Norway in the Second World War

Norway was united with Denmark from the 14th century until 1814 and to Sweden from 1814 to 1905. Norway was neutral during the First World War.

With major ports on the North Sea and trade routes through the Norwegian Leads the country became of strategic importance during the early stages of the Second World War.

On 9th April 1940, the German Army launched a series of amphibious landings along the coast of Norway at Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansund, Trondheim and Narvik. There were also airbourne assaults on Norway's airports at Stavanger and Oslo.

Despite the presence of the Royal Navy, which was preparing to mine Norwegian waters in order to interrupt Swedish iron-ore supplies, the Germans were able to carry out the first amphibious landings of the war.

The British Army and the French Army arrived at Namos and Andalsnes had some success at first before being evacuated during May and June. The Germans installed Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian Nazi, as the new leader of the country.

During the occupation of Norway Germany made use of the country's aluminum industry. It also imposed an occupation tax but the resistance of the local population meant that over the long-term Norway became an economic liability and not an asset to Nazi Germany.

Primary Sources

(1) Winston Churchill, memo to the First Lord of the Admiralty (29th September 1939)

At the end of November the Gulf of Bothnia normally freezes, so that Swedish iron ore can be sent to Germany only through Oxelosund in the Baltic, or from Narvik at the north of Norway. Oxelosund can export only about one-fifth of the weight of ore Germany requires from Sweden. In winter normally the main trade is from Narvik, whence ships can pass down the west coast of Norway, and make the whole voyage to Germany without leaving territorial waters until inside the Skagerrak.

It must be understood that an adequate supply of Swedish iron ore is vital to Germany, and the interception or prevention of these Narvik supplies during the winter months, i.e., from October to the end of April, will greatly reduce her power of resistance. For the first three weeks of the war no iron-ore ships

left Narvik owing to the reluctance of crews to sail and other causes outside our control. Should this satisfactory state of affairs continue, no special action would be demanded from the Admiralty. Furthermore, negotiations are proceeding with the Swedish Government which in themselves may effectively reduce the supplies of Scandinavian ore to Germany.

Should however the supplies from Narvik to Germany start moving again, more drastic action will be needed.

Our relations with Sweden require careful consideration. Germany acts upon Sweden by threats. Our sea power gives us also powerful weapons, which, if need be, we must use to ration Sweden. Nevertheless, it should be proposed, as part of the policy outlined in paragraph 2, to assist the Swedes so far as possible to dispose of their ore in exchange for our coal; and, should this not suffice, to indemnify them, partly at least, by other means. This is the next step.

(2) Memo from the First Lord of the Admiralty to Winston Churchill (16th December 1939)

The effectual stoppage of the Norwegian ore supplies to Germany ranks as a major offensive operation of war. No other measure is open to us for many months to come which gives so good a chance of abridging the waste and destruction of the conflict, or of perhaps preventing the vast slaughters which

will attend the grapple of the main armies.

If the advantage is held to outweigh the obvious and serious objections, the whole process of stoppage must be enforced. The ore from Lulea (in the Baltic) is already stopped by the winter ice, which must not be (allowed to be) broken by the Soviet ice-breaker, should the attempt be made. The ore from Narvik must be stopped by laying successively a series of small minefields in Norwegian territorial waters at the two or three suitable points on the coast, which will force the ships carrying ore to Germany to quit territorial waters and come on to the high seas, where, if German, they will be taken as prize, or,

if neutral, subjected to our contraband control. The ore from Oxelosund, the main ice-free port in the Baltic, must also be prevented from leaving by methods which will be neither diplomatic nor military. All these three ports must be dealt with in various appropriate ways as soon as possible.

To every blow struck in war there is a counter. If you fire at the enemy he will fire back. It is most necessary therefore to face squarely the counter-measures which may be taken by Germany, or constrained by her from Norway or Sweden. As to Norway, there are three pairs of events which are linked together. First, the Germans, conducting war in a cruel and lawless manner, have violated the territorial waters of Norway, sinking without warning or succour a number of British and neutral vessels. To that our response is to lay the minefields mentioned above. It is suggested that Norway, by way of protest, may cancel the valuable agreement we have made with her for chartering her tankers and other shipping. But then she would lose the extremely profitable bargain she has made with us, and this shipping would become valueless to her in view of our contraband control. Her ships would be idle, and her owners impoverished. It would not be in Norwegian interests for her Government to take this step; and interest is a powerful factor. Thirdly,

Norway could retaliate by refusing to export to us the aluminium and other war materials which are important to the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply. But here again her interests would suffer.

