Alta Battalion

The Alta Battalion (Norwegian: Alta bataljon) was an independent battalion within the Norwegian 6th Division based in the village of Alta in western Finnmark and commanded by Lt. Colonel Arne Dagfin Dahl. The Alta battalion was multiethnic, being it was constituted by ethnic Norwegians, Sámi and Kvens. It made great successes in halting the German invasion of Norway at Narvik.

Alta Battalion
Alta Battalion pre-1940 colours
Pre-1940 battalion standard on display at the War Museum in Narvik.
Active1898–1994
CountryNorway
BranchNorwegian Army
TypeInfantry
Size900
Garrison/HQAltagård, Alta
EngagementsSecond World War
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Arne Dagfin Dahl

Neutrality duty

The Alta battalion was mobilized 10 October 1939 to help guard Norway's neutrality in the Second World War and positioned in the border areas of eastern Finnmark during the Finnish Winter War to safeguard the northernmost areas of Norway against possible Soviet aggression. At the time the battalion consisted of around 900 soldiers. Guard and patrol duty in the border areas brought the battalion near the brutality of war and served to harden the men of the unit. After seeing the fighting and burning town in Petsamo the soldiers and officers of the Alta Battalion began to view war as a reality and not merely something found in the history books.

The Alta battalion was then demobilized on 15 January 1940. As the battalion deactivated, Lt. Col. Dahl realised that the international situation was still unstable and the unit might be needed again soon. Thus the soldiers were ordered to tag their uniforms and personal equipment before handing them in for storage. This precautionary measure helped the battalion greatly when it was again needed less than three months later.

After the return to Alta a ski company of ninety volunteers was formed and retained for another two months of training. On average the battalion was not considered especially ski-worthy and most of the soldiers had their only skiing experience from the neutrality duty.

The invasion

After the German invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940 the battalion was once more mobilized, the soldiers making their way to Alta by boats or reindeer sleds, then being transported to the front area by the Hurtigruten steamships Dronning Maud and Kong Haakon, and the cargo ship Senja.[1] The battalion departed the pier in Alta on 19 April 1940 and arrived at Sjøvegan on 21 April.[2]

During the coming two-month-long campaign in the mountains north and east of Narvik the battalion spearheaded the 6th Division's advance against the German 3rd Mountain Division in the Narvik area. The standard issue weapons of an infantry squad of the battalion during the campaign was one Madsen light machine gun and Krag-Jørgensen rifles.

When the battalion left for the front it consisted of around 830 men, with 112 horses and 100 ski sleds.[3]

Mountain warfare

The unit spent the entire two-month campaign conducting offensive operations against general Eduard Dietl's entrenched troops. The at first lightly armed infantrymen attacked through the extreme mountainous terrain of northern Nordland against far better trained German gebirgsjäger and fallschirmjäger troops; the unit was only occasionally supported by artillery or air power, usually only being backed up by the unit's 18 Colt M/29 heavy machine guns and its few 81 mm mortars. On the German side the Luftwaffe became progressively more active in the campaign as the Germans recruited collaborators who constructed new air bases in the more southerly regions of the country. Especially important for the Luftwaffe's ability to support the German forces on the Narvik Front was the rapid improvement of Værnes air base, giving the German bombers much more time to operate over the northern front lines.

Success on the Narvik front

Nevertheless, by early June 1940, in co-operation with French and Polish land forces, as well the RAF, the Royal Navy and the French and Polish navies, the 6th Division had pushed the German invaders out of the vital port of Narvik and forced them into a small pocket by the Swedish border. In the mountainous inland areas of the front the Alta Battalion was continuously on the attack, suffering many casualties in the process of throwing back the crack German troops. During the last phase of the fighting Luftwaffe bombers steadily increased their attacks against the allied forces, while the Norwegians deployed their few Fokker C.V light bombers and Heinkel He 115 and Marinens Flyvebaatfabrikk M.F.11 seaplanes in support of the offensive. The elderly Fokker biplanes proved themselves to be surprisingly effective at low level bombing of German positions. The RAF provided a certain extent of fighter cover with the Gloster Gladiators of No. 263 Squadron RAF and the Hawker Hurricanes of No. 46 Squadron RAF, although these were too few to continuously patrol the entire front line.

