Updated date:

World War 2 History: Norway Blocks German Naval Attack On Oslo

Author:

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Heavy Cruiser Lutzow

WW2: Lutzow, One of Two German Heavy Cruisers in the Oslo Group (originally designated the pocket battleship "Deutschland").

WW2: Lutzow, One of Two German Heavy Cruisers in the Oslo Group (originally designated the pocket battleship "Deutschland").

Group 5-- The Oslo Group

When the Germans invaded neutral Norway on April 9, 1940-- ending the Phoney War-- their forces were split into six naval groups, each assigned a specific task. Group 5-- also called the Oslo Group-- was to seize Oslo, the capital of Norway, and capture King Haakon, the government and, not incidentally, 50 tons of gold. They expected the Norwegians to be taken by surprise and put up little, if any, resistance.

The Mouth, the Choke Point, and the Prize

The Oslofjord

The Oslo Group consisted of the heavy cruisers Blucher and Lutzow (formerly known as the pocket battleship Deutschland-- see sidebar below). It also included the light cruiser Emden, a torpedo boat and two minesweepers. The group carried the troops designated to capture Oslo. To get to the capital, the Oslo Group had to navigate the Oslofjord, stretching 60 miles north-to-south. At its southern entrance it was more than 5 miles wide, but, at Drobak Sound, where the tiny island of South Kaholmen split the fjord in two, each channel was only about 2,000 feet wide. On that island, about 15 miles south of Oslo, sat the Main Battery of the Oscarsborg Fortress.

Oscarsborg Fortress: Training Recruits

As the Oslo Group entered the Oslofjord, they passed by Fort Rauoy, which challenged them by firing warning shots, followed by live range-finding shots, but the Germans disappeared into the mist heading north unharmed. They continued up the fjord during the early morning hours of April 9, and approached Oscarsborg Fortress. The Germans didn't think the garrison would be a problem. They thought the Norwegians were too surprised to organize any resistance. Besides, they knew Oscarsborg had been relegated to training recruits and its three main artillery pieces were old and slow to reload. The cruiser Lutzow by itself had eight modern 11-inch guns.

One of the Fortress' 280mm Guns

One of the three 28cm Krupp guns at Oscarsborg Fortress. Two of the 28cm pieces were manned and took part in the sinking of the German cruiser Blucher in 1940.

One of the three 28cm Krupp guns at Oscarsborg Fortress. Two of the 28cm pieces were manned and took part in the sinking of the German cruiser Blucher in 1940.

Antiquated Guns By Krupp and Austro-Hungarian Torpedoes

The fortress was indeed mainly garrisoned by 450 recruits, conscripted only a week earlier. There were only enough experienced gunners to completely man one gun. In charge was 64-year-old Oberst (Colonel) Birger Eriksen. The fortress' Main Battery of three 11-inch guns were all more than 40 years old; they had been made in Germany in the late 1800s by Krupp, the giant armaments firm that had armed Germany in World War 1 and the current conflict. Another battery, the Kopas Battery on the eastern shore of the fjord, had three 8-inch guns.

What the Germans didn't know was that Oscarsborg Fortress also had a torpedo battery with three underwater torpedo tubes and nine ancient torpedoes, made in Austria-Hungary before World War 1.

Oscarsborg Fortress Island

Oscarsborg fortress in the Oslo fjord. Photography taken from south-west.

Oscarsborg fortress in the Oslo fjord. Photography taken from south-west.

The Oslo Group Approaches Oscarsborg Fortress

Norwegian communications on that day were intermittent at best. Oberst Eriksen knew foreign warships were heading his way, but didn't know their nationality. While Norway was neutral, he knew the Allies were favored over the Germans. By splitting up experienced gunners with recruits, he was able to man two of the three 11-inch guns. When the flagship Blucher appeared just after 4 AM and approached within 2,000 yards, he thought it was German, but couldn't be sure. His last words before giving the order to fire were: "Either I will be decorated or I will be court marshaled”.