(3) William Shirer, CBS Broadcast from Berlin (9th April, 1940)

The German occupation of Norway and Denmark, which the German newspapers tell us was done to safeguard their freedom and security, continues according to schedule, according to military circles in Berlin.

Denmark, which offered no resistance at all, was said to have been almost completely occupied by night-fall, that is - about two hours ago.

The situation in Norway is more obscure. The Germans admit that the Norwegians put up quite a little resistance at two places on the south coast - at Kristiansand and Oslo, the capital. Late in the afternoon, however, Berlin announced that Nazi troops had entered the Norwegian capital.

Incidentally, most of the Americans still in Berlin, especially our diplomats, had their families in Oslo. But there was no communication with the capital today, and their fate is unknown.

It's emphasized in Berlin that the German air force, which broke the back of Poland in less than a week, took a prominent part in today's action. What the navies are doing - the German and British - we don't know yet in Berlin. There is no news of any engagement, nor have the Germans had anything to say about the report that one of their transports, the Rio de Janeiro, was sunk.

Incidentally, the Wilhelmstrasse denies that Germany intends to make protectorates out of Denmark and Norway. The official contention here is, as I've said, that Germany had saved the freedom and the independence of these two neutral countries, and that's what the press drums on tonight.

(4) Manchester Guardian (10th April, 1940)

Almost within twelve hours of the invasion of Denmark and Norway yesterday the Germans had overrun the whole of Denmark and Oslo, the Norwegian capital, had fallen.

Late last night the Germans claimed that all points of military importance in Norway had been occupied. A German High Command communiqué said:

At the end of the day all bases of military importance in Norway are in German hands. Narvik, Trondhjem, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansamd, and Oslo are especially strongly occupied.

Where serious resistance was encountered - for instance, at Oslo and Kristlandsand - it was broken.

Norway's coastal fortifications, which were taken in close co-operation between the Navy Air Force, and Army shock troops, are now ready to repel any enemy attack.

There are, however, reports from other sources of Norwegian resistance. A Berlin broadcast last night admitted that the German High Command "has found it necessary" to bomb severely several cities and towns in Northern Norway.

Oslo was occupied by the Germans in the afternoon. They at once set up a "puppet" Government, under the leader of the Norwegian Nazi party, "to protect Norway's interests."

(5) Leland Stowe, New York Post (26th April 1940)

Here is the first and only eyewitness report on the opening chapter of the British expeditionary troops' advance in Norway north of Trondheim. It is a bitterly disillusioning and almost unbelievable story.

The British force which was supposed to sweep down from Namsos consisted of one battalion of Territorials and one battalion of the King's Own Royal Light Infantry. These totaled fewer than 1,500 men. They were dumped into Norway's deep snows and quagmires of April slush without a single anti-aircraft gun, without one squadron of supporting airplanes, without a single piece of field artillery.

They were thrown into the snows and mud of 63 degrees north latitude to fight crack German regulars - most of them veterans of the Polish invasion - and to face the most destructive of modern weapons. The great majority of these young Britishers averaged only one year of military service. They have already paid a heavy price for a major military blunder which was not committed by their immediate command, but in London.

Unless they receive large supplies of anti-air guns and adequate reinforcements within a very few days, the remains of these two British battalions will be cut to ribbons.

Here is the astonishing story of what has happened to the gallant little handful of British expeditionaries above Trondheim: After only four days of fighting, nearly half of this initial BEF contingent has been knocked out - either killed, wounded or captured. On Monday, these comparatively inexperienced and incredibly under-armed British troops were decisively defeated. They were driven back in precipitate disorder from Vist, three miles south of the bomb-ravaged town of Steinkjer.

(6) After the war General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst described a conversation he had with Adolf Hitler on 20th February 1940.

Hitler reminded me of my experience in Finland, and said to me "Sit down and tell me what you did". After a moment, the Fuehrer interrupted me. He led me to a table covered with maps. "I have a similar thing in mind," he said: "the occupation of Norway; because I am informed that the English intend to land there, and I want to be there before them."

Then marching up and down he expounded to me his reasons. "The occupation of Norway by the British would be a strategic turning movement which would lead them into the Baltic, where we have neither troops nor coastal fortifications. The success which we have gained in the east and which we are going to win in the west would be annihilated because the enemy would find himself in a position to advance on Berlin and to break the backbone of our two fronts. In the second and third place the conquest of Norway will ensure the liberty of movement of our Fleet in the Bay ofWilhelmshaven, and will protect our imports of Swedish ore". Finally he said to me, "I appoint you to the command of the expedition".