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 Post subject: Norway’s Most Valiant Stand
Unread postPosted: 13 Mar 2016, 17:22 
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Norway’s Most Valiant Stand:

The Battle of Drøbak Sound

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German soldiers who have saved themselves ashore after the sinking of Blücher


9 April 1940, a flotilla of unknown ships is observed sailing up the Oslofjord. Unbeknownst to the group of warships, which included three cruisers and several hundred accompanying soldiers, their plan to seize King Haakon VII, Norway’s government, and the country’s gold, would encounter some serious opposition.


Target: Oslo

Although those observing the warships had no clue of their nationality in the beginning, the ships were executing an important element of Operation Weserübung, the simultaneous German invasions of Norway and Denmark. The Danes capitulated quickly in the briefest, but well fought, campaign of the war, within six hours, but not before earning the unique distinction of causing more casualties on the Germans than they had sustained.

However, the Norwegian Campaign would prove into a costly battle for both sides. The battle for Norway would drag in French and British troops and ships (exactly what German commanders feared and a reason, under the guise of ‘protecting neutrality’ for their invasion), which in turn would inflict a handful of war altering victories on their German foes, an example being the destruction of a large number of (at least ten) near-irreplaceable Destroyers by the Royal Navy. Additionally, the continued threat posed by British forces required a permanent German garrison in Norway, and the wasteful construction of an extended Atlantic Wall.

While gallant Denmark resisted for hours, Norway held out for weeks, for longer than Poland and for longer than France. That said it was not all down to the assistance provided by the Allies. One of the earliest engagements of the campaign was an entirely Norwegian affair and a stunning setback for the German forces and while ultimately meaningless, the action facilitated one of the greatest and important escapes of the war.

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Hidden Ace

Back on the water, the German flotilla continued toward the capital, Oslo, using the fjord. As the ships approached the town of Drøbak, where the fjord narrowed to just a mile wide, they seemed unstoppable. The light cruiser Emden and heavy cruiser Lützow were formidable ships, but leading the column was the brand new Hipper-class heavy cruiser Blucher. They ships were transporting German soldiers and bureaucrats for the planned swift occupation of Oslo, and the only thing stood in the way of the German flotilla was the Oscarsborg fortress, a fort turned training centre, poorly manned and with its ageing weapons. Faced with three modern cruisers, few in the German navy considered the Oscarsborg a threat.

Oscarsborg Fortress is mostly situated on the island of Håøya in the Drøbak narrows, though smaller batteries did exist on the mainland each side of the fjord. Historically, defences had long been situated on this site as it is a natural choke point protecting the Norwegian capital, but construction of the current coastal fortress was completed by 1855. The site remained in use with the Norwegian military until 2003. The fort’s guns were upgraded in the 1890s, with the main armament comprising of three 28 cm German Krupp guns while a number of 15 cm and 57 mm guns were sited in batteries on the mainland. In the 1870s, an underwater barrier was constructed from the main islet of Kaholmen and south-west to Hurum on the western side of the fjord, rendering it impossible for large vessels to sail to the west of the fortress.

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One of the three 28cm Krupp guns at Oscarsborg Fortress.

However, the hidden ace up the sleeve was the 45cm torpedo battery installed at the turn of the century. The battery was unusually completely submerged and was completely unknown to German military intelligence. The concrete structure was built inside a cave carved into North Kaholmen Island. There were three torpedo tunnels, each with a twin side-by-side launcher. The torpedoes chosen dated back to 1900 and were of Austro-Hungarian origin and the battery remained in use until the 1980s, when it was modernised and kept covertly in service until 1993.

As the war came to Norway on 9 April 1940, the situation faced by Oberst Birger Eriksen was confusing and chaotic, with seemingly disastrous political ramifications for a then, officially neutral, Norway. Eriksen had not received any clear orders, and when the unknown flotilla was spotted, he had received no notice as to whether the approaching warships were German or Allied.

