Thursday, January 01, 2004

The Taiwan Showdown—Part II (Invasion Without a Navy)

See The Taiwan Showdown—Part I (Intentions)” (Posted November 27, 2003)

Sources used include this 1997 Air Command and Staff College research paper by Major Brian T. Baxley; and Norway 1940 website.

Invasion Problem
This is the basic problem. You are a major land power with plenty of troops and aircraft and you wish to conquer a far smaller country. While the status quo is acceptable, a change for the worse is not. The problem is you have to cross quite a bit of sea to get to the target and you have little amphibious warfare capability. To add to your misery, a major power with a powerful navy that includes aircraft carriers, possibly supported by another major power, may intervene to stop you.

This is China's problem today. They may need to invade Taiwan but the United States and maybe Japan stand in the way. But it was also Germany's problem in the spring of 1940. As long as Norway was neutral, Germany could import critical iron ore and remain free from attack from enemy bases in Norway. Germany had to contemplate British and French resistance to their plans or even pre-emptive action. Yet Germany pulled off the invasion and Norway remained under German control for the remainder of the war.

So how did Germany do it?

Norwegian defenders
The Norwegians had 12,000 troops on active duty in 6 infantry brigades, three cavalry regiments, and separate units. Reserves were 120,000 strong. The brigades were poorly equipped and lacked mobility. The Norwegians had little artillery or anti-aircraft weapons. They had an old and small navy, dispersed across Norway’s long coast. The Norwegians had only about 40 old combat aircraft. In addition, neutral Denmark was in the way.

German invasion force
The Germans had six infantry division and a parachute battalion allocated to conquer Norway. The German navy was modern and of good quality, but had few ships. Thirty warships were available but Germany had no amphibious ships to carry troops.

The Germans had 500 transport aircraft each capable of carrying 28 troops. They also had 100 fighters and 330 bombers for the invasion.

Allied expectations
The British only expected a small German effort if they went after Norway. The British based their plans on the Germans being able to invade with no more than eight battalions. The British had a large navy with aircraft carriers, although the carrier aircraft were not equal to the German aircraft nor could the British carriers hold many planes. Still, German bases were far to the south of Norway. The Norwegians expected the British to help them.

German invasion plan
For ground forces, Germany was able to deploy 50 battalions of troops. The British wrongly assumed only 6-8 battalions could be landed. The Germans exceeded the worst-case British estimate by a factor of six. How did the Germans do this?

The Germans sent ships to sea six days before the invasion date in order to attack widely separated targets simultaneously. The Germans deployed a parachute battalion and about 9,000 infantry carried aboard warships in six groups for the initial landings at different points in Norway (Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Kristiansand & Arendal, Oslo, and Egersand). Another 1,400 were dedicated to an assault on Denmark, which would provide convenient stepping stones to Norway. Two battlecruisers were the primary heavy naval force to escort the invasion elements in the northernmost thrust.

The Germans disguised transport ships as civilian cargo ships to carry the second wave. These ships made repeated trips.A half dozen submarines were outfitted to carry supplies. German bombers were held in reserve to attack any British navy forces found by recon aircraft over the North Sea.

The invasion
On April 9, 1940, German forces began their invasion of Norway. The Norwegian navy just watched the Germans go by, unwilling to initiate hostilities. The British lacked enough recon aircraft to track the German fleet.

Two airborne landings were made at Stavenger and Oslo, supported by German airpower. German air transports then airlifted 6 battalions into Oslo and 2 more into Stavenger to reinforce. At Bergen, 3 seaplanes brought in troops. Air power helped the German warships enter the harbors for the first wave. Initial objectives were captured quickly and they began to fan out to the rest of the country. The Norwegian navy did interfere with water lines of supply but Germans relied on air transports for resupply. The Germans quickly put captured airfields into use for their own aircraft to support the troops and fight off any British naval intervention.

In the middle of April, small British and French forces landed in Norway to resist the German invasion. Four British brigades, 3 French demi-brigades, and a Polish brigade (plus supporting units) were sent to Norway to oppose the Germans. The British deployed a few dozen fighters to Norway but were unable to prevent the Germans from gaining air superiority. German air power kept British navy in northern Norwegian waters. The Germans were successful in pushing back the allies everywhere but at Narvik in the north, which the allies captured after fatal hesitation on May 28. Ten German destroyers in Narvik harbor were sunk by two British forays into the harbor.

With the Germans crushing French and British resistance in France, the allies withdrew from their isolated Narvik toehold by June 9. The Germans managed to sink one of the British carriers in the final phase, 260 miles west of Norway.

End state
The Germans overwhelmed the Norwegian and Allied forces that tried to hold Norway. In the short run, the German surface fleet was crippled. Both battlecruisers were damaged and out of action for six months. But the occupation of Norway allowed the Germans to secure their iron ore imports from Sweden, protect their northern flank and prevent Allied attacks from that direction, and provided bases to send out ships, submarines, and planes to strike British naval forces. When Allied convoys passed by Norwegian waters to supply the Soviet Union later in the war, German bases here allowed the Germans to savage the vital supply lines.

As one author of the campaign stated (quoted in Baxley’s paper):

The occupation of Norway was a great military success for Germany. In the face of British naval superiority, the landing operation could only succeed if the intention remained concealed long enough to make allied counter-measures late and therefore ineffective. This was achieved. The Allies’ delay, and their failure to act immediately on receipt of the first news of the German invasion, were contributory causes to the German success.

It was an impressive performance for a country with a small navy and a non-existent amphibious warfare force.

Next time: Part 3 (Chinese Possibilities). [Link added later]