The German invasion of Denmark was part of Operation Weserübung – the prelude to the overall strategy to conquer Norway and secure access to the vital iron ore shipments from neighbouring Sweden which came through the Norwegian port of Narvik. Also know as the ‘Six Hour War’ due to the short proximity, it took place on the 9th of April 1940. This was despite a non-aggression pact that had been signed between Germany and Denmark the previous year.

Map of the German invasion of Denmark, 1940.

User:Skjoldbro - Wikimedia Commons

The strategic importance of Denmark itself was limited with the primary purpose of the German invasion being to secure a staging point for the military operation against the primary target – Norway. Having Denmark under their control would make supplying their forces in Norway that much easier. Additionally, the construction of radar systems in Denmark would help warn when British bombers were heading for Germany. The German Kriegsmarine would also benefit as it would extend their sea defences further North, restricting the area in which British ships could launch any attacks.

The Germans planned to conquer the country as quickly as possible, using a combined arms approach:

  • An airborne assault on Aalborg airfields
  • A surprise landing of infantry at the Danish capital, Copenhagen
  • A ground assault across the Jutland peninsula.

Willhelm Canaris

On 4th April, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr (the German military-intelligence service) and an opponent of the Nazi regime, sent a warning to the Danes that an invasion by Germany was imminent.

Canaris had initially supported Hitler but after the Invasion of Poland in which he witnessed the devastation in the Polish capital, Warsaw and learnt about various Nazi atrocities being committed against the Polish population, had changed his views and started committing acts of active and passive resistance against the Nazi regime.

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris

An imminent attack

Despite the warning by Canaris, the Danish troops were denied permission to deploy to defensive permission, less their movements provoke the Germans into attacking. Even at this stage, the Danish government were hoping to avoid a conflict with the Germans – however unlikely that may appear with the benefit of hindsight.

Therefore, only a limited number of Danish troops and border guards were in position, and they were put on full alert on 13:30 on 8 April – when it was realised the German attack was inevitable. The following day at 04:15 in the morning, German troops crossed the border at Sæd, Rens, Padborg and Krusaa and the Kriegsmarine landed troops at Lillebælt. The Danes sounded the alarm two minutes later and begun dispatching troops at 04:35. The invasion had started.

German soldiers during the Invasion of Denmark. From this photo, it is possible to get an idea of how well-equipped the German forces were.


Fighting first broke out at Lundtoftbjerg at 04:50, where Danish anti-tank gunners – armed with two 20mm guns and a light machine gun – opened fire on an advancing German column. The 20mm cannons concentrated on the German armoured cars while the machine gunner targeted the accompanying motorcyclists. A nearby barn also caught fire, the smoke further hampering the approaching Germans.

About a mile to the north, a Danish bicycle platoon tried to defend a railway bridge but quickly came under attack from German armoured cars and attacking Luftwaffe aircraft further added to their problems, forcing them to quickly retreat – leaving one dead and a third of their number as prisoner. The Germans lost two armoured cars and three motorcyclists.

The first clash between the Danish Army and the invading forces occurred at Lundtoftbjerg, Jutland, when a German column met a Danish anti-tank platoon armed with a Madsen 20mm anti-tank gun. Overwhelmed, the defenders soon had to withdraw to Aabenraa.

Elsewhere, the Germans had reached the village of Hokkerup, a few kilometres east of Lunoftbjerg at 05:30. The 34 Danes guarding the village had constructed a makeshift roadblock out of farm equipment – finished only 20 minutes before the Germans turned up! The Danes put up a fierce resistance, destroying three of the German armoured cars, forcing the Germans to swiftly withdraw. The Germans attempted to use a 37mm gun – from only 300 metres away – to dislodge the Danes, but it only managed to fire one round before it too, was put out of action by the Danish defenders.

With only a small number of defenders though, it was inevitable that the Danes would not be able to resist the attacking Germans indefinitely though and after some intense hand-to-hand combat – costing the Danes one dead and three wounded - the 100 or so Germans, with air-support, managed to force the Danes to surrender at 06:15.  


Several miles north of Lundtoftbjerg, the Danish set up a roadblock to hamper the German advance. Lieutenant Colonel S.E. Clausen commanded a motorcycle platoon and two bicycle platoons and deployed them in the woodland surrounding the roadblock, which was also covered by two 20mm guns.

The Germans arrived at 06:30 and managed to smash their way through the roadblock, firing as they went. They drove over one of the 20mm guns, the gunner being killed when he attempted to escape by marauding German fighters which were supporting the German attack by strafing the Danish troops.

The second Danish gun failed to work at all – a malfunction occurring at the worst possible moment. Seeing the game was up, the Danes attempted to flee but were quickly surrounded by the Germans and captured, with four of their number wounded.  The action at Bjergskov aptly demonstrated how effective the German forces could be when they attacked in their customary rapid, decisive manner, which cost them only a single damaged armoured car.