With the exceptions of the officers and NCOs present in the fort, nearly every soldier who formed part of the garrison had only been in the Army for a week, having been conscripted. In addition, the fortress’ stock of mines had not been deployed and there were questions about the main Krupp guns, at least 40 years old, did they even work?

Further complications threatened to render the ageing, yet innovative and secret, torpedo battery useless. The commander of the battery was on long term sick leave, and the temporary commander was a resident of Drøbak and was not in the fortress when the flotilla was sighted. However, the assigned replacement, the long retired Kommandørkaptein Andreas Anderssen, was notified by Eriksen once the flotilla was spotted, and was able to successfully reach the torpedo battery by boat. Although Anderssen had been retired and claiming his pension for the best part of 13 years, his last command was that torpedo battery, and had first served there in 1909. He was very familiar with the fortress, its secret weapon, and the nine ready to use torpedoes at his disposal.

Eriksen himself was stationed away from the main battery, which was on the island of Håøya. Instead, he was positioned in the reserve command station on the main battery’s eastern flank, on South Kaholmen.

Blücher’s Burning

With the still unidentified ships approaching, Eriksen and his fortress was about to be tested. At 04.21am on 9 April, on Eriksen’s controversial command, the main guns were ordered to fire on the flotilla’s lead ship. This was actually against Norway’s accepted rules of engagement, where a shot in anger had to be preceded by warning shots, and he was questioned. Later arguing that the ships would have received both warning shots and live fire at forts further downstream, such as at Oslofjord Fortress, Eriksen, famously, in response uttered the words: "Either I will be decorated or I will be court martialed, Fire!"

On the second issuing of his command, two live, preloaded, 255kg high-explosive shells shot out of Moses and Aron, two of the 28cm fortress’ guns, and slammed into the side of the German cruiser Blücher at short range, about 1,800m away. The first shell hit the Blücher just to the front of the aft mast. This hit set the entire midship ablaze. It penetrated the side of the cruiser’s hull, and exploded inside a magazine that contained oil, smoke charges, and bombs for the ship’s Arado Ar 196 floatplanes, in addition to depth charges. The explosion blew out the bulkheads, and the ignited oil quickly spread, sticking to every surface.

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German cruiser Blücher listing heavily to port after being hit by cannon fire and torpedoes

The second shell hit the base of Blücher’s forward 203mm gun turret, ripping it apart and blowing parts of it off the ship. The shell also set further fires toward the bow of the vessel and knocked out the electricity supply to the ship’s main battery gun turrets, rendering them useless.

However, because there were only some 30 recruits standing by to reload the guns, and none of these men had been trained, it was not possible to reload the two guns in time to follow up on their hits. The third gun, Josva, lay loaded, but without a crew to operate it, it remained unused. There was only one trained crew of artillerymen available, and these had been spread across the first two guns with the untrained recruits and even non-combatants, such as the cooks, were pressed into service to load the fort’s main battery guns.

Gallant Defence

As the burning Blücher sailed past the Oscarsborg’s main guns, she was peppered by the fortress secondary armaments. The pair of 57mm Cockerill guns at Husvik, defending the absent barrier, fired on the ship’s anti-aircraft weapons and upper superstructure, scoring 30 hits. They proved fairly effective at suppressing the cruiser’s response until the Blücher passed in front of the battery and strafed it with her surviving anti-aircraft guns. No defenders were killed, but the battery had to be abandoned. The trio of 5.9inch guns at Kopås Battery, on the eastern side of the fjord, were far more effective. They hit the Blücher 13 times, disabling her steering gear, meaning the crew had only the engine and propeller to stop them running aground as they struggled to manoeuvre in the narrow fjord. Other hits knocked out the ship’s fire-fighting system, making it more difficult to control the fires and get the wounded off.

Return fire from Blücher failed to counter the fort’s guns and with disabled main batteries, the ship only retaliated for around seven minutes before the firing ceased.

