Sweden in World War II - across borders

Other info fragments

When I went through the sources I have used for this web site, I found some information that do not directly concern Sweden - but that I by one reason or another feel adds to the understanding of the situation in northern Europe.

The Finnish air force was born on 6 March 1918, when Swedish Erik von Rosen donated a plane to Finland. von Rosens sign was painted on the wings, a blue swastika. It remained the sign of the Finnish air force until the end of WW2. [s83]

25000 Hungarians volunteered to help Finland after the Soviet Union attack in 1939, but Germany denied them passage through Germany-controlled territory. Only 350 managed to get to Finland. [s50]

During the Winter War when the Soviet Union attacked Finland, on 30 November 1939, the Soviet Union got unsuspected help. In late December the ice in the Gulf of Finland froze solid, and in February-March 1940 the Soviet Union drove plenty of tanks and artillery across the bay at Viborg and established a bridgehead. [s59]

Elvegårdsmoen near Narvik was one of the most important mobilization camps in northern Norway. On the 8 April 1940 a batallion had walked to Narvik to increase the defence forces in the port city. At the military camp were 150 men, most non-combatants and soldiers who were reported sick. The commander of the 17 soldiers who were to guard the camp had requested that they should be issued with live ammunition, but got the answer that it couldn't be done until the following day and with a filled in requisition form. In the morning a civilian blacksmith arrived on skis to his work at the military camp, where the Norwegian military flag had company by the German. Not a single shot had been fired in the military camp as the Germans arrived there, and the stores were filled with weapons, ammunition and equipment. That day the work in the armourer's workshop went on as usual. [s51]

(My thought: If German troops had landed in Sweden on 9 April 1940 - how well prepared had Sweden been?)

In the morning of 9 April 1940, 7 Norwegian fighters started from the airport Fornebu in Oslo. They managed to shoot down 5 German twin-engine fighters. [s24]

Heavy fog in the early morning disturbed the German landing of paratroopers at Fornedu airport. The 140 men strong Norwegian ground force at Fornebu had three 8 mm machine guns, and used these on planes that were landing or had landed until they were out of ammunition. Eight German planes were wrecked or badly damaged. [s69]

The Norwegian armed forces did not have many more planes than a hundred, of various kinds, but many of them were used during the two months of fighting in Norway. [s01]

Also in the morning of 9 April 1940, the gold and bank note reserve was transported from Oslo. On trucks and sleds and fishing boats it was brought northwards, and later to Britain and on via Canada to the USA. No troops followed as guards. [s01]

On the 9 April there were also smaller German attacks along the coast in northern Norway, among others aimed at Tromsø. Some ships were sunk or captured by British units. One ship with German troops was sunk by a Polish submarine. An armoured trawler sailed into the harbour of Honningsvåg, where a local dentist and some 30 fishermen managed to capture the trawler. The trawler was then used by the Norwegian navy. [s01]

Several German ships were sunk or damaged by Norwegian naval ships from 9 April to early June 1940. When the Norwegian king and government left Norway, 13 Norwegian naval ships sailed with them. [s01]

(The German cruiser Blücher that was sunk in Oslofjorden in the early morning of 9 April 1940 was named after the German war hero Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. In 1756, early in the '7-yearwar' in Europe, the 14 years old Blücher enlisted as volunteer in the Swedish army. [s56] )

(The fort Oscarsborg in Oslofjorden that sank the German cruiser Blücher, also had four fast-shooting Finspong 57 millimetres guns. These Swedish-made guns were installed in 1894-1897. [s56] )

If the Norwegian government had acted even as late as on the 8 April, when the information about German warships passing Denmark on the way north, much could have been achieved. A full mobilization and clear orders from the highest leaders had caused the small German invasion force more damages, and could have prohibited the invasion of Norway. Bolærne fort in Oslofjorden was the last fighting fort in the fjord, and it managed to stop German transport ships from reaching Oslo until 11 April. [s56]

Many of the first German troops that attacked Norway could speak Norwegian. Several were from Austria and had spent winters in Norway when there was famine in Austria and southern Germany - and Norway helped the children. Others were poor German tourists, die Wandervögel, who had spent summers travelling around in Norway. There had also been language courses in Norwegian for German officers during several years, also in Danish and Swedish. [s01]

