Sweden in World War II - across borders
The new Danish military attaché in Berlin got on an early stage good contacts in the German capital. He reported in January 1940 about German plans to use political pressure on Denmark to obtain German air bases in northern Denmark. However, the many warnings during the early months of 1940 had the result that there were too many warnings. Several alarms to military units, when nothing happened, lead to criticism of the leaders for the Danish defence. On the morning of 8 April Danish newspapers had a report from a news correspondent in Berlin, who among others wrote that there could be another situation in Scandinavia within 24 hours. It is said that a few subscribers of the newspaper Nationaltidende had time to cancel their subscriptions due to what they considered to be irresponsible report. [s13]
One reason to the situation was that German plans were changed over time. Adolf Hitler had planned an attack westwards first, but due to various reasons the plan was postponed eleven times. At a meeting 26 March 1940 he was told that, the way events developed in the north, the Operation Weserübung would have to take place before 15 April. [s13]
On 1 April 1940 the Swede Karl Yngve Vendel became the Swedish consul in Stettin in Germany. It was a port city by the Baltic Sea. After a short welcome at the Swedish embassy in Berlin, he was sent to Stettin the same day in company with the Swedish seamen's chaplain Hultgård. Despite the cold and the risk of being noticed by the police or military, they began to work. Swinemünde was also visited. Two days later they could confirm the rumours, and add information. There were many German officers in the city, and many soldiers in the harbour. Fifteen merchant ships had been requisitioned by the military, and had been loaded with tanks, trucks and other military equipment. Several contacts named the same target - Scandinavia. A German soldier had said to a sailor on a Norwegain ship, that the Norwegians had to make up their mind about going with Germany or Britain, since the Germans were loading the ships. [s56]
The Swedish ambassador Arvid Richert contacted the Norwegian ambassador in Berlin, and also sent copies of the report to Stockholm and to the Swedish legation in Oslo. The following day the Swedish military attaché Anders Forshell talked with the secretary of the state at the German foreign department and the German navy's chief of staff. The Swede's conclusion was that the chief of staff wanted to allay the Swedish fear for a German aggression, but that there was a higher risk for a German operation in Norway. The Norwegian ambassador saw no immediate danger. In a letter that the Norwegian foreing minister received on 3 April he among others wrote that the loading of troops in Stettin hardly had anything to do with operations in Norway. Maybe the troops would be sent to Sweden, but more probable is that they will sail further east, he wrote. (The Norwegian foreign minister did not inform the government either of the letter from Berlin nor the warnings during the following days.) [s56]
The Dutch military attaché in Berlin, who had good contacts with the Danish and Swedish colleagues, was on 3 April informed about the German plans about an invasion of Denmark and Norway. He had a talk with the Norwegian civilian who had replaced Norways military attaché, who had heard nothing about it. On 5 April the Norwegian had a talk with the Danish, and sent a coded message to Norway. He mentioned German plans to attack among others Holland and France, and also mentioned plans for Denmark, but wrote nothing about Norway. And so on ... [s56]
Sweden gathered plenty of information about the coming German attack on Denmark and Norway. The telegrams that came to Oslo did not contain so much of this information, but it is not clear how much was told the Norwegians verbally. [s56]
On 4 April 1940 the Danish Foreign Minister received information from the Danish Navy attaché in Berlin, that his Dutch and Swedish colleagues told that there would be a German action against Denmark the following week. It was the first time Denmark was mention in connection with German military preparations. On 5 April a meeting with Danish ministers, they decided to ask how the situation was seen in Norway and Sweden. The answed from Norway was that the information was well known and that they regarded it with no significance. In Sweden it was seen as an old history. [s10]
During the week before the German attack on Denmark and Norway, there were several warnings that were more or less detailed. In the afternoon of 8 April the Danish military informed the Norwegian ambassador in Copenhagen that many ships passed through Stora Bält in Denmark on the way north. Both warships and armed troopcarrier ships. One hour after the Norwegian defence minister received that message, he received the message about the German ship Rio de Janeiro that was torpedoed by a British submarine outside Kristiansand in south Norway. Soldiers that were rescued had said that they were on the way to Bergen to support Norwegian defence, after request of the Norwegian government. [s12]
The Swedish defence staff too warned Norway about many German vessels that sailed northwards. [s24]
On Monday 8 April, around half past ten in the morning, Denmark had informed the Norwegian defence department about German warships on the way north. At noon Sweden too sent a message to Norway, that included information about merchant ships that had passed during the night. [s56]
But - the Norwegian government was busy discussing the threat from Britain, who had mined Norwegian territorial waters. And Britain and France had recently sent a threatening note. [s12]
The sightings of the German ships did not lead to any increased military preparedness in Sweden either. [s69]
One part in the confusion was the German Naval attaché in Norway, who had frequent contact with the Norwegian naval leaders. His reason for this was his interest in the British operation. At one time he got a polite question about the rumours that several hundred German naval ships had sailed northwards. His answer was that he had not got that information, but that he thought the reason was to defend the German coasts. He said that the Germans feared an attack from the Allies in Danish waters. [s12]
A British tradesman who visited Oslo in March 1940 noticed that German nazi people operated openly, and had several Norwegian sympathizers. [s48]
To keep the coming attack on Norway secret, only 12 000 soldiers should be transported to Norway on warships. These had limited space for cargo, so commercial ships with carefully hidden vehicles, guns et cetera were sent in advance to Norwegian ports. [s13]
Another source gives the number 8 500 soldiers. [s24]
I have been told in Norway that people said they heard the sound of horses from German cargo ships in Norwegian harbours before the 9 April. And that some Norwegian troops were sent on leave on the 8 April.
One source tells that there were German ideas about the use of merchant vessels with hidden troops, but that it wasn't used. [s37]
I find it so hard to understand why the Danish and Norwegians didn't react on these warnings. One reason that is mentioned, was the fear of doing anything that could be seen as a threat to Germany and provoke a German attack. That seems a bit reasonably when it comes to Denmark, a neighbour to Germany with a land border. But, if Denmark and Norway had strenghtened their defence on the 4th or 5th April, and increased the risks or heavier losses for Germany and a prolonged time schedule ...
There was one exception among the higher officers in Norway. The chief of the army staff had three times since the 5 April demanded an immediate mobilization of the four brigades stationed in southern Norway. At lunchtime on the 8 April the minister of defence told him that the government still hadn't taken a decision about it, and he wanted a detailed estimate of the costs for such a mobilization. At a meeting after nine o'clock in the evening they eventually decided to mobilize, but only two batallions. Unfortunately they had informed the officers at the staff - around nine o'clock - that they would not get an answer until the next morning, so they could go home for the evening ... [s12]
That was not the only mobilization that was made in the wrong way - but that is another story with no connection to Sweden.
The small whale ship Pol III was on guard duty at the opening of the Oslofjorden on 8 April 1940. At eleven in the night to 9 April she fired a warning shot towards the German 'torpedo destroyer' Albatross. [s56]
That was the first Norwegian shot fired during the German invasion.
Even though Sweden had warned Denmark and Norway, Sweden was not so well prepared military. Troops were rushed from the border to Finland to the border to Norway, and other available troops were rushed to ports and coastal areas in the south. [s35]
2015-01-06. www.granfoss.se. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss