Sources on Narvik 1940

Discussion in 'Scandinavia and Finland' started by jwsleser, Mar 7, 2024.

  1. jwsleser

    jwsleser Well-Known Member

    Given there is a 1940 section and this section, I pondered for a bit of of time on the best place to post this query.

    I am interested in book/source recommendations for the battles in and around Narvik in 1940. What I am looking for is platoon/company level descriptions of the fighting. I have that level of data on the Norwegian Army, so looking for German, French, Polish, and UK.

    I have been eyeing:

    McGilvray’s Narvik and the Allies.
    I can handle German and French titles, but must have a lot of detail to make it worthwhile to translate.

    I have many of the usual suspects:

    Derry’s The Campaign in Norway
    Buchner’s Narvik
    The Haarr books
    Lunde’s Hitler’s Pre-emptive War
    Golla’s The German Fallschirmtruppe

    From the reviews, I don’t believe Cherry’s Doomed Before the Start is what I am looking for. I am not looking for any naval titles as that part of the campaign has been very well covered. Looking for detailed accounts of the ground fighting. Archival leads are most welcome.

    Thank you for any assistance.

    v/r Jeff
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  2. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Mist over Dartmoor

    Last edited: Mar 7, 2024
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  3. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Published in both French and English in 1941/1942.

    For me, the French account, by one who served there.

    Kind regards, always,



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  4. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Mist over Dartmoor

  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

  6. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    A bit of Background:

    In Europe the winter 1939/40 was the coldest in living memory. The Finns were fighting for their lives against Russia in the Winter War, with little more than their famed 'Sisu'[iii] to keep them going.[iv] By February the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland were covered with fast ice and most of the Baltic Sea was encumbered with pack ice. The British and French busied themselves with thinking up unrealistic schemes: to 'deny the Germans possession of the Baltic' and 'to send a relief force to assist the Finns.' There has been speculation since that the real intention was for most of the force supposedly destined for Finland to remain in the Narvik area of neutral Norway, from where Swedish iron ore was shipped. This 'ill conceived'[v] operation was what they settled on and, with a Polish contingent, the British and French landed at several points in Norway.

    On 9 April German troops captured the British cargo ships Blythmoor, Mersington Court, North Cornwall, Riverton and Romanby, which were waiting to load iron ore at Narvik. The Romanby was alongside the jetty at Narvik and was destroyed when the jetty was blown up; her crew of thirty eight were interned in Sweden. The light cruiser Effingham sank the Riverton when she was moored at an outlying pier, her crew of thirty three were also interned in Sweden. The next day RN destroyers sank the Blythmoor, and on the following day they sank eight German cargo ships that were waiting off the port.

    Captain John Pinkney of the Fylingdale, a small tramp owned by Headlams, was made Commodore of the convoy HN 25. Fylingdale and thirty nine ships were ordered by the Admiralty to proceed to sea, without an escort, on 9 April. The Master showed 'great enterprise, determination and skill in guiding the convoy safely through Norwegian waters' to meet the escorts; all arrived safely in the UK on 12 April. Captain Pinkney was made an OBE.[vi]

    On 11 April the first expeditionary force sailed from Scotland in the liners Batory (Polish), Chrobry (Polish), Empress of Australia, Monarch of Bermuda and Reina del Pacifico, with twenty two warship escorts. Admiral Layton, the naval commander, decided that it was too risky to take his destroyers into Namsos to effect the landing, so he decided to send the troops and supplies in on the Chrobry. Many of the soldiers were aboard the Empress of Australia and much time was wasted transferring. The Chrobry, accompanied by HMS Vanoc, got into Namsos just before sunrise on 17 April. In the hurry to get away before the German bombers arrived the soldiers landed without much of their kit, but they were dispersed before a reconnaissance aircraft arrived. The liner ORION sailed alone to Norway on 14 April. On 17 April the unescorted convoy NSM 1 sailed from Scapa Flow with the cargo ships Balham, Blackheath, Charlbury, Inverarder, Lochee, Lombardy and MacGregor Laird.

    Captain William Reid, the Master of the Watts Watts ship Blackheath, was made an OBE, for showing “courage, resource and fine seamanship in operations on the Norwegian coast, when the Blackheath was employed as a stores carrier for the military force operating from Namsos.” Nothing more is said about the nature of the services. Blackheath had arrived at Harstad on 3 June, in convoy and continued to discharge alongside while under attack.

