Sweden in World War II - across borders

German war plans for Sweden

In 1934 Hitler said in confidence to the German politician Hermann Rauschning, that if there was a war his first operation would be to occupy Sweden. The reason was that he could not let the Scandinavian be in the mercy of either the Russians nor the British. [s12]

On this page I include a short text about the German war plans for Denmark and Norway. Those war plans would cause significant negative effects on Sweden. Both to have war on the other side of the border and the risk that Sweden too would be attacked, and the problems it would mean to Sweden's communications with other countries.

German war plans for Denmark and Norway

Apparently it was already in September 1939 that the German admiral Carls proposed that Germany should establish bases in Norway. An idea that had been mentioned in a German book written after World War I, "Die Seestrategie des Weltkrieges", written by Wolfgang Wegener. [s10]

During discussions in September-October the German army was asked if they could manage to establish earlier mentioned bases in Norway, one answer was no. Among the reasons was expected resistance from both Norway and Sweden. The plans were scrapped. [s43]

On 23 September and 10 October 1939 admiral Raeder pointed out that he wanted German naval bases in Norway. Germany had been allowed to establish a naval base on Soviet Union territory west of Murmansk, and Raeder thought that Norway could be pressed to do the same. [s51]

There were two main reasons for Germany to establish bases in Denmark and Norway. If Britain established bases there, it would be easy for the powerful British Navy to stop German ships from sailing between the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and also it would be possible for them to attack German assaults on Britain by air and sea from the flank. It could also mean a pressure on Sweden from the Allies. If Germany had bases first, it would both stop the danger from British bases in Denmark and Norway and give Germany bases along the Atlantic Ocean. [s10]

Another reason was to secure the iron ore import from Sweden, which during the winter was sent by train to Narvik in northern Norway and shipped along the Norwegian coast. [s43].

After the Soviet Union attack on Finland, which apparently was a part of the agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union, the thoughts about Scandinavia reappeared. This time with two other arguments. One was that an occupation of Norway would stop the British trade with Sweden and the Baltic Countries. The other argument concerned that Germany did not oppose to the Soviet Union attack on Finland, which increased anti-German movements in Sweden and Norway - what effect would that have on these countries neutrality? [s43]

Hitler said repetedly that the best situation for Germany was that the Nordic countries remained neutral. There was no reason for Germany to intervene. [s58]

Other reasons to act in the Nordic appeared. One was indications about Allied support for Finland, that involved Norway and Sweden. [s43]

In a document from 13 January 1940 it is noted that any British military pressure on Norway and Sweden could be neutralized by a swift German thrust on Sweden, since Germany could act with a more powerful and faster effect from Sweden than the British would be able to perform from Norway. [s69]

The British Navy's action on 16 February 1940 to free British prisoners from the German ship Altmark in a Norwegian fjord, without action from present Norwegian naval vessels, was an indication of the Allied threat to the iron ore traffic through Norwegian waters. [s43]

At the end of a meeting with general Nikolaus von Falkenhorst in late February 1940, Hitler put forward his reasons for an attack on Norway. Among others he saw the risk that a British establishment in Norway would lead to a British dominance over Sweden and the Baltic Sea. And that was a danger for Germany even if Germany won over France and the other western European countries. It could be possible for Britain to attack the weakly defended northern German coast, and to attack Berlin. [s12]

The work with the German plans were kept secret, also from the Norwegian nazi leader Vidkun Quisling who had met Hitler regarding his plans for a coup d'etat in Norway with German support. During the springtime there had been various rumours in Denmark that something was going to happen - but nothing happened. Denmark knew that their defence was too weak to withstand an attack from a military powerful nation, and that they could not count on aid from Britain in case of a German attack. Norway did not have a strong defence either, but they hade more hope of aid from Britain if Germany attacked them. Both Denmark and Norway was intended to remain neutral, and warnings about danger did not lead to greater changes. [s10]

Not even the sinking of the German troop ship "Rio de Janeiro", by a British submarine near the Norwegian coast on 8 April, changed Norway from acting lika a neutral onlooker. Norwegian Navy ships brought hundreds of survivors to the Norwegian city Kristiansand. It was reported that they were in the same age, and it looked as if they could be soldiers since they had so similar clothes. [s10]

Short about the German attack on Denmark and Norway
I find it very fascinating to read about what took place in Norway, and also Denmark, the week before the German attack. Also what happened in Norway, Britain and France the two months after the German attack.

