While Germany was not able to bring home the victory in World War II, they were a formidable enemy early in the war. On April 9, 1940, Nazi Germany launched an invasion into Norway. The initial attack was successful, and the Nazis captured several strategic points on the Norwegian coast. Hitler didn’t care that Norway had declared neutrality at the outbreak of World War II. Hitler wanted to rule the world and Norway was part of what he wanted.
During the preliminary phase of the invasion, Norwegian fascist forces under Vidkun Quisling acted as a so-called “fifth column” for the German invaders, seizing Norway’s nerve centers, spreading false rumors, and occupying military bases and other locations. They were the invaders from within. Quisling agreed with Hitler concerning the “Jewish problem” and became the leader of Norway during the Nazi occupation. Prior to that Quisling served as the Norwegian minister of defense from 1931 to 1933, and in 1934 he left the ruling party to establish the Nasjonal Samling, or National Unity Party, which was an imitation of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.
Norway’s declaration of neutrality didn’t do them much good when their own minister of defense was a traitor. Norway’s declared neutrality at the outbreak of World War II, was simply a small stumbling block in the plan Nazi Germany had. Hitler regarded the occupation of Norway a strategic and economic necessity. In the spring of 1940, Vidkun Quisling met with Nazi command in Berlin to plan the German conquest of his country. The Norwegian people have no warning on April 9th, when the combined German forces attacked, and by June 10th Hitler had conquered Norway and driven all Allied forces from the country.
Being the head of the only political party permitted by the Nazis didn’t do Quisling any good either. The people hated him, and opposition to him in Norway was so great that he couldn’t formally establish his puppet government in Oslo until February 1942. Nevertheless, the regime he set up under the authority of his Nazi commissioner, Josef Terboven, was a repressive regime that was merciless toward those who defied it. There was not peace for either side in those years. Norway’s resistance movement soon became the most effective in all Nazi-occupied Europe, and Quisling’s authority rapidly failed. After the German surrender in May 1945, Quisling was arrested, convicted of high treason, and shot. He was so hated that from his name comes the word quisling, meaning “traitor” in several languages.
Nine parachutes floated silently to the Earth on a calm February 27, 1943. Their mission was to blow up a Nazi-controlled heavy water plant in Vemork, Norway. The men had been specially trained by British Special Operations, and they had been chosen to carry out this vital mission. Heavy water was a crucial element in the production of plutonium, an ingredient for the nuclear bomb Hitler’s scientists were feverishly attempting to build. The plant at Vemork was the only such facility in the world.
The plant at Vemork was heavily fortified, and it remoteness made it impervious to bombing. It could only be destroyed on site, and for the men, parachuting in was just the beginning of the mission. The men would also be required to scale a 500-foot-high cliff in the dead of winter, and infiltrate a heavily guarded basement laboratory. The nine Norwegians, led by 23 year old Joachim Ronneborg, did just that, successfully detonating explosives that shut down the facility. The destruction of the Vemork plant was crucial in Albert Speer’s decision to halt attempts to produce a Nazi atomic weapon.
The United States began early nuclear research first, but Germany was moving forward with its own nuclear energy research and atomic bomb program. In April 1939, Germany began a secret program called the Uranverein or “Uranium Club.” The German program recruited some of the top scientific minds in Germany, including recent Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg. It was led by physicist Kurt Diebner. The Uranium Club was getting dangerously close to making an atomic weapon, and it had to be stopped. Hitler could not win this one.
Had nine Norwegian soldiers not trekked into the cold on that day in February 1943, it is hard to say how much longer the war might have lasted, or how much destruction might have been carried out. Their brave and selfless act saved many lives to be sure. At the very least, Operation Gunnerside should be recognized as one of the most successful SOE missions during World War II. Ronneborg and his squad fully expected this mission to be a one-way trip. It never occurred to them that they might survive. Nevertheless, the operation brought with it zero casualties, and temporarily destroyed the Germans’ single source of heavy water at the time. Ronneborg later commented that “London could have suffered a different fate and ended up ‘looking like Hiroshima’ if his team had failed.”
A declaration of war usually means that the people in both areas within the dispute had better prepare for eminent attack, because the declaration of war is like firing the warning shot before the actual open-fire begins. Of course, it may not be an immediate attack, but the attack always comes…or does it. On September 3, 1939, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Nazi Germany, after the Germans invaded Poland. Over the next eight months, at the start of World War II, there were no major military land operations on the Western Front. Strange, considering that the United Kingdom and France had declared war on Nazi Germany. You would think that they would attack or something, but nothing happened. During those eight months, Poland was overrun. It took about five weeks for the German Invasion of Poland beginning September 1, 1939 and the Soviet invasion beginning on 17 September 1939. Still, the Western Allies did nothing. I guess I don’t understand that. War had been declared by each side, but no Western power would launch a significant land offensive…even though the terms of the Anglo-Polish and Franco-Polish military alliances obligated the United Kingdom and France to assist Poland. They simply stood by and let it happen.
The quiet of the so-named Phoney War was marked by a few Allied actions. During the Saar Offensive in September, France attacked Germany with the intention of assisting Poland, but the attack fizzled out within days and the French withdrew. In November, the Soviets attacked Finland in the Winter War. This resulted in much debate in France and Britain about helping Finland, but this campaign was delayed until the Winter War ended in March. The Allied discussions about a Scandinavian campaign caused concern in Germany and resulted in the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April. Then the Allied troops that were previously assembled for Finland were redirected to Norway instead. Fighting there continued until June when the Allies evacuated, ceding Norway to Germany in response to the German invasion of France, which had taken place on May 10, 1940.
The Germans launched attacks at sea during the autumn and winter of 1939, against British aircraft carriers and destroyers, sinking several including the carrier HMS Courageous with the loss of 519 lives. Action in the air began on October 16, 1939 when the Luftwaffe launched air raids on British warships. There were various minor bombing raids and reconnaissance flights on both sides, but nothing that could possibly be viewed as a clear offensive….and during that whole time, people were dying and being subjected to various atrocities, because no one would help. Yes, war was declared, but it was a phony war, and apparently a phony declaration.