Sweden in World War II - across borders

German soldiers in Sweden

In mid April 1940 Sweden accepted a German request to transport food, medical staff and some equipment through Sweden by train to Narvik in northern Norway. [s10]

This was accepted by Sweden on 17 April. [s58]

The German troops that had attacked Narvik in the north of Norway, at the time 4000, were supplied with around 1000 soldiers and equipment foremost by parachutes. Some people and equipment arrived with trains via Sweden, said to be for sanitary needs. [s24]

Around 1000 German soldiers were parachuted to reinforce the German troops in the Narvik area who were pressed towards the border to Sweden. The first group of 66 soldiers landed on 14 May 1940. 290 German Red Cross men arrived on train via Sweden, and when they had passed the border to Norway they tore off the Red Cross armlets. [s51]

A number of German soldiers crossed the border to Sweden, and the Swedish military sent them to be interned. All of them returned to Germany when that camp was closed on 12 July 1940. [s77]

Train at Vännäs stationThe Swedish government also accepted a new request shortly after, to transport German sailors from Narvik to Germany through Sweden [s19]. 791 wounded soldiers travelled through Sweden. [s10]

New demands about transit of German war equipment was delivered in mid May, rejected by Sweden, and then again two weeks later. The Swedish response to the last demand had not been delivered when the Allied troops were withdrawn from Norway and the military in Norway surrendered on 10 June 1940. [s10]

One German suggestion was that Sweden could buy armaments from Germany, and send Swedish equipment to the German troops in Narvik. Sweden refused. [s58]

The German medical staff and soldiers on leave rode in passenger cars in the trains. (There are photos of unarmed German soldiers, with uniforms not in order, who rode in cargo wagons under watch of Swedish soldiers. These soldiers were probably prisoners of war later during WWII.)

Train at Riksgränsen stationIn the summer of 1940 a Swedish train rolled through Sweden, guarded by Swedish military. [s06]

After the surrender of the Norwegian troops in Norway took place, Sweden allowed German transit of soldiers on leave through Sweden to and from Norway. The Swedish legation in Berlin had understood the German point of view that a Swedish refuse to their demand would lead to some activities against Sweden. It wasn't until 5 July that the Swedish government admitted officially that such a transit deal had been closed with Germany. [s10]

The first German demand at the time would give them disposal of almost all of the Swedish railways. The agreement that was reached was one train per day between Trelleborg in south Sweden and Oslo in Norway (and back) and one train per week between Trelleborg and Narvik (and back). 500 soldiers could travel in each train, and the same number of men should travel in each direction. "The passage of armaments was also permitted within the limits of what was technically possible.", according to the chapters author Henrik S Nissen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark). [s58]

After about half a year, in early 1941, 278 000 Germans passengers had travelled with these Swedish trains. [s10]

Trains were in traffic between the port towns Helsingborg and Trelleborg in the south of Sweden and Norway, once or twice per day in both directions. At times 10 trains had passed Sweden each day. [s06]

Swedish goods wagonGermany was also permitted to transport troops and war equipment through Sweden, between Storlien (east of Trondheim) and Riksgränsen (east of Narvik). (There was no railway in Norway to Narvik, except the one from Sweden that was constructed for the transport of Swedish iron ore to Narvik.). There was nothing in the agreement that denied the Germans to send other soldiers via Swedish railroads. [s19]

The transit permission was for unarmed soldiers, and with the principle that it should be the same number of soldiers who travelled in each direction. The transit traffic was for soldiers on leave, not for reinforcement of German troops in Norway. [s55]

A motorized batallion with around 1000 soldiers in the SS unit "Kirkenes" was transported by ship to Luleå in northern Sweden in October 1940, and travelled on to northern Norway on Swedish trains. Their cargo included their vehicles and weapons. [s51]

To accept these transports through Sweden was a clear break to the strict neutrality that Sweden had declared. It gave German troops and equipment a safe passage through Sweden instead of a dangerous ship transport along Norways coast where British warships were a threat. Both Britain and Norway protested against this permission from Sweden. [s19]

The German army in Norway was in December 1940 ordered to send 2-3 divisions via Sweden to northern Finland in the summer of 1941. Hitler believed that Sweden would say yes after the attack on the Soviet Union had begun, but an alternative plan was prepared. Planners noted that the transport could not take place without Swedish agreement. In February and March 1941 Germany got the picture that Sweden would deny further demands for transports. Sweden said that Britain (who had raided Lofoten in Norway on 4 March) "would at the very least retaliate economically if Sweden allowed the number of German troops passing northward across Swedish territory to exceed the normal levels at a time when German-Soviet relations were still formally good." (author of the chapter: Ohto Manninen, University of Helsinki, Finland.). [s58]. (My note: this gives me two questions. Did Sweden already in March 1941 know or believe that Germany planned to attack the Soviet Union? In what way would Britain retaliate economically?)

Sweden received a request from Germany in mid March 1941 to send 76,000 soldiers on leave via Sweden to Norway. On 14 March Sweden ordered the mobilization of another 80,000 men (and more were mobilized later). Also on 14 March Sweden suggested that the transport could be made by sea, with an indication that Swedish territorial waters might be used. On 15 March Sweden was informed by the German legation that the number was an error - it should be 16,000 men. [s58]

In the morning of 22 June 1941 the Swedish government received a note from the German diplomat Karl Schnurre. It was the morning when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Germany had a number of new demands, of which three gave political problems. German planes should be allowed to fly over Sweden, and neither planes nor crew interned in case of any emergency landings. German naval vessels could stay in Swedish waters longer than the 24 hours permitted in international law. The German 163rd infantry division, named Engelbrecht, should be permitted to pass Sweden, including its military equipment. [s58]

Among the other demands were to have the right to use Swedish shipping and the telegraph system, and that Sweden and Germany together should lay a number of minefields. [s58]

Two trains in SolnaAfter three days of tough discussions Sweden decided to allow the German 163rd infantry division to pass through Sweden on trains, as a one-time exception. Swedens answer to the other German demands was that they would have to wait until later discussions. [s58]

In late June 1941 Germany was permitted to transport the entire division Engelbrecht, 18 000 soldiers with equipment for warfare, via trains from Norway to Finland. The government said that it was a one-off concession. [s28]

The commander of the Engelbrecht division complained about how they were treated in Sweden, where they met armed Swedish soldiers at the stations. The guns at Boden fortress, built for defence against attacks from the Soviet Union, were turned towards Boden railway station when German troops passed. [s57]

15 000 German soldiers in the Engelbrecht division were transported with Swedish trains from Oslo in Norway to Haparanda in northern Sweden, at the border to Finland [s51]. More than 100 trains were needed [s69].

During the rest of the summer tension between Sweden and Germany declined, and the number of mobilized Swedes was brought down to 175,000. [s58]

During the discussions between Germany and Sweden, the German emissary had said that a no to the German demand would be seen as an unfriendly act. [s55]

One consideration during the tough discussions that preceeded such decisions, was that Germany could win the war and be a large powerful neighbour surrounding Sweden in the future. Another was the Swedish kings threat to abdicate if the government said no to the German demands. [s28]

However, proof of the kings threat has not been found. One thought is that the Swedish prime minister only said so as an argument. [s29]

The arrangement also involved stationing of German troops along the transit route. [s58]

Later demands for transit transports were rejected. [s55]

In August 1941 Germany presented more demands on Sweden, including the transport of another infantry division, but this time Sweden rejected. (Instead the German troops, who came from Greece, were sent across the Baltic and arrived to Finland two months later that planned.). In the autumn the tone in the German press was tough. That Sweden did not participate in "the crusade against Bolshevism" showed that they were "a nation of pensioners" and "swine in dinner jackets". Such a press campaign could have been a prelude to further German demands, where German doubt about Sweden's policy could play a part. On 22 January 1942 Hitler expressed the thought that Sweden might support an Allied landing in Norway, and receive Narvik and Petsamo as reward. [s58]

After August 1941 German troops with arms were not allowed to be on Swedish territory. [s58]

On 22 June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and on 26 June Finland declared war to the Soviet Union.

In mid September 14 northbound convoys had sailed in Swedish waters from Trelleborg to the northern Baltic Sea, with German troop and cargo ships escorted by Swedish military ships and aircrafts. The 40 ships destination was Finland. [s59]

In 1941 the transport to and from Finland with troops and war material was 650.000 metric tonnes. [s60]

Some Germans were rescued by the Swedish destroyer "Norrköping" when the cargo ship "Westfalen" was sunk close to Swedish water. Many dead persons were also taken care of. [s52]

During WW2 333 foreign planes came to Sweden, in various conditions. Closer to 160 of them had connection to German forces. Some landed after technical problems or navigation errors, others crashed, about a dozen were forced to land or shot down by Swedish anti-aircraft or planes. [s77]

