On Easter Monday, March 25, 1940, Hitler drove with his staff down the winding road from the Berghof and returned to the Chancellery in Berlin. The next time he was to see the Obersalzberg mountain it would be high summer, and he would be master of all northern Europe from North Cape to the Pyrenees.
The risks involved in the Norwegian operation were daunting, but he felt he must eliminate this constant source of worry implanted in his mind by Admiral Raederthe fear that the Allies might obtain a foothold in Norway and cut Germany off from her iron-ore supplies. For the present his plans were delayed because the Baltic ports were still icebound and the transport ships he needed could not yet be assembled there. The world press slowly filled with speculation about the Allied designs on Scandinavia, but so far no word of Hitlers own daring intentions had leaked out. This was the first success of his stringent new security regulations. He had not even breathed a word of his military plan to Ribbentrop.
At noon on the day after Hitlers return to Berlin, Admiral Raeder put it to him that although a British invasion of Norway now seemed less acutely imminent than it had two weeks earlier, the Germans would do well to seize the initiative there now. It would be best to occupy Norway in a surprise operation timed to coincide with the new moon on April 7 ; by the fifteenth the dark nights would already be too short. Hitler agreed, but opted for a date between the eighth and tenth so that Yellow could begin four or five days after, if conditions were right. Raeder also asked Hitler to authorize an immediate resumption of Luftwaffe minelaying operations, as it seemed that the secret of the magnetic mine was now out ; although both Keitel and G–ring wanted the minelaying campaign delayed until Yellow began, the F¸hrer directed that it must begin immediately. Against G–rings advice, Hitler also allowed himself to be persuaded by Raeder on another issue : the F¸hrer had originally wanted the dozen destroyers that were to carry troops to Narvik and Trondheim to remain as a source of artillery support and to boost the morale of the troops they had landed ; as he put it to Jodl one evening in his map room, he could not tolerate the navy promptly scuttling out of the Norwegian ports. What would the landing troops make of that ? But Raeder dug his heels in. The most perilous phase of the whole invasion campaign, he insisted, would be the withdrawal of the warships from northern Norway to the safety of German waters under the nose of the most powerful navy in the world. If the destroyers were detained one moment too long, they would be bottled in by the British and wiped out when they emerged. Raeder was prepared to risk his fleet for Norway, but he would not stand by and see it frittered away, and in a private clash with Hitler on March 29 he told him so. Hitler yielded to the force of argument.
Intelligence on Britains intentions in Scandinavia hardened, although on March 22, Raeders codebreakers found to their dismay that the British had just changed one of their most important codes ; this might hamper cryptanalysis for two weeks. The Scandinavian press began to speculate on an imminent Allied operation in Norwegian waters. Raeder warned Hitler of a perceptible stiffening in Norways attitude toward Germany. Far more important was that Hitler now learned of an Allied Supreme War Council decision in London on March 28 to develop a two-stage Scandinavian operation early in April : the cynical Allied master plan was to provoke Hitler into an overhasty occupation of southern Norway by laying mines in Norways neutral waters ; Hitlers move would then justify a full-scale Allied landing at Narvik in the north to seize the railroad to the Swedish ore fields. This first stage would later be coupled with several operations farther south. On March 3o German Intelligence intercepted a Paris diplomats report on a conversation with Paul Reynaud, Frances new premier. According to a summary in the naval staffs war diary, Reynaud had assured this unidentified diplomat that the dangers in western and southern Europe would shortly pass, as in the next few days the Allies would be launching all-important operations in northern Europe. On the same day, Churchill broadcast on the BBC a warning to Norway that Britain would no longer tolerate a pro-German interpretation of neutrality ; the Allies would continue the fight wherever it might lead them. (Churchills designs on Norway were known to German Intelligence from a series of incautious hints he dropped in a secret press conference with neutral press attachÈs in London on February 2.) Small wonder that Hitler later referred more than once to the indiscretions committed by Reynaud and Churchill as providing the final urgent stimulus for his own adventure.(1)
On March 30, German cryptographers also intercepted a cable from the Romanian legation in Oslo conveying the impression being created by the British envoy there : conspicuous protestations that no far-reaching decisions had yet been taken in London or Paris about violating Norwegian waters were coupled with British denials that they intended to land troops in Norway. The combination finally convinced the German naval staff that in reality a British operation against Scandinavia is imminent, and that a race between Britain and Germany was developing. An intercepted Swiss legation report from Stockholm claimed that British and German invasions of the Norwegian coast were imminent. Major Quisling said the situation was so urgent that the Germans should not wait for him to build up his organization first ; British and French officers were being installed in key points in Norway, disguised as consular officials. Admiral Raeder nervously pressed Hitler to launch the invasion on April 7, the earliest possible date ; but after spending two days investigating every detail of the operation with all the commanders involved, Hitler decided on April 2 that the first assault on Norways coastline was to take place at 5:15 A.M. on the ninth.
The nervous strain on Hitler would have overwhelmed most men. Perhaps the very idea was too audacious to succeed ? How could trainloads of South German mountain troops heading for the Baltic coast be plausibly explained ? How could ponderous transport ships laden with hundreds of troops, guns, and ammunition be safely dispatched toward the Arctic without alerting the British fleet in time to wipe out the German navy ? When on April 1, Hitler personally addressed the handpicked commanders, one report noted : The F¸hrer describes the operation ... as one of the cheekiest operations in recent military history. But in this he sees the basis for its success. He offered the familiar preventive reasons for occupying Norway but added that the time had come for Germany to win safe channels to the outside world. It is intolerable that each generation is subjected to renewed pressure from Britain. Sooner or later the fight with Britain would have been inevitable. It has to be fought. It is a matter of life and death for the German nation.
