Into the Fire - the "Minor" nations of WW2 strike back

Should Chapter 40 stand?

  • Yes

    Votes: 32 47.1%
  • Yes, but with further changes

    Votes: 32 47.1%
  • No

    Votes: 4 5.9%

  • Total voters
    68
Chapter 1: A meeting in Paris (1929)
French Ministry of the Navy, Hotel de la Marine, May 5th, 1929

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It is a mildly hot day as French Minister of the Navy Georges Leygues stares at the pile of papers before his desk. The reorganization of the French naval force is in full swing, and there is still much to be done. Indeed, a strike has hit the Chantiers de la Gironde, in Bordeaux, which severely delays the scrapping of old uncompleted projects, and the construction of newer warship. A mild annoyance, that needs to be resolved quickly.

But between the work overseeing the construction of new ships, armed or merchant, in the dockyards spread across the country, there is an…intriguing meeting today. The men asking for that meeting are well known to Leygues: naval aviation pioneer André Jubelin and Louis Kahn, a young but promising naval engineer.

Twisting his mustache, Leygues can only be intrigued in what the men will ask of him.

“Jacqueline, would you mind letting these gentlemen in?”

Leygues’ secretary does as told, opening the door to the two men, who greet the secretary, then the minister himself.

Leygues motions for both of them to sit down, and offers them both a cigar, which both accept with thanks.

“So, gentlemen,” Leygues finally asks, reclining in his chair, “what can I do for the both of you?”

“Mr minister,” Jubelin clears his throat, “it’s about the Béarn.”

Leygues winces. The Béarn’s tests had been…difficult, to say the least. There were many defects, including her excessively low speed and many engineering defaults that the dockyard of La Seyne promised would be fixed soon.

“What about her?” Leygues asked.

“It is a mess.” Jubelin sighed. “It is too slow, the elevators don’t work properly, and the whole thing overall is just a mess, and only Toulon can accommodate it in drydock. Our carrier is just overall inefficient.”

Leygues sighs.

“I am aware of the Béarn’s defects but the engineers at La Seyne assured me that the problems could be fixed.”

“I do not think that they can ever be totally fixed.” Kahn shakes his head. “Unfortunately, the design of the Normandie-class makes it so that Béarn cannot be totally efficient.”

“What do you propose, then?” Leygues asks.

“We have two propositions.” Jubelin answers. “The first one is to relegate the Béarn to training duties, and convert the Languedoc, which has not been scrapped, to a carrier, using the experience of the Béarn in order to make a better carrier.”

Leygues clicks his tongue.

“Gentlemen…the cost of converting the Béarn was high enough. A second conversion, of a ship that is already partially scrapped…that does not bode well to me.” Leygues shakes his head. “Besides, we have to think about what we need. The British already have six carriers [1], and would take on that role if we needed it.”

“We can hardly rely on the British for all our needs.” Jubelin winces. “The British have their own carriers, but who is to say that they would risk them for our needs? Mr Minister, this is a golden opportunity. Just imagine, a floating airfield, that can strike any target that we require, even in our enemy’s backyard…”

Georges Leygues lays back for a moment, and thinks about it. It is true that Béarn does not occupy much tonnage, and that France as a nation still as 46 000 tons attributed to it for the construction of carriers by the Washington Naval Treaty.

“The idea has merit, yes.” Leygues concedes, “But I also have to take the cost into account. Converting a Normandie-class battlecruiser would be too inefficient. And costly.”

“I agree, Mr Minister, that is why I have another idea.” Kahn takes out a sheet of paper from his bag. “These are the plans for a new, light carrier.”

Leygues looks at the plans before him.

“I assume you have run the plans through other naval engineers?” Leygues asks.

“I have run them through a consortium of engineers and pilots alike.” Kahn beams.

Leygues looks through the plans. The new carrier would have a length of 186m (610 ft), a beam of 35m (115 ft), and most importantly a displacement of only 11,000 tW (14,000 heavy). With a 50,000 shp engine, it would be capable of a maximum speed of 28 knots and have a complement of 650 men, with 200 for the Aéronavale personnel.

For the armament, 8 100mm AA guns and 8 37 mm AA guns, with 16 13,7mm machine-guns installed in four quadruple mounts. Finally, the proposed carrier would be able to transport 18 fixed-wing aircraft, or 27 with foldable wings and six more aircraft in crates.

Leygues ponders the idea. A floating airfield, capable of striking any target…

“That is all well and good,” Leyuges agrees, “but what would its effectiveness in combat be? A floating airfield is nice, but if our airmen don’t know what to hit...”

“I thought of that, and that is where Béarn comes in,” Jubelin nods. “We would do training exercises with the Army using Béarn for now, then our new carrier when it comes out. With regular exercises, our airmen would get more used to what our Army guys look like, and it would also do wonders for land-sea communication.”

Leygues nods. All of these arguments did have merit. The Béarn was really only good for transporting aircraft, and if confronted with a combat situation, it would be quite a mess.

“What aircraft did you have in mind for the new carrier?” Leygyes asked. “I assume foldable wings would be more efficient.”

“The Levasseur PL.4 has already proved that our industry can produce foldable wing aircraft [2].” Jubelin replies. “Loire-Nieuport and Latécoere also have concepts, and the Americans are working on something too [3].”

