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Operation Wilfred was a British naval operation during the Second World War that involved the mining of the channel between Norway and her offshore islands to prevent the transport of Swedish iron ore through neutral Norwegian waters to be used to sustain the German war effort. The Allies assumed that Wilfred would provoke a German response in Norway and prepared a separate operation known as Plan R 4 to occupy Narvik and other important locations.
On 8 April 1940, the operation was partly carried out, but was overtaken by events as a result of the following day′s German invasion of Norway and Denmark (Operation Weserübung), which began the Norwegian Campaign.
With the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, Britain and France initiated a naval blockade to weaken Germany by depriving it of the vital imports that it needed to sustain her war effort. One of the most crucial imports was iron ore, needed to manufacture the steel which was used to build the ships, tanks and aircraft for the German armed forces. The primary source of that commodity was via neutral Sweden, deliveries of which Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty was intent on preventing to restrict Germany′s ability to fight. To do so, he developed a plan to mine the Norwegian Corridor, the sheltered sea lanes along Norway′s craggy western coast used by the German ships to transport the ore within neutral waters back to their home ports. By doing so, Churchill hoped to force the ore ships out into the open sea where the blockading ships of Contraband Control could sink or capture them.
Britain and France were anxious to prevent a German takeover of Scandinavia that would greatly reduce the effectiveness of the blockade and secure indefinite supplies of iron ore. Such a move would also provide the Germans with many more sea ports and bases from which they could fly bombing and reconnaissance missions over Britain. To prevent that from happening, the Allies considered their own occupation of the two neutral countries, but the plan eventually came to nothing.
By late March 1940, the plan to mine the Norwegian waters, which Churchill had been urging his colleagues to authorise but for a variety of reasons had still not been carried out, had become linked with a separate plan to send naval mines down the Rhine to destroy German pontoon bridges, barges and shipping further downstream. The latter plan, known as Operation Royal Marine, was seen by the British as a way of striking back for the heavy damage and loss of life the Germans had inflicted on them by the use of the magnetic mine, but the French vetoed the plan for fear that it would bring a wider German retaliation against them.
On 3 April, the British began to receive reports of a heavy buildup of shipping and troops in the Baltic German ports of Rostock, Stettin and Swinemunde. It was assumed that it was part of a force being sent to counter an Allied move against Scandinavia (the Germans had some awareness of Allied plans as a result of their own intelligence) and so that day, the British took the decision to proceed with the mining of the iron ore route separately from Operation Royal Marine, setting a date of 8 April for the Admiralty to implement it.
Envisaging that Operation Wilfred would provoke a furious enemy response notwithstanding the preparations already underway in their Baltic ports, a parallel initiative, Plan R4, was ordered to prevent German landings by sending strong British and French forces to occupy the key Norwegian ports of Narvik, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim before they marched to the Swedish frontier and took control of the iron ore sites.
Because it seemed relatively minor and innocent in scope, the plan was named Operation Wilfred, after a naïve character in the long running Daily Mirror newspaper comic strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.
On 3 April, four cruisers (HMS Berwick, York, Devonshire, and Glasgow) sailed to Rosyth to embark units of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, troops that would be transported to Norway as part of the Plan R4 if deemed necessary. Additional troops embarked onto transport ships in the Clyde with further troops, held in readiness until indications of German intentions justified sending them to Norway.
On 5 April a large force of warships, escorted by the battlecruiser HMS Renown and the cruiser HMS Birmingham and comprising elements of both Operation Wilfred and Plan R4 set out from the main British naval base at Scapa Flow and sailed towards the Norwegian coast.
The plan was to lay two minefields. The first was to be just below the Lofoten Islands in the mouth of the Vestfjorden, the channel leading directly to the port of Narvik to which the iron ore was shipped (Operation WV). The second was to be approximately three fourths of the way down the western Norwegian coast, immediately adjacent to the peninsula of Stadtlandet, on a line of latitude roughly midway between the Faroes and Iceland (Operation WS). As a diversion, laying of a third minefield would be simulated just off the Bud headland, south of Kristiansund (Operation WB). On 7 April, the force split, one to carry on to Narvik, the others to carry out the operations to the south.
