Operation Maurice (ii)

This was the Allied northern half of the pincer operation designed to close, initially with ‘Sickle’ (i) from the south, on the lodgement of the 138th Gebirgsjägerregiment of Generalleutnant Eduard Dietl’s 3rd Gebirgsdivision at Trondheim in Norway (16 April/3 May 1940).

This German regiment had been delivered to Trondheim in ‘Wildente’, at the start of ‘Weserübung’, by the ships of Kapitän Hellmuth Heye’s Gruppe II (heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and destroyers Paul Jacobi, Bruno Heinemann, Theodor Riedel and Friedrich Eckholdt of Fregattenkapitän Rudolf von Pufendorf’s 2nd Zerstörer-Flottille) and steamship Levante carrying four 88-mm (3.465-in) and eight 20-mm Flak guns as well as two 100-mm (3.94-in) guns.

By the middle of April the German force had reached divisional strength and was keeping Major General Jacob Ager Laurantzon’s Norwegian 5th Division in check as it pushed detachments to the north toward Steinkjer on the railway line to Namsos and to the south toward Dragset on the railway line to Åndalsnes and Oslo. The German force could then advance little farther, despite the arrival of Generalmajor Kurt Woytasch’s 181st Division as a reinforcement, and thus awaited the arrival of Generalmajor Erwin Engelbrecht’s 163rd Division and Generalmajor Richard Pellengahr’s 196th Division of General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s XXI Gebirgskorps from Oslo up the Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen valleys.

The British had planned to pinch out this lodgement at Trondheim in its early stages with a concerted move, Major General A. Carton de Wiart’s ‘Maurice’ Force landing Brigadier G. C. Phillips’s British 146th Brigade and Général de Division Sylvestre Gérard Audet’s Corps Expéditionaire Français en Scandinavie landing Général de Brigade Marie Emile Antoine Béthouart’s 5th Demi-Brigade des Chasseurs Alpins at Namsos, and Major General B. T. C. Paget’s ‘Sickle’ Force landing Brigadier H. de R. Morgan’s British 148th Brigade and Brigadier H. E. F. Smyth’s British 15th Brigade at Åndalsnes on 16 and 18 April respectively.

The first to land were the 146th and 148th Brigades, but the arrival of even these initial units was too late, for the Germans had been reinforced to full mountain warfare capability, whereas both of the British units were territorial infantry brigades, which were therefore checked at Steinkjer and Lillehammer respectively. Reinforcements, consisting of the 5th Demi-Brigade des Chasseurs Alpins at Åndalsnes and the 15th Brigade at Namsos, did little to improve matters, and on 26 April the leading elements of the 181st Division and 196th Division, moving from Trondheim and Oslo respectively, met at Dragset, just to the south of Trondheim.

It was now clear that the Allied plan could not succeed, and on 26 April the Allies decided to abandon central Norway and concentrate their efforts on the German lodgement at Narvik in the north of the country. The 148th Brigade and the 5th Demi-Brigade were evacuated from Åndalsnes on 1 May in ‘Brick’ and ‘Tunnel’ (i), the Germans taking the town on the following day, while the 146th Brigade and 15th Brigade were pulled out of Namsos on 2/3 May in ‘Klaxon I’, shortly before the German forces entered the town.