November 2, 2010


Decoration of the Polish Highland Brigade 1940 (0:56 sec)




April 8th 1940 marked the start of the Battle of Narvik.  At 11:12 hours, the Polish submarine ORP Orzel surfaced after having shadowed the Rio di Janeiro for some time.  Polish Command ordered the German ship to stop and be searched. When the Germans refused to obey the order, the Poles sprayed the ship with machine gun fire. The Germans abandoned ship and fifteen minutes later the Orzel fired torpedoes sinking the German vessel. Debris confirmed Polish suspicions - that the ship was a military troopship en route to invade Norway.

The next day a fleet of 10 German destroyers were headed towards Narvik. The Norwegian destroyer Eidsvold refused to surrender and was torpedoed and sunk by German warships. The vessel was blown into 2 pieces. The forward part of the ship sank in seconds. Of 175 Norwegian sailors, only 8 survived. The German warships tracked down the Norge and fired three salvoes. The first two missed because the cold weather rendered the optical sights less effective.  The third salvo struck and the Norge sank. One hundred and one sailors perished. The battle was over in less than 20 minutes.

The first naval battle on April 10th between Great Britain and Germany resulted in a British victory:  2 German Destroyers were sunk, as well as one ammunition supply ship, 6 cargo ships, and 4 German destroyers damaged. On April 13th, the second naval battle ensued, again in England's favor:  8 German ships were sunk or scuttled, 1 U-boat sunk and over 1,000 Germans were killed. The remaining 2,600 Germans survived and joined their infantry for the subsequent land battle.

The Burza, Blyskawica, and Grom were Polish Destroyers under Commander Porucznik S. Hryniewiecki, which had left Harwich via Scapa Flow and headed towards Norway escorting troop ships. On May 3rd the Burza landed French alpine troops at Graatangend Fjord, while Grom and Blyskawica shelled German positions.The next day Grom was sunk during a heavy air attack by the Luftwaffe.

Initially the land battle, begun on April 9th, was fought between the Norwegians and Germans but Allied troops would soon enter the fray, eventually reaching over 24,000 men and greatly outnumbering German troops.  On April 14th and for the next several weeks the British continued to deploy more troops. Three battalions of the British Expeditionary Force were soon joined by 3 battalions of Alpine troops, and 2 battalions of 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade. Four Polish battalions arrived on May 9 and were reformed in June under the name of the Polish Independent Highland Brigade under the command of Zygmunt Bohusz Szyszko. However despite the Allied reinforcements, German troops were able to conduct surprise attacks on more than one occasion though their advantage was often eroded by difficulty in bringing in supplies.

The land battle was plagued by many difficulties; first and foremost was the lack of an Allied Commander. Each contingent was led by it's own commander, and theirs was seldom a consensus of agreement. While the Norwegians made their way easily through the mountainous terrain, the French, British and Polish troops lagged behind due to poor equipment and lack of training. It wasn't until mid May that the Allies took initiative and won some victories.

On May 12 an Allied amphibious attack was directed towards Bjerkvik which was taken by the French Foreign Legionnaires, supported by five light French tanks which then advanced northward where German troops where withdrawing. The Polish Independent Rifle Brigade planned to advance to Bjerkvik as well but were hindered by rough terrain. The French and Norwegian troops planned to trap the Germans but it never materialized as both units were beset with cooperation problems.  This quibbling providing the Germans with an easy means of escape.

On May 14, 1940 the MV Chrobry was attacked and sunk. Eleven members of the crew and an undetermined number of Polish troops drowned. The Burza and Blyskawica were dispatched to the south towards France. ORP Burza saw action on May 21st off the coast of Calais, shelling German positions as she provided cover during Allied troop withdrawals.  She was attacked by Ju-87s and badly damaged but was able to return to Dover, and then Plymouth for repairs. 

The Allies planned another attack but were delayed for having to wait for air support to be fully operational. At 23:40 on May 28, 1940 the British began a naval bombardment from the north while two French and one Norwegian battalions were advancing on Narvik from the west and north, and the Polish battalions from the south.  At 07:00 hours the German Commander gave the order to evacuate the area.

The resulting "victory" for the Allies however was only tentative.  As fate would have it, the Allies received orders from London to evacuate on May 24th.  Allied Command urgently need to deploy troops to France to provide support for the evacuation at Dunkirk. Allied destroyers transported the troops the waiting vessels 112 km offshore. The Polish vessels, MS Sobieski and MS Batory  took part in the  operation. The Independent Polish Rifle Brigade was evacuated on the night June 4 to 5 and two days later the Norwegian commanders, their government and the remaining Allied troops. The Norwegian forces embittered and dismayed, surrendered to the Germans on June 10th, 1940.

Polish troops

French Foreign Legion Battalion

Norwegian troops

British troops back in UK June 1940

souce: Wikipedia


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