Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945

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Chapter 3 NORWAY

Neutral Into Ally

Dejection in the Norwegian CampThe Mowinckel Plan FailsKing Haakon Overcomes HesitationsThe Norwegian "Vichy" FailsFrom Koht to LieNeutrality RenouncedThe Swedish DilemmaEvolution in Swedish PolicySweden CooperatesMoscow RespondsA Charter for Liberation

Since the beginning of the war, the strategic significance of neutral Norway had escaped neither Britain nor Germany. The main concern of both countries was the continuous supply of iron ore from northern Sweden to Germany via the Norwegian port of Narvik – a route activated during the winter months when the Baltic waters were closed to shipping. Germany feared that Britain might take control of Norway for the purpose of stopping the flow of iron ore and was accordingly determined to establish her own control before any British initiative; Britain, on her part, decided to act. The Kriegsmarine put to sea on April 3, 1940. On April 8 the Royal Navy laid minefields at the entrance to Vest Fjord which commands the access to Narvik. Norwegian-British wrangling on rights in territorial waters ended abruptly when, on April 9, Germany invaded, landing troops at all the major Norwegian ports. The Norwegian government sent a message to the British government urging “strong and quick assistance before the Germans had established themselves in Norway.”[1] Britain, along with France, responded favorably, but two subsequent Allied landings in the area of Trondheim and the capture of Narvik were eventually to end in evacuation when the forces were needed elsewhere. The sinking by Norwegian coastal batteries of the German heavy cruiser Blücher had deprived the invading German force of the elite units assigned to seize King Haakon and his government, who thus escaped capture. Having rejected Hitler’s demand that Vidkun Quisling be appointed head of the government, the King and his ministers fought an heroic but unequal sixty-day campaign against the invaders before moving to London to continue the fight from abroad.

Dejection in the Norwegian Camp  [top]
Popular objections to the Norwegian army’s repeated withdrawals, German harassment of the King and the government, and Norwegian complaints of lack of coordination and consultation between their commanders and the Allied commanders combined to bring to a head a feeling of crisis in the relations between the Norwegian Government and Allied commanders in the field. This feeling became even more acute after the evacuation of central Norway, with the withdrawal from Bodo. Sir Cecil Dormer, the British Minister, telegraphed London in the following ominous terms: “I am afraid that the Government are near to breaking point in their resistance to the German attacks.”[2] The members of the government “were visibly suffering under great strain” when told that the British troops were on the point of evacuating the whole Bodo area. Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht said that the decision had apparently been reached without consulting and without notifying the Norwegian commander, General Fleischer, and that it was contrary to the “explicit assurances” given to him in London. The President of the Storting (Parliament), Carl Hambro, told Sir Cecil that members of the Storting, then in Stockholm, had advised the government to “discontinue hostilities and make such terms with Germany as they could obtain” if further territories, such as the Bodo district, were given up. Koht, for his part, urged a conference of Norwegian and British commanders to discuss future plans and the appointment of Norwegian liaison officers to be attached to British headquarters.

Sir Cecil seemed quite pessimistic about the attitude of certain members of the Norwegian Government. “The weather for the moment is bad for flying,” he telegraphed in the same message, “but it will not need many more bombs to break what is left of the morale of some of the members of the Government.” He mentioned in this respect Prime Minister Nygaardsvold, “the picture of misery,” who insisted that the proposed commanders’ conference should take place immediately, “otherwise he would have to go to the King and they would stop fighting (or some such remark). His exact words were not very audible, but I paid no attention to them, as he showed every sign of extreme nervous strain.” Sir Cecil added: “I am not even sure of Mr. Koht. Mr. Lie, the Minister of Supply, is the stoutest member of the Government – in more senses than one – and he is our best hope.”

The final weeks of the Norwegian campaign were marked by two reversals of Allied military and diplomatic policy. On May 4, 1940, the British War Cabinet instructed the Foreign Office to give assurances to Hambro that the Allies did not intend to abandon Narvik and northern Norway. This assurance was requested by members of the Storting meeting in Stockholm who had decided to ask the government to continue resistance on the understanding that the Allies would not abandon Narvik and northern Norway. Two days later, on May 6, Lord Halifax gave a similar assurance to Koht, who had flown over to London. He told him that the Allies’ aim in capturing Narvik was “to establish ourselves as firmly as we might on the territory in northern Norway in order to be free to develop the situation as circumstances might permit.”[3] Yet on May 31 notice of an early withdrawal of Allied forces from Norway was communicated to the Norwegian government.[4] 

The Mowinckel Plan Fails  [top]

Shortly before the Allies’ withdrawal, the Norwegian and Swedish governments and eventually the German government became involved in what came to be called the Mowinckel Plan, named for its author, Johan Ludwig Mowinckel, a former Prime Minister of Norway. According to this plan, a scheme for the neutralization of northern Norway was to be prepared whereby all foreign troops were to be withdrawn from northern Norway to a line south of Mosjoen and the Germans would leave Norway free north of this line. Narvik would be occupied by the Norwegians, or temporarily by Sweden, the port remaining open.[5]

The British government’s understanding of the Mowinckel Plan was formulated in a message from Sir Alexander Cadogan to Dormer on June 6, when in fact the plan was already dead. In a telegram urging Sir Cecil to persuade King Haakon to abandon any thought of remaining in Norway, it was suggested that the King should not announce he had decided to leave “before every means of realizing the Mowinckel Plan has been tried.” The message added (paragraph 3): “An essential feature, however, of this plan is that the King and Government of Norway would, while concluding under Swedish auspices an armistice with Germany as far as Northern Norway was concerned, still remain in alliance with Great Britain and France, with Sweden in the Narvik area acting as a buffer between Norway and Germany.”[6]

The plan, at first opposed by Britain, was apparently inspired by Swedish circles and was first mentioned in the middle of May to the British Minister in Stockholm, Victor Mallet, by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Christian Gunther. The British Minister replied that Britain would refuse to consider the plan, which would arouse suspicions of Swedish collusion with Germany. This blunt reaction was followed by Churchill’s letter to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, stating that the proposal would be “most detrimental” to the Allies since the value of “our forces in Norway is to entice and retain largely superior forces in that area.” The War Cabinet therefore informed the British Ministers accredited to the Norwegian and Swedish governments that Britain would not consider the plan.[7]

As the occupation of Narvik by the Allies was expected any day – it actually took place on May 28 – there was a complete reversal of the British position with regard to the Mowinckel Plan. On May 23 the Chiefs of Staff proposed to the War Cabinet a complete withdrawal from Norway after a brief Allied occupation of Narvik. It was realized by then that Allied forces could only be maintained in the north at the cost of aircraft and anti-aircraft defences badly needed in Britain and France. Lord Halifax throughout the discussions on the Mowinckel Plan considered that it also had some positive aspects. The need for military secrecy, linked with the impending decision on complete withdrawal from Norway, impeded discussion of the plan whose practicability now depended on a German agreement not to attack northern Norway. Those concerned felt that no such agreement would be forthcoming after the occupation of Narvik if the Germans discovered the Allies’ withdrawal plans.

Rarely had a diplomatic puzzle of such consequence to be unravelled in a matter of hours. The strained atmosphere that had reigned between the British envoy and the Norwegian government since the evacuation of Bodo was somewhat eased when Sir Cecil Dormer was authorized to explore with Koht the “desirability of reviewing the question of adopting the so-called Mowinckel Plan according to which the Germans would undertake not to attack North Norway if the Allied forces evacuated it and the Swedes occupied Narvik.”[8] Koht’s reaction was first to point out that for the “Swedish proposals” to be successful, “it was essential that our evacuation should not begin too soon, lest the Germans come to know of it.” In view of the urgency of the matter, Koht, in the presence of Dormer, drafted a telegram to Sweden’s Foreign Minister Gunther informing him “that the Norwegian Government proposed to discuss the Mowinckel Plan, that they had reason to hope that His Majesty’s Government would give their assent to it, and that he assumed that the German Government were similarly disposed.”[9]

Koht on that occasion revealed to Sir Cecil that the Norwegian Government had rejected the plan when they first heard of it “because they feared that if they adopted it they would be branded by the Allies as traitors.” He added that “as this was no longer the case they were willing to take it up.” While doubting German acceptance, Koht thought the Germans might well learn that the Russians would not like to see them holding Narvik, and that the Swedish government might find in the plan a way of reducing German pressure on their neutrality.[10]

Koht was authorized by the Norwegian State Council to discuss the revived Mowinckel Plan at a secret meeting in Luleå with Gunther. Two conditions were put on these discussions. The first was that there should be no actual Swedish occupation of Norwegian territory, but that Swedish troops should be stationed along the demarcation line. The second was that the Allied evacuation should be postponed as long as possible to give the negotiations a chance of success. Gunther, who seemed determined to make the plan succeed, promised to contact Berlin immediately and suggested that the proposed demarcation line should run from Foldafjord to the Swedish border in order to ensure that the Germans would not be too near to the area held by Norway.[11]

The last scene of the drama took place in London, where the Swedish Minister, Prytz, explained to Lord Halifax on May 31 – the day after the decision to evacuate northern Norway was taken by the War Cabinet – that a Swedish occupation of Narvik would be a good guarantee that the Germans would keep their word not to attack Norwegian-held territory. Reporting on that day to the War Cabinet, Lord Halifax suggested that the plan would enable the Allies to withdraw from Norway without discredit, to maintain access to Sweden, and enable the Norwegian King and government to remain free in their country. The Norwegian Government was advised to enter immediately into discussions with the Germans about the possible neutralization of northern Norway.[12]

All this came too late, since on June 4 the British Minister in Stockholm reported that the Germans did not intend to reply, since they heard that the Allies were withdrawing from Narvik.[13]

King Haakon Overcomes Hesitations [top]
The fateful message to Sir Cecil Dormer instructing him to inform the Norwegian Government of the Allies’ decision to withdraw from Northern Norway referred to the Mowinckel Plan in a somewhat non-committal way. “It might be worthwhile suggesting to the Norwegian Government, that if they think there is any chance of reaching agreement on the Mowinckel plan, we should see no objection to their attempting this.” The core of the message however dealt with the impending withdrawal of the Allies and the readiness “to bring away the King of Norway, Norwegian Government and as many Norwegian troops as may wish to come to the United Kingdom and continue the fight with Allies on other battlefields.”

The message also stated that the decision on withdrawal was taken because, in the light of recent events in Belgium and Northern France, it was not possible for the Allies to supply sufficient defence against German attacks on northern Norway. It added: “In any case restoration of Norwegian independence depends upon the capacity of the British Empire and France to resist present attack upon them, and if this purpose is to be achieved all available Allied forces will in present circumstances be required.”

Sir Cecil was asked to communicate the message to the Norwegian Government at once, “if there is to be any hope of preventing them from making terms with the Germans.”[14]

The German rejection of the Mowinckel Plan was known on June 4. The same day Sir Cecil, in a telegram marked “Secret – Most Immediate,” reported as follows: “I have just received a private letter from the King of Norway saying he has come to the conclusion that if he leaves [the country] now he and the Crown Prince will undo work they have done for Norway during past years. He has decided to stay on and ‘give it out that as the Allies have left us and as we have no ammunition we have to give up fighting but we remain and will have to negotiate with Germans on terms for stopping fighting’. His Majesty says he has not informed his Government of his decision but wishes me to inform His Majesty’s Government as he believes he may before long #8216;stand before a fait accompli’. His Majesty adds that he believes Allies will win in the end but that Norwegians will look upon him and the Crown Prince as deserters if they leave their people to mercy of Germans. By remaining they share their lot.”[15]

King Haakon’s letter was submitted immediately to the War Cabinet. The minute says that in the discussion “it was suggested that pressure should be brought to bear on the King to embark at once with the Royal Party and the Members of the Government.” The War Cabinet took note of the discussion and invited the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs “to consider further what steps could be taken to induce the King of Norway, the Royal Party, and the Norwegian Government to embark for this country.”[16] Sir Alexander Cadogan records in his Diaries: “... King of Norway sent tiresome message. Preparing to do a ‘Leopold’. Drafted reply not to be an ass – or a traitor. Got it approved by W.S.C. and Neville.”[17]

This reply couched in diplomatic language instructed Sir Cecil Dormer to do his best “to dissuade the King from proceeding on the lines indicated, against which there appears to be every possible argument.” It is to be assumed, the message continued, that King Haakon will make no such announcement before the evacuation is complete and “before every means of realizing the Mowinckel Plan has been tried.” If the Mowinckel Plan fails and the King and the government stay in Norway and accept German terms this “will result in their having to submit to complete control by the German Government. The King will certainly find himself in a position where he cannot hope to give his people effective help or, still worse, will be obliged to throw the cloak of his personal acquiescence over whatever Germans may oblige him to do. Norwegian independence ... will be at the mercy of Germany and will be further violated whenever it suits Hitler’s purposes to do so. King and Government will thus be forced from one humiliation to another and will render it quite impossible for Great Britain and France to continue to cooperate with them in the task of eventually restoring to the whole of Norway its previous independence.”[18]

The message further warned the King of Norway that the Germans would make it their object to force Norway into conflict with the Allies “on whose victory alone depends Norway’s future independent existence” and he should not take a step that “must clearly compromise Allied efforts.” Referring to the Norwegian merchant fleet, the message stressed that if Norway were “constrained” under German pressure to refuse permission to Norwegian seamen to serve the Allied cause, “His Majesty’s Government would have no alternative than to take their own measures which might lead to a rupture with the Norwegian Government.” The only way to avoid this, failing the Mowinckel plan, was for the King and government of Norway “to place themselves beyond the reach of German pressure by leaving Northern Norway until such time as they can return to it with a reasonable prospect of being able to resist German pressure and domination.” Stating that King Leopold of Belgium’s acceptance of German “tutelage” had met with “strong condemnation” by the Belgian government and people and by at least part of the Belgian army, the message ended by declaring that Britain had done her best to help Norway and that withdrawal had been “forced” on her against her will. Should King Haakon decline to come over to England the effect “would be to relieve us (Britain) of any feeling of obligation towards Norway in the future.”[19]

Sir Cecil’s “Most Immediate Secret” telegram reported: “I have seen King who has revoked decision of yesterday and agrees to accompany Government if necessary. He said that he would not now mention anything to his Government.”[20]

The War Cabinet took note of King Haakon’s decision to embark for England on June 6, at 12:30 p.m., at the very moment that Cadogan’s message was being dispatched.[21] This is an important point for historians. It means that King Haakon’s decision was taken before Cadogan’s instructions arrived. The Cadogan message remains a document which was never acted upon and which merely outlines British thinking. Sir Cecil undoubtedly used parallel arguments to persuade the King to change his decision. However, in the view of Norwegian circles, in the absence of specific instructions Sir Cecil could not have exercised “strong pressure” on the King to come to England as has been claimed in certain British publications.[22] King Haakon is said to have undergone a “crisis of conscience” when faced by the danger of appearing to have deserted his people, as Nazi propaganda subsequently maintained after the monarch’s arrival in Britain became known.

King Haakon’s letter to Sir Cecil Dormer announcing his earlier decision to remain in Norway appears to have been returned to the King later.

The last Cabinet meeting on Norwegian soil took place on June 7, at the Bishop’s residence in Troms_. It was “the gravest Cabinet meeting I ever attended,” the King later recalled. Closing the meeting, King Haakon said he believed that what the Cabinet had resolved upon was for the good of the country and people. His voice broke as he uttered the last words, “God save our dear fatherland.” At about 7:30 p.m. the King and the Crown Prince drove to the quay where General Ruge took leave of his sovereign, who was deeply moved. A Norwegian fishing boat took the little party to the cruiser Devonshire, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir John Cunningham, who welcomed the 400 passengers on board. The King and his party landed at Gourock on the Clyde early on June 10 and reached Euston Station in London before 10 p.m. They were met there by King George VI, Prime Minister Churchill and Lord Halifax. Taken to Buckingham Palace, they joined the Royal family at dinner.

