Key point: The Nazis used paratroopers to great result. However, they also soon encountered fierce resistance.
The Polish Campaign in 1939 demonstrated the awesome effectiveness of aircraft as weapons platforms for close ground support. Along with flexible control of tactical operations, it became part of the concept popularly referred to as blitzkrieg. The effectiveness of this doctrine was again demonstrated by the German military during the Norwegian campaign in 1940.
This campaign also demonstrated the usefulness of aircraft as vehicles for transporting supplies and reinforcements. The Luftwaffe made a significant contribution to the reinforcement and supply effort by successfully carrying out the largest air transport operation in history up to that time. Largely due to the efforts of the Luftwaffe, for more than two months the Germans were able to hold on to an increasingly precarious beachhead in and around Narvik over the great distances that separated those forces from the other beachheads.
The Germans were also pioneers in the use of airborne troops and initially planned to use paratroopers in the Polish campaign; however, German success was so quick and crushing that they were not used in air assault roles. The invasion of Denmark and Norway in 1940, codenamed Weserübung, Exercise Weser, saw the first use of the vertical envelopment concept to seize airfields and key objectives far behind enemy lines. The assault on Sola Airfield and the airborne operation against Dombås were the first contested airborne operations in history. These early operations revealed problems familiar to present-day planners and executors of such operations.
The German Drop into Scandinavia
The German parachute forces in 1940 were organized into the 7th Air Division under Luftwaffe command. The division—organized along the lines of an infantry division—was commanded by Maj. Gen. Kurt Student, but it did not reach full strength until 1941. In April 1940, it consisted of two regiments, each having only one battalion.
The 1st Regiment was commanded by Colonel Bruno Bräuer. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Captain Erich Walther, constituted the airborne assault force for the invasion of Denmark and Norway. One of four companies was employed to seize airfields and bridges in Denmark, while the other three companies were used in the invasion of Norway.
Company 4, commanded by Captain Walther Gericke, had two primary missions in Denmark. One platoon of 36 troops, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Eckleben, parachuted directly onto the two airfields at Aalborg (Aalborg East and West) at 7:15 am on April 9 from three Junkers Ju-52s and secured them without resistance for the landing of an infantry battalion. The paratroopers also seized the bridge over Limfjord north of Aalborg without opposition.
The mission of the rest of Company 4 was to capture the 3,200-meter Storstrøm Bridge connecting Falster Island with Seeland Island and hold it until the arrival of Group Buck, led by Colonel Buck, commander of the 305th Infantry Regiment. The bridge consisted of two spans. The longest span by far was the one from Falster to a small island called Masnedö. A much shorter span connected Masnedö to Seeland. There was an old fort on Masnedö that the Germans believed was active and needed to be captured in order to secure the bridge.
Company 4 was scheduled to make its parachute assault on Masnedö at 6:15 am from nine Ju-52s, capture the fort, and secure both bridge spans. The assault was delayed 20 minutes due to weather conditions, but the paratroopers quickly captured the fort, which was not manned. Simultaneous with the arrival of the paratroopers, engineers from Group Buck were landed on Falster from ships and secured the bridge between Falster and Masnedö. The paratroopers, meeting no resistance, proceeded to secure the second span between Masnedö and Seeland.
The German assault units for the attack on Norway consisted of six task forces. Task Force 5, to be landed by ship, had the mission of capturing Oslo and the Norwegian government early on the morning of April 9. The Germans believed that this would lead to a Norwegian surrender and a peaceful occupation of the country. This plan was frustrated when Task Force 5 met unexpected resistance as it approached the capital’s last line of defense, the Oscarborg fortress complex. The task force’s flagship, the brand new heavy cruiser Blücher, was sunk by gunfire and torpedoes and about 1,000 sailors and soldiers were killed.
