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Norway 1940, A Book Review

Discussion in 'ETO, MTO and the Eastern Front' started by belasar, Jul 8, 2014.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

    May 9, 2010
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    Norway 1940, by Francois Kersaudy, St. Martins Press,1987, 272 pages, Photos, Maps, Notes, Index, Hardcover

    The war in the north just prior to the invasion of France has remained a very fuzzy subject for me. Certainly the basic points was known, but the nuances often escaped me. I purchased this book several years ago to help bring this short, but vital moment of the war into focus. Sadly, much like the campaign itself, this book sat in a obscure and largely forgotten spot in my personal library, but recently I drew it out to rectify this situation.

    What I knew going in was this, It was something of a meeting engagement between the Allies and Germany, it was another example of the Blitzkrieg theory of war and much like the invasion of France, a demonstration of just how unprepared for modern war the Anglo-French truly were. What I learned was that there was much more to this than I first thought.

    I had reservation's at first however, in the dust jacket description of the book it claims the following. "No episode in the Allied conduct of the Second World War is more shameful than Britain and France's Betrayal of Norway". This seemed a bit much, but Kersaudy does a most credible job in proving this true.

    As the Phoney War dragged on both Allied capitol's began to feel pressure from within and without to prosecute the war with greater vigor. Public opinion and opposition parties began to ask hard questions and demand action from leaders who promised victory but seemed content to stand behind the twin barriers of the Maginot Line and the English Channel.

    Both governments believed Something should be done, that targeting Germany's economy was the most profitable course and that the other party should undertake the greater part of the burden to make this happen. Great Britain favored the mining of Germany's river's, but the French feared this would invite direct retaliation. France preferred striking at Hitler's economic and political ally, the Soviet Union, to cut off the flow of oil and food to the Reich. Britain found the idea of attacking southern Russia from her possessions in the near and middle east too risky to her Jewel in the Crown, India.

    There was however a familiar, lonely voice that offered a alternative option. Winston Churchill, as First Sea Lord, suggested that cutting the flow of Swedish Iron ore to Germany's industry would achieve the disruption desired while not proving too great a threat to either British or French interest's. Plans were drawn up, troops and ships assembled, but it was not a popular plan in either capitol or with their military commanders and Churchill would remained frustrated until outside events intervened.

    The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland changed the political perceptions in both Paris and London. France now enthusiastically endorsed Churchill's ideas and his own government, could at least, find them palatable. Aid would be sent to the noble Finn's, of course this would mean free passage over Norway and Sweden, but the Allies promised great numbers of troops, planes, guns and tanks to protect Scandinavia from both the German eagle and the Russian bear.

    Two problem's quickly came to the fore. First they didn't have these vast numbers of troops or weapon's (the plans called for landings by battalion and Brigade group's often without heavy weapons and and air defense and anti tank guns) and for some perplexing reason Sweden and Norway did not feel they needed saving in the first place. They continued adjusting their plans and sending diplomat's, but Norway an Sweden wanted no part in a general European war and the ships and men remained in port.

    Germany was aware of these gambit's and Hitler even met with Vidkun Quisling who wanted to create a Nazi like government in Norway. Hitler, showing far greater political, diplomatic and military acumen than any of the other allied leaders (Churchill included), politely and firmly said no to any significant aid to Quisling, saying that operations in the north would be a dangerous distraction to the up coming attack in the west. Who would have thunk it?

    The Altmark incident would change his mind however. As a counterpoint to the fumbling efforts of the Allies, Hitler would entrust one man to create and execute a spur of the moment assault designed to capture all the important seizure's necessary to secure Norway. The contrast between these two efforts in both the planning and execution would amply demonstrate the difference between men at war and men playing at war.

    When Germany struck the allies had only their ill conceived and ill prepared plans to throw forward. The result was fore ordained and they only ensured a disastrous result by never fully trusting the Norwegian's and often outright lying to them about their intentions. This would be culminated in the attack on Narvik. An attack executed after it was already decided to evacuate Norway, without informing the Norwegian's of this until after the withdrawal began.

    The resulting disaster forced Chamberlain's resignation and might have done the same for Churchill, it was after all his idea, had not Hitler launched Fall Gelb upon France and the Low Counties.

    Kersaudy detail's this all in a readable style that show's real compassion for the plight of Norway and it's people. There is one glaring mistake in a photo caption and this book is more a political history of the conflict than a military one, something that was mildly a disappointment, but on balance a good book that did the most important thing it could do, expand my understanding of a subject I thought I knew but did not.
  2. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

    Oct 16, 2010
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    One of the reasons it's a personal favourite, it's good for orienting the military events in the political climate before, during and after. It's best to read it alongside T.K. Derry's official history of the campaign, it's up on Hyperwar.
  3. Wgvsr

    Wgvsr New Member

    Feb 5, 2014
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    Collierville, TN
    I'd recommend Geirr Haarr's three volume history of Norway up through 1940. It's fairly new, the 3rd volume "The Gathering Storm" just came out last year. The other two were "The German Invasion of Norway" & the "Battle For Norway". Haarr is Norse so he dealt with a number of domestic sources in writing the trilogy..

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