Norway has a grave where it can feed the tiger, but Denmark is so awfully near.(Winston Churchill, February 1940)
The military and political situation.
The Scandinavian countries were of great importance for the German weapon industry. Each year more than 8 million tons of iron ore were shipped to Germany from Norway and Sweden, and the neutrality of Scandinavia was of great importance for Germany. On February 17th 1940 the British destroyer Cossac entered Norwegian waters to board the German supply ship Altmark, which was carrying English prisoners of war.
For Hitler this showed that Norway couldn’t defend it’s neutrality, and on the 21st of February he ordered the XXI Corps under General von Falkenhorst to prepare the campaign against Norway. The operation received the code name "Weserübung" (Weser exercise). The main purpose of occupying Denmark was to secure the lines of communication to Norway during "Weserübung". Particulary the aerodrome at Aalborg was of great importance for the German Luftwaffe because of its limited operational radius. On April 2nd the date of the attack was set to the 9th.
The German preparations hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Danish government, but in fear of provoking Germany and relying on the non-aggression treaty no preparations at all had been taken. No mobilisation had been called and no fortifications had been built.
The Danish force:
In April 1940 the Danish Army totalled about 14.500 soldiers of which 8000 were recruits. They were divided into the Zealand Division and the Jutland Division which totalled 8; infantry, 2 cavalry and 3 artillery regiments. About 2000 men were stationed in southern Jutland.
The Airforce was divided into the Marine Airforce the Army Airforce and an air trainingschool.
Marine Airforce (Søværnets Flyvetropper):
13 Heinkel H.E.8 reconnaissance planes, 2 Hawker Dantorp torpedo planes, 8 Hawker Nimrod fighterbombers, 2 De Havilland Moth (trainers), 2 Avro Tutors (trainers), 1 Dornier DO J/III Wal
Army Airforce (Hærens Flyvetropper):
1st squadron (Sjællanske Flyveafdeling) 13 Gloster Gauntlet fighters
2nd squadron (Jydske Flyverafdeling) 7 Fokker D XXI fighter, 3 Fokker D V M/26 recon planes
3rd Squadron (Sjællanske Flyveafdeling) 9 Fokker C V M/33 recon, 2 I R recon
5th Squadron (Jydske Flyverafdeling) 12 III R recon, 2 I R recon
12 Tiger Moth, 5 Fokker C I, 1 III S
The Danish fleet:
The Danish fleet consisted of 2 coastal defence ships (Niels Juel, Peder Skram), 6 torpedo boats (Laxen, Hvalen, Glenten, Høgen, Dragen, Hoegen), 7 submarines, 3 mine layers, 9 mine sweepers and 4 inspection ships. All except the submarines were rather old.
The defence of the coast was under the command of the Danish Navy and was composed of 8 fortresses and about 100 guns.
The German plan and force:
The occupation of Denmark had been put into the hands of the XXI corps (General of the Infantry Nikolaus von Falkenhorst), which consisted of the 170th. Infantry Division and 198th. Infantry Division. The 198th. infantry division under Major general Roettig had the task of occupying Zealand and the southern Islands. The main force was to land at Korsoer and move toward Copenhagen, 1 battalion to land at Gedser, a reinforced battalion to land in Copenhagen from the German steamer "Hansestadt Danzig", while paratroopers were to take the fortress at Masnesoe and the bridge connecting Zealand and Falster.
For the occupation of Jutland the following forces were ready: The 170th. Infantry Division under Major general Witte (391th, 399th, 401th Infantry Regiments and the 240th. Artillery Regiment), and 2 panzer companies with 36 armoured cars were to move north on the eastern part of the Jutland peninsula. The 11th. motorised Brigade (110th and 111th Infantry Regiment) (Colonel Angern) with 2 panzer companies also with 36 cars, were to drive as fast as possible to Aalborg along the west coast to support the German paratroopers who were dropped over the airfield.
In support of this came the 40th. Panzer unit with about 70 panzer I and panzer II, the 4th, 13th and 14th machine gun battalions, a battalion from the "General Göring" regiment, the 2nd and 3rd batteries of the 729th. Heavy Artillery unit and 3 armoured trains.
The Luftwaffes 10th. Corps made available 10 squadrons of fighters and 10 squadrons of bombers to support the ground operations and to attack Vaerlose, in all about 250 planes.
The occupation of Zealand and Funen
At 4:00 am the German ambassador to Denmark, Renthe-Fink phoned the Danish foreign minister Munch and requested a meeting with him at once. When they met 20 minutes later Munch was told that German troops at that moment, were moving into Denmark to occupy the country.
The motivation was to protect Denmark from a French/English attack on Denmark. He demanded that all resistance was to cease immediately and that the Danish authorities were to contact the German forces. If these demands weren’t fulfilled the German Airforce would bomb Copenhagen.