“There remains the cost…” Leygues sighs. “I can only work with so much budget. How many of these carriers would we be constructing?”

“Two for starters.” Kahn replies. “Then, perhaps a third to replace Béarn.

Leygues scratches his head. The cost of those carriers could potentially be offset if presented in the right manner, to the right person. At worst, one could scrap the idea of one extra Suffren-class cruiser…

“Alright. I will talk with Mr Doumergue, Mr Poincaré, Mr Eynac and Mr Painlevé about this issue. Thank you, gentlemen.”



August 18th, 1930, Paris



The Ministry of the Navy officially announces the launch of a new class of light carriers which should replace the Béarn. The Verdun-class will see the construction of two units, the Verdun and Dixmude, with the Verdun being on track to be launched in 1932, with an entry into service planned for 1935.

The contracts are awarded to the Chantiers de la Gironde, in Bordeaux, for the Verdun, and the La Seyne dockyards, for the Dixmude.

Furthermore, the Ministry of the Navy announces the plan to organize a land-sea exercise near Quiberon in 1931, codenamed CARNAC, in order to test the feasibility of coordination between carrier aircraft and troops on the ground.


[1] HMS Argus, HMS Hermes, HMS Eagle, HMS Courageous, HMS Glorious, HMS Furious.

[2] And the first purpose-built carrier aircraft in France.

[3] Which will lead to the development of the LN 401 (service in 1938), Late 298 (1938) and SB2U Vindicator (1937), respectively.




Author's Note: Had this idea running in my head for a while. This timeline is meant to be a minor nation wank (expect the "smaller" allied nations to do really well here). However, I am by no means a WW2 expert at all. If you have ideas, concerns or anything to make this timeline as enjoyable and entertaining as possible, really, do go ahead.
This timeline was inspired by FFO, Munich Shuffle, Alternate Indian Ocean and Keynes' Cruisers.
 
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Chapter 2: War and the Saar (09/39 - 12/39)
September 1939 - December 1939

Western Front and Atlantic theatre

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As war was declared, the French Navy was completely ready. In coordination with the British, they had more than enough ships to strangle German shipping and restrict their movements.

Meanwhile, the French Navy had received a glow-up, with the addition of two more carrier task forces, centred around the Verdun and Dixmude. The Verdun’s group was centred around the carrier and escorted by the battlecruiser Strasbourg, light cruisers Montcalm and La Galissonnière, and destroyers Le Fantasque, L’Audacieux, Cyclone, Mistral and Tramontane. The Verdun group, initially based at Brest, would be sent to Scapa Flow to aid the British Home Fleet in blockading Germany while also freeing up British carriers for convoy escort duties.

The Dixmude, at the time of the declaration of war was…in New York City! Indeed, it was then training its air group on the brand new SB2U Vindicator, which were to equip most of the air group. Once it had trained its air wing, its task was to rally Martinique along with heavy cruisers Dupleix and Suffren, to form an anti-raider task force operating in the Antilles.

As for old Béarn, the war saved her from the scrapyard. Due to be scrapped at the end of the year and replaced by the new Iena (laid down at the beginning of the year), the old carrier would thus continue to perform training duties as well as ferry aircraft from the United States to France. It is not, however, equipped to deal with surface combat.

The French Navy had also learned from the Naval exercises it had conducted with their carriers. Land-sea coordination had been put in place, but the Navy also had learned from the LAGOS exercises off Saint-Cast-le-Guildo in 1936, and motorized landing ships. In 1939, France could boast a dozen of these vessels, which were really barges with an engine, the lot modified to look like a landing ship by the Lorient Arsenal [1].

Suddenly, when the Allied navies thought they would be safe, two news came to rock this sense of tranquillity. On September 30th, off Brazil, the British cargo Clement is sunk, but has time to send a distress message. Five days later, it is the turn of the British transport Stonegate to be sunk off Bermuda.

The Dixmude task force, at that time sailing off the Carolinas, is immediately sent towards the area of the sinking of the Stonegate. It is to be supported by the RN’s force F, operating off Canada (HMS Hermes, HMS Berwick, HMS York). Despite an extensive search, Force F did not find anything.

However, Dixmude’s reconnaissance seaplane does manage to obtain a contact on October 7th: a German battleship, heading North. After informing the Royal Navy of the cruiser’s whereabouts, Dixmude decides to close the gap, utilizing its speed and the fact that it was closing the distance from the west. On the morning of October 8th, Admiral Lacroix, on board Dixmude, decides to launch a wave of ten SB2U Vindicators in their first ever combat mission. The aircraft spot and attack the German raider, scoring four hits, and reducing its speed to a measly seven knots.

Not wanting to let the British take credit for the sinking, Lacroix continues to pursue, sending the Dupleix forward with the destroyers Cassard and Milan. A salvo of torpedoes from the two destroyers sends the raider to the bottom at 1615, on October 8th. 726 officers and men will be fished out by the destroyers and heavy cruiser, which will lead to the French knowing of the identity of their victim: the pocket battleship Deutschland.

The news will be a propaganda disaster for Germany. The Allies will title “Dixmude sinks Germany!” or “Germany sunk in the Atlantic!”. Even the neutral press is in admiration, especially the Americans, who note the decisive role played by their aircraft!

For Hitler, however, it is a humiliation: the Deutschland has been sunk and the Allies have scored a major propaganda victory in sinking the vessel beating his country’s name. Enraged, he gives the go-ahead for Raeder to completely relax restrictions on sinking neutral vessels [2].

