Review: The Norwegian campaign of 1940
- Published: 01 May 2010 01 May 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
James Louis Moulton
Major-General Moulton was a Brigadier in the Royal Marine Commandos at the end of the 2nd World War and one of the battalion commanders of the assault on Walcheren (commanding 48 Commando), in 1944. His book ‘Battle for Antwerp’ is a superb study of this battle, and will be reviewed later. Knowing the high quality of his writing, I picked up a copy of ‘The Norwegian Campaign’ at the Bovington Tank Fest.
Like ‘Antwerp’, the basic format of this book is a description and analysis of the operation, ranging from strategic-political decision-making to battle vignettes down to company level. It also contains an analysis of the battle for air supremacy, and the failure of the Royal Navy to use its supremacy to stop the invasion. At the end of the book, Moulton has appended a short analysis of the battle for Guadalcanal, by way of contrast. Unlike in the study of Antwerp though, he is not making clear comparisons between various aspects of the two operations, and the reader is left with some doubt as to what he is trying to say.
Moulton has a crisp writing style, and it is clear that he has a strong professional interest in the military aspects of the battle. He is not sparing in his criticism of British leadership, and the inability of the British armed services to co-operate. Being a representative of a small and idiosyncratic service, the Royal Marines, he has no direct agenda, and can be very open in his criticism, which is very refreshing and makes for interesting reading.
His political analysis of the events leading to the operation is driven by a desire to show that a nation that ignores the requirements of defense when faced with a dangerous neighbour, has to share some of the blame if it is invaded and defeated. The spirit of the cold war is showing clearly in these passages.
The narrative of the campaign itself is confusing in places, because of the various landings, number of countries involved, and the chaotic nature of the campaign’s progress. This is also not helped by Moulton’s desire to narrate individual combat incidences that, while very interesting in themselves, divert from the flow of the narrative.
Moulton is relying on a German secondary work, Hubatsch’s ‘Weserübung’ from 1962, to show the German view. He is using British primary and secondary sources, as well as French and Norwegian secondary sources, for his account of the Allied side of the operation. This has to be commended, especially when considering that he wrote at a time when historical accounts rarely considered the German side (e.g. US Army historical studies).
Overall this is a very well-written study of the Norwegian campaign from the Allied perspective. By taking a German study that at the time was probably the best work on ‘Weserübung’ (since probably superseded by Ottmer’s study ‘Weserübung’ for the MGFA), as well as studies by other Allied forces, Moulton manages to give a comprehensive, and balanced overview.
With his very critical attitude towards the performance both of the Allied and German high commands, and by emphasising the contrast between the combined arms approach of the Germans, and the compartmentalised approach of the British, his work leaves the impression of great honesty. It shows a desire to get to the roots of the failure of the supreme naval power of the day to stop a seemingly improbable, if not impossible daring German operation.
Recommended reading for anyone with even a passing interest in ‘Weserübung’.
(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)
(Info on General Moulton’s career from www.generals.dk)