Magazine article Sea Classics

War of the Fjords Part Three

Magazine article Sea Classics

War of the Fjords Part Three

Article excerpt

Raging sea battles damage both Britain and Germany while Hitler plots to steal Norway's national treasure / CONCLUSION

The "Phony War" ended on 10 May 1940 when the Panzers of the German Army raced into Belgium and down through the Ardennes Forest. The Allies were outwitted by this move, and by the end of May 1940, it was obvious that Allied military forces were about to be destroyed or captured on the continent of Europe. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and a significant component of the massive French Army were being systematically herded towards the northern coast of France and everywhere they turned there was humiliating defeat. It was no longer a battle to contain the German armed forces - it had become a desperate war of survival.

If British Army and Royal Air Force units were trapped in France and Norway, there would be little to defend England. It was then possible that Hitler could coerce Great Britain into an armistice, which would soon be violated, and England then destroyed. Despite promises by England's Prime Minister Churchill to the French, it had become obvious that no further aid could be sent across the Channel. The BEF would have to be saved to fight another day as well as the remaining fighter squadrons based in England.

In May 1940, the German military machine was comparable to that of the Allied armies in France. However, this was only so when comparing the numbers of soldiers and this comparison was of no realistic value when the technological advances, Blitzkrieg philosophy, and the integrated use of the Luñwaffe with the advancing ground units were considered. Sadly and foolishly, the French had wasted millions of francs constructing and manning the Maginot Line - the thought process of which had seemed to come out of the Middle Ages. This line of underground bunkers dug in between Germany and France was straight out of the 100 Years War playbook. German forces simply sidestepped these expensive and worthless fixed fortifications. The Luñwaffe flew over it, and then helped to spearhead a massive armored attack. The elapsed time from the end of the Phony War until the capitulation by the French Government (25 June 1940) was an incredible 47-days. During WWI the elapsed time was 1572-days and that ended in a stalemate and an unpopular armistice.

The BEF and those French soldiers and airmen who wanted to continue the fight were miraculously taken off the sands of Dunkirk and landed in England and safety. They had no weapons except their personal items, but at least the men were rescued to fight another day.

In Norway, the British forces consisted of a few Hawker Hurricanes and Gloster Sea Gladiators that were flown out to HMS Glorious and HMS Ark Royal. Some were lost when German forces overran Norwegian airfields; however the losses were not substantial. The troops were loaded back onto destroyers and other units, and just as quickly steamed back to England. Again, the losses were small and Operation Alphabet was successful.

HMS GLORIOUS AND ESCORTS LOST

The destruction of the aircraft earner HMS Glorious and her two escorts HMS Ardent and HMS Acasta bordered on murder. At [joint blank range, the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau poured one 11.1-in shell after another into the carrier's helpless hulk. The sea was unusually frigid, and a passing merchantman picked up only 40 survivors. A total of 1519 seamen perished in the Norwegian Sea as the German battleships slunk off beyond the horizon.

The elderly and obsolete aircraft carrier HMS Glorious had once been a WWI-era battle cruiser and was rebuilt as an aircraft carrier. In 1939, she was on the way to the breakers when the Second World War began and every ship outfitted as an aircraft carrier became priceless. She was not a first-line carrier nor was she an ancient light carrier such as HMS Hermes or HMS Eagle.

Like all carriers, battleships, and cruisers, the Glorious was routed from one theater to another. …

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