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In digging into German foreign policy documents written during WWII, I found a letter from Hitler to Mussolini, dated 3rd of May of 1940 (amid the Norwegian Campaign), with the following account:

At the moment the most comprehensive preparations are being made for an attack on the English ports of debarkation situated north of Trondheim. I hope that this time we shall succeed in closing the trap before the English are able to withdraw. But apart from that the booty is already enormous; for we succeeded in capturing almost the whole of the British landing troops’ material. At the moment we are examining not only an enormous number of most important English documents but also their equipment, arms, and ammunition.

As for the documents, you will perhaps be amused to learn, Duce, how we came into possession of the most important box. We have to thank the English radio for this!

When the English landed in Andalsnes, they considered it their duty to send forward a brigade immediately to assist those forces which, as they thought, were holding the position in Hamar and Elverum and bravely resisting us Germans. Thus the 148th Battalion of the brigade was sent forward by train and reached the district around Lillehammer. As our aircraft had meanwhile completely destroyed the railway, road, and telephone connections between Dombaas and Andalsnes, the British commanding officer who was advancing at the head of his band of heroes had not the slightest notion of the events which had meanwhile taken place in the theater of war ahead of him. As shortwave transmitters generally scarcely function in these deep valleys, the only source of information was the British radio. The good colonel was therefore relieved to hear from the British radio that English and Norwegians jointly were not only offering successful resistance near Hamar and Elverum but also that, over and above this, they had even repulsed the German troops. So he marched gaily on at the head of his band and entered Lillehammer. He had with him a tin box marked: “Strictly Secret! Not to be taken into the frontline!” containing all that the enemy must not see or get hold of in any circumstances. As, thanks to the English radio he was under the impression that there were still brave Norwegian and British units successfully engaging us Germans at least 120 kilometers ahead of him, he naturally felt exceedingly reassured, believing himself to be a long way from the front, and entered Lillehammer and immediately looked for quarters there so that he and his brave Englishmen, who were still suffering badly from the after effects of seasickness, could go to bed at once. German shock troops then awakened him somewhat rudely and took him into custody together with his military Ark of the Covenant.

The letter is found in Volume 9 of "Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series D, 1918-1945". Although the letter itself seems not to be available online (archive.org does not contain that particular volume), the letter is mentioned in the index of the volume, available here (bottom of page 30).

Now, from what I can gather, in the Wikipedia entry on Andalsnes landings, it reads:

The 148th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Harold Morgan, was part of the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division. ...

The German attack from Oslo was catastrophic for the underprepared British who, undermanned and underequipped, faced a heavy mortar bombardment which forced the Norwegian commander to order a retreat during which many of the 148th Brigade were captured due to a lack of transport. The survivors who managed to escape the Germans regrouped at Faaberg, north of Lillehammer, on 22 April. They were then attacked again by the Germans who, making use of artillery support, outflanked and encircled many of the British positions until again, the 148th Brigade pulled back 10 miles further north to Tretten. The last German attack came in the evening of 22 April when Germans, supported by 4 tanks to which the British could do no damage, pushed them back to Heidal where, at last, the Germans halted.

The 148th Brigade had been reduced to 300 men and 9 officers, with Brigadier Morgan and his headquarters having been captured at Lillehammer.

So, it seems the armed engagement described by Hitler did occur (why would he lie to Mussolini, other than because he had been himself misinformed?). But, I am particularly interested in two things.

  1. Were some important documents stolen?

  2. Did in effect the English radio (perhaps through some news bulletin in the BBC radio) mislead the British troops?

I can imagine that the British account of the war would omit these two issues, if they actually occurred. So I'm not sure British sources would be very helpful here. If I have the time (as I am in the UK), I will go to the British Library and look for radio news bulletins around the date of engagement, to see if such communications did indeed exist. But before doing this, it would be useful to have an alternative, independent source that backs up such events.

I am interested in this because, if the two things above are true, we have one example in which war propaganda by the British backfired on their own troops. (You might not agree with this lecture of events, but this is unrelated to the questions above)

PS: there seems to be a memorial in Lillehammer remembering those British soldiers fallen there.