In a letter written the next morning to Queen Mary, who had been evacuated to the country, King Haakon described his feelings of sadness at “having left my country in the hands of the enemy ... I am sure,” he wrote, “that we did right in coming away and not making a separate peace with Germany, as we would have had to sooner or later on account of no ammunition after a short stand alone.... I feel convinced that Hitler will not be able to win this war any more than William could in the last war.”[23]

The Norwegian "Vichy" Fails  [top]

On June 7, 1940, King Haakon issued a proclamation, also signed by Prime Minister Johan Nygaardsvold, appealing to the Norwegian people “to continue the struggle in loyalty to the Fatherland since the King and Government have seen themselves compelled to remove their abode and their activities outside the frontiers of the country.” He stated that the Allied governments came “nobly” to the help of Norway and that up to the present “it has been possible to preserve a part of the country for its lawful national government but the hard necessity of the war has compelled the Allied governments to muster all their strength to fight upon other fronts.... Under these conditions it is impossible to maintain the struggle in this country against a preponderant power like that of Germany.” By leaving the country, the proclamation stated, “they are not thereby abandoning the fight to regain the independence of Norway. On the contrary, they will continue it outside the frontiers of the country ... so that in the hour of victory they can come forward with authority and assert Norway’s national freedom.”[24]

The administrative vacuum that followed the departure of the King and government was tackled by the Norwegian Supreme Court soon after they left Oslo for the north. The Supreme Court, a judicial body presided over by the highly respected Paal Berg, decided to set up an emergency Administrative Council composed of non-Nazi sympathizers. The German authorities were informed that the creation of this body was a non-political measure, conditional on the withdrawal of Quisling, who, in the early days of the occupation, had proclaimed himself head of the Norwegian government, and on King Haakon being kept informed. The King let it be known that he understood the Supreme Court’s initiative but reserved his and the government’s complete liberty, as the Administrative Council would have to act under the authority of a foreign power.

The Council suspended Quisling, leaving the German occupation authorities without a sympathetic legal Norwegian government, and Hitler, dissatisfied with the situation, on April 24 appointed Josef Terboven as Reichskommissar for Norway, empowered to use the German police to ensure Norway’s contribution to the war effort. Unlike what happened in any of the other occupied countries, the summer of 1940 witnessed an intense effort on the part of the German authorities under Terboven to reach an agreement with the members of the Storting remaining in the country, based upon the abdication or the repudiation of the King and the dismissal of the government. Terboven was encouraged in this course of action by the argument that the King and the government were outside the country and by the example of France, where Marshal P_tain was granted full powers to collaborate with Germany by the Chamber of Deputies meeting at Vichy.

In an effort to win over the Norwegians, Terboven needed a semblance of legality or constitutionality for his regime. During the summer, after the whole of Norway had been occupied, a tragedy in three acts was enacted in Oslo and Berlin. It began with negotiations between the Reichskommissar and the presidential board of the Storting on the elimination of the King and the government, which was to be replaced by a State Council. This was followed in Berlin, where Quisling spent several weeks during which he had a two-and-a-half hours’ talk with Hitler on September 11. The final act took place later in September, when Terboven took over, and his desire to be sole master in the country prevailed. All negotiations abruptly came to an end, terminating what some Norwegian historians call “the darkest chapter” in the recent history of a people who had become disillusioned and felt increasingly helpless. [25]

Hitler could not reconcile himself to the failure to establish Quisling in power in Oslo. He dismissed Minister Brauer and Reichskommissar Terboven was put in charge with the task of achieving a negotiated modus vivendi with the Norwegians. The Administrative Council under the governor of Oslo County, T. E. Christensen, did not satisfy the occupation authorities and a German emissary conducted talks with Norwegian personalities in view of its replacement by a Council of the Realm (Riksrad) which, with the support of the remaining Storting members, would dismiss the Nygaardsvold government, dethrone the reigning House and install a new government that would collaborate with Germany pending an election after the war.

In the absence of the president of the Storting, Carl Hambro, who had escaped to England, the Presidential Board, normally a technical body, became the Reichskommissariat’s partner in the discussions. On June 14 the members of the Presidential Board met in Oslo with representatives of the four great political parties and the trade union organization to consider the German proposals. After laborious discussions, the Board agreed that it had a duty to the country and people to nominate a Riksrad and appealed to the King on June 17 to accede to its proposals. These included the invalidation of the authority given by the Storting at Hamar to the Nygaardsvold government, which it no longer recognized as the country’s government, since the King, being outside the country, was unable to perform his constitutional functions. The monarch, therefore, was asked to resign from these functions both in his own name and on behalf of his house, with the National Council taking over the government’s business and the King’s constitutional functions. The election of a new parliament should be postponed until after the conclusion of a peace treaty. The members of the Storting who were abroad would not be given an opportunity to take part in its meetings. However, Norway’s constitutional monarchy would continue in the future.[26]

In the King’s reply dated July 3, he stated: “I and the Government have no higher wish than to be able to exercise our functions within the country; it is merely a foreign power which has forced the Government together with myself to leave the country. We have done this in conformity with the resolution of the Storting, in order so far as possible to preserve a free and independent control of the Norwegian Kingdom.” King Haakon stressed that the proposal of the Presidential Board had been arrived at through an agreement with the German occupation authorities and thus was “not an expression of a free Norwegian decision, but the result of compulsion exercised by foreign military occupation.” Referring to the exclusion from the Storting of those members – including the President – who “still retain freedom of decision,” the King asked: “Are those who are living under the pressure of a foreign power alone to decide the fate of the country?” And he concluded: “I should be failing in my constitutional duties by accepting a decision made by a Storting summoned under such conditions.” And the King warned that the proposed Council of the Realm in Oslo would not represent an independent kingdom, but merely a “German dependency.”[27]

In turn the Norwegian Government issued a reply stating: “It is an illusion that peace can be won for the country by the creation of a government which cooperates with Germany.”[28]

Now that the King’s refusal had been received, the Storting was scheduled to meet in mid July, but the meeting was delayed for two months by discussions in Berlin and events elsewhere in the war. Quisling having secured Admiral Raeder’s and Alfred Rosenberg’s intervention, Hitler was convinced that he could rely on him.[29] It seems that the conclusion reached in Berlin was that the Reichskommissariat should be maintained whatever the outcome of further discussions with the Storting Presidential Board and that a Council of the Realm should be established in which supporters of the National Samling, Quisling’s pro-Nazi movement, would wield a decisive influence pending the return of Quisling himself at a propitious moment.

When Terboven resumed negotiations with the Presidential Board of the Storting on September 10, 1940, it soon became clear that his aim was to reach an arrangement whereby, as one observer put it, the impression would be to convey an “appearance of Norwegian collaboration.”[30] The members of the Storting present were called upon to vote by an ordinary majority for two resolutions – one proposing that the King and Royal family retire, the other suggesting the withdrawal of the King and the Royal family until the conclusion of peace. Complicated voting procedures within the political parties and groups yielded the following results: 92 for and 53 against – five short of the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional change. Members of the Storting meanwhile grew suspicious of Germany’s real intentions, and, on September 15, District Governor Christiansen raised the question of German guarantee regarding the freedom of action of the proposed State Council, demanding that the affairs of government be conducted according to Norwegian justice and the rule of law and that the principles of Norwegian law should apply to the press, broadcasting, cinema and theatre. Furthermore, guarantees were requested for Norwegian economic interests, along with the promise that the Reichskommissar would not present further demands that would lead to the collapse of the negotiations.

On September 17 the party groups proceeded with another round of voting on the assumption that the German reply on the question of guarantees would be favourable. There was no statutory majority. When the German demand of changes in the composition of the planned Council of the Realm was presented, all the parties rejected the German demand. The Presidential Board wrote to the Reichskommissar that it was unlikely “that the National Assembly will regard indefinite promises as a satisfactory basis for a resolution” and that the Storting “must get the impression that Norway’s right of internal self-determination is being infringed to an objectionable extent.”[31]

After this reply Terboven, on September 25, broke off the negotiations and in a broadcast speech and proclamation dissolved the political parties which, he stated, had “craftily sought to make their influence on the formation of the National Council effective.” He accused the old party leaders, who “had been willing to depose both the King and Government,” of caring only for their own personal interests. “Friendship and mutual esteem,” he declared, “cannot be on one side only.” He stated that the Royal House, which he asserted falsely had been repudiated by two-thirds of the Storting, “has no further political importance” and that the same was true of the Nygaardsvold government. The Administrative Council was dissolved and a number of State Councillors were nominated, most of them members of Quisling’s National Samling which had shown beyond doubt the “correctness of its political views.” No political activity of any sort would henceforth be allowed. Terboven called on Norway to take its place within the framework of the “New European Order.” Quisling was kept in reserve until he took over as Minister-President of the National Samling Cabinet in February 1942.

Hitler’s and Terboven’s attempt to create a Norwegian version of the “Vichy government” had failed.

From Koht to Lie  [top]
For the King and government in London, getting adapted to the Allied environment and logic was a slow process. Nearly a month after his arrival in Britain, on July 3, 1940, King Haakon, in his reply to the Storting Presidential Board, still mentioned the pre-invasion argument that Norway should not become involved in the war between the great powers, though on August 26 in his broadcast he was to state that “the only possibility of recreating a free Norway is the victory of that side [the Allies] which, like us, maintains the right of small nations to live their own lives.”[32]
In the crucial transition from neutrality to full participation in the war, Norway’s relationship with the Allies continued to be steered by Halvdan Koht. Although he continued to tackle these vital issues for several months, he and his colleagues soon began to wonder whether he was the right man in the right place at the right time to lead the foreign relations of the Norwegian Government in exile. Of the three former neutral governments then in exile in Britain, Spaak of Belgium and Van Kleffens of the Netherlands survived the war at their posts. Koht had to resign in November 1940, a victim primarily of the bitterness that had accumulated between the Norwegian and British governments since the beginning of the war and during the Norwegian campaign. Already in August rumours had spread in London of Koht’s early removal from office and of a “plot” to that effect. The idea was discarded, however, because of the impression that it would be exploited by Nazi propaganda.[33]

What British quarters reproached Koht with dated back to his unduly severe interpretation of Norwegian neutrality. He undoubtedly shared responsibility for the failure of Allied help to Finland. Under Koht’s leadership, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry presented an aide-m_moire to the Foreign Office on January 19, 1940, which concluded with the words: “The circumstance that Great Britain is fighting for its life cannot give it a right to jeopardize the existence of Norway.”[34] Colban, who presented the aide-m_moire, maintained that there was a “lack of evidence” that the Germans had torpedoed ships within Norwegian territorial waters. On the same day Koht declared in the Storting: “When a ship is blown up and the crew are killed, we have no proof left of who is responsible and we cannot address our complaints to any one government; we can only blame the war itself.”[35] In response, the British Minister in Oslo, Sir Cecil Dormer, was instructed on January 24 to convey to Koht the “bad impression” created by this speech in Britain and he added: “If the Norwegian Government’s conception of neutrality is that both belligerents earn equal blame for action known to be taken by one of them, the other will have less inducement to respect Norwegian interests.”[36]

The friction caused by Koht’s policy culminated in open British defiance in launching the Altmark operation after the Foreign Minister had refused the British suggestion that the German ship should go to Bergen under an Anglo-Norwegian guard for a joint investigation. Britain declined a Norwegian proposal that the affair be submitted to arbitration and expressed regret “that they (the British government) should have had no option but to adopt a course which, although in their opinion fully justified by the circumstances, admittedly involved taking action in Norwegian territorial waters.”[37] According to accounts published years later, Koht was reported to have told the German minister that Chamberlain was a “bungler” and Churchill a “demagogue.[38]

In the months during which he still held office as Foreign Minister, Koht participated in the intricate contacts with the President of the Supreme Court and the Presidential Board of the Storting. He insisted on the principle of independence as far as Norwegian shipping, gold and foreign exchange reserves were concerned; took the first steps towards an Anglo-Norwegian agreement designed to regulate the presence of the Norwegian forces in Britain; and finally, like the Dutch government, informed the Foreign Office that Norway would maintain diplomatic relations with Vichy France.

But if influential British circles tended to cold-shoulder Koht, this was less because of his past attitudes than because of his “neutral mentality” and lack of confidence in a British and Allied victory. While supporting cooperation with Britain, he also envisaged the possibility of a compromise peace. This led him to the idea that Norway should link her fate with at least one other Great Power. In the circumstances he thought this should be the Soviet Union, which the Finnish-Soviet peace treaty had made an immediate neighbour of Norway. Less than a month after his arrival in Britain and nearly a year before the German invasion of the USSR, at a time when British-Soviet relations were deeply frozen, he assured Soviet Ambassador Maisky that the Anglo-French landings in Norway after the German invasion had been improvised without any prior arrangement with Oslo.

During the fateful months of the Battle of Britain there were three schools of thought as to future Norwegian foreign policy. Koht’s conception was that while cooperating with Britain, the exiled government must ensure that liberated Norway would be free from the domination of any great power. Another group of ministers urged a return to classical diplomacy in order to seek guarantees of Norway’s independence and security in written treaties. A third school of thought, consisting mainly of intellectuals, urged outright cooperation with Britain in the fight against Hitler’s Germany and all the evil it represented.

Koht’s resignation in November 1940 was seen as the end of Norway’s neutrality and paved the way for a new and uncompromising stand within the Alliance. He was succeeded by Trygve Lie, whom Sir Cecil Dormer at the darkest moment of the evacuation from Bodo had described as the “stoutest member” of the government and “our best hope.”

It soon became clear that Lie’s leadership of Norwegian foreign policy introduced a new spirit and even a new terminology into a relationship that for months had given the impression of lingering on aimlessly. He showed himself to be ahead of British government thinking when a month after assuming office, on December 15, 1940, he spoke of the Atlantic seaboard countries ensuring their future security by a system of bases in each other’s territories.[39] He repeated and enlarged on this idea before a Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs) audience at Oxford in October 1941, when the USSR was already in the war and the United States on the brink of coming in. Describing himself as a representative of an “Atlantic people,” Trygve Lie forecast “a strongly organized collaboration between the two great Atlantic Powers” for the post-war reconstruction of Europe. “Cooperation between the British Empire and the USA must be the starting point,” Lie stated, suggesting further that Norway should offer the British and the Americans base facilities on its territory.[40]

This had an echo six weeks later, on December 15, 1941, in a rather unexpected quarter. Stalin, in a conversation with Anthony Eden at the Kremlin, told him that “Britain might, if wished, have bases in Norway and Denmark.”[41] Stalin’s remarks remained secret for years, but for the British government at the time they seemed to open up new horizons in East-West cooperation for world peace.

Neutrality Renounced  [top]
Trygve Lie’s crusade for a common Atlantic defense policy and British and American bases in Norway remained a personal and solitary initiative for nearly eighteen months until formally adopted on May 8, 1942, as a basic part of Norwegian policy in a document entitled “Principal Features of Norway’s Foreign Policy.”[42] The delay seems to have been due to a prolonged debate within the Norwegian Cabinet. As Lie explained to the new British Minister, Sir Lawrence Collier, the document represented a sort of “lowest common denominator” of the views on foreign policy held by all members of the government.

It laid down that, pending the creation of an “effective and universal League of Nations,” Norway would “be compelled to seek security in regional agreements.” Norway therefore desired “binding and obligatory military agreements” concerning the defence of the North Atlantic, and was “anxious that Sweden should be a party to these agreements.” The document added that “the Norwegian Government would also look with satisfaction upon the adhesion of Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and France to the system.” It hoped that this military cooperation would be developed in the course of the war itself and desired “to initiate negotiations even now regarding this future military cooperation.” One reservation was added, namely that the results achieved “must be sanctioned by the appropriate constitutional organs in Norway after the war.”

The document urged “the complete and controlled disarmament of Germany,” which should not possess a navy and an air force. It attached “paramount importance” to United States participation in such an Atlantic system from the very beginning, especially since the U.S. “will probably be the strongest military power in the world” after the war. Furthermore, the document stated, “there can be no objection” to the participation of France, too, “but this will, of course, depend upon the relations between France and the Allied Great Powers after the war.”

While the Norwegian Cabinet was discussing these suggestions, officials in the Foreign Office debated whether something could be done “to encourage Mr. Lie to develop his idea and generally to show interest and sympathy in it,” as Sir Orme Sargent put it.[43] In his last report endorsed by his successor Laurence Collier, Sir Cecil Dormer pointed out that if the goodwill of the present Norwegian Government could be retained, “they could be used to draw the other Allied Governments into whatever postwar arrangements we might work out with them. We might also be able, if we took them into our confidence at a time when their own ideas have not yet been fully worked out, to influence those ideas in the direction of our own.”[44]

It should be remembered that these discussions took place just before the Soviet Union and the United States came into the war, and before the shock caused in exiled circles by the Darlan deal – the Americans’ deal with the Vichy government – in North Africa. The Admiralty, to which the Foreign Office referred the first document on Lie’s renunciation of neutrality, “returned a guarded reply.”[45] The text was also referred to the Committee on War Aims chaired by Arthur Greenwood, Minister Without Portfolio, who replied that he did not wish to “circulate this document for the present.”[46] Reacting to this, Sir Orme Sargent suggested “that this negative attitude might be reconsidered,”[47] while Sir Alexander Cadogan noted that “it is very important to encourage the Norwegians in this idea.”[48]

Sir Orme went even further in envisaging an “extension of Mr. Lie’s idea” to include Anglo-American bases in Portugal and Dakar. It was already fairly evident, he wrote, “that the failure of France will render the cooperation of the United States essential” in maintaining Britain’s position vis-à-vis the Continent of Europe.[49] The contents of this departmental discussion in the Foreign Office were sent to Lord Halifax in Washington for his “own information only.”

