World War Two Daily: May 28, 1940: The Allies Take Narvik

Sunday, June 12, 2016

May 28, 1940: The Allies Take Narvik

Tuesday 28 May 1940

28 May 1940 crashed Heinkel He 111
German bomber He-111 H-5. It was shot down by ground fire on 28 May 1940 in the valley of Mount Korsbakken in the area of Narvik. The aircraft belonged to 2./Kampfgruppe 100. Of the crew,  two perish, two are captured.
Western Front: The Belgian Army lays down its weapons at 04:00 on 28 May 1940, pursuant to the agreement reached on the 27th by King Leopold, who announces:
Exhausted by an uninterrupted struggle against an enemy very much superior in numbers and material, we have been forced to surrender. History will relate that the Army did its duty to the full. Our Honour is safe.
The Belgians had fought hard, losing 7,550 men killed and 15,850 men wounded. A few scattered units continue fighting for a while, at least until they receive news of the surrender at 18:00. This decision comes as a surprise both to the Allies and to Leopold's own government.

The Belgian capitulation raises an immediate problem for the BEF. The Belgian Army had been holding a 20-mile section of the front on the left flank of the Dunkirk beachhead, from Ypres to Dixmude. Fortunately for the British, though, they literally have hundreds of thousands of fully equipped men in the pocket. Everybody knows the stakes, and ad hoc British formations (including some armored cars of the 12th Lancers) waiting for evacuation establish a new line in the Nieuport area against the German 256th Division of the German 18th Army. The Wehrmacht occupies Bruges, Zeebrugge, and Ostend.

A corps of French 1st Army (40,000 men) left in the lurch by the British retreat to the Dunkirk perimeter is surrounded by seven German Divisions (3 armored) of the Sixth Army at Lille. General Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division is one of the besieging formations. The French position may be hopeless, but it is drawing off elite Wehrmacht forces that could be better employed at the beachhead.

The French 4th Armoured Division under Brigadier General De Gaulle attacks Abbeville, capturing some German outposts and reaching the Somme. However, they fail to take Abbeville or St. Valery. The French armour makes some initial progress, then falls back. The French infantry occupies about half the distance into the bridgehead,  but there is massive confusion on both sides as to what is going on. The French take 200 prisoners and appear to be breaking through, but De Gaulle breaks off the attack so that he can regroup his panzers and try another full-scale assault on the 29th.

The French tanks are proving very sturdy. One, French Char B1 Bis tank "Jeanne d'Arc," receives almost 100 hits but remains in action. This also is a commentary on the underperformance of German anti-tank weapons.

Dunkirk: The evacuation has another slow day, with 17,804 men taken off. The Luftwaffe (Stukas) and Kriegsmarine (E-boats) attack the British ships arriving at the beachhead, sinking a small steamer and damaging Royal Navy destroyer HMS Windsor. Men are being taken off both from the port and from the surrounding beaches, with the troops wading out to the ships.

The famous "Miracle of Dunkirk" begins, as numerous small British private vessels begin arriving to rescue as many of the trapped soldiers as they can.

Within Dunkirk, things are getting desperate. One arriving Naval captain sent ashore reports that there are drunken mobs of men pillaging the port. Ammunition is running short in some sectors. However, despite all the problems - the perimeter holds.

The panzers press forward at Cassel and Poperinge, compressing the beachhead toward the sea.

European Air Operations: There is intense aerial activity over Dunkirk. The British claim to have shot down 79 Luftwaffe aircraft on the 27th. RAF bomber command puts 48 aircraft over the beachhead during the day, and sens 47 to attack the Germans there during the night.

The French send LeO-451 bombers, escorted by Hawker Hurricanes, against Germans lines of communication in the Aubigny sector.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-37 (Kapitänleutnant Victor Oehrn) continues its successful patrol about 100 miles west of Oporto, Portugal. First, it torpedoes and sinks 10,387 ton French liner Brazza. There are 197 survivors (53 crew, 144 passengers), and 379 perish.

Then, U-37 surfaces and shells 177-ton French trawler Julien, sinking it. All 10 crew survive.

Swedish freighter Torsten hits a mine and sinks in the North Sea. It had been laid by British submarine HMS Seal.

Norwegian freighter Blamannen hits a mine and sinks in the North Sea. It had been laid by French submarine Rubis.

British freighter Carare hits a mine and sinks in the Southwest Approaches to England.

Convoy OA 157 departs from Southend, Convoy OB 157 departs from Liverpool, Convoy HG 32F departs from Gibraltar, Convoy OG 31 forms at Gibraltar, and Convoy HX 46 departs from Halifax.

U-121 (Kapitänleutnant Karl-Ernst Schroeter) is commissioned.

HMS Lady Rosemary (FY 253) (Skipper Robert J. McCullogh) is commissioned.

Norway: The Allies, faced with utter defeat in the south, have an unexpected success in the far north to bolster morale back home.

The French Foreign Legion under French General Bethouart, supported by the light tanks landed at Bjerkvik, cross the Rombaks fjord at 00:15 with five French light tanks. It advances toward Narvik along the railway line. In addition, the Polish Brigade advances on Narvik from the west. They attack the German 3rd Mountain Division troops holding the city. The time of the attack is chosen because it is twilight at Narvik, but dark further south where the German airfields are located.

