Today in History: June 3, 1940 – Germany Bombs Paris
For roughly one hour, the Nazis bombed Paris for the first time. Fifty-five planes dropped nearly 11,000 bombs. Roughly 48 people were killed. Homes were destroyed, schools destroyed, hospitals wrecked. Some 97 buildings were destroyed and 61 fires were set by the Nazis.
In return, the Germans faced a heavy anti-aircraft barrage. The French shot down six of the German planes.
A second wave came at Paris at 1:50pm, lasting until 2:18. During this time, Germans came in five waves of 25 planes with an additional wave of 30 planes. Because of their high altitude of around 30,000 feet, their objective of hitting military objectives rarely ever hit their target.
Those who survived began the mass exodus, pushing bicycles, pulling wagons, all fleeing on foot.
“So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence. In that harbour, such a hell on earth as never blazed before, at the end of a lost battle, the rags and blemishes that had hidden the soul of democracy fell away. There, beaten but unconquered, in shining splendour, she faced the enemy, this shining thing in the souls of free men, which Hitler cannot command. It is in the great tradition of democracy. It is a future. It is victory.” ~ New York Times, 1 June 1940
“For us Germans the word “Dunkirchen” will stand for all time for victory in the greatest battle of annihilation in history. But, for the British and French who were there, it will remind them for the rest of their lives of a defeat that was heavier than any army had ever suffered before.” ~ Der Adler, 5 June 1940 (Source)
The Battle of Dunkirk. The Dunkirk Evacuation. Code Name: Operation Dynamo.
After declaring war on Germany, Britain sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to help defend France. The problem, though, was that while France had the Maginot Line between them and Germany, they stupidly believed that the Ardennes forest was “impenetrable.”
So what did Germany do?
On May 10, 1940, the German army attacked Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg. Fighting continued for four days until the Allies were forced to push back when France and Belgium positions failed to hold.
On May 12, though, Germany entered France through none other than the Ardennes forest.
“The Germans advanced in an arc westward from the Ardennes in Belgium, along France’s Somme River, and to the English Channel, cutting off communication between the Allies’ northern and southern forces” (Source). The Allies were quickly finding themselves surrounded and trapped against the northern coast of France. By the 19th, British commander, General Viscount John Gort, was considering a BEF withdrawal by sea. However, the Allies decided to launch a counterattack on the 21st. By the 24th, German army commander in chief, Walther von Brauchitsh was ready to take Dunkirk. It was actually Hitler who prevented the attack, having been convinced by Hermann Göring that the Luftwaffe “could destroy the Allied forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk” (Source).
Evacuation Dynamo was initiated on May 26th. They expected to have 48 hours to evacuate what they hoped would be 45,000 troops. However, the following day, King Leopold III of Belgium surrendered to Germany. As a result, Germany “resumed the land attack on Dunkirk” (Source). The break in fighting had allowed Britain to fortify their defenses, but they did not last long under advancing Germans. “As there were not enough ships to transport the huge masses of men stranded at Dunkirk, the British Admiralty called on all British citizens in possession of sea-worthy vessels to lend their ships to the effort. Fishing boats, pleasure yachts, lifeboats, and other civilian ships raced to Dunkirk, braving mines, bombs, and torpedoes” (Source). Some 933 ships took part.
Between the Luftwaffe and the counterattacks (some 3,500 missions) from the RAF, the Dunkirk harbor was beyond use. “Small civilian vessels had to ferry the soldiers from the beaches to the warships waiting at sea. But for nine days, the evacuation continued, a miracle to the Allied commanders who had expected disaster” (Source).
The battle ended on June 4, with the German army closing in. “With Western Europe abandoned by its main defenders, the German army swept through the rest of France, and Paris fell on June 14” (Source). On May 22, the armistice at Compiegne was signed by Henri Petain. “Germany annexed half the country, leaving the other half in the hands of their puppet French rulers” (Source).
“The inability for the German army to move on the survivors of Dunkirk is noted by many historians as one of the most critical mistakes Hitler made, one that that Rundstedt even called ‘one of the great turning points of the war’” (Source).
Casualties & Losses:
British: 198,000 troops were rescued; 68,000 dead, even more ended up MIA or as POWs. French: 140,000 troops were rescued; 290,000 dead. Germans: 27,074 dead; 111,034 wounded. Additionally, Britain lost some six destroyers, five minesweepers, eight transport ships, and a further 200 vessels had been sunk or badly damaged. They also left behind hundreds of thousands of guns, vehicles, and ammunition in what was now German territory.
[Below: Troops awaiting evacuation.]
