Sweden in World War II - across borders

Who from Norway to Sweden

Who went across the border from Norway to Sweden during World War II?

'Normal war refugees' was probably the largest group. People who fled from the nazi politics in general or during special activities in Norway, for example when students were arrested.

There were also Norwegians, mostly younger men, who wanted to join the Allied forces to fight against the Germans. A few managed to get to Britain with planes. Some travelled (before the German attack on the Soviet Union) via eastern Europe and Africa across the southern Atlantic to the USA and on to Britain or the Norwegian pilot education in Canada. Many found themself stranded in Sweden.

Many Norwegians were on the run from Gestapo after various resistance activities, and escaped to Sweden. One group was people who recruited new members to the resistance organizations - if a recruited person later was arrested, the recruiter was sent to Sweden [s45].

Several Norwegians helped refugees and others across the border, and then went back to Norway to continue their official lives. Several of these crossed the border later, as refugees themselves.

Sweden also was a way out for Norwegian and British saboteurs who came to Norway from Britain with planes and boats, and had higher priority to return to Britain with the few air transports that flew between Sweden and Britain.

A few Norwegians passed the border more than once, for example various leaders who had meetings with Norwegian officials in Sweden. There were also several couriers who crossed the border many times, with secret information from Norway and secret messages and equipment to Norway. Or with other tasks in Norway.

Finally there were others, who were permitted by the Germans to visit Sweden in their work - or had other reasons to come across the border.

Landscape, ground view   Landscape, air view

How did they know when they had entered into Sweden? One courier told me that it was easy in populated areas - when you saw a red house with white corners and white around the doors and windows, then you was in Sweden.

Norwegian major Hvoslef had been appointed defence minister, when the Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling made his coup d'état via radio on 9 April 1940. After some days he went to Stockholm, and a meeting was arranged with the president of the Norwegian parliament who was in Stockholm at the time. The major explained the background, went to Norway and joined the Norwegian troops fighting in the east of Norway. Then he came back to Stockholm, went to the Narvik area where Norwegian troops still were fighting against the Germans. When the fighting ended, he went back to work for Quisling. [s01]

Norwegian Jonas Lie, wellknown police officer and also military captain, had been appointed by Quisling as Minister of Justice. He had tried to transport some ammunition from one place in Norway to another, but was caught in Sweden. He was allowed to bring the ammunition back into Norway, and then used another route into Sweden. After a visit in Stockholm, and a meeting with the president of the Norwegian parliament where he explained that he had not been asked to become Minister of Justice, he returned to Norway again. He managed to report to the Norwegian military headquarter in Gudbrandsdalen where the Norwegians tried to stop the German troops in their advance northwards. Lie fought for Norway for some time, and then joined Quisling in the role he had been appointed to. [s01]

A former member of the Norwegian party Nasjonal Samling, where Quisling was leader, also came to Stockholm. He could prove that he had broken the contacts with the party already in 1937, and then was asked to travel to London and work for Norwegian shipping. Instead the shipping engineer chose to travel to northern Norway to fight against the Germans. [s01]

Sometimes a chain of events led to various reasons to go to Sweden at various stages.

In January 1941 Jens Poulsson went on skis across the mountains to Sweden, from where he planned to travel on to rejoin the Norwegian forces in Britain. But, there was no traffic between Sweden and Britain at the time. Instead he travelled via Finland, the Soviet Union, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, ship to India, ship to the east coast of Africa, to Capetown in south Africa, ship to Trinidad, ship and plane to Canada, and finally plane to Britain. It took him 9 months to get from Norway to Britain. [s54]

Professor Leif Tronstad, at the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim, had since the German occupation of Norway sent industrial information to British and Norwegian authorities in Britain. In one of his reports he told about the German interest in the Vemork factory's production of "heavy water". This report was read by the head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), and he was told by a scientist what "heavy water" was. In September 1941 Tronstad was told by a double agent that Gestapo was close to learn about his activities, and he fled via Sweden to London. [s54]

Meanwhile Dr Jomar Brun, chief manager of the Norsk Hydro's Vemork plant in Rjukan, was one of the Norwegians who performed slight sabotage on the production. He also had drawings, photographs and descriptions of the plant microphotographed and sent in toothpaste tubes. After Tronstads escape it was sent with a courier to Sweden, and from there it was forwarded to Tronstad in London. [s54]

After a meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt in June 1942, the Vemork factory became a high priority target for sabotage. The Norwegians did not want a bomb attack on the area. A plan was made to carry 34 commandos to the area in two Horsa gliders, towed there by two bombers, in November 1942. After the sabotage attack, the commandos should split up in small groups and get to Sweden. However the SOE and Tronstad had several objections to the plan, among others that the commandos would have close to 650 kilometres to the Swedish border - and this in for them unfamiliar winter conditions. However it was decided that the operation should take place. [s54]