Blucher, the Other Heavy Cruiser

WW2: German heavy cruiser Blucher, view from starboard, 1939

WW2: German heavy cruiser Blucher, view from starboard, 1939

Blucher Sinking

WW2: The German cruiser Blucher listing heavily to port after being hit by cannon fire and torpedoes from the Norwegian coastal fortress Oscarsborg. She sank a short time later.

WW2: The German cruiser Blucher listing heavily to port after being hit by cannon fire and torpedoes from the Norwegian coastal fortress Oscarsborg. She sank a short time later.

The Sinking of the Blucher

The two 11-inch guns fired, their 560 lb high explosive shells both striking the Blucher. The first shell struck a magazine which exploded and started an intense fire. The second knocked out the main electrical system, rendering Blucher's main guns useless. As the ship sailed slowly past the fortress, the Main Battery guns could not be reloaded in time, but her secondary batteries' guns wreaked havoc on the cruiser, suppressing any answering fire from her smaller guns. The Blucher was burning and severely damaged, hit by an additional thirteen 8-inch shells and thirty 2.5-inch shells, but her captain was determined to save her.

Thinking they were beyond the fortress' line of fire, the Blucher unknowingly approached the torpedo battery. When the ship was within 550 yards, two torpedoes were launched in succession. Both hit, but the second hit amidships, causing catastrophic damage. Its engines knocked out, the crew tried to fight the fires raging throughout the ship, but at 6:22 the Blucher slipped below the surface of the Oslofjord. Survivors swam to shore and were taken prisoner, but the Norwegians concentrated on treating the wounded Germans instead of guarding them and many escaped.

The Oslo Group Turns Back

Unaware of the torpedo battery, the commander of the heavy cruiser Lutzow, upon seeing two underwater explosions strike the Blucher, assumed the Drobak Sound was heavily mined and ordered the Oslo Group to turn around. Before the ships got out of range, however, the 8-inch guns of Oscarsborg's Kopas Battery scored three hits on the Lutzow, knocking out its aft (rear) 11-inch turret.

The Oslo Group was forced to land its invasion force out of range of Oscarsborg and march overland north to Oslo instead of sailing into its port.

Oscarsborg Fortress Bombed

WW2: The Main Fort of the Norwegian Oscarsborg Fortress, at the approaches to Oslo, under attack from Luftwaffe bombers on 9 April, 1940

WW2: The Main Fort of the Norwegian Oscarsborg Fortress, at the approaches to Oslo, under attack from Luftwaffe bombers on 9 April, 1940

Oscarsborg Fortress Surrenders

Later that day, the Luftwaffe started bombing the fortress. In addition, the Lutzow bombarded it from six miles away, beyond the fortress' range. The bombing continued, on and off, for nine hours and around 500 bombs were dropped.

The Germans adjusted to the situation. Although the Oslo Group's land forces wouldn't arrive at the capital until the next day, additional troops were hastily gathered and airlifted to the outskirts of the city, taking Oslo 12 hours later than planned. In light of Oslo falling and seeing no need for further bloodshed, Oberst Eriksen surrendered Oscarsborg Fortress the next day, April 10, 1940.

Casualties

The Norwegians suffered no casualties, though most of Main Battery's buildings were destroyed. One German heavy cruiser was sunk; one was damaged. The Germans lost 650 – 800 dead and 550 taken prisoner.

Fortress Commander Eriksen

Portrait of Norwegian coastal artillery commander Colonel Birger Kristian Eriksen. Circa 1946.

Portrait of Norwegian coastal artillery commander Colonel Birger Kristian Eriksen. Circa 1946.