At 2 A.M. on April 3, Hitlers operation passed the point of no return. The first three transports camouflaged as coal vessels sailed from Germany, bound with the tanker Kattegat for Narvik, a thousand miles to the north. Four more coal shipsthree for Trondheim and one for Stavangerwere ready in German ports. All carried heavy equipment, artillery, ammunition, and provisions concealed beneath the coal. The initial assault troops would be carried on fast warships, some entering the Norwegian ports under cover of the British flag : ten destroyers would carry two thousand troops to Narvik, escorted by the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau ; another seventeen hundred troops would be landed at Trondheim by the cruiser Hipper and four destroyers. Thousands of assault troops would be landed at five other ports by virtually the rest of the German navya fleet of cruisers, torpedo boats, whalers, minesweepers, submarine chasers, tugs, and picket boats. Troop reinforcements would arrive during the day in fifteen merchant ships bound for Oslo, Kristiansand, Bergen, and Stavanger. If anything prematurely befell even one of these ships laden with troops in field-gray, the whole operation would be betrayed.
Hitler ordered the OKW to disclose the impending operation to Ribbentrop. By April 5, the admiralty in Berlin could recognize that a fresh British operation had begun. An imperfectly broken British radio message of very unusual length appeared to be an operational order to fifteen or twenty submarines ; since the operation seemed to be one of particular importance, it was decided that either the British were deploying against Hitlers operation or that the enemy has his own plans to invade Norway. The German naval staff correctly deduced the two-stage character of the Allied planfirst the British would lay a mine barrage, then, as soon as the Germans retaliated, the Allies would use this as justification for an invasion. Since there was no other evidence at all that the Allies might have detected Germanys strategic plan, let alone the audacious scale on which Hitler had prepared the invasion, the naval staff concluded on April 6 that the enemy is on the threshold of conducting operations in Norwegian waters or on Norwegian soil. In Berlin, the foreign ministry learned that the Allied governments had sent to the Scandinavian governments crisply worded notes indicating that since the latter were no longer entirely free agents in handling their foreign affairs, the Allies reserved all rights.
In his Chancellery, Hitler feared that at any moment word would arrive that the Allied invasion had begun. On the afternoon of the sixth the war department notified him that the railroad movement of invasion troops from their assembly areas in the heart of Germany to the Baltic dockyards had begun on schedule. From Helsinki came fresh word of an imminent British operation against Narvik ; Swedish and Norwegian officers tried to assure Berlin that the Allies were just trying to provoke Germany into an ill-considered preventive campaign, but Hitler remained unconvinced. He already felt that the Swedes knew more than was good for them. He had arranged for all the foreign military attachÈs in Berlin to tour the West Wall over the next few daysbut the Swedish legation had declined the invitation, explaining that the attachÈ would be urgently needed at the time scheduled. Equally ominous were the telephone conversations the Forschungsamt now intercepted between the Danish military attachÈ and the Danish and Norwegian ministers in Berlin, in which the attachÈ urgently asked for immediate interviews with them as he had something of the utmost political significance to tell them.(2)
During the night of April 6-7, the German fleet operation began. The battleships, cruisers, and destroyers sailed from their North Sea ports. A further stiffening in the Norwegian attitude to Germany was detected. Norwegian coastal defenses were on the alert, troop movements were reported, lighthouses and radio beacons were extinguished. Norwegian pilots for the coalships waiting to pass northward through the Leads to Narvik and Trondheim were only slowly forthcomingwas this deliberate Norwegian obstructionism, or had the German admiralty simply failed to impress on these ships captains the importance of the timetable ? It was too late to speculate now, for the entire German invasion fleet was at sea. Hitler was committed to either a catastrophic defeat, with the certain annihilation of his navy, or to a spectacular victory.
Early on April 8, the German legation in Oslo telephoned Berlin with the not altogether unexpected news that British warships had just begun laying minefields in Norwegian waters. This violation of Norways neutrality could hardly have been more flagrant, nor more opportune for Hitlers cause. Now he could present his seizure of the Norwegian coast as a dramatic, and highly effective, answer to the Allied action ; and a gullible world would believe it. In Oslo, there was uproar and anger at the Allied presumption ; the redoubled Norwegian determination to defend their neutrality caused Raeder to order his warships to abandon their original intention of entering the Norwegian ports under the British flag, as he could now see little profit in the deception.
The elation in Berlin at the Allied action was shattered by a second telephone call from the Oslo legation in the early evening. The Rio de Janeiro, a slowmoving merchant ship headed for Bergen with horses and a hundred troops, had been torpedoed a few hours earlier off the Norwegian coast. Troops in field-gray uniforms had been rescued from the sea and were presumably even now being interrogated by the Norwegians. But Hitlers luck still held. The hours passed, and although word came that the Norwegian Cabinet had been urgently called into session, it seemed to have resolved upon no clear course of action. From intercepted radio messages the British admiralty was known to have identified the fast warship groups heading for Narvik and Trondheim during the eighth. But in Berlin the naval staff was confident that the British would wrongly conclude that this was an attempted breakout into the Atlantic. Raeder had insisted on attaching battleships to the first group, and this was now vindicated, for the British were indeed deceived, and deployed their forces far to the north of the true seat of operations.
In the small hours of April 9, Berlin picked up a Norwegian radio signal reporting strange warships entering the Oslo Fjord. Now Hitler knew that the toughest part of the operationrunning the gauntlet of the Norwegian coastal batterieshad begun. But shortly before 6 A.M. German signals from the forces landed at Narvik, Trondheim, and Bergen were monitored ; they called for U-boats to stand guard over the port entrances. Access to Norway had now been forced. Hitler and Jodl read the signals with evident relief, though not until later did the full measure of this German victory dawn on them.
By the evening of April 9, 1940, Norway and Denmark appeared securely in German hands. General von Falkenhorst reported at five-thirty : Norway and Denmark occupied ... as instructed.