In the night to 9 April 1940 Germany attacked Denmark by land, sea and air. At the same time attacks from ships began on six cities along the Norwegian coast all the way north to Narvik, and paratroopers attacked two airfields in southern Norway. Smaller groups of German soldiers were landed on other places along the coast, to support the larger attacks.

Both Denmark and Norway was taken by surprise that morning, and so was Sweden. In Denmark the fighting was over within hours, but in Norway the war continued.

The first information about unknown warships on the way into the Oslofjord was received by the Norwegian prime minister at half past eleven in the night, when a phone call woke him up. Bad news arrived from more and more port cities. After several hours a Norwegian official called the British minister in Oslo to hear what he knew, but he was sleeping. At 5 a German representative came to the Norwegian foreign office with a document. Among others it stated thar German troops came to Norway as friends, and would help Norway defend strategic areas to attacks from the Allies. One reason was the Allies efforts to bring the Scandinavian countries into the war, and use these countries soldiers as support troops for Britain as was a British tradition. There were also a number of demands from Germany. Norway said no. [s11]

In the memorandum that the German minister in Oslo gave to the Norwegian foreign minister shortly before 5 o'clock in the morning of 9 April, it was written that the German troops came as friends to help protect the Scandinavian people from attacks from Britain and France. [s01]

One decision that was made in Norway during the morning was to make Stockholm and the Norwegian legation in Stockholm as a central for much of the necessary international communication. As the Norwegian government tried to get a picture of what was happening around in the country, one comment was that the Norwegian forces seemed to be pressed further and further eastwards - maybe even would be pressed into Sweden [s11]. A Sweden that was not prepared for war.

The Danish island Bornholm, south of Sweden, was occupied in the morning of 10 April [s13] or 11 April [s19].

Around 20 April German troops, who had landed in Trondheim, had secured the railway between Trondheim and the Swedish border. Later other German troops secured the railway between Narvik and the Swedish border. [s57]

On 10 June 1940 the Norwegian forces in Norway capitulated to German forces. But, the war continued with the king and the government in Britain. [s10]

German war plans for Sweden

As late as 26 February 1940 there were discussions about including Sweden in the German operation "Weserübung", but when the operation began on 9 April 1940 Sweden had been excluded. [s63]

It was written in the German "Macht auf dem Meer" that the Swedish coastal fleet during WWII was an operative force that had to be reckoned with, both from the east and the south. The three Sverige-ships with their 28 cm guns and speed of 23 knots were mentioned. [s59]

At this end sails Gustaf V, one of the Sverige-ships, built by Kockums and delivered in 1922

In the early morning of 9 April 1940 the German minister in Stockholm delivered a note to the Swedish foreign minister. The content stated that Germany took it for granted that Sweden would follow the declared neutrality, that Swedish warships would not leave Swedish territorial waters, that Sweden would not mobilize or similar, and that the export of iron ore to Germany would continue. [s10]

The Swedish answer was delivered the same afternoon. It was clear that Sweden intended to be neutral, and also that the German conditions were accepted (but with less clear wording). [s10]

Already the same day Sweden began to strengthen its defence. Troops were positioned along the coast and border towards Denmark and southern Norway, The airports in Göteborg, Malmö and Stockholm were blocked so that enemy airplanes couldn't land, Military and police took precautions against possible attempts of a coup by Swedish nazis, and along the southwest coast of Sweden construction of fortifications began. [s10]

There had been German thoughts about an attack on Sweden too, in case of tougher Norwegian defence than expected. On 9 April the German embassy in Moscow was informed that the Soviet Union wished that the Swedish neutrality was respected. And on the evening of 9 April the British and French ministers in Stockholm had a meeting with the Swedish foreign minister, and a French airplane arrived on 12 April with an ambassador and a general. Their promises of support did not change the Swedish intent to keep neutral. [s10]

During the attack on Norway it was told that there had been language courses in Norwegian for German officers during several years, also in Danish and Swedish. [s01]