These are some examples, where crew members survived:

  • 1939-09-22: Heinkel He 60 with engine problems. The 2 crewmembers were interned until 1940-06-08, when they flew a repaired Heinkel He 111 (on 1940-04-21 shot down by Swedish anti-aircraft) back to Germany. In return a Swedish B 3 plane with crew could return to Sweden, after engine problems forced them to land in Germany on 1940-05-19.
  • 1940-04-17: The only Junkers Ju 52 that managed to take off from the frozen lake Hartvigvannet near Narvik in Norway, with fuel collected from the other damaged planes on the ice (who had transported Gebirgsbatterie 2./A.R.112 to strengthen the German forces in Narvik), got lost and out of fuel. The crew of 3 were interned until 1940-07-12. The Ju 52 was painted with a temporary Swedish civil identification, and flewn to Warnemünde on 1940-09-02.
  • 1940-04-21: A Heinkel He 111 flew over Swedish waters and was shot at by the destroyer Nordenskjöld and the submarine Valrossen, and also a S5A reconnaissance plane. Unclear if the plane caught fire during tha landing, or if the crew started the fire. Apparently the German crew of 4 also had been shot at from the S5A after the landing, and the 2 Swedes were prosecuted for this. German crew interned until 1940-07-12, and the wreck was sent to Germany by train on 1940-11-09.
  • 1940-05-17: A German white-painted double-decker with Red Cross signs was shot at with machine gun and rifles. The crew searched for a missing plane, and landed 45 minutes later to check some objects near a Swedish island. When it took off, one engine didn't function properly. In the evening it left Sweden.
  • 1940-06-02: Fire from an armoured train in Abisko downed a Junkers Ju 87. The 2 crewmembers were interned until 28 June (released earlier, with illness) and 12 July. Wreck to Germany on 31 October.
  • 1940-06-02: One of the Junkers Ju 52 used to transport paratroopers to Bjørnfjell in Norway came out of the clouds on the Swedish side of the border, was hit by anti-aircraft and the plane began to burn. 2 of the crew and 5 paratroopers managed to jump out. They were interned until 12 July.
  • 1941-08-10: 4 unannounced Henschel Hs 126 landed on Bromma airport in Stockholm, restationed from Oslo to Pori in Finland. This had not been announced in advance, as rules for courier planes stated. However they were refueled, and allowed to leave.
  • 1942-05-29: During a test flight from Kastrup in Denmark a Junkers Ju 52 got lost and one engine malfunctioned, and it landed in Malmö. Swedish military technicians replaced the engine, and probably the plane went to Denmark on 13 June. The German crew had returned by the normal ferry traffic between Sweden and Denmark.
  • 1943-02-24: A Ju 52 courier plane, a flight Sweden had got information about, made an emergency landing. Noone of the 20 persons was injured. Circumstances led to more media coverage than usual, so this landing became an indirect reason for the stop of the German courier plane traffic.
  • 1943-10-09: 300 bombers from USA AF passed over southern Denmark eastwards, and among others German fighters in Denmark were on the wings. 3 bombers had to land in Sweden, and also 2 Bf 109 F-2. The fighter pilots went back to Germany, but the planes remained in Sweden.
  • 1945-04-04: Three Fieseler Fi 156 Storch with six men landed east of Ystad on 4 April 1945, after navigating with a compass and watch - and a faulty information about the wind direction. The Germans returned to Germany in exchange with allied flyers, but the planes remained in Sweden.

    On 6 August 1943 the Swedish government announced that the German transit of troops to and from Norway had been stopped. One reason for the decision may have been that Germany now was seen as a weaker military power. Many Norwegians and Swedes had seen this transit of troops as a knife in the back of Norway. [s19]

    In fear of a German military reaction, the number of Swedish men under arms was increased from 170,000 to 300,000. [s58]

    Around 2 000 000 German soldier trips through Sweden were made during the three years. [s28]

    The transported 2 000 000 German soldiers were around 75% higher than the terms in the agreement. 75 000 railway carloads of armaments were also sent via Sweden. (This was 2% of the total number of passengers and freight on trains in Sweden during the period.) [s58]

    When the permission was stopped in 1943, around 5 000 000 German soldiers had travelled with Swedish trains in Sweden. On the way to Germany were foremost German soldiers on leave and injured soldiers, but there had also been Allied war prisoners on their way to prison camps in Germany. [s77]