The telegram mentioned the Norwegian plan to “keep open the Atlantic highway” and the eventual establishment of air bases in Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland “for joint use of British, United States and Norwegian forces.”[50] This telegram to Washington represented the opening shot in the campaign that was to lead less than a decade later to the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In the summer of 1942 it became increasingly clear that little progress could be expected on the materialization of Lie’s ideas before the subject was discussed with the United States. Christopher Warner, head of the Northern Department, recommended to Anthony Eden that pending such contacts with Washington only some “explanatory discussion” with the Norwegians be undertaken, the more so that the British government was not yet in a position to discuss specific aspects of post-war military cooperation.[51] Sargent, for his part, now maintained that broad agreement with Lie’s statement should be avoided, as it would be “unwise to commit ourselves up to the hilt before we know what attitude the United States government are going to take on the whole matter.”[52] He showed interest in a report on the views expressed by John Foster Dulles at a luncheon given by the Swedish minister to Britain which Lie also attended. Dulles, who was in London on an unofficial exploratory mission, stressed that “whereas the United States were in favour of larger national units in Europe to be brought about as a result of larger confederations between equals, they would not welcome the creation of blocs of lesser States concentrated around one or another great power.”[53] In other words Dulles was understood to doubt whether the United States “would smile upon Mr. Lie’s plan whereby the smaller States of Western Europe would become satellites of Great Britain.”[54]

Aware of the difficulties ahead, Lie did his utmost to involve the Belgian and Dutch Foreign Ministers in his plan. He thought that together they would carry more weight in Washington and perhaps even in London. A suggestion that the Belgian and Dutch Prime Ministers should visit President Roosevelt was also considered. Lie told Minister Collier that he saw considerable advantage in putting the idea to the United States authorities through Netherlands and Belgian channels, “as it was notorious that the American mentality was such that to put a proposal to the United States Government through British channels was automatically to prejudice its chances of acceptance.”[55] At the same time he added that, while it was of the utmost importance that the United States should be brought into the arrangements, “if by any chance they could not, he would still work for an agreement with this country [Britain] alone, though he had no illusions as to the difficulties in which that would involve him with his own people.” This was a reference to the difficulty of explaining his new departure in foreign policy to his people at home, where some accused him of a pro-British bias. “For God’s sake,” he said, “don’t talk about bases. Talk about defence arrangements.”[56]

Lie even submitted his plan to the Czechoslovak and Polish governments then negotiating the ill-fated Polish-Czechoslovak confederation. President Beneš welcomed the idea of Atlantic collaboration and hoped to devise some means by which the Polish-Czech group would cooperate with the Atlantic powers in safeguarding the entrance to the Baltic. On the Polish side General Sikorski in essence shared Beneš's approach, while other Poles preferred a “neutral Scandinavian bloc” with an anti-Russian orientation.[57]

The turning point in the war came several months later, when Anglo-American forces landed in French North Africa and when Field Marshal von Paulus’s divisions were decimated at Stalingrad. Both events left their mark on the Norwegian Government’s thinking. Lie expressed himself with anger about the “one hundred thousand strong French Fascist army,” which the Americans were training in North Africa. For the Norwegians the deal with Vichy’s Admiral Darlan was a particularly vile reminder that Quisling and his National Samling had been reinstated in Oslo. If this could happen in Algiers, Nygaardsvold and his colleagues asked themselves, could it not be repeated tomorrow in Oslo? On the other hand the victory at Stalingrad made them realize that they could expect the powerful Red Army to reach Norway’s northern border. Both these developments changed the government’s priorities, lending urgency to achieving greater understanding with the resistance movement at home and negotiating an agreement with Britain and the United States on civil affairs after liberation. It also implied paying more attention to the viewpoint of the Soviet leadership and the role of Sweden in the Baltic area.

1943 and most of 1944 were marked by fluctuations in both the British and Norwegian camps on the issue of post-war regional security arrangements. In Britain there were second thoughts about the ideas of a “United Europe” and a “Council of Europe” propagated by Churchill and the question of how to fit a regional system of security into the framework of a world organization in which the three Great Powers would cooperate. In the narrower context of Anglo-Norwegian relations the main issue was Lie’s chances of gaining the support of the Norwegian people for his Atlantic security cooperation plan. Sir Orme Sargent expressed clear doubts on that count when in August 1944 he wrote in a minute: “I fear that, unless Mr. Lie on return [to Norway] can stump the country at once with a cut and dried scheme, the centripetal forces drawing Norway into a Scandinavian neutrality bloc may easily prevail.”[58]

For the Norwegians, faced with a Soviet neighbour both in the Baltic and in the Arctic, the question arose as to what kind of relations would exist between London and Moscow on the morrow of victory. In 1944-5 this was unpredictable. As far as Atlantic defence was concerned, the Norwegian leaders realized that no decision could be taken any longer by Britain alone. American participation in regional defence arrangements was undecided, as Washington insisted on the prior establishment of a World Security Organization to include particular regional defence clauses. Ultimate approval by the United States Congress was still a matter of conjecture. While Lie maintained his faith in a special relationship between Britain and Norway, the value of Britain’s expressions of friendship began to be doubted by some of his colleagues.

Concepts that had crystallized in London, Washington, the Dominions and among the governments in exile in the weeks that followed D-Day in Europe made possible a reassessment of views on western European defence. In a series of papers on “Western Europe,” Gladwyn Jebb, later Lord Gladwyn, supported Churchill’s idea of a #8217;Council of Europe’ “dictated by the fundamental unity of European civilization ... to put an end to internecine conflicts between European States.”[59] These, Jebb stressed, might be exploited by either Russia or even a defeated Germany in another attempt at European hegemony. He went on to urge that any British participation in closer European cooperation should not be at the expense of Britain’s overseas commitments but maintain a balanced position between Europe and the rest of the world. Such a policy should be in close association with the United States, of which Britain was in a sense “an advanced defense outpost.”[60]

The Dominions, for their part, expressed a preference for the inclusion within the World Organization of some form of loose association of European States in order to prevent the outbreak of a third war in Europe in which they might again become involved. They preferred that Britain should not be too closely involved in commitments in Europe and that these be part of British cooperation with the United States and, if possible, the Soviet Union. As for the United States, while the Big Three pursued their discussions at the European Advisory Commission and with the approach of the Dumbarton Oaks talks on the establishment of a world organization, they continued to distrust any attempt at a mutual defence association between Britain and its West European neighbours in advance of the creation of the world body.

Once it became clear that the Dumbarton Oaks Conference had laid down that the world organization would not preclude the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for the maintenance of international peace and security consistent with the purposes and principles of the organization, Eden explained to Spaak, Van Kleffens, Lie and Pierre Vienot (representing the French provisional government) Britain’s positive attitude to common regional defence in Western Europe. Sir Alexander Cadogan similarly informed the American and Soviet delegations, who raised no objection.[61]

Trygve Lie felt triumphant.

The Swedish Dilemma  [top]
Sweden had always been treated in the Scandinavian family of nations as the senior and more prestigious member. Until the Nazi invasion Sweden and Norway had shared an attachment to the concept of neutrality in its pre-1914 interpretation, the neutral being seen as “an innocent sufferer from the bellicose power greed of others,” to use Olav Riste’s words, while the belligerents considered the neutral “as a spineless profiteer, a mercenary soul reaping wealth from the distress of those engaging in a just war for the defence of humanity.”[62] Norway, however, with its North Sea and Atlantic coastline, had been conscious ever since the First World War that it could not avoid becoming involved sooner or later in the confrontation between the British blockade and German submarine warfare. This was not the case with Sweden.

Now the feeling of frustration at what many Norwegians considered Sweden’s betrayal in not coming to their help was coupled with the King’s personal grievance at the way he and his family had been treated in the early stages of the German invasion.

Pursued by German fighter planes in the narrow valleys near the Swedish border, King Haakon is believed to have crossed into Sweden for a few hours. However, an official request that King Haakon be allowed to visit Sweden met with the following answer: the King could come but the Swedish government could not guarantee his being authorized subsequently to leave the country. Since this was taken to mean that Haakon might be interned, he refrained from going to Sweden before his departure for England. However, Crown Princess Martha, wife of Crown Prince Olav, who was of Swedish origin, did cross the border with her four children and was made welcome in a royal palace, mainly to protect her against a possible kidnapping attempt by German agents.