    Another Master who was similarly honoured was Captain Francis Butcher of the Balteako, a short sea trade ship owned by the United Baltic Corporation. At the same time Mr Robert Towns, her Chief Engineer, was commended. Balteako had carried Admiralty stores to Harstad and while discharging she was frequently bombed. Her superstructure amidships was damaged and distorted and she was holed near the waterline in thirty six places. The Master beached her and the Chief Engineer plugged the holes. The ship was lying at a steep angle, so she was moved to a more level beach and more lasting repairs were made. The Master and Chief Engineer saved the ship and, with the assistance of HM trawlers, she was re-floated and brought safe home. In the same action, John Smith, Assistant Steward, Balteako was awarded the British Empire Medal. He and a naval rating tried to save the injured bowman of HMS Delight’s motor-boat, which was alongside Balteako drawing provisions. With the raid in progress they reached the motorboat before their own skiff sank, but the man they were trying to help was dead.

    The small packet ships St Sunniva and St Magnus left Aberdeen at 0430/19, escorted by destroyers Hesperus and Jackal, who had sailed from Scapa Flow at 1400/18. They were joined at sea by the Cedarbank, escorted by the destroyer Javelin, which left Scapa Flow at 1100/19. At the same time, Hesperus was detached and returned to Scapa Flow. At 0427 on 21 April, Jackal attacked a submarine contact. Before Cedarbank could unload her cargo of anti-aircraft guns, artillery, mortars, transport and Bren carriers, she was sunk by U26 in 62°49'N, 04°10'E. Fourteen of her crew and one gunner were lost. The escorting destroyers Jackal and Javelin were unable to inflict damage on U26, which was returning from delivering supplies to Trondheim. St Magnus and St Sunniva arrived at Aandalsnes safely that evening with their 600 troops.[vii] The Javelin escorting St Magnus, and carrying the survivors from the Cedarbank, arrived at Kirkwall from Aalesund at 2230/23.

    On 26 April the troopship Franconia, sailing from Narvik to the Clyde without an escort, was attacked by a German submarine at 0105. The Destroyers Janus and Antelope were sent to assist. When it was found that Franconia had escaped damage the destroyers were recalled to Scapa Flow. It was not until 29 April, two weeks after the troops' arrival that there were the first signs of a thaw. On that day the Empire Ability discharged the Assault Landing Craft and Motor Landing Craft that she carried. When the Mashobra arrived on 10 May her boats were to be used, but these were reported to be unfit. This was excusable seeing the hard work the Mashobra had recently carried out. She had only been commissioned as a 'Fleet Air Arm depot ship' on 4 May.

    On I3 May the Irish Guards embarked in the Polish Chrobry which had brought three army tanks from England for the Bodo Force. On 14/15 May, while on passage, with Stork and Wolverine as escort, the Chrobry was bombed and set on fire. Four senior Army officers were killed; thirteen of her crew lost their lives, of whom three were British. The troops were brought back to Harstad, but their equipment was lost.

    On the night of 24/25 May orders were received for the evacuation of Northern Norway. As a result 'a number of large liners were despatched from the United Kingdom, together with three store ships and one horse ship.'(!) In Harstad troops were moved by the destroyers, whilst at Skaanland, Narvik and Sorreisa embarkation was by means of puffers[viii] to destroyers lying off. The destroyers then went about 70 miles to load the liners, which anchored in the Fjords.

    On 29 May the Mashobra had to be beached as the result of bombing attacks, becoming a total loss. The Oleander was sunk and the disabled trawlers destroyed, the smaller landing craft were scuttled.

    The convoys assembled during the night of the 7/8 June. The Monarch of Bermuda, Batory, Sobieski, Franconia, Lancastria and Georgic were with Vindictive. The Oronsay, Ormonde, Arandora Star,[ix] Royal Ulsterman, Ulster Prince, Ulster Monarch and Duchess of York, were escorted by cruisers Coventry and Southampton, plus the destroyers Beagle, Delight, Fame, Firedrake and Havelock. The destroyers Firedrake, Fame, Beagle and Walker sustained minor damage from near misses of air bombing on the 12 June. The Boarding Vessel Vandyck should have been with this group, but she arrived after it had left and was sunk by bombing off Andenes. Temporary Lt Cdr (E) E Watson RNR; Refrigerating Engineer D Elias and five ratings were lost. The rest of the crew of 152 were able to row ashore and were taken prisoner, four died during their imprisonment.