The Germans also planned to capture Fornebu Airport southwest of Oslo by parachuting two airborne companies directly on the airfield. The 1st and 2nd Companies of the 1st Parachute Regiment, commanded respectively by 1st Lieutenant Herbert Schmidt and Captain Kurt Gröschke, were carried in 29 Ju-52s. The plan called for these troops to seize the airfield quickly, allowing German transport aircraft to land two infantry battalions and an engineer company from the 324th Infantry Regiment.
The German airdrop at Fornebu was cancelled when the aircraft carrying the paratroopers encountered heavy fog over the drop zone. Most aircraft turned around and landed at Aalborg, captured by the Germans that morning. One aircraft crashed into the ocean, and 12 paratroopers from Company 1 were lost along with the plane’s crew. Three planes carrying paratroopers did not return to Aalborg but joined the transport aircraft that later landed at Fornebu. The paratroopers at Aalborg were brought to Norway on April 13.
The landing of transport aircraft at Fornebu was predicated on German paratroopers having secured the airfield. Through a communications failure or a misunderstanding of orders, some of the transport aircraft continued on to Fornebu after the airdrop was cancelled, and they landed along with a squadron of German Messerschmitt 110 fighters, the protective force for the airdrop. The Messerschmitts did not have sufficient fuel to return to either Germany or Denmark.
The German planes landed despite heavy Norwegian fire, which resulted in two German aircraft destroyed and five severely damaged. This was in addition to five shot down or forced to make emergency landings as a result of aerial fights with seven Norwegian Gloster Gladiator fighters stationed at Fornebu. The number of Germans killed is not given, but the Norwegians were forced to withdraw at 8:30 am when they exhausted their ammunition. The Germans quickly took control of the airfield and signaled for subsequent waves to land. Oslo was surrendered to the Germans at 2 pm.
Sola Airfield: A Primary Strategic Objective
Stavanger is the fourth-largest city in Norway, and Sola Airfield, about 10 kilometers southwest of the city, was the best airfield in the country in 1940. Sola was a primary strategic objective since it was critical for air operations against naval forces in the North Sea and was located only 300 miles from Scapa Flow, Great Britain’s most important naval base.
The German plan called for the seizure of Sola Airfield by Company 3, 1st Parachute Regiment, on the morning of April 9. The company was commanded by 1st Lieutenant Freiherr Heinz Henning von Brandis. The paratroopers would be dropped directly on the airfield from 12 Ju-52s. These aircraft along with the Ju-88 bombers and Me-110s were on a one-way mission since they did not have sufficient fuel to return to Germany or Denmark. Follow-up forces, consisting of the regimental staff and two battalions of the 193rd Infantry Regiment commanded by Colonel Karl von Beeren, were to air-land as soon as the airfield was in German hands. The Norwegian Army depot at Madlamoen, three miles from Stavanger, was to be occupied as soon as Sola was secured.
The 1st Battalion, 2nd Norwegian Infantry Regiment was located at Madlamoen. It had arrived there on March 29, after less than three months training in eastern Norway. The battalion was assigned to Colonel G. Spørck, commander of the 8th Norwegian Infantry Regiment.
Sola Airfield was alerted to the possibility of a German attack around noon on April 8. However, the battalion at Madlamoen was not alerted until 1:30 am on April 9. One infantry platoon and one heavy weapons platoon from this battalion, a total of 64 men, were at Sola on April 9. The heavier defensive weapons consisted of four infantry machine guns and six machine guns used in an air defense role.
An Army bomber squadron of eight aircraft was stationed at Sola. This squadron was in the process of moving to eastern Norway to be replaced at Sola by a reconnaissance squadron. The exchange had already started with the departure of the ground crews. Because of these transfers, there were 10 Norwegian aircraft at Sola on April 9.
Construction of concrete bunkers at Sola had begun, but only one was completed by the day of the invasion. Most of the Norwegian troops from the two platoons were in open positions at the north end of the field near the hangars and administrative buildings. The completed bunker on the eastern side of the field was occupied with one antiaircraft machine gun. Three antiaircraft machine guns were located at the northwest corner of the airfield and two at the southeast corner, all in uncovered positions.