Operation Sanssouci

(Frederick the Great's palace)

This was the German occupation of strategically important points in Denmark (including the station at Tinglev) and severance of primary communications by men of Hauptmann Dr Theodor Hippel’s Bau-Lehr-Bataillon ‘Brandenburg’ zbV 800 as the first stage of ‘Weserübung’ (8/9 April 1940).

The attack on Denmark was planned as a part of ‘Weserübung’ for the seizure of Norway. In order to follow their landing along the coast of Norway with a successful land campaign to secure the whole of the country, the Germans required the airfields at Aalborg in northern Jutland in order to be able to fly support missions. Additionally, the Luftwaffe high command was in favour of occupying Denmark to allow the northward extension of the German air-defence system, making it harder for British bombers to outflank the system from the north when attacking targets in Germany.

The German high command planned for a combined assault on Denmark to overrun the country as swiftly as possible: this combined assault was to comprise an airborne assault on the airfields at Aalborg, a surprise landing of infantry from naval auxiliaries at Copenhagen, and a simultaneous ground assault northward along the Jutland peninsula from northern Germany.

Though it had been warned of the impending attack, the Danish army was denied authorisation to deploy or even to prepare defensive position by a Danish government determined not to give the Germans any pretext for action. All that was available to meet the land invasion, therefore, was a miscellany of small and widely scattered frontier guard elements, and parts of Major General Frederick Christian Essemann’s 2nd ‘Jutland’ Division.

The German airborne force committed to the Danish and Norwegian parts of ‘Weserübung’ was Major Erich Walther’s 1/1st Fallschirmjägerregiment of Generalleutnant Kurt Student’s 7th Fliegerdivision, which was about to make the first combat jump in the history of airborne warfare. Three of the 4th Kompanie’s four platoons were to take and hold the 2-mile (3.2-km) bridge linking the Danish islands of Falster and Seeland, and the 4th Kompanie’s remaining platoon was to take the two airfields at Aalborg in northern Denmark, a task for which only 20 minutes were allocated before air-landed reinforcements were scheduled to arrive; the 3rd Kompanie was to jump on Sola airfield near Stavanger in southern Norway so that air-landed and Luftwaffe forces could be flown in; and the rest of the battalion was to fulfil the same function on Fornebu airfield just outside Oslo, so that part of the the 163rd Division could be delivered by air to secure the capital before the Norwegian government and royal family could be evacuated.

The scale of the German airborne operation, of which the actual parachute part was relatively small, may be gauged more accurately from the size of the air element involved: some 500 troop-carrying aircraft, made up of 10 Gruppen of Junkers Ju 52/3m transports and one Gruppe of Junkers Ju 90 and Focke-Wulf Fw 200 converted airliners.

The descent on Aalborg went according to plan, and within 20 minutes the air-landed troops were pouring out of their aircraft, no resistance having been met.

At the Vordingborg bridge matters might have gone very badly for the Germans as the Danes had a defence force on the bridge. But the tactical novelty of the airborne landing amazed the Danes, who were swiftly rounded up by Hauptmann Walter Gericke’s men, who were armed merely with pistols. Only after the Danes had been taken prisoner did the Germans bother to seek out their weapons containers and break out their heavier weapons. Gericke’s men were not counterattacked, and were soon relieved by the arrival of the 305th Regiment, which had advanced overland and now pressed on with all speed toward Copenhagen.

Under the overall command of General Leonhard Kaupisch’s Höheres Kommando XXXI, the German land advance by Generalmajor Walter Wittke’s three-regiment 170th Division and Generalmajor Otto Röttig’s three-regiment 198th Division, supported by Oberst Günther Angern’s two-regiment 11th Schützenbrigade, crossed the Danish border at Sæd, Rens, Padborg and Krusaa at 04.15 on 9 April and, as the German navy landed troops at Lillebælt at the same time, the troops on the border were cut off at the outset of the fighting.

