Sweden in World War II - across borders

Swedes for Finland

1 - The Winter War

When the Soviet Union began with political pressure on the Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the autumn of 1939, discussions had begun in Sweden about volunteer support to Finland. A recruitment office was opened in Stockholm on the same day that the Soviet Union attacked Finland. [s50]

Sea ice in southwestern Finland From 7 October 1939 Finland used various support ships to escort merchant ships via Åland to Sweden, where the Swedish navy met the ships and took over the escort work. In late January 1940 the ice was too thick and the traffic had to be stopped. The escorted convoys had allowed merchant ships to make 349 trips between Finland and Sweden. No attacks by German submarines, and only one by a Soviet Union submarine. [s59]

On 23 October 1939 Germany had extended its 'trade war zone' in the Baltic Sea, to cut down the trade between Finland, Sweden and the western powers. [s59]

Officially Sweden declared that there would be no Swedish military intervention. The nation had declared itself neutral, and did not want the risk of war. [s10]

Sweden refused to participate in the defence of Åland, the group of islands between Finland and Sweden that belonged to Finland, when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1939. (Åland had for a long time been a border discussion between Finland and Sweden.) [s18].

On 30 November 1939 the Soviet Union attacked Finland. This war has been called 'the Winter War'.

The Soviet Union attacked with 50 divisions, more than 3000 tanks and 800 planes. Finland could after mobilisation defend itself with 15 divisions, 45 tanks and 146 planes (31 not in operational conditions). [s50]

A few days after the attack, Finland tried to get in contact with Soviet authorities via Swedish officials to negotiate. The Soviet Union was not interested. [s10]

One Swedish reporter contributed quite a lot with information about the war between Finland and the Soviet Union. Barbro "Bang" Alving had worked during the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, and in Spain during the civil war. She reported from Finland already during the negotiations about the Soviet Union demands, and while the war lasted she vrote 99 articles for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter ('today's news'). Even though she was a pacifist, she supported Finland's struggle and support activities for Finland also as speaker at meetings. [s55]

Many Swedes began with various activities already in an early stage.

100 000 Swedes worked a full day extra on Twelfth Day, and the earnings were given to Finlandshjälpen in support of Finland [s05]. There were whip-rounds for cash and gold, sales of Finland-pins and contributions to fighter planes [s10].

Among the help to Finland were knitted clothes from thousands of Swedish homes [s06]. And medical equipment, skis, food et cetera. There were also Swedes who went to Finland to fight. [s10].

The Soviet Union sent the ice breaker Jermak from Murmansk to the Baltic Sea. On 4 December the Finnish consulate in Gothenburg in Sweden could inform the Finnish foreign office that Jermak was on the way into the Baltic Sea. [s59]

On 8 December 1939 Sweden gave 8 elder warplanes to the Finnish airforce. [s75]

The Swedish volunteer corps ("Svenska Frivilligkåren") was organized in Sweden by the Finland-committee in December 1939. In March there were more than 8,000 Swedes and 662 Norwegians fighting for Finland, mainly at the Salla front. [s81]

The Swedish defence staff prepared for a voluntary force in support of Finland, three battalions with artillery and air support. The air staff prepared for a voluntary unit with fighters and bombers, named F 19, and it was manned with 260 volunteers. [s75]

Twelve fighters were part of the F 19 - that was a third of the fighters in the Swedish air force. They were based in northern Finland, and in action from 12 January 1940 - and the earlier total Soviet Union domination in the air in this part of Finland came to an end. The planes had the signs of the Finnish air force. [s75]

The Swedish voluntary wing F19 was set up in late 1939, in support of Finland. The force of 273 men and 2 women, with 16 warplanes and 3 other planes, was in action during 62 days. During 600 hours in the air in 60 days, they among others shot down 8 enemy airplanes and destroyed 4 on the ground. 35 enemy bomb attacks were stopped. They lost 3 men and 6 planes. [s80]

F 19 was in service until 13 March 1940, when an armistice between Finland and the Soviet Union began. [s75]

Swedish soldiers were allowed to resign and instead join the Swedish volunteer corps. In early March 1940 the corps was 8000 men strong, mainly infantry supported by light field artillery, anti aircraft artilleri and a small unit with airplanes. The volunteers had to be trained in Finland. [s10]