This threat was taken seriously in both Stockholm and London, particularly since German efforts to bring about Haakon’s abdication were accompanied by hints that his fifteen-year-old grandson, Prince Harald, then in Sweden, might succeed his grandfather on the throne under German auspices. Suspicion of an anti-allied intrigue grew in London when a message from Victor Mallet, the British Minister in Stockholm, reported on June 26, 1940, that “the King of Sweden has sent a message to Hitler asking him to agree to a Regency. This is considered the only slender hope to save the Norwegian dynasty.”[63] The British Minister to Norway, Laurence Collier, immediately reacted to this in handwriting on the telegram: “From our point of view it is better that there should be no Regency. The King of Sweden has no business to intervene in these matters.”[64] Two days later Collier made this comment: “The Swedes are playing a shady role in this, doubtless through fear. I submit that we should complain of their assistance in the enemy’s attempt to deprive us of an ally.”[65]

King Gustaf’s alleged message to the Führer caused considerable uproar in London. Lord Halifax telegraphed Mallet that His Majesty’s government strongly resented this Swedish intervention to dethrone an allied sovereign.[66] King George VI on his part approved the draft of a message to King Gustaf stating that Britain could not recognize a Regency under German occupation since it would result in the “subordination of Norway to Germany.” He added: “I trust therefore that your Majesty will discourage any action which might give the appearance that you are lending your weight and authority to depose King Haakon in favour of a Regency.”[67]

It is unclear whether this message was ever delivered to the King of Sweden, because on the following day, June 27, Mallet telegraphed the Foreign Office: “Report about Swedish King’s message to Hitler inaccurate.”[68] The Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that King Gustaf, on hearing of plans to dispossess Haakon, informed the Führer that such a measure would cause extreme ill-feeling in both Norway and Sweden and appealed to him to exercise moderation in dealing with Norway. This was done on Gustaf’s own initiative and no mention was made of a Regency.

The whole episode came to an end when Terboven’s negotiations with the Storting committee broke down without achieving the abdication of King Haakon and when Crown Princess Martha and her four children reached the United States as personal guests of President Roosevelt to ensure their safety. They had been evacuated from Sweden via Petsamo in a ship repatriating American volunteers in the Finnish war against the USSR.

On June 18, 1940, the Swedish government took the fateful decision to allow German troops on leave to cross Swedish territory on their way to Narvik. This was seen by the Norwegian Government in London and by the British government as particularly distressing and a step hardly reconcilable with Sweden’s policy of strict neutrality. Controversy regarding the diplomatic background to this decision continued for years. It centered around the so-called “Prytz telegram,” Prytz being the Swedish minister in London; he telegraphed Stockholm on the night of June 17-18, as Marshal P_tain was suing for an armistice, quoting what he thought R. A. Butler and Lord Halifax had told him that day. The telegram, published in Sweden in 1973, quoted Butler as saying that the official British view was that the war would go on but that nothing should be spared to get a negotiated peace. Halifax, intervening in the conversation, allegedly stated that Britain could not accept “peace at any price” and that “common sense, and not bravado would dictate the British Government’s policy.”[69] Stockholm interpreted this as meaning that an end to the war was possible and this influenced the Swedish decision. The veracity of the allegations and their interpretation were soon contested in London.

While Norway was fighting the German invaders, Sweden seemed to have broken with the principle of Nordic solidarity, already badly damaged through its inability to help Finland, and remained a passive observer save for a few diplomatic initiatives such as the ill-fated Mowinckel Plan. Disappointment and bitterness marked Norwegian relations with Sweden during most of the war. The Norwegian leaders quite openly gave vent to their feelings towards their neighbour. Hardly had he arrived in London when the president of the Storting, Carl Hambro, told Halifax that Sweden “was neither more nor less than a German dependency.”[70] When Halifax asked whether he considered that Sweden could and ought to have helped Norway, Hambro replied that “the Norwegian Government had not asked for any help, but that if only Sweden had shown towards them the same sort of neutrality as they had shown towards Finland, that is to say if she had supplied Norway with arms, it would have had a considerable effect. But in fact Sweden gave Norway nothing.”[71]
Soured relations between the Norwegian and Swedish governments persisted until early in 1943. The issues involved included the transit of German troops through Swedish territory en route to Narvik; Swedish hesitations about the status of the Norwegian Legation in Stockholm and their delay in accepting a new Norwegian minister following the death of his predecessor; control of and restrictions on Norwegians escaping into Sweden from the occupied territory; and finally, in March 1942, the death of sixty-two Norwegian sailors killed during an attempted breakout from G_teborg harbour of ten Norwegian ships detained in the Swedish port. Norwegian circles considered that the Swedish authorities could have prevented the ships from falling into a German trap.

Evolution in Swedish Policy  [top]

The Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942 and the Red Army’s powerful offensives westward had immediate repercussions on Swedish policy. The proclamation in Casablanca in January 1943 of the Allies’ demand for the “unconditional surrender” of Germany put an end to Swedish hopes that a moderate German leadership would succeed Hitler before it was too late to reach an agreement with the Allies. Moreover, the Soviet victories were seen to foreshadow Russian domination of stretches of German territory across the water from Sweden. All this led Stockholm to reconsider its short- and long-term objectives. Things began to move so fast that British Minister Victor Mallet evinced “considerable astonishment” when Foreign Minister Gunther told him on January 5, 1943, that Sweden was now prepared for an “objective discussion” of the case of two British ships stranded in G_teborg.[72]

Sweden’s new attitude was conveyed to London by high-ranking emissaries like Maurice Wallenberg and Erik Boheman. Both were made welcome and the latter was even invited to Chequers by Churchill and given a letter of introduction to Roosevelt. In his talk with the Swedish envoy Churchill was outspoken and frank, as Boheman disclosed years later: “You want oil to defend yourselves,” he said, “and I think you should have it. I advise you to arm and arm and arm again. We don’t want another German victim. All we ask you is that you defend yourselves in the event of an attack, that you grant no unnecessary concessions, and that you take back those you have made as soon as you can.”[73]
While Swedish popular opinion was becoming overwhelmingly pro-Allied, economic and military considerations first pointed to a change in the atmosphere between London and Stockholm. Trade talks opened in May 1943 and the sale of Spitfires to the Swedish air force was discussed later in the summer. As Peter Ludlow has put it: “feeling that Swedish vulnerability to Allied economic strength, coupled with a bad conscience that in a war in which so many suffered so much, Sweden had suffered so little, would push the Swedish government more and more towards the Allied camp.”[74]

The Norwegians’ first reaction to the change in Anglo-Swedish relations was concern lest it affect the special relationship between the British and Norwegian Governments built up with tremendous zeal and effort by Trygve Lie. Sweden, Norwegian pessimists stressed, was now aiming at reaping profits both from neutrality and an Allied victory, as in the First World War. Lie told a friend he hoped the Allies would remember “that Sweden was among the less gallant of neutral States.”[75] At the same time Lie admitted to Sir Lawrence Collier that as reading matter during a Scottish holiday he had taken with him books on the “Nordic Union.” This seemed to indicate that possible alternatives were being kept open by Norway at a time when consideration of West European and Atlantic security plans were in abeyance awaiting the recommendations of the European Consultative Commission and the Dumbarton Oaks Conference.

The problem of Sweden’s position in post-war Europe was raised in fact at the end of 1942, when the Foreign Office and Cabinet discussed a paper on “The Four Power Plan.”[76] Churchill at that time held the view that Europe should be ruled by a Grand Council of Great Powers, to include a “Scandinavian Confederacy” together with Prussia, Italy, Spain and Portugal, thus freeing Britain, the USSR and the USA from European commitments.[77]

By 1943 and 1944 it was known that Swedish business circles were prepared to use the considerable advantages resulting from their country having remained intact throughout the war to undertake to share in reconstruction. However, early contacts relating to Swedish participation in relief in Europe were disappointing, since the Swedish government at first declined British and American suggestions to link its efforts in this field to the Allied relief machinery. Sweden, it stated, “could take no part in the [UNRRA] plan owing to its belligerent nature.”[78] Liaison was, however, later established with the Swedish State Reconstruction Commission (STFF).