On December 17th, some more good news came through: after a months-long hunt, the German pocket battleship Graf Spee had been sunk by a Royal Navy task force in the River Plate.

However, if at sea things were going well for the Allied navies, the situation on land was much different.

Poland had been submerged and overrun quite quickly, with Poland eventually capitulating in a month, despite a heroic resistance. As such, movement was expected in the west, where France was to attack the Saarland.

Only a week after the start of hostilities, the French Second Army Group under general Prétalat, advanced into German territory, capturing a succession of small villages along the border with little to no resistance. However, soon, this offensive got bogged down as the French discovered a large network of mines and trenches. Still, the French persevered, trying to find a way to breach the line.

On October 6th, with Polish resistance faltering, Gamelin ordered a retreat back to the Maginot, but the Deutschland’s sinking reinvigorated some spirits. Gamelin decided that his pride was wounded, and he would not let the Navy take the spotlight as he failed.

Therefore, only two days after the order to retreat, he counter-manned the order, sending his divisions forward. However, on such a short notice and with unclear commands from Gamelin, the new offensive quickly stalled. Outside of the Warndt Forest, the mines became a hellscape for French R-35s, which quickly became isolated and picked off one by one.

It was a little better on the French right, as reinforcements coming from Condé’s 3rd Army managed to push into Breitfurt, capturing the city on October 12th. Still, Gamelin’s dogged determination to at least capture Saarbrucken was steadfast, and soon, the first French elements encountered the Siegfried line, east of the city.

For a time, there was panic amongst German ranks, as the French did seem to have committed a sizeable force to the offensive, but this was dimmed as the opposing force attacked in a disorganized manner, almost just running at the enemy, which greatly helped the defensive efforts of the Germans.

The Germans, for their part, had managed to quickly redirect three infantry divisions from Poland to the Rhine, and by October 28th, had managed to reinforce Westphal’s army. Gamelin, by this point, was bleeding men and machines at an alarming pace. He could either halt offensive operations, or continue in his determined attack. On October 30th, he decided for one last push to take Saarbrucken, using most of his forces. The attack did manage to seize part of the city, with French tanks rolling up the main street of Saarbrucken, but due to unclear orders, air raids and a determined German defence, the assault ultimately failed.

With no real other choice, and expecting a counter-offensive that could just as well punch through a Maginot line that he had to weaken to bolster his offensive potential, Gamelin ordered a general retreat to the border on November 8th, 1939.

This retreat stunned the Germans, who were on the verge of breaking themselves. The redeployment of troops from Poland was not even close to complete, and several places of the Westwall were severely shaken by the French offensive. As Westphal would say after the war: “If the French had continued their assaults for one more week, our resistance would have shattered, and the Westwall might have well broken apart.”

However, while Westphal’s fears were justified, he had no idea about the clear problems in the French hierarchy and army. This one was a complete mess, with orders and counter-orders sometimes arriving at the same time in the HQs, whose chain of command suffered a complete lack of communication and clarity, along with no idea how to effectively their armored and air forces. All of this may have led to the French not even succeeding in breaching the Westwall, despite the German weak position.

In the end, the offensive cost Gamelin 12,000 men, with more than 150 machines destroyed. For the Germans, the price was steep too, with 4,500 casualties, about 30 aircraft shot down, and a dozen machines lost. But in the end, the French had retreated back to the Maginot, and as winter settled in, a new war began. The “Phony War”.

And while the British Expeditionary Force started to land in Calais and Dunkirk, morale started to rise. But the Allies would soon discover that the British themselves would be no more successful than the French, and the fate of the War would soon shift to the unlikeliest of combatants: the Belgians.



[1] This was considered OTL but never done. ITTL the land-carrier naval exercises reveal the underlying need for proper landing ships.

[2] OTL, Hitler did not relax those restrictions until much later as he still hoped that a swift victory in Poland would make Britain and France come to sit at the negotiating table. But with the death of 400+ German sailors and the sinking of the Deutschland, this order comes out much earlier.
 
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will the problems during the french offensives led to a reorganisation of the french systems? Even small things (like not having HQ depending on civilian telephone network... with operators taking a 2 hour lunch break) might change a lot of things in June 40
 
will the problems during the french offensives led to a reorganisation of the french systems? Even small things (like not having HQ depending on civilian telephone network... with operators taking a 2 hour lunch break) might change a lot of things in June 40

Partially, yes. However this disastrous offensive will also have for "downside" to play into Gamelin's fear that offensive operations are too costly and to just try and "sit back" as it were. But it will lead to more fluid communications at the very least. However, from December to May, you can only do so much...
 
Reinforce the Ardennes riflemen and the Wehrmacht will face a difficult campaign.

Downside of stopping the Wehrmacht in the west, the Red Army can move and we're all screwed.
 

Garrison

Donor
Reinforce the Ardennes riflemen and the Wehrmacht will face a difficult campaign.

Downside of stopping the Wehrmacht in the west, the Red Army can move and we're all screwed.
The Red Army isn't going anywhere in 1940, Stalin's plan is to sit back and rebuild the Red Army while the western powers fight it out. And when it does its unlikely to get much further than it did historically in the absence of the Lend-Lease resources provided later in the war, which are unlikely to be forthcoming if France holds in 1940, which is not a big ask with even some modest improvements in command and control.
 