    A convoy departed Tromso at 1700/7 June with British tankers Oil Pioneer and Yewmount and the small ammunition ships Arbroath and Ngakoa, together with ‘some Norwegian vessels.’ They were escorted by anti-submarine trawler Juniper. Naval whalers met the Yewmount, Arbroath and Ngakoa later on the 7 June and towed the Ngakoa (a British flagged Schuyt) to Scapa Flow. A slow convoy of eight British and five French merchant ships left Harstad at 2200 on 7 June. They were the British Acrity, Blackheath, Conch, Coxwold, Cromarty Firth, Harmattan, Oligarch and Theseus, and the French Alberte Leborgne, Enseigne Maurice Préchac, Paul-Emile Javary, Saint Clair and Vulcain. The convoy was escorted by the anti-submarine trawlers St Cathan and Loch Monteith, which were joined by the destroyer Arrow, the sloop Stork and the trawlers Eldorado, Newhaven, Shandwick, Strathderry, and Strathdevon.

    The convoy "Greek," consisting of British steamers Heron, Marina, Balteako and French steamers Enseigne Maurice Préchac, (see above), Vulcain, Paul-Emile Javary, escorted by the anti-submarine trawlers St Elstan and Wastwater, left Harstad on 5 June. The Vulcain arrived at Scapa Flow at 2220/7; the Paul-Emile Javary also arrived on that day. The rest of the convoy arrived safely at Scapa Flow at 1740/10. With them were the Marina and the Dallington Court.

    On 8 June the British tanker Oil Pioneer and escorting trawler Juniper were attacked and sunk off Jan Mayan Island by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and the four destroyers of the JUNO Operation. The Master and nineteen crew of the tanker were lost. Twenty five survivors and four from Juniper were picked up by the German ships. Also on 8 June the unescorted troopship Orama (Orient Line) was sunk by the Admiral Hipper, the Hans Lody and the destroyer Karl Galster. Her companion, the hospital ship Atlantis, was not molested. The troop ship had been bound from Scapa to Narvik; twenty of her 297 men and two gunners were killed and all but two of the crew of the trawler were lost.

    On 8 June General Dietl retook Narvik and on 10 June the last Norwegian forces in Norway surrendered. The French Béthouart Division, were brought back to Scotland, from where they returned to France in two convoys that sailed from Greenock on the 13 June and arrived off Brest on 14 June. By this time troops were being evacuated from France in Operation AERIAL. 450 men of the Lovat Scouts were landed on the Faroe Islands on 25 May 1940, by the Ulster Prince. This ship was later wrecked off Nauplia, Greece, while evacuating troops and destroyed by Stuka dive bombers on 25 April 1941.[x]

    While British, French and Polish troops were unsuccessfully trying to prevent the German occupation of Narvik, the Germans were overrunning the neutral Low Countries in what they called Blitzkrieg, lightening war.

    Ships that traded to non- Empire ports

    [ii] See Chapter First Low Water

    [iii] That quality of inner strength and determination that keeps Finns going long after others have given up.

    [iv] "Northern Europe …fell prey to Arctic conditions." Also see James Aldridge’s report in NYT, the 25 December 1939; Naval War Changes Climate by Arnd Bernaerts;

    [v] The Real Cruel Sea - Richard Woodman and Poland in Exile - Norwegian Campaign

    [vi] London Gazette Issue 38011 published on the 8 July 1947

    [vii] Norwegian Campaign, April 1940

    [viii] A small steam coaster with a single hold – and no additional accommodation (smaller than a Schuyt)

    [ix] “About June 4th she entered the fjord with other ships and embarked about 1,600 officers and men of the Royal Air Force and some French and Polish troops. In all some 25,000 men were embarked in various ships and brought back to the United Kingdom under the escort... “ Arandora Star

    [x] Source Hugh MacLean
  7. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    There are good narratives in both the Irish and Scots Guards regimental histories. Both recommended for your bookshelf!


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  8. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

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  9. S Hayward

    S Hayward Well-Known Member

    Hi Tom,

    Do you know if these cover the Mo I Rana bridge and subsequent retreat over the mountain by Major Elwes's company in much detail?

    I've been on the trail of a more detailed account of this story for a while and was considering emailing the association. Unfortunately, everything I have found in other accounts is rather brief. In particular I am interested in understanding how Elwes and the Norwegian (actually Swedish) first met.

    Best Regards,
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  10. jwsleser

    jwsleser Well-Known Member

    Thank you for the recommendations.

    Uncle Target. Yes, searching WW2 is a good idea. I did some preliminary searching over the past few days, but the Google search gave me a few more places to look. As for the fallschirmjäger book, I will to consider it. Golla is very light on the Narvik campaign (in fact, pretty no discussion at all), so this might fill the bill.

    Jim, I had been looking at that title for the past few weeks. I was unsure how much tactical detail Lapie provides in his narrative. I am hoping to find detailed (at a minimum) company movements and actions. Does Lapie provide that level of information?

    davidbfpo, Kiszely appears to be a bit at a higher level than what I am looking for. I really am looking for accounts that are in the snow and tactical detail.