A small Allied marine force landed at Namsos in Norway, north of Trondheim. Two days later more troops arrived. They cleared the landing area from signs that a landing had taken place, and hid in forested not to be discovered by German pilots. They advanced only during nights. On the evening of 19 April the news agency Reuters reported in British radio that British troops had landed in Namsos ... [s43]

On the evening of 19 April 1940 the highest Norwegian military commander Ruge met a British officer. Ruge was dissapointed about the small size of the Allied forces that arrived in Norway, and that the British hadn't told about their own plans (that differed from the Norwegian plans). The following morning Ruge went to the railway station in Lillehammer to inspect the British troops. The Norwegians got more disappointed. No regular troops, only rifles and light machine guns, no weapons against armoured vehicles, no anti-aircraft guns, no artillery, no vehicles ... [s43]

Also a British general expressed his disappointment with the British troops who were sent to Norway, in negative words. [s51]

On 7 May the British prime minister had a tough day with several interruptions, with comments about the poor British performance in southern Norway, during his speech. One opposition party leader refused to accept Chamberlains statement about shortcomings in the Norwegian defence forces, and pointed on the British troops armament, equipment, leadership, lack of air support, deplorable anti-aircraft equipment and lack of good winter equipment. An admiral, a conservative as the prime minister, gave a resumé of the acting of the government about support to Norway and stated that it was a frightening exhibition of incompetence. A vote gave 281 votes for and 200 against, but 33 conservatives had voted against their prime minister. On 10 May 1940 Chamberlain resigned. [s51]

(My note: I feel pretty sure that the acting by the British troops in Norway was known by Swedish military and civilian leaders, and was one factor in the belief of Allied support in case of a German attack on Sweden druing the war.)

During the fights around Narvik, when Norwegian troops had been formed, some Norwegian soldiers refused to shoot at the Germans. They did not have so long time with military training, and to shoot humans was another thing than to shoot and butcher elks. That changed after a German attack when the Germans used war prisoners and civilians as shields when they advanced. They also forced civilians to carry ammunition boxes up on the 800-900 metres high heights. [s51]

On the 26 April 1940 the Germans sent a message over the captured Norwegian radio stations, that told that Germany was at war with Norway. Two days later the Norwegian government answered in a proclamation, that they had been aware of this since the night to 9 April. [s01]

About some of the conditions in northern Norway: As the Allied tropps were evacuated from Namsos, one idea was to leave one force that should retreat northwards on land while fighting German troops that advanced north towards Narvik. The commanders said no to this idea. They thought the railway line north of Grong was covered with a thick layer of snow (they had not been told that the line had been cleared between Grong and Mosjøen). The road to Bodø was in a bad condition, and with several ferry crossings. North of Bodø there was no road at all, just mountain terrain. Some German reinforcements to northern Norway were transported by amphibious planes. [s43]

The fights in the Narvik area in April 1940 took place in a northern Norwegian windy and rainy springtime, which was a winter surrounding. Besides enemies who tried to kill or capture soldiers, and too few horses to carry ammunition, there were problems with no roads in mountain terrain, snow and ice, cold and wet, snowblindness and frostbites, and mountain ridges where there was no cover since the snow up there blew away, and lack of sleep. Now and then a Norwegian officer found soldiers standing and sleeping. For the Norwegian soldiers there were also dangers by better German weapons and the German air force. [s51]

Norwegian fighter planes were in action also during the battle for Narvik in northern Norway, until early June 1940 when the fighting in Norway ended. When the king, crown prince and government went to Britain to continue the fight for a free Norway, the navy ships and planes that could make it to Britain were ordered to follow. [s24]

On 3 June 1940 the Norwegian and Swedish foreign ministers met in Luleå in northern Sweden [s01]. At the time the Norwegian government and king were in Tromsø in northern Norway. Most of northern Norway was still not occupied by the Germans.

There was a lack of communication, coordination and cooperation between the four nations whose soldiers fought in the Narvik area in April-June 1940. Different points of view, also among leaders from the same nation including Norway. The British generals didn't contact the Norwegian general for 3 weeks. [s51]

When the Allies decided to withdrew their forces from Norway (decided on 24 May, but the Norwegian government was not informed until on 1 June), the German troops in the Narvik area only held a small area close to the Swedish border. The Germans held two mountains north of Rombaksfjorden, where Norwegian and French troops advanced. South of the fjord troops from the Foreign Legion advanced along the railway to Sweden. At the south end the Polish troops advanced. The final attack was planned by the Norwegians to take place on 8 June, but the Allied forces could not wait those few days. The Norwegians asked if the Allies would leave weapons, but the answer was no. [s43]

The Allied expeditions to aid Norway had several difficulties, and this continued. During the evacuation from Norway the Allied convoys met German warships who originally were on the way to sink Allied ships in northern Norway. Luckily the Germans didn't see the cruiser Devonshire, who among the passengers had the Norwegian king and government. [s43]

In August 1940 Finland and Germany made a transit agreement, so that German troops could be stationed in northern Finland. [s42]

Germany delivered armaments to Finland from September 1940, discretely via imaginary firms. The transit of troops and material to northern Norway until June 1941 was around one-tenth of the traffic through Sweden. [s58]

A transit agreement was signed on 12 September between Finland and Germany, that allowed German transports via Finland to and from northern Norway. The Germans could establish communication bases in three Finnish cities, manned by 1100 administrators. The first German troops arrived in Vaasa after a week. Germany would give Finland among 50 fighters and 800 guns. [s57]

In September 1940 a group of Swedish officers visited Germany, on what one Swedish officer called a 'boast and intimidation trip' (my translation). The officer had an appointment in Gdynia some years earlier during his military training. [s59]

During the war there were different opinions between Norway and Britain at several occassions. Often Britain preferred bomb attacks by planes, while Norway preferred sabotage in factories and other targets since this had a lower risk of killing Norwegians. [s46]

Occassionally British bombs missed their targets. The saboteurs were resistance people in Norway, or Norwegians or British who were parachuted or landed by boats from Britain. Often the way out from Norway was to Sweden.

It was not only the Germans who were threats to the illegals. Some boats sank during storms on the trip between Britain (often the Shetland Islands) and Norway.

At one parachute drop the wind blew two parachuters to a mountain slope, where one damaged one foot and could not walk by himself and the other broke one leg. The few persons who received them on the ground had a busy night to help the two parachuted Norwegians, and find the containers and hide them before dawn. [s46]

On 7 December 1941 the Swedish s/s Miramar, with six Swedish crew members and 32 Chinese, was on the way to Hongkong with 2,000 metric tonnes of rice. The following day they heard on radio about the fighting at Hongkong, and anchored in the neutral Indochine. When they saw Japanese on land setting up weapons they contacted the Japanese commander, who ordered them to sail to Saigon with the cargo. The Japanese took over the ship on 31 December, and ordered that the Swedish flag should be taken down. For a period the crew had to work on the now Japanese-flagged ship. No international laws were followed. Later the Swedes were sent to Shanghai, where they had a relatively good time until the Japanese occupied Shanghai. The Swedes had to stay in Shanghai for three years, until they could leave with a British liner in March 1946. (Miramar sailed on under Japanese and Panama flags until scrapped in 1952.) [s65]

Towards mid 1942 German intelligence concluded that the risk for an Allied invasion in Norway had declined, but in October-November Hitlers fear grew again. He thought the most important strategy was to defend the northern area, and a number of small units were sent to Norway from Finland and the Baltic states. Transports to the eastern front were interrupted, and a tank division was formed in Norway. Instead of supporting the German troops around Stalingrad. [s58]

From September 1942 the Allies produced more merchant ships than the German submarines managed to sink. [s52]

In the Gulf of Finland, between Finland and Estonia, some 40,000 - 60,000 mines were laid in 1939-1945. Around two thirds were German, the rest Finnish and Soviet Union mines. [s59]

Several German soldiers, especially in northern Norway, liked to use Norwegian uniforms. Some of them even used Norwegian uniforms when travelling from Narvik through Sweden on the transit trains. [s01]

Swedish sailors who worked on the Swedish ships that sailed for the Red Cross in the Mediterranean Sea sometimes had land excursions under guard by German soldiers. At one occassion Greek children approached the Swedes to beg for something to eat, and a German soldier (who could speek Swedish) fired his rifle into the group of children. [s64]