The majority of the volunteers were Swedish soldiers, and they needed permission from the Swedish authorities to travel abroad in wartime. To be able to handle the number of applications from volunteers, the administrative routines were simplified. A number of the elder Swedish volunteers had fought in Finland in 1918, or had some war experience from other pre WWII wars. 725 Norwegians enlisted in the corps, under Swedish command. [s50]

The corps was equipped for winter fights in the northern part of Finland. They had among others 7 cm guns, motorized anti-tank platoons and a 'plough platoon'. (They had no armoured vehicles.). There were also a wing (F19) with 12 fighter planes and 4 light bombers (the Finnish planes were concentrated in the south and larger cities). The Swedish planes were painted with the Finnish air force emblem used since Finlands first airforce plane, a blue swastika. [s50]

On 21 December the first group of volunteers left. The Swedish planes were active from 12 January 1940, and the first Swedish ground troops were ready from early February. [s50]

Night temperatures were down under -40 degrees Celsius, the lowest reported was -49 degrees. [s50]

The Swedish volunteer corps took over the defence at the Salla-front and at the far north on 27 February 1940. The war ended before they had finished preparations to attack. [s10]

Smaller fights between Swedes and Soviets took place. During Swedish patrols some prisoners were taken, but at least once war prisoners were executed. Finland had received among others 8400 rifles, more than 200 guns of various kinds and 25 airplanes from the neutral Sweden [s10].

A the end of the war the volunteer corps was 12 000 men strong [s28]. 33 from the corps were killed during the war [s10].

The Swedes shot down 9 Soviet planes and destroyed 3 on the ground. The losses were 2 planes and one crew. [s50]

12705 persons applied to the corps, and 8260 were admitted. 1500 of them were not ready to leave Sweden while the war lasted. [s50]

Britain and France planned to send troops to Finland, via Norway and Sweden. As neutral states both Norway and Sweden denied foreign troops to pass through their countries. [s09]

The Swedish government understood that the real target for the Allied support to Finland was to occupy the iron ore mines in the north of Sweden. [s43]

Naturally some events and interests coincided during WWII. One example was the ongoing British and French discussions about how to stop the export of Swedish iron ore to Germany - and the Soviet Union attack on Finland on 30 November 1939. I present several fragments about that period on the page "GB/French war plans for Sweden", but I will present an overview from one source on this page. This chapter in the book was written by Martti Häikiö, associate professor in political history at the University of Helsinki in Finland. I have tried to write it short, and in chronological order.

12 December 1939 - the British chiefs of staff was asked by the War Cabinet to prepare a plan for an intervention in Norden. [s58]

19 December 1939 a meeting was held in the Supreme War Council. Directly after the meeting the Finnish minister in Paris was told that France had suggested that a joint Allied démarche should be sent to Sweden and Norway. He also was told that, if Sweden and Norway supported Finland in the war, Britain and France would also send troops. This information he could forward to the Finnish government. When Britain learnt about the French initiative, they said that France had mislead Finland. [s58]

20 December: The British Military Coordination Committee, who now believed that an allied occupation of the Swedish mine fileds could shorten the war, asked for an examination of sending troops to northern Sweden and the port town Narvik in northern Norway. The troops should be able to control the mine fields and protect the area against German and/or Soviet Union attack. [s58]

22 December the Finnish ministers in Sweden and Norway got the information from a chief in the Finnish Foreign Ministry, and were told to forward the information to Swedens and Norways foreign ministers. However, the official Finnish foreign policy did not take into consideration the new allied interest in the situation in northern Europe. [s58]

On the 22nd the British War Cabinet had another meeting. They thought that they only could occupy the Swedish mine fields with Swedish cooperation, and the only way to reach this was to exploit the war in Finland. After this day the Allies had two parallell lines. One smaller with mines and naval action in Norwegian waters, and one larger involving the occupation of the Swedish mine fields. [s58]

On the 23rd the Swedish government decided to continue to be neutral. Sweden thought that there would come a demand for transport of troops through Sweden, which could lead to countermeasures from the Soviet Union or Germany. This would take Sweden into war. [s58]

25th - the Swedish foreign minister Christian Günther visited Norway to discuss with the Norwegian foreign minister Halvdan Koht. They agreed to remain neutral when the expected inquiry about troop transit arrived. [s58]

