Invaded and torn apart, left on its own by allies, what role did Norway play during the Second World War? And what impact did the war have on the country and the people there?
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939, volunteer movements began to be organized to help fight against the Soviets. A number of these volunteers came from nearby countries–Sweden and Norway in particular.
The Winter War
During the Winter War, the Norwegian government technically did not allow men to volunteer for the war in Finland out of fear that that would aggravate the Germans and hamper their goal of remaining a neutral country.
Nonetheless, more than seven hundred men and women volunteered to fight with Finnish troops including doctors, nurses, and several future leaders of the Norwegian resistance movement such as Max Manus and Leif Andreas Larsen, better known as Shetlands Larsen.
Citizens of Norway also held collections for food, supplies, and money to aid Finnish refugees and communities that were devastated by the conflict. The Norwegian government secretly donated artillery and ammunition to the Finnish army, as well as allowing airplanes and other materials to be sent to them through Norway. After the end of the Winter War, the Norwegian aid continued and was shifted to reconstruction.
The invasion of Norway
On April 9th, 1940, the first German troops arrived in Norway. There were three major reasons for the invasion of Norway:
It was strategic, in that an occupation of Norway allowed the German Army and Navy to secure ice-free harbors to control the North Atlantic; to secure the routes used to transport iron ore from Sweden–a much needed commodity in times of war; and to pre-empt a British and French invasion with the same purposes.
The man in charge of the invasion strategy was General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst. To prepare his strategy Von Falkenhorst spent an afternoon with a travel-guide book that, amazingly, allowed him to come up with the gist of his plan.
An element of surprise
To many Norwegians the invasion came as a surprise; Norway had managed to stay out of the First World War, and much of the country believed that it would be staying out of the second one as well.
Trade agreements secured with Germany and Great Britain in early 1940 was thought to be additional protection against invaders, as was Norway’s military presence on the nation’s borders, and the close proximity of Britain’s impressive naval power.
In truth, the Norwegian army was less than prepared for the ferocity of the German invasion. As the Germans began capturing key ports and coastal cities, many Norwegian army commanders moved their men further inland to take advantage of the country’s rugged interior.
With the German plan of attack, their Navy and other airborne troops struck simultaneously at several key locations: Oslo, Bergen Stavanger, and Trondheim, amongst others. The coastal forts at the Oslofjord held up their offensive initially, but once the Germans had organized themselves, its progress was rapid.
By 13 April, a mere four days after the invasion started, the German Army had moved more than seventy miles outside of Oslo and captured Halden, south-east of Oslo and Kongsberg, to the south-west. A week later eleven days into the campaign, the German army had advanced almost two hundred miles from the capital.
The Norwegians put their faith in the British and French armies arriving in an effort to help stem the advance of the Germans, but unfortunately, it never came.
The British did initially try to stem the German advance through Norway; they planned smaller landings that were made north and south of the city of Namsos and Andalsnes. The idea was that the Allied units would then meet Norwegian defense forces and move towards the city of Trondheim.
The British landed at Namsos on 16 April and Andalsnes on 18. Three days later, the Germans attacked them and their Norwegian counterparts and after about one week of fighting and maneuvering the British troops were re-embarking at Namsos and withdrawing from Norway.
The German advance
The German advance throughout Norway was relentless and the end of May 1940 saw the British government and military withdrawal from Norway completely. Britain’s failure in Norway was to also have major political consequences with the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who was replaced by Winston Churchill.
King Haakon of Norway was put on a boat with his family and other members of the Norwegian government on 7 June heading towards the United Kingdom and other allied countries. On 9 June, the German campaign in Norway was complete.
By the standards of World War Two, the fighting in Norway during the invasion was far from extreme. A little over one thousand Norwegians were killed or wounded, the British suffered nearly two thousand killed or wounded and five hundred French and Polish troops were killed or wounded.
The Germans lost more than five thousand men; many of whom were killed at sea while en route to Norway or during the first days of the invasion.
The occupation of Norway
The occupation was a less than comfortable time for Norway. The German military requisitioned homes, businesses, and property, schools, all while spreading Nazi symbolism and ideologies.
Although the soldiers were ordered to behave properly towards the civilian population in Norway, they had the authority to control and the right to arrest people they thought to be suspicious. Continuously adding new regulations, laws, and demands made it easy to be in danger of arrest.
A ban on Norwegian icons
Norwegians were not allowed to move about freely or to show patriotic feelings in any manner. During these years, singing the national anthem and flying the flag of Norway were banned. Death was a common punishment for crimes such as listening to radio stations deemed culturally inappropriate or reading many of the illegal or gray market newspapers.
Urban areas were hit the hardest by the occupation when it came to aspects such as rationing. Everything from food and clothes, to toys and furniture, were rationed.
Sugar, coffee, and flour were the first, followed by all imported foodstuffs and eventually bread, butter, meat, eggs, and dairy products. In the summer of 1942, even vegetables and potatoes were rationed.
Living with ration books
Each household was given one ration book per family member–a kind of ticket that gave the right to buy a certain amount of a food item. In order to combat the lack of food, people turned to what they had always done; they fished, hunted, or farmed what land they could.
The growing of potatoes, Swedish turnips and carrots became a usual activity for anyone who had a small garden patch available. The local community governments even went as far as to distribute allotments in parks and outlying fields; even the beautiful flowerbeds were turned into potato fields.
Perhaps the most intimidating part of the war for Norwegians was the bomb threat. Shelters and blackout curtains became a part of everyday life.
Both the German and Allied militaries carried out extensive bombing campaigns, leaving many towns, villages, and cities completely flattened. Thousands of people were displaced which caused them to flee to the cities and stressing the already shaky rationing and housing systems.
The Norwegian resistance
Despite the hardships of the occupation many Norwegian military and civilian personnel continued to fight for their freedom. Hitler’s well-planned invasion of Norway caused chaos and death, but not demoralisation.
Almost instantly after the invasion, resistance movements sprang up across the country. Thousand of men and women were eventually involved with some form of underground activity. Many of these clandestine operations were so successful that close family members were unaware of each other’s involvement until after the war was over.
Operations of the resistance movements varied: writing and distributing underground newspapers, smuggling people and goods to and from Sweden or the United Kingdom, and even blowing up ships, destroying train tracks and factories to disrupt German trade and supply routes.
The end of the war
On the 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered and Norway was once again a free country. Around 50,000 Norwegians were found guilty of treason after the war. They had been members of the Norwegian national socialist party, Nasjonal Samling, who sympathized and collaborated with the Nazis.
Twenty-five of these people were executed for treason. Reconstruction of the country began in earnest; the merchant fleet of Norway was built up again and soon trade was opened and the quality of life in Norway improved drastically.
This article provides the basic information on Norway’s role as an occupied country that fought back and rebuilt their nation to become one of the wealthiest and most socially equal countries today. I'll be back with more detailed stories soon.
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