  • 6
    "Why would he lie to Mussolini?" - There are multiple instances during the war of Hitler lying to allies, including Mussolini. – T.E.D. Apr 5 '18 at 13:42
  • It is VERY interesting to me because of an analogy: How great losses happened on the Soviet/German front due to lies in the Soviet radio? I had never met with any mention of this as a real source of defeat of a soviet commander. Were they less naive? Or was this sort of information strictly secret? So, that even in Gorby times no info appeared? – Gangnus Apr 5 '18 at 14:16
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    I think I've found the kernel of truth in Hitler's story. A colonel was captured (after a fight). Secret documents were also captured. But no BBC radio involvement. I've updated my answer. – Schwern Apr 5 '18 at 21:26
  • @Gangnus In this case however, it seems there was no such misleading situation. See my answer below. – luchonacho Apr 24 '18 at 10:31
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UPDATE @luchonacho's is the fully researched answer.

Were some important documents stolen?

Yes, though what was in them I don't know. And it wasn't a dramatically marked tin it was "eight mailbags". Given the chaos of the British operation, I doubt they were of much operational value.

Did in effect the English radio (perhaps through some news bulletin in the BBC radio) mislead the British troops?

I have found no evidence for that. The British army provided plenty of misleading information and chaos on its own.


While there are plenty of instances of news or public officials giving away military intelligence, there's a dearth of good sources here to back up this story. I think this instance was made up as a good story for some German commander to tell Hitler and then he told his buddy Mussolini a funny story about how stupid the British are. Here's why.

The Wikipedia article on the Åndalsnes Landings claims...

The 148th Brigade had been reduced to 300 men and 9 officers,[1] with Brigadier Morgan and his headquarters having been captured at Lillehammer.

But the page for the 148th's commander (then) Brigadier (not colonel) Harold Morgan appears to contradict this stating that the 148th...

...took part in the Åndalsnes landings, suffered heavy losses and had to be withdrawn in early May 1940. He became General Officer Commanding 45th Infantry Division in May 1941 and then retired at the end of the War.

Was he captured, or wasn't he? Maybe he escaped?

As with anything on Wikipedia, citation needed. The former claim is not sourced. The latter comes from Generals.dk which at least lists its sources for the site, and they do include a lot of primary sources. I'm inclined to believe Generals.dk: Brigadier Morgan was not captured.

Maybe some other colonel carrying secret information was captured? But that's according to Hitler. Hitler is, to be very charitable, not a reliable source. Quite simply: he wasn't there, and he wasn't a historian. On the contrary, he's well known to distort history, and to fall for stories which flatter him and Germany.

"Why would he lie?" His subordinates have reasons to boast to Hitler about their accomplishments and tell him stories about how great the German army is and how stupid the British are. And Hitler, with his need for ego stroking and beliefs in nationalism and racism, is primed to believe such stories.

Then Hitler gets to boast to Mussolini about how great the German army is and what push overs the British are. And Mussolini thinks maybe if they join the war fighting the British won't be so bad and they can get some of the spoils.


UPDATE! I may have found the genesis of this story. Norway 1940: Chronicle of a Chaotic Campaign states...

Lt-Col. [Dudley W] Clarke also found himself responsible for taking £10,000 in bank notes from the Paymaster's Office and eight mailbags of maps and secret papers... Lt-Col. Clarke handed over the secret mail bags to the Brigade Major and the £10,000 to the Field Cashier. Both were to fall into German hands almost in their original wrappings before another ten days had passed...

He's citing Never Give Up: The History of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry by W. G. Hingston which I don't have a copy of.

The Battle for Norway: April-June 1940 states...

On the 23rd, a combined British-Norwegian force of 1,200 men made a stand in front of Tretten, some thirty kilometres north of Lillehammer... Two companies of the Foresters, one of the Leicesters and the remnants of three squadrons of Norwegian dragoons... The result was catastrophic: the commander of the Leicesters, Lieutenant Colonel German, was taken prisoner with several of his officers in the afternoon... The energetic British military attaché, Lieutenant Colonel King-Salter, ending up behind German lines, was seriously wounded and then was also taken prisoner.

By the evening of 23 April, the 148th Brigade had been reduced to a half dozen officers and 300 men. The brigade had ceased to exist as a fighting unit and was deployed at Dombås as an 'anti-parachute force'.

There's your captured Colonel and your secret documents. Rather than being captured in his sleep, it seems it was a hell of a fight. And rather than a dramatically marked tin carried by the colonel it was eight mailbags.

As for the BBC part, neither book makes reference. Instead we see a story of an under-trained, under-equipped force being thrown into a hastily organized and poorly lead operation. Still, they put up a good fight. From Norway 1940...

According to [General Paget, Commander-in-Chief of Operation 'Sickle']'s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholson, 'everything was in a state of improvisation. There were no maps; we had to tear them out of geography books and send the ADC out to the Norwegian travel agency to buy a Baedeker. From the Norwegian Embassy and series of tourist agencies, we gathered an armful of travel advertisement folders. From amongst them we unearthed one showing a picture with a bit of Aandalsnes in the background...