“Soldiers of the West Front! Dunkirk has fallen … with it has ended the greatest battle in world history. Soldiers! My confidence in you knows no bounds. You have not disappointed me” (Source). ~ Hitler, June W5, 1940
Back home, Prime Minister Churchill was equally as pleased with his own troops. Praising and warning his people: “We must be very careful not to assign to this the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations” (Source).
The bulk of the British army had been rescued. This meant that Britain still had hope. A number of miracles and extraordinary factors helped make it possible. “The decision of Gort (the commander of the BEF) to ignore Churchill and the French commanders and head to the coast, the halt order, the weather, the survival of the Eastern Mole (the pier from which the majority of troops were evacuated), and the incredible determination of the Royal Navy, all combined to save the BEF” (Source).
Had the evacuation been unsuccessful, with a quarter of a million British troops held in captivity, Churchill would not have much other choice but to surrender – and sign Hitler’s peace treaty, as France had done. Had the evacuation been unsuccessful, the German army would have been left with additional provisions on their side, “including the 40 divisions which Britain’s continued hostility required in Africa and on the Atlantic Wall, as well as the 1,882 aircraft, and their experienced pilots and bomber crews, which were lost over Britain in the coming months” (Source).
“Hitler never wished to enter into war with Britain. He admired the country whose Empire he believed powerfully reinforced his ideas of racial domination, commenting that ‘To maintain their Empire they need a strong continental power at their side. Only Germany can be that power.’ After Dunkirk, however, he was stunned to find that his ‘sensible peace arrangements’ were continuously and categorically rejected. Even as late as 6 July, Hitler insisted that the invasion of Britain would only be tried as a last resort ‘if it cannot be made to sue for peace any other way’” (Source).
Dunkirk aroused America’s sentiment and caused them to realize the importance of aiding Britain. “It is a matter of inestimable importance to our own security that we should instantly remove all restrictions on the rendering of realistic, material aid to the Allies,” the Washington Evening Star declared(Source). By mid-June, America shipped roughly half a million rifles to their aid. The American support boosted both countries’ resolved and Churchill promised that “Britain would preserve ‘the whole world, including the United States’ from sinking ‘into the abyss of a new Dark Age’” (Source).
In June of 1940, Britain stood alone against Germany, Italy, & the Soviet Union.
The Battle of Calais started after the Germans had split the Allied armies in half at Sedan on May 14th and 15th, 1940. From there, the British had been cut off from their supplies. Eight days later, the Battle of Calais had begun. Dunkirk, Boulogne, and Calais had become vitally important. So, British troops were sent to Calais to establish a new line to the BEF, who were still fighting around Lille and Arras.
The defense of Calais would be carried out by Calais Force. This force contained one battalion each from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles), the Queen Victoria Rifles and the Rifle Brigade, the 229th anti-tank battery of the Royal Artillery and a battalion from the Royal Tank Regiment, equipped with 21 light and 27 cruiser forces.
Under the command of Brigadier Claude Nicholson, they would be aided by a Searchlight Regiment as well as an anti-aircraft regiment. Additionally, some 800 French soldiers helped to defend the citadel. In all, this gave Nicholson a total of 4,000 men.
The Germans reached the coast on May 20th, then stopped for a day. On the 22nd, they continued their drive north. The 10th Panzer Division was given the responsibility of taking Calais and the 1st Panzer Division of driving on towards Dunkirk, but of stopping to capture Calais on their way. Both divisions were at “full strength,” meaning that each division had roughly 15,000 men and 300 tanks.
At the time, Calais had a border of “bastions and ramparts” (Source). However, Nicholson realized that even this wouldn’t help him hold the perimeter for very long. So, he made the decision to move further north, along an inner perimeter. This line was protected by water lines, in the canals, as well as in the docks.
By midmorning on May 23rd, the Germans tanks had begun rolling into Calais from the south west. Later that morning, three more squadrons of tanks, these under the command of Lt. Col. Keller, left Calais for Omer, some twenty minutes south east. Five miles south of Calais, at Guines, they ran into the German tanks. A short battle followed.
[Below: Calais in ruins]
The British tanks eventually retreated back north to Coquelles, which was south west of Calais. However, the Germans had also been repulsed. I Panzer Division continued on, leaving the X Panzer Division to defend Calais. At Calais, itself, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles) saw battle with the Rifle Brigade on the dunes east of Calais.
At 2 a.m. the next morning, on the way to Dunkirk, Brigadier Nicholson’s tanks met the Rifle Brigade. Unfortunately, the British were forced to retreat back to Calais. By 6 that evening, the Germans had also broken through the British outer perimeter at Calais, forcing Nicholson to move his headquarters back from “Boulevard Léon Gambetta to the Gare Maritime, on the waterfront” (Source).