On 27 December the allied notes were presented to Sweden and Norway. Nothing was mentioned about dispatch of troops. [s58]

Also on 27th, the Soviet Union minister Madame Kollontai in Stockholm had a conversation with the Swedish foreign minister. She had not received instructions from the Soviet Union, but she said that she hoped that peace between the Soviet Union and Finland could be reestablished. Günther immediately took contact with a Finnish representative in Stockholm. [s58]

On 30 December 1939 the Swedish and Norwegian foreign ministers agreed on their answers to the note. No military assistance would be given, but they would not stop transit through Sweden and Norway of civilian technicians and supplies. [s58]

3 January 1940 - the War Cabinet decided to send Norway another note. The text would mention German activities off Norway's coast and that Britain, if they saw it as necessary, would be entitled to act in these waters. [s58]

4 January - the Swedish reply to the allied note of 27:th December was delivered. The best alternative for Finland was that Sweden remained neutral, it said. [s58]

On the 6th the new note (decided on the 3rd) was presented to Norway, and a copy to Sweden. [s58]

13th - another note from Britain, with questions about the possibility for volunteers to travel to Finland via Norway and Sweden. [s58]

On the 15th the Norwegian reply to the allied note of 27:th December was given, also negative to the Allied suggestions. The other notes met the same reception. [s58]

16th - The British military presented guidelines for an invention in Norden. In short: two brigades to northern Sweden, defence support in southern Sweden against possible German and/or Soviet Union attacks (24,000 fighting men and 80,000 men for supply/support to Sweden), and five batallions would occupy the Norwegian ports Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim. [s58]

On the 17th the Swedish prime minister Per Albin Hansson officially stated that Sweden would not permit any belligerent troops to pass through Sweden or establish bases in Sweden. (Seemingly the main concern for Sweden was a German attack, and Sweden acted in ways to prevent a reason for Germany to attack.) [s58]

The 19 January War Cabinet meeting approved the military guidelines, and the work with detailed plans began. [s58]

In late January the British War Cabinet had rejected both the smaller plan (mines and naval action in Norwegian waters) and a new idea about using the Finnish port Petsamo on Finland's short northern coast at the Arctic Ocean. [s58]

On 28th the chiefs of staff had a complete report. It contained the conclusion that the Western powers would have more benefits from a campaign in Scandinavia than Germany would have, and that they did not have capacity to defend southern Sweden against German air attacks. A separate report dealt with the relationship with this larger plan and the aid to Finland, with the basic idea that a prolonged war in Finland was an advantage to the Western powers and that it would tie down the Soviet Union in the north of Europe. [s58]

31 January - a British-French military meeting, where the French emphasized that aid to Finland could be a way to secure the cooperation of the nations in Scandinavia. [s58]

2 February 1940: the British War Cabinet accepted the French view. The War Cabinet thought it was very important to send trained troops in considerable numbers to Finland, to prevent a Soviet Union conquest during the spring. Troops that would pass Norway and Sweden. [s58]

5 February, Paris: The Supreme War Council linked the Allied policy in Norden to the question of assistance to Finland. The attitude was to prolong the war in Finland and frustrate attempts for peace. [s58]

Then the chiefs of staff began to examine an intervention in Finland too, and the result was that 2-3 Allied brigades (some of them intended for northern Sweden in the earlier plan) should be reservered for intervention in Finland. More concern was given to the political and military coordination. Finnish concent to Allied intervention had to be reached at once, to increase the political pressure on Norway and Sweden to accept Allied occupation of the Swedish minefields. A British and a French general were sent to Finland. [s58]

Meanwhile in Finland: The Soviet Union early established a new Finnish regime, and declined peace discussions with the legitimate Finnish regime. In January this changed, and Fenno-Soviet negotations became more earnest in February. The Soviet Union also attempted to break the Finnish defence on the Karelian isthmus with a concentration of forces. The Finnish were slowly pushed back. [s58]

Finland foremost wanted to reach peace with the Soviet Union, with acceptable conditions. The second best alternative was Swedish assistance, and the third alternative was Allied aid (in case the other two could not be achieved - various sources gave contradictionary information about the Allied intentions). The Finnish foreign minister Väinö Tanner visited Sweden several times for discussions, but Sweden kept the policy not to enter the war and not permit transit of foreign troops. [s58]. (The aid that in reality was given to Finland was 'less official'. My note.)