As for the 148th...

...the 148th British Brigade under Brigadier Morgan had just landed at Aandalsnes. True, its orders were to occupy Dombås, then head northward to take part in the capture of Trondheim; but for [General] Ruge, a consolidation of the front south of Lillehammer was far more important. Captain Foley and Lieutenant-Colonel King-Salter entirely agreed with him, and the very next day, the latter set off for Dombås to make contact with the commander of the 148th Brigade [on 19 April].

In theory, of course, Brigadier Morgan was bound by the orders of the War Office. But for the last two weeks, these orders had undergone so many alterations as to become practically worthless...

It then goes on to 10 days of comedy with the 148th being loaded and unloaded to and from transport ships as their orders changed until they wound up on 16 April on ships with who knows what equipment.

For all that, the orders issued a few hours before its departure to the 148th Territorial Brigade - now renamed 'Sickle' Force - were nothing if not ambitious: it was to land in the Aandalsnes area, secure Dombås (60 miles inland), then 'demonstrate northwards and take offensive action against the Germans in the Trondheim area'. While at sea, however, Brigadier Morgan received two additional instructions from General Ironside, which further complicated matters...

You get the idea. No BBC misinformation necessary, the British Army supplied plenty.

  • Thanks for the answer and the research! You motivated me to look further into books of the period. I have requested a load of book from my uni library about the Norway campaign and related, to see if something comes up. I have not given up on the radio thing yet! Also, I have found in my library a massive series of books covering classified British documents, called "British documents on foreign affairs: Reports and papers from the Foreign Office confidential print". Part III Series L relates to World War II. It has 5 volumes! Hopefully something will show up! Will keep you updated. – luchonacho Apr 6 '18 at 8:36
  • @luchonacho That's great! Let us know what you turn up. Dudley Clarke's Seven Assignments (the Lt Col Clarke mentioned above) might also be useful. – Schwern Apr 6 '18 at 22:13
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    Took some weeks but I think I got what I wanted. Check my answer. – luchonacho Apr 23 '18 at 15:05
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TL;DR

The brief answers are 1) yes, there were secret documents stolen by the Germans, and 2) no, the English radio did not mislead the British into the capture of men, equipment, and such documents. The story in Hitler's letter includes some real elements, mixed with falseness, exaggerations and misunderstandings, and perhaps (impossible to know) some lies.


Long answer

Fascinating! That is my conclusion from the analysis I carried out, motivated by @Schwern's post. I searched through a lot of books and even found real German documentary about the period. However the best source by far was a book written by Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Clarke called Seven Assignments published in 1948. Clarke was a British officer, expert in military deception, who participated in several WWII campaigns. One of them was in Norway where he actually traveled as personal companion of Brigadier Morgan! Hence the relevance of his writings for the issue at hand. Other good sources are the reports by L.G. Massy, Commander-in-Chief of the North Western Expeditionary Force, sent to the Secretary of State for War, the 13th of May 1940, documented in Greham and Race (2015).

Before the start of the Allied invasion to Norway on the 13th of April of 1940, Clarke was sent up by the War Office in London to Rosyth in Scotland with "£10,000 in notes, ... [and] eight mailbags of maps and secret pamphlets." (p.81) He had to deliver these to Brigadier Morgan. Once his delivery was finished, he decided to accompany Morgan in his trip to Norway because returning to London "would be only the prelude to a further period of inactivity" (p.87). Once Morgan agreed to this, Clarke sent a telegram to the War Office in London to "inform" (rather than ask permission) them of his decision. So, in Part II of his book, Clarke recounts all his adventures with Morgan in Norway from the embarking until the 25th of April when Clarke returned to London.

So, let's approach the "real" (or British) version of events. The contrast with Hitler's story should be made clear then.

First, a mention about the "secret documents". As said, Clarke was sent up to Scotland with money, maps and secret documents. Clarke says the mailbags and documents were uploaded onto one of the ships. While they were waiting to depart, many activities were performed in the ships. He recounts:

"I tried to help the Brigade Intelligence Officer, who was emptying the mailbags from London and separating a mass of maps and Intelligence Summaries into smaller parcels for the various detachments." (p.92)

So, it seems there were some secret documents ("Intelligence Summaries") in the ship, together with some maps. Interestingly, the destination of Morgan's mission was not clear by then. Whereas the last communication Morgan received stated they were to sail to Namsos (in Norway), en route he received an update. Clarke again:

"During the afternoon he [Morgan] held a conference for his staff, at which we learned that the objective was not to be Namsos after all. Instead SICKLE FORCE was to make an entirely fresh landing at Aandalsnes, some 300 kilometers further south. ... my own reaction to this new development centered around the hundreds of maps which have been carted along so diligently in the mailbags all the way from the War Office [in London]. None of them, I knew, covered Aandalsnes at all." (p.94-5)

The trip apparently was not very pleasant. Plevy's book says:

"After a rough crossing of some forty hours, with much sea-sickness among the troops caused by the violent zigzagging to the ships to counter U-boat attacks, the reinforcements ... were landed at Molde and Aandalsnes late on 18 April." (p.147)

Hitler wrote that the British were still suffering from seasickness when they arrived in Lillehammer. But as this happened the 20th, 3 days after landing, is this likely? Who knows.

Clarke notes that upon arrival to Aandalsnes, there was some information about the state of the frontlines:

"The Norwegian Commander-in-Chief, General Ruge, we learned, had his G.H.Q. at Lillehammer, 150 miles up the railway, with the remnant of his army holding the Germans astride Lake Mjosa." (p.99)

Regarding physical communication routes, unlike Hitler's story, German aerial strikes had not destroyed the railways. Regarding the Gudbrandsdal valley, connecting Aandalsnes and Lillehammer, "which is seldom more than a mile wide and in places narrows to a few hundred yards" (Greham and Race, 2015, p.10), Messy says:

"It would be difficult to imagine a Line of Communications more exposed to air attack, to which it was continually subjected during the hours of daylight by means of heavy bombing and machine gun fire: and there were no means of protecting it nor of repairing the damage done to the roads and railways: for this latter work reliance had to be placed entirely on the Norwegians, who did their best with very limited resources. The key point of Dombaas was completely destroyed by bombing and Otta almost completely so. Large craters on the road made motor transport movement increasingly difficult; it was singularly fortunate that the railway was not more seriously damaged." (p.10-1).

So maybe the heavy bombardment gave the Germans the impression that railways had been completely destroyed. But no, trains were still available. Clarke himself says:

"At least the railway up to Dombaas Junction was still open and working." (p.99)

As it happens, it was open all the way to Lillehammer. Furthermore, the British did face some opposition when moving between Aandalsnes and Lillehammer, as German parachute troops were constantly being deployed, and taking of civilian hostages in the villages did occur (see Clarke's account of events, p.99-102).

Upon arriving to Aandalsnes, Morgan immediately sent an expedition to Dombaas, to which he and Clarke joined, not fully knowing if it was under Norwegian control. There he would asses the situation. Later in the day, a message from Lillehammer arrived by telephone (again, suggesting not all lines of communication were cut-off, and a reliance on any potential "English radio" message is thus non-sense), requesting Morgan to wait for the Norwegian generals at Dombaas. Once they met, the generals asked Morgan to help them in the area south of Lillehammer where they were resisting. After agreeing, the British troops went to Lillehammer. Importantly, the British did not "march" toward Lillehammer (as Hitler suggests), but got there by train. Massy again:

"The force [148th Infantry Brigade] was moved by train to the Lillehammer area during 19th and 20th April" (p.11)

Now, the British did not stay there, but moved further south where the front was. Harry Plevy (2017) says:

"By the evening of 20th April, both of his [Morgan] battalions would be spread out on a wide front, some ten miles south, south-west and south-east of Lillehammer, ..." (p.154)

Unfortunately for the British and Norwegians, things did not go well. Plevy writes that on 21st of April:

"[a]t about 6 p.m., General Hvinden-Haug ordered a general withdrawal north of Lillehammer, with the British units covering the withdrawal." (p.156)

Regarding the loss of men, Greham and Race (2015) say:

"During this withdrawal a party of 5 officers and 50 men, 1/5 Leicesters, was cut off and lost." (p.11)

Similarly, from Kiszely (2017):

"As the Leicesters' War Diary recorded succinctly, 'The Germans caught up the battalion, and a great many of them were cut off.' A number of these groups were taken prisoner, including on of five officers and fifty men from the Leicesters. The Germans were soon in possession of Lillehammer, capturing British ammunition and stores." (p.187)

This is an indication that Lillehammer was not captured by surprise as in Hitlers account.