    Tom, I have considered the regimental histories. I wasn't sure how much tactical detail they contain. I need to shop around for some inexpensive copies.

    Reading the Norwegian accounts has been an eye-opener in some areas of the campaign. Sources that discuss the interactions between the battalion and below commanders is something I really wish to dig into.

    I am still open to any more recommendations.

    Pista! Jeff
  11. jwsleser

    jwsleser Well-Known Member

    Orwell, yes I have looked at the museum webpage. I will be in Narvik this upcoming July. I convinced my Lady we need to spend two nights in the city (this is part of a longer Scandinavian rail journey).

    SH. let me look in the Norwegian officials.

    Pista! Jeff
  12. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    There is a paragraph that I think relates to this incident (B Coy?) on p. 42 of the Scots Gds history. There are a couple of short quotes from an eyewitness (part of a longer account?) so I definitely think its worth checking the Scots Gds association (or Regt HQ?) to see whether they hold more on that. It says that Captain Count Erik Lewenhaupt was a Swedish officer attached to the Battalion at Dalsklubben.


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  13. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    National Archives UK

    Search for "WO373 Norway" then on the results page search for "Location: Norway"

    Then fill your boots with award recommendations. This will give you a good overview of fighting, and then pull the war diaries.

    All the best

    Andreas Screenshot 2024-03-08 at 9.30.52 PM.jpg
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  14. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    I think you would not be disappointed in Lapie's narrative Jeff. It is very much a personal (his) perspective of the 13 DBLE at Narvik, with what might be described as overarching stuff in the minority. Whether it will have the detail you are looking/hoping for may though be a moot point. It is very much written as seen through Lapie's eyes, an officers eyes, in language, vernacular even, very much of the time.

    If you can find an inexpensive edition, in english or french, I would say go for it. There are few accounts from the French perspective, from the time, to compare.

    And, if it should disappoint, I think you may struggle to find a French account any closer to the ground.

    Good luck with all.

    Kind regards, always,

  15. S Hayward

    S Hayward Well-Known Member

    Hi Tom

    Yes that corresponds with the sources I have. That longer account (assuming it exists) would be extremely useful! (I think I will be emailing the association!) I also didn’t realise the exact location was Dalsklubben. Thank you!

    You are also right as far as I know it was B company I have 2 other sources that suggest this, and according to both he won the MC for it. I believe I have the correct MC number however correct me if I’m wrong but foreign MC nominations and citations were not published in the same way as others? and therefore I have been unable to verify this with the National Archives.

    For anyone unaware this event is also where
    Sir Basil Eugster gained his first MC (557).

    I had also wondered if another Swede (actually a Norwegian) Nils Berdahl / Berger Sjoberg may have been present, potentially under an alias (if so probably another name corresponding to another well known poet or author). He ended up in Narvik at around the same time and knew the count fairly well by the time they were back in the UK.

    One of the odd gaps is prior to attachment to B company the last known whereabouts of the count were about a month earlier and not far from Elverum. (In the south).

    I am also very interested in how the whole incident debriefing went and who was present, although I suspect records of that were either lost or not made given the situation in Norway at the time.

    Best Regards,
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2024
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  16. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    There's a signaller who the MM at Dalsklubben, and a Norwegian.

    Screenshot 2024-03-09 at 8.18.39 AM.jpg

    Probably more decorations if you were to trawl WO373 systematically.

    All the best

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  17. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Here you go Jeff. English language pdf attached below. Hope it reaches you before you've already ordered a hard copy (which you can still do after, if you like the book!)
    Unfortunately this pdf version does not do the photographs, or the couple of maps, justice.

    Kind regards, always,


    Attached Files:

  18. jwsleser

    jwsleser Well-Known Member


    How generous. Thank you. I gave it a quick look through. I found a decent copy for sale so might spring for it.


    Sjöberg is mentioned in the account I translated on Mo, but no other information. Swedish kaptein Levenhaupt is also mentioned as well. Levenhaupt is also mentioned as helping B Coy in Lunde's Hitler's Pre-Emptive War, p.441.

    Pista! Jeff
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  19. S Hayward

    S Hayward Well-Known Member

    The translated account is fantastic! (Linked below for me and others future reference)
    The Fighting at Mo 17-20 May 1940
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  20. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have read a number of articles by David Katz, a South African, so often I have the free version of and today it offered an entire book 'Contested Shores: The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare', from Marine Corps University Press; with a chapter on polar region operations, the first half is about German mountain troops @ Narvik.

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