The British ships were given orders in case of Norwegian involvement: If the Norwegians swept the minefields, the British would lay new ones close by. If the Norwegians challenged the British ships, the latter were to inform them that they were there to protect merchant vessels. The British would then withdraw, leaving the Norwegians to guard the area.The ships allocated to the individual operations were as follows:
Force WV (Mouth of Vestfjord)
Force WB – (Bud headland)
Force WS (Off Stadtlandet)
In the event, only one minefield was actually laid. As the WS force sailed to its destination on 7 April, German ships were sighted in the Heligoland Bight on passage to Norway, and the mine-laying off Stadtlandet was cancelled. Early the next day, 8 April, the designated day for the mining to be carried out, Britain informed the Norwegian authorities of its intention to lay the mines inside their territorial waters. Soon afterward, Force WB simulated minelaying off the Bud headland by using oil drums and patrolled the area to "warn" shipping of the danger. Force WV duly carried out its task and laid the minefield in the mouth of Vestfjord. At 05:15 that morning, the Allies broadcast a statement to the world that justified their action and defined the minefield areas. The Norwegian government issued a strong protest and demanded their immediate removal, but the German fleet was already advancing up their coasts. Then, events moved so quickly that the issue of the minefields became largely irrelevant.
Later that day, an iron ore ship (the Rio de Janeiro, travelling from Stettin, in northern Germany) was sunk in the Skagerrak by the Polish submarine Orzeł. The ship was carrying troops, horses and tanks for the German invasion of Norway, part of Operation Weserübung. Around half of the 300 men on board were drowned, with the survivors telling the crews of the Norwegian fishing boats that picked them up that they were on their way to Bergen to defend it from the British.A few hours later, two other German ships (the Posidonia and the Krete) were also sunk in the same area.
Operation Wilfred was now essentially complete and so the southern Force WS and WB ships rejoined the Home Fleet to undertake screening duties, military support and convoy defence, as part of the general British response to the German move on Norway known as Operation Rupert. The northern WV force immediately became embroiled in the early actions of the British attempt to thwart the German landings.
HMS Glowworm, which had become detached from the main force on 6 April to look for a man lost overboard, encountered the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and carried out a torpedo attack. After receiving return fire and heavy damage, she rammed Admiral Hipper and sank soon afterwards with 111 men killed. Her commander, Lieutenant-Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. Meanwhile, Renown, which had diverted to assist Glowworm, was in action with the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau 80 mi (70 nmi ; 130 km ) west of the Lofotens. Although damage was inflicted by both sides, the Germans failed to take their opportunity to sink the older and slower British battlecruiser. b Despite news of those actions and indications from other sources, the Norwegians were still caught largely unprepared for the attack early the next day. The invasion proper began with German landings of troops in the main Norwegian settlements of Stavanger, Oslo, Trondheim, Narvik and Bergen. The same day (9 April), Icarus sank the Europa, another German iron ore carrier that was being used to transport men and equipment to Norway, and the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, which had taken part in the mining of the Vestfjord, later fought with other British naval units in the 1st Battle of Narvik, sinking several German warships.
On 11 April, while furious naval battles were still underway off the Norwegian coast, Churchill made a speech in the House of Commons about the current situation and justified Operation Wilfred:
There has been no greater impediment to the blockade of Germany than this Norwegian corridor. It was so in the last war, and it has been so in this war. The British Navy has been forced to watch an endless procession of German and neutral ships carrying contraband of all kinds to Germany, which at any moment they could have stopped, but which they were forbidden to touch.
It was therefore decided at last to interrupt this traffic and make it come out into the open seas. Every precaution was taken to avoid the slightest danger to neutral ships or any loss of life, even to enemy merchant ships, by the minefields which were laid and British patrolling craft were actually stationed around them in order to warn all ships off these dangerous areas.
The Nazi Government have sought to make out that their invasion of Norway and of Denmark was a consequence of our action in closing the Norwegian corridor. It can, however, undoubtedly be proved that not only had their preparations been made nearly a month before, but that their actual movements of troops and ships had begun before the British and French minefields were laid. No doubt they suspected they (the mines) were going to be laid. It must indeed have appeared incomprehensible to them that they had not been laid long before. They therefore decided in the last week of March to use the Norwegian corridor to send empty ore ships northward filled with military stores and soldiers concealed below decks, in order at the given moment to seize the various ports on the Norwegian seaboard which they considered to have military value.— Winston Churchill
British and French troops landed at Narvik on 14 April to assist the Norwegians, pushing the Germans out of the town and almost forcing them to surrender. Despite further Allied landings took place between 18 and 23 April, the Norwegians surrendered on 9 June 1940.
Ironically, although Operation Wilfred was essentially a failure in that it did not prevent the Germans from having access to the iron ore, once Norway became pro-German, it was no longer neutral and so British ships and aircraft were free to enter its territorial waters and to attack German ships at will.
The Battles of Narvik were fought from 9 April to 8 June 1940 as a naval battle in the Ofotfjord and as a land battle in the mountains surrounding the north Norwegian city of Narvik as part of the Norwegian Campaign of the Second World War.
