Battle for the North


After the swift German capture of Poland the war more or less died down, as neither side, for several reasons, wanted to get involved in a major combat along the Germany-France border. In this situation the interest in operations in secondary fronts raised. Both the Allied and the German high commands came to look at Norway as an interesting area for operations. To the Allied because control of Norway would be a way to gain control of the iron ore fields in northern Sweden. To the Germans as a base for the German fleet. During the winter 39-40 advanced planning aimed at getting control of Norway was done in both German and Allied high commands.

The increased interest in the Scandinavian theatre led to an increasing number of incidents along the Norwegian coast. The aggressive stance of especially Britain toward Norway, and the apparent weakness of the Norwegian defense and unwillingness of Norway to take fight to defend its neutrality convinced Hitler that there was a real threat toward the Iron ore supply from Sweden, which was very important to Germany at this stage of the war. Thus Hitler decided that Germany would invade Norway - operation Weserübung.

The allied planning toward Norway was hampered by political considerations and an unclear goal of the operation. Finally an operation was launched. It had an unclear goal and relied on a number of questionable premises. As it turned out the Allied and German operations were launched virtually simultaneously. On the 8th of April British destroyers mined the sea approach to Narvik, while the landing troops were waiting in port, loaded on their transports. At that time the German invasion fleet were on their way already.

In Norway there was an increasing uneasiness over the situation, and the days before the 9th of April a number of disturbing news and rumors came, that in retrospect pointed clearly at the upcoming invasion. The government failed to see that clearly though, and though the coastal defense, naval and many army units were put on highest alert at the evening of the 8th, no further mobilization was ordered until long after midnight, when the invasion force targeted at Oslo already had passed the outer defenses of Oslofjord.

Read more about the political intrigues and maneuvering in the part Political prelude.

The invasion

The German invasion force had six main targets, Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik, with detached units designed for Horten, Arendal and Egersund. A number of desirable targets like Åndalsnes, Namsos and Tromsø had to be disregarded due to the limited transport capacity available. In addition there were a number of targets in Denmark. These parts of the operation will however not be covered in this text. At all targets except Oslo and Kristiansand the assault forces managed to land their troops according to plan. At Kristiansand the assault force didn't manage to break through the coastal defenses until after 10 AM, six hours after planned time. In Oslofjord the assault force managed to break through the outer defenses at the mouth of the fjord without much trouble, but at the old fortress Oscarsborg at the narrowest part of the fjord, the old 28 cm guns combined with a torpedo battery managed to sink the heavy cruiser Blücher and turn back the rest of the force.

Blücher sinking

In addition to the naval invasion force a huge air-lift operation was planned, spearheaded by airborne assault against the airport Fornebu outside Oslo, and Sola outside Stavanger. There was also an assault against the important airfield at Aalborg in Denmark. The operation against Fornebu was nearly a fiasco when the assault force turned back due to bad weather. The follow up wave did continue though, and managed to land their Ju-52 on the lightly defended airport, aided by eight Me110. The assault against Sola went according to plan, though the assault force took relatively high losses. With the airfields secured, a steady stream of troops began pouring in the largest air transport operation the world had seen so far.

The initial mobilization order decided by the government early in the morning of the 9th of April called only for a partial mobilization, and while this was clear to everybody to be a mistaken decision almost as soon as it was taken, the General Headquarter (H.O.K) felt obliged to stick to it. A partial mobilization would not mobilize all available units, and would be considerably slower as the orders would be sent by post to each man. As it turned out most district commanders decided to call for a full and immediate mobilization in their districts anyway (not in the Oslo area though). The worst consequences of the decision was indirect, in that the stupid order, in conjunction with the delay in declaring a state of war, made many of the commanders that became involved in the initial fighting insecure over whether they were supposed to fight or not.