Hitler himself drafted the German news-agency report announcing that the Danish government had submitted, grumbling, and almost without a shot having been fired, to German force majeure. Grinning from ear to ear, Hitler congratulated Rosenberg : Now Quisling can set up his government in Oslo. The unbelievably sluggish British naval command had fumbled every countermove. In southern Norway the strategically well-placed airfield at Stavanger had been captured by German paratroops, assuring Hitler of immediate air superioritythe key to the later campaign ; at Oslo itselfwhere the seaborne forces arrived three hours latefive companies of paratroops and airborne infantry landed on Fornebu airfield. A small party of infantry marched with band playing into the Norwegian capital and Oslo fell.
At the Reich Chancellery in Berlin there was the heady scent of victory and relief. When the gold-embossed supper menu was laid before Hitler that evening, the main course of macaroni, ham, and green salad was appropriately prefaced by sm–rrebr–d. Scandinavia was indeed just the hors doeuvre ; as soon as the Luftwaffe could disengage itself from Norway, Yellow would begina feast of military conquest which Hitler was already savoring in advance.
As Admiral Raeder had predicted, the German navy had suffered grievous losses and was to suffer yet more ; but Hitler confided to his adjutants that if his navy was to do naught else in this war, it had justified its existence by winning Norway for Germany. In the final approach to Oslo along the fifty-mile-long Oslo Fjord, Germanys newest heavy cruiser, the Bl¸cher, had been disabled by the ancient Krupp guns of a coastal battery and finished off by torpedoes with heavy loss of life. Off Bergen the cruiser K–nigsberg was also hit by a coastal battery ; it limped into port and was sunk the next day by British aircraft. South of Kristiansand, the cruiser Karlsruhe was sunk by a British submarine. Three more cruisers were damaged and many of the supply vessels sunk, for during their own invasion preparations the British had stationed sixteen submarines in the area ; this was the operational signal the German admiralty had been unable to decipher completely.
In one incident, the cruiser Hipper and four destroyers bearing seventeen hundred troops to Trondheim were challenged by the coastal batteries guarding the fjord ; the Hippers commander, Captain Heye, steered directly toward the batteries, signaling ambiguously in English : I come on government instructions. By the time the puzzled gunners opened fire, the ships were already past.
It was at Narvik that the real crisis began. Ten destroyers landed General Eduard Dieds two thousand German and Austrian mountain troops virtually unopposed, for the local Norwegian commander was a Quisling sympathizer. But the three camouflaged supply ships and the tanker Kattegat never arrived from Germany. Only the tanker Jan Wellem arrived punctually from the naval base provided by Stalin at Murmansk ; as the ten destroyers could refuel only slowly from this one tanker, they could not be ready to return before late on the tenth. But earlier that day five British destroyers penetrated the fjord in a blinding snowstorm ; in the ensuing gunplay and the battle fought there three days later, the aging British battleship Warspite and a whole flotilla of destroyers sank all ten German destroyersthough not before they had taken a toll from the British. Thus half of Raeders total destroyer force had been wiped out.(3) Hitler had that morning already radioed Died to hold on to Narvik at all costs. He was to prepare frozen Lake Hartvig as an airfield ready to receive Luftwaffe supply planes. After word came of the sinking of the destroyers, Rosenberg found the F¸hrer slumped deep in thought following a conference with G–ring. When over the next two days news arrived of British troops landing at Harstad, not far north of Narvik, and at Namsos, to the north of Trondheim, the military crisis brought Hitler to the verge of a complete nervous breakdown.
Had the diplomatic offensive in Oslo been prepared with the same thoroughness as the military invasion, the Norwegian government could have been won over or effectively neutralized. Thus armed Norwegian resistance would have been avoided and the interior lines of communication secured from one end of Norway to the other. But bad luck had dogged events in Oslo : when the Bl¸cher had sunk in Oslo Fjord, the assault party detailed to arrest the Norwegian government had foundered with her ; in addition, the airborne troops due to land at Forneb¸ airport were delayed by fog. As a result, the king and government had had time to escape the capital, and the local German envoy, Kurt Brauer, was not equal to the situation.
On April 10, both king and governmentin refuge outside Oslohad been amenable to negotiation, but Brauer wanted them to recognize Major Quislings new government and left the talks without awaiting the outcome of his proposals. Back in Oslo, Brauer learned that the proposals were rejected : the king refused to violate the constitution by appointing Quisling, whom the Norwegian public regarded as a traitor. The fugitive government issued a call to arms and sabotage, and a confused but still undeclared war between Norway and Germany began. Had Brauer not insisted on Quisling but dealt with the existing government instead, this situation would not have arisen.
Hitlers support for Quisling was short-lived. On April 14, the foreign ministry flew Theo Habicht, a Nazi revolutionary and ministry official, to Oslo to straighten matters out. His instructions were to make a last attempt to secure agreement with the king. Quisling was forced to climb down next day ; but with the British operations in Narvik stiffening the Norwegian resolve, Germanys position was weaker politically than it had been four days earlier. Ribbentrops representatives scraped together an Administrative Council of leading Oslo citizens including the chief justice of the Norwegian Supreme Court, Paul Berg, but progress was slow and quite the opposite of what Hitler had wanted. He was apoplectic with rage at Brauer and Habicht for allowing these Norwegian lawyers to dupe them ; he had wanted to see Quisling at the head of an ostensibly legal Norwegian governmentnot some lawyers junta. Habicht and Brauer were fetched back to Berlin and dismissed from the foreign serviceit was all Ribbentrop could do to save them from incarceration in a concentration camp. Hitler fumed that all he desired in these northern lands was law and order ; since the foreign ministry had failed, the army and Party must now try.