Amazingly, the identity of the ships’ was still a mystery to the Norwegian garrison. After several minutes of intense shelling it was only when, according to Norwegian sources, the crew of the crippled cruiser began sinking Deutschland über alles that it became clear the ships were German. 14 minutes after Eriksen had given the order to fire; the message from Norway’s Horten naval base arrived stating that the minesweeper HNoMS Otra had sighted intruding German warships, confirming what those at the Oscarsborg had observed. Although in this engagement, the communication delay meant little, problems such as this would plague the entire campaign.

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Heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper landing troops in Norway in 1940

Sudden Strike

The burning cruiser was severely damaged, but could be saved. She had passed out of the line of fire of the fortresses heavier guns and had cleared the 57mm position. However, just after 04.30am, Blücher steamed into the path of Kommandørkaptein Anderssen and his hidden torpedo battery. The retired officer sighted the cruiser at just 500m range, but he was unsure if the launchers would work. The ageing weapons had been practice-launched 200 times, but rarely test fired. The weapons functioned faultlessly, with two torpedoes slipping out of their hidden tunnels and sped towards the ship. However Anderssen misjudged his aim, overestimating the Blücher’s speed and only one torpedo hit, striking just under the forward turret and doing little damage.

Anderssen launched a second salvo, this time, he judged his aim perfectly, scoring a hit amidships, blowing out more bulkheads, setting more fires, and causing flooding. The damage was catastrophic damage, the engines were knocked out. The Blücher anchored out of the firing arc of Oscarsborg’s guns and the crew diverted their attention to fighting the many out of control fires raging across the vessel. The crew fired off all her torpedoes against the nearby shore to prevent them from exploding on the ship.

In the battery, Anderssen left one launcher loaded encase the rest of the flotilla tried to pass, and set about reloading the spent launchers.

Survivors

On Blücher, the efforts to extinguish the fires were a gallant struggle, but ultimately failed. At 05.30am, just over an hour after first contact, the fires reached the ship’s magazine for her 10.5cm anti-aircraft guns. The resulting explosion blew a large hold in the cruiser’s side, rupturing the bulkheads around the boilers and tearing open fuel bunkers – causing yet more fires. 52 minutes later, Blücher began to sink, bow first. She initially lay on her port side but later capsized fully and sank rapidly with her propeller screws the last part of the ship to sink under the surface of the cold Oslofjord. Two thousand German sailors and soldiers were on board the cruiser, with many initial escaping the sinking vessel. However, as the ship’s oil escaped and rose to the surface of the freezing water, it ignited, killing hundreds more. Reports from survivors, including one from Günther Morgalla, claim that those who managed to reach the shore heard trapped and dying crew singing.

Although estimates of German fatalities vary wildly, it is accepted that between 650 and 800 Germans died in the Blücher’s last battle, with between 1,200 and 1,400 surviving long enough to reach the shore. 550 survivors were captured by elements of No.4 Company of the Norwegian royal Guards, who rushed to Frogn (near Drøbak), where the bulk of the survivors reached the shore. Their orders dictated that they were to capture all the survivors, but the soldiers were too bust tending to the German wounded to round up all the survivors, and a number of officers and soldiers, including Generalmajor Erwin Engelbrecht were able to retain their weapons and slip away.
Many German wounded were treated at the summer hotel at Åsgården, Åsgårdstrand, where they were joined by Norwegian soldiers wounded elsewhere in the short campaign. The hotel was standing in for the Royal Norwegian Navy Hospital, which had been evacuated.

The Fleet Retreats

The remaining German ships turned around and headed back down the fjord. The torpedo strike on Blücher was witnessed by the commander aboard the Lützow. Having assumed command of the force, he thought the Blücher had hit mines and at 04.40 moved his ships away from the fort and its batteries, and out of the way of the perceived threat of mines. The fortress engaged the Lützow as she retreated; scoring three 5.9in gun hits on the ship’s aft main battery turret, disabling it. The Lützow only responded when out of range, firing on the fortress with her remaining main battery turret from about 5 miles away.

