I’m generally not a fan of World War II books or movies, but I found this 1940 German documentary about the military invasion of Norway informative, interesting, and at times dramatic and exciting. It provides a succinct overview of what in the US is called Operation Weser or Weser Exercise after the German code name for the April 9, 1940 operation. The Occupation itself, which is outside the purview of the film, lasted from April 9, 1940 to May 8 1945, when German resistance to Allied-Communist forces in Europe collapsed.
Admittedly, my interest is partly personal. My mother was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants. German troops established an encampment on the farm near Stavanger from which she derived her surname, and which has been in our family for centuries—as far back as Lutheran parish records exist, to the late 1500s and early 1600s, and no doubt longer than that. This is the area where Leif Erikson’s father Erik the Red was born. My American grandfather who came from there died before the war, however.
Similarly, in mountainous, rugged Gudbrandsdalen, which is mentioned extensively in Snorri Sturluson’s saga Heimskringla (Chronicle of the Kings of Norway) (c. 1230), where my grandmother originated near the Jotunheimen range containing Norway’s tallest peaks, the Occupation was also felt. The film shows the German troops pushing north through the valley. My mother told me that my grandmother, who lived with us when I was a boy, worried about her relatives back home and mailed them care packages, never knowing whether they got through or not.
But I think the film is worth watching on its own merits.
It provides an admirably clear picture of a little-known WWII campaign on the periphery of Europe extending even above the Arctic Circle, between three Northern peoples: the British and Norwegians (and, behind the scenes, the Jews) on one side, and Germans on the other. Fortunately, the fighting was not as savage as on the Eastern Front, resulting in only a few thousand killed altogether (i.e., both sides). Too many, of course, but it could have been worse.
Well-drawn military map-animations and explanatory narration are seamlessly integrated with raw combat cinematography to provide an exceptionally clear picture of the invasion for viewers. Captured British and French footage is also incorporated, depicting some of the fighting from the Allied side. Fighting took place on land, sea, and in the air.
It has often been said that comparative honesty about the military aspects of the war was a hallmark of Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda ministry, and the film bears this out. Few punches are pulled. The enormous challenges posed to the German troops by cold weather, snow, the rugged terrain (to put it mildly), and the tenacious tactics of Norwegian guerrilla fighters are depicted unsentimentally. The German defense of Narvik against elite French troops shows Germans continually retreating until reinforcements finally arrive.
A Swedish blogger hostile to Germany suggested viewing the film in conjunction with Divide and Conquer (1943), which also covered the Nazi invasion of Norway. Made by the Roosevelt Administration’s propaganda arm, the Office of War Information (OWI) as part of its Why We Fight series, it was co-written by Jewish twins Julius and Philip Epstein (Oscar winners for their screenplay for Casablanca) and co-directed by Sicilian-American Frank Capra and Ukrainian-born Jew Anatole Litvak. Comparing the two movies, the Swede felt the American film was “actually worse in terms of propagandistic content.”
Two of the 29 war cinematographers employed in making the film were killed in action. Werner Bohne, a cameraman on Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1934), died when the heavy cruiser Blücher was sunk by the Norwegians in the Oslofjord, April 9, 1940, where it still lies at the bottom. Eberhard von der Heyden, a cameraman on Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1936), also died.
The theme of the film throughout is opposition to Brits more than Norwegians, as the ringing closing line makes clear: “The battle against Britain in Norway has been decided!” (Emphasis added.)
For unknown reasons, Battle for Norway was never shown in Germany. It remained lost for six decades, from 1940 (or 1945) to 2005.
This is the second lost film I have written about for Counter-Currents. The other was Leni Riefenstahl’s little-known first documentary about the 1933 Nuremberg Party rally, Victory of Faith (Der Sieg des Glaubens) (1933-German), lost between 1934 and the 1990s, when a copy surfaced in Britain. (Actually, it is the third lost film if my brief analysis [scroll down] of the filmed record of Richard Burton’s Broadway performance of Hamlet in 1964 is included.)
