Archives For Scandinavia

blucher

Sailing on the Oslo Fjord
CC Image Courtesy of Zen Whisk on Flickr

Operation Weserubung, the Nazi invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940, involved multiple aerial and naval thrusts up and down the Norwegian coastline. From Oslo in the south to Narvik in the north, German paratroopers and naval task forces worked in concert to establish footholds in Norway’s strategic centers. Kriegsmarine Group 5 was tasked with sailing through the Oslo Fjord to the Norwegian capital of Oslo where it was to secure the seat of government along with the Norwegian royal family.

The flagship of the naval task force was the newly completed heavy cruiser Blucher which also had embarked 1,500 assault troops for the capture of the capital. As the ships sailed through the narrow confines of the Oslo Fjord, alert Norwegian patrol vessels sounded the alarm and gave troops in the Oscarsborg Fortress precious minutes to prepare their defenses. In a double irony, the two 11-inch guns in the Norwegian fortress were named after Jewish heroes Joshua and Moses and had been built by Krupps in Germany in the late 1890s. Although each gun only fired a single shell, both struck home and inflicted enormous damage on the Blucher. As the cruiser labored further up the fjord, a shore based torpedo battery engaged the ship and struck home with two antique torpedoes.

The ship capsized and whisked nearly 1,000 sailors and soldiers to the bottom of Drobak Sound. With the loss of Blucher, the German task force withdrew and the capture of Oslo was left to Nazi airborne troops. Additionally, the sinking allowed the Norwegian royal family and other key members of the government to escape Oslo and organize resistance in other parts of the country and abroad. For the Kriegsmarine, Blucher would not be the only capital ship lost in Norwegian fjords during the war as Tirpitz would later succumb to Royal Air Force and Navy attacks.

Finland Shipwreck Champagne
CC Image courtesy of David Parsons on Flickr

UPDATE 3/27/14 The Aland regional government has been reprimanded by the Deputy Chancellor of Justice for the sale of champagne in 2011 and 2012. The sale occurred before the government received a permit from the National Board of Antiquities. Although the permit had been applied for, it had not yet been granted. Additionally, the export licenses required for the sale are governed by the very authorities who conducted the sale and pocketed the proceeds. The Deputy Chancellor of Justice is alleging this dual role violates both national and EU law on the export of cultural artifacts.

ORIGINAL POST 9/5/12

According to the German publication Deutsche Welle, another 8 bottles from a 168 bottle collection of champagne are set to go under the auctioneers hammer. The champagne was discovered two years ago by diver and (ironically enough) brewery owner Christian Ekström. Ekström was exploring a wrecked schooner off the coast of the Åland Islands when he came upon the bottles at the site. Researchers believe the schooner sank in the 1840s making Ekström’s find the oldest champagne ever found. Now, two years after the discovery, 10 of the bottles have been sold at auction with one, a Veuve Clicquot, selling for a record breaking $26,700. Authorities on the Åland Islands plan to hold auctions of the champagne over the next few years as a method of bringing tourists to the area.

Ekström’s find isn’t the first fermented treasure trove found in the Baltic as there have been both beer and other champagne caches discovered in recent years. The discovery and re-creation of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s whiskey, though, is still perhap the most noteworthy alcoholic find of the past few years.

Norwegian company NorSafe test drops a lifeboat from record-breaking 220 feet. More info here.

Danish Defiance

August 29, 2013 — Leave a comment
Danish Navy

Peder Skram Scuttled in the Royal Dockyard
Photo: Royal Danish Naval Museum

Following the Nazi invasion in April 1940, Denmark entered an uneasy period of occupation by their Nazi overlords. Because of their ethnic heritage as a Nordic/Scandinavian people, the Danes were generally treated better than other occupied peoples, however, King Christian X famously rode his horse through Copenhagen on a daily basis as a symbol of silent resistance. Among the institutions left to function with only a modicum of Nazi intervention was the Danish Navy which performed minor minesweeping duties off the nation’s islands to prevent the sinking of coastal ferries.

As the war progressed and it became clearer that the Nazis would soon confiscate their warships, the naval high command devised a plan to deprive the Nazis of the entire Danish Navy. The Danish Navy had once been among the most powerful in the world and it wasn’t until Admiral Nelson’s successful attacks on Copenhagen that it was reduced to a minor fleet. By August 1943 it consisted of two coastal defense ships, ten torpedo boats, seven minelayers, a dozen submarines, five ocean patrol vessels, seventeen minesweepers and a handful of auxiliary vessels. The Nazis decided to take over the Danish Army and Navy on August 29, 1943, however, the officers of the Danish Navy were determined not to let even their meager force fall into enemy hands. As the Nazi forces approached the Royal Dockyard in Copenhagen early on the morning of the 29th, a pre-arranged signal was hoisted which instructed each of the vessel’s commanders to scuttle their ships.

Within 30 minutes, 32 of the Danish Navy’s vessels lay at the bottom of Copenhagen harbor and another four were on their way to internment in neutral Sweden. Out of 52 vessels, the Nazis were only able to seize 14 untouched. Nine Danish sailors perished in the scuttling, another ten were wounded and a significant portion of the Danish Navy’s personnel were interned by the Nazis. While it may not have deprived the Kriegsmarine of any significant warships, the defiance exhibited by the Danish Navy strengthened the morale of the Danish Resistance and told the world that the Danes would not go quietly into the night.

fish wrap

The Hunt for Hitler's Warship

Regnery History, a relatively new imprint of Regnery Publishing, has brought readers yet another fantastic offering in Patrick Bishop’s The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship. Previous books from Regnery History reviewed here include Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron and Fatal Dive. Over the span of ~400 pages, Bishop familiarizes readers with the epic saga of the Nazi battleship Tirpitz from her gestation in Wilhelmshaven to her cataclysmic death at the hands of British bombers in November 1944.

Bishop brings to life the tireless efforts of the Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Air Force and Norwegian Resistance to reduce Nazi Germany’s last remaining battleship Tirpitz to a worthless heap of scrap iron. The reader is also introduced to life aboard the Tirpitz through Bishop’s interviews with surviving crew and archival research. This aspect helps round out the work and present readers with a better understanding of both the dread struck in British military planners’ minds by the Tirpitz as well as the fear and trepidation experienced within the ranks of the Kriegsmarine at the prospect of the loss of the Tirpitz in a surface action.  Unlike Hunting Tirpitz, which I reviewed earlier last year and is essentially a compendium of after-action reports by the British Admiralty, The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship, is an engaging work designed to bring the story of the sacrifices of British and Norwegian sailors and airmen to life for modern audiences.

norway naval battle

Wreck of German Destroyer in Narvik Fjord
CC Image Courtesy of Eugene van Grinsven on Flickr

On the morning of April 9, 1940, the quiet tranquillity of Narvik Fjord was shattered by the arrival of a flotilla of 10 Kriegsmarine destroyers with orders to capture the strategically significant port of Narvik. Despite only possessing the two obsolete coastal defence ships HNoMS Norge and HNoMS Eidsvold, Norwegian naval commander Odd Isaachsen Willoch refused to surrender and the fjord soon echoed with the sound of screaming shells and whooshing torpedoes. Unfortunately for the Norwegians, their outclassed ships were sunk in a battle lasting a mere 20 minutes with the loss of more than 300 sailors. The victorious Kriegsmarine force quickly took possession of the port and the multitude of ships riding at anchor in the harbor.

The next day, though, saw the arrival of a flotilla of Royal Navy destroyers. Among the flotilla was HMS Hotspur which unfortunately was not captained by Commander Hornblower. Engaging the German force, the Royal Navy’s destroyers acquitted themselves well trading the loss of 2 destroyers and 1 heavily damaged for 2 German destroyers sunk, 4 damaged and 7 cargo vessels destroyed. Three days following this engagement, a Royal Navy task force consisting of the battleship HMS Warspite, 9 destroyers and aircraft from HMS Furious unleashed their fury on the remaining German destroyers. Running low on fuel and ammunition, the German flotilla was at the mercy of the British task force and all 8 destroyers along with 2 u-boats were sent to the bottom of Narvik Fjord. Despite their overwhelming victory, the Allies were unable to follow up for lack of ground forces and Narvik remained in German hands.

battle of narvik

Battle of Narvik
CC Image Courtesy of Arkiv i Nordland on Flickr

The Hunt for U-864

February 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

As hope for victory faded with each passing day, the Japanese and Nazis increasingly turned to miracle weapons to deliver them from Allied domination. As a result, in the waning months of World War II, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan began to increase their technical cooperation. Due to logistical issues, much of this cooperation flowed through transfers by submarine of engineers, blueprints and specialized material and parts between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

In early December 1944, Korvettenkapitan Marko Ramius Ralf-Reimar Wolfram and U-864 was ordered to proceed to Japan with a secret cargo of 74 tons of mercury, aircraft blueprints and two engineers. Soon after departing Germany, the U-864 developed engine troubles and Wolfram ordered the ship to put in to Bergen, Norway for repairs. After repairs were completed, the U-864 left Bergen for Japan in early February 1945. Thanks to the dedicated codebreakers of Bletchley Park, the Royal Navy was aware of U-864’s presence in the area and vectored HMS Venturer, a V-class submarine, to intercept U-864.

After arriving on scene, Venturer, commanded by Lt. James Launders with the assistance of Jack Ryan, began its hunt for Red October the U-864 and on February 9 located what it believed to be the sub. Lt. Launders was no stranger to hunting Nazi submarines, as he had previously been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for sinking the surfaced U-771 off the Norwegian coast. Carefully stalking his prey, Lt. Launders waited for the U-864 to surface as a submerged submarine had never been sunk by another submerged submarine. U-864 had been equipped with a snorkel, though, which enabled it to operate underwater for prolonged periods and thus Lt. Launders was faced with a difficult decision – surface to re-charge his batteries and risk discovery by the Nazis or attack the U-864 while submerged. Lt. Launders chose to attack the U-864 and after developing a firing solution, unleashed a spread of four torpedoes. U-864 successfully evaded three of the four torpedoes, but the fourth struck the sub amidships and split the sub in two, instantly killing all 73 of her crew.

Lt. Launders was awarded a bar to his DSO and his action remains the only instance of a submerged submarine successfully killing another submerged submarine. The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy and lies in 492 feet of water. The wreck’s 74 tons of mercury makes the site an environmental hazard as approximately 8.8 pounds of mercury leak from the sub every year. In 2008, the Norwegian government awarded a salvage contract for the wreck’s recovery and disposal. The salvage has yet to be completed as the Norwegian government postponed the salvage in 2010 citing technical difficulties.