The Royal Navy was able to provide artillery defense with the help of the Polish warship, Burza. Later, HMS Wolfhound and HMS Verity were able to bring in supplies, ammunition, and Admiral J. F. Somerville. However, the battle also saw the sinking of HMS Wessex as well as heavy damage to HMS Vimiera and the Polish Burza. But the Royal Navy had to keep up the good fight, for it meant they were giving the BEF the extra time they needed to reach Dunkirk safely.
On the morning of the 25th, the X Panzer division attacked the inner perimeter. At 9 that evening, Prime Minister Churchill sent a communiqué:
“Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the BEF. Government has therefore decided you must continue to fight. Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not (repeat not) take place, and craft required for above purpose are to return to Dover” (Source).
That night, a small flotilla of ships began rescuing the survivors of the Royal Marine.
Fighting continued most of the next day with yet another German attack. They were able to gradually push the British back. Later, the French surrendered. Around 11 am, “Bastion 11 was forced to surrender with barely a man unwounded” (Source). Their defenses were beginning to collapse. But the British refused to give in. They were pushed back as far as Courgain, where they held on until 9 that evening.
Shortly thereafter, soldiers were rounded up. Many of them would be in captivity of five years. Nicholson died in captivity in 1943. Overall, some 20,000 men were taken prisoner, some 3,000-4,000 of them being British. The rest were French, Belgian, and Dutch.
After spending four years fighting in the crude trenches of WWI, the French smartly built the Maginot Line, a series of sophisticated fortifications that France believed would protect them from German invasion. But, as we already know, they didn’t bother to build it along the Ardennes Forest because they believed it was “impenetrable.” That, of course, was their first mistake.
Hitler’s armies invaded France (and the low countries) on May 10, 1940.
Initially, Hitler had planned to invade these countries right on the heels of their victory over Poland. However, those plans had to be postponed, due to bad weather. Their plans were once again postponed in January 1940, when “a German plane crashed in neutral Belgium, with a copy of the attack orders on board” (Source). At this point, France was probably (maybe) feeling pretty good about their chances of not being invaded by Germany.
But, then, of course, May arrived, and with it, Hitler’s forces. During those months, Hitler was forced to rethink his invasion plan. With the help of General Erich von Manstein, who proposed that they attack France through Belgium and Holland. After all, that would mean conquering three countries for the price of one! Err, so to speak.
The Allies would never suspect an attack through the Ardennes (clearly). And to further insure their success, the Nazis planned to employ blitzkrieg-like techniques.
By heavily concentrating their tanks into Panzer formations (armored), they were able to outwit the French, who had spread their own tanks much too thinly. “Manstein’s plan envisaged these Panzer divisions in a semi-independent role, striking ahead of the main body of the army, to disrupt and disorientate the Allies” (Source). But this plan was not only much riskier than the Poland invasion plan, but it was also much more ambitious.
[Below: Invasion & fall of France]
On May 10, the Nazis invaded both Belgium and Holland (and also a number of other countries). They began the attack with air raids, followed quickly by parachute drops or large numbers of troops. “The speed of the German advance and the brutality of the air raids gave them a huge psychological advantage, and on 14 May the Dutch surrendered” (Source).
The Allies responded, relatively successfully, on the attack of Belgium. They did not do so well in Holland, however, and they were pushed back. Then, on the 13th, troops marched through the Ardennes, on the River Meuse. Crossing the river involved a two-day battle. The Allies fought hard, but despite some hard fighting by both the air forces and the tank divisions, the German tanks, led by General Heinz Guderian, broke through. With little to no opposition, thanks to most of the Allied troops still fighting in Belgium, the Germans reached the English Channel by May 20 – after a mere 7 days of fighting.
By the 21st, British tanks were at least able to meet Erwin Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division at Arras. But that was the last piece of good news, because, with the German forces pushing up from both the west and the south, the Allies now found themselves surrounded.
It was so bad that the Belgians surrendered on May 28, after a mere 18 days of fighting.
The Allies – and the French, in particular – were becoming desperate. The French attempted a change of personnel, switching out General Gamelin for General Weygand as Commander-in-Chief. But it didn’t help much. Then, on May 23rd, BEF commander, General Lord Gort, called for his own men to fall back to the Channel ports.
The French felt betrayed by this decision, and with good reason. But, it turned out that Gort’s decision was a life saver, at least for the BEF. They spent the next 10 days (May 26-June 4), planning out Operation Dynamo – or, better known as Dunkirk.
On May 10, 1940, at 4:00 am, as part of the Battle of the Netherlands, fought between the Royal Netherlands Army and the German Luftwaffe, paratroopers “dropped in and around The Hague in order to capture Dutch airfields and the city” (Source). This was the first paratroop assault in history.
Ultimately, the Germans hoped to capture the Dutch Royal Family. Additionally, they hoped to capture the government and force the Dutch to surrender.
Unfortunately, their plans failed. They didn’t manage to capture Queen Wilhelmina.
And, well, see, the Dutch, who were smartly alert at the time, overheard the noise from the aircraft formations flying overhead, then turning around and flying over again. The first target, Ypenburg, was attacked, dropping “the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Fallschirmjaeger Regiment around the area” (Source). However, since the Dutch heard the plans, they were able to get their own planes into the air quickly enough to claim some victories for themselves. This just before being shot down themselves or being forced to land. Essentially, the Germans did manage to capture all three fields.
But then “the Dutch Army launched a counter-attack several hours later” (Source).
[Below: German Paratroopers above the Hague]
The attack started at Ypenburg. The Dutch were definitely outnumbered and the only ammunition they had was what they had managed to capture from the Germans. Even then, they fell into position, launching an artillery attack against their own airfield, causing heavy damage. The Germans were finally forced to evacuate “the airfield’s burning buildings, losing their strong defensive position” (Source).
Then Dutch troops stormed the airfield, forcing the Germans to fully retreat. While some of the Germans were able to withdraw and hide in the nearby woods, the Dutch did capture several more.
From here, the Dutch were ordered to turn towards Loosduinen. They sealed off Leiden and Wassenaar, retaking “an important bridge near Valkenburg” (Source). With the arrival of reinforcements, the Dutch were able to start attacking Germans from the ground and from the air. The Germans were forced to retreat, and several battles took place in Valkenburg, all to liberate the village. But it was heavily damaged in the process.
“By the end of 10 May, Dutch forces had retaken the captured airfields, but this tactical victory was to be short lived as on 14th May the German Rotterdam Blitz forced the Dutch armed forces to surrender” (Source).
As for the German failure, well, there were several factors at play. For one, they didn’t have nearly enough paratroopers, especially for all of the objectives they wished to achieve. Then, a number of these were “dropped miles from their objectives” (Source). Furthermore, German intelligence wasn’t nearly up to par, and the information that they did receive was poor. “With the landing strips effectively blocked, the following waves of aircraft were forced to divert, force-land on the nearby beaches or highways, or return to base” (Source). And, to top all of that, after Dunkirk, the Dutch had been busy building up their defense, making sure that their best artillery and armored cars were ready for the inevitable battle.
The battle began on May 10, 1940 and lasted for four days, ending with dreadful bombings. The Nazis chose to take over the Netherlands because they believed that it would be the ideal place for an Air Force base. For one, Rotterdam was a port town. A port town that just happened to be in close proximity to Britain, Hitler’s dream target.
The Dutch, on the other hand, had wanted to remain neutral in this war, much liked they done last time. In large part, the Dutch wanted to remain neutral because they knew that their military just didn’t have what it would take to stand up against the Axis powers. They were woefully lacking in military necessities such as aircraft, vehicles, and . . . oh, troops.
Hitler was sure that he could capture and occupy the Netherlands in just one short day of battle. Little did he know that the Dutch would put up such a big fight.
Now, while the Dutch didn’t necessarily have the number of troops needed to take part in a world war, they also weren’t necessarily lacking in troops. In fact, in the Rotterdam neighborhood of Hillegersberg was an artillery battalion with some 7,000 men. In nearby areas they had machine guns, cannons, and even the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Their biggest problem was simply that they just weren’t equipped enough to fight against the Nazis, who’d been preparing for battle for years.
Whether Hitler was aware of the seize of the Netherland’s military or not, his initial plan was for his own task force to attack Rotterdam and seize its bridges, all using the advantage of surprise. This plan was scrapped, however, and in its place was born the idea to use Heinkel He 59D’s. Much easier to surprise the Dutch with parachutists. They could easily capture the bridges, especially with even more men in the air for cover.
So, early May 10th, 80 Nazi soldiers landed. They easily captured several bridges. So far, there was no resistance. Everything was going as planned.
What they didn’t realize was that the Dutch troops were hiding in houses along the various routes to the bridges. They ambushed the approaching Germans. Meanwhile, another group of Dutch were waiting in the square. Turns out, they had been alerted to the German arrival by the sound of their plans. Yes, this was the same problem the Germans ran into over in the Hague . . . on the same exact morning.