In early 1943 a Swedish sailor wrote a letter to the magazine of the Swedish seamen's church. He had been away from Sweden for three years, and a visit to the Swedish seamen's church in Hull in Britain on the "Lucia-day" 13 December 1942 had almost made him weep. On New Years Day 1943 he arrived in Glasgow, and there he got a very special Christmas gift - after three years the first letter from his home found its way to where he was. [s65]

The Swedish seamen's chaplain in London managed to help several seamen to a seat on the courier planes from Britain to Sweden. [s65]

At Christmas 1941 relatives of Swedish sailors on ships in a Swedish shipping company received a short telegram from the sailors. For the Christmas 1942 the company had arranged radio communication for a very short conversation. The relatives had to travel to a specific location. [s65]

Around 6-7,000 Danes, 1,400 Finns, 5-6,000 Norwegians and a few hundred Swedes fought as volunteers in the German Waffen-SS. [s58]

Besides Sweden, in Europe also Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland were neutral during WWII. All of them gave various kinds of support to Germany. [s63]

Finnmark is the northernmost county in Norway, a county that in 1930 was 48 123 square kilometers and had 53 308 inhabitants. [s04].

In the village Kirkenes, at the border to the Soviet Union, there were 7500 German soldiers early during the war. The number of German soldiers grew. During the war, until the Germans had to retreat, the citizens heard the air-raid warning 1012 times and the village (foremost military targets) was bombed 328 times. A Soviet Union bomb attack on 4 July 1944 had resultet in 142 houses burnt-down. In Murmansk in the Soviet Union German pilots bombed, and the air-raid warning could be heard up to 18 times per day. [s51]

The village Vardø had 400 houses before the war. After a raid with 50-50 planes in August 1944 there were only 48 undamaged houses. Totally the village was attacked by bombers 78 times. [s51]

In mid October 1944 the Germans were on the retreat in Narvik, and the Soviet Union bomb attacks were even more intense. On 21 October the Germans began to burn down remaining buildings, and they shouted to the Norwegian firemen that they should go to the air raid shelter. If they tried to put out fires, they would be shot. Of 400 houses half had been destroyed earlier, and now the Germans destroyed another 161 houses. They were interrupted by advancing Red Army soldiers. [s51]

While the German troops retreated from Finland and down through the narrow Norway, there were worries that the Allies would make a landing there to cut off the retreating German troops - or that Sweden would join the Allies and attack them. [s57]

Svalbard, the Norwegian group of islands far north of the Norwegian mainland, was also a battleground during WWII. A tough fight took place on 8 September 1943, when the around 150 British and Norwegian soldiers were attacked by a German naval force that made a landing with some 600 soldiers supported by 9 destroyers and the battleships Scharnhorst and Tirpitz. The Allies heaviest guns were some 100 mm Bofors guns (Swedish make). The Germans destroyed among others industrial installations in a number of small settlements on the main island Spitzbergen, and left already at 9 o'clock the same morning. Among the dead Allies was a Swede who fought for Norway. [s51]

In late September 1943 a Swedish merchant ship in the "lejdtrafiken" left Sweden, and anchored in the Norwegian town Arendal - where 200 people in rowing boats admired the ships hull at close distance. The naval control officer on board guessed that the Norwegians were familiar with the Swedish routine - that as a ship left Swedish waters, the customs seals were broken. Probably there had been some aid and/or commerce during the war years. [s64]

Towards the end of the war, there was an increased inflow of material to Norway. At half past one one night, 25 parachutes fell from a plane on one secret area - and all of it had to be taken care of before dawn when German pilots could discover the work or traces from the work. During another operation in March 1944 there were low clouds and fog so that the crew on the plane couldn't see the agreed signals on the ground. The plane made one extra turn, and then spotted some lights (not the agreed morse code signal, though) and dropped the cargo in a German military camp. Loss of equipment for the resistance organisation, and a reason for the Germans to act. [s46]

