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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The British Norway Campaign

In April 1942 Adolf Hitler stated that only the Battle of Moscow and the Norwegian campaign had been ”absolutely decisive” actions. Why then has, until recently, the Norwegian campaign attracted so few British or American authors? Several reasons can be stated, e.g, that it was a military failure for the Allies, but I so far have found no utterly convincing reply to this question.

What I mainly have gained from the book Churchill and The Norway Campaign (2008) by Graham Rhys-Jones is a more full realization of the Pyrrhic nature of the German victory in Norway. To quote from the book it ”sparked the upheaval which removed Chamberlain´s hesitant and divided ministry and opened the way for an implacable and uncompromising opponent, determined to see the war through to its better end.” That the Norwegian campaign sealed Chamberlain´s fate was certainly not news to me, but it was Churchill and The Norway Campaign that first made me consider the German victory in Norway more of a minus than a plus for the Germans.

The author is not uncritical of Chamberlain´s successor, Churchill. In fact, he writes such things as: ”Behind that benign even homely image, the uplifting rhetoric and the inspiring presence lay a ruthlessness (even sometimes a vindictiveness) worthy of Al Capone.”

The book examines both the strategy behind the tactical actions and many of the more significant events in the fjords and mountains of Norway.

The poor performance of the British Army in Norway seems to have largely been the result of First World War thinking, according to the author. The author confirmed something I have long suspected, that Spaniards formed the largest national group in the Foreign Legion detachment at Narvik. I am impressed with the details regarding the French troops provided by the author.

I also find it commendable that the author describes the almost totally forgotten ”Mowinckel Plan”, an idea not adopted but a great what-if scanario that in a nutshell meant that Swedish forces were to intervene and take over the Narvik area from both the Germans and Allied forces.

The author of Churchill and The Norway Campaign, Graham Rhys-Jones, is also the author of The Loss of the Bismarck (1999) and has a background in the Royal Navy where he commanded a frigate. In more recent years he has taught strategy at the US Naval War College (USNWC) and on leaving the navy he returned to the USNWC as a research fellow.

My main negative remark would be the strong expectation created by the book´s cover. It portrays in colour Winston Churchill flanked by the German generals Eduard Dietl and Nikolaus von Falkenhorst. Considering that the author devotes little space to Dietl and sursprisingly little to Falkenhorst, the overall commander of the invasion of Norway, the cover is rather misleading. That having been said I will not deny that the cover is a very attractive one!

Rhys-Jones has found some excellent photographs for his book, one only wishes he had included some more. The seven maps provide the essential geographical features and names, but not more.

If you are looking for a recent and reliable overview of the battle for Norway in 1940 I would recommend another book: Hitler´s Pre-emptive War by Henrik O. Lunde. If you, however, are mainly interested in the British aspects of this campaign, Churchill and The Norway Campaign is an excellent choice.


  1. I'm reading Hitler's Pre-Emptive War at the moment, it is a great read and very enlightening. Some of those British commanders were incompetent then and went on to higher commands. Amazing. London's perspective of the conflict was so wrong.

  2. The book, The War Lord, certainly makes clear Churchill's penchant for directing things in detail and from afar.