THE WAR IN NORWAY 1940-1945
Copy from the infoboard at Stavne
The infoboard at Stavne, text in english
On 9th April 1940, Hitler's Germany, already at war with the Commonwealth, France and Poland (the Allies), invaded Norway and by that evening had captured Oslo, the ports of Kristiansand, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik and Sola, the airfield at Stavanger. The German objectives were to secure naval and air bases on the west coast and the use of the ice-free route along that coast for the shipping of iron ore from the Gallivare mines.
The invasion disrupted the Norwegian Army's mobilisation but the Norwegian navy and the coast defences inflicted serious losses on German warships and transports which were also attacked in the Skagerrak by British submarines. On 10th April a flotilla of five British destroyers sank two German destroyers and six supply ships in Narvik harbour. Two British ships were lost. On the 13th the battleship HMS Warspite and seven destroyers, with air cover from the carrier HMS Glorious sank the remaining German ships.
Although southern Norway was lost there seemed a chance of holding central Norway if the Gudbrandsdal and Osterdal could be held and the German garrison in Trondheim overcome. Norwegian troops were stoutly defending the routes through these valleys and Allied forces were landed, "Mauriceforce" at Namsos on the 14th, and "Sickleforce" at Andalsnes on the 17th, to capture Trondheim by a pincer movement, Mauriceforce, comprising the British 146th Brigade and three battalions of French Chasseurs Alpins, advanced southwards but was held at the head of the Trondheim Fjord by a German column which had come out to meet it and shelled from the fjord by warships which also landed troops to threaten its flank.
Sickleforce, comprising the British 15th and 148th Brigades, advanced to Dombas, which was held by Norwegian forces after a German parachute attack had been repelled, then southwards in reinforcement of the Norwegian defenders who were under pressure in the Gudbrandsdal. Although the German advance was checked twice at Kvam and Otta, the positions could not be held under threat to the lines of communication to Andalsnes from a parallel German advance up the Osterdal.
Only very limited air support could be given from carriers and from a squadron of fighters which operated from the frozen Lesjaskog Lake near Dombas. When the depleted squadron was forced to withdraw, the consequent German aerial dominance exposed the troops to constant harassment, while the Namsos and Andalsnes bases were made nearly useless by bombing. Both Mauriceforce and Sickleforce were now being driven back and on 27th April the decision was taken to withdraw from central Norway. The evacuation was completed by 3rd May.
On 16th April a force (codenamed Rupertforce), comprising the 24th (Guards) Brigade, three battalions of Chasseurs Alpins and two of the Foreign Legion and a Polish Brigade, began to land at Harstad, selected as the base for the assualt on Narvik. Several Norwegian units, comprising both infantry and mountain artillery, participated.
Harstad was at first frequently raided by German aircraft but on 21st May the airfield at Bardufoss was brought into full operation and a squadron of Gladiator fighters and one of Hurricanes based there. This gave the Royal Air Force a local ascendancy which greatly assisted the conduct of the land operations.
The Guards Brigade, reinforced by five 'independent guerrilla companies', was deployed to defend the ports of Mosjoen, Mo and Bodo against German landings. Mosjoen was held until the 10th, Mo until the 18th and Bodo until 31st May. The remainder of Rupertforce, in which the British component was an anti-aircraft brigade, meanwhile attacked Narvik and recaptured it on 27th May. Allied reverses in France then compelled withdrawal of the force which was completed on 8th June. The troop convoys, one of which carried the King of Norway and his Government, reached Britain unscathed but HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers Acasta and Ardent were sunk by the battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with heavy loss of life.
Supported by supplies dropped by the Royal Air Force, by bombing raids and by British/Norwegian Commando raids along the coast, the Norwegian Resistance movement effectively prevented any reduction in the German garrison for the remainder of the war, at the cost of many lives.
On 8th May 1945 Norwegian and British troops landed in Norway, followed on 13th May by Crown Prince Olav and representatives of the Norwegian government. With the return of King Haakon on 7th June 1945 - exactly 5 years to the day after he left the country - the liberation of Norway was a fact.
The 988 Commonwealth servicemen who died in Norway in the Second World War lie in 65 local cemeteries and churchyards. 160 of the burials are Navy, 343 Army, 450 Air Force and 35 Merchant Navy; by countries they comprise 901 British, 50 Canadian, 24 Australian, 11 New Zealand. 1 South African and 1 Norwegian. Casualties whose graves are unknown are commemorated on memorials in Britain - sailors at their home ports, soldiers at Brookwood and airmen at Runnymede.
TRONDHEIM (STAVNES) CEMETERY The burials in the Commonwealth plot here, the largest in Norway, include the first casualties of the campaign - 6 sailors from the destroyer HMS Glowworm which blew up after ramming the German cruiser Hipper on 8th April (Glowworm's captain was awarded, posthumously, the first Victoria Cross of the war) and soldiers from Mauriceforce. Other soldiers died in the Commando raid of 26th-28th December 1941 on the Lofoten Islands¹). The airmen are mostly casualties of raids on shipping whose graves were gathered in from many scattered coastal sites. The burials number 155 - Royal Navies 27, Army 24, Air Forces 99 and Merchant Navy 5 - of which 140 are British, 6 Canadian, 5 Australian, 3 New Zealand and 1 South African.
¹) This statement is not accurate and should have been: Other soldiers and airmen lost their lives during, or in support of, the ARCHERY Combined Operations Raid on Vågsøy.
The plot at Stavne was constructed and is maintained by "The commonwealth War Graves Commission"