The Swedish-British rapprochement, observed with reserve by the Norwegian government, coincided with increasing doubts in Foreign Office circles as to whether Trygve Lie could carry the Norwegian electorate with him into an Atlantic security commitment. Furthermore, the debate on the merits of the “Nordic Union” that developed in Sweden in the spring of 1943, with the support of two leading personalities, Defence Minister Skold and Conservative party leader Bragge, was followed with interest in London. The Swedish press welcomed Churchill’s speech proposing the establishment of a “Council of Europe” and this caused the now nervous Norwegian Government to ask for a clarification of the British government position. Prime Minister Nygaardsvold requested that it be made clear that membership of the proposed Council of Europe would be incompatible with neutrality. Hesitating officials now refrained from any official comment.[79] It was only in 1944 that the Chiefs of Staff, discussing the post-war international security system and the role to be played in it by a “Western European bloc” laid down that Norwegian participation was “indispensable.”[80] The time of uncertainty was over, the more so that it coincided with the Dumbarton Oaks Conference that was to pave the way for regional defence arrangements within the United Nations and with the unceasing efforts to this end of three foreign ministers: Spaak, Van Kleffens, and Trygve Lie. 

Sweden Cooperates  [top]
Second thoughts on the future of Swedish-Norwegian cooperation began to emerge in London and Stockholm in the spring of 1943. On May 20 it was learnt that the Swedish government had decided to resume normal diplomatic relations with the Norwegians by reactivating Baron John Beck-Friis’s mission to Nygaardvold’s government which had been suspended since the German invasion of Norway. Beck-Friis was now Minister resident in Portugal, but his accreditation to Oslo had never been cancelled, and the idea of sending him to London, present seat of the Norwegian Government, was accepted without any formalities after an interruption of three years. “This marks a considerable step forward on the part of the Swedish Government, whose fear of the Germans has diminished with the turn of the tide of war in favour of the United Nations,” wrote the diplomatic correspondent of the Manchester Guardian.[81]

By now it was generally expected that Swedish neutrality would develop into greater independence from German pressure. The Norwegians therefore refrained from insisting at this stage that Sweden accept the appointment of a new Norwegian minister, a post that had been vacant since 1940. They also appreciated Sweden’s continued refusal to accept a representative of the Quisling regime. Sweden also protested against the German deportation of anti-Nazi Norwegian students.

There was growing awareness that in the coming months problems of liberation would take precedence over other considerations and that this might require the resumption of Swedish-Norwegian cooperation. Since the abandonment of Churchill’s initial idea that the invasion of the continent should start with landings in Norway, the “Jupiter Plan,” the Norwegian Government looked for operational planning to General Thorne’s Scottish command which was to head land operations in Norway. Thorne could rely only on a nucleus of a staff, on Norwegian units fighting with the Allies, on those of the secret military organization in the homeland, and units of the Norwegian police now permitted to train openly in Sweden. However, Norway remained outside the main theatre of operations although there was speculation at one time that a last stand might be made by Hitler in a mountain redoubt – either in the Bavarian Alps or in Norway. The government was fearful that any delay in liberating the country would leave the population in the hands of 300,000 or 400,000 desperate German troops intent on carrying out a scorched earth policy prior to evacuation.

The Norwegians were also incensed at the failure to inform them about SHAEF’s (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force) plans for the liberation of Norway and protested to the Foreign Office repeatedly. As Sargent wrote in early summer to the Chiefs of Staff, on Eden’s express instructions: “The Norwegian Government are in duty bound to satisfy themselves in the near future that they will have adequate means of controlling the Germans in Norway and maintaining law and order, and it seems to us quite improper to keep them in the dark or mislead them as to the extent and timing of the help we shall be able to give them.”[82] The letter further stressed that if the western Allies were unable “to earmark and prepare an adequate force to go into Norway immediately upon the German collapse, the Norwegian Government should be informed so that they might consider asking the Swedish Government for help” and envisage other plans to deal with the situation.

Direct representations to Churchill and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, failed to provide concrete results, though neither saw any objection to the Norwegians approaching Sweden, provided they did not disclose SHAEF’s military plans. A warning by Christopher Warner, head of the Northern Department of the Foreign Office, that the “political consequences of the time-lag under present plans may be really serious”[83] remained unanswered.

Meanwhile, with its public opinion overwhelmingly supporting cooperation with Norway, the Swedish government in 1944 embarked on a policy of aid to the Norwegian cause. Earlier the Swedish had raised no objection to the training in Sweden by Norwegian army officers of 1,500 policemen. Their number was later increased to 8,000 and 12,000. A sizeable interest-free loan of Kr. 1.3 billion was made available to the Norwegian authorities, and this would help them to cope immediately on liberation with 150,000 unemployed workers released from the German war industries established in Norway during the occupation, and, pending their repatriation, to take care of 100,000 slave workers, mainly of Soviet nationality. A Norwegian White Book published later paid tribute to the “invaluable services” rendered by Swedish officials and civil servants to the Norwegian cause. When in November 1944 Lie visited Stockholm on his way back from Moscow, a first visit by a Norwegian Foreign Minister since the Norwegian Government went into exile, he could with satisfaction take stock of this multitude of Swedish activities to help Norway

A last-minute Norwegian request on the eve of liberation that Sweden threaten Germany with military intervention in order to stop devastation in northern Norway was turned down on April 17, 1945; the Swedes maintained that such a step might lead to a stiffening of German resistance.[84]

Allied preparations for a land campaign in Norway, should the Germans refuse to surrender, were in full swing when the German capitulation on 8 May, 1945, was extended to include the whole of Norway. With it also came to an end the love-hate episode in Swedish-Norwegian relations.

Moscow Responds  [top]
The one major independent act that the Norwegian government performed in the field of international relations without consulting its host, the British government, was to ask the Soviet Union early in 1944 to conclude a separate civil affairs agreement. This step stemmed from the Norwegian cabinet’s conviction that the Red Army then pursuing German forces in Northern Finland would be the first to enter and liberate Norwegian territory in the North.

This was a reversal of the hitherto held belief that the British would lead the liberating armies into Norway. The approach to Moscow followed upon long delays on the part of the Anglo-Americans to approve the civil affairs agreement with Norway which were increasingly resented by Nygaardvold’s government. The Foreign Office was reluctant to tackle the subject of the Russian advance towards northern Norway. When Trygve Lie mentioned the need for an agreement with Russia on civil affairs, he was told by Christopher Warner of the Northern Department: “It would, as it were, be inviting the Russians into the Anglo-American sphere.”[85]

So, in the early spring of 1944 the Norwegians approached the Soviet government without further consulting the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office, informed of the conclusion of the agreement after the event, accepted it with resignation. The alternative was viewed by the Norwegian Government as a dangerous course that could lead to the Red Army operating in Norway without any previous agreement with them.

The agreement with Moscow came two years after Lie had mentioned to Minister Collier the Norwegian government’s fear that the Soviet government might make “unacceptable demands.”[86] This consideration was still uppermost in Lie’s mind when in October 1944 he paid an official visit to Moscow that became opportune after the civil affairs agreement. The curious thing is that Lie did not yet know of Stalin’s statement made to Churchill in 1941, that the USSR would not oppose a security link between Britain and Norway. The subject was raised in Moscow, and Lie told Collier on his return of the great interest, “evidently mixed with some suspicion,” shown by Molotov at the prospect of West European regional collaboration within the framework of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals.[87] Molotov, Lie said, kept to generalities, saying the Russians were not against Western European collaboration as such, but he repeated more than once that they expected “to be consulted about that sort of thing.” To this Lie replied in “an equally generalised and non-committal manner” that “all these post-war arrangements depended in the last resort on a good understanding between the three great powers.” Lie told Collier that “the forebodings” which he had expressed two years earlier “might prove justified, though perhaps the intention [of the Soviets] was merely to bargain Soviet approval of a West European agreement against concessions to the Soviet point of view in Eastern Europe or elsewhere.”[88]

This feeling was accentuated when, in the midst of “almost embarrassing courtesies,” Molotov suddenly in the early hours of the morning demanded a revision of the Spitzbergen Treaty and the ceding of a small island between Spitzbergen and the Norwegian coast. For the Norwegian Government in exile the principle of non-infringement of Norwegian sovereignty was sacrosanct, and a period of uncertainty ensued. Soon afterwards the Soviets occupied the Danish island of Bornholm at the entrance to the Baltic and the Svalbard group in the Arctic Circle to which Spitzbergen belongs and which was covered by the Svalbard Treaty of 1920, to which several Western governments were signatories. The Russians remained there from 1945 to 1947. Military authorities in Washington and London tended to see both problems as primarily political and diplomatic rather than military and therefore urged a policy of patience and caution in order to avoid complications with the Soviet Union. In the British view it was considered doubtful that the Soviet Union would pursue these occupations, the more so that the Soviets did not appear to have plans for installing permanent military bases on the islands. International assurances regarding the free passage for Soviet navigation were thought to be a means of solving the problem.[89]

During his visit in Moscow Lie was impressed by the readiness of the Soviet authorities to meet “almost any request” put to them, such as the supply of food for the population in northern liberated areas, the dispatch of Norwegian ships to Varanger Fjord in the extreme North, and the accommodation of a Norwegian “police force” sent over from Sweden to the Kirkenes area, the first to be liberated by the Russians. Lie confirmed to Collier “that the Soviet authorities had intimated that it was up to the Norwegians to carry the campaign further into Norway if they wished to do so.”[90] This was taken as an indication that the Soviets felt they had accomplished their role in the liberation of Norway, and it was now up to the Norwegians.