At this time the invasion had already begun. At 4:15 am the German troops had landed several places. In Gedser a battalion from the 305th Regiment had landed with the ferry and moved north. German paratroopers had already taken the Storestroems bridge and the fortress of Masnesoe. At the same time German troops landed at Nyborg and the greater part of the 198th Infantry Division landed in Korsoer to secure the strait between Funen and Zeland.
At 4:20 am the German ship "Hansestadt Danzig" landed at Copenhagen harbour and a battalion from the 308th. Regiment debarked. The Danish garrison was taken by surprise and without any fighting the Germans occupied the Citadel and moved on towards Amalienborg where the King resided. But by now the Life Guard was alarmed and reinforcements were on the way to the castle. When the Germans arrived fighting broke out.
One of the Life Guards was wounded but the German attack was stopped. At the same time, inside the castle, the King and his ministers and the Danish supreme commander General Prior were discussing the situation. German bombers had, in the mean time, arrived and circled over the city to emphasise the ambassadors threat. Except for Prior who wanted to continue the fighting, all agreed that any prolonged resistance was impossible and the only solution was to cease fighting. A messenger was sent to deliver the Danish answer to the German ambassador.
Destruction of the Danish airforce
The entire Danish Airforce, except for the Navy Flying Corps, were stationed at Vaerloese airfield and in a few minutes it was destroyed.
At 5:45 am 2 squadrons of Messerschmidt Me 110 from I/ZG 1 attacked Vaerloese airfield.
Commander of I/ZG1 Wolfgang Falck:
"I could see our target, the main airfield on the outskirts of Copenhagen. On the tarmac below were 10 old high wing Fokker reconnaissance aircraft and about two dozen Fokker D-21 fighters lined up in the morning sun, and they all seemed to be warming up. If they got into the air we would have our hands full - dog-fighting with a D-21 at low altitude would be no mean task. Just then I spotted one of the recce's taking off. As I went for the Fokker, now about 100 meters in the air, the others began strafing the now taxiing fighters as ground fire opened up on us. Firing both my cannon and Mg’s, the recce burst into flames and fell back to the ground as I pulled up. I banked around and saw fire and smoke billowing up from the burning aircraft on the ground."
The fightning in Jutland
Eastern part of Jutland
At 4:15 am the German army crossed the Danish border in Jutland at four points, by Saed, Rens, Padborg and Krusaa. And at the same time the German navy landed troops at Lillebelt which meant that the troops fighting at the border were partially cut off from the very beginning.
The first encounter took place north of Lundtoftbjerg at 4:50 am where a platoon had taken up positions with two 20mm guns and a light machine gun on both sides of the road. The Germans opened fire on the platoon which fired back and destroyed 2 armoured cars and 3 motorcycles. The Germans tried to bypass the Danish force by sending tanks and infantry forward on both sides of the road. A Danish soldier was wounded before the platoon was forced to retreat northward shortly before they were surrounded. At Bjergskov they were caught by the Germans. A soldier B.C. Poulsen was killed while trying to stop the German advance with a machine gun. Several others were captured.
By Hokkerup east of Lundtoftbjerg another roadblock was set up and defended by a unit of 34 men. At 5:30 am the Germans approached with motorcycles and about 15 armoured cars. At short range the defenders opened fired and 3 armoured cars were knocked out. The Germans retreated and set up a 37mm gun 300 meters away. It only fired one round before it also was hit and disabled. But the attackers worked themselves around the Danish position and forced them to surrender.
Further north at Bjergskov a Danish unit tried to stop the German advance by setting up a roadblock defended by two 20mm guns in the forest, but the German tanks simply pushed the roadblock aside and opened fire. The foremost gun fired back until a tank drove across the gun. While the gunner attempted to take cover in the forest, he was killed by a German airplane which strafed the road. The other gun malfunctioned and when the Germans surrounded the forest the Danes gave up.