Now at the time of the attack Clarke was in the British HQ in Oyer, around 10 miles north of Lillehammer, with Morgan (meaning Morgan was not captured in Lillehammer!). Aware of the German reinforcements in Oslo and the fall of the front, he feared "for the safety of the secret papers and cipher books from the Legations." (p.121). Later on, whilst he was still there, the Germans attacked them. I quote in extenso this remarkable event:

It was one of the sentries at the back who presently called our attention to the mountain top, where the distant figures of skiers were now appearing. ... As we strained through field-glasses to distinguish uniforms, any remaining doubts as to whether they were Germans were soon dispelled. There was only one thing left to do then; and that was to get out quickly... Precious moments were spent in trying first to destroy the sackloads of Intelligence Summaries and secret documents, while the Field Cashier dragged out one of his treasure chests [with the £10,000?] in the direction of Morgan's car. The next few minutes were a nightmare. The wooden inn contained a single iron stove with one small opening, so that it was necessary to tear up the voluminous papers, after first shaking them into the stove slowly enough to prevent the fire being blanketed out altogether. While this well-nigh hopeless task was in progress Morgan returned from the road to say that the civilian lorries ... had disappeared, and that his own car alone remained. Meanwhile ... the figures of the skiers were looming uncomfortably large. ... On that Morgan ordered the place to be abandoned. ... One final attempt was made upon the papers by starting a bonfire of them on the floor in the hopes of setting the house alight, and my last view was of the Brigadier Major [Morgan] feeding the flames with packets of crisp £1 notes. Then I clasped my own precious bundle and joined Morgan outside ... while a satisfactory cloud of smoke followed from the doorway of the inn. ... in the end we got clear and sped away round a corner of the road which hid us just in time. It had been a near thing, so near we learned afterwards that the Germans were unfortunately able to get there in time to put out the fire and recover some of the papers. (p.126-7)

This tale suggests that the documents might not have been captured in Lillehammer but further north. In any case, later on Clarke was present in the evacuations of central Norway just as Morgan was (suggesting again the latter was not captured in Lillehammer).

The story of the capture of Lillehammer, the British POW and the documents can also be seen in a Nazi propaganda film called Kampf um Norwegen - Feldzug 1940, made in 1940 (but "found" only in 2005), showing the German campaign in Denmark and Norway. At 48:10 the narrator says that Lillehammer was taken by surprise early in the morning the next day (i.e. 21th of April). In the video, you can see Germans walking around Lillehammer. At 48:25 a group of English POW are shown, which according to the narrator represents the first time English and German troops have been front to front. If this is true, then it is clear these POW are those that could not escape Lillehammer, as these was in effect the first large capture of British soldiers in Norway (the similar weather in all the scenes might further support these were English POW from Lillehammer). If you run this bit at 0.25 speed, you can actually count the soldiers: 9 pairs of 2 (although the last one seems to be alone); 17 or 18 soldiers (not sure how one would recognize officers there). If by any chance the soldiers were divided into two groups, that was one of the groups. The other could have passed before. In any case, in that scene the narrator says:

"British documents that fell into our hands contained orders for the planned occupation of Norway on April 8."

Did these documents contain details about Operation Wilfred? What else did they contain?

In summary, although Hitler's letter does describe, broadly speaking, events that did happen (i.e. German air bombing, the arrival of 148th battalion to Lillehammer, and the capture of British soldiers and secret documents) the details associated with them are all wrong. The detail about the English radio is also not true. Even if the radio could have reached those positions, it is clear that the actions of Morgan and the Norwegian army was not based on any such report.

  • What a great answer. I found myself getting veryyy tense in the neck/shoulders reading that extended quote...phew! – mallin24 Apr 23 '18 at 16:41
  • Wow, incredible sleuthing! This should definitely be marked as the answer. – Schwern Apr 23 '18 at 17:31
  • @mallin24 Thanks! Yes, that bit was quite exciting. – luchonacho Apr 24 '18 at 10:32
  • I am sorry, but after coming here after your invitation, I don't see here any argumentation about the Eastern Front. Notice, that in the first two years of Soviet participation, soviet forces were very often isolated, and radio practically remained the only official source of information. Surely, no good commanders based on it, but there were many of mediocre ones, and heaps of cases when political officers took over the command... So, I really do not understand why after reading thousands of books on the theme, I hadn't heard of cases when a soviet officer took radio for truth. – Gangnus Apr 24 '18 at 11:35
  • Not that your answer or the question are bad, simply the question lead me to a paradox I cannot explain. I don't think here are people able to solve it, according to my exp. I''l try to ask people who remember more than me. And, BTW, don't be so naive as to answer such question basing on documents. I think, all sides had the same problem and somehow everybody silently decided to keep mum. – Gangnus Apr 24 '18 at 11:36

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