Unable to stop a German advance from Fornebu into Oslo, the Norwegian over command and Government decided to evacuate Oslo, with the government moving to Hamar and H.O.K (the over command) going to Eidsvoll, and around noon the first German troops reached central Oslo. Unfortunately for the Norwegians, loosing Oslo meant not only loosing the capital but also the hub of all communications in southern Norway. Leaving the Norwegian command structure in shambles.

Read more about the Assault on Fornebu

Confusion and consolidation

While the Norwegians were busy trying to get their acts together, the few German troops in Oslo were trying to consolidate their hold of the city and waited for reinforcements from the troops landed at Son and Moss. The Germans still tried to negotiate with the Norwegian government, making them accept a German occupation of Norway. The negotiations came nowhere, but as long as the negotiations continued the government hesitated to declare a condition of war, uncertain about the possibilities to make any successful defense against the invaders.  At that time captain Spiller, the German air force attaché in Oslo, took command of the paratrooper company that would have assaulted Fornebu and now arrived to Oslo. His exact intentions is unclear, but with the company mounted on busses he went out on a chase after the Norwegian King and government deep behind the Norwegian lines (not that there were much of lines at this stage). Aware of the German column the government fled to Elverum, and a mixed unit of guards, officers and militia made a couple of roadblocks on the road from Hamar to Elverum. At midnight the Germans reached the first roadblock, and after a short fight where Spiller was deadly wounded, the German column turned back. On its way back it met a Norwegian infantry battalion and a motorized battery heading north. Taken totally by surprise the Norwegians were promptly disarmed and all officers taken as prisoners. Ruthlessly using the prisoners as shields, the by now quite large column managed to reach back to Oslo unscathed. While the loss of a motorized artillery battery and much needed officers were bad enough, the question is if the largest success of Spillers raid wasn't the amount of rumors it started, that were to confuse the decision making in the Norwegian head quarters for days, and even worse forcing the second evacuation on the same day of government and over command, which delayed very important decisions for many hours.

First priority for the Norwegian high command was to secure the mobilization of the troops that still could be mobilized. The depots around Gardermoen (IR4, DR1 AR2), Hönefoss (IR6, IngR) and Fredrikstad (IR1) were evacuated further inland while the mobilization were kept on simultaneously. The evacuation organization worked rather well, but it delayed and complicated the mobilization.

German offensive begins

When the sea transport convoys finally arrived to Oslo on the night between the 10th and 11th April, the Germans were ready to go on the Offensive. First on schedule was to clear the flanks. Columns were sent west against Hönefoss and Drammen and southeast against Östfold. On the 12th to the 14th April the substantial Norwegian troops of IR1 mobilizing in the area around Mysen were driven into Sweden, in a swift operation by ID196. IR6 at Hönefoss managed to fight a delaying battle while mobilizing, while the commander of IR3 at Kongsberg surrendered his mobilized units without fight on the 13th April.

Read more about The battle for Östfold

When the flanks were secured the main drive up north began, with the primary objective to relive the troops in Trondheim. The advance was in five columns. Through Hönefoss, through Nittedal, on the west and east side of lake Mjösa and along river Glåma. Other columns were sent out to link up with German forces in Kristiansand and Bergen.

The Norwegians played for time, expecting Allied intervention to come any day. The Over Command was aware of the limited training and unit cohesion of their troops, and ruled out taking to the offensive. The overall strategy was to first and foremost preserve the troops, fighting delaying battles wherever the terrain gave the possibilities to limit loss of terrain, and at the same time organize as many units as possible from the manpower and weapons still available. The expected Allied help was late in coming though. As I have mentioned before, the Allies had plans for their own invasion of Norway when the Germans struck, and were taken completely by surprise. This led to a confusion in the Allied Over Command, which delayed the intervention as well as confused it considerably. The first Allied troops to land on Norwegian soil was a naval landing party, landing at Namsos on the evening the 14th April. On the following day British troops began to land at Namsos as well as Harstad (near Narvik). South of Trondheim no substantial troops arrived until the 17th April, when a detachment of Royal Marines landed in Ålesund and Åndalsnes. The 148th Infantry Brigade began landing in Åndalsnes and Molde on the night 18/19th April.