Use of captured weaponry

In the last weeks of the fighting the battalion was combat-hardened, and well-equipped because of the large amounts of German equipment captured by the advancing fishermen-farmers and reindeer herders of the Alta Battalion. For the first time ever Norwegian infantry advanced utilizing weapons such as submachine guns and hand grenades. During the last weeks of the campaign the battalion's mortars had been worn out by the constant use, with the base plates often being in need of replacement, hence the capture of German 50 mm and 81 mm mortars was very welcome. A number of German mountain guns that had been air dropped by the Luftwaffe to the besieged 3rd Mountain Division were also seized by the battalion and sent back to Alta. In Alta gunners began training with the captured pieces, the intention being deploying them on the front at the earliest opportunity.

The Training Battalion

While the Alta Battalion was fighting Dietl's men at the front a training battalion of three companies was formed at Altagård and Banak back in Finnmark. In addition Alta Battalion also formed smaller local forces in western Finnmark, including an air warning unit of fifteen men in Kårhamn. Although the training battalion was supposed to provide replacements and reinforcements for the active battalion the fighting ended before it could see any action.

Foreign volunteers

During the fighting a small number of trained foreigners joined the battalion, amongst these were nine Estonians that joined up on 19 May.

Allied evacuation of Norway

As the Alta Battalion and the other formations of the 6th Division prepared for one last push against the beleaguered Germans and Austrians of the 3rd Mountain Division, the Third Reich unleashed Fall Gelb and invaded France and the Low Countries. The German 10 May invasion, and the disastrous consequences of this operation for the Allies, led to the land, sea and air forces committed to the Norwegian Campaign being suddenly withdrawn, with notice given the Norwegian authorities only days before the evacuation.

Demobilization

Without the support of the RAF and the Royal Navy the Norwegian government lost all hope of prevailing against the Germans, and fled the country with the evacuating Allies. The last order of the evacuating government to the Norwegian units opposing the Nazis was: Demobilise.

End position of German forces on the Narvik front

After the conclusion of the campaign Eduard Dietl commented that at the time of the Norwegian capitulation his forces would have been able to hold out for only another 24 to 48 hours, after which they would have had to abandon the entire Narvik front and cross into Sweden.

As the still undefeated units of the 6th Division, amongst them the Alta Battalion, marched down from the snow-covered hills on 9 June 1940 many of the soldiers cried tears of bitterness and disappointment that victory had been snatched from them. At 0000hrs 10 June 1940 the ceasefire came into effect. During the early hours of the 10th the soldiers of the battalion marched to Grovfjord, under intermittent air attacks, from where they embarked fishing boats for the journey back to Altagård.

At the capitulation the battalion's archives were removed from Altagård and shipped into exile, initially to the Faroe Islands.[4]

Casualties during the Norwegian Campaign

  1. 5 Killed in Action
  2. 1 Died of Wounds
  3. 36 Wounded in Action
  4. 1 Taken prisoner
  5. 8 Injured
  6. 21 Sick

In all the battalion suffered 71 casualties out of around 900 men during the Norwegian Campaign.[5]

Post Norwegian Campaign

At the end of the Norwegian Campaign the battalion was demobilised and the soldiers returned to their homes and civilian occupations. During the occupation many former members of the battalion were active in the resistance movement, mostly working with gathering intelligence on German forces in Finnmark.

Notes

  1. ^ Ramberg 1996: 102
  2. ^ Hesla, Gyda Katrine (17 November 2014). "- Da de ropte "Ild", kom tårene. Så siktet vi og skjøt". NRK (in Norwegian). Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  3. ^ Haga 1998: 49
  4. ^ Friberg 1991: 88
  5. ^ "Alta bataljon: 8 Styrkeforhold og tap". Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services (in Norwegian). 1998. Archived from the original on 22 October 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2010.

Bibliography

External links

Arne Dagfin Dahl

Arne Dagfin Dahl, (24 May 1894 – 26 October 1990) was a Norwegian military officer most renowned as the commander of the Alta Battalion during the fighting at Narvik in Northern Norway in 1940.

Battle of Gratangen

The Battle of Gratangen occurred during the first Norwegian counter-attack in the Narvik Campaign. The Norwegian 6th Division gathered forces to push the Germans out of the Gratangen area and back towards Narvik. The first attack failed disastrously when the Germans counter-attacked unprepared Norwegian forces, routing a battalion and blunting the first Norwegian advance.

Garrison of Porsanger

The Garrison of Porsanger (Norwegian: Garnisonen i Porsanger), based at Porsangmoen in Porsanger, is the world's northernmost military garrison at 70 degrees northern latitude, located in the Norwegian county of Finnmark.

It trains and houses the jegerkompani / ISTAR, formerly a part of the Finnmark regiment, together with Garnisonen i Sør-Varanger and Alta Battalion. Jegerkompaniet, as well as a petty officer's training centre for the Home Guard. The garrison is located immediately adjacent to Halkavarre, the largest military training area in Norway.

German Radio Intelligence Operations during World War II

German Radio Intelligence Operation during World War II were signals intelligence operations that were undertaken by German Axis forces in Europe during World War II. In keeping with German signals practice since 1942, the term communication intelligence (German: Nachrichtenaufklärung) had been used when intercept units were assigned to observe both enemy radio and wire communication. When the observation of only enemy radio communication was undertaken, the term was radio intelligence (German: funkaufklärung). The term intercept service (German: Horchdienst) was also used up until 1942.

Johan Beichmann

Johan Didrik Schlömer Beichmann KBE (30 May 1886 – 10 February 1966) was a Norwegian military officer, journalist and businessman. A resistance pioneer during the German occupation of Norway, he fled to London and eventually served as head commander of the Norwegian Army-in-exile.

Kristian Løken

Kristian Rikardsen Løken (31 July 1884 – March 1961) was a highly decorated Norwegian military officer who served in the Belgian Force Publique from 1907 to 1917, fighting German colonial forces in East Africa from 1914 to 1917, and went on to command a Norwegian Army infantry brigade during the 1940 Norwegian Campaign of the Second World War.

In 1943, Løken was one of 1,100 Norwegian officers arrested and sent as prisoners-of-war to Germany, only being released after the German capitulation in 1945.

Namsos Campaign

The Namsos Campaign, in Namsos, Norway, and its surrounding area involved heavy fighting between Anglo-French and Norwegian naval and military forces on the one hand, and German military, naval and air forces on the other in April and early May 1940. It was one of the first significant occasions during the Second World War when British and French land forces fought the German Army.

Norwegian Campaign order of battle

The German operation for the invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940 was code-named Weserübung, or "Weser Exercise." Opposing the invasion were the partially mobilized Norwegian military, and an allied expeditionary force composed of British, French, and Free Polish formations. The following list formed the order of battle for this campaign.

SS Dronning Maud (1925)

SS Dronning Maud was a 1,489 ton steel-hulled steamship built in 1925 by the Norwegian shipyard Fredrikstad Mekaniske Verksted in Fredrikstad. Dronning Maud was ordered by the Trondheim-based company Det Nordenfjeldske Dampskipsselskap for the passenger and freight service Hurtigruten along the coast of Norway. She served this route as the company flagship until she was sunk under controversial circumstances during the 1940 Norwegian Campaign.

Tromsø

Tromsø (Norwegian pronunciation: [²trʊmsœ] (listen); Northern Sami: Romsa; Finnish: Tromssa; Kven: Tromssa) is a municipality in Troms county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the city of Tromsø. Outside Norway, Tromso and Tromsö are alternative spellings of the name.