Even though the garrison was run by a lonely captain, he quickly assembled his men and sent them out around town to places such as bridges, railway stations, and along the Nieuwe Maas.
Meanwhile, “a small delegation of Dutch Marines and an incomplete army engineers company” took positions north of the bridges and began deploying machine guns (Source). They were able to push the Germans back into a small perimeter by a mere traffic bridge – which probably isn’t exactly what the Germans had in mind when the planned to “take” Dutch bridges.
The Dutch continued to push and, gradually, the German pocket grew smaller and smaller. Later in the morning, they were gratefully aided by the Dutch Navy – however small their contingent may have been with only a small gunboat and a motor torpedo boat. Unfortunately, Luftwaffe bombs caused serious damages to the two boats, causing 3 deaths.
It was difficult, but the Dutch were able to hold out until that afternoon. It was then that German help in the form of the 10th Company of the 16th Air Landing Regiment.
But the Dutch continued to push the Germans back until the Germans withdrew into a National Life Insurance Company building. Turned out, this was better for the Germans than the Dutch. For one, the Germans had been reinforced with more anti-tanks guns. Furthermore, their location inside the building proved to hamper the Dutch.
[Below: Destroyed Rotterdam]
The next morning, the Dutch actually received reinforcements. After reorganizing them, Colonel Scharroo deployed them along the river. Then, at 4:00, the fighting continued. That being said, the Dutch still failed to infiltrate the National Life Insurance building. But, at the same time, the Nazis had failed to replenish their weapons. But, then the Royal Netherlands Air Force stepped in, bombing bridges. They missed their intended targets, but somehow managed to take out several machine gun nests, instead. Which was responded to by Messerschmitt Bf 110s. In all, five German plans were lost and 3 Dutch ones. But of course, the Germans had many more planes to spare than the Dutch did. At the same time, the SS Statendam was bombed, catching fire.
On the 13th, the Marines came to lend aid. Unfortunately, as they advanced, they came under German attack. Germans also attacked the two Dutch armored cars trying to cross the bridge. They were forced to retreat without firing on the insurance building. But then the Marines, previously unaware that the Nazis had overtaken the insurance building, came under German even more fire. The Marines returned fire, but after several casualties, were forced to retreat. They found shelter under the bridge. They were fired on again and had to retreat even further.
“After the war, the German occupants of the insurance building admitted that they had been on the verge of surrender. They were very short on ammunition, half of them had been wounded, and they had reached the point of utter exhaustion. But just when they were about to yield, the marines disappeared” (Source).
It had become clear that everything rested on the defense of Rotterdam’s two bridges. So, they put seven infantry companies, 3 anti-tank guns for each bridge. Additionally, three batteries of 105 mm howitzers were placed at Kralingse Plas bridge. In the meantime, three German tanks arrived, starting an all-out tanks assault. They were met by great Dutch opposition.
Then Hermann Göring stepped in. He decided that the best course of action was for an all-out aerial attack. Then, General Georg von Küchler, the Dutch operational area commander-in-chief, sent the Dutch an ultimatum: Unconditional surrender of the city was being demanded.
Finally, on the morning of May 14, the letter was delivered to General Scharroo. The Dutch insisted on a final notice with the German officer’s signature, name, and rank.
It was during this time, that Göring ordered the attack. A group of 27 bombers arrived to the south of the city. Aware of the attack, the Germans raised a red flare. Seeing this, 24 of the bombers turned and headed west. The remaining three dropped their payload.
“About one square mile of the city was completely destroyed. In total, over 25,000 buildings were leveled. Below is the breakdown of the type of buildings destroyed
Only a handful of buildings survived. One of these building was the 1898 high-rise, Witte Huis. It did receive some damage; the bullets holes of which can be seen to this day. Rotterdam, itself, was set ablaze. As bombs were dropping, many of the buildings that were struck caught fire. They became uncontrollable. “Over the course of a week, the fires began to join and create one huge inferno. It’s been said that after night, on the first night after the bombings, the sky was red from all the fires” (Source).
With their city on fire, it didn’t take long for the Dutch to surrender. Immediately, Germans took control of the city, ablaze or not. The following day, the British began bombing the Ruhr in retaliation.
It is reported that the Dutch casualty toll was somewhere around 1,000. However, thanks to German occupation, some 85,000 citizens were now homeless.
“General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe. For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity. Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band. Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors — neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.”
The war that had lasted for five years and eight months had finally drawn to a close and people celebrated in the streets. President Harry S. Truman announced the victory and appointed Sunday, May 13—Mother’s Day—as day of prayer and thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Churchill gave an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, telling the crowds, ‘This is your victory!’ However, their day of victory was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the war with Japan was still going strong.
Number the Stars is likely one of the books that all 90’s kids read at some point in grade school. Maybe for class, maybe just because they saw it on the shelf at their local library of Barns ‘n Noble, or maybe their parents were trying to teach them about history. Either way, it was likely one of our first encounters with the Holocaust (though, to be fair, there were a number of amazing Holocaust stories for children, even back then). Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (yes the author of The Giver) showed us what real fear and oppression looked like.
Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen lives in Nazi-occupied Denmark. She knows what a world is like with soldiers on every street corner. And she knows simple things about how to avoid detection, such as not running through the street. Nazi soldiers on every street corner is scary enough … but Nazi soldiers banging on the front door is much, much worse. See, it wasn’t until her parents took in her best friend, Ellen Rosen, that Annemarie realized just how scary Nazi soldiers could really be. But one night, they did come knocking, leaving the Johansen’s to pretend that Ellen wasn’t really Jewish, but another daughter. Then, the real danger began as the family has to risk everything to get Ellen’s family out of Nazi-occupied Denmark and into the safety of neutral Sweden.
Though Denmark was invaded by the Nazis on April 9, 1940, resistance in Denmark didn’t start until the summer of 1942, thanks to other Allied nations, namely Britain.
Initially, the Danish fought back in non-violent ways. Mostly, they published newspapers (both legal and illegal) and books, broadcasted Allied radio programs, “preparing for the prospect of armed combat and engaging in weapon smuggling for the possibility of active battle, relaying information about Nazi activities and positions to Allied contact via radio and bicycle, detonating explosives at major Nazi resource sites in Denmark, and numerous other ways” (Source).
In fact, journalism gave the Danish resisters the perfect platform. Remember, despite being under Nazi oppression, the Danes were allowed to publish their own newspapers. And, despite the Nazi restrictions, the Danes grew very creative in putting out otherwise restricted information. “Danish newspapers ran suggestive headlines and stories and juxtaposed articles in a way that subtly made fun of, or criticized Germany. Layout departments manipulated the organization of newspapers in every way possible, sometimes placing stories of Nazi victories at the bottom of the page or end of a section” (Source). In addition to the official newspapers, the Danish resistance published underground newspapers. These would contain the stories of Allied victory, not allowed in the national papers. They also covered resistance acts, supported resistance groups, and printed other stories or information not allowed in the national papers.
Radio personalities also got creative. Using their voices, they could hint at their German disapproval. For example, they read the Nazi reports or war reports of Nazi victory in flat, low, unenthusiastic voices. Additionally, “an employee of Denmarks Radio was able to transmit short messages to Britain through the national broadcasting network” (Source). Presumably, this was done through coded messages, such as was seen in the French Resistance.
[Below: Resistance members burning papers from Dagmarhus – Nazi headquarters during the occupation]
Then, of course, there was the ‘V’ campaign. Or better known as ‘V’ for Victory (today the symbol is often confused for peace, but the origins go back much further and carries a much different meaning.) ‘V’ for Victory officially started in Britain, but it boosted morale all across Europe and even found root in America. To prisoners, such as the Danish, it could also be a small way of resisting. “Danes painted V’s on posters and on building walls. V’s were also prominently included in letters and cards, and Danish newspapers emphasized V-words in articles, headlines, and advertisements. Radio announcers purposefully used words beginning with V in their programs as a way to [subtly] raise the hopes and spirits of listeners” (Source).
Much of this information was gathered by military intelligence, who had contacts within the SOE. This provided resistance groups, and thus citizens, with information about German army locations, political developments, and Danish fortifications. After the Nazis removed Danish military from Jutland, these acts were carried out by plainclothes and reserves.
Around September 1943, a Danish underground government was formed, much to the relief of other Allied countries, who had been worrying that Denmark was collaborating with the Nazis. The Danish Freedom Council formed other, separate resistance groups into one large, Allied-recognized group. Under this title, they suggested to the RAF (Royal Air Force), that an important bombing location was the Gestapo headquarters at Shellhus, in the center of Copenhagen. Operation Carthage was the result. It was essentially a low-level raid. But more on that in a later post dedicated to the operation.
Also in 1943, the Resistance was able to save “all but 500 of Denmark’s Jewish population of 7,000-8,000 from being sent to the Nazi concentration camps by helping transport them to neutral Sweden, where they were offered asylum” (Source). They sought asylum from oppression, abuse, and, likely, death.
Strikes also played a huge role, though, they were mostly organized by the communists. They spread across 17 different towns, across factories, shops, and even offices. All closed down and the people rioted. In Copenhagen, no riots broke out, but they made sure that disturbances did spread across the town. The authorities, both political and union, tried their hardest to put a stop to both the strikes and the unrest in general. Hitler demanded that a state of emergency be enacted as well as the death penalty for sabotage. Of course, the Danish refused to cooperate.
As the German military continued to grow and grow in Denmark, the resistance numbers grew along with it. In fact, they numbered some 20,000 by the end of 1944 and then to an astonishing 50,000 by their liberation in ’45. The British and Swedish armed the resistance groups with handguns, and in the case of the British, with bombs. Additionally, the base of the Danish resistance moved to Stockholm because “they were far safer than in Denmark – but they could easily get back to their country. The sea route also allowed the Danish Resistance to get out of the country over 7,000 of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews” (Source).
At this point, they focused mainly on modes of transportation, such as trains and ships. They also targeted industries and factories. The attached some 1,500 trains and another 2,800 industries.
The Norwegian resistance was successful, in part, because they had many advantages over the Germans – “a long coast line with vast amounts of the country uninhabited. Norway also had a long border with neutral Sweden which could be easily crossed. In such an environment, a focused resistance movement could do great harm to an occupying army” (Source).
Unfortunately, though, the Norwegians were divided in the fact that many did not want to commit the acts of treason and raids that led to more Nazi atrocities – as had taken place in other countries.
Germany invaded Norway in the early hours of April 9, 1940. However, the Norwegian government refused to capitulate, saying: “We will not submit voluntarily; the struggle is already underway” (Source). The entire government evacuated Oslo and, during an emergency session, gave full authority to King Haakon VII and his cabinet – this gave the king the authority to reject Germany’s ultimatum.
However, this did not stop German invasion. Thanks to WWI, the Norwegian military was “underfed and undertrained by the late 1930′s.” (Source). Germany was able to invade Southern Norway with very little initial resistance.
[Below: Coins with the H7 monogram were worn by Norwegian nationalists as jewelry during the occupation, and subsequently confiscated by German authorities]
To aid the resistance, Sweden aided the Norwegians with equipment and training by setting up “a series of camps” camouflaged as police training camps, all along the border (Source). Some 7,000-8,000 men were trained through the camps.
Although Norway did not partake in many battles officially, their military still went to great lengths to subvert the Germany army whenever possible. For the most part, this consisted of more acts of sabotage. However, their military was up and running by the time they were liberated.
Many civilians practiced their own means of civil disobedience. For example, the first outbreak was started by Oslo University students who wore paperclips attached to their collars. This was a sign demonstrating resistance, solidarity, and unity.
Another means of civil disobedience was known as the Ice Front. Here, Norwegians refused to speak to Germans, pretending to not understand German. They also refused to sit next to a German on public transportation. This only lasted until the Germans made it illegal to stand on a bus if seats were available.
XU (Unknown Undercover Agents): These agents collected maps and photos of German fortifications. They also had Nazi connections – “Several of their members were couriers for M15 agent Paul Rosabund, who had vital information regarding German nuclear research” (Source). An interesting fact: Two of the members were female.
Osvald Group: These agents performed some 110+ sabotage missions, “storing” explosives around the country. They also provided support for the NKVD, though, becoming a military group. Through this, 35 members were killed. Below are some important dates:
July 20, 1941: Their first railway sabotage mission.
February 2, 1942: Blew up the Oslo Central Station.
August 21, 1942: Attacked Statspolitiet’s Office.
April 20, 1943: Sabotaged an employment office in Oslo.
October 25: 1944: Assassinated a policeman in Stapo.
November 9, 1944: Robbed a bank (Laksevag Sparebank)
Heavy Water Sabotage: Allied sabotage “to prevent the German nuclear energy project from acquiring heavy water (deuterium oxide)” (Source). Operations-Codenamed Grouse, Freshman, and Gunnerisde were used to completely render the Vemork Hydroelectric Plant inoperable as of 1943.
Operation Grouse consisted of dropping a team of 4 SOE trained agents into the wilderness on October 19, 1942. From there, they were expected to ski to their location. However, they were dropped off at the wrong point and got off course several times, meaning they reached their location much later than expected. However, their mission was still successful.
This operation was followed by Operation Freshman, which was, unfortunately, unsuccessful.On November 19, 1942, “two Airspeed Horsa gliders, towed by Handley Page Halifax bombers, each glider carrying two pilots and 15 Royal Engineers of the 9th Field Company, 1st British Airborne Division, took off from RAF Skitten near Wick in Caithness” (Source). Thanks of poor weather conditions, one of the two Halifax tugs crashed into a mountain, killing all seven of those aboard. Its glider was able to take off, but its crash claimed several more lives. The other Halifax, however, was unable to even locate its landing zone, “owing to the failure of the link between the Eureka (ground) and Rebecca (aircraft) beacons” (Source). Deciding to give up and head home, though, only proved more treacherous, and the second Halifax came down not far from the first flight, killing several more.