We will now follow the different German columns.

German drive north - first phase - 11th to 17th April

Past Hönefoss

On the 11th April, two German columns began the advance toward Hönefoss. Hönefoss was an important garrison, with an infantry regiment (IR6) and the engineer regiment (IngR), and was also a key to the roads and railroads leading to Bergen. One of the three possible lines of advance toward the important districts between the lakes Mjösa and Randsfjord was also passing Hönefoss. 

I/IR324 (I.D.163) took the more direct approach over Sollihögda, while I/IR236 (I.D.69) advanced through Drammen, to approach Hönefoss from south. After skirmishes with small Norwegian blocking forces south east and south west of Hönefoss (the first at Nypefoss bridge at 18:00 on the 11th April, they could enter Hönefoss on the morning of 14th April. Meanwhile the Norwegian units mobilizing and concentrating north of  Hönefoss had taken up a position around Klekken, east of Hönefoss, with I/I.R.6, thereby blocking the main road leading north. II/I.R.6 manned a second line at Jevnaker further north, while the local defense battalion (Lvbat/I.R.6) blocked the road toward Bergen, passing the lake Sperillen. On the 15th the Germans (IR236) attacked the Norwegian position at Klekken. The Norwegians had a rather dispersed deployment in open countryside. The battle raged the whole day, and at 18:00 the German commander, Oberst Adlhoch, decided to withdraw. The Norwegian position was supposed to be a temporary position, while a defensive position was prepared south of Jevnaker, but after the successful defense of the 15th, it was decided to try to hold the Klekken position one more day. On the evening of the 15th II/IR6 relieved I/IR6 at Klekken. On the Next day The Germans made a new attempt to break through at Klekken. Now reinforced with 6 light tanks (Pz I and Pz II) from the newly arrived Pz.abt. z.b.V.40. The open terrain that had let the Norwegian machine guns dominate the field the previous day, now gave the German tanks room to maneuver freely. The Norwegians were taken completely by surprise and the tanks could drive right through the Norwegian positions, into the battalion HQ and supply train. The battalion was scattered and routed north and east into the forest.

German tanks and infantry continued north along the main road until they encountered the prepared position at Mosmoen just south of Jevnaker. Here Norwegian pioneers had constructed a roadblock and other defensive measures, which were manned by I/IR6. The position repulsed two German assaults during the afternoon, and the German force withdrew for the night. 

Scattered remains of II/IR6 arrived to the Norwegian lines during the afternoon and evening, and their stories about the second battle at Klekken had a disturbing effect on the morale of I/IR6, and made the HQ to believe that the defeat was worse than it really was. In fact most of the battalion had slipped back into the forest and was slowly working its way back toward Norwegian lines. During the day of the 16th, after news of the defeat at Klekken,  Oberst Mork decided to give up Hadeland and withdraw north of Brandbu with the troops north of Hönefoss and in Nittedal (Roa group). This retreat was made during the night between 16th and 17th and could be accomplished without disturbance from the Germans.

Smestadgrenna 11/4 18:00 (patrol fight)
Vikersund 12/4 noon
Brenna 12/4 afternoon to night
Vik 13/4 13:30-17:00
Hesleberg 13/4 late evening
Klekken I 15/4
Klekken II 16/4
Mosmoen 16/4

Through Nittedal

The Norwegian troops defending the road leading north through Nittedal, passing Stryken and Harestua was a mixed lot which came to be called the Roa group. Initially it consisted of a local defense squadron of DR2, school units from 2.Div and Ing.R. and Speidervingen, an improvised infantry unit from among others, the army air force recon air wing and the cavalry school. On the 12th April it was reinforced with three companies from IR6.