The situation in Sweden was uncertain for many, Various political and other beliefs influenced some activities, for example some Swedish reporters in Norway who among others wrote that the Norwegian resistance was useless and that the Norwegian citizens were indifferent to the war. The Swedish government forbade recruitment of volunteers for fighting in Norway, and delivery and transit of war materiel to Norway. [s10]

A Swedish delegation was in Berlin 15-16 April 1940 [s19], where they among others had talks with Adolf Hitler [s10]. The Germans requested permission to send food, medical staff and some equipment through Sweden by train to Narvik in northern Norway. It was accepted by Sweden [s19]. On 19 April the first train bound for Narvik left Trelleborg in southern Sweden. Later seven more trains transported 2 doctors and 290 nurses. [s10]

More German demands would follow.

For the German troops who landed in Narvik on 9 April, the prime target was to secure Narvik and the railway to the Swedish border. When that was fulfilled, they should advance northwards in Norway. [s43]

On 16 April the prime target was accomplished. 45 Norwegians were taken prisoners, while the rest managed to flee to Sweden. [s43]

When the Germans failed to capture the Norwegian king and government, who fled to Britain after two months of warfare in Norway, they tried to establish a new legal government in Norway. A government that would be accepted by nations friendly to Germany. Norwegians believed that Sweden would accept such a government after German pressure. [s01]

With the isolated position of Sweden after the German occupation of Denmark and Norway, there was no reason for Germany to attack Sweden. [s28]

The Soviet Union began to invade the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on 14 June 1940. On 18 June Sweden accepted the German transit traffic by trains through Sweden. One thought is that, if Germany had attacked Sweden (for example in case Sweden had not permitted the German traffic) then the Soviet Union would have attacked Finland again. [s59]

In 1941 German officials in Norway had plans to build an autostrada from Trondheim to the Swedish border, near Halden in Norway. The work on this road was not started. [s10]

In 1941-1943 Swedes felt the threat of a German attack, especially in the winter of 1942. Warning signals were accumulation of ships in German Baltic Sea ports, troop movements and that German officers learnt Swedish. [s67]

The Swedish navy organized from 5 July 1941 special task forces to handle foreign naval ships who sailed into Swedish waters, and might be interned. [s59]

In the summer of 1941 a Swedish admiral had visited Berlin for negotiations about the limited Swedish "lejdtrafiken" shipping through German minefields across Skagerak between Denmark and Norway. On 7 July a German admiral had told that Germany wanted to seize Soviet Union warships. The Germans had considered to let the Soviet Union ships escape to Sweden and be interned, and then ask Sweden to hand over the ships to Germany. The Swedish admiral suggested that the Germans should try to seize the ships in Soviet Union harbours instead. The Swedish envoy in Berlin, Arvid Richert, afterwards suggested that Sweden should let the German representatives in both Berlin and Stockholm understand, that if Soviet Union naval ships entered Swedish territorial waters - they would be sunk. [s59]

On 5 August an order was issued to the Swedish navy, about Soviet Union naval ships who sailed into Swedish waters. The Swedish commander at the site could allow the Soviet Union sailors to be interned. If so the crews were to leave the ships, and the ships be anchored awaiting further orders. If the crews would not leave the ships, the Soviet Union ships should be ordered to leave Swedish waters. [s59]

On 24 September 1941 a large German fleet anchored in Åland, the islands between Sweden and Finland. Among the ships were the battleship Tirpitz, the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer and two cruisers. The purpose was to stop the Soviet Union's Baltic fleet to escape to neutral Sweden, in case they made such an attempt as the German troops advanced on to the Soviet Union's naval base Kronstadt. [s59]

The German chief of the marine staff was called to see Hitler on 22 January 1942. Hitler had come to the conclusion that Britain and the USA would make a landing in Norway, and he saw Norway as a key area in the war. He demanded total obeyence from the marine and that all available resources should be sent to Norway. In 1935 Hitler had said that if there would be a war, his first operation would be to invade Sweden. Now his focus had changed - to Swedens closest neighbour. [s51]

Landsverk m_40LOn 22 January 1942 Hitler expressed the thought that Sweden might support an Allied landing in Norway, and receive Narvik and Petsamo as reward. In February diplomatic reports that came to Stockholm had warnings about an impending German attack on Sweden. Sweden began to mobilize on 19 February, and declared that it would defend its neutrality and independence against any aggressors. By the end of the month Sweden had more than 300,000 men under arms. [s58]

At the time Sweden also had a better equipped defence force than when WWII began.

