Sweden in World War II - across borders

Swedes at pre World War II wars

Sweden had no general ban on service by Swedes in foreign military forces. Recruitment on Swedish territory of volunteers in foreign military forces was forbidden according to a law from 1937, unless it was permitted by the Swedish government. [s50]

In December 1934 five Swedish officers arrived in Ethiopia. The emperor had asked Sweden for assistance to educate Ethiopian military officers. When Italy attacked Ethiopia on 3 October 1935, four of the Swedish officers left the Swedish armed forces and fought for Ethiopia instead. [s50]

The Swedish Red Cross managed to collect enough funds in two weeks to send five ambulances with Swedish personnel to Ethiopia. One of them was attacked by bombs and machine gun fire from several Italian planes, and a medic was killed. Another Swede who was wounded was flown to Addis Abeba by Swedish pilot Carl Gustaf von Rosen. Another Swedish doctor was also in military service for Ethiopia. [s50]

Carl-Gustaf von Rosen, who during the summers made show flights, heard about the expedition and offered his plane and himself as pilot. A plane could transport people much faster than the Volvo-trucks in the country where roads were scarce. On place they realized that his plane was too small, but he was allowed to use the Emperors larger Fokker plane instead. [s75]

The Swedish officers survived attacks, and left Ethiopia on 4 May 1936 when the Ethiopian emperor left for Britain. The officers were back in the Swedish armed forces from the summer of 1936. (After World War II, one of the officers (who also had fought for Finland when the Soviet Union attacked Finland) and a group of officers went to Ethiopia to continue the work with the Ethiopian officer education.) [s50]

(In November 1945 von Rosen went to Ethiopia with the idea to start a domestic avation company, but shortly after came the USA company TWA with the same idea and managed to close a deal. Instead von Rosen was asked to establish the Ethiopian air force - and for them he worked until 1956.) [s75]

In 1934 the Swedish government decided to send a Swedish battalion to Saar, for a mission led by the League of Nations (that was formed after World War I). [s05]

An article about the civil war in Spain, by Swedish reporter Barbro Alving in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter in 1937, created much attention. [s05]

The Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) forbade Swedes to participate in the war. Anyway some 500 Swedes participated on the Republican side in the war that ended in early April 1939, and 154 were killed [s06]. One source mention 164 killed [s41].

More than 500 Swedes fought in the International brigade. Most Swedes chose to fight in the German-speaking centuria "Ernst Thälmann", named after an imprisoned German communist leader. The German discipline may have been the reason, which could make it safer. [s50]

Among the Swedes, the dominating occupational group was the merchant sailors. [s65]

Maybe the first Swede to enlist was Kajsa Rothman, who was the director of a tourist company (for english-speaking tourists) in Madrid. She began in a fighting centuria, but later among others acted as a nurse and later became well known via the Swedish broadcasts for Radio Madrid. [s50]

Another Swede had participated in landings on Ibiza and Mallorca in early August 1936, led by a Cuban officer. In Spain he fought in a centuria who together with four French tanks attacked a Moroccan unit. He was killed during that battle. [s50]

19 Swedes fought in Soviet Union special units. [s50]

Among others 80 Swedes from the Georg Branting company fought at the river Ebro, where half of them were killed during or after the battle. [s41]

There were activities in Sweden for support to the volunteers in Spain, among others clothes. The Swedish official support was the Swedish-Norwegian hospital in Alcoy, where the 15 Swedes were issued with Swedish diplomatic passports. [s50]

One Swede was imprisoned in Spain until 28 May 1940. He went to Sweden on one of the 4 destroyers Sweden had bought in Italy. (Their journey to Sweden is mentioned on another page on theis web site.) [s50]

Around 10 Swedes fought for Germany in the Spanish civil war. 8 persons who fought for the Spanish foreign legion has been noted as enlisted as Swedes. One Swedish pilot fought in Franco's air force, with his own plane. [s50]

Several of the Swedish officers who had fought for Finland in 1918 got higher military ranks in Sweden, but few of the circa 60 Swedes who had fought for Germany. [s50]

Many of the Swedes who participated in one of these and other war activities, also participated in others - both earlier and later. The history of several of these Swedes are very interesting, but out of focus for this web site.

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