The German unit responsible for the Nittedal area  before the 14th April was III/IR349, commanded by Major Kalberlach. It had only defensive orders. To secure the German flank against Norwegian moves toward Oslo and Lilleström. On the 14th April I/IR324, commanded by Haubtmann Manthey, was ordered to strike north through Nittedal toward Stryken, to find out about Norwegian units in the area. The first battle was at Stryken in the evening of the 14th April, when the lead elements of I/IR324 drove into the Norwegian roadblock, held by 4 platoons of kp.7 and 12 of IR6. The position was well prepared, but the German began to outflank it. The Norwegian commander (Lt Hansteen) decided to withdraw while it was still dark. Meanwhile the Germans decided to stop further attacks for the night. The Norwegian units withdrew behind the next line at Harestua.

The 15th there was a battle at north end of Harestua lake, that began at noon and continued until dark, when the Germans broke off the attack and the Norwegians withdrew behind a prepared position at Hanake.  

German patrols approached the Hanake position in the morning of the 16th. It was only held as an outpost for the position at Björgeseter, and after a short firefight the Norwegian unit withdrew. The battle at Björgeseter began at around 9:30, when the first German patrols arrived. The position was prepared and was held by a battalion sized force consisting of units from IR4, IR5 and IR6, and a 75mm gun from AR2.  Soon a full scale battle ensued when II/IR349 tried to break through. The battle continued until after nightfall, and German assaults were repeatedly beaten back. At nightfall the Norwegian command was optimistic, while the German command was pessimistic. In the evening they were however ordered to withdraw north of Brandbu, as the sector command had decided to give up Hadeland (as they did not dare to attempt to hold the position at  Jevnaker one more day).

Stryken:  14/4 20:00 - night
Harestua I:  15/4 12:00-18:00
Harestua II:  -20:xx
Hanake:  16/4 ca: 06:00 (patrol fight)
Björgeseter: 16/4 9:30-21:00 

East and West shore of Mjösa

The 9th of April the only bigger field formation of the Norwegian army near Oslo was II/IR5, which were positioned at Gardermoen, northeast of Oslo, south of lake Mjösa. It was ordered south to Oslo in the morning of the 9th, but the transport organization didn't work well (the battalion had no organic transportation) and most of the battalion didn't start the journey until after the surrender of Oslo. Then Spillers raid (mentioned previously) complicated matters. During the late evening parts of the battalion could finally take position along Nitelva between Nittedal and Lilleström. This was an important position, as it secured the important depots around Gardermoen, blocked the main roads and railroads leading north and secured the north flank of 1.Div in Östfold. In the confusion following Spillers raid the Over Command however got the impression that the important bridge at Lilleström was in German hands (not true) and ordered a hasty evacuation of Gardermoen and withdrawal to the Andelva line between Hurudalssjöen and Eidsvoll. A much less favorable defense line which also opened up many lines of advance to the Germans. This was held from 10th to 11th April, fighting off German patrols from von Poncets mountain troops. The most important of which, was a motorized force of about 300 men coming up on east side of Vorma, scattering a small blocking force of 18 men north of Eidsvoll, but stopped by the timely destruction of the bridge over Holtå, 2 km south of Minnesund. The target of the force was probably to secure the important combined road and railroad bridge over Vorma at Minnesund.

During the night between 11th and 12th the Norwegians left the Andelva line. Next position was at Minnesund, east of Vorma and with the south flank about 1 km north of Holtå. This position is at the south end of the so called "Morskog defile". A 20 km long defile where road and railroad follows the shore of Mjösa. One company of battalion Torkildsen held the line. No contact with the Germans during the 12th. On the 13th April from afternoon to around 20:00 there were firefight with German patrols advancing over Holtå. During the night kp.5/IR5 relieved the company from battalion Torkildsen.

On the 14th April a more full scale assault of the Minnesund position was made by "Stossgruppe Schlichter". The attack begins around 06:00 and the company sized defensive force proves to be to small for its mission, and between 10 and 11 the Norwegians retreat in disorder. About one third of the force is taken prisoner (i.e. a platoon). 

A small detachment (10 men) makes a successful ambush of the advancing Germans just south of Morskogen, and holds them for half an hour. 

Next position is Strandlykkja, where two positions has been prepared. The Germans reach the first (Nedre Mostua) at 18:00 and there is fighting until 21:00 when the Germans withdraw. The defenders are pulled back to the main position at Strandlykkja during the night. This position beats back German attacks on the 15th and 16th April. On the 17th the position is outflanked by a German battalion (III/IR362) advancing over the ice from the western shore of Mjösa. Due to a misunderstood retreat order, the defending force at Strandlykkja retreats piecemeal and in disorder. Another mistake makes the commander to pull out the defenders of the next prepared position at Espa too. At about 17:30 the Germans reach the main defense line at Tangen, at the north end of the Morskog defile. There is a brief firefight, but the Germans do not attempt to get in closer on the Norwegian lines.

During the evening of the 17th the Norwegians decides to withdraw from the Tangen position during the night. The stated reason is that they are afraid they won't be able to hold the line for the whole next day, and that a withdrawal during the day would be much more risky. They also fear for new flanking maneuvers over the Mjösa ice, as the Norwegian forces west of Mjösa withdrew to the Gjövik area during the previous night. In retrospect one can however probably say that the Norwegian commanders were severely shaken by the German flank move over the ice and the resulting confusion, and that the withdrawal was more a case of loss of nerves than sound military thinking. Next position will be north of Hamar and the Dragon Regiment 2 will act as rear guard.

Andelva 10-11/4  (skirmishes)
Minnesund  13 - 14/4
Morskogen  14/4
Strandlykkja  14 - 17/4

Along river Glåma

The only field formations along river Glåma after the defeat of the Norwegian 1.Div in Östfold was the units of IR5 mobilizing at Elverum, and a small local defense unit at Kongsvinger. Detachments of the local defense unit at Kongsvinger, as well as some volunteers (from Finland and the winter war) took up positions at Skarnes, situated at a bend of river Glåma, west of Kongsvinger. In the afternoon of the 14th April a German column came to Skarnes. The unit in Skarnes fought a withdrawing battle, and on the evening of the 15th they withdrew north. In the meantime a company of volunteers, led by the Swedish cpt. Benckert, had arrived to Kongsvinger from Sweden. They had taken position just west of the town on the north side of the river. At noon on the 16th they were attacked by the Germans, but held their ground. Unfortunately a failed bridge destruction at the town itself enabled the Germans to cut off the road north. The company escaped north through the forest and tried for several days to reach the Norwegian lines, but without success.

On the evening of the 16th, an improvised battalion led by Major Röd, advancing south to reinforce the small force from Kongsvinger, had taken positions on both sides of Glåma around Brandval, about 12 km north of Kongsvinger. On the west side the Germans attacked in the morning and forced the defenders to withdraw. At the end of the day they stood at Kirkenär. On the east side a Norwegian force continued the advance south and met a German force coming north at Roverud. Both sides were surprised, and the battle, which were fought on very short range, was the bloodiest in the Glåma valley, with around 10 to 20 killed on each side. At the end of the day the Norwegians had fallen back to Grue. There they had a strong position, but at the evening orders came to retreat further north. On the 18th there is a battle at Sörma, about 20 km south of Elverum, the German force is held back, but the Norwegian forces withdraws north of Elverum, as the forces at Mjösa withdraws north of Hamar, opening the road from Hamar to Elverum for a German advance.  

Skarnes  14 - 15/4
Kongsvinger  16/4
Roverud  17/4
Agnåen  17/4
Sjåtil  17/4
Nes-Opset  17/4
Sörma  18/4

General withdrawal

On the nights between the 16th and 19th April the Norwegians made considerable retreats on all sectors north of Oslo. It began on the 16th April at Klekken just outside Hönefoss. The defense at Klekken, which had been very successful on the 15th, collapsed at the arrival of German Panzers on the 16th. Next line, which had been prepared a few kilometers further north, south of Jevnaker, withstood a couple of German assaults in the afternoon of the 16th. Oberst Mork, who had the command over the sector, did not dare to try to hold the Jevnaker position for one more day (retreats during the night was much preferred) and no further defense line was prepared north of Jevnaker. North of Jevnaker lies Hadeland. A more open country, not suitable for defense - especially not against tanks. A decision was thus taken to give up Hadeland, and put up next line of defense about 25 km to the north.