The Red Army isn't going anywhere in 1940, Stalin's plan is to sit back and rebuild the Red Army while the western powers fight it out. And when it does its unlikely to get much further than it did historically in the absence of the Lend-Lease resources provided later in the war, which are unlikely to be forthcoming if France holds in 1940, which is not a big ask with even some modest improvements in command and control.
Yeah, Uncle Joe IOTL expected the war to be the repeat of WWI so he'd have a free hand in changing borders of the Eastern Europe. He started the Winter War because he was sure that other nations hadn't much resourses to intervene (although, IIRC, Soviets didn't rule out intervention of other nations).

If Germany fails at quick knock out of French then USSR will most likely start a War with Turkey.
 
The Red Army isn't going anywhere in 1940, Stalin's plan is to sit back and rebuild the Red Army while the western powers fight it out. And when it does its unlikely to get much further than it did historically in the absence of the Lend-Lease resources provided later in the war, which are unlikely to be forthcoming if France holds in 1940, which is not a big ask with even some modest improvements in command and control.
I am writing this from the perspective of a Pole who lost a large part of his family not to the Germans but to the Soviets. For me, it would be best if the Red Army was standing somewhere on the Volga and not deporting my grandfather to Kazakhstan at this moment in 1939.

If Germany fails at quick knock out of French then USSR will most likely start a War with Turkey.
Aggression against Turkey will trigger Operation Pike and war with the USSR. Which would be interesting.
 
Aggression against Turkey will trigger Operation Pike and war with the USSR. Which would be interesting
Well, when I mentioned Soviets' not ruling out possibility of foreign intervention to the Winter War I rememmbered WAllies' plans of supporting Finland (or at least using this as an excuse).
 
The Red Army isn't going anywhere in 1940, Stalin's plan is to sit back and rebuild the Red Army while the western powers fight it out. And when it does its unlikely to get much further than it did historically in the absence of the Lend-Lease resources provided later in the war, which are unlikely to be forthcoming if France holds in 1940, which is not a big ask with even some modest improvements in command and control.
Unfortunately a few improvements in how information is passed won't be able to change how the upper echelons think. And Gamelin's failed offensive isn't enough to get him laid off just yet.
 
Chapter 3: The Mechelen Incident (01/40)
January 1940

Western Front

Bf_108-crash_Mechelen_10_January_1940_worldwartwo.filminspector.com_2.jpg

As the Western front settled into what would be known as the “Phony War”, an incident would disturb the relative tranquillity of the area.

On January 10th, 1940, two Belgian border guards, Frans Habets and Gerard Rubens, were doing their rounds on bicycles around the town of Maasmechelen, when, on a farm patch, they observed something fishy. There was a fire emanating from the bushes. Both border guards went to investigate, when they discovered two German officers desperately trying to burn documents, their crashed plane almost right behind them! Rubens immediately stamped out the fire, while Habets apprehended one of the Germans who had tried to flee.

Both Germans were taken to the border post at Mechelen-aan-de-Maas, where they were interrogated by Captain Arthur Rodrique. On sight of the documents, one of the guards, a retired Belgian Army corporal, immediately called the Belgian Headquarters in Liege, and warned that the documents the Germans were carrying could be of primordial importance. Rodrique agrees, and locks up the documents before going to interrogate the Germans, while waiting for competent authorities [1].

Immediately, Belgian intelligence grasped the gravity of what they had found: the invasion plans for their country just a week from now! Immediately, these documents were forwarded to Belgian Military Intelligence, where they were sent up to general Raoul Van Overstraeten, the King’s chief of staff, general Henri Denis, Minister of Defence, and King Leopold III himself.

After deliberation, those three decided that these documents were unlikely to be part of a deception operation [2]. These were then forwarded to Maurice Gamelin, Queen Wilhelmina, and Lord Gort [3]. King Leopold also personally phoned Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg that an invasion may be imminent.

While the French disregarded the plan as a deception, Gamelin sought to use it as a pretext to allow French troops into the country in order to put “his” Dyle plan into place. As such, he immediately ordered the 1st and 3rd Armies to move immediately towards the Belgian border.

For the Belgians, the crisis was worsening. Colonel Goethals, military attaché in Berlin, confirmed via a trusted source that these papers were authentic and pertained to a German attack on Belgium [4].

The Dutch for their part sought to confirm the information through their own attaché, who also confirmed these plans. Despite their scepticism, they do take precautions by making sure to accelerate fortifications along the “Vesting Holland” [5].

King Leopold, for his part, decided to go over the head of his generals and warn Churchill himself, via the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Roger Keyes. In a massive inter-allied communications blunder, however, Keyes added that he thought Leopold would immediately allow Allied troops into Belgium, which led Gamelin to take it as a fact.

On January 14th, Gamelin got ready to march into Belgium, before being stopped by Alphonse Georges, his deputy, who was worried about the lack of the Belgian direct offer to move into Belgium, and that a movement of French troops into Belgium could be seen as a declaration of war. Gamelin berated him, and decided to move in anyways [6].

However, this order was once more stopped as the Belgian border guards refused to move border obstacles and had been told that they were to “not allow any foreign force into the Belgian borders”. On January 15th, the Belgian government finally came to a consensus. While the invasion scare was very real, they also would reject any French intervention in their country until the Germans themselves had invaded.

