Operation Wildente (i)

wild duck

This was the German capture of Trondheim, together with its airport and air base at Værnes, on the central part of Norway’s west coast within ‘Weserübung Nord’ (9/10 April 1940).

The undertaking was a notably important component of the entire ‘Weserübung’ scheme as Trondheim was Norway’s third-largest city, a former capital and the traditional crowning place of Norway’s kings, a major port and also the point at which the country’s northern, southern and west-coast rail lines met, the two roads from Oslo via the Gudbrandsdalen and Osterdalen met the road north to Namsos and Narvik, and the road east into neutral Sweden. Trondheim was thus the key to effective overland movement between northern and southern Norway, and a major strategic prize.

Delivered by the ships of Kapitän Hellmuth Heye’s Gruppe II (the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and the destroyers Paul Jacobi, Bruno Heinemann, Theodor Riedel and Friedrich Eckoldt of Fregattenkapitän Rudolf von Pufendorf’s 2nd Zerstörer-Flottille), the assault force was provided primarily by 1,700 men of the 138th Gebirsgsjägerregiment, 1/112th Gebirsgsartillerieregiment and 1/38th Gebirgspionierbataillon of Generalleutnant Eduard Dietl’s 3rd Gebirgsdivision, but also included a naval signals detachment, an army signals platoon, the personnel of two coast artillery batteries, the Luftwaffe personnel of the 1/611th Flakregiment, and the Luftwaffe air base landing group.

Further support for ‘Wildente’ (i) was to have been provided by the men, weapons, equipment, supplies and fuel carried by five merchant vessels, which were delayed by weather conditions and of which only one reached Trondheim. These vessels were the supply ship Sao Paulo, which was lost off Bergen on 9 April to a mine laid by the Norwegian minelayer Tyr, the cargo ship Levante which arrived three days late, the supply ship Main which was captured and sunk on 9 April by the Norwegian destroyer Draug, the tanker Skagerrak which was scuttled on 14 April when it was intercepted by the British heavy cruiser Suffolk, and the tanker Moonsund which was sunk on 12 April by the British submarine Snapper.

The defence of Trondheim and Molde was the responsibility of Major General Jacob Ager Laurantzon’s 5th Division with the 11th, 12th and 13th Regiments supported by the 3rd Artillery Regiment. The primary protection of Trondheim was vested in two forts, Brettingen and Hysnes, which commanded the entrance to the Trondheimfjord on the northern shore near Agdenes, some 30 miles (48 km) north-west of the town; there was a third fort on the southern shore, but whether or not to man it was still under discussion when the German force arrived. The Norwegian artillery batteries received a warning of hostilities a little before 01.00 and of the approach of German warships just two hours later. Nevertheless, the warships of Gruppe II, were able to force the entrance at a speed of 25 kt, materially helped by the fact that the first salvo with which they answered the Brettingen’s fire destroyed the electric cable on which both forts depended for electricity needed for their searchlights.

This enabled the Germans to put their troops ashore about 07.00 in Trondheim, which offered no resistance. One destroyer was left behind with the landing parties for the forts, but Hysnes opened fire with some effect, causing the destroyer to be beached, and the defenders did not surrender until the afternoon. By then Admiral Hipper had been brought back from Trondheim to support the assault. Værnes airfield, 16 miles (26 km) east of the town, held out until mid-day on 10 April, but the Germans had immediately improvised an airstrip on the ice for their transport aircraft, which delivered the additional troops without which the German position could not have been consolidated.