The next day the Germans managed to outflank the very successful Norwegian defense at Strandlykkja, east of Mjösa. Shaken by this move, the Norwegian command immediately gave up the next defense line at Tangen, and withdrew all the way north of Hamar (ca 40 km). This left the flank of the defense at river Glåma wide open, and they had to withdraw north of Elverum (ca 50 km).

An effect of the retreat north of Hamar, east of Mjösa, was that the defense in the Toten area, west of Mjösa, was threatened by the same kind of flanking maneuver across the ice as the one that had gone the other way the day before. On the night between 18th and 19th April they withdrew north of Gjövik.

After the retreats virtually all of the more populated areas and all important cities in southern Norway had been surrendered to the Germans. The Norwegians stood at the feet of the mountain range laying as a barrier between southern Norway and the German occupied cities Trondheim and Bergen. Now the long awaited help from the British finally began arriving to the front though.

German dispositions

In their advance north the Germans reached the following towns
Hönefoss on the 14th
Minnesund on the 14th
Hamar on the 18th
Elverum on the 19th
Gjövik on the 19th
Lillehammer on the 21st

The British army arrives

Allied Order of Battle

Already from the first days of the struggle the opinion was clear at the high command. Help from the Allied was a prerequisite for a successful defense. They expected a prompt British reaction, and when the days passed by without the expected help arriving, a certain disappointment over the Allied began to appear. The Arrival of the British troops was nevertheless a big morale boost for the Norwegian High command as well as for the troops in the field, that had begun to show signs of exhaustion. 

The 17.April British naval parties landed at Åndalsnes and Ålesund. It was the first British troops to appear south of Trondheim. The day after The 148 Brigade began to land there. After a short delay due to the presence of German paratroopers blocking the railway at Dombås, the first elements reached the front, south of Lillehammer, on 20.April, and a half battalion of the Leicesters participated in the fighting at Åsmarka on 21.April. The Norwegian and British forces withdrew in disorder from their positions east of lake Mjösa on 21.April and withdrew north of Lillehammer.

The real baptism of fire came on 22.April when the 148th Brigade had the main responsibility for next defensive position, at Balbergkamp just north of Lillehammer. It was an important position at the mouth of Gudbrandsdal and the north end of lake Mjösa. Unfortunately no Norwegian troops were there to strengthen the position. The British position at Balbergkamp was quickly outflanked by the Germans and the British had to withdraw in disorder with substantial losses. A couple of intermediate positions (Öyer and Tolstad) held up the Germans so that a new defensive position could be established at Tretten.

Sideshow - battles in Valdres

While most eyes were focused on the German advance toward Trondheim and the arrival of the British expeditionary force, another battle was building up in the mountains toward Bergen and Sognefjord. The Germans had decided to give a linkup with the forces in Trondheim highest priority, thus they made no attempt to link up with their forces in Bergen. Their only advance into the mountains was abattlegroup sent up the Begna vally to protect the German left flank. Outside Bergen the Norwegians had managed to mobilize the 4th Brigade, the only complete brigade in all southern Norway. It was decided to send it to the main battleground around lake Mjösa and the transfer began on 17.April. By 20.April the Germans was aware that something was happening up in the mountains. Reports had made them suspect British landings in Sognefjord and they decided to divert a battlegroup (K.G. Adlhoch) from the the main drive, to go toward Fagernes and the Sognefjord. The clash between the 4th Brigade and Group Adlhoch would last until the surrender of the 4th Brigade on 1.May.

Read more about The battles in Valdres

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