9/IR236 surprises and scatters Norwegian troops (kp.1/IR10) at the mountain resort Breidablick. An important position overlooking the valley, and with minor roads leading toward Tonsåsen and Etna, along the road Fagernes-Gjövik. They immediately exploit this by trying to outflank the Norwegian positions above Bagn, marching north along the mountainside until they reach the small farmstead Bergan, behind and above the main Norwegian position at Bagn. Meanwhile simultaneous attempts on the Norwegian right flank around the farmsteads Lii and Leisterud fails again.

20.April  Germans gives up at Bagn

At this stage the battle of Bagn could have reached an abrupt end, had the Norwegian commanders at any level lost their nerves and decided to retreat, not to get cut off. Instead the for the Norwegian theatre rather unusual thing happened, that the Norwegians immediately decided to counterattack, while Major Daubert, who had lost contact with kp.9 at Bergan decided to abandon the attempt to take Bagn and instead protect the flank of Gruppe Adlhoch at Dokka. During the morning III/IR236 (except kp.9 at Bergan) goes back all the way to Nes, where it arrives around 12:00. At 13:00 III/IR159 goes back too. By the night both battalions had reached Hönefoss. Kp.9/IR236 was still cut off at Bergan though, and Kp.9/IR159 was left as rearguard at Nes.
A Norwegian counterattack against Bergan fails to dislodge the Germans. They are however more or less cut off as Norwegian troops again takes position at Breidablick.
First German air reconnaissance appears over the Norwegian units around Fagernes. The troop concentration there is the first indication the Germans get on the transfer of 4.Brigade from Voss.

21.April  Norwegian victory at Bagn but retreats around Mjösa

Kp.3 I/IR10 attacks and defeats the cut off German company ( at Bergan. The rest of the German units in Begna valley retreats south.
Units of II/IR10 (kp.5 and parts of kp.8) advances to Odnes, at the north end of Randsfjord, and makes a rather hesitating attack toward Kronborg bru. 
Lt. Gran appears west of Randsfjord with a weak company of men scattered on 16.April at the battle 

Oberst Dahl decides to withdraw Group Dahl north to the height of Lillehammer due to Norwegian defeat at Lundehögda and subsequent retreat east of lake Mjösa.
At 10:30, disturbed by the troop concentrations around Fagernes, and especially by the rumors about British troops there, Gen. Falkenhorst orders I.D.163 to attack toward Sognefjord with the units of I.D.69 under its command (Gruppe Adlhoch: II/IR159 and IR236)
Adlhoch, whose main force at that moment fought toward the north, north of Gjövik, made the following dispositions.

Two columns:
Main column (toward Dokka and Fagernes):
- 2./Pz.Abt.40 (did not arrive until 25.April, and then it was kp.3 under Haubtmann Niedick. 1 Bef.Wagen, 5 Pz.I, 6 Pz.II)
- I and II/IR236
- III/IR159
- 2/3 of kp.13/IR359?
- 1/3 of kp.14/IR349?
- 2/3 of 2./Pi.234
- I/AR222
- 11./AR234 (2 Norw. 75mm guns)

Left column (up Begna valley):
- III/IR236 (weakened by losses on 21.April)
- 1/3 of 2./Pi.234
- 10./AR234 (2 Norw. 75mm guns)

III/IR236 advances back up Begna valley. Arrives to Nes 16:00. 
I, II/IR236 fights at Mustad and arrives in Gjövik in the afternoon.

22.April  Adlhoch turns from Lillehammer toward Fagernes 

Artillery duel over Randsfjord is won by the German artillery. 
A planned Norwegian attack over Kronborg bru, toward Fluberg, is turned into retreat when the assembly area and HQ is hit hard by German artillery.
The Norwegian troops retreats to Höljerasten. Two of the four guns are lost, and kp.Gran further south at Randsfjord is cut off.
At Bagn the Norwegians advance 5km to take up new positions south of Bagn.

II/IR4 (Btl. Hermanssen) of group Dahl reach Finni and transfers to 4.Brig.

Group Adlhoch assembles in the Fluberg area, for the advance toward Fagernes.

III/IR236 in Nes sends patrols up the Begna valley without making contact with the Norwegians south of Bagn.

