Yesterday Tomorrow

April 8th, 1940 (MONDAY)


NORWAY: Early this morning the light cruiser Karlsruhe, the auxiliary Tsingtao and ten torpedo boats leave Germany for Kristiansund, and four mine sweepers head for Egersund, a terminal of the telephone and telegraph cable from England. Twenty eight submarines of the Kriegsmarine form a protective screen across the western approaches to Norway.

     During Operation WILFRED, Royal Navy destroyers lay a minefield, simulated and real, at three points off the Norwegian coast between Stadtlandet and Bodø located just north of the Arctic Circle.
The Norwegian government is notified by the British and French that mines have been laid in their territorial waters. The destroyers are covered by battlecruiser HMS Renown and other destroyers. One of the screen HMS Glowworm, a 'G' and 'H' class destroyer, is detached to search for a man overboard, just as the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper heads into Trondheim. They meet to the northwest of the port and the destroyer is sunk at around 0900 hours about 140 miles (225 kilometres) northwest of Trondheim, but not before she rams and damages the Hipper.
Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope RN (b. 1905) is posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC not gazetted until 1945, but the first deed for which the VC was awarded in the war). The Admiral Hipper picks up the survivors. At 1150 hours, the German transport SS Rio de Janeiro is sunk by the Polish submarine Orzel near the town of Lillesand and many German soldiers are rescued by Norwegian fishing boats. There is heavy loss of life, but Wehrmacht soldiers in full combat dress who reach shore in southern Norway, tell the Norwegians that they were on their way to Bergen to aid the Norwegians against the British. When the report of this sinking reaches Berlin, the naval staff assumed that the element of surprise had been lost and that the invasion fleet would now be meeting resistance at all points along the Norwegian coast, but within a few hours the German naval attaché in Oslo advises Berlin that there were reliable signs that the Norwegian Administration had not been alerted, and that the navy were showing no signs of expected imminent danger. Despite these and other indications, the Norwegian authorities only alert the coastal forces in the evening. The chief communication officer of the Norwegian Admiralty staff is spending the evening with other important guests at the home of the German Air attaché in Oslo, and is not called away until 2330 hours, and it is 0100 hours the following morning (9 April) before the Admiralty orders the activation of mines in the Oslo Fjord, but too late, as German ships had already entered the fjord. Also shortly after 0100 hours on 9 April, the Army Chief of Staff informs Lieutenant Colonel Nielsen, Chief of the General Staff Army Operations section, that fortresses at the mouth of the Oslo Fjord have been attacked, and to black out the city as a precaution; the lights go out in Oslo at 0158 hours on 9 April.   (Alex Gordon and Jack McKillop)
     The British naval forces at sea are of course alerted, but are not kept up to date with all the information available to London and are, therefore, deployed too far out to sea to hope for interceptions of a landing force. Instead they guard against a raid out toward the Atlantic thus missing a chance to stop the German invasion of Norway.

Oslo and Copenhagen: 23:00 hours. Himer and Pohlman brief their respective Ambassadors on the forthcoming invasions.

The startling events in Norway, for all intents, found the Royal Navy's Air Branch about as ill-placed as possible. The loss of HMS Courageous in September 1939 had left the Navy with six flight decks in commission. HMS Argus, the oldest and least serviceable, was operating out of Toulon, France as the Fleet's Deck Landing Training carrier. HMS Hermes, the next smallest in size and effectiveness, was stationed at Freetown to cover the South Atlantic trade routes. HMS Eagle was in dry-dock at Singapore undergoing an extensive refit to repair the damage sustained from an accidental explosion in her bomb ready room. HMS Furious, the oldest of the Fleet's fast carriers, having just completed a long refit at Devonport, was due to re-enter service momentarily. The Fleet's remaining two fast carriers had both just arrived at the new home of the Mediterranean Fleet, Alexandria, Egypt, intending to begin an extensive work-up period with their Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance (TSR) squadrons. Finally, a seventh carrier, the first of the Fleet's new armoured carriers, HMS Illustrious, was fitting out at Devonport, scheduled to commission in late May. Thus, with the Fleet about to embark on the first naval campaign of the war, there was only one carrier, the navy's oldest, in home waters!

When it came to its aircraft, the Fleet was only a little better off. Despite steady expansion since September 1939, the Fleet Air Arm consisted of but twenty first-line squadrons: There were fourteen Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance squadrons, thirteen (810, 812, 813, 814, 815, 816, 818, 819, 820, 821, 823, 824, and 825) each operating nine to twelve Fairey Swordfish and one (826) that had just received the first batch of the Fairey company's new Albacore, the Swordfish's planned replacement. The remaining six were fighter squadrons: four (800, 801, 803, and 806) operating a combination of Blackburn Skua II fighter-dive bombers and Blackburn Roc turret-fighters, and two (802 and 804) operating Gloster Sea Gladiator biplane fighters.

As fortune would have it, while nine of the TSR and one of the fighter squadrons were embarked on the overseas carriers, the remainder were actually in the UK, although all were not fully worked up. Both 816 and 818 Squadrons were at RNAS Campbeltown (near Greenock) with nine Swordfish TSRs each, ready to embark on HMS Furious when her refit was completed. 815 (Bircham Newton) and 819 Squadrons (Ford) were working up with the RAF's Coastal Command for ultimate deployment on HMS Illustrious. Finally, 826 was just beginning its working up Ford.

Three of the Fleet's fighter squadrons, 800 (six Skua IIs, three Rocs), 803 (nine Skua IIs, three Rocs), and 804 (twelve Sea Gladiators) had for some time been concentrated at RNAS Hatston (in the Orkney's) defending the Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow. 801 Squadron (six Skua IIs, three Rocs), earmarked for HMS Furious, was at Evanton (Scotland) working up, while 806 Squadron (eight Skua IIs, four Rocs) was doing likewise at West Freugh in preparation for joining HMS Illustrious.

Unfortunately, the lack of available flight decks would, at least initially, limit these squadrons to operating from land bases. Tactically, this was a severe limitation as, other than the Skua fighter-dive bombers, none of the Fleet's combat aircraft had the range to reach Norway from any base in the UK. Further, while the Skuas could reach the Norwegian coast in the Bergen area, it was at the extreme limit of their range, leaving only a miniscule fuel reserve to get home on after any strike. Thus, the Fleet's ability to challenge the Luftwaffe over Norway would be greatly inhibited during the critical early phases of the invasion. (Mark Horan)

UNITED KINGDOM:  The troops embarking at Rosyth, Scotland, for the Anglo-French expedition to Narvik, Norway, are sent back onshore and their cruiser transports sail. In fact these troops could easily have reached their objectives before the German landings, or at least have been on hand for an attempt on Narvik early in the campaign.  

GERMANY: Below the Danish border Lieutenant General Leonhard Kaupisch, Commanding the XXXI Corps, musters his troop and a collection of armed icebreakers, minesweepers, merchant ships and prepares to invade Denmark tomorrow.

First operational sortie of the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 'Kondor', when aircraft of KGrzbV 105 serve as both transports and maritime reconnaissance.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA: RN carriers Ark Royal and Glorious arrive in the Eastern Mediterranean.

U.S.A.: Preliminary design studies for a very long range bomber are submitted by Boeing, Lockheed, Douglas and Consolidated.


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