On 22 February the Finnish leaders were given information about the Allied assistance, among others from British general Ling. 20-22,000 men would arrive at the end of March. [s58]

23-26 February there were new discussions with Sweden, and with the Soviet Union minister Madame Kollontai in Stockholm, but the Swedish policy was not changed. Finland was adviced to accept the severe Soviet Union peace terms. [s58]

Finland saw the number of Allied soldiers as insufficient, and that they would arrive too late. Finland estimated the number of Soviet Union forces, at the front on the Karelia isthmus only, to 29 divisions with at least 19 tank batallions. It was also estimated that there were some 2,500 Soviet planes on Finnish territory, while Finland never had more than 300 during the Winter War. And no troops were allowed to pass through Sweden. [s58]

On 12 March 1940 the peace treaty was signed between Finland and the Soviet Union. [s58].

Slightly more than 500 Swedish citizens fought in regular Finnish military units. [s50]

More than 900 Swedes went to Finland as construction workers of fortifications. There were also hundreds of Swedish Red Cross persons, drivers, firemen, veterinaries and others. [s50]

The Swede Folke Bernadotte (later known for the white buses operation) was in the USA at the time. He was asked by Swede-Americans to organize a volunteer corps and help them to find financial support for the corps. The Swedish government did not disapprove, and despite a USA law against such activities the work went on. However the war between Finland and the Soviet Union ended during their preparations. [s50]

Swedish pilot Carl Gustaf von Rosen flew for the Finnish air force in 1939-1940. He also got hold of a DC3 and fixed bomb mounts on it, with the purpose of a bomb attack on Moscow. However the Finnish leaders said no thanks, in fear or retaliation from the Soviets.

One reason to the strong Swedish military support to Finland may have been, that it was better for Sweden to have the border to the Soviet Union on the other side of Finland.

Some volunteers from other nations reached Finland in time to perticipate in the defence, but most could not get there before the war ended. There was a former Swede in the French Foreign Legion in Finland, who had experience from twelve years of war. The Swedish effort was not decisive for the outcome of the war, but it may have prevented the Soviet Union from further advance in the north of Finland. (Perhaps possible fights with Swedish volunteers close to the Swedish border would have brought Sweden into the war, was one thought). [s50]

2 - Between the Wars

In 1939 Finland bought 44 Brewster Buffalo fighters from the USA. These were delivered to the Swedish Saab factory, where they were assembled. The flights to Finland were made without official Swedish permission. [s83]

After the end of the Winter War, Finland suggested that the four Nordic countries should cooperate in their defence. A Finnish proposal for Fenno-Swedish cooperation in the summer of 1940 was vetoed by the Soviet Union, called a divergence from the peace treaty. [s58]

Around mid 1940 the Soviet Union pressure on Finland was harder again, especially for the nickel mines near Petsamo. Sweden was not willing to assist Finland, apparently afraid on the Soviet Union reaction. Instead Finland got closer to Germany, among others to secure 70 percent of the nickel for Germany. [s57]

Finland fortificated their adjusted eastern border, largely financed by loans from Sweden. [s58]

During the autumn of 1940 new discussions took place about cooperation between Sweden and Finland, culminating in the suggestion of a union with the Swedish king as head of the state. The political view in Sweden was divided, and to remain neutral the conditions was that Finland accepted the adjusted borders after the Winter War and that both the Soviet Union and Germany accepted the union. Neither of these countries were positive. [s58]

After the German attack on Norway, Finland saw the presence of German troops as a positive political balance in the northern Europe between the great powers. [s58]

Germanys interest in Finland increased, but also around May 1941 Finland tried to establish political support from Sweden. [s58]

The Swedish permission for transit of German troops in late June 1941, with military equipment, from Norway through Sweden to Finland was seen positive in Finland. [s58]

3 - The Continuation War

On 22 June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and on 26 June Finland declared war to the Soviet Union and fought together with German troops. This has been called 'the continuation war'. This time the Swedish support to Finland had a much smaller scale.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the Soviets bombed Finland. At the time there was German troops and planes in Finland. Finland had no kind of union with Germany, but coordinated their armed forces with the Germans. Finland also operated beyond their former border. [s50]