Gamelin was outraged, but, as it turned out, the Germans themselves had called off the invasion.

However, Denis and Van Overstraeten were both shaken by this incident. After once again calling Goethals, on the 18th, they came to the consensus that, if Germany was to invade France, it certainly wasn’t going to be through the Maginot. After all, they had all seen the disastrous attempt at breaching a fortified line just a few months earlier [7].

With this, Denis and Van Overstraeten went to the King, asking for a partial mobilization of Belgian forces. To them, war was inevitable, and the Germans would strike at Belgium. King Leopold III dragged his feet, not wanting to commit to such an order. So, in its place, Denis and Van Overstraeten proposed to “invite France and the United Kingdom to guarantee the independence of the Kingdom of Belgium by positioning troops in the country to avoid unfortunate incidents”. Such statements could have been considered treason, but to Leopold, it made him livid. There was no question of opening Belgium to foreigners!

As such, Leopold finally signed off on the order. The Belgian population would be partially mobilized, and two new defence lines would be able to be reinforced, along the Schelde and Escaut. General Denis also put in place a plan for a full mobilization when (and not if!) Germany invaded Belgian territory, so that the nation could be immediately prepared for war.

Denis also transmitted the layout of the Belgian forces to the French, through a trusted subordinate, Jules Pire, who would later see fame for becoming the leader of the Free Belgian Forces, after the Fall of Belgium. With this information, Gamelin could thus plan an intervention of his forces without having to ask where Belgian forces had been stationed, which would save valuable time when the invasion came.

Taking a similar path, Luxembourg also issued partial mobilization, but also refused entry to French forces. Arrangements were made for Grand Duchess Charlotte to be evacuated to France or England should the need arise, along with her government.

As for Gamelin, during this time, he pondered over his failure at Saarbrucken. Determined that a war of attrition would be the way to go, he put all of his effort into the Dyle Plan, which would bleed out the German army, and the means to achieve it. He paid little attention to his subordinates, like Alphonse Georges or Charles Huntziger, who were desperately trying to learn from the mistakes of the Saar offensive. The equipment of radios and fluidifying of the chain of command, notably, were focuses of theirs. And while their work would bear some fruit, it would not save France, in those fateful months of Summer 1940. Despite the heroics of the French army and the miracles that it pulled off, twice saving the country from disaster, the changes came too late, and Gamelin would be the first to pay the price.



[1] Small deviation from OTL, where the documents were placed in front of the Germans during the interrogation, which allowed Major Reinberger, the one responsible for carrying these plans, to destroy some of them.

[2] As OTL.

[3] Commander in chief of the French forces, Queen of the Netherlands, Commander of the BEF, respectively.

[4] After the war, this source was revealed to be the Dutch military attaché, Gijsbertus Sas, who himself got it from Hans Oster.

[5] Not OTL. Here they do ask Sas, who confirms the information as legitimate.

[6] As OTL!

[7] Not OTL. Here Denis and Van Overstraeten are much more worried about the German strategy, and are pretty sure that a German invasion is imminent due to Gamelin’s failed attack on the Westwall.
 
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Well this is interesting, a far more prepared Belgium. And man, Benelux-allied communications really are a mess huh.

Sounds like France will still fall, but take longer. One wonders how an extended campaign will weaken the wehrmacht in the long run.
 
Chapter 4: Turning to the North (01/40 - 04/40)
January – April 1940

Norwegian Front

Altmark_Incident.jpg


After the swift victory in Poland and the failed French invasion of the Saar, Hitler turned his gaze northwards, towards Denmark and Norway. To the German high command, control of the iron ore supply was essential, just like denying bases to the British along the eastern coast of the North Sea.

This operation, placed under the command of Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, would be the greatest undertaking of the Kriegsmarine since the First World War. The Naval branch of the German armed forces would indeed have to transport most of the troops to be landed, especially near Narvik and Trondheim, so as to completely surprise the Norwegian defenders.

Paratroopers would also be used against targets in the south of the country, airfields, and Oslo. Denmark would for its part be the task of the ground forces, which should have no issue in overrunning the small Scandinavian nation.

In February, preliminaries to the Norwegian campaign started as the German tanker Altmark, carrying 299 prisoners of war captured by the Graf Spee, passed through Norwegian waters. Although this was not illegal in itself, the Norwegian armed forces did fully reserve the right to inspect the vessel, and the Norwegian government had banned the transfer of POWs through their country.

The Altmark did indeed undergo several of those inspections on February 15th, first off Linesoya, by the torpedo boat HNoMS Trygg, which found nothing suspicious. A second inspection came when the tanker approached the Sognefjord, and was boarded by officers of the HNoMS Snogg. During the inspection, one of the officers, hearing banging noises from the hold, asked to inspect that area of the vessel, which the first inspection had failed to do [1].

The Germans initially declined, which eventually led to a scuffle. The boarding party suffered 2 killed, whilst the Germans counted 4. Having asked for backup, the tanker was eventually brought to heel and forcefully towed into Dragsvik. There, the British prisoners were freed, with Admiral Carsten Tank-Nielsen immediately calling for a Royal Navy vessel to come pick them up. The Altmark was seized, and put into Norwegian service as the tanker Brokkr.