Bad weather grounds the Allied Hurricanes at Bardufoss airfield to the north of Narvik, but the skies to the south are clear enough to fly in. The Luftwaffe arrives by 04:30. The Stukas have free reign over Narvik for a while, forcing the Allied fleet to withdraw, but the Allied fighters eventually arrive. There are not enough planes on either side to make a major difference, but the Luftwaffe scores two hits on the command ship Cairo.

General Dietl mounts a spirited defense of the city, but it is hopeless. He is aided by the addition of 46 1st Fallschirmjäger Regiment troops dropped during the day. Dietl and his men are forced out by noontime. He and his men head up into the mountains while the Allies occupy Narvik.

Hitler is concerned about the Narvik situation and following it closely, as he does not want to hand the Allies a propaganda victory in Norway while he is achieving his crowning success in France. Dietl thus is determined to do anything necessary to avoid surrendering, including marching his troops across the border to Sweden to be interned if necessary. That, however, is not necessary at this point, though the German troops are badly outnumbered and out-gunned.

With Narvik safely in their hands, the French (13th Demi-Brigade Legion Etrangere), Polish (Podhale Brigade) and a Norwegian battalion consolidate their position. There are attacks by both the small RAF and Luftwaffe forces in the vicinity. The Luftwaffe damages HMS Cairo, an anti-aircraft cruiser.

General Dietl, forced out of Narvik, retreats along the rail line to Sweden.

The British at Bodø prepare to be evacuated by the Royal Navy.

28 May 1940 German mountain troops Narvik
German Gebirgsjägers in the mountains after losing Narvik.
German/Romanian Relations: King Carol tells his cabinet that neutrality can be dispensed with as the country draws closer to Germany.

French Government: Prime Minister Paul Reynaud broadcasts in a radio address that the surrender was done precipitously, without consultation, and that "France can no longer count on the Belgian Army."

Belgian Government: Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot has moved from London to Paris. He delivers a broadcast from Paris in which he expresses shock at the Belgian Army's capitulation. Pierlot announces that the King acted on his own, against the wishes of the rest of the government and outside of his constitutional authority, and "henceforth he has no power to govern." The Belgian cabinet - in exile - now assumes all governmental functions, and it places all resources at the service of the Allies. The Belgian King, for all intents and purposes, is deposed - but he remains in Belgium and retains loyalty there, though with growing resentment from the populace.

US Military: US Army Air Force Colonel Carl Spaatz arrives in Genoa aboard the liner Manhattan on his way to London.

US Government: Ambassador to France William Bullitt sends a telegram to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. He has a very specific request: that the US sends a cruiser loaded with arms and ammunition to Bordeaux France:
"If you cannot send a cruiser of the San Francisco [CA 38] class to Bordeaux, please order the Trenton (CL-11) at Lisbon [Squadron 40-T flagship] to take on fuel and supplies at once for a trip to America and order her today to Bordeaux."
The reason for this odd request is two-fold:
  1. French fears of a "Communist uprising"; and
  2. The French and Belgian gold reserves.
The Norwegian gold reserves previously were sent to England, but this time the gold is to be sent across the Atlantic.

President Roosevelt approves the ambassador's request, and the US Navy sends heavy cruiser USS Vincennes (CA 44) from Hampton Roads, accompanied by destroyers USS Truxtun (DD 229) and USS Simpson (DD 221). They will take the gold first to the Azores, then to New York. As to the expected Communist uprising, that is deemed a French concern.

Bullitt also suggests sending the Atlantic Fleet to the Mediterranean as "one of the surest ways" to keep the French and British fighting the Germans so that the United States will not have to. This suggestion is not taken up.

President Roosevelt also establishes the National Defense Advisory Committee. Its purpose is to advise the President on defense matters. Its members include former automobile manufacturer William S. Knudsen, corporate executive Edward R. Stettinius, labor leader Sidney Hillman, and economist Leon Henderson.

28 May 1940 Allied commanders Narvik
The (temporary) victors of Narvik. On the left are two French officers of the alpine troops. The man with the glasses is a French Captain of the Foreign Legion. On the right is a British Navy Officer.

May 1940

May 1, 1940: British Leave Åndalsnes
May 2, 1940: British Depart Namsos
May 3, 1940: Many Norwegians Surrendering
May 4, 1940: Bader Returns
May 5, 1940: HMS Seal Survives
May 6, 1940: Allies Focus on Narvik
May 7, 1940: In The Name of God, Go!
May 8, 1940: Exit Chamberlain
May 9, 1940: Enter Churchill
May 10, 1940: Fall Gelb
May 11, 1940: Eben Emael Surrenders
May 12, 1940: Germans at Sedan
May 13, 1940: Rommel at Work
May 14, 1940: German Breakout in France
May 15, 1940: Holland Surrenders
May 16, 1940: Dash to the Channel
May 17, 1940: Germans Take Brussels
May 18, 1940: Germans Take Antwerp
May 19, 1940: Failed French Counterattack
May 20, 1940: Panzers on the Coast
May 21, 1940: Battle of Arras
May 22, 1940: Attacking Channel Ports
May 23, 1940: British Evacuate Boulogne
May 24, 1940: Hitler's Stop Order
May 25, 1940: Belgian Defenses Creaking
May 26, 1940: Operation Dynamo
May 27, 1940: King Leopold Surrenders 
May 28, 1940: The Allies Take Narvik
May 29, 1940: Lille Falls
May 30, 1940: Operation Fish
May 31, 1940: Peak Day for Dynamo


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