Tromsø, Occupied Norway June 7, 1940

Within days of the German invasion of neutral Denmark and Nor­way on April 9, 1940 (Oper­a­tion Weser­uebung), it became clear that the Nor­we­gian armed forces could not resist the more power­ful Wehr­macht (German armed forces), bris­tling with modern wea­ponry and sup­ported by highly effec­tive air cover. Caught largely by sur­prise, the mili­tary’s ini­tial defense in the south of Nor­way was largely disor­gan­ized and inef­fec­tual, though suffi­cient to allow King Haakon VII and his govern­ment to escape cap­ture. A solu­tion along the lines achieved in Den­mark, which capitu­lated to the Ger­mans on Day 1 of the invasion, would appear to have spared the nation many deaths and much des­truction. Never­the­less, an organ­ized and spirited mili­tary defense and counter­attacks in parts of West­ern and North­ern Norway began, aimed at securing stra­te­gic posi­tions along the coast with the help of British, French, and Polish forces.

The May 10, 1940, Nazi invasion of France, which managed to corner the broken remains of the French Army and the British Expe­di­tion­ary Force in the Dun­kirk poc­ket (May 21 to June 4), knocked that plan into a cocked hat. On this date, June 7, 1940, the Nor­we­gian govern­ment held its last meeting on Norwe­gian soil in Tromsø nearly 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and far from the nearest German lines. A few hours later the king, crown prince, mem­bers of the govern­ment, and the diplo­matic corps—a total of 400 pas­sen­gers—boarded the British heavy cruiser HMS Devon­shire for exile in England. All service­able Nor­we­gian naval ves­sels, air­craft with adequate range, and merchant ships joined the exodus.

Late the next night the order to demobilize the remaining Nor­we­gian armed forces was issued. The Germans did not inter­fere. The German and north­ern Nor­we­gian com­mands signed a cease­fire on June 10, 1940. The cease­fire did not pre­vent Nor­way’s legit­i­mate govern­ment—now oper­ating out of Lon­don—from con­tin­uing the struggle as a mem­ber of the Allies against the German in­va­ders. Most Norwe­gians remained loyal to their king, and patriots did not hesi­tate to ridi­cule Vidkun Quis­ling (1887–1945) and his collab­o­ra­tionist govern­ment in Oslo. (The word “Quis­ling” entered the English lan­guage as a syno­nym for “traitor.”) The Milorg resis­tance move­ment, which began life as a small sabo­tage unit but ended up as a 40,000‑strong mili­tary force, played a cru­cial role in forcing German capitu­lation in Nor­way in May 1945, where 100,000 German troops were still stationed, and in stabilizing the country during the postwar years.

Norwegian Resistance to Nazi Occupation, 1940–1945

Norway in World War II: Norwegian king and crown prince, April 1940Norway in World War II: Norwegians escaping across Sweden’s border

Left: Norwegian King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav sought shel­ter in the area of Molde on the coun­try’s west coast during a German bombing of the town in April 1940. The Luft­waffe endeavored to kill the king, the royal family, and mem­bers of the legiti­mate Nor­we­gian govern­ment after their suc­cess­ful escape from Oslo in the after­math of the German inva­sion of Norway. The king, his family, and his govern­ment were con­veyed by a British cruiser 600 miles north to Tromsø, where they established a provisional capital on May 1, 1940.

Right: Norwegian refugees cross the border into Swe­den. Through­out the war years, a num­ber of Nor­we­gians fled from the reaches of the Quis­ling regime. These included Nor­we­gian Jews, poli­ti­cal activ­ists, and others who had rea­son to fear for their lives. Norwe­gian border patrols were estab­lished to stop these flights across the long border with Sweden, but locals who knew the woods found ways to bypass them.

Norway in World War II: Norwegian police training camps in SwedenNorway in World War II: German surrender in Oslo, May 11, 1945

Left: Norway’s eastern neighbor Sweden, neutral by circum­stance of geo­graphy and national sur­vi­val (there were more than a quarter-million German troops near her borders), never­the­less surrepti­tiously aided the Norwe­gian resis­tance move­ment with training and equip­ment in a series of camps it set up in mid-1943. To avoid suspi­cion, the Swedes camou­flaged the camps as police training camps. (A camp for Danish police troops was located in Sofie­lund across the Øresund strait from occupied Den­mark.) Funding for the Norwe­gian camps came from the Norwe­gian exile govern­ment in London. By 1944, some 7,000–8,000 men had been trained in Sweden. After the German capit­u­la­tion in Oslo in May 1945, around 13,000 police troops were trans­ferred to Norway to help bring security and stability to the new government.

Right: Armed only with a handgun, Col. Terje Rollem (1915–1993), Milorg dis­trict chief for Oslo, assumed com­mand of Oslo’s medi­e­val Akers­hus For­tress on behalf of the Nor­we­gian Resis­tance, May 11, 1945. The hand­over occurred in front of the Ger­man com­man­dant’s resi­dence four days after Reichs Presi­dent Adm. Karl Doenitz (succes­sor to deceased Fuehrer Adolf Hitler) had capit­u­lated his armed forces uncon­di­tionally to the Allied powers in Berlin. Rollem and the com­man­dant’s adju­tant (right in photo­graph) walked around the castle grounds, sub­sti­tuting Milorg men for German guards, who were taken to a POW camp. This iconic photo of German com­man­dant Major Josef Nichter­lein stiffly saluting the victor came to be displayed in homes all across Norway as a symbol of the country’s liberation.

Operation Weseruebung: German Invasion and Occupation of Norway and Denmark