In the second half of June 1944 the German general Dietl had visited Hitler to discuss the situation in northern Europe. Dietl had pointed out that there were 600 000 German soldiers in Denmark, Finland and Norway, while the Red Army advanced towards Berlin, and he had demanded that most of them should be used in the defence against the Red Army. Hitler became very angry. There should be no discussions about weakening the northern front, because it was only with a powerful army there that Finland would continue to fight on the same side as Germany. [s51]

When Finland and the Soviet Union had reached an armistice agreement that began in the morning of 4 September 1944, the German soldiers had to leave Finland within a relatively short period. There were 200 000 German soldiers in Finland. (During the Allied landing in Normandie, 176 000 soldiers had landed on the beaches.). For the German soldiers in southern Finland it would be a 900 kilometres long march to a port in northern Norway. One of the last mornings one regiment had in Finland, it was -36 centigrade cold. When they came to the Norwegian port they had walked for 2,5 months. No ships were waiting there, so they had to walk on another 700 kilometres where there was a railway to south Norway. [s51]

When the Germans began to retreat from northern Norway in the second half of 1944, the Norwegian nazi leadership had tried to persuade the people in nothern Norway to evacuate voluntarily. Few had done so. The German national commissioner in Norway, Josef Terboven, went to Tromsø in late October 1944. He said that the people would have to be evacuated by force and use the scorched earth policy. Several officers were against this. One reason was that such an action could make the still neutral Sweden enter the war on the Allied side. Hitler supported Terboven. Several German soldiers behaved in a very bad way during the evacuation, in various ways. The 40 000 - 50 000 Norwegians who were evacuated by force from northern Norway, of which many saw their homes set afire by the Germans and their animals being killed (sometimes in cruel ways by drunk German soldiers), and many were transported in extremely poor conditions, were spread over the rest of Norway. [s51]

The Red Army did not advance far into Norway. They had asked for the presence of Norwegian troops, and the first around 280 Norwegians were shocked. On 18 November 1944, in the Scandinavian winter, the commander reported among others that civilians lived in forests and open land with a minimum of clothes. The Norwegian troops had no vehicles and could not help them, while people died from diphtheria since doctors cuoldn't get to them. At one occassion the commander suggested that they should evacuate thousands of inhabitants to Sweden, but the suggestion was met with anger. They had not kept away from the German evacuation, to be evacuated to Sweden. There were still German troops in northern Norway, who set fire to houses that had been spared and seized Norwegians that had kept away from the evacuation. Raids by German patrol boats made the inhabitants reluctant to begin the reconstruction work. [s51]

The Norwegian government and crown prince had already in early 1944 tried to persuae the Allies to plan for the liberation of northern Norway. The Allies were not interested. Norway also wanted to send a naval force to northern Norway, but the Allies used the Norwegian ships for minesweeping along the Belgian, Dutch and French coasts. Norway were only permitted to use six small warships. The first group of Norwegian soldiers who arrived in northern Norway could have been much larger, since there were plenty of soldiers in Scotland, but the Allied command didn't permit more soldiers to be sent to northern Norway. Norway wanted to transport 4000 metric tonnes of food from the Allied stores to northern Norway, but the first forces who cam to Norway were only permitted to bring 45 tonnes of coffee, salt and sugar. But, one Norwegian medical officer who went to Britain managed to get support at an evacuation from an island at one occassion, from four of the British destroyers who escorted convoys near the Norwegian coast to the northwestern Soviet Union. [s51]

From January 1945 USA planes transported 1300 Norwegian police troops from Sweden where they had been trained. The area that the Norwegian military in northern Norway should control was 60 000 square kilometres large, almost 20% of Norways area. There were several fights with Germans in the area, some went on for days. [s51]

There were fears for how the Soviet Union would act when they had troops in Norway, but the contacts between the local Norwegian and Soviet Union commanders had been good from the beginning and the Red Army was helpful. [s51]

As the Soviet Union troops advanced towards Germany, German troops and civilians were trapped between the advancing Soviet Union troops and the Baltic Sea - with Soviet Union submarines and planes and 3,000 British mines dropped from RAF planes. [s59]

From late January 1945 to a few days after the end of WWII in Europe, Germany used a fleet of passenger, cargo and naval ships to evacuate more than 2 million people to ports in western Germany and Copenhagen in Denmark. On 21 April 38,000 people were shipped from Hela, maybe the largest marine evacuation operation performed. [s59]

Around 20,000 people were killed during the long evacuation operation. On 30 January the Soviet Union submarine S 13 fired three torpedoes and sank m/s Wilhelm Gustloff, who had some 9,000-10,500 people on board. 1,252 were rescued by other ships, but due to injuries and cold water only 904 survived. [s59]

Two days later S 13 sank s/s General von Steuben, and of around 3,500 people only some 300 survived. The German m/s Goya was hit by a bomb in the fore before departure on 16 April 1945, but could as planned join the convoy towards Germany. On the way the submarine L 3 sank her with two torpedoes. Of 6,358 people only 183 survived. [s59]

Other activities by Soviet Union submarines in the southern Baltic Sea during the four months 'only' led to some 10 sunk ships, with maybe 1,000 killed people. The large German warships that shelled advancing Soviet Union troops at Danzig were apparently not seriously attacked. [s59]

In March 1945 the German supreme commander in Norway, von Falkenhorst, wanted to retreat from Norway, due to low quantities of coal and fuel in store. Hitler said no, among others since he thought Sweden would join the Allies if the Germans left Narvik in Norway. [s51]

After the rescue operation in March-April 1945 with "The white buses", to fetch Scandinavian prisoners from German concentration camps to Scandinavia, there were 18,000 prisoners left in the camp Neuengamme outside Hamburg. [s59]

On 20 April "The white buses" left Neuengamme via Denmark to Sweden. Some 20,000 prisoners remained in the camp. [s67]

They were forced to walk to Lübeck where those who had survived the march were taken onboard a group of ships that lacked nationality signs. The ships were sunk by allied bombers, who probably believed them to be troop transports. Only a few of the prisoners survived. [s59]

The prisoners were taken onboard three empty cargo ships. These had no red crosses or similar signs. All three ships were sunk by Allied bombers on 3 May 1945. [s67]

A squadron of British Typhoons attacked the ship Cap Arcona, and killed thousands of concentration camp prisoners. Not many hours later World War II ended. [s49]

(On the web page "Sweden after the war" there is a fragment about Swedish ships that brought concentration camp prisoners to Sweden. My note.)

Hitlers successor Dönitz, held a meet with high ranking officers and politicians near Flensburg on 3 May 1945. Several of the officers were willing to continue the fight in Denmark and Norway, some thought about using 'not to destroy' Denmark and Norway as a part in the negotiations with the Allies, and others wanted to capitulate. Dönitz decided to end the war, but first they needed a few days to transport German soldiers out of Czechoslovakia away from the Red Army.

The night to 6 May 1945 four Norwegian soldiers and ten civilians sat talking in a barn in northern Norway. They had heard rumours that the Germans had capitulated, but also received information that two German submarines had been sighted in the area. Suddenly German soldiers approaced from two directions and opened fire. Several of the Norwegians were killed, three of them younger than 18. Soldiers raped the wife of one of the killed men, while the children were in the house. Two days later Germany capitulated. [s51]

And many Norwegian soldiers had for many months been prohibited by the Allies to travel to northern Norway from their camps in Britain, where they just were waiting. [s51]

On 8 May 1945, when Norway once again was free, a special newspaper was issued at the Grini prison near Oslo. On the front page was a note about the Swedish radio man who ended the evening transmissions from London with the words "It is possible to defeat nazism.". The note concluded that his words now had become true. [s47]

After the German capitulation in Norway, the Allies continued with their peculiar behaviour. In one Norwegian city it was ordered that the German mini submarines should be sunk, with the by the Norwegians badly needed truck batteries. A Norwegian police soldier arranged a battery rescue operation. It was not common that households had their own fridge, but that there were fridge houses where several families had a small cupboard each for their frozen food. In one city it was ordered that the electricity should be cut and the food destroyed. At least one Norwegian policeman found only one reason - that the Norwegians should buy food and equipment from Britain.

One large German warship was sunk due to an atomic explosion. The heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen came into the hands of the U.S.A. after WWII, after a 'lottery' between the three Allied countries. For some time she served in the U.S.A. navy, with most of her German crew onboard. She survived the atomic bomb test in 1946 at the Bikini atoll, but sank in 1947 at a similar test at the Kwajaleina atoll. [s59]

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