This week, Nazi Germany launched her spring offensive. Like a running torch applied to tinder it set northern Europe afire.
Maybe the Allies had suspected, belatedly, what was coming, had put two and two together from reports that Germany last week had concentrated grey-clad soldiers on Denmark's southern border, had carried out extensive embarkation and debarkation for landlubber fighting men at Baltic ports. For British minelayers one morning sowed three great fields along Norway's rugged coast, in Norway's territorial waters, minefields to drive German-bound ships with Swedish ore out into the open sea where the British Navy could get them. At one stroke this paralyzed ore shipping from Narvik, far north in Norway, where eight ore-laden German steamers were blocked in by the minefield in West Fjord.
Less than eight hours later Germany struck.
The Plan. Daring, ruthless, well conceived and swiftly executed was Hitler's plan. He would take Norway to protect his ore shipments, and use its fjords as bases for air, sea and submarine raids against Britain. He would take Denmark to insure his communications, and stop the Allies from establishing a wedge in her route from the north. He would take them so quickly that Sweden, hemmed in on the west by Norway, on the east by Russian-dominated Finland, would not dare to fight, could easily be beaten if she tried.
It was a gamble on a great scale, fraught with the risk of extending an already long front and the danger of exhausting a vital hoard of oil and other strategic materials. To work it had to have 1) surprise, 2) complete and efficient coordination of the three striking arms, army, navy, air force, on a broader and more complicated scale than any war had ever seen before. It involved landing parties at many points over hundreds of miles, a swift invasion across Denmark's land border, preparation by air and sea bombardment.
The Attack. Before the first crashing chords of the new Berlin overture were heard, the orchestra began tuning in the pit. A British armed vessel off Norway's west coast fought two German submarines. Fishermen took ashore half a dozen dead, 40-10-50 wounded, of both nationalities. The Britisher and one submarine went down. British submarines were in the Skagerrak, past German minefields.
Near Lillesand, on Norway's southeast tip, a British sub sent two torpedoes crashing into the hull of the 5,261-ton German freighter Rio de Janeiro. The world knew she had slammed a troop transport when Norwegian fishermen reported picking up live and dead German soldiers in field uniform. The Rio de Janeiro had had aboard 500 soldiers, 80 horses. Where were they bound? Why? The overture began. Through the Skagerrak steamed a fleet of 125 German armed ships including one pocket battleship, either Admiral Scheer or Lutzow.
Norway ordered a blackout of every lighthouse on her coast. Into the Oslo Fjord steamed four warshipsGerman. Norwegian coast defense batteries went into action and residents of Oslo fled to their cellars as they heard the door-slamming of the pieces and the bark of the naval guns in reply.