5th of April, 1940. Norway.
Did the Allies plan to invade Norway? Operation Wilfred and the R4 Plan.
On 5 April a large force of warships, escorted by the battle-cruiser HMS Renown of Vice Admiral W. J. Whitworth’s Battle-Cruiser Squadron, and the light cruiser HMS Birmingham, and comprising elements of Wilfred and R4, departed the main naval base of Admiral Sir Charles Forbes’s Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands group and shaped the course for the Norwegian coast.
The British plan involved the laying of two minefields. The first of these was ‘WV’ above the Arctic Circle just to the south of the Lofoten islands in the mouth of the Vestfjord. Which leads directly to the port of Narvik where they would load the iron ore. The second was ‘WS’ about three-quarters of the way down Norway’s west coast immediately adjacent to the port of Stadlandet. There was also to be a diversionary operation to simulate the laying of the ‘WB’ minefield just off the Bud headland to the south of the city of Kristiansund.
On 7 April the British force divided, one element to carry on to Narvik and the other to carry out the operations farther to the south.
Force ‘WV’ bound for the mouth of the Vestfjord comprised the battle-cruiser Renown. The minelaying destroyers HMS Esk, Icarus, Impulsive and Ivanhoe, the destroyers Glowworm and Greyhound. And the escort destroyers Hardy, Havock, Hotspur and Hunter of Captain B. A. Warburton-Lee’s 2nd Destroyer Flotilla.
Force ‘WB’ bound for the Bud headland comprised the light cruiser Birmingham and the minelaying destroyers HMS Hero and HMS Hyperion which had initially been part of Renown’s escort screen. Force ‘WS’ bound for the area off Stadlandet comprised the 5,087-ton auxiliary minelayer Teviot Bank. And the minelaying destroyers Ilex, Imogen, Inglefield and Isis.
In the event only one minefield was laid. As Force ‘WS’ steamed toward its destination on 7 April, German ships were sighted in the Heligoland Bight on passage to Norway. And the Admiralty canceled the minelaying off Stadlandet. Early 8 April, the day designated for the mining operation. The UK informed Norway of her intention to lay the mines inside Norwegian territorial waters. Soon after this, Force ‘WB’ carried out its simulated laying of a minefield off the Bud headland. Using oil drums, and carried out a patrol of the area to ‘warn’ shipping of the danger.
Force ‘WV’ in the north duly carried out its task and laid its minefield in the mouth of the Vestfjord. At 05.15 the Allies broadcast a statement to the world justifying their action and defining the minefield areas. The Norwegian government issued a strong protest. As a result, demanded the immediate removal of the mines. But by this time the German naval forces were already advancing up the Norwegian coast. And from that point onward events moved so quickly that the issue of the minefields became largely irrelevant.
Later in the day, however, the 5,177-ton iron ore transport Rio de Janeiro(below). Heading out from Stettin, was sunk in Skagerrak by the Polish submarine Orzeł.
The ship was carrying troops, horses and tanks up the corridor for the German invasion of Norway as part of the Gruppe II attack on Bergen in the Bremen sub-component of Weserübung. About half of the 300 men on board drowned. Furthermore, the survivors told the crews of the Norwegian fishing boats which rescued them that they were on their way to Bergen to save it from the British.
A few hours later the Royal Navy managed to sink two other German ships in the same area. These were Posidonia, laden with 8,000 tons of fuel for the U-boats which were to be based at Stavanger, and in addition, Krete.
Wilfred was now essentially complete and the ships of Force ‘WS’ and Force ‘WB’ rejoined the Home Fleet to undertake screening duties, military support and convoy defense as part of the general British ‘Rupert’ response to Weserübung.
Force ‘WV’ immediately became embroiled in the early actions of the British attempt to thwart the German landings. The destroyer HMS Glowworm, which had detached from Force ‘WV’ on 6 April to search for a man lost overboard, encountered the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, and carried out a torpedo attack.
After receiving return fire and heavy damage, the destroyer rammed the heavy cruiser, inflicting damage that took a year to repair, and sank soon after this with the loss of 111 men. Diverted to assist Glowworm, the battle-cruiser Renown was in action with the German battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau some 80 miles (130 km) to the west of the Lofoten islands group. Although both sides suffered significant damage inflicted. However, the two modern German ships failed to take their opportunity to sink the older and slower British battlecruiser.
Despite learning of these actions and receiving indications from other sources. The Norwegians, however, found themselves caught largely unprepared for the impending German invasion. Which started on the next day with German landings of troops in the main Norwegian ports. From south to north, of Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik.
Lastly, on the same day the destroyer Icarus sank the ore carrier Europa. Another German merchant vessel used to transport men and equipment to Norway. In addition, the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla later fought with other British naval units in the 1st Battle of Narvik, sinking several German warships.
Churchill gave a speech in the House of Commons on Operation Wilfred:
“There has been no greater impediment to the blockade of Germany than this Norwegian corridor. It was so in the last war, and it has been so in this war. The British Navy has been forced to watch an endless procession of German and neutral ships carrying contraband of all kinds to Germany, which at any moment they could have stopped, but which they were forbidden to touch.
It was therefore decided at last to interrupt this traffic and make it come out into the open seas. Every precaution was taken to avoid the slightest danger to neutral ships or any loss of life, even to enemy merchant ships, by the minefields which were laid and British patrolling craft were actually stationed around them in order to warn all ships off these dangerous areas.
The Nazi Government have sought to make out that their invasion of Norway and of Denmark was a consequence of our action in closing the Norwegian corridor. It can, however, undoubtedly be proved that not only had their preparations been made nearly a month before, but that their actual movements of troops and ships had begun before the British and French minefields were laid, no doubt they suspected they (the mines) were going to be laid, it must indeed have appeared incomprehensible to them that they had not been laid long before. They therefore decided in the last week of March to use the Norwegian corridor to send empty ore ships northward filled with military stores and soldiers concealed below decks, in order at the given moment to seize the various ports on the Norwegian seaboard which they considered to have military value.”
— Winston Churchill
Written by Kim Hansen
Did the allies plan to invade Norway? Operation Wilfred and the R4 Plan.