HMS Hyperion was an H-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy during the mid-1930s. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, the ship enforced the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides as part of the Mediterranean Fleet. During the first few months of World War II, Hyperion searched for German commerce raiders in the Atlantic Ocean and blockaded German merchant ships in neutral harbours until she returned to the British Isles in early 1940. The ship participated in the Norwegian Campaign before she was transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet shortly afterwards. Hyperion participated in the Battle of Calabria and the Battle of Cape Spada in July 1940 while escorting the larger ships of the fleet. The ship covered several convoys to Malta before she struck a mine and was deliberately scuttled in December 1940.
HMS Ivanhoe was an I-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1930s. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, the ship enforced the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides as part of the Mediterranean Fleet. Before the start of World War II, the ship was modified so that she could be used to lay mines by removing some of her armament. Ivanhoe was transferred to Western Approaches Command shortly after the war began and helped to sink one German submarine in October 1939. She was converted to a minelayer while undergoing a refit in November–December and laid minefields in German coastal waters as well as anti-submarine minefields off the British coast until she was reconverted back to her destroyer configuration in February 1940. Ivanhoe reverted to her minelaying role during the Norwegian Campaign in April 1940 and then laid a number of minefields off the Dutch coast during the Battle of the Netherlands in May. The ship participated in the Dunkirk evacuation until she was badly damaged by German aircraft on 1 June. On her first minelaying mission after her repairs were completed, she struck a German mine and had to be scuttled on 1 September 1940 during the Texel Disaster.
HMS Hero was an H-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1930s. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 the ship enforced the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides as part of the Mediterranean Fleet. During the first few months of World War II, Hero searched for German commerce raiders in the Atlantic Ocean and participated in the Second Battle of Narvik during the Norwegian Campaign of April–June 1940 before she was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet in May where she escorted a number of convoys to Malta. The ship took part in the Battle of Cape Spada in July 1940, Operation Abstention in February 1941, and the evacuations of Greece and Crete in April–May 1941.
HMS Hunter was a H-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1930s. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 the ship enforced the arms blockade imposed on both sides by Britain and France, until she struck a mine in May 1937. She was under repair for the next year and a half, after which she rejoined the Mediterranean Fleet. During the first few months of the Second World War, Hunter searched for German commerce raiders in the Atlantic Ocean until she was transferred back to Britain in February 1940. Returning to action in the Norwegian Campaign, she was sunk by German destroyers during the First Battle of Narvik in April 1940.
HMS Havock was an H-class destroyer built for the British Royal Navy in the mid-1930s. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, the ship enforced the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides as part of the Mediterranean Fleet. During the first few months of the Second World War, Havock searched for German commerce raiders in the Atlantic Ocean and participated in the First Battle of Narvik during the Norwegian Campaign of April–June 1940 before she was transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet in May where she escorted a number of convoys to Malta. The ship took part in the Battle of Cape Spada in July 1940, the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941 and the evacuation of Greece in April 1941. She was damaged during the Battle of Crete the following month, but participated in the Syria–Lebanon Campaign in June.
Swedish iron ore was an important economic factor in the European theatre of World War II. Both the Allies and the Third Reich were keen on the control of the mining district in northernmost Sweden, surrounding the mining towns of Gällivare and Kiruna. The importance of this issue increased after other sources were cut off from Germany by the British sea blockade during the Battle of the Atlantic. Both the planned Anglo-French support of Finland in the Winter War, and the following German occupation of Denmark and Norway were to a large extent motivated by the wish to deny their respective enemies iron critical for wartime production of steel.
The Norwegian campaign was an attempted Allied occupation of northern Norway, during the early stages of World War II.
HMS Greyhound was a G-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the 1930s. Greyhound participated in the Norwegian Campaign in April 1940, the Dunkirk evacuation in May and the Battle of Dakar in September before being transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet in November. The ship generally escorted the larger ships of the Mediterranean Fleet as they protected convoys against attacks from the Italian Fleet. She sank two Italian submarines while escorting convoys herself in early 1941. Greyhound was sunk by German Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers north-west of Crete on 22 May 1941 as she escorted the battleships of the Mediterranean Fleet attempting to intercept the German sea-borne invasion forces destined for Crete.
HMS Hardy was the flotilla leader for the H-class destroyers, built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1930s. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 the ship spent considerable time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Hardy was transferred to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in October 1939 to hunt for German commerce raiders in the South Atlantic with Force K. After returning to the United Kingdom in early 1940, the ship became flagship of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla assigned to the Home Fleet. During the Norwegian campaign of 1940, Hardy participated in the First Battle of Narvik where she sank one German destroyer. As the British ships were withdrawing, they were discovered by two other German destroyers that so badly damaged Hardy that she had to be run aground to stop her from sinking. The ship was lifted by a rising tide and eventually capsized.