The German naval forces committed to the seizure of Denmark were Kapitän Gustav Kleikamp’s Gruppe VII (objectives Korsör and Nyborg) with the pre-dreadnought battleship Schleswig-Holstein, minesweepers Claus von Bevern, Pelikan, Nautilus and MRS 12, six armed trawlers, and freighters Campinas and Cordoba; Fregattenkapitän Wilhelm Schroeder’s Gruppe VIII (objective Copenhagen) with the minelayer Hansestadt Danzig and icebreaker Stettin supported in the Belt by Kapitänleutnant Dr Walther Foscher’s 13th Patron-Flottille; Kapitän Helmut Leissner’s Gruppe IX (objectives Middelfart and the Belt bridge) with the freighter Rugard, minesweepers Arkona, Otto Braun, Cressida and Silvia, motor minesweepers R 6 and R 7, submarine chaser UJ 107, and tugs Passat and Monsun; Kommodore Friedrich Ruge’s Gruppe X (objectives Esbjerg and Nordby) with the patrol vessel Königin Luise Korvettenkapitän Karl Marguth’s 12th Minensuch-Flottille (M 1201, M 1202, M 1203, M 1204, M 1205, M 1206, M 1207, M 1208, M 4, M 20, M 84 and M 102) and Korvettenkapitän Gert von Kamptz’s 2nd Räumboots-Flottille (R 25, R 26, R 27, R 28, R 29, R 30, R 31 and R32); and Korvettenkapitän Walter Berger’s Gruppe XI (objective Thyborön) with Berger’s own 4th Minensuch-Flottille (M 61, M 89, M 110, M 111, M 134 and M 136) and Kapitänleutnant Hagen Küster’s 3rd Räumboots-Flottille (R 33, R 34, R 35, R 36, R 37, R 38, R 39 and R 40) and the R-boat tender von der Groeben.

The first fighting between the Danish and German armies took place at Lundtoftebjerg on the eastern side of the Jutland peninsula, where a Danish platoon equipped with two 20-mm anti-tank guns and a light machine gun had taken up positions covering the road. In brief skirmish the Germans lost two armoured cars and three motorcycles, while the Danes suffered one wounded in the fighting itself and had a fatality during the retreat which followed.

As the German column reached Hokkerup it encountered another roadblock, this time held by 34 Danish soldiers. The Danes knocked out three German armoured cars, forcing the Germans to pull back. The Germans then positioned a 37-mm anti-tank gun some 330 yards (300 m) away, but this was knocked out by the Danes after firing just one round. The Germans eventually managed to surround and capture the Danish unit. To the north of Hokkerup the Germans encountered yet another roadblock defended by two 20-mm cannon, but their tanks pushed the roadblock aside and opened fire. One gun returned fire until a German tank drove over it. The gunner attempted to take cover, but was killed when a German warplane strafed the road, and the second cannon malfunctioned. The Germans then surrounded and captured the Danes.

In a encounter clash at Bredevad, 6 miles (10 km) to the north of the border in the centre of the Jutland peninsula, German armoured cars encountered a Danish roadblock manned by one and a half platoons supported by a single gun. The Danes fired warning shots, which were ignored by the Germans, and then started firing for effect, knocking out the leading armoured car and killing its driver. There followed a short skirmish in which the Danes knocked out two more German armoured cars at a loss of four of their own men killed and two wounded before being surrounded and forced to surrender.

As the Danish forces at Søegaard army camp were preparing to pull back to the north in the direction of Vejle, where the main strength of the 2nd ‘Jutland’ Division was preparing for battle, a short skirmish developed at Aabenraa as a Danish rearguard was attacked. After damaging a German tank, the rearguard pulled back to Haderslev, held by a 225-man force of the 2nd ‘Jutland’ Division, which defended the barracks in the town and the road leading into it. After fighting in which the Germans lost three tanks on the outskirts of Haderslev, the Danes received from Copenhagen the order to surrender. However, this order was not received by the forces defending the barracks inside Haderslev, and as the Germans entered the town fresh fighting took place. One German motorcycle trooper was killed during the German attack, two Danish soldiers were killed in defence of the barracks, and three Danish civilians were killed in the crossfire. However, the Danish garrison gave up when the order to surrender from Copenhagen finally reached then.

The first fighting on the western side of the Jutland peninsula involved the garrison of Tønder. The initial skirmish happened at Abild, where a 20-mm anti-tank gun knocked out two German armoured cars before the Danes were forced to retreat. At Sølsted farther to the north, the Germans were halted, losing one armoured car and having another damaged. Only after receiving air support from three Henschel Hs 126 aircraft were the Germans able to push the Danish forces out of their positions and back to Bredebro. By the time men of the Tønder garrison had reached Bredebro the order to surrender had been issued and there was no more fighting.