As the destroyer HMS Cossack came to Dragsvik to pick up the British sailors, Germany was furious and sent a strong protest to Oslo, which was quickly rebuffed. The German sailors had lied about the nature of their cargo, and by international law, Norway was in its full rights to seize the vessel.

This incident also led to a heightened sense of security within the Norwegian war apparatus. Twice in March, Norwegian intelligence received warnings about an upcoming invasion [2]. However, the tipping point came on March 31st, when the Swedish military attaché to Berlin, Curt Dannfelt-Juhlin, received a report from Swedish sailors that Germans were loading troops in their Baltic ports. After contacting several “friends”, Dannfelt-Juhlin confirmed that these troops were indeed preparing a “peacekeeping mission” in Norway and Denmark [3].

Dannfelt-Juhlin immediately transmitted this to the Norwegian government, and to the chief of staff of the Norwegian forces, Kristian Laake. Immediately, the government took this seriously. After the Altmark incident, the more and more aggressive stance of the German government, and the repeated warnings sent to the intelligence services…it was time to act.

As a first step, it is agreed that all anti-air and coastal artillery batallions must be activated and placed on high alert. The Navy must mine the accesses to the fjords…but nothing else. So far, this could still be a great deception or bluff. Still, Nygaardsvold’s government decides to take its precautions. The Norwegian intelligence services are solicited to arrest any Nazi sympathizers in the country. On April 1st, Vidkun Quisling would find himself in an Oslo prison cell. Defence minister Ljungberg is also asked to reinforce protection of the mobilisation depots, but no mobilization order is issued, and none of this crucial information is passed on to the Allies.

On April 3rd, convoy vessels started leaving German ports, leading the Allied submarines to make their own screen in the Kattegat, prompting the British to launch Operation Wilfried: the Allied intervention in Norway. Immediately, a force under Admiral William Whitworth is sent, with the battleship HMS Renown as flagship. The carriers HMS Furious and Verdun are also put on high alert.

On April 6th, another warning came from Berlin. The head of Swedish military intelligence, Colonel Carlos Adlercreutz, warns his Norwegian and Danish counterparts that an invasion of Denmark and Norway is imminent.

Both countries immediately react to this information. Danish battalions are placed on maximum alert, and border obstacles are put on the German-Danish border. A few anti-tank guns are also placed there, while the bridges linking the Danish isles are mined. Additionally, all vessels of the Danish Navy are placed on maximum alert.

As for the Norwegians, Nygaardsvold immediately calls upon Ljungberg to call for a partial mobilization order, which is done by noon…but the instructions have to be carried out by mail! Nygaardsvold also warns the King, Haakon VII, before 2PM, and contacts the British and French embassies, asking for support in case of a German invasion. This information is immediately sent to London and Paris.

On April 7th, as if a forewarning of things to come, the weather conditions deteriorate, causing heavy swells in the Norwegian Sea. In the Renown force, the HMS Glowworm has to drop out of formation to search for a sailor swept overboard.

But if the weather does shield most of the German force, it does not stop them from being spotted around 0800 by RAF patrols. However, due to the strict application of radio silence, the finding would not be reported until 1730.

The British admiralty, thinking that the move is a new attempt at the Kriegsmarine to break out into the Atlantic to attack their shipping, immediately send out Home Fleet to intercept that evening, while the Verdun group would stay in Scapa Flow for the moment. At the same moment, landing ships are brought from France to Liverpool, then to Scapa.

On April 8th, the Glowworm manages to find two German destroyers, which it pursues…and runs into the German cruiser Admiral Hipper, which makes quick work of the poor British destroyer. The Glowworm does manage to utter a distress signal before ramming the cruiser, leading to some leaks in the German behemoth. Glowworm’s distress signal will prompt the admiralty to send the Renown force towards the destroyer’s last reported position.

Later that morning, the Polish submarine ORP Orzel sinks the troop transport Rio de Janeiro, and picks up a handful of survivors, mostly in German uniform. Some of these survivors will also be picked up by the destroyer HNoMS Odin. These will be interrogated and inform the Norwegians that they were tasked with “protecting Bergen from the British”. The Odin’s transmission will reach the Admiralty around 1300, but that is not the only worrying news.

Indeed, first thing in the morning, Horst Rossing, German military attaché in Helsinki, visits Gustaf von Stedingk, his Swedish counterpart, to inform him that a German invasion of Norway and Denmark is imminent but that Sweden and Finland’s neutrality will be respected. Von Stedingk immediately informs Gunther, the Swedish foreign minister, who passes it on to the Norwegian and Danish embassies.

For Copenhagen, the warning will come a little late, but for Oslo, there is still time. After this information is sent through the proper channels, and the increasingly worrying situation, notably in regards to reports coming from the Navy, Nygaardsvold meets with the King, and agrees to declare total mobilization. The order leaves at 1330 hours from Oslo, and by the end of the afternoon, the whole country is gearing up for war.

But while Norway gears up for war, the British still think that the Germans are attempting a breakout, as by 1400, the RAF discovers a Kriegsmarine force off Trondheim, moving west. The British immediately order most of Home Fleet to ditch their extra cargo of equipment destined for Norway and regroup with the Renown force to intercept this movement. This idea will soon lose in weight as many reports will start coming that evening of large amounts of German ships around the Skagerrak.

At 2300, the patrol vessel HNoMS Pol III is engaged by a Kriegsmarine force off of the Oslofjord, and sunk after ramming the torpedo boat Albatros.