Next to the old Reich Cabinet Room Hitler used for his war conferences were the rooms his military advisers Jodl and Keitel occupied ; additional offices were supplied for their adjutants and clerical staff. It was on this small stage that in mid-April 1940 the command crisis over Narvik was played. It shed such unfavorable light on Hitlers qualities of leadership that Colonel Schmundt, his faithful Parsifal, ordered all reference to it excised from the official records of the High Command ; it showed Hitler in an all too mortal posturewhen the strain upon him grew too great, his nerves cracked and he lost his powers of reason.
Neither Luftwaffe nor submarines could carry munitions, reinforcements, or artillery to General Dietl in any quantity. Eleven Junkers 52 transport planes had landed on Lake Hartvig with the components of a mountain battery, but no sooner were the aircraft unloaded than the ice thawed and all eleven aircraft sank. With his own two thousand troops now augmented by the two thousand shipless sailors of the destroyer force, Dietl could not hold Narvikthe whole point of the Norwegian campaignonce the main British assault on the port began. Together with G–ring, Hitler studied one plan after another for the relief of the Narvik force. It worried him that they were mostly Austrians, for he had not yet wanted to place such a burden on the Anschluss. By April 14, he was already talking to Brauchitsch of abandoning Narvik and concentrating all effort on the defense of Trondheim, threatened by the British beachhead at Namsos and now by the onset of a fresh invasion at Aandalsnes to the south. He planned to expand Trondheim into a strategic naval base that would make Britains Singapore seem childs play. Over the next few days, after repeated conferences with G–ring, Milch, and Jeschonnek, he ordered the total destruction of Namsos and Aandalsnes, and of any other town or village in which British troops set foot, without regard for the civilian population. He frowned at his adjutants and said, I know the British. I came up against them in the Great War. Where they once get a toehold there is no throwing them out again.
On the fourteenth, he had somehow gained the impression that the British had already landed at Narvik. He knew of no other solution than that Dietl should fight his way southward to Trondheim. Jodl scorned the idea. Mein F¸hrer, I have been there. An expedition there is like a Polar expedition ! Jodl knew and trusted Dietl ; he also knew Narvik, and he considered it quite possible to defend it for a long time with meager resources. But Hitler had no intention of wasting more aircraft in supplying Dietl. He announced Dietls promotion to lieutenant general and at the same time dictated to Keitel a message ordering Dietl to evacuate Narvik forthwith. The British would now take Narvik unopposed ; that Sweden would defend her iron-ore fields, as G–ring believed, seemed to Hitler unlikely. Jodl wrote in his diary : The hysteria is frightful. His deputy later recalled that when Hitler was not loudly giving vent to irrelevant suggestions, he sat glowering in one corner of Jodls room. Hitler had acted like this once before, during a minor crisis over the capture of Warsaw. If he was plagued by nervous fits in a subsidiary campaign like this, it augured ill for Yellow, which was to begin as soon as the Luftwaffes paratroops and transport squadrons were released from their commitment in Norway. Jodls staff was scandalized by the F¸hrers lack of comportment in these days.
In fact Hitlers radio message to Dietl was never sent. It reached the OKW offices at Bendlerstrasse, and at 10:40 A.M. on the morning of April 15 it was back in Jodls room, in the quivering hands of his army staff officer, Colonel Bernhard von Lossberg. Lossberg angrily refused to send out such a messageit was the product of a nervous crisis unparalleled since the darkest days of the Battle of the Marne in 1914. The whole point of the Norwegian campaign had been to safeguard Germanys iron-ore supplies. Was Narvik now to be relinquished to the British without a fight ? Jodl quietly advised him that this was the personal desire of the F¸hrer. Keitel turned his back on Lossberg and left the room. With Jodls permission, Lossberg visited the Commander in Chief of the army and urgently begged him to talk Hitler around, but Brauchitsch curtly refused. I have nothing whatever to do with the Norwegian campaign. Falkenhorst and Dietl are answerable to Hitler alone, and I have not the least intention of going of my own free will to that clip joint, meaning the Reich Chancellery. However, the colonel craftily persuaded Brauchitsch to sign another message to Dietl, one congratulating him on his promotion and ending : I am sure you will defend your position, which is so vital to Germany, to the last man. Lossberg handed this text to Jodl and tore up Keitels handwritten F¸hrer Order before their eyes. Thus ended one day of the Narvik crisis.
It is clear Hitler feared the blow that the loss of Narvik would inflict on his prestige. Now Jodl began to assert his authority as strategic adviser. He openly rejected Hitlers muttered reproaches against the army and navy operations. When Hitler drew ugly comparisons between the scuttling of the disabled destroyers at Narvik and the ignominious end of the Graf Spee, Jodl pointed out that when a warship has no fuel and has expended her last ammunition she has no choice if she is to avoid capture. As each day of this Narvik crisis passed, Jodls voice was raised with more assurance. Eventually the Allies had landed some twelve thousand British, French, and Polish troops to confront Dietls lesser force. Jodl remained unimpressed ; and when Hitler again began talking of abandoning Narvik, he lost his temper and stalked out of the Cabinet Room, slamming the door behind him with a noise that echoed around the Chancellery building.
Upon reflection, however, Jodl decided that his faith in Hitler had not been misplaced. Had not precisely the same despondency smitten Frederick the Great at the battle of Mollwitz two hundred years before ? When that battle had turned against the great Prussian monarch, he had taken flight with his cavalry. And hadnt it been Schwerin and his infantry who had saved the day without him ?
Jodl expressed his opposition to Hitlers policy of despair with the advice : You should not give up anything until it is really lost. Throughout the seventeenth the argument raged back and forth between them. Hitler had already drafted a radio message ordering Dietl to withdraw. There must be some way out ! he exclaimed, leaning over the chart of Norway. We cannot just abandon those troops. Jodl retorted in his earthy Bavarian accent, Mein F¸hrer, in every war there are times when the Supreme Commander must keep his nerve ! Between each word, he rapped his knuckles on the chart table so loudly that they were white afterward.