Central part of Jutland
In the central part of Jutland, at the important road junction at Bredevad 10 km north of the border, Danish and German soldiers arrived at the same time. The Danish forces consisted of only one and a half platoon with one gun and there wasn’t time to prepare a defence. After ignoring a Danish warning shot the Germans continued to approach. The Danes opened fire and the driver of the foremost armoured car was killed and the car blocked the road. But the gun crew was now under heavy fire and two men were wounded. In spite of this, 2 more armoured cars were knocked out. One of them was hit by 5 grenades and the Germans retreated. At this time 4 men from the gun crew had been killed or wounded and the commander Captain Bartholdy gave the order to pull back. But just as they prepared for this, another German force arrived from the east, and the platoon had no choice but to surrender
Aabenraa and Haderslev
At the Soegaard camp orders were given at 6:30 am to pull back to Vejle where the Jutland division was preparing a line of defence. At Aabenraa there was a short fight, when a unit covered the retreat towards Haderslev and Vejle. A tank was damaged, but the Danes passed through Aabenraa without any losses, and arrived at Haderslev at 7:35 am closely followed by German tanks. While the troops from the border continued north towards Vejle, the garrison at Haderslev prepared to stop the Germans
The garrison which consisted of about 225 men from the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd regiment, set up a line of defence south and west of the town, and a last stand was prepared at the barracks. Approaching this small force was an entire German division backed by tanks! 37mm gun was a placed at a corner of the road leading into Haderslev, and further down the road two 20mm guns was placed behind a barrier of tipping wagons.Shortly after they were in place the first tanks appeared.
The gun crew at once opened fire upon the advancing tanks which returned fire and hit Cornet Vesterby who was directing the fire. The other members of the gun crew fired on and disabled all 3 tanks. By now German motorcyclists had dismounted and began firing at the Danes with machine guns. One by one the gun crew was hit, and when the fire finally stopped all of the men were wounded. Vesterby and Hans Christian Hansen died later of their wounds.
The Germans continued forward toward the tipping wagons, but were stopped by fire from the two 20mm guns. A heavy fire was laid down on the defenders and one of the Danes, Oluf Arthur Hansen was killed by a shot to the head, but the Germans were unable to advance. The fighting continued for 10 minutes more, until the order came from Copenhagen to cease fire, much to the displeasure of the soldiers who had stopped the German advance.
But the order wasn’t received by the garrison inside Haderslev and when the Germans arrived they were met by gunfire from the Danish force.
A motorcyclist was killed and two tanks lost their tracks. Two Danish soldiers were killed at the barracks. Several civilians were caught in the crossfire that developed, and 3 were killed before the fighting finally ceased.
Western part of Jutland
At 4:10 am German forces were seen at the border and the Toender garrison was alarmed. Shortly afterward the German were at the barracks, but at the last minute the garrison moved out of Toender to the north. The Toender garrison took up the fight twice on the morning of the 9th of April.
Abild and Soelsted
At Abild and Soelsted they engaged the pursuing German 11th Motorised Regiment. At Abild 2 German armoured cars were knocked out by a single 20 mm gun out before the Danes were forced to pull back. At Soelsted a Danish antitank unit had set up a defensive position with a 20 mm gun and when the first German armoured car came within firing range they opened fire. The first car was hit and ended up in a ditch. The next continued forward but was also hit and pulled back.
It was hit several times more, but was still able to fire back. The Germans now sent out companies on both sides of the road to try and outflank the Danish unit. But the fire was so heavy that they didn’t get anywhere. Another try also got bogged down.
At this time the German regimental commander asked for support and a little later three German Henschel Hs 126 planes appeared and strafed the Danish force with machine guns and dropped several bombs. The fire got so heavy that the commander ordered the Danes to pull back to Bredebro. The road was open to the Germans, but much to the concern of their commander, a Danish force of less than 50 men had held back the German 11th Motorised Regiment for almost an hour. When the men from the Toender garrison arrived at Bredebro the fighting was over. Denmark had surrendered.
The company that got away
But one Danish officer refused to accept the order to surrender. The commanding officer of the 4th regiment in Roskilde, Bennike, was convinced that the government had acted under pressure and that the Germans had attacked Sweden too, so he decided to try to escape to Sweden with his men to continue the fight from there. With Copenhagen occupied and the 198th Infantry division advancing from the west and the south the only escape route still open was the ferry connection in Helsingor which still sailed normally at 10 o’clock.
At exactly that moment the 1st company of the 11th battalion marched onto the ferry berth with the battalion standard flying. In front marched Bennike with a hand on his pistol ready to use it, if anyone tried to stop them. When they reached the ferry the column turned left and marched onboard, brushing aside the astonished custom officers. He ordered the captain to sail at once, which he did, and an hour later they set foot on Swedish soil.
German losses in personnel have never been published, but they were probably much higher than the Danish losses. 12 armoured cars and several cars and motorcycles were damaged or destroyed.
Four tanks were damaged. Several German planes were hit by ground fire and one Heinkel He 111 bomber was shot down. 2 German soldiers were taken prisoners by Danish soldiers in this short war. The Danish losses were: 11 soldiers, 3 frontier guards and 2 airmen killed. 20 soldiers were wounded. A few civilian were killed or wounded
The events on and around the 9th of April has been discussed to the present day and will probably be discussed for many years to come. But what remains is this basic fact: despite being heavily outnumbered, outgunned and lacking training the Danish soldiers took up the fight without hesitation and with great courage and determination.