Lost and rediscovered films are a fascinating topic. A common estimate is that 90 percent of all American silent films and 50 percent of American sound films made before 1950 have been lost. The primary cause of silent film loss was wholesale junking by motion picture studios. Early film stock was chemically unstable (potentially flammable and subject to degradation), expensive to store, vault space was limited, and no thought was given to film preservation.
To cite one example, Clara Bow was one of the most popular actresses of the American silent cinema. Yet 20 of her 57 films are lost, and another 5 are incomplete. Even her most famous film, the highly enjoyable silent romantic comedy It (1927), remained lost until a nitrate copy was discovered in Prague in the 1960s.
Subject to similar vagaries were the programs of Old Time Radio (many lost recordings or live broadcasts that were not recorded) and television (lost or destroyed film stock and, again, live broadcasts never recorded). For example, in the 1970s the 1940s-50s-era kinescope library of the DuMont Television Network, America’s fourth early network, was loaded onto three trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay.
University of Bergen film historian Jostein Saakvitne regularly combs the online archives of various Internet auction houses for movies and photos pertaining to the German occupation of Norway. In 2005, on the website of a large German auction house specializing in militaria, he found five rolls of nitrate film for sale. The only description was “Battle for Norway,” nothing more. The words quickened his pulse. Could it be the long-lost war documentary? “I couldn’t know, because there was no further information,” Saakvitne later said. He submitted an online bid. To his surprise, he was the only bidder, and the film turned out to be the find of his lifetime.
More than 60 years after its production the movie finally premiered at the Norwegian Film Institute in Oslo in 2006. Interest was so great that organizers scheduled a second showing the same evening to accommodate the demand. Even at the second showing nearly all of the 200 seats in the auditorium were filled.
The film’s image quality is remarkably good considering the instability of the underlying nitrate stock. Existing versions on DVD and the Internet derive from a digital copy made by Ragnar Løvberg of the Norwegian Film Institute. The original nitrate rolls were transferred to mountain storage facilities belonging to the Norwegian National Library in Mo i Rana, 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle, before being returned to Germany.
Battle for Norway is a compelling account of a major WWII campaign seen from the other side. It should prove of special interest to Germans and people of German descent, Norwegians and people of Norwegian descent, and Scandinavians generally.
For those particularly fascinated by WWII military campaigns, I would probably bump the rating up from *** to ***1/2 (using Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide system of BOMB to **** by half-star increments).
Kampf um Norwegen – Feldzug 1940 (Battle for Norway – 1940 Campaign) (1940-German) ***
B&W, 1 hr., 21 mins.
Presented by UFA
Produced by the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht)
Directed by Dr. Martin Rikli (Swiss) and Dr. Werner Buhre (Austrian)
Cameramen: Josef Asenkerschbaumer, Werner Bohne†, Josef Dietze, Kurt Eckhardt, Max Endrejat, Dr. Frank, Karl Freymann, Gerhard Garms, Eberhard von der Heyden†, Paul Hinrichs, Walter Hrich, Werner Hundhausen, Heinz von Jaworsky, Bernhard Juppe, Kling, Herbert Lander, Gustav Lantschner, Bruno Lötsch, Ullrich Nolte, Heinz Paxmann, Paul Schmökel, Hermann Stöß, Otto Tober, Hugo Urban, Weid, H. Winterfeld, Karl Heinz Witte, Károly Kurzmayer, Herbert Thallmayer.
Original musical score by Franz R. Friedl, who composed scores for a number of German films between 1934 and 1958, including The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude) the same year.
DVD: International Historic Films, Chicago. Release date: March 21, 2013. Switchable English and German sound tracks with optional English subtitles.
Viewable on YouTube: German narration with English subtitles.
Viewable at the Internet Archive: German language only, no subtitles.