23.April  Germans tries Hallingdal as well

Kampfgruppe Ritzmann, under OberstLtn Ritzmann, is formed to advance from Vikersund up Hallingdal toward Gol.

Kampfgruppe Ritzmann
Commander: OberstLtn. Ritzmann
- III/IR324 (except kp.12)
- III/IR310 (less two companies)
- 1.zug/ (4 Pz.I, 1 Pz.II) under Oberltn. Reibig
  (Unclear when available - probably 25.April)

Norwegian destruction of Leppa bru at 17:18 is only a partial success (the artillery may not pass).
III/IR236 reaches Norwegian lines at Dölve-Leitebreget, a few km south Bagn, and is stopped after some skirmishes.
Group Adlhoch begins its advance up Etnadal. Dokka is reached at noon. III/IR159 reaches the Norwegian position at Höljerasten in the evening.
II/IR4 changes to horse drawn supply train in order to be able to march to Tonsåsen over the mountains. Shortly before midnight the march begins from Åmot.
Oberst Östbye orders an attack by the Ski battalion under maj. Laudal against the north flank of the German positions at Höljerasten in the morning 24.April.

South of Bagn I/IR10 takes position on the line Islandselvi-Leiteberget. A strong natural defensive position.
III/IR236 begin their advance from Nes and at 15:30 the first patrol, followed by a tank, appeared at Koparviki, in front of the Norwegian lines.
The Germans attacks the Norwegian lines several times during the evening, but without success.

24.April  Norwegian confusion and retreat at Höljerasten

The Ski battalion advances toward Höljerasten, but due to erroneous reports about the enemy position makes major Laudal abandon the attack and returns to the position at Bruflat.
The German attack on the Höljerasten position begins at 05:00 in the morning and around noon the Norwegian positions begin crumbling. More because of command breakdown and the moral impact of the German artillery than the German advance. II/IR9 and the retreating troops takes up a new defensive position at Tonsåsen-Stangstugu. In the evening German patrols reaches the Norwegian forposts at Bruflat and Tonsåsen. A German company, kp.3/IR236, advance on the south flank along the road from Etna station toward Breidablick and Bagn.

On its own initiative Lv.bat/IR6 is ordered to counterattack at Tonsåsen next morning.

II/IR4 reaches Etnadal at Rust, north of Bruflat, late in the evening, after a hard march over the mountains.

German attacks south of Bagn continues without success.

KGr. Ritzmann advances toward Gulsvik.

25.April  Norwegian counterattack at Tonsåsen

South of Bagn, on Leiteberget, a Norwegian force from I/IR10, preparing to take the Germans in the valley under fire, meets the leading elements of kp.3/IR236, advancing from Etna toward Breidablick. After some skirmishes the Norwegian force withdraws past Breidablick.
Kp.6/IR9 defeats the leading platoon of kp.3/IR236 at Breidablick, taking it into captivity. The rest of the German company retreats toward Etna.

Lv.Bat./IR6 attacks from Tonsåsen toward Höljerasten. It reaches Svee but is then thrown back on defensive by superior German forces, and at the end of the day they are back at their starting position at Tonsåsen. The Ski-battalion, anticipating a German advance, does not want to go out of its defensive position at Bruflat and takes no part in the attack. In the afternoon German troops presses Kp.Ula back and takes Bruflat. Kp.7/II/IR9 which hold the road between Bruflat and Tonsåsen is hit by artillery fire and routs westward through the forest

After some command confusion at Tonsåsen, part of the defensive force remains while other takes up a new position at Ossäter (lake Öyangen).

Three platoon sized patrols are organized in the evening for operation behind the German lines, at Tonsåsen.

An attempted flanking manoeuvre by kp.10/IR236 on the west flank south of Bagn fails without even getting in contact with the Norwegians.
Frontal attacks does not lead anywhere either.

26.April  Tonsåsen falls but Bagn holds

German tanks appear at Tonsåsen at 10:00, creating momentary panic. Ordered retreat under fire back to Ossäter, but one of the two guns is lost.
The Ossäter position holds for a couple of hours until artillery fire forces a retreat one km back to Tonsvatn. This position holds until night.
During the afternoon the Norwegians thinks that the Germans has got 15cm guns.