The psychological effect of this drama on Hitler was interesting. He composed himself and with deliberate controlled evenness replied, What would you advise? Thereupon Jodl showed him an appreciation by his staff, appended to which was a draft directive to Dietl to hold out and contain enemy forces there as long as possible. That evening Hitler signed the order ; but he made it abundantly clear in a preamble that he thought the whole northern position was bound to be overwhelmed by the Allies eventually, since all the odds were against Dietl and his four thousand ill-armed men. It was not one of his more felicitously worded messages.
His fifty-first birthday passed without noticeable public enthusiasm. When Alfred Rosenberg presented him with a large porcelain bust of Frederick the Great, tears welled up in the F¸hrers eyes. When you see him, he said, you realize how puny are the decisions we have to make compared with those confronting him. He had nothing like the military strength we command today !
But military strength, if mindlessly applied, often proves counterproductive. In Norway, Falkenhorst had begun draconian reprisals to quell the incidence of sabotage. Hostages were taken. G–ring mentioned during an audience with Hitler that a mass resistance movement in Norway was growing. By late on April 18 it was clear that earlier attempts at kid-glove tactics had failed. On that day, the fugitive Norwegian government declared itself at war with Germany. All diplomatic talks ceased, and Hitler told his staff that from now on brute force was the only answer. At the war conference he announced his intention of transferring executive authority to Falkenhorst ; the tough young Gauleiter of Essen, Josef Terboven, would be appointed Reich Commissioner for Norway, answerable only to the F¸hrer himself. Keitelrightly fearing that Norway was now to suffer as Poland was already sufferingraised immediate objections. When Hitlers only reply was to snub the OKW chief, Keitel took a leaf from Jodls book and stormed out of the conference chamber. Afterward he privately cornered Hitler and warned that friction was bound to arise between Terboven and the military commander. Nevertheless, by that evening Terboven was already at the Chancellery ; the next day saw him ensconced in private with Hitler, Himmler, and Martin Bormann ; and on April 21, Terboven and his staff were en route for Oslo and ready to introduce a reign of terror to the Norwegian people.
Again Hitler was plagued by sleepless nights. What was the true situation in Norway ? If the Luftwaffe generals were to be believed, Falkenhorst was in despair and already giving up Trondheim as lost. During the day, the trickle of information reaching the Chancellery along the one scrambler-telephone link between Oslo and Berlin was never enough to quench Hitlers thirst for detail. He sent one officer after another by special plane to Norway to report to him on the progress of his two divisions of infantry struggling to bridge the three hundred miles between Oslo and Trondheim.
On April 22, he sent his own adjutant, Schmundt, by plane to Oslo with Jodls army staff officer, Colonel von Lossberg. Lossberga towering figure with a game leg and a fearless naturereported back to Hitler the next evening after a hazardous flight. So struck was he by the contrast between the confident resolution he had found at Falkenhorsts Oslo headquarters and the air of dejection in the Chancellery, that he apparently forgot himself ; when the downcast F¸hrer asked in what strength the British had now landed at Namsos and Aandalsnes, he exclaimed, Five thousand men at most, mein F¸hrer ! This, to Hitler, was a disaster, but the colonel briskly interrupted him : Jawohl, mein F¸hrer, only five thousand men. Falkenhorst controls all the key points, so he could finish off the enemy even if they were far stronger. We must rejoice over every Englishman sent to Norway rather than to meet us in the west on the Meuse. When Hitler emphasized that the army must move reinforcements to Falkenhorst, Lossberg recommended that he leave matters in Falkenhorsts hands. Germany needed every division it could retain in the west for Yellow. Hitler allowed Lossberg to lecture him no longer on elementary tactics. Perhaps the ill-concealed sarcasm the colonel had voiced over Hitlers panicky and pernickety command methods from the Chancellery had found their mark. Lossberg was curtly dismissed from the conference chamber, and for weeks afterward he was not allowed into the F¸hrers presence.
On the chart table, Lossberg had left behind him a small sheaf of recently captured British military documents which he had brought with him from Oslo. On the following day this little dossier was greatly augmented by additional British documents, which arrived from Oslo with one of Jodls officers. A British infantry brigade fighting south of Aandalsnes had been put to flight by the advancing Germans, and important files captured. The immense political importance of the find sank in overnight : the brigade commander, in private life a London soap manufacturer, had previously been briefed on the plan to capture Stavangerlong before the German invasion of Norway. The British orders were dated April 2, 6, and 7 ! Other British landing operations had been planned at Bergen, Trondheim, and Narvik. The German operation had cut right across the British scheme, and the troop transports, which had actually been sighted by the Luftwaffe on April 9, had been recalled to port to enable the navy to engage the German fleet. These documents, in conjunction with files seized from French and British consulates in Norway, showed the whole history, dating back to January, of the Allied plan to invade Norway. It was equally clear that certain Norwegian leaders were determined the Allied operation should not be resisted.
Hitler was overjoyed. He had taken much booty since his invasion began, including a million tons of shipping in Norwegian ports, but this haul of secret Allied documents was the stroke of real luck he had been waiting for. He personally mapped out the propaganda campaign to exploit them ; until the small hours of the morning, he, Schmundt, and Jodl checked over the White Book the foreign ministry was preparing. The hasty publication contained document facsimiles, translations, and statements of British officers as to the documents authenticity. Hitler himself met and talked to the British prisoners brought to Berlin from Norway.(4) At midday on the twenty-seventh, Ribbentrop distributed the damning publication to the assembled foreign diplomats in the main Chancellery building. That afternoon, he broadcast a lengthy tirade that was heard worldwide, from North America to the Russias ; in it he emphasized the cant and humbug of British assurances to the little neutrals.