At midnight, the Norwegian cabinet calls for an emergency meeting, in the presence of the commander-in-chief of the Norwegian forces, Kristian Laake. This one confirms that total mobilization has been issued and that every single coastal battery from Kirkenes to Fredrikstad is on full alert. Laake says that in total, the Norwegian army currently fields 60,000 men and he hopes to reach 116,000 by April 14th.

At 0415 on April 9th, the German cruiser Blücher enters the Oslofjord.


[1] Yes, despite the British prisoners repeatedly making their presence known, the Norwegians just took the Germans at their word. But all it takes is one cautious officer…

[2] Relayed by…Hans Oster, who was once more ignored.

[3] All of this is OTL.

A/N: Thanks to @von Adler for helping to craft this chapter
 
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This retreat stunned the Germans, who were on the verge of breaking themselves. The redeployment of troops from Poland was not even close to complete, and several places of the Westwall were severely shaken by the French offensive. As Westphal would say after the war: “If the French had continued their assaults for one more week, our resistance would have shattered, and the Westwall might have well broken apart.”
This mirrors events in a WW2 play by email game I played about 20 years ago as the French. We never did break the Westwall (though we did raid and raze Cologne!)

Good timeline. An unique take on a better Allied response, all plausible. Love it.
 
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Okay, I wonder in what shape Wehrmacht will meet 22nd of June, 1941. Additional losses of German soldiers will certainly harm them during War in the East.
 
Chapter 5: Early successes and setbacks - the Southern Norwegian Campaign (04/40)
April 9th – 16th, 1940

Norwegian Campaign

Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-761-221N-06%2C_Norwegen%2C_Panzer_%22Neubaufahrzeug%22.jpg


The Germans invaded Denmark at 0415 hours on April 9th, encountering only minor resistance all across the border. It wouldn’t be until they hit the town of Aabenraa that resistance would stiffen, and the Germans would start suffering casualties. A Pz II is even knocked out by the Danish anti-tank guns! At Soderup, to the southwest, it was more of the same: a Danish machine-gun wreaks havoc amongst the German column approaching, which was expecting no resistance at all!

However, things are more difficult elsewhere. Paratroopers had managed to take control of Aalborg airfield, and the Germans had managed to land at Gedser, Funen and, most importantly, Copenhagen.

The capture of the Danish capital was not smooth sailing. Arriving into the harbour, the minelayer Hansestadt Danzig is hit by two shells coming from the coastal artillery guns of Fort Middelgrund, forcing it to advance with caution. While covering her teammate, the icebreaker Stettin takes a full salvo of shells. Crippled, the ship sinks at the entrance to the harbour.

Despite this, the Germans huddled on the patrol boats rush in and take the docks, and by 0615, have taken the headquarters of the Danish Army. The chaos did rouse up the garrison, which prevented any advance towards Amalienborg.

In the meantime, the Danish commander in chief, William Prior, met with Christian X to discuss the situation. While Prior wished to continue fighting, the government of Thorvald Stauning and the King were resolutely against it: the fight was doomed to fail, and Christian X himself refused to let Copenhagen be eradicated by the Luftwaffe. Despite having held the line in the south, the Danish armed forces were ordered to cease fire at 0800, and formally capitulated at 1100 hours.

Enraged, Prior conferred with Vice Admiral Hjalmar Rechnitzer at 0735 to evacuate volunteers that would like to continue the fight. Rechnitzer said that he could sail out during the upcoming ceasefire with a dozen ships.

In total, Rechnitzer managed to form a force of eight ships which would manage to escape, mostly to be interned in Sweden. This one included the coastal defence ships HMDS Niels Juel and Peder Skram, the minesweepers Havkatten and Soloven, the torpedo boats Hvalen and Storen, the submarine Bellona and the transport ship Sleipnir. Aboard were also 2,000 Danish men who wished to continue the fight elsewhere. Not all of these would make it to England, though. Due to a lack of fuel and relative slowness, all but three of these ships would be interned in Goteborg or Helsingborg. The submarine Bellona would be the only one to make it to England, while both torpedo boats would reach Den Helder. The latter would manage to make it to England only a month later in dire circumstances…

Despite the loss of many naval craft, which were framed by Christian X as “an unacceptable mutiny”, Germany refused to overly punish Denmark. They had capitulated in half a day, and the Germans had only taken about a hundred casualties in total. Warned too late, the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine would be unable to find the Danish ships. And they had bigger fish to fry.

In Norway, things did not go as smoothly at all.

As German ships sailed up the Oslofjord, they were quickly fired upon by the guns of the Oscarborg fortress. The lead ship, the cruiser Blücher is rapidly smashed by a series of shells, and trapped in the narrow fjord, rolls over and sinks two hours after entering the fjord, with the loss of 900 men.

Shocked, the rest of the German task force has to be much more careful, which allows the evacuation of the government, treasury and royal family northwards. The Germans did try to seize them several times, with no success.

In the meantime, the Germans had to seize Oslo. Placed in a heightened alert, all of the fighters stationed at Fornebu airfield, numbering a measly ten Gladiators, are sent forward to defend the airfields of the capital. At one against then, the Norwegian pilots are quickly overwhelmed, but six Bf 110 are shot down, along with four He 111 bombers and one Ju 52 transport. Amongst the downed pilots is a certain Reinhard Heydrich, who parachutes over the Oslofjord and drowns before he can be rescued.