Aftermath

By holding up the Germans in the Oslofjord, Oslo was given an extra 12 hours. In addition, the troops specifically designated to take the capital had been on the Blucher. This allowed the Royal Family, the cabinet and the Storting (the parliament) to escape Oslo by train. There was also time to load the 50 tons of gold onto trucks. This gave the Storting time to meet and bestow emergency powers on the cabinet to run the government until such time as the Storting could reassemble. By June, the King, the government and Norway's gold were in Britain, a government in exile, but still the legitimate government of Norway. This served to encourage Norwegian resistance throughout the war, tying down extra German divisions in Norway that could have been used elsewhere.

Oscarsborg Fortress Viewed From A Small Drone

Sources

  1. Invasion of Norway 1940
  2. Haakon VII of Norway- Resistance During World War II
  3. Oscarsborg Fortress
  4. Battle of Drobak Sound
  5. Norwegian Campaign- Value of Norway
  6. Flight of the Norwegian National Treasury
  7. Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany- Material Scarcity
  8. Timetable Oslofjord
  9. Naval Events April 1940
  10. German Pocket Battleship Deutschland





Questions & Answers

Question: Do you think the 1/2 million barrels of fuel captured at Norway along with easy access to Petsamo Nickel mine made the invasion of Norway "worth it"?

Answer: I think Norway's strategic position allowing them access to the North Atlantic along with land-based air cover was more important. By occupying Norway they had de facto control over the Nordic countries (even though Sweden was officially neutral). If the Allied invasion forces had succeeded, Germany's hold on northern Europe would have been threatened.

© 2012 David Hunt

Comments

Steve Twede on November 26, 2018:

Seydlitz was 90 percent finished & could easily have replaced Blucher had it not been decided to make a Carrier out of it.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 01, 2012:

That's quite a compliment, angela. I applaud your curiosity. It's quite difficult to follow historical narratives when there are so many unfamiliar names thrown about-- you have very little context, making it harder to read. It's like you haven't got your sea-legs on a ship in a storm. I try to remember how confused I was when researching a particular subject and take that into account when writing. Thanks for reading and commenting.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 01, 2012:

Thanks for commenting, Gypsy. Yes, I thought the video was a nice find as it ties the present with the past. I'm still trying to figure out why there appears to be 4 cannons in the video whereas all the info I read only ever mentions 3-- but maybe one is not as big as the others or it was placed there later. Oh, and thanks very much for sharing.

Angela Michelle Schultz from United States on June 01, 2012:

I have been wanting to learn more about World War 1 and 2, so I am so glad that you have written so much regarding both wars. I like how you took just one battle within the wars and really expounding it. A lot of it goes over my head, because I am so unknowledgeable.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on June 01, 2012:

Voted up and interesting. Thanks for this informative hub. Liked the video. Passing this on.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 01, 2012:

Thank you very much, Pamela. It's always gratifying when someone gets excited about historical events! I appreciate your vote ups, too.

Pamela Dapples from Just Arizona Now on June 01, 2012:

I'm not sure if my comment went through the first time. I got so excited about this hub that I wrote it before signing in. This was really interesting. The gall of the German military and the forethought of the Norwegians! Voting up, awesome and interesting.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 01, 2012:

Thanks, Old Albion. There's a lot of WW2 that I have only very "broad" knowledge of. Writing hubs makes me dig further than I ever have. Glad you liked it.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on June 01, 2012:

Hi UH. Another first class hub. Your information is always so interesting and so well researched.

Graham.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 31, 2012:

Thanks very much for your comment, ThoughtSandwiches. I'll try not to let it go to my head! Actually, the little I know about the torpedo battery is that the Norwegians actually cut underwater tunnels into the rock and the torpedoes were fired into the tunnels and out into the fjord. They obviously were able to aim them but I'm not sure what that entailed.

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on May 31, 2012:

unnamedharald,

You have made my day with this article! You have provided so much information that I was unaware of. The torpedo battery is particularly interesting. Were they just pressurized tubes sticking into the water? Could they be aimed?

It's interesting to note that when Germany surrendered, there was something like 400,000 German troops stationed in Norway. The resistance did keep them busy.

Again, my friend...great job here! Voting Up and sharing and such.

Thomas