Operation Stadthagen

(German town)

This was the German airborne forces’ seizure of Sola, the airport of Stavanger and also the local air base, on the south-west coast of Norway, within ‘Weserübung’ (9 April 1940).

The undertaking was one of the four tasks allocated to Major Erich Walther’s 1/1st Fallschirmjägerregiment, a battalion of the paratroop regiment commanded by Oberst Bruno Bräuer in Generalleutnant Kurt Student’s 7th Fliegerdivision.

The defence of this areas was provided by Major General Einar Liljedahl’s Norwegian 3rd Division, whose 7th and 8th Regiments were stretched very thinly for the defence of the Kristiansand and Stavanger areas.

The airborne forces, which were intended to land some three hours after the amphibious forces had come ashore, had meanwhile been preparing for this, which was to be their first combat jump. The 1/1st Fallschirmjägerregiment had four tasks: the main body of the 4th Kompanie was to take and hold the 2-mile (3.2-km) bridge linking the Danish islands of Falster and Seeland; the remaining platoon of the 4th Kompanie was to take the two airfields at Aalborg in northern Denmark, a task for which only 20 minutes were allocated before air-landed troops were scheduled to arrive; the 3rd Kompanie was to jump on Sola airfield near Stavanger in Norway so that air-landed army 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 Generalmajor Erwin Engelbrecht’s 163rd Division could be flown in to secure the capital before the 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 medium transport aircraft and one Gruppe of Junkers Ju 90 and Focke-Wulf Fw 200 heavy transport aircraft.

Little needs to be said of the descent on Aalborg, as all 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 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, armed merely with pistols, and it was only after the Danes had been made prisoner that the Germans bothered to seek out the containers carrying 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, the Danish capital.

The minor part of the airborne aspect of ‘Weserübung’ concerned with the overrunning of Denmark had been a complete success, and the whole German operation seemed well set up when Denmark capitulated on the day of her invasion.

The 3rd Kompanie, destined for Sola airfield, had a harder time of it. Firstly, the weather was bad, and only the excellent piloting and navigation of the Ju 52/3m crews brought the force in over their target with pinpoint accuracy. Approaching ‘on the deck’ at only 33 ft (10 m), the aircraft formed into their dropping formation only at the last minute, and then zoomed to 410 ft (125 m) for the paratroops to pour out of the aircraft. But the Norwegian defenders were alert and greeted the paratroops with heavy machine gunfire. Luckily for the paratroops, however, two Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters had managed to fly through the murk and reach Sola at just the right moment. As the vulnerable paratroops swung down to the ground the Bf 110 ‘destroyers’ suppressed the fire of the airfield’s defenders with cannon and machine gun fire, giving the paratroops just enough time to gather themselves and launch an attack on the Norwegian machine gun posts ringing the airfield.

The two main defence posts were quickly shattered with grenades, and within 30 minutes the airfield was ready to receive air-landed troops. Within 24 hours Stavanger was firmly in German hands.