2020 marks 80 years since the German invasion of Norway and Denmark during the Second World War. This special online exhibition brings you some of the objects we have in our collection which are connected to those events.
9th APRIL 1940: GERMANY INVADES NORWAY.
After seven months of ‘phoney war’, the Green Howards 1st Battalion (about 750 men) are ordered to Norway. Well trained, but poorly equipped, they slow the German advance, but are soon forced to withdraw.
The Green Howards at the start of the Second World War
At 11.15am on 3rd September 1939 Britain declares war on Germany. At the time, the regiment’s 1st Battalion is based at Catterick Camp, North Yorkshire. The 2nd Battalion is stationed in Ferozepore in north-west India. The 1st battalion is immediately mobilised and sent to France. They are followed by the territorial 4th and 5th battalions in January 1940, then the newly formed 6th and 7th battalions in April 1940.
This is the time of ‘phoney war’. It’s been declared, but little seems to be happening. They prepare defensive positions in France, waiting for the German forces to make the first move.
Deploying to Norway
As soon as Germany invades Norway on 9th April 1940, the 1st Battalion return from France and prepare themselves for Norway.
The Green Howards are part of an Allied force of 38,000 troops, including French and Polish forces, who join 55,000 Norwegian soldiers to try to repel the German land invasion.
The German force advanced north up the snow-clad Gudbrandsdal valley supported by artillery, light tanks, Stuka and Heinkel bombers.
Engaging the enemy
For the regiment, the main action takes place at Otta on 28th April, where they temporarily hold up the German advance, but the eventual result is inevitable.
The entire British force, flanked by Norwegian ski troops, retreat to Dombås to be eventually picked up by the Royal Navy and evacuated on 2nd May 1940.
The German occupation of Norway is achieved by 10th June. It has taken 62 days.
The Norwegian government, royal family, headed by King Haakon VII, and armed forces are exiled in the UK.
Almost 2000 British soldiers lose their lives trying to defend Norway against the German invasion, including 28 Green Howards soldiers.
The first Green Howard to lose their life in action during the Second World War was Edward Brookman. Find out more about him.
Some, like Ernest Harrison are injured and picked up by the Germans. He becomes a Prisoner of War, and ends up in a very famous camp. Learn more.
Running for home
Of the 750 strong Green Howards contingent sent to Norway, five officers and 151 men get left behind. The majority either make their way by foot in small groups across the mountains to neutral Sweden, or head for the coast – dodging the victorious German troops and then sailing for the Shetlands in small Norwegian vessels. The returning troops speak of the kindness, generosity and bravery of countless Norwegians who made their escape possible.
A return to Norway. Thirty years after their retreat, Green Howards found themselves once again in a hostile environment – this time in the name of science, and adventure. They were part of an expedition to the Jostedals Glacier, led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. You can read an extensive memoir of the highs and lows of the three week expedition, including a gripping account of what it’s like to free-fall onto a glacier, written by one of its members, Roger Chapman, here.
Advances in camera technology in the years following the First World War mean that some soldiers have access to their own camera. Rolls of 35mm film with 36 exposures mean the ‘snapshot’ is now possible.
Royal Scandinavian Connections
The connection with Scandinavia dates from 1875. The Danish princess, Alexandra, Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law and wife of the future Edward VII, presented the regiment with new colours. She designed its cap badge and became the regiment’s first Colonel-in-Chief in 1914.
Following the German invasion of Norway in 1940, Alexandra’s son-in-law, King Haakon VII of Norway, remained with his government and forces until the last Allied troops withdrew from the country.
The Norwegian Royal family sought refuge in the UK during the war, and in 1942 Haakon became the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief; a ceremonial role with a focus on taking an active interest in the regiment and the well-being of its soldiers.
“That a battalion of the regiment also took part in fighting in Norway only adds to my pleasure of being personally connected with the regiment hereafter.” King Haakon VII.
Haakon’s son, King Olav V, who officially opened the museum in 1973, and then his grandson, King Harald V were also Colonel in Chief of The Green Howards.
There are several medals relating to the Norwegian campaign in the museum’s Medal Room.
Sergeant Major FM Roche repeatedly advanced from his post during the Battle of Otta, driving the enemy back with grenades. He was awarded the Military Medal. The bar that you can see on the medal ribbon on the left, shows that Sergeant Major Roche was awarded another Military Medal. This time it was for an attack he made on the enemy in 1944 in Italy.
The Norwegian Cross was awarded to Captain Bulfin for his actions on the 26th April 1940. ‘B’ Company under Captain Bulfin was sent to give to support the York and Lancasters.
Bulfin was wary of what was happening on his flank, and sent a recce mission to ascertain what was going on. Covering the withdrawal of the York and Lancasters, Bulfin was informed that the suspension bridge over the river at Sjoa would be blown at 1am.
Orders were changed and Bulfin’s ‘B’ Company was tasked with covering the withdrawal of forces at Sjoa. For successfully managing this, Bulfin was awarded the Norwegian Cross. During the withdrawal Bulfin also managed to rescue Captain Scrope and Lieutenant Bade who had fallen into the frozen river.
Regimental Sergeant Major C Peacock received the Norwegian Cross with Sword, the highest ranking Norwegian gallantry decoration, for his actions during the Battle of Otta.
He supported his men under heavy fire, setting a fine example of coolness and courage.
Thanks for visiting our online exhibition. Why not test your knowledge of the events of the spring of 1940 by having a go at our Norway quiz.
If you enjoyed finding out about the 80th anniversary of this campaign, please consider making a donation. It will help us when we reopen, and is much appreciated. DONATE NOW.
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