HMS Esk was an E-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s. She was designed to be easily converted into a fast minelayer by removing some guns and her torpedo tubes. Although assigned to the Home Fleet upon completion, the ship was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1935–36, during the Abyssinia Crisis. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, she spent considerable time in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Esk was converted to a minelayer when World War II began in September 1939, and spent most of her time laying mines. During the Norwegian Campaign of April–June 1940, the ship laid mines in Norwegian territorial waters before the Germans invaded, but was recalled to home waters to resume her minelaying duties in early May. During one such sortie, Esk was sunk during the Texel Disaster on the night of 31 August 1940, when she ran into a newly laid German minefield.
Plan R 4 was an unrealised British plan to invade Norway and Sweden in April 1940, during the Second World War. As a result of competing plans for Norway and a German invasion, it was not carried out as designed. Similar plans had been drawn up during the proposed Anglo-French intervention in the Winter War. It was designed as a contingency plan if Germany violated the territorial integrity of Norway.
Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign. The name comes from the German for "Operation Weser-Exercise", the Weser being a German river.
Z11 Bernd von Arnim was a Type 1934A-class destroyer built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine in the late 1930s. At the beginning of World War II, the ship was initially deployed to blockade the Polish coast, but she was quickly transferred to the German Bight to lay minefields in German waters. In late 1939 the ship made one successful minelaying sortie off the English coast that claimed one British warship and seven merchant ships. During the early stages of the Norwegian Campaign, Bernd von Arnim fought the British destroyer Glowworm while transporting troops to the Narvik area in early April 1940, but neither ship was damaged during the action. The ship fought in both naval Battles of Narvik several days later and had to be scuttled after she exhausted her ammunition.
The Action off Lofoten was a naval battle fought between the German Kriegsmarine and the British Royal Navy off the southern coast of the Lofoten Islands, Norway during World War II. A German squadron under Vizeadmiral Günther Lütjens consisting of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau met and engaged a British squadron under Admiral Sir William Whitworth consisting of the battlecruiser HMS Renown and nine destroyers. After a short engagement, Gneisenau suffered moderate damage and the Germans withdrew.
The Type 1936 destroyers, also known as the Z17 class, were a group of six destroyers built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during the late 1930s, shortly before the beginning of World War II. All six sister ships were named after German sailors who had been killed in World War I. They were engaged in training for most of the period between their completion and the outbreak of war, although several did participate in the occupation of Memel in Lithuania, in early 1939.
Z18 Hans Lüdemann was one of six Type 1936 destroyers built for the Kriegsmarine in the late 1930s. Completed in 1938, the ship spent most of her time training. At the beginning of World War II in September 1939, she was initially deployed to lay minefields off the German coast, but was soon transferred to the Skagerrak where she inspected neutral shipping for contraband goods. In late 1939, Z18 Hans Lüdemann helped to laid two offensive minefields off the English coast that claimed one destroyer and twenty merchant ships.
Z21 Wilhelm Heidkamp was one of six Type 1936 destroyers built for the Kriegsmarine in the late 1930s. Completed a few months before the start of World War II in September 1939, the ship served as a flagship throughout her career. She briefly patrolled the Skagerrak where she inspected neutral shipping for contraband goods. Z21 Wilhelm Heidkamp later helped to laid four offensive minefields off the English coast that claimed two British destroyers, 2 fishing trawlers, and twenty-seven merchant ships. During the German invasion of Norway in April 1940, she sank a Norwegian coastal defense ship off Narvik and was crippled with the opening shots of the First Naval Battle of Narvik on 10 April, with the loss of 81 crewmen. The ship sank the following day.
Z30 was one of fifteen Type 1936A destroyers built for the Kriegsmarine during World War II. Completed in 1941, the ship was transferred to Norwegian waters in early 1942 where she remained for most of the rest of her career, escorting convoys and laying minefields. She played a minor role in the indecisive Battle of the Barents Sea at the end of the year and was damaged during the raid on the island of Spitsbergen in September 1943.
Narvik is a town and the administrative centre of Narvik Municipality in Nordland county, Norway. The town is located along the Ofotfjorden in the Ofoten region. The town lies on a peninsula located between the Rombaken fjord and the Beisfjorden. The European route E06 highway runs through the Beisfjord Bridge and Hålogaland Bridge crossing the two small fjords surrounding the town.