The Western Allies had kept aloof from northern Norway, preferring not to provoke the Russians. When in September 1944 they decided belatedly to approach the Soviets in view of possible coordination in the liberation of northern Norway, the Red Army General Staff replied that they had no such plans and therefore no coordination was required. The Soviet advance through northern Finland towards the Norwegian border started a month later on October 7, the day before the Norwegian “token force” agreed upon arrived in the former Finnish port of Petsamo, now occupied by the Red Army.

The northern tip of Norway was liberated by the Red Army accompanied by a Norwegian advance unit sent from Scotland on a Royal Navy cruiser. After the liberation by Allied troops and the return of the government from exile, the Soviet troops were the first evacuated in September, 1945, followed by the Americans in October and the British by the end of the year.

The inclusion of two Communists in the post-liberation government under resistance leader Einar Gerhardsen was seen as a gesture of goodwill toward the Soviet Union.

A Charter for Liberation  [top]

Three elements combined to make the role of the Norwegian Government in exile and of the Norwegian Home Front in the liberation of their country different from that of their counterparts in other occupied countries: the fact that the whole of Norway, with the exception of the northern tip around Kirkenes which was in Red Army hands, was still occupied by the Germans when the German surrender was signed; the four- to six-week delay in SHAEF planning regarding the liberation of Norway following the end of the battle in the heart of Europe; and the cooperation of Sweden in the last months of the war, which enabled Norwegian units to train on Swedish territory and coordinate their plans with the underground at home.

The capitulation of the Reichswehr in Norway was a consequence of the German capitulation to the Allies on May 8, 1945. However, the German occupation army still held practically the whole of the country. The 30,000 men of the secret Military Organization of the resistance movement, immediately joined by another 15,000 trained in Sweden, were the first to face the German army, which vastly outnumbered them. The Home Front assumed responsibility for the civil administration wherever possible, even before the arrival of British and American units. The prolonged discussions of the Norwegian government and the resistance leaders as to who would ensure the transition from war to peace thus remained largely theoretical.

The Home Front had come into being in the autumn of 1940, as the Norwegians were emerging from the trauma of the German invasion, when the war appeared far from won by Hitler and when they were faced with the daily exactions of Quisling’s National Socialists (NS) and the occupation forces. Its leaders soon established contact with King Haakon’s government in London to whom they paid allegiance while insisting that certain matters should be decided by the people at home. These included a veto by the resistance movement on the creation of a national consultative council in London along the lines of those established by governments in exile; insistence that “the complete liberation of Norway” be expressly stated as an Allied war aim in the 1941 Anglo-Norwegian agreement; an undertaking that the government would resign and new elections be held immediately after its return to Norway; and, finally, that the resistance movement would assume responsibility for the civil administration after the German collapse. There would be “no rule imposed from outside.”

What amounted to a Charter of Agreement between the government in London and the leadership of the Home Front – drawn up with the moral support of the President of the Supreme Court, Paal Berg, and the head of the Church of Norway, Bishop Berggrav – was reached in January 1943. It came in the wake of Eisenhower’s deal with Admiral Darlan, Vichy’s Minister of the Navy, which had shocked resistance leaders from France and all the occupied and Allied countries. The Norwegian Government expressed alarm in view of the Quisling experience. It coincided with the efforts of two pressure groups within the Norwegian emigration in Britain to impose their views on the government. One, presented in the form of a petition by fifteen well-known personalities including Admiral Danielson, second-in-command of the Navy, Professor Holt and Odd Berg, a ship-owner oriented to the right, called for the establishment in London of an Advisory Council, a kind of a Norwegian parliament in exile, representing all shades of opinion. In another document the group that represented the Seamen’s Union cast doubt on the signatories of the first petition, which, it stated, would lead to the establishment of “a parliament of fascists dominated by high officials and businessmen.” It presented three demands: strengthening the democratic basis of the Norwegian government by appointing seamen from the lower ranks of the fighting services; appointing a governing board on which seamen would be represented; and recognizing a committee of members of the fighting forces to be their spokesmen with the military authorities.[91] Lie, in conversation with Collier, said that these demands were inspired by “Bolsheviks.”

A month later the government rejected both these petitions, relying henceforward on the Home Front. In a letter dated 15 February, 1943, signed by Nygaardsvold it was stated: “The first and foremost task of the Government has been to uphold the position of Norway as a sovereign state, to organize our war effort outside Norway and to prepare the way for the reconquest of the country. This required certain administrative and economic measures which must be planned beforehand. These measures will be of a provisional character and the Government does not, of course, wish to tie the Norwegian people to our fixed policy in the future. This also applies to foreign policy. Our foreign policy must at present be regarded as a part of our war effort.” And the letter continued: “It can be taken for granted that only such binding agreements as are necessary to our war effort will be concluded. The Norwegian people must themselves decide the future lines of our foreign policy through their constitutional organs.”[92]

The letter, after mentioning the powers that the Storting had conferred upon the government at Erverum on April 9, 1940, added that they “always sought the advice of the Home Front” and wished to strengthen contacts with such responsible circles “as may be presumed to enjoy general confidence.” It stated with some foresight: “Nobody knows whether the liberation of Norway will come through combat or from a German collapse on other fronts ... Even in the latter case we will have to reckon with an Allied occupation ... because the Allies will wish to supervise the evacuation of the country and the disarming of the German military units.” This should be carried out “preferably under Norwegian military direction.”[93]

These guiding principles agreed upon by the government in exile and the resistance movement provided assurances to the Home Front on two main issues: that the civil administration in the transitional period after liberation would be in association with the Home Front from the very beginning, and that the government would resign and proclaim new elections as soon as possible. Both these undertakings were kept. Norway was liberated and could brace herself to start a second millennium of national existence.

Throughout the occupation the Germans had managed to secure the collaboration of only the small group of Quisling’s National Samling supporters, whose membership even at the height of Hitler’s prestige did not exceed 47,000. Eighteen thousand of them were deprived of their civic rights at the liberation. After the failure of the attempt to dethrone King Haakon in 1940, the mass of the people actively supported the Home Front. The isolation of Quisling and his followers had been completed by the pastoral letter of the Joint Christian Council in October 1940; by the resignation of the Supreme Court at Christmas of the same year in protest against measures infringing the independence of the judiciary; and by the protest presented to Reichskommissar Terboven in May 1941 by 43 professional and other organizations against NS interference in appointments to the civil service and public bodies – all this at a time when the Germans, while aware of his deficiencies, nevertheless chose him to lead their puppet government of Norway. In 1943 mass deportations of students and professors followed upon the setting on fire of the Oslo university buildings – a spectacular protest by students that conveyed an unmistakable message of freedom to the world.

These events had followed upon the two historic nights of 19-20 November, 1942, and of 27-28 February, 1943, in which British glider commandos in cooperation with Norwegian partisans struck a death blow to Hitler’s atomic bomb project with devastating attacks on the heavy water Norsk Hydro works at Vermok near Rjukan.[94] This action, along with the parallel destruction of the Peenemunde works by the RAF spared the world the catastrophe of the atomic bomb in the hands of the Führer of the Third Reich.

Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945

Chapter 3: NORWAY – Neutral into Ally
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Dejection in the Norwegian CampThe Mowinckel Plan FailsHaakon Overcomes HesitationsThe Norwegian "Vichy" FailsFrom Koht to LieNeutrality RenouncedThe Swedish DilemmaEvolution in Swedish PolicySweden CooperatesMoscow RespondsA Charter for Liberation


Preface & Introduction

Chapter 1: CZECHOSLOVAKIA – From Putney to Prague


Chapter 2: POLAND – The Polish Eagle


Chapter 4: BELGIUM – Disintegration and Resurrection


Chapter 5: LUXEMBOURG – The Smallest Ally


Chapter 6: THE NETHERLANDS – Under the Banner of the Queen of Orange


Chapter 7: GREECE – From National Unity to Civil War


Chapter 8: YUGOSLAVIA – Between Četniks and Partisans







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