Tromsø lies in Northern Norway. The 2,521-square-kilometre (973 sq mi) municipality is the 18th largest by area out of the 422 municipalities in Norway. Tromsø is the 9th most populous municipality in Norway with a population of 75,638. The municipality's population density is 30.6 inhabitants per square kilometre (79/sq mi) and its population has increased by 15.9% over the last decade. It is the largest urban area in Northern Norway and the third largest north of the Arctic Circle anywhere in the world (following Murmansk and Norilsk). Most of Tromsø, including the city centre, is located on the island of Tromsøya, 350 kilometres (217 mi) north of the Arctic Circle. In 2017, the city of Tromsø had a population of about 65,000 people spread out over Tromsøya and parts of Kvaløya and the mainland. Tromsøya is connected to the mainland by the Tromsø Bridge and the Tromsøysund Tunnel, and to the island of Kvaløya by the Sandnessund Bridge.

The municipality is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. Tromsø is even milder than places much farther south of it elsewhere in the world, such as on the Hudson Bay and in Far East Russia, with the warm-water current allowing for both relatively mild winters and tree growth in spite of its very high latitude.

The city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789. The city is a cultural centre for its region, with several festivals taking place in the summer. Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge of the electronica duo Röyksopp and Lene Marlin grew up and started their careers in Tromsø. Noted electronic musician Geir Jenssen also hails from Tromsø.

Tromsø (city)

Tromsø (Norwegian pronunciation: [²trʊmsœ] (listen); Northern Sami: Romsa; Finnish: Tromssa; Kven: Tromssa) is a city in Tromsø Municipality in Troms county, Norway. The city is the administrative centre of the municipality as well as the administrative centre of Troms county. The Diocese of Nord-Hålogaland is and its Bishop are based at the Tromsø Cathedral in the city. The city is located on the island of Tromsøya which sits in the Tromsøysundet strait, just off the mainland of Northern Norway. The mainland suburb of Tromsdalen is connected to the city centre on Tromsøya by the Tromsø Bridge and the Tromsøysund Tunnel. The suburb of Kvaløysletta on the island of Kvaløya is connected to the city centre by the Sandnessund Bridge.

The 21.25-square-kilometre (5,250-acre) town has a population (2017) of 64,448 which gives the town a population density of 3,033 inhabitants per square kilometre (7,860/sq mi). The city centre (on Tromsøya) has a population of 38,980. The mainland borough of the city, Tromsdalen, has a population of 16,787 and the suburb of Kvaløysletta on the island of Kvaløya has a population of 8,681. The most populous town north of Tromsø in Norway is Alta, with a population of 15,094 (2017), making Tromsø a very large city for this vast rural northern part of Norway. It is the largest urban area in Northern Norway and the third largest north of the Arctic Circle anywhere in the world (following Murmansk and Norilsk).

The city's largest workplaces are the University of Tromsø (UiT) and University Hospital of North Norway. The Norwegian Polar Institute also has its headquarters in Tromsø. The Northern Lights Observatory was established in 1928, and two companies affiliated with the Kongsberg Gruppen collect satellite data from space using the observatory. The fishing industry is very important. Norway's Norges Råfisklag and Norges sjømatråd (seafood council) both have their headquarters in Tromsø. Sparebanken Nord-Norge also has its headquarters in the city. Furthermore, "Skatt nord", an agency of the Norwegian Tax Administration is based here too.

The city is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. Tromsø is even milder than places much farther south of it elsewhere in the world, such as on the Hudson Bay and in Far East Russia, with the warm-water current allowing for both relatively mild winters and tree growth in spite of its very high latitude.

The city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789. The city is a cultural centre for its region, with several festivals taking place in the summer. Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge of the electronica duo Röyksopp and Lene Marlin grew up and started their careers in Tromsø. Noted electronic musician Geir Jenssen also hails from Tromsø.

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