Finland told Germany that an Allied landing in Norway was not probable. This was made after an explicit request from Sweden. Mannerheims view was that the British had bad experience of the terrain from 1918 when British troops fought in the Murmansk area, and president Ryti said that Sweden would defend itself against any attacks. Germany was adviced not to put pressure on Sweden. [s58]

At the end of April 1942 one of the Swedes who supported the Polish resistance in Warszawa was told that the Geographical Institute in Warszawa had stopped their work with maps over Turkey. Instead they produced maps over Sweden, working three-shift around the clock. A Polish engineer, who already had documents that allowed him to travel, went to Berlin and informed the Swedish minister. [s60]

Around July 1942 Norway had become Germany's most important naval base. Of the 69 submarines that were produced during the period, 46 were sent to Norway (26 on another page in the same source). Also the battleship Tirpitz and escort ships were sent to Norway. [s51]

This would have some effect on Sweden too, since the Allies intelligence work in Norway would be increased.

During a conference with the German general staff Hitler told that they could not count on the Swedes in case of an Allied attack on Norway. [s51]

A German study of the defence in Finland and Norway resulted in plans to construct 350 coastal forts from the border in Finland in the north to the border to Sweden in the south. Several German officers did not believe that there was a threat of Allied invasion in Norway, since the Allies didn't have enough resources. During a discussion with high military officers shortly before Christmas in 1943, Hitler once again expressed his fear of an Allied invasion in Norway. General Jodl pointed out that there were 430 000 German soldiers in Norway, and admiral Voss added that there were many fewer in 1940. Hitler said that the enemy would be much better prepared when landing in Norway this time. [s51]

(In July 1941 Stalin had talked with Churchill about the Allies opening a second front in Europe, and meant that it would be easiest in northern Norway where the British could provide naval and air forces while the Soviet Union provided ground troops. Churchill ordered the chiefs of staff to make a plan in September 1941, for a landing with up to 4 divisions around January-February 1942. The answer was that there were too rew soldiers and too little time. Discussions continued among the Allies. Of the alternatives, Churchill preferred northern Norway and north Africa. In mid August 1942 Churchill visited Stalin in Moscow. Among others they discussed the operation (Jupiter) again, to secure the convoy routes to northeastern Soviet Union. An evaluation was presented in August 1942 - the Allies would have to do several landings along the north Norwegian coast with the use of 196 warships, 200 landing vessels, 300 planes, 123 462 soldiers and 9339 vehicles. It would be a hazardous operation, and it didn't take place. [s51])

In the spring of 1943 von Schell made a plan for a German attack on Sweden. [s71]

The strong presence of German military in Norway, in early 1943 among others 11 infantry divisions, also served to ensure that Sweden would not break their neutrality and attack the Germans in Norway. [s58]

It may have been in the early summer of 1943 that a customs officer in Haparanda (in northern Sweden) looked inside a German railway wagon and found large quantities of German military maps over Sweden. Later more such findings were made. [s19]

At the time the Swedes did not know that the Germans, in the spring of 1943, had concluded that they lacked resources for larger military operations against Sweden. [s58]

In the German plan from 1943, for an attack on Sweden, the Swedish navy was seen as the most powerful force in the Swedish defence. [s68]

In May 1944 Sweden ended Germany's right to send mail and military couriers through Sweden. At several checks, the Swedish customs service had found maps over Sweden among the goods. [s58]

On 30 April 1945 admiral Dönitz had issued a special order to all German naval ships. When they heard the word "Regenbogen" over the radio, the ships should be sunk or destroyed. (Excepted were some special ships that would be of use after the end of the war.). However, some submarine captains had received other orders from Dönitz during a meet in late April. He wanted to gather as many submarines in fighting trim as possible in Norway, and thought it might be possible to display the new submarines peformances there. Before all he hoped that Germany would have a powerful argument in the coming peace negotiations. [s52]

2015-08-29. www.granfoss.se. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss