The Phony War ended on the night of April 8, 1940 when British warships mined the fjords of Norway to prevent Swedish iron ore from reaching Germany. The Norwegian Ambassador to London protested, but within hours the Allies learned of a massive German thrust through Denmark that was already landing in Norway. Denmark surrendered the same day to save herself, losing only a few soldiers.
What seemed like an incredibly swift response to Britain’s Norwegian minelaying was actually the culmination of months of planning. German paratroops secured airfields for air transports, and the German Navy sortied to cover destroyers landing ski troops. A German landing in Oslo was driven off when the command heavy cruiser Blücher was sunk in the harbor, buying a short reprieve for the Norwegian government. But German merchant ships loaded with supplies and left in the fjords before the invasion sustained the rapidly moving land forces coming up from the south. The German paratroops were especially stunning to the Allies, who did not have anything like those formations at that time. Tough fighters, they would hold until relieved by the advancing ground forces.
British and French troops were hastily assembled and sent to Norway. Almost as soon as they landed they were forced to turn around or surrender, as the Germans swiftly moved through the country. Norwegian King Haakon VII left the country and set up a Government-in-exile in London, financed with Royal Norwegian gold. By the time of the invasion of France in May 1940, Norway had surrendered.
The French and the British, both reeling from the defeat at Norway, pledged not make a separate peace with Germany. This agreement would have serious implications two months later after the Germans invaded France.
During the battle, the German Kriegsmarine lost half of their destroyers and several cruisers. Their surface fleet was no longer able to confront the British Royal Navy. In time, more German surface fleets would launch, and the ships damaged in Norway would be repaired. But these ships would not be ready in time to cover the invasion of Britain. Operation Seelöwe (Sea Lion) would not proceed — the needed escorts were on the bottom of Narvik Harbor.
Norway became an important, if recalcitrant, supplier of resources for Germany, and an operational base for U-boats throughout the war. Her surface units would hide in the fjords to escape Allied detection and bombing. The German heavy water research, a prerequisite for an atomic bomb, was based in Norway. Several Norwegian SS units formed up and fought on the Eastern Front.
Many Norwegian naval units escaped to Britain and served with distinction throughout the war. Norwegian resistance cells were difficult for the Germans to track in the snowy forests and the resistance enjoyed wide support that inhibited most Norwegians from collaborating. The resistance gave important intelligence to the Allies, especially about the Tirpitz, sister to the Bismarck and the most powerful German warship afloat.
The Allies’ efforts to force Hitler into thinking that an invasion of Norway was imminent kept large forces tied down in Norway, preventing them from assisting their country as the Red Army and the British and the Americans invaded Germany from the East and West.