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Sweden during World War II


Sweden during World War II

Sweden's location in Europe, 1942.
  Areas under German occupation
  German allies, co-belligerents and puppet states
  Allied-held territories
  Neutral territories

Sweden maintained its policy of neutrality during World War II. When the war began on September 1, 1939, the fate of Sweden was unclear. But by a combination of its geopolitical location in the Scandinavian Peninsula, successful realpolitik manoeuvring during an unpredictable course of events, and a dedicated military build-up after 1942, Sweden managed to maintain its official neutrality throughout the war.

At the outbreak of hostilities, Sweden had held a neutral stance in international relations for more than a century, since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.[1] Twenty nations held a policy of neutrality in September 1939, but only seven other European nations found themselves capable, like Sweden, of officially maintaining this stance throughout the entire war: these were Ireland, Portugal,[2] Spain,[3] Andorra, Liechtenstein, Vatican City, San Marino and Switzerland. The Swedish Government made a few concessions, and sometimes breached the nation's neutrality in favor of both Germany and the Western Allies.

During the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Sweden allowed the Wehrmacht to use Swedish railways to transport (June–July 1941) the German 163rd Infantry Division along with howitzers, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons and associated ammunition, from Norway to Finland. German soldiers traveling on leave between Norway and Germany were allowed passage through Sweden — the so-called permittenttrafik. Iron ore was sold to Germany throughout the war. And for the Allies, Sweden shared military intelligence and helped to train soldiers made up of refugees from Denmark and Norway, to be used in the liberation of their home countries.[4] It also allowed the Allies to use Swedish airbases between 1944 and 1945.

Sweden also became a refuge for anti-fascist and Jewish refugees from all over the region. In 1943, following an order to deport all of Denmark's Jewish population to concentration camps, nearly all of Denmark's 8,000 Jews were brought to safety in Sweden. Sweden also became a refuge for Norwegian Jews who fled from Nazi occupied Norway.


  • Background 1
    • Political 1.1
    • Military 1.2
    • Pre-war trade 1.3
    • Military balance 1.4
    • Pre-war preparations 1.5
  • War 2
    • Foreign trade 2.1
    • Winter War 2.2
      • Impact on domestic politics 2.2.1
      • Defense of Finland 2.2.2
      • Possible Allied invasion 2.2.3
    • Occupation of Denmark and Norway 2.3
    • Midsummer Crisis (Midsommarkrisen) 2.4
    • 1943 onwards 2.5
    • Training of Norwegian and Danish troops 2.6
    • The Bäckebo rocket 2.7
  • Humanitarian effort 3
  • Press freedom 4
  • Concessions 5
    • To Nazi Germany 5.1
    • To the Allies 5.2
  • Aftermath 6
    • Forced refoulement to the Soviet Union 6.1
  • See also 7
  • Sources 8
    • Notes 8.1
    • References 8.2
    • German rockets 8.3
  • In Swedish 9



Between 1523 and Sweden's final war with Russia in 1809, a state of war had existed between these two countries for 67 out of those 292 years. Russia was seen as the historical hereditary enemy of Sweden. In the peace that followed the Finnish War in 1809, all of Finland had been ceded to Russia and Sweden reduced to two thirds of its former size.

As the end of the 19th century approached, and the beginning of the 20th began, Sweden, like many other nations, became beset by strikes and public disorder. Appalling working conditions were no longer tolerated and the working class was rising against the state. In 1908 alone, there were about 300 strikes in Sweden.[5] By 1917, Sweden’s need for a new political system was apparent from these riots. Since the 1880s, the socialist movement in Sweden had been divided into two opposing groups, the revolutionary socialists, a communist movement, and the reformists, a social democratic movement, the latter being the larger of the two. In 1917, the rules of democracy were changed in Sweden, the electorate’s size grew and in 1921, women were also allowed to vote.

Ådalen shootings. This picture of the demonstration was taken before the military opened fire.

But even these reforms were seen as far too radical by some conservatives. Some wanted strong leadership and did not believe in democracy. In the 1920s and 1930s, confrontations between employers and employees in Sweden continued. In 1931, this culminated with the Munckska kåren was exposed. It had recruited about 2000 men and had access to heavy weaponry. It was disbanded the next year.[6]

At the other end of the political spectrum, following the Russian Civil War the Russian Empire had become the Soviet Union and many Swedish communists were cooperating with this new Soviet regime, seeking to realize a world revolution. Compromise and a parliamentary system were thought to stand in the way of a more equal and just society.

A new cabinet led by the social democrats with Per Albin Hansson as Prime Minister, took control in 1932. A policy of cooperation and consensus was pursued, which led to a furthering of the divide between the two socialist factions: the communists and the reformist left. The distance between these two, at least at the ideological level, became so great that the communists often referred to the social democrats as "the social fascists". Apart from a period termed "the vacation government" (Sw: semesterregeringen) between June 19 and September 28, 1936, Per Albin Hansson was to be the Prime Minister of Sweden until his death in 1946.


Sweden had very few tanks in the inter-war era. For a time, the entire armoured corps consisted of ten Stridsvagn mf/21s. This was a design based upon a German First World War tank and had been secretly purchased by Sweden in the form of tractor assembly kits.

In the 1936 "Defence resolution" (Försvarsbeslut; a Swedish governmental decision made about every five years, concerning the military's organization and development), it was decided to form two tank battalions. Fale Burman, chief of "Army Procurement" (Arméns utrustningsdetalj) in 1937, commented:[7]

... Härför krävdes total nyanskaffning av deras viktigaste innehåll, stridsvagnarna. Redan på ett tidigt stadium fick vi dock klart för oss att om vi enbart valde kanonutrustade vagnar skulle de högst komma upp till ett antal av 15 -20.
(This required the purchase of their main piece of military hardware, tanks. Already at an early stage, it was clear to us that if we simply chose the cannon-equipped tanks, we could have at most 15–20 of them.)
— Försvarsbeslut

To make sure training at the battalion level would be possible, machine gun-equipped tanks were purchased as well. By 1939, Sweden had 48 Czechoslovakian-built tanks with machine gun armament and about 20 Landsverk L