The speech was due to begin at 2:30 P.M., and Hitler made it one of the rare occasions when he himself listened to the radio. Ribbentrop as usual kept his huge audience waiting several minutes before he began, and Rosenberg, the ministers archenemy, slyly observed to Hitler : Not a very punctual start ! Hitler waved his hand in a characteristic gesture and laughed. The foreign minister is always too late. (Once Ribbentrop had kept him waiting for several minutes before deigning to come to the telephone ; Hitler had recommended that he not repeat this threadbare tactic with him again.)
There was no denying the effect Ribbentrops White Book on the Norwegian documents had on world opinion. Well might Hitler ask, Who now dares condemn me for assailing Belgium and Holland if the Allies care so little for small states neutrality themselves ? At all events, on the very day the captured documents were released to the world, April 27, 1940, Hitler secretly announced to his staff the decision over which he had wavered these many months. He would launch Yellow in the first week of May.
To open the assault in the west, Hitler had marshaled 137 divisions, with over 2,400 tanks and 3,800 aircraft at their command ; yet even so he was facing a numerically superior enemy. His Intelligence agencies had pinpointed the position of 100 French divisions and 11 more divisions from the British Expeditionary Force ; the Belgians had raised 23 divisions, and the Dutch 13. Added to this total of 147 divisions were 20 more holding the fortifications. The French had committed only 7 divisions, plus 3 fortification divisionsimmobile units capable only of defenseto their frontier with Italy. In short, instead of launching his offensive with the traditional superiority of numbers, Hitlers army had the odds against it. Superior morale, tactics, and weaponry would have to make up for this deficiency. The weather for the Luftwaffe must be perfect from the first moment.
Hitler did not doubt the outcome of the forthcoming passage of arms. He would command this campaign himself, and by rapid initiative and superior strategy he would annihilate the enemy, whose bureaucracy and hidebound tactics had already proven their undoing in Norway. Jodl was years later to write : Only the F¸hrer could sweep aside the hackneyed military notions of the General Staff and conceive a grand plan in all its elementsa peoples inner willingness to fight, the uses of propaganda, and the like. It was this that revealed not the analytic mind of the staff officer or military expert in Hitler, but the grand strategist. On the eve of the assault on France and the Low Countries, Hitler was to proclaim to his assembled staff, Gentlemen : you are about to witness the most famous victory in history ! Few viewed the immediate future as sanguinely as he.
Now the real pressure was on. On April 29, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to stand by to open Yellow on May 5 ; on April 3o, he ordered the entire Wehrmacht to be ready to launch Yellow at twenty-four hours notice from the fifth. That day, General Jodl had confirmed to him that in Norway the German forces that had set out weeks before from Trondheim and Oslo had now linked ; the F¸hrer was delirious with joy. That is more than a battle won, it is an entire campaign ! he exclaimed. Before his eyes he could already see the autobahn he would build to Trondheim. The Norwegian people deserved it. How utterly they differed from the Poles ! Norwegian doctors and nurses had tended the injured until they dropped with exhaustion ; the Polish subhumans had jabbed their eyes out. Moved by this comparison, on May 9, Hitler was to give his military commander in Norway an order which began as follows :
... In the course of the campaign in the east German soldiers who had the misfortune to fall injured or uninjured into Polish hands were usually brutally ill-treated or massacred. By way of contrast, it must be said of the Norwegian army that not one single such incident of the debasement of warfare has occurred.
The Norwegian soldier spurned all the cowardly and deceitful methods common to the Poles. He fought with open visor and honorably, and he tended our prisoners and injured properly and to the best of his ability. The civilian population acted similarly. Nowhere did they join in the fighting, and they did all they could for the welfare of our casualties.
I have therefore decided in appreciation for this to authorize the liberation of the Norwegian soldiers we took prisoner. Only the professional soldiers will have to remain in captivity until such time as the former Norwegian government withdraws its call to arms against Germany, or individual officers and men give their formal word not to take part under any circumstances in further hostilities against Germany.
The Allies had evacuated their forces from Namsos and Aandalsnes at the beginning of May, leaving only the twelve thousand troops landed at Narvik to continue the fight. The British press admitted frankly that the defeat in Norway was having a disastrous effect on public opinion. When the British submarine Seal showed the white flag and surrendered to a German naval aircraft on May 5, the naval staff saw it as a sad sign of Britains lack of resolution and readiness.
Hitler assembled his staff for a last run of secret conferences on the details of Yellow: everybody was now standing bythe glider and parachute troops who were to seize bridges, forts, and key points in Holland and Belgium ; the disguised Dutch policemen; the emissary who was to present to the queen of Holland a demand that the Dutch proffer no resistance ; the little scout force of radio vehicles detailed by Jodl to report directly to him on the operation against the bridges and Fort Eben Emael ; and two million men. The weather forecasts were of crucial importance ; the Luftwaffes chief meteorologist sweated blood over the burden of responsibility he alone now carried. On May 3, Hitler postponed Yellow on his advice by one day, to Monday. On the fourth he again postponed it, to Tuesday. On Sunday the fifth the forecast was still uncertain, so Yellow was set down for Wednesday the eighth. On this deadline Hitler was determined : he ordered a special timetable printed for his headquarters staff as part of the elaborate camouflage of his real intentions. The timetable showed his train departing from a little station near Berlin late on May 7 and arriving next day in Hamburg en route for an official visit to Oslo.
Hitler would not brook weather delays any longer. At the end of April the SS obtained the transcript of a telephone conversation between the prime ministers of Britain and France, indicating that they were planning an operation themselves. Hitler later mentioned this as his reason for fearing that at any moment the Allies might march into Holland and Belgium (in fact the two prime ministers were discussing a French air attack on Russias oil fields). But the Luftwaffes meteorologist was adamant, in conference with Hitler on May 7, that there was still a strong risk of morning fog ; so Hitler again postponed Yellow by one day.
Hitler was even more alarmed by what the Allies might now learn of his plans. On May 7, the Forschungsamt showed him two coded telegrams the Belgian ambassador to the Vatican had just sent to his government : a German citizen who had arrived in Rome on April 29 had warned that Hitler was about to attack Belgium and Holland. The Abwehr was ordered to search out the informanta supreme irony as the SS was to realize four years later, for the culprit was a minor member of Canariss Abwehr network.(5) In any case, the fat was in the fire. At 5 P.M. Dutch radio announced that all leave was canceled, and by early on the eighth Holland was in a state of siege. Telephone links with foreign countries were cut, members of Anton Musserts pro-Nazi movement in the Dutch forces were arrested, cities began evacuation measures, the government district of The Hague was cordoned off, andmost irritating of all for Hitlerthe guard on important bridges was increased. Hitler wanted to wait no longer, but G–ring kept his nerve and promised that although there was still fog in the morning, the weather was improving daily : May 10 would be ideal. Hitler was torn between the counsels of his experts and the whispering voice of his intuition. Against all his instincts he reluctantly agreed to postpone Yellow to May 10, but not one day after that.
Early on the ninth Puttkamer, the duty adjutant, telephoned one of the westernmost corps headquarters, at Aachen ; the Chief of Staff there told him there was some mist, but the sun was already breaking through and tomorrow would probably be as fine. When the naval adjutant repeated this to Hitler, he announced, Good. Then we can begin. The service commands were informed that the final orders to attack or postpone (code words Danzig and Augsburg, respectively) would be issued by 9:30 P.M. at the latest.
Extraordinary security precautions were taken, even within Hitlers own staff. Martin Bormann was left in the belief that they were to visit Oslo, and the Party authorities there made great plans to welcome the F¸hrer. Hitler instructed his female secretaries to pack their bags for a long journey, and when these innocents asked Julius Schaub How long ? he replied with an air of mystery, It might be a week, it might be two. It could be a month or even years ! In fact, even Schaub, Hitlers long-time intimate, did not know. During the afternoon Hitler and his staff drove out of Berlin, heading north toward Staaken airfield. But the column of cars bypassed Staaken and went to the small railroad station at Finkenkrug, a popular excursion spot. Here Hitlers special train was waiting for them. It left at 4:38 P.M., heading north toward Hamburg ; but after dusk fell, it pulled into the little country station of Hagenow. When it set off again, even the uninitiated could tell it was no longer heading north. At about nine oclock it halted outside Hanover ; the telephones were linked up, and the latest weather forecast was obtained from Luftwaffe headquarters near Potsdam. It was still good. Hitler ordered the code word Danzig issued to the commands.
Still the secret was closely kept. Over dinner Schmundt asked the secretaries nonchalantly, Have you got your Sick-Sick tablets ? After a while Hitler joked, If you behave yourselves, you can all take home sealskins as souvenirs. He retired early to his sleeping quarters, but the movement of the train and his apprehensions kept him from sleeping. Hour after hour he gazed out of the carriage window, watching for the first telltale signs of fog shrouds forming. The initial success of Yellow depended on the Luftwaffes striking force, and fog was G–rings worst enemy.
An hour before dawn, at 4:25 A.M., the train glided into a small station from which all the name indications had been removedit was Euskirchen, thirty miles from the Allied lines. A column of the three-axled field limousines that had served Hitler so well in Poland was awaiting him in the semidarkness. For half an hour he and his entourage drove through the little Eiffel villages, in which the signposts had been replaced by stark yellow plates with various military symbols on them. Hitler broke the silence only once. Turning to Major von Below, the Luftwaffe adjutant sitting with Schaub on the jump seats of his car, he asked, Has the Luftwaffe taken into account that here in the west the sun rises several minutes later than in Berlin ? Below set his mind at rest.
After a while the country lanes began to climb a hill through scattered woods. When his limousine stopped, Hitler clambered stiffly out. A former antiaircraft position on the side of a hill had been converted and strengthened to serve as his field headquarters. The nearest village had been completely evacuated, and would serve for his lesser staff. It was already daylight. The air was filled with the sound of birds heralding the arrival of another dawn. Hitler stood outside his bunker, watching the sun slowly bring color to the countryside. This was to be the first real day of spring weather. From the two main roads in the valleys on each side of this hill they could hear the heavy rumble of convoys of trucks heading westward. An adjutant pointed wordlessly to his watch : it was 5:35 A.M. Far away they could hear the growing clamor of heavy artillery begin, and from behind them swelled a thunder of aircraft engines as the Luftwaffe fighter and bomber squadrons approached.
1 Ambassador Hewel recorded Hitlers dinner-table reminiscences on July 5, 1941, thus in his diary : For instance, if we had formally declared war against Norway, we would have lost it ; yet Norway is absolutely vital to the future of Germany. And vice versa, if Churchill and Reynaud had kept a still tongue in their heads, I might well not have tackled Norway. A week earlier Churchill sent his nephew [Giles Romilly] to Narvik, just typical of his American-Jewish journalistic character. Treason.
2 The Abwehr office of the OKW had been involved in some of the dealings with Major Quislings men and was thus apprised of the coming Norwegian invasion. Admiral Canariss Chief of Staff, Colonel Hans Oster, warned the Dutch military attachÈ Major Sas of thispresumably to restore his own credibility after the many false alarms he had given in the winter. Sas passed the information on to the Danish and Norwegian legations, though neither was greatly impressed by it.
3 The German destroyer commodore at Narvik was killed in the action on the tenth. His successor notified the German admiralty that during the second raid, on April 13, the British destroyers caused additional casualties by machine-gunning the German sailors thrown into the sea. Whatever the substance of such wholly uninvestigated allegations, they will have contributed to the atmosphere at the Reich Chancellery.
4 One of Halders staff wrote at this time about the British armys problems : And what military dilettantes they are is clear from the volumes of written material found on a British brigade commander in Norway. It is very valuable to us.... The first British prisoners were flown to Berlin, shown to the F¸hrer, wined and dined, and driven around Berlin for four hours. They just could not understand how things can look so normal here and that the public is not being fed from soup kitchens. They are staggered to see the shops open and people in the streets. Above all they were in perpetual fear of being shot : thats what they had been tricked into believing. Hearing a few days later that Polish prisoners had attacked the new British arrivals, Hitler asked that next time photographers should be present to capture the scene of supposed allies at one anothers throats.
5 This was Dr. Joseph M¸ller, a Catholic lawyer, who later became the postwar Bavarian minister of justice. Colonel Oster also repeated his earlier acts of subversion by giving the Dutch military attachÈ a running commentary on each postponement of Yellow and the final definitive warning at 9 P.M. on the very eve of the offensive. His complicated motives can be summarized thus : recognizing Hitlers immense popular support by 1940, Oster desired to inflict on him such a military defeat that a coup against him would stand a better chance ; he also desired the Allies to take him seriously as a negotiating partner. The Dutch military commander considered him a pitiful specimen.
p. 93 Hitler frequently referred to the incautious utterances of Churchill and Reynaud afterward, e.g., in conversation with the Norwegian envoy Arne Scheel and the Swedish admiral Fabian Tamm on April 13 and 16 ; in a letter to Mussolini on the 26th ; and in his famous Reichstag speech of July 19, 1940 ; see also his remarks in Table Talk, July 1, 1942, evening.
p. 95 The FA intercept is reported in the naval staff war diary, April 7, 1940. I also read the testimony of Major Sas (ZS-1626).
p. 99 The naval attachÈ in Oslo lectured the naval staff in Berlin on April 21 that in his view Norway would return to normal only if Hitler directed the troops to adopt the slogan We come as your friends to protect Norway and did not attempt to repeat the Poland method there. For the very complicated situation in Norway created by the kings defection, see Weizs”ckers and Hassells diaries, and particularly the long report submitted by one of Rosenbergs staff to Colonel SchmundtHitlers adjutanton April 17, 1940 (NS-43/25) and Hitlers talk with Quisling on August 18 (NG-2948).
p. 100 Jodls deputyWarlimontordered Lossberg to write down an account of Hitlers nervous actions for the OKW war diary kept by Greiner. A copy survived among Greiners papers. Schmundt was aghast ; as Lossberg later wrote (in an unpublished manuscript) : He felt it was sacrilege to write down one of the ostensibly infallible F¸hrers weak moments in black and white. The page was stricken from the official diary text. To get behind the OKW scenes, I used not only Jodls diary and Deyhles notes of April 24 (1781-PS) but also manuscripts by Lossberg and by the navy captains Wolf Junge and Heinz Assmann on Jodls staff, and interviews of Baron Sigismund von Falkenstein (his Luftwaffe staff officer) and General Ottomar Hansen (Keitels adjutant).
p. 103 Details of the extraordinary British documents captured in Norway can be reconstructed from Jodls diary, April 23-27 ; from the naval staff diary, April 27 ; from Hitlers letter to Mussolini on the 26thpontificating about the perfidious mendacity of the Englishmanand from Goebbelss confidential remarks at his ministerial conference the same day and on May 3 and 19 ; from Colonel Wagners private letter of May 7 ; and from the AAs White Book publishing the most important of the documents on April 27, 1940.
p. 106 From the text of Reynauds telephone conversation with Chamberlain at 10:10 P.M. on April 30, published in V–lkischer Beobachter, May 7, 1940, they appear in fact to have been discussing French plans to bomb the Caucasus oil fields of Baku and Batum (a plan of which the Germans learned in detail only when numbers of Allied planning documents fell into their hands during Yellow). Reynaud assured Chamberlain that General Weygand, the French Commander in Chief Middle East, had promised to be ready by May 15, at which Chamberlain retorted that his impression was that people down there were taking their time. Reynaud explained that Turkey was raising steeper demands each day for overflight permission ; he talked of certain difficultÈs mentales. For the French documents later captured relating to the bombing plan, see Weizs”ckers AA files (Serial 121). My researches establish prima facie the authenticity of the transcript of the conversation : it was obtained by the SS agent Fritz Lorenz, a language expert who had been on Ribbentrops staff since 1935 and transferred to the RSHA in January 1940. From his personnel records I established that he traveled with forged documents through Switzerland and Italy to Paris on April 23, with the delectable job of seducing the telephone operator Marguerite T__; at their last rendezvous on May 1 she handed him the transcript, which she herself had made. See his amusing correspondence in Himmlers files, T175/124/9424 et seq., and in his personnel file in the BDC ; his insistent demand for a decoration went up to Hitler himself (see Hewel Ledger, January 15, 1942) but was vetoed because of his uncouth behavior in Italyhe had fired a revolver in a hotel when in an alcoholic stupor.
p. 106 On the FA intercepts, see Jodls diary, the testimony of Sas, and Hermann Gramls study of the Oster affair in VfZ, 1966, pages 26 et seq. On May 8, 1940, there is also a cryptic reference in Tippelskirchs diary to alerts proclaimed in the Low Countries : Luxembourg : Telephone conversation [overheard on] May 6 : Are they coming or arent they ? Its in the air. In the AA files of Ambassador von Mackensen (Rome) is extensive correspondence from May 17, 1940, to July 28, 1941, relating to the SDs attempts to identify the German citizen in Rome who had tipped off the Vaticans Father Robert Leiber, S.J., about Yellow deadlines.