Title: Narvik: The Struggle of Battle Group Dietl in the Spring of 1940
Author: Alex Buchner (Translated by Janice Ancker)
Publisher: Casemate Publishing
The German invasion of Norway, in April/May 1940, is viewed by many as another example of German military prowess and the Allied response one of incompetence and vacillation. In many respects that is true, however, the battle that took place over the Northern port of Narvik stands out as a particularly vivid example of missed opportunity by the Allies and a mixture of tenacity and great luck on the part of the Germans.
This work, part of “Die Wehrmacht im Kampf” series from Casemate, was originally published in the late 1950’s by Buchner who was present at the battle as part of the German Mountain Troops. He was thus able to draw upon not only the recollections of his compatriots but also his own experiences during the fighting. Written solely from the perspective of the German forces present, it is the first time in English that a narrative of the fighting has been available exclusively from that viewpoint.
Originally deployed as the most northern element of the invasion forces, a convoy made up of ten destroyers ferried at high speed, 2,700 German Mountain troops with only their personal kit and a minimum of additional supplies to Narvik in order to seize this key port for the export of Swedish ore. All of their follow-on supplies, specialized winter warfare kit and heavy weapons were to follow in a second echelon of support ships expected within 48 hours of their arrival. Unfortunately for the Germans, while their seizure of Narvik and its surrounding area went generally as planned, the Royal Navy succeeded in surprising and sinking all 10 of the German destroyers as well as all save one of the follow-on support ships. Thereby isolated and cut off from support, the Germans, numbering 2,700 Mountain Troops and 2,600 Naval personnel, were faced with holding off at least five times as many Allied soldiers, readily supplied by the Royal Navy who controlled the sea access. However, under the inspired leadership of Generalleutnant Dietl, the Germans, utilizing audacity, initiative, skill and daring (and enjoying more than a fair degree of luck) managed to hold off the more pedestrian efforts on the part of the Allies to oust them from their tenuous hold on Narvik.
What stands out in this narrative are the critical roles that leadership and morale played in the German success. Buchner relates, in very telling prose, the incredibly debilitating environment within which the Germans had to operate. Northern Norway in April and May is a very hostile winter climate which would have challenged the finest of troops let alone a force that was comprised half of Naval personnel now being used in a Mountain Infantry role. The author describes the methods the German leadership took to both integrate these men into infantry roles and also to fully utilize the specialist skills that they possessed (communications, support and small watercraft control). The Germans showed great skill at taking full advantage of the resources that were available to them.
The writing style of the author is surprisingly engaging. The reader is able to fully appreciate not only the challenges of the environment but of the formidable skill of the German soldiers and officers in adjusting to a fluid and dynamic combat environment. One is left with a distinct appreciation of the benefits of hard training, audacious leadership throughout the chain of command and a deep-rooted belief by the Germans in competency of their Commanders.
The book is a good quality publication although pictures would have added to the general presentation. The maps provided at the front were in German from the original publication but are able to be used to follow the unfolding events. A series of appendices outline orders of battle at various points for the opposing forces, orders and directives and timelines for the reinforcement of the German forces. The author has also included a comprehensive bibliography (utilizing German primary source material) as well as thorough notes section. Overall, a well written and very interesting book that would serve as an excellent counter point to publications of Allied efforts in Norway.