My review of “Hitler’s Pre-Emptive War: The Battle for Norway, 1940” by Henrik O. Lunde

An interesting, but very detailed — perhaps too detailed — book about a World War II campaign that is often relegated to a few paragraphs in history books.

I have Norwegian heritage and had been meaning to learn more on this subject, but Hitler’s Pre-Emptive War: The Battle For Norway, 1940 by Henrik O. Lunde jumped to the top of my To Read List after reading the interesting novel The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, which is set in Norway and has many references to the German occupation and its affect on the Norwegian people.

There are many reasons to study the Battle of Norway, not the least of which is that it was the first time in the war that the Germans and Allies faced each other in battle. To say the Allies came off the worst in nearly every facet of warfare is an understatement, but the hard lessons learned about command and control, coalition-building, logistics, small unit tactics and airpower would be vital to successes farther down the road.

Unfortunately for the Allies, the German attack on France occurred at nearly the same time, which meant two straight stunning losses to start the war. The losses in France directly resulted in the eventual fall of Norway as the British and French decided to cut and run, ending a campaign they may have won had they exhibited better judgment and strategic acumen.

This is primarily a military history, so the political situation receives scant mention. The pre-battle role and later assumption of power by Quisling, the Norwegian fascist whose name became as synonymous with “traitor” as Benedict Arnold’s, is briefly discussed. There are many references to the post-war tribunals and soul-searching conducted by the Norwegian people, which is also touched on in Nesbo’s novel The Redbreast.

There are some real gems of information here, especially when it comes to the naval battles between the German and British fleets in the North Sea and off the Norwegian coast, and the brave performance of the Norwegian soldiers, who were generally poorly equipped and poorly led. How close this campaign came to being a reversal or at least a Pyrrhic victory for Hitler is something I had not realized before.

But be warned: the author often takes the action down to the company and platoon level, usually with confusing references to unit numerical designations that are very similar for both sides, which can make large sections a real slog to get through. There are maps included, but in the eBook version I read they were in a separate section which made it less easy to flip back-and-forth. Having them inserted in the text with the description of the battles would have been very, very helpful.

When Mr. Lunde deals with the strategic aspects of the campaign the pace moves along quite well. He takes care to identify what each side had to say about battles, casualties, etc., and debunks many myths and false statements made by the participants and previous chroniclers. The focus is almost entirely on the battles in the far north around Narvik, with little time spent on the relatively quick actions in the south and central part of the country.

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One response to “My review of “Hitler’s Pre-Emptive War: The Battle for Norway, 1940” by Henrik O. Lunde

  1. I developed an interest in small small unit action histories when I had to write one in the military history course I took in college. Sounds like an interesting read – one to add to my list! Do have to agree on the maps though; it makes more sense to include them with the relevant text than in a separate section.

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