THE SECOND WORLD WAR April 1940

THE SECOND WORLD WAR April 1940

The Katyn Forest, located in the Soviet Union was the scene in April 1940 of the massacre of captured Polish officers and intelligencia by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) – (“People’s Commissariat for the Internal Affairs”). Approximately 22,000 Polish prisoners were murdered and most, but not all, were found buried in mass graves. The massacre was a series of mass executions which took place in several different locations. The NKVD prompted the massacre for which the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was one of those who signed the order. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 the Germans found the mass graves giving them the opportunity for propaganda against the Soviets for the barbaric treatment of the Polish people.
Germany invaded Denmark and Norway on the 9th April 1940 as a preventive measure against a planned British and French occupation of Norway. The German objective was to protect the two countries neutrality. German industry was heavily dependent on the import of iron-ore from the northern Swedish mining district and much of this was shipped through the Norwegian port of Narvik. By having bases in Denmark and Norway, Britain and France would have forced German ore ships to travel through the open waters of the North Sea. The invasion of Denmark lasted less than six hours and the capitulation resulted in a uniquely lenient occupation of Denmark. Norway was also occupied from the 10th April 1940. The Quisling regime which was the puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling until the end of the war. Quisling was the leader of the Norwegian fascist party who declared himself Prime Minister and ordered all resistance halted immediately. Adolf Hitler supported Quisling thereby forcing King Haakon VII and the pre-war government to escape to London.
The First Battle of Narvik was initiated by the British navy who had orders to prevent ten German destroyers landing 2,000 troops at the Port of Narvik in Norway. Narvik was important to the Germans because it was used to ship imported iron-ore to supply Nazi Germany’s industries. Early on the morning of the 10th April 1940 a flotilla of five British destroyers entered the harbour of Narvik under the cover of heavy snow. In the surprise attack they sank two German destroyers and six merchant ships, and damaging another destroyer. However, they had arrived too late to prevent the landing of the German troops. Unbeknown to the British navy, a further five German destroyers were at anchor nearby and these emerged to attack the British flotilla. The Germans were forced to retreat because of fuel shortages and the need to facilitate repairs despite having sunk the British flagship and killing the commander, Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee. The Germans also sank another ship and damaging a further two. A Second Battle for Narvik commenced on the 13th April 1940 when a new British force arrived consisting of a battleship and eight destroyers who opposed eight German destroyers and two U-boats. After the battle the only German survivor was U-boat, U-51, which managed to escape to the open sea.
The British occupation of the Faroe Islands was implemented immediately following the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. On the 12th April 1940 two British destroyers arrived at Torshavn harbour on the Faroe Islands which was an amt (county of Denmark). Following discussions between the Danish Prefect of the Islands and the Faroese Parliament the British terms were accepted regarding the occupation, on the basis that the U.K. would not seek to interfere with the internal affairs of the Islands. The British were in occupation for the duration of the war.
On the 14th April 1940 British troops landed at Namsos and Harstad in Norway as Anglo/French troops prepared to launch an operation against German forces at Trondheim and Narvik. The 15th April 1940 saw the British Guards Brigade landing at Harstad and on the 16th, 17th and 18th April 1940 land at Namsos and Andalsnes respectively. Fighting continued until the 25th April 1940 when the German forces successfully pushed the Allies back and on the 27th April 1940 the Allied forces decided to withdraw from Narvik and Andalsnes. This in effect abandoned the Allied involvement against the Germans at Trondheim. On the 30th April 1940 the Allied evacuation from Andalsnes began.
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