For some while, it was thought that the fortress gunners had claimed a second German ship, as another burning vessel was spotted in the distance. It was claimed that the Oscarsborg had hit and sunk the artillery training ship Brummer. However, the ship was in reality the Sørland, a 110 ton Norwegian cargo cutter was the first civilian ship lost in the invasion. She had mistakenly stumbled into the battle while ferrying a cargo of paper to Oslo. The ship’s crew thought they had happened across a military exercise, and therefore continued on her journey before being engaged and sunk by the minesweepers R-18 and R-19, which were travelling with the German fleet. The Brummer was certainly sunk during the invasion, but only on her return to Germany. On 14 April she was torpedoed by Royal Navy submarine HMS Sterlet.

To Oslo By Road

After scrambling to the shore some of the survivors from Blücher, having given their guards the slip, managed to hijack a truck and head for the capital. German officers arrived at their objective, the Hotel Continental, less than two hours later than planned but without the troops needed to occupy the city. Although the German attempt to sail up to Oslo was thwarted by Oscarsborg, the city not spared for long. German troops were airlifted into Fornebu, and working with the few entrenched in toe Hotel Continental, captured the Norwegian capital with relative ease.

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Oscarsborg under air attack

The Oscarsborg fortress continued to hold for a while, and was subjected to heavy bombing later the same day. The fort’s anti-aircraft defences were very light, consisting of a pair of 40mm Bofors guns and three Colt M/29 machine guns at the Seiersten Battery, while the defences at Håøya Battery were lighter still, just four Colt machine guns. The guns attempted to ward off the Luftwaffe attacks, but most of the positions had to be abandoned as the initial bombing gave way to a more accurate aerial bombardment. Of the two Bofors guns, one jammed after just a few bursts and rendered inoperable, the other fired until noon when the bombing lulled. No German aircraft were downed, although some were reportedly hit and lightly damaged. At 13.30 Lützow bombarded the fort from a distance, with immunity from the coastal defences, until the bombers returned and their strafing run knocked out the remaining Norwegian anti-aircraft guns and forced their crews to flee into the forest. The Oscarsborg was subjected to nine hours of naval and air bombardment, including a raid from 22 Junkers Ju 87 Stuka R dive bombers, flying in from Kiel.

Heroic defence

Colonel Eriksen reviewed his situation on the morning of 10 April, he knew Oslo had fallen and that German forces had landed south of Drøbak. He could not hold onto the fort without reinforcing infantry, which was unlikely to arrive. He therefore opted to surrender Oscarsborg, and the gallantly defended fortress fell, mostly intact.

This highly unusual engagement saw a century old fortress, perceived to have been outdated in the last war, let alone this one, and crewed almost exclusive by reservists, new conscripts, and retirees, destroy a modern German heavy cruiser commissioned and trialled so recently, conversion training was still underway. Norway would cost the German Navy a great many valuable surface vessels, and the loss of Blücher, though arguably less pressing than the massacre offered to Germany’s destroyers, was still a hard felt loss so early on in the war.

Ultimately the fortress had failed. Ill-equipped, without adequate anti-aircraft provision, and without infantry support on its flank, the Germans were able to overcome their disaster, caused entirely by their underestimations, and flank the defences. Getting a patrol into Oslo and arranging for troops to be flown in. The long bombardment was ineffective, but prevented the fortress from offering much in the way of resistance.

That said, the Blücher’s mission was to capture Norway’s monarch, parliament, and cabinet. The country’s national reserve of gold was also a priority. The valiant stand at the Oscarsborg granted enough time for these people to flee, for the gold to be smuggled away. The fact that Norway could direct its own war, then flee to Britain and continue to pursue the war after their country had capitulated, was almost certainly down to the Oscarsborg.

A more noble, intrepid and meaningful defence has rarely been offered.



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 Post subject: Re: Norway’s Most Valiant Stand
Unread postPosted: 06 Sep 2016, 14:22 
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That's crazy!

Germany didn't have much luck with ships at all it seems!



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 Post subject: Re: Norway’s Most Valiant Stand
Unread postPosted: 07 Sep 2016, 16:54 
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Norway was a series of naval disasters for them! The most damning of which would be the loss of so many destroyers during Narvik.



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