On April 9th of 1940, Germany invaded Denmark as part of the Operation "Weseruebung" directed towards the invasion of Norway. The invasion of Norway was to secure the supply of raw materials from Scandinavia as well as to provide strategic air and naval bases. The invasion force was composed of air, sea, ground and naval forces. Following heavy fighting (e.g. Narvik) along with the German invasion of the Low Countries and France on May 10th, Allied forces were evacuated in early June. On June 7th, Norwegian King Haakon VII and his government left for England, where government in exile was established.
"(Special Information) In order to counter British preparations to take away the neutrality of Denmark and Norway, German Wehrmacht took over armed defence of both nations." – OKW message from Tuesday, April 9th of 1940.
Panzer Abteilung zur besonderer Vervendung 40
German use of armored fighting vehicles in the Norwegian Campaign is often ignored, since only very limited panzer force was present. In addition, Norway had no tanks or any anti-tank guns as of April of 1940 and only tanks to oppose the German invasion were those of the Allied Force (composed of British, French and Polish units). In preparations for the invasion, panzer unit for special purpose deployment - Panzer Abteilung zur besonderer Vervendung 40 (Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40) was formed in order to support infantry operations in southern Norway. The unit was formed on March 8th of 1940, at the army base at Putloss in Schleswig-Holstein. This battalion size unit was composed of three light companies assigned from 3rd (probably 5th Panzer Regiment), 4th (36th Panzer Regiment) and 5th Panzer Divisions (15th Panzer Regiment). The first company was commanded by Captain von Burstin, second by Captain Toelke and third by Captain Niedreck. Battalion HQ had three PzKpfw I tanks and three Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen I command tanks. Each company had its own company HQ and four platoons. Company HQ had single PzKpfw I, two PzKpfw II tanks and single Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen I command tank. The first, second and third platoon had four PzKpfw I tanks each, while fourth platoon had five PzKpfw II tanks. The majority of PzKpfw I were the model A (Ausf A), while PzKpfw II were mainly the model c (Ausf c not to be confused with Ausf C). The unit saw action in central Norway, in the area of Lake Mjoesa and Randsfjord, supporting infantry. Following the fall of Norway, Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 was stationed at Akershus Fortress in Oslo until it was transferred to Finland in the winter of 1941/42.
Pz. Abt. z. B. v. 40 and Neubaufahrzeuge
On April 9th, first and second companies were sent to Denmark, while third company was sent to Norway aboard ships "Urundi" and "Antaris H". On April 17th, only single Panzerkampfwagen I and Panzerkampfwagen II arrived in Oslo aboard "Urundi". The rest of the company (single Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen I command tank, twelve PzKpfw I and six PzKpfw II tanks) went down with "Antaris H" (and other transports), which was sunk in the North Sea by a British submarine. In order to recompensate for the loss, platoon size unit equipped with three Neubaufahrzeug Panzerkampfwagen VI (Krupp turret) heavy tanks commanded by Lieutenant Hans Horstmann was sent to Norway. This unit was also known as Panzerzug Horstmann or Zug Putloss. It arrived in Oslo on April 19th, where its tanks were displayed for propaganda purposes. The focus was on three Neubaufahrzeug Panzerkampfwagen VI (Krupp turret) heavy tanks, which were to show the Allies that the German Panzertruppe was equipped with heavy tanks. The unit was then assigned to Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 and 196th Infantry Division and on April 20th moved to Hamar.
Two of heavy tanks saw service with Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40, while the third with Gruppe Pellangahr. The Gruppe Pellangahr was composed of elements of Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 and 196th Infantry Division. On April 25th, the one assigned to the Gruppe Pellangahr was immobilized by the British 25mm (French Hotchkiss) anti-tank gun position in the village of Kvam. One of two tanks from Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40, drove and was stuck in the swampy area at Andalsnes and was eventually blown up by the German engineers. It was then replaced on May 16th of 1940, with a mild steel prototype giving the Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 once again the strength of three heavy tanks. Overall, Neubaufahrzeug Panzerkampfwagen VI (Krupp turret) heavy tanks proved to be unsuited for combat but in many cases provided infantry with the only available support.
Armored Fighting Vehicles of Pz. Abt. z. B. v. 40
On April 20th, the first and second company arrived in Oslo. Both companies had thirteen PzKpfw I, seven PzKpfw II tanks and one Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen I command tank each. The third company had also originally 21 light tanks but was reduced to single PzKpfw I and II light tank and three NbFz PzKpfw VI heavy tanks. It was then probably refitted with limited (7 to 10) number of Panzerkampfwagen III (mainly Ausf D and few Ausf F) medium tanks.
As of April 9th, Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 was to have some 69, including:
42 PzKpfw I light tanks (12 lost at sea),
21 PzKpfw II light tanks (6 lost at sea),
6 Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen I command tanks (1 lost at sea).
Out of original 69 tanks only 54 reached Norway, this included (as of April 25th):
29 PzKpfw I light tanks,
18 PzKpfw II light tanks,
4 Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen I command tanks,
3 NbFz PzKpfw VI heavy tanks.
After the arrival of three NbFz PzKpfw VI heavy tanks on April 19th, the strength grew to 53 tanks along with additional 7 to 10 PzKpfw III medium tanks, which probably assigned to the first company. At its peak, Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 had some 60 to 63 tanks. In addition, there were probably also Sd.Kfz.251 armored personnel carriers as part of Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 or 196th Infantry Division. The combat losses were 1 NbFz, 2 PzKpfw II and 8 PzKpfw I tanks.
As stated before, Norway was not seen as the "tank country" and only limited tank force, equipped with either obsolete or pre-production tanks was formed. The opposing tank force was French and consisted of 342nd and 351st Compagnie Autonome de Chars (Independent Tank Company), each equipped with 15 Hotchkiss H-39 light tanks. There is no evidence of combat between German and French tanks, limiting use of German tanks to support the infantry operations, while being supported by the airforce itself. In many cases tanks proved to be very effective providing infantry with support and cover. The experience of using tanks in mountainous and deeply wooded areas proved valuable in Russia and the Balkans, where similar conditions were encountered. After its combat experience in Norway, Pz. Abt. z. b. V. 40 was transferred to Finland in the winter of 1941/42 and was incorporated into 25th Panzer Division in 1943.
Hotchkiss in Norway
French Hotchkiss H-39 light tank on display in Narvik.
Photo by Simon Orchard.
"Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War – Revised Edition" by Peter Chamberlain, Hilary Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz.
"Fall Gelb 1940" by Jacek Solarz.
"German Panzerwaffe 1939-1945" by Dariusz Jedrzejewski and Zbigniew Lalak.
"Leichte Panzers in Action" by Uwe Feist and Mike Dario.
"Neubaufahrzeuge" by Militaria Series.
"Panzerkampfwagen I & II – German light tanks 1935-45" by Eric Grove.
"Panzerkampfwagen III at War" by Michael Jerchel and Waldemar Trojca.