In the evening Oberst Östbye decides to withdraw from the Tonsås plateau during the night, to avoid a retreat through the defile to Björgo during the day. The Lv.bat/IR6 will stay in the old positions as rearguard.
Late in the night General Ruge gives Oberst Östbye permission to capitulate when he feels it becomes necessary.

South of Bagn III/IR236 attempts a frontal assault at dawn against the Norwegian positions at Islandselvi, but without success. In the evening I/IR10 is ordered to go back, west of Begna, to Kjörstad. Kp.3 and kp.4 arrives during 27.April, but kp.1 which didn't get the order, didn't began the retreat until late at 27.April and arrived in the morning of 28.April.
III/IR236 is reinforced with two platoons previously left as garrison in Hönefoss.

II/IR10 takes position in the open land at Aurdal.

In Hallingdal Cpt. Hauges unit fought against Group Ritzmann at Flå, retreating at 23:00 to Liodden.
At 19:00 the Dagali group under Cpt. Brun reach Gol. Order from 4.Brig tells the units in Hallingdal to retreat up Hemsedal and toward Geilo, destroying communications behind them. Dagali group goes to Gol.

27.April  Germans linking up

During the morning Lv.bat/IR6 successfully defends the position from yesterday against attacks from II/IR236. At a lull in the fighting after 10:00 the defenders takes the opportunity and successfully withdraws through the defile to Östre Sildre, arriving at 14:00.
At 16:00 a carefully prepared second assault against the now abandoned Norwegian positions are finally thrown. At 18:30 II/IR236 reach Björgo and stops for the night, while kp.10/IR159, marching from Tonsåsen over Breidablick, reach Bagn at around 10:00

South of Bagn, at 05:00, kp.10 III/IR236 begins a flanking manoeuvre against the now empty Norwegian positions at hill 467. The march is painfully slow and doesn't reach the target until 16:00. At 18:30 the two German forces finally meet.

In Hallingdal cpt. Hauge leaves Liodden at 10:30 and retreats to Svenkerud (9km south Gol). At 12:00 they pass Gol, destroys the bridge and continues to Ål. Only one rifle platoon and one MG-platoon remains. of the Dagali group drives to Granheim in Hemsedal in the evening, while the rest of the Dagali group 

28.April  Up the Begna valley

The unit of cpt.Hauge reach Geilo in the morning.

At 07:30 II/IR236 reach II/IR10 east of Aurdal, and the battle is intensive during the day. Around noon, when a big German force is spotted marching west on the opposite shore of Begna, major Säter orders immediate retreat back to Leira. I/IR10, which should have defended on that side of the river, had taken position further back for some reason, and Säter claims to have had no knowledge about their position on the west side of Begna.
The Brigade hastily organises a new defence line at Nordakerbekken. Major Säter, which can't be found, is replaced as commander of II/IR10 by cpt. Skarstein.
The position at Nordakerbekken is assaulted late in the afternoon, but the position holds for the rest of the day.

III/IR236 advanced on the west side of Begna, and at 19:30 they reached Gröndalen, where kp3/I/IR10 had taken position. The Germans couldn't dislodge the defenders, and at 23:30 the battle ended for the day.

kp.Ula marches to Aurdal.

29.April  No end to the retreats

At dawn the position at Nordakerbekken is attacked by artillery and machine gun fire. Cpt. Skarstein decides to retreat. 

West of Begna I/IR10 is afraid of getting cut off and begin retreating toward Leira at 06:00. 
By noon I/IR10 was positioned at Odden, south Fagernes. II/IR held a position at Fagernes, west of Neselva, while II/IR10 was going back. Kp.Brinch and Kp. Takla held the road north of Fagernes

30.April  Collapse

The retreats of I, II/IR10 and II/IR9 on both sides of Strondafjord is more and more like a rout. At 16:30 a cease fire is agreed.

1.May  Capitulation is signed

Formal capitulation of 4.Brig is signed.

2.May  The End

4.Brig capitulates.
II/IR4 (bat. Hermansen), on their way over the highlands to Gausdal and Group Dahl, is disbanded in the evening, when they learn that both 4.Brig and Group Dahl has surrendered.

[1]  Krigen i Norge, Operasjonene i Ådalen og i Valdres
[2]  Krigen i Norge, Operasjonene på Ringerike og Hadeland