    A Swedish newspaper wrote about a group of Germans in civilian clothes who travelled with a regular train from Malmö towards Norway on 5 September 1943. They had been overheard talking about their coming service period in Norway. Later information was given from Luftwaffe in Norway to their units that persons travelling with regular trains through Sweden should not talk about their military service. [s77]

    Probably the use of Swedish railways had a limited military importance for Germany, but it was a political victory. A neutral country had adjusted to German rule in other countries. [s58]

    On 1 June 1944 Sweden ended the permission for German courier planes between Finland and Norway over Sweden. [s28]

    In the afternoon of 6 October 1944, a Ju 88 G-1 night fighter with radar equipment was forced to land on Bulltofta airfield near Malmö by Swedish fighters. A faulty radio compass had led them to Sweden. The Germans were upset when the Swedes took care of a bag that they claimed was personal, which was not allowed to do for a neutral country. The bag with its maps and other contents was returned when the crew left Sweden by ferry to Denmark. Swedish technicians took a good look at the plane before it was returned to Denmark on 3 February 1945. [s77]

    The Swedish declaration of neutrality in September 1939 included the note that foreign planes that flew over Swedish territory would be fired at, and if planes landed in Sweden the planes would stay in Sweden and the crews would be interned. [s77]

    The first camp for interned German flyers was opened in the autumn of 1939, when two Germans were interned. More arrived from April 1940. The camp was closed on 12 July 1940, when all Germans had left Sweden in exchange with released British soldiers. This exchange of released internees from Germany and from the Allies continued during the war. Towards the end of the war the great number of Allied flyers who landed in Sweden led to short times as internees for Germans. It even happened that Germans could leave Sweden with their planes, in exchange for Allied flyers. [s77]

    From September 1944 to May 1945 a separate camp was in use for German deserters from foremost Norway, and from Denmark and Germany. After the war they returned foremost to Germany and Austria. [s77]

    In the camps for interned Germans there was a mix of people, from deserters to soldiers who had been prepared to continue the war. It caused some frictions. The Backamo camp held around 1,200 men in early June 1945, including the 57 men from the German submarine U 3503 - who had been willing to continue to fight from Norway when the war ended. [s52]

    The Backamo camp had the form of a normal camp for war prisoners, where the men were kept in the camp. Leave could be granted according to international conventions. [s52]

    At the end of the war around 3,000 men from the German armed forces were interned in Sweden. [s52]

    The German soldiers who in May fled to Sweden to get away from the advancing forces from the Soviet Union, did not meet the future they had hoped for.

    The German capitulation took place over a week, from 2-8 May. Besides 150 persons who arrived with 27 German military planes around this period, mostly from Kurland, before 18 May another 2840 military personnel and 225 civilians arrived to Sweden with a variety of ships from Kurland. [s77]

    On 2 June the Soviet Union sent a demand to Sweden (received on 4 June) that all persons who had left areas that later were occupied by the Soviet Union, after the capitulation was signed, should be extradited to the Soviet Union. [s77]

    The Swedish answer, delivered to the Soviet Union on 16 June, stated that Sweden was prepared to extradite German military personnel and other military personnel under German command - who had come to Sweden from the mentioned area after the capitulation. Also those who had arrived to Sweden before the capitulation, which in practice were those who came to Sweden from 1 May 1945. [s77]

    The survey of which persons should be extradited to the Soviet Union was finished on 3 July. It was 2771 persons. Both Swedish politicians and military pointed out that the camps and the decision to extradite persons ought not be publicly known. [s77]

    During the late autumn rumours were spread among the internees, which led to among other hunger strikes and self-mutilation. From 20 November media coverage increased, and also political discussions in the Riksdag, expecially about the Baltic persons. [s77]

    It wasn't until 3 December that the first ship from the Soviet Union sailed from Sweden, and the last transport took place on 25 January 1946. Some changed decisions about where persons had started their journey to Sweden, illness and deaths had decreased the number of persons a bit. 2372 Germans and 146 Baltic persons (most from Latvia) were sent to the Soviet Union. 54 Poles were sent by ferry to Poland. 307 Germans and 3 Austrians were sent with Swedish ships to the West-zone in Germany. [s77]

    German soldiers were transported from Norway via Sweden to Germany in August 1945, after the end of World War II. [s55]

    There are 246 graves in Sweden with Germans who were killed during World War I and World War 2. Most of the Germans who were buried in Sweden during World War 2 made service in the German navy. [s77]

    2019-04-07. www.granfoss.se. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss