The author has meticulously researched the important and exciting naval events in the opening stages of WWII. The result is an excellent review of the events, supported by an outstanding selection of photographs, charts and appendices.
NAME: The Gathering Storm, The Naval War in Northern Europe, September 1939-April 1940
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Geirr H Haarr
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Scandinavia, North Sea, Baltic, Arctic, WWII, Second World War, World War Two, naval warfare, phony war, Scapa Flow, Kreigsmarine, Invasion of Norway
DESCRIPTION: The author has meticulously researched the important and exciting naval events in the opening stages of WWII. The result is an excellent review of the events, supported by an outstanding selection of photographs, charts and appendices.
Scandinavian neutrality did not protect Denmark and Norway from Hitler’s plans to dominate Europe and expand into Russia. Only Sweden avoided being invaded and this was primarily because a neutral Sweden, friendly to Germany, was of more value than another subjugated country that required garrisons, reducing the number of German troops, ships and aircraft available for the main objectives of invading Britain and Russia. Having taken Denmark and Norway, Germany held effective control of the Baltic.
For the Royal Navy, the ‘phoney war’ was a very real conflict. A Fleet Air Arm Skua dive bomber was the first British aircraft to shoot down a German aircraft in the war, protection of convoys became a war of attrition with German submarines and aircraft, and German commerce raiders were already at sea or on station before the outbreak of war. Equally, the Royal Navy was on a war footing well in advance of hostilities, having conducted extensive exercises, mobilization of reserves, and return to full capability of reserve fleet ships. To support this capability, fuel stocks and spares had also been built up at strategic locations around the world, ready to refuel, rearm and repair British warships should hostilities result from German expansion attempts.
Three British cruisers, heavily outgunned by the German pocket battleship Graf Spee, brought their enemy to battle and sent it running for cover in Montevideo. After a successful war of nerves by the British, the Graf Spee was scuttled by her captain. However, her supply ship the Altmark was running for home with a cargo of British merchant seaman who had been taken prisoner in the actions by the Graf Spee against merchant shipping. The RN tracked the Altmark down as she made her way along the Norwegian coast. When she took shelter in a fjord, British destroyers went in after her and freed the captives. It has always been a point of debate as to how far the neutral Norwegians turned a blind eye to this British action.
When Hitler was ready to launch an invasion of Norway, there was very little to stop him. The British did put troops and aircraft into Norway and succeeded in sinking German warships, but the support was too little and too late, with the Germans catching the old carrier Courageous on her way home without escort and sinking her.
The author has a strong interest in how the war affected his native Norway and provides some new insights, but he has ranged much further, reviewing the part played in the early stages of war by German surface raiders and the developing U-Boat battle in the Atlantic. He has also covered the warfare in the North Sea and German Bight.
The quality of research, the selection of illustrations and the fresh insights into the early stages of naval warfare, make this a definitive work on the subject that will be an essential to any self respecting library covering naval warfare and the Second World War.
The book covers aspects of the naval war that have previously received less attention than they deserve. The period was one of hard fought actions and the development by both sides of the tactics they would employ through the duration of the war. The author is to be commended for the book in general, but particularly for the photographic selection that includes subjects rarely covered in other books. He has successfully filled the gap in the accounts of the opening stages of war as they led inevitably to the invasion and conquest of neutral Norway by the Germans and the establishment of German control from North Cape down to the Low Countries that was then to be extended down to the Spanish border with the invasion of France.
It is perhaps understandable that British authors have been more interested in the Battle of the Atlantic, the protection of sea routes to Empire and the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk, before then moving on to the Mediterranean and the conflict East of Aden. However, the naval war in the North Sea and in Norwegian waters was not only important in its own right, but also critical to the establishment of tactics and technologies for the containment and defeat of the German Navy.