Sweden became a dominant power in the Baltic in the 17th century. Its influence in the region declined with the rise of Russia in the 19th century.
In 1810 the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) elected the French soldier, Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, to succeed the senile, childless Charles XIII. He reigned as Charles XIV between 1818 and 1844 and his descendants have held the Swedish crown ever since.
When German Army invaded Denmark and Norway in 1940 Sweden was criticized for continuing to trade with Nazi Germany. The Transit Agreement, signed in July 1940, allowed the use of Swedish railways to transport German troops and essential supplies.
Swedish public opinion was anti-Nazi throughout the war and Swedish diplomats such as Raoul Wallenberg in Hungary provided help to the resistance. Sweden also provided sanctuary for 5,000 Danish Jews.
The Swedish government also leased 500,000 tons of merchant shipping (60 per cent of Sweden's fleet) to Britain. About half of which was sunk during the war.
Allies continued to apply pressure on Sweden to stop helping the German war effort. The Transit Agreement was terminated in August 1943 and trade with Nazi Germany was reduced until it came to an end in 1944.
The Norwegian mountains run into the ocean in a continuous fringe of islands. Between these islands and the mainland there was a corridor in territorial waters through which Germany could communicate with the outer seas to the grievous injury of our Blockade. German war industry was mainly based upon supplies of Swedish iron ore, which in the summer were drawn from the Swedish port of Lulea at the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, and in the winter, when this was frozen, from Narvik on the west coast of Norway. To respect the corridor would be to allow the whole of this traffic to proceed under the shield of neutrality in the face of our superior sea power. The Admiralty Staff were seriously perturbed at this important advantage being presented to Germany, and at the earliest opportunity I raised the issue in the Cabinet.
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.
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:
The Swedish Prime Minister, Mr. Hansson, stated last night that in reply to a German Note Sweden had announced her intention to preserve strict neutrality. She reserved full liberty to take all measures deemed necessary for maintaining neutrality.
According to the official Swedish News Agency Sweden has agreed that such measures will not be "directed against the German measures in Denmark and Norway."