Operation Weserübung & the Closure of the Battle for Orkney

He111H-3 of KG26 force-landed at Wick after raid on Scapa Flow 8.4.1940 -SCRAN, ref. 06120011

 

Unbeknown to the men working feverishly to bring the defences up to scratch on Hoy, the war in the north was entering a new phase. Although Raeder’s full engagement campaign was exacting a heavy toll on the Royal Navy and the merchant vessels supplying the British North Sea ports, the need to secure the supply of Swedish iron ore to Germany via the Norwegian port of Narvik began to take precedence over all other German Naval operations in the North Sea (Stegemann, B., 1991 p.171). Since the outbreak of war, the British Government had recognised the importance of the iron ore shipments to Germany but had been unable to take significant steps to stop it. However, when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in November 1939 a potential opportunity arose. By using the ore railway link between Narvik and Sweden, the British formulated a plan where military aid could be provided to Finland whilst allowing a British force to occupy the Swedish ore-fields along the way (Maier, K., 1991 p.199). Concerned about the potential threat to the iron ore s consignments, Großadmiral Raeder persuaded Hitler to prepare a plan to secure the resource which became known as Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Norway. Misinterpreting the return of the Home Fleet to Scapa Flow on 8th March as the build-up of an invasion force, German preparations escalated with the launch date of Weserübung set for the 9th April.

 

On the 8th of April the Luftwaffe mounted a three day campaign of large formation air raids on the Home Fleet in Scapa Flow which were intended to disrupt the British Navy’s ability to respond to Operation Weserübung. Improvements to the radar chain at the beginning of March finally provided sufficient early warning for fighter interception and a month’s worth of improvements to the anti-aircraft protection over Scapa Flow meant that the Luftwaffe began to suffer increasing losses with every raid.

An He111 of KG26 making landfall over Orkney

An He111 of KG26 making landfall over Orkney

 

The anti-aircraft defences on Hoy contributed to a barrage of fire so intense that it was described by eye witness Reginald Brimicombe as being as if “all the fire and thunder of Dante’s Inferno was let loose” (Brown, M. & Meehan, P. 2002 p. 165). Little impact was made on the gathering British Forces, however, a considerable toll was inflicted on the Luftwaffe and by the end of the 10th April, losses sustained in raids on Scapa Flow were considered far too great to justify further large formation operations over such a well defended locality.

 


© Source: Lindsay, G.J. & Dobney, K. (2014). Legacies of Conflict: Hoy & Walls Wartime Heritage Project, Wartime Development Document. Island of Hoy Development Trust.


References

BROWN, M., & MEEHAN, P., (2002). Scapa Flow. London: Pan Books.

MAIER, K.A. & STEGEMANN, B., (1991). Part V Securing the Northern Flank of Europe. In MILITÄRGESCHICHTLICHES FORSCHUNGSAMT, ed, Germany and the Second World War, Volume II: Germany’s Initial Conquests in Europe. pp.179-220. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

STEGEMANN, B., (1991). Part IV The First Phase of the War at Sea up to the Spring of 1940. In MILITÄRGESCHICHTLICHES FORSCHUNGSAMT, ed, Germany and the Second World War, Volume II: Germany’s Initial Conquests in Europe. pp.151-176. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


 

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