At Abild, a Danish 20-mm gun crew knocked out two German armoured cars of the 11th Schützenbrigade's 111th Schützenregiment before pulling back, and at Sølsted a Danish anti-tank unit of fewer than 50 men set up a defensive position with a 20-mm gun. When a force of the 111th Schützenregiment neared them, the Danes opened fire as soon as the first German armoured car came within firing range. The armoured car was knocked out and ended up in a ditch, while the next continued forward, but pulled back after being hit. It was hit several more times, but was able to fire back. The German infantry attempted twice to outflank the Danish positions, but both attempts were met with heavy fire and became bogged down. Seeing that his attack was failing, the German regimental commander radioed for support. Three Hs 126 aircraft soon appeared, and bombed and strafed the Danish force until the Danish commander ordered his troops to fall back to Bredebo.

At 06.15 96 German paratroopers jumped from nine Junkers Ju 52/3m transports to secure the Storstrøm bridge connecting the island of Falster with the mainland, and the coastal fortress on Masnedø island. This landing opened the way for a battalion of Röttig’s 198th Division to advance on Copenhagen by land.

In order to capture the connections between Jutland and Zealand, vessels of the Kriegsmarine landed more of the 198th Division’s men on Funen.

To secure the surrender of the Danish authorities as quickly as possible, the timely German capture of the Danish capital was essential. At 04.50 the 2,430-ton minelayer Hansestadt Danzig, escorted by the icebreaker Stettin and two patrol boats, entered Copenhagen harbour. Though the harbour was covered by the coastal artillery of Middelgrundsfortet, a newly appointed Danish commander hesitated as to what to do. After the landing of a battalion of the 198th Division at 05.18, the German forces captured the 70-strong garrison of the Citadel, the Danish army headquarters, without firing a single shot. The Germans’ next objective was the Amalienborg Palace, the residence of the Danish royal family. When the German infantrymen reached the palace they met determined opposition from the training company of the King’s Royal Guard, which drove off the initial attack for the wounding of thee Danish soldiers. This gave King Christian X and his ministers time to confer with the commander of the Danish army, Major General William Wain Prior.

As the discussions continued, several formations of Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 bombers from the Kampfgeschwader 4 dropped leaflets threatening the bombing of Copenhagen’s civilian population. Against the advice of Prior, the Danish government decided to capitulate in exchange for continued political independence in domestic matters.

At this time all four squadrons of the Danish army air service were based at Værløse near Copenhagen, but in anticipation of the German invasion had been prepared for dispersal to airfields all over the country. However, no dispersal had been ordered by the time German aircraft started to appear over the base. As the German aircraft reached Værløse, four Fokker C.V-E reconnaissance aircraft were getting airborne, one of which was shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter. Thereafter the Bf 110 warplanes strafed the air base, in the process destroying 10 aircraft and badly damaging another 14 as they prepared to take off, effectively deleting the Danish army air service in a single action. The aircraft of the Danish navy air service remained at their bases and escaped damage.

While most of the Danish army obeyed the surrender order, one unit refused to do so. At Roskilde Vagn Bennike, commanding the 1st Company of 11/4th Regiment, which was part of Major General Hans Aage Rolsted’s 1st ‘Seeland’ Division, believed that the surrender order had been imposed on the government by the Germans and that Sweden too had been attacked. Instead of surrendering, therefore, Bennike and his men boarded the ferry to Sweden in Helsingør and went into exile. After the misunderstanding had been explained, some of the Danish soldiers opted to stay in Sweden while others preferred to return to Denmark.

The casualties of the German seizure of Denmark were, on the Danish side, 16 men killed, 20 wounded and the rest of the 14,500-man Danish army taken prisoner, as well as 25 aircraft destroyed; and on the German side 203 men killed or wounded, two taken prisoner, four tanks damaged, 12 armoured cars destroyed or damaged, and one aeroplane of General Hans Geisler’s X Fliegerkorps damaged.

The rapid Danish capitulation, within six hours of the German invasion, resulted in the uniquely lenient occupation of Denmark, particularly until the summer of 1943, and also in postponing the arrest and deportation of Danish Jews until nearly all of them had been warned and were on their way to refuge in Sweden: only 477 Danish Jews were deported, and 70 of them lost their lives, out of a pre-war Jewish total of slightly more than 8,000.