Despite these heroics, the fate of the capital was sealed. With paratroopers managing to seize Fornebu, the air belonged to the Germans, and thus troops were quickly flown in. Almost twenty-four hours after the first landings, Oslo had fallen, along with a large part of southern Norway. The Germans quickly got Vidkun Quisling out of his cell and installed him as the head of an “independent” Norway, though the entire government was quickly retreating northwards, towards safety.

At Egersund, the Germans also had success. Lightly defended, the town quickly fell to the Germans, just like Kristiansand and Stavanger, seized almost without a fight. However, the Germans would still incur casualties, as, while engaging the coastal batteries, the cruiser Karlsruhe was took several critical hits, forcing its crew to scuttle it at the entrance of the harbor.

At Trondheim, things were much more difficult. Like in most of the northern towns, the mobilisation had been more successful, and it was only thanks to the guns of the Admiral Hipper that the 2,000 men assigned to take the area had manage to secure the city. Despite this, the German troops indicated to central command that it was unlikely that they could push out and would need to be relieved as soon as possible. In the meantime, the four German destroyers would provide them – crucially – with artillery and AA shells to hold out long enough for them to be reinforced by air.

The major pushback the Germans received was at Bergen. Bergen, unlike many other cities, had conducted a rather successful mobilisation, and its approaches were guarded by mines and a well-trained coastal defence. The light cruiser Konigsberg would experience it first hand, as a mine detonates right next to her hull, making her take water. Slowed down, it was then taken to task by the coastal batteries defending the approaches to Bergen. At 0900, the cruiser keeled over and sank.

While trying to rescue the stricken vessel, two transports are also hit, one beaching itself and the other sinking, with once again, a heavy loss of life. The transports that do manage to unload their troops are soon fighting against 5,000 Norwegians armed to the teeth and waiting for them, both at Bergen and Voss. By evening, the German landed troops were trapped against the sea, and despite air support, couldn't dislodge the Norwegians. Worse: Bergen is the site of a large arms depot, which allows the Norwegians to continue mobilising troops at a good pace. And with Bergen holding, it also creates a rallying point for troops trapped south of Trondheim. By April 10th, between recruits and forces having rallied the city [1], Bergen would be home to more than 10,000 Norwegian troops, with the German force being kicked out of the area.

For Norway, however, the situation was quite dire. Despite Bergen holding, the situation was deteriorating across the country. Accused of being too passive, Laake was relieved of his duties on April 10th and replaced with Colonel Otto Ruge, who took command of all Norwegian forces.

In the meantime, Nikolaus von Falkenhorst launched his offensive on April 11th, after receiving two additional infantry divisions as reinforcements. His aim is to cut the country in two, by linking his force with the depleted men in Trondheim, and then tackle the Bergen problem…and then the northern one. The offensive went smoothly, notably because many of the men “trapped” between Oslo and Trondheim had started moving towards Bergen. It was near Rigsdal that resistance started to stiffen, with their first objective, Gjovik, still being out of reach. Luckily, Trondheim had been reinforced by air on both April 11th and 16th, allowing the garrison of the city to breathe a little. This was not enough for Falkenhorst, who sent a force of Fallschirmjägers to block the railway junction of Dombas, thus paralyzing the rail network of central Norway. This force would do its job, but would never be relieved by the main German thrust, capitulating on April 19th.

As for the Allies, they have not been idle. With Bergen holding out, the strategy decided by the Allied leaders would be to retake the city by landing in Namsos, Trondheim and Andalsnes, and pushing south to link up with the forces in Bergen around Honefoss, before retaking Oslo.

The first move was to ensure that Bergen could hold out. On April 14th, the Verdun and its air group were to escort six British cargos which delivered enough ammunition for the Norwegians. The LN 401 and 402 of the carrier successfully defended this operation, managing to repulse a Luftwaffe raid with the loss of six He 111 bombers. Additionally, the cargos brought eight Gladiators to the Norwegian air forces, in dire need of cover. Following this, the Norwegians fortified their position in and around Bergen and Voss, the Gladiators brought in by the Verdun group helping to rebuff several Luftwaffe bombing raids.

On the same day, to the north, a Royal Navy force led by Captain Frank Pegram, on board HMS Glasgow, escorted the first British reinforcements into Namsos. The commander of the landing force, nicknamed ‘Mauriceforce’, Adrian Carton de Wiart, arrived on board a Short Sunderland the next day, despite his aircraft being machine-gunned by German forces. The rest of the force would arrive on Royal Navy destroyers on April 16th.

The landings at Andalsnes, codenamed ‘Sickleforce’, would carry on from April 17th, and those at Trondheim, maintained despite strong reservations from the general staff, codenamed ‘Hammerforce’, would follow later that day.

However, and despite a relatively strong position, the campaign in southern Norway, unlike the northern one, would not turn in favour of the Allies, leading to one of the most bitter moments of the war. Despite this, Norway had held and survived, and this was the most important part. Now, the Allies would be able to strike back, and they would still strike hard.


[1] Most of these men came from Einar Liljedahl’s 3rd Division, which, trapped in southern Norway, had to rally to the only safety they saw. OTL, this division capitulated, being completely trapped, on April 15th.
 
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