German invasion of Denmark (1940)
|German invasion of Denmark|
Map of Denmark showing German plans
|Commanders and leaders|
| Christian X
William Wain Prior
|14,500 soldiers in the
Zealand and Jutland Divisions and the Bornholm garrison
Four air squadrons
|Höheres Kommando XXXI:
170th Infantry Division
198th Infantry Division
11th Schützen Brigade
|Casualties and losses|
Remainder captured or escaped
One Fokker C.VE destroyed
|203 killed or wounded
12 armoured cars destroyed or damaged
Four tanks damaged
One aircraft damaged
The German invasion of Denmark was the fighting that followed the German army crossing the Danish border on 9 April 1940 by land, sea and air. Lasting approximately six hours, the German ground campaign against Denmark was the briefest on record.
- 1 Background to the invasion
- 2 German plan of attack
- 3 Skirmishes
- 3.1 Fighting in Jutland
- 3.2 Airborne landings
- 3.3 Naval landings
- 3.4 Capture of Copenhagen
- 3.5 Fate of the Danish Air Services
- 3.6 1st company of the 11th battalion
- 3.7 Casualties
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Background to the invasion
The attack on Denmark was planned as a part of the German Operation Weserübung Süd - the German plan for an invasion of Norway. The purpose was mainly to secure the iron ore shipping from Narvik. In order to capture Norway, the Germans had to control the airfield outside Aalborg in northern Jutland. The Luftwaffe high command was in favour of occupying Denmark in order to extend the German air-defence system northwards, making it harder for British bombers to outflank the system from the north when attacking cities in Germany. Additionally, the Norwegian fjords also provided excellent bases for German submarines to attack in the North Atlantic.
German plan of attack
The German High Command planned for a combined assault on Denmark to overrun the country as swiftly as possible, with an airborne assault on the Aalborg airfields and a surprise landing of infantry from naval auxiliaries at Copenhagen in addition to a simultaneous ground assault across the Jutland peninsula.
Although the Danish Army had been forewarned of the attack, it was denied permission to deploy or prepare defensive positions as the Danish government did not want to give the Germans any provocation for their actions. All that was available to meet the land invasion were small and scattered units of the frontier guard and elements of the Jutland division.
Fighting in Jutland
The Danish border was breached at Sæd, Rens, Padborg and Krusaa at 0415hrs. With the Kriegsmarine (navy) simultaneously landing troops at Lillebælt, the troops at the border were cut off at the beginning of the fighting.
The first clash between the Danish Army and the invading forces occurred at Lundtoftbjerg, where a Danish platoon armed with two 20 mm guns and a light machine gun had taken up positions covering the road. The Danes briefly resisted before retreating. The Germans lost two armoured cars and three motorcycles, while the Danes suffered one dead and one wounded.
Another German column reached Hokkerup a few miles east of Lundtoftbjerg, and also encountered a roadblock, this time defended by a force of 34 Danish soldiers. The Danes knocked out three German armoured cars, forcing them to pull back. The Germans set up a 37 mm gun 300 meters away, but only managed to fire one round before being knocked out. The Germans eventually managed to surround and capture the Danish unit, killing two of their soldiers.
Seven km north of Lundtoftbjerg, German forces encountered yet another roadblock defended by two 20mm guns. German tanks pushed the roadblock aside and opened fire. One gun returned the fire until a tank drove over it. The gunner attempted to run for cover in the nearby woods, but was killed when a German aircraft strafed the road. The second gun malfunctioned. The Danes tried to escape on motorcycles but the Germans then surrounded and captured them.
In an encounter between Danish and German forces at Bredevad, 10 km north of the border, a German vanguard of four armoured cars approached the village. The Danes, just arrived and not even having time to build a roadblock, took cover in a garden and opened fire. A machine gun and a 20mm cannon manned by one and a half platoons fired warning shots. Ignored by the Germans, the Danes then opened fire, knocking out the lead armoured car and killing its driver. A short skirmish followed. The Danes knocked out three more German armoured cars and suffered four casualties. The Germans managed to surround the Danes and force them into submission.
As the Danish forces at Søgaard army camp were preparing to pull back north to Vejle where the main force of the Jutland Division was preparing for battle, a short skirmish developed at Aabenraa as a Danish rearguard attacked the pursuing German vehicles. After damaging a German tank, the rearguard pulled back to Haderslev.