During the night between 21 and 22 June 1941 Finnish troops were brought to the demilitarized Åland islands, between Sweden and Finland, under fire from Soviet Union aircrafts. To blcok the access to the islands, the Finnish navy cooperated with the Swedish navy. [s57]

Again the Swedish government decided to let those who wanted to fight for Finland be discharged, with a limit of 5200 persons. This time Finland had higher quality demands. Several of the volunteers had participated in the previous war between Finland and the Soviet Union. [s50]

The Swedish volunteers were forbidden to use clothes and arms from the Swedish state. [s58]

The first Swedish units arrived in the Hangö area in mid August 1941, to relieve Finnish troops. The 811 Swedes were formed in a batallion, Svenska Frivilligbataljonen ('Swedish volunteer batallion'). They were not used for fighting at the front, but foremost for patrols and fortification constructions, and then kept as reserve. The interest of the volunteers varied, and some asked for permission to leave and went back to Sweden while others joined the German Waffen-SS. It later was estimated that some 225 of the batallion were Swedish nazi's. [s50]

On 6 November 1941 Finland's field marchal Mannerheim told them that their task was accomplished when the last Soviet Union troops had been forced out of the Hangö area. The Finnish flag was hoisted on 4 December, and the batallion arrived in Stockholm on 20 December. [s50]

980 Swedish soldiers took part in the voluntary batallion that fought in Finland against the Soviet Union in 1941. 31 of them were killed. [s06]

There was a political tension between Sweden and Finland. Among the reasons were that Finland fought together with Germany, which was not so popular in Sweden, and that the Swedish support during the Continuation War was so weak, which was not positive from the Finnish point of view. However, when 1942 began Finland's government still considered Sweden to be the only certain support. One thought was that Finland might be able to withdraw from the war with the help of Sweden. [s58]

The war between Finland and Germany on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other side, continued. Several of the Swedes who had supported Finland earlier wanted to continue as Swedish volunteers, and new volunteers applied. [s50]

A Swedish company was formed in a Finno-Swedish batallion (where the language was Swedish), led by a Swedish officer [s50]. (Swedish was, and is, a common language in areas of Finland. This is called Finno-Swedish or Finland-Swedish.)

Totally 404 Swedes fought in the company, at the most 160 at the same time. During a reconnaise mission on 1 August 1944 the (by then reduced) company fought their last battle against the Soviets. After the armistice agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union, the company was discharged on 26 September 1944. Then they were only 2 officers and 14 soldiers (of which 7 were wounded). 39 men had been killed. [s50]

Finland depended on Germany for import of grain, and deliveries were at risk when Finland had contacts with the Soviet Union in 1943-1944 about a separate peace. In June 1944 Sweden was prepared to aid with 40,000 tons of grain. [s58]

In mid February 1944 German preparations began to occupy the Åland islands. (The demilitarized islands between Finland and Sweden had Finnish troops since June 1941. In early 1944 the Germans knew that Finland had had contacts with the Soviet Union about a separate peace between Finland and the Soviet Union.) Å was of a high interest for Sweden, both because of the short distance to the Swedish capital and the Swedish-speaking people on the islands. [s57]

On 3 September 1944 Hitler decided not to occupy Åland, considering the relations with Sweden. One reason may have been the German need of iron ore and ball bearings from Sweden. [s57]

(When Germany in 1918 had sent troops to aid 'the white side' in the Finnish civil war, Sweden had sent troops to Åland for protection.) [s57]

The armistice agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union demanded that the German troops should be forced out of Finland. There was at least one Swede in the Finnish armed forces during the fighting with withdrawing German troops in northern Finland. [s50]

1,694 Swedes fought in Finlands armed forces during 'the continuation war', of which 83 were killed. [s50]

10,500 Swedes fought for the Finnish armed forces between 1939 and 1944. [s50]

479 Swedish officers and specialists served in Finnish units during the war. Two Swedish pilots were the only foreign citizens in the Finnish air force. Britain, Allied with the Soviet Union, protested to the Swedish support of among others almost 100 tank mechanics and around 70 other technicians. [s50]

96 Swedes were killed when in service for Norway during World War II - almost as many as they who were killed when fighting for Finland. [s50]

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