This was followed by Operation Gunnerside. On February 16, 1943, another six agents were dropped by a “Halifax bomberof 138 Squadron from RAF Tampsford” (Source). Their drop was mercifully successful and they met up with the team from Grouse a few days later. The next part of their plan was to take place between February 27th and 28th. However, their job was made more difficult thanks to the mines, floodlights, and additional guards placed around the plant by Germans after the failed Freshman attempt.
Agents of the combined Grouse and Gunnerside operations were to infiltrate the plant and place “explosive charges on the heavy water electrolysis chambers, and [attach] a fuse allowing sufficient time for their escape” (Source). They left a Thompson submachine gun, hoping to show this was a British SOE mission and not a Norwegian effort, afraid of backlash from the Germans.
Their mission was successful. Over 500 kg of heavy water was destroyed.
Acts of Resistance: Destroying ships & supplies (such as the Bismarck); Distributing illegal newspapers; Killing Nazi collaborators & officials; Smuggling people in and out of Norway; Destroying Norsk Hydro’s plant and stockpile of heavy water; and numerous other acts of sabotage.
On April 9, 1940, Denmark was invaded by German. Prior to this, they had been rescuing people from other occupied countries, such as Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Holland. Occupation would change all that.
Almost immediately after the invasion, the Danish surrendered. Their reason for such an early surrender was that Denmark wasn’t only small, but their military was equally as small. In short, they didn’t stand a chance against the Nazis, not without way too many Danish deaths.
In some ways, Denmark was luckier than other Nazi occupied countries. Or at least, so it appeared on the surface. See, the Danish government and the Danish monarchy remained in tact. Furthermore, their newspapers could continue, under censorship, of course. And their military wasn’t seen as enough of a threat to be disbanded. Even Danish Jews were saved from the prosecution Jews from other countries endured.
Why was this allowed?
To put it simply, the Danish weren’t subhuman. Not like the Polish or the Jews, at least.
The Danish were considered to be pure Aryans.
[Below: Nazis parading through Denmark]
Well, and then there was the fact that they could supply the Nazi army with supplies, food, and even transportation. They were vital to Nazi Germany wining the war. Thus, they could receive a pass.
Oh, and they agreed not to resist. (But we all know they did. As next week’s post will show). And they held out until the summer of 1942. It was about that point that Allied nations began to pressure them to finally resist Nazi occupation.
And, believe it or not, Hitler was just looking for an excuse to tighten restrictions on the Danish. He sent Werner Best, “a Nazi official to administer Germany’s occupation of Denmark in September 1942” (Source). Best was instructed to rule with an iron fist. Denmark would change from a country friendly with the Nazis to a country occupied by the Nazis.
Or, at least, that was Hitler’s plan. Best didn’t operate quite that quickly, though. Instead, he decided to be much more lenient, provided Denmark continued to cooperate. He realized that too strict an occupation could threaten their most valuable food source.
But resistance continued and Hitler was growing more and more put out with Denmark. Eventually, he “demanded that the Danish government declare a state of emergency and introduce the death penalty for sabotage” (Source). Of course, the Danish resisted.
Then, on August 29, 1943, the Germans began disarming the army and the navy (though the navy sank itself). This was followed by General von Hanneken announcing martial law. This was a major turning point in Danish-German relations. The collaboration had ended.
Mere weeks later, on October 2nd, anti-Semitism found it’s footing in Denmark. The Nazis attempted to round up all Danish Jews.
But, thanks to Best, their plan wasn’t as successful as they would have liked. Only about 500 Jews were rounded up (a sum much, much lower than other Nazi occupied countries). These 500 Jews were taken to Theresienstadt. Most of them survived.
However, another 7,000 Jews subsequently escaped from Denmark to the neutral Sweden. Many other Danes played a role in their successful escape. Resistance grew more and more.
And thanks to the British SOE (Special Operations Executive), various resistance groups were brought together. Thanks to all the various groups being brought together as one larger force, they Danish were able to convince the “Allies to recognize Denmark as an allied power, but were met by resistance from the Soviets” (Source). Go figure.
But, an agreement was eventually met.
Then, on May 4, 1945, the announcement came: the Liberation of Denmark. “Thousands of Danes tore down their blackout curtains and put candles in the windows” (Source). Five years and a month after invasion. Some 7,000 lives were lost during the fierce occupation.