Haderslev had a garrison of 225 men of the Jutland Division, which defended both the barracks in the town and the road leading into it. In the initial fighting at the southern outskirts of Haderslev, a Danish 37 mm anti-tankgun with a crew of five attacked the approaching armour, which returned fire. Two tanks were damaged, but two of the crew were killed and the rest wounded. Just around the bend, another roadblock covered by two 20 mm cannon put up resistance. The Germans laid down heavy fire and a Danish soldier was killed, but the Germans were effectively pinned down. The fighting continued for ten more minutes until the order to surrender was received from Copenhagen. The Germans were then allowed to proceed into the town of Haderslev, but the Danish garrison stationed there had not received the order to surrender and fired on the Germans. One German motorcyclist was killed and two tanks were damaged during the attack. Two Danish soldiers were killed while defending the barracks; three Danish civilians were killed in the crossfire. However, the Danish garrison capitulated when the order to surrender from Copenhagen finally came through.
The first fighting in Western Jutland occurred against the garrison at Tønder. The first skirmish happened at Abild where two German armoured cars were knocked out by a 20 mm anti-tank gun before the Danes were forced to retreat. Further on, at Sølsted the Germans were completely halted, losing one armoured car and having another damaged. Only after receiving support from three Henschel Hs 126 aircraft were the Germans able to push the Danish forces out of their positions and back to Bredebro. When the men of the Tønder garrison reached Bredebro the order to capitulate had been issued and the fighting was over.
Abild and Sølsted
At Abild, a Danish 20mm gun crew knocked out two German armoured cars of the German 11th Motorized Regiment before pulling back. At Sølsted, a Danish anti-tank unit consisting of fewer than 50 men set up a defensive position with a 20mm gun on a road. When a force of the German 11th Motorized Regiment approached, the Danes opened fire as soon as the first German armoured car came within range. The first vehicle was knocked out and ended up in a ditch, while the next continued forward, but pulled back after being hit. It was hit several more times, but was able to fire back. German infantry attempted twice to outflank the Danish positions, but both attempts were met with heavy fire and became bogged down. Seeing that his attack was failing, the German regimental commander radioed for support. Three German Henschel Hs 126 planes soon appeared. The aircraft bombed and strafed the Danish force, until the Danish commander ordered his troops to fall back to Bredebo.
At approximately 0500hrs the first attack in the world made by paratroopers took place. 96 Fallschirmjägers jumped from nine Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft to secure Storstrøm Bridge, connecting the island of Falster with Zealand (Sjælland), and the coastal fortress on Masnedø island. The Germans expected heavy fighting around the fortress, but much to the surprise of the elite troops, only two privates and an officer were found inside. The landing opened the way for a battalion of the 198th Infantry Division to advance on Copenhagen by land.
75 minutes later hundreds of paratroopers landed in Aalborg, the main city of northern Jutland, in order to secure the main military target in the entire Operation Weserübung Süd: the airfield at Aalborg. This was planned to be the main stepping-stone to the invasion of Norway. The Fallschirmjägers did not encounter any resistance and in less than an hour, German planes began to land on the runways in huge numbers. More than 200 landings and take-offs were recorded on the first day, most of them transporting troops and fuel to Fornebu Airport in Norway.
At the same time troops landed in Korsør and Nyborg, thereby cutting off the connections between Funen and Zealand. The troops in Korsør met no resistance and hurried towards Copenhagen which they reached at noon.
A little before, at 0355hrs the Germans made a surprise attack on the southernmost city of Denmark, Gedser. The ordinary ferry from Warnemünde was crammed with German troops. Soldiers swarmed inland and cut telephone lines. Immediately afterward, armour and motorcycles followed, rapidly moving towards the Storstrøm Bridge to capture it together with the paratroopers.
Capture of Copenhagen
To secure the quick surrender of the Danish authorities, the capture of the capital city was considered essential. At 0420hrs the 2,430 ton minelayer Hansestadt Danzig, with an escort of the icebreaker Stettin and two patrol boats, entered Copenhagen harbour with battle flags flying. The harbour was covered by the coastal artillery guns of Fort Middelgrund; the newly appointed Danish commander ordered a warning shot to be fired, but the recently arrived recruits in the fort could not make the gun function. After the landing of a battalion of the 198th Infantry at 0518hrs, the German forces captured the 70-strong garrison of the Citadel - the headquarters of the Danish Army - without firing a single shot. The next target of the German forces was Amalienborg Palace, the residence of the Danish royal family.
Amalienborg and capitulation
When the German infantry arrived at Amalienborg they were met with determined opposition from the training company of the King's Royal Guard, which repulsed the initial attack, suffering three wounded. This gave King Christian X and his ministers time to confer with the Danish Army chief General Prior. As the discussions were ongoing, several formations of Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 bombers from Kampfgeschwader 4 roared over the city dropping OPROP! leaflets. Faced with the explicit threat of Luftwaffe bombing the civilian population of Copenhagen, all but commander-in-chief General Prior favoured surrender. Even without this to consider, Denmark's military position was untenable. Its land and population were too small to hold out against Germany for any sustained period. Its flat land would have resulted in it being easily overrun by German panzers. Jutland, for instance, was wide open to a panzer attack from Schleswig-Holstein to the south. Unlike Norway, Denmark had no mountain ranges from which a drawn-out resistance could be mounted. The Danish government capitulated at 0600hrs in exchange for retaining political independence in domestic matters.
Fate of the Danish Air Services
The entire four squadron-strong Danish Army Air Service was stationed at Værløse near Copenhagen. In anticipation of the German invasion, the squadrons had prepared to disperse to airfields all over the country, but this had not been accomplished by 0525 when Luftwaffe planes appeared over the airbase. As the German aircraft reached Værløse, one Fokker C.V-E reconnaissance aircraft was getting airborne, but was shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 flown by Hauptmann Wolfgang Falck at an altitude of 50 metres. Both crew members were killed. The German Bf 110s then strafed the base while coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire. They destroyed 11 aircraft and badly damaged another 14 as they taxied to take-off, wiping out most of the Danish Army Air Service in one action. The Danish Navy Air Service remained at its bases and escaped damage.
1st company of the 11th battalion
While most of the Danish Army followed the order to capitulate, one unit refused to give up. The commander of the 4th Regiment, Colonel Bennike, (who were based at Roskilde), believed that the order to surrender had been forced on the government by the Germans and that Sweden too had been attacked. Instead of surrendering, Bennike boarded the ferry to Sweden in Elsinore and went into exile. After the misunderstanding was later cleared up, some Danish soldiers stayed in Sweden while others returned to Denmark.
The German high command tried to present the attack on Denmark as a peaceful invasion in an attempt to score propaganda points. Accordingly, German losses were never released. They succeeded in this as most of the world believed Denmark did not put up a fight against the invasion.
But in 2005 the archives of the Danish weapons manufacturer DISA ('Danish Industrial Syndicate') were opened. DISA produced the Danish 20 mm cannon that took out so many (relatively) German vehicles. The Germans were naturally very interested in this weapon and had forced the syndicate to export them to Germany. And in selling them to the German army, they got their best argument from the Germans themselves: they told the company that 203 soldiers had been killed or wounded by the guns in Jutland.
The rapid Danish capitulation within six hours resulted in the uniquely lenient occupation, particularly until the summer of 1943, and also in postponing the arrest and deportation of Danish Jews until nearly all of them were warned and on their way to Sweden. 477 Danish Jews were deported, 70 of whom lost their lives, out of a pre-war total of a little over 8,000.
- Dildy 2007: 16
- Dildy 2007: 15
- The German occupation of Denmark, milhist.dk
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- Hooton 2007, p. 29.
- Hooton 2007, p. 31.
- Hooton 2007, p. 31
- Dildy 2007: 34
- Lindeberg 8
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- http://www.dr.dk/Regioner/Trekanten/Niende_April/20100409073544.htm (link in Danish)
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- The guard company - history (Danish)
- William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 663.
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- History of the Danish Navy Air Service (Danish)
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- The Danish Jewish Museum: The operation against the Danish Jews in October 1943
- Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team: The Fate of the Jews of Denmark
- Dildy, Douglas C. Denmark and Norway 1940: Hitler's boldest operation : Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2007, ISBN 978-1-84603-117-5
- Hooton, E.R (2007). Luftwaffe at War; Gathering Storm 1933-39: Volume 1. London: Chervron/Ian Allan. ISBN 978-1-903223-71-0.
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- Lindeberg, Lars (1990) 9. april; De så det ske : Sesam, 1990. ISBN 87-7258-504-8
- Tveskov H. Peter, Conquered, not defeated. Growing up in Denmark during the German Occupation of World War II, Hellgate Press, Central Point (Oregon), 2003.
- Ziemke, Earl F. (2000 (reissue from 1960)). "The German Decision to Invade Norway and Denmark". In Kent Roberts Greenfield. Command Decisions. United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 70-7.