German forces met resistance at Bjergskov after Danish troops set up a roadblock in an attempt to halt the advance. But the Danes were outnumbered and quickly subdued. Pictured are some of the disarmed Danish prisoners of war after the battle.


Bredevad is a village in Southern Jutland, located 10 kilometres northwest of Tinglev. At 06:30 in the morning, a German advanced force consisting of four armoured cars carefully approached the village. At the same time, a small Danish force also arrived, and seeing the approaching Germans, scattered, approximately one and a half platoons taking positions in surrounding gardens.

Warning shots from a machine gun and 20mm cannon were fired at the Germans – possibly as a ruse to buy time for the Danes to construct a roadblock, but they were ignored by the Germans who continued to advance.

A squad of Danish troops on the morning of the German invasion, 9 April 1940, photographed near Bredevad in Southern Jutland. Two of these soldiers were killed in action later that day.

Hendriksen, C. Næsh

With the German intentions now clear, the Danes targeted the lead armoured car and from 300 metres away, destroying it and killing the driver. A short battle followed which resulted in the Germans losing three more armoured cars as the Danes put up a determined defence. Only when German reinforcements arrived in the form of a motorised column - which had been dispatched from nearby Tinglev - were the Danes overcome. With the additional troops, the Germans managed to surround the Danish defenders, cutting off their escape route and forcing their surrender. Danish casualties were two dead and five wounded.

A Leichter Panzerspähwagen Sd. Kfz. 221 (light armoured reconnaissance vehicle) lies knocked out in Bredevad on April 9th, 1940. First introduced in 1935,  this light four-wheel drive armoured car had a crew of three and could traverse both road and rough terrain with ease.

The Museum of Danish Resitance


With the German advance now in full swing, the Danish forces at Søgaard army camp, prepared to relocate to the are of Vejle where they would join up with the bulk of the Danish troops of the Jutland Division, which was preparing to face the oncoming Germans. At nearby Aabenraa, a Danish anti-tank platoon – tasked with covering the retreat - found itself engaging a force of around 15 German vehicles which were attempting to catch up with the withdrawing Danish forces.

The Danish gunners managed to knock out a German tank – presumably a Panzer I or II – before continuing to fall back in the direction of Knivsberg. Here they linked up with a bicycle platoon from Stubbæk Skov, which had already clashed with the Germans, losing one dead and three wounded – once again to German aircraft, which continued to prove effective at harassing the Danish ground forces. With pressure from the Germans continuing to grow, the Danish commander ordered his forces to fall back to Haderslev.

Probably the most successful German fighter of the war, the  Messerschmitt Bf 109, proved effective in the Invasion of Denmark, constantly harassing the Danish ground forces. This aircraft - a Bf 109E3 - was part of  Stab I.JG77 and piloted by Herbert Kunze. It is pictured here at Aalborg, Denmark, 1940.


Haderslev is a Danish town in the Region of Southern Denmark and at the time of the German invasion, was garrisoned by 225 troops of the Jutland division, commanded by a Colonel A. Hartz. His forces were mobilised at 07:00 - police loudspeaker vans broadcast the alert - and tasked with defending the barracks and the road leading up to it. With other Danish stragglers arriving, the Danish defenders now numbered 400 men. Three roadblocks were set with wagons and lumber to assist with the defence

The Germans arrived at 07:50 and instantly came under fire from a Danish 37mm anti-tank gun, scoring hits on two approaching German tanks, but suffering two of the gun crew killed and the rest wounded in the process, with the no unmanned gun being crushed by one of the tanks.

Five Danish soldiers prepare the forward gun position with a  37mm anti-tank gun at Hertug Hansgades Hospital. Soon after, it came to a firefight with the German forces, which cost the lives of two of the soldiers and wounded the other three.

The soldiers are from left to right: Kornet F. Vesterby, Private I. Bonde, Private B. Bertelsen, H. C. Hansen, and G. P. Hansen.

About Nationalmuseet - National Museum of Denmark | Flickr

Fierce fighting broke out at the wagon roadblock at Sønderbro Street, as a Danish 20mm cannon and machine gun pinned the Germans down, costing the Danes one killed and two wounded in the process. Despite this effective defence, the order to surrender was received from the Danish capital, Copenhagen, and so the fighting ceased here.

The Germans continued their advance into Haderslev but came under fire again from the Danish Garrison who had not received the surrender order. A German motorcyclist was killed, and a tank damaged by a Danish anti-tank unit, sending it careering into a house. At 08:15 though, the order to surrender reached the Danes though and fighting finally stopped. Another Danish soldier had been killed at the barracks and three civilians had died after being caught in the crossfire.

Airborne Landings

At around 05:00, 96 German Fallschirmjäger (Paratroopers) leapt from nine Junkers 52 transport thus launching the first paratrooper attack in history. Their target was securing the important Storstrøm Bridge in order to keep the road connection between Falster and Zealand open. Additionally, they were tasked with overcoming the Danish defenders in the Masnedø island coastal fortress.

The Germans anticipated a fierce defence by the Danes manning the fortress, but upon reaching their target, they found only a single officer and two privates present. Unsurprisingly, the three Danish soldiers could offer little in the way of effective resistance and so the fortress was quickly secured, which opened a direct route for the Germans to advance on the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

Danish soldiers, ready and willing but hopelessly outnumbered and inexperienced, man an anti-aircraft gun in April 1940.

Getty Images

Two hours later, a platoon from the 4th battalion of from the 4th battalion of Fallschirmjäger Regiment I landed in Aalborg, the main city of northern Jutland. They were tasked with securing the important airfield at Aalborg which would be used as a stepping-stone for the Invasion of Norway. Encountering no resistance, the paratroopers were quickly able to secure the airfield and within a few hours, hundreds of German planes landed and departed – most of them carrying troops and fuel to German forces in Fornebu Airport in Norway.


At 03:55 that morning, the Germans launched a surprise attack on Gedser, the southernmost city in Denmark. Using a local ferry from Warnemünde, they packed it full of soldiers, crossed the river and then advanced inland, cutting telephone lines and securing positions. This allowed armoured and motorcycle units to cross over too and with a bridgehead now secured, the Germans were able to coordinate with the paratroopers and capture Storstrøm Bridge.

German soldiers during the invasion of Denmark.

Naval Landings

To support the securing of the transport connections between Jutland and Zealand, the Kriegsmarine landed troops from the German 198th infantry division at Funen. While this was taking place, the battleship Schleswig-Holstein dropped off troops at Korsør and Nyborg which cut off any connections between Funen and Zealand, thus preventing any Danish interference. With their positions now secure, the troops from Korsør were able to advance on the Danish capital, Copenhagen, arriving there by noon.

German battleship Schleswig-Holstein off Korsør, Denmark, 9 Apr 1940.

Capture of Copenhagen

To ensure Denmark would surrender quickly, the Germans knew they had to seize the capital as quickly as possible. Earlier that morning at 04:20. The 2,430 ton minelayer Hansestadt Danzig had cruised into Copenhagen harbour, accompanied by the icebreaker Stettin and two patrol boats. All the vessels had their battle flags flying so the provocation (and intention) was crystal clear.

Despite this, the Danes manning the coastal artillery guns at nearby Fort Middelgrund, did not respond. Warning shots were ordered to be fired at the approaching German vessels, but the new Danish recruits manning the guns had yet to receive training on how to operate them – so the Germans were able to proceed unmolested.

After landing troops from the 198th Infantry division at 05:18, the Germans proceeded to capture the Citadel – the headquarters of the Danish Army – and its garrison of 70 troops, without a shot being fired. It was clear that the speed and surprise of the German invasion had spread uncertainty and confusion amongst the Danish military. The capture of the main defensive outpost in the capital city – without any resistance – was proof of this.


Having faced little opposition so far, the Germans arrived at Amalienborg Palace – the home of the Danish Royal Family. This time they were met by determined resistance though, as the King’s Royal Guard fought back – suffering three casualties in the progress – but resisting German efforts to enter the place.

This gave King Christian X and his ministers time to meet with the Danish commander-in-chief, General Prior, to discuss the next move. While this was happening, German Heinkel HE 111 and Dornier Do 17 bombers from Kampfgeschwader 4 could be heard overhead as they dropped OPROP! (propaganda) leaflets. The implication was clear – if the German bombers could fly unmolested in Danish airspace, there was little to stop them to drop bombs next time.

German soldier guarding a barricade at Østerbrogade (Østerport Station) in Copenhagen on 9 April 1940.    H. Lund Hansen

With this in mind – and aware of what happened to Warsaw in Poland during the German invasion there, it was clear that surrender was the most viable option – an opinion everyone present – apart from General Prior – agreed with. The Danish military could not hold out indefinitely against the numerically superior and more powerful Germans, and the geography of Denmark did not lend itself well to defensive operations – being mainly flat and open. Jutland itself was vulnerable to a potential panzer attack from Schleswig-Holstein to the south. Unlike its neighbour Norway, Denmark had no mountain ranges to conduct effective resistance from.

King Christian X of Denmark.

Lieutenant general William Wain Prior

Commander-in-Chief of the Danish Army.


What Denmark did have in its favour was a long coastline and an effective navy which might be able to prove effective if supported by the French and British. But this would not stop the Germans running amok inland. Another option discussed was the government going into exile as the Czechs had done but for various reasons this was not chosen. Instead, the Danish government ordered a ceasefire at 06:00 and formally capitulated at 08:34 in exchange for being allowed to retain some form of political autonomy on certain matters, which – given the German treatment of other countries – would spare the Danish population from much of the tribulations experienced by other occupied territories throughout the Second World War.