The book had been thrown away as rubbish. 'Narvik' by M. J. Torris, written probably in 1941 and published in 1942, limited and numbered to 25 copies.
It has the following dedication- "A mes comarades de la 1re D.L.C..."
The book's pages had yellowed but none were missing.
It was written for the French soldiers (five battalions) who alongside Norwegian, Polish and Spanish troups, with the intermittent support of the Royal Navy and RAF, fought against the German occupation of Norway and regained the strategically important northern town of Narvik (of the permanent 'iron route' from Sweden). The blockade key for Great Britain.
'(...) Il est onze heures du soir. Le soleil s'est caché. Et, aussitôt, surgit le froid, brutalement. On grelotte, on claque des dents. les pieds sont insensibles. Sous le blouson et la chemise, le torse se crispe, se serre, s'amenuise. On comprend ce que veut dire : "transpercé" de froid.
La bise se lève, cinglante. En quelques minutes les chaussures sont verglacées, les guêtres, mouillées, se durcissent.
Les hommes creusent des trous dans la neige, profonde de deux metres. Tout le monde s'y met, pour se réchauffer. Et on s'installe côte à côte, serrés l'un contre l'autres, enroulés dans les pèlerines, les pieds dans le sac. Pas question de dormir!'
They weren't as well equipped as the Norwegians to fight in such extreme conditions. During the days and nights of the attack the temperatures could sometimes drop below -20°. They had to drag themselves up deep, snowy slopes under the withering, machine gun fire of the solidly defended positions. Yet they succeeded, at considerable sacrifice. They then had the advantage and the impetus to push on, to rout the enemy and perhaps even free Norway. But incredibly, after all their efforts, they were ordered to evacuate Narvik and Norway altogether, leaving the Norwegians with the obligation of negotiating neutrality with Germany.
The main reason for this was that at the same time France had been forced into signing the armistice.
It's not hard to imagine the feelings of the French soldiers after such a brilliant achievement, so far from France, to learn that their homeland had been obliged to capitulate and to sign what were considered ignominious terms.
'En proie à ces réflexions, et cédant au
découragement, peu d'entre eux goûtèrent
au repas du soir, peu allumèrent du feu et
beaucoup, ce soir-là, n'allèrent pas porter
leurs armes aux faisceaux. Ils se couchèrent
chacun à la place où ils se trouvaient, mais le
chagrin, le regret de leur patrie respective, de
leurs parents, de leurs femmes et de leurs
enfants qu'ils n'espéraient plus jamais revoir,
les empêchaient de dormir.'
The remaining contingent of the French battalions evacuated to England were well treated, but because of the capitulation, the relationship couldn't be the same as it was previously. The French were even expected to disarm before boarding the dilapidated cargo ships bound for Casablanca, but they were finally allowed to keep their small arms and automatic weapons.
Another reason why Norway had to be abandoned, was that the Royal Navy wasn't then able to continue to assume the defence or maintain the necessary lines of communication because of the increasing demands due to the rapid expansion of naval war zones. The dire circumstances regarding France, dictated new priorities.
In trying to give the Narvik campaign the necessary naval support, It had also suffered too much from the Luftwaffe dive bomb attacks, and the RAF didn't then have sufficient means to effectively counter them.
Obviously the few examples of this book were published (Fayard) during the German occupation of France, so unless published secretly, it would have been subject to censorship. One nevertheless gets the impression that in Norway in 1940, fighting under such difficult conditions, there was a degree of mutual respect between attackers and defenders. There is no allusion to the Waffen-SS, no anticipation of the hate, horror and madness of the Nazis in this book, as if the battle for Narvik were another war in itself. A war in miniature, 'according to the rules', but still with all the most advanced, available technology of the time.
Even though the French left behind many of their fallen comrades, it seemed sacrilege to them, for example, to destroy their supply of wine that at one point they also had to abandon. So perhaps the Germans were able to celebrate the regaining of Narvik without the slightest opposition, even more.
'(...)Ils n'étaient qu'une poignée! Sur mer, quelques torpilleurs; sur terre, quelques bataillons. Trois bataillons norvégiens, cinq bataillons français, trois bataillons polonais, quelques légionnaires espagnols exilés, un dizaine d'allemands. En tout, vingt, vingt-cinq mille hommes peut-être! (...)
(...)Ils n'étaient que vingt-cinq mille à Narvik. Mais chacun de ces hommes connaissait sa force et sa valeur, et savait la déployer, "l'engager" tout entière, pour se montrer digne de son pays (...)'
If there is anyone who's father or grand-father, of whatever nationality, knows anything about this particular episode of WW2, especially if he played an active role, it would be an extremely precious contribution to a small part of history that deserves to be remembered, and certainly not thrown away, as rubbish.
Narvik (Naval battles)
Text by Mirino. Source 'Narvik', M. J. Torris. Images Nasa, and Wikimedia Commons, with thanks. November, 2010