Red house with white corners In suitable time before the attack Dr Brun received the suggestion to leave Norway. He could become a prime suspect for Gestapo, so with a false story he and his wife went to visit Oslo. He had brought additional photographs and other information about the plant, and two kilograms of stolen "heavy water", and poison ampules for them to bite on if they were caught by the Germans. The final distance to the Swedish border was on foot in forests and across rivers. At the border they burnt their passports, and when they after some hours met the local Swedish police they gave him false names. After disinfection (typhus) they were sent to a camp for Norwegian refugees, from where they could call the Norwegian legation in Stockholm. Due to the poor air connection between Sweden and Britain it took several days before they could depart from Stockholm. [s54]

The glider operation on 19 November led to 3 crashed planes. Two commandos could have made it to Sweden, but they did not want to leave their comrades. The commandos who survived the crashes were killed by the Germans. The British received information about this from Sweden. [s54]

Two days after a successful test (led by Dr Fermi who had received the Nobel Prize in Stockholm) in the USA to construct an atomic bomb, the air raid alarm sounded in Rjukan in Norway. While citizens took shelter 200 German soldiers searched the houses. A search that lasted for 15 hours, according to the London Times news services in Stockholm. [s54]

Just before midnight on Saturday 27 February 1943 nine Norwegian soldiers in British uniforms waited outside the Norsk Hydro's Vemork plant in Rjukan. They had been trained in Britain, and parachuted in two groups. Four men (among them Jens Poulsson) had landed on 18 October 1942, as an advance group to the commandos in gliders, and six men had landed on 17 February 1943. (One man in the first group now worked as a radio operator.). About a quarter past one the explosives in the factory destroyed vital machines and the "heavy water" in the machines. For the German guards in a barrack outside the factory, it sounded like another sound that occassionally was heard from other equipment in the factory. The nine men managed to get away undetected, without a single shot fired and noone killed, and had climbed back into the deep gorge before the alarm sounded. People inside the factory had understood at once that something was wrong. After more than three hours the men had climbed the opposite side of the valley, and were at the mountain ridge near the vast Hardanger plateau. Four of the men would stay in Norway, while the others went to Sweden. [s54]

The German hunt for the saboteurs had began, but luckily for the Norwegians the Germans had considered it impossible to get to and from the factory via the valley with its steep mountain walls. One of the Norwegians needed to fetch dry clothes in a mountain hut, but the others headed for the hut in the plateau they had used as a headquarter during the winter. From there five men in British uniforms (to be caught as British soldiers decreased the risk of German reprisal on Norwegian civilians) began their 400 kilometres long ski trek to the Swedish border. They would avoid all farms, hamlets et cetera along the way. [s54]

The Germans soon understood that the Hardanger plateau was a place to search, and more than 10.000 German troops were positioned at strategic places around the plateau. A large search on the plateau began a few days after the men who went to Sweden reached the Swedish border, after an eighteen days long ski trek. They discarded all military equipment, and arrived in Sweden as civilians. They had a cover story, but their similar clothing and equipment aroused suspicion. However, the Swedes accepted their story. The leader of the operation got a leave for some days and went to the British embassy in Stockholm. When they got confirmation about who he was and his role, the others were released from the camp. They bought new skis and equipment for their next secret assignment from Britain to Norway, and were transported by plane to Britain. [s54]

The Norwegian who needed to fetch clothes in another hut, did not manage to catch up with the others during a storm on the plateau. After an incredible series of events - including a several hours long chase on skis when a German soldier tried to shoot him but used all ammuniton and was shot by the Norwegian instead, being treated by a German doctor who thought the Norwegian helped the Germans in their hunt for the saboteurs, later caught and sent on a bus with prisoners towards the prison Grini, jumped out of the bus to escape, hit by a German hand grenade that didn't explode, and some more - he finally managed to get to Sweden. From there he went on to Britain. [s54]

(After hard work the Germans managed to repair the factory, and from mid August 1943 there was full production of "heavy water" again. The early type of sabotage by adding other fluids to the water lowered the amount of "heavy water" produced per day, but not enough to satisfy the Allies. They saw the German repair of the factory and the incresed security of both the factory and the transports to Germany as signs that Germany was close to produce atomic bombs. On 16 November 460 bombers released their bombs over the area. 22 people were killed, but the vital parts of the factory was not damaged. The Norwegian government was informed of the bombing afterwards, and issued a strong protest to the British and the USA governments. They referred to several sabotage operations to stop production at factories in Norway, performed by Norwegian military. [s54])

The Germans decided to move the stock of "heavy water" to Germany. A new sabotage was prepared, and one contact person in the factory had an appendix operation arranged in Oslo the day before the day of the sabotage. Sunday morning 20 February 1944 the Germans lost the last of the "heavy water" from the Vemork plant, and 26 people lost their lives. Two persons went to Sweden. One went on by plane to Britain, and the other enjoyed his leave in Stockholm for some weeks before returning to more tasks in Norway. [s54]

All of the sabotages were performed by men who knew nothing about the development of atomic bombs, only that it was most important to the war effort to prohibit that Germany got "heavy water". [s54]

(My note: A tips if you are interested in this sabotage operation, is to first watch the movie "The Heroes of Telemark" to get an understanding of the landscape and the nature where it took place. Then read for example the book I used as a source for these fragments, to get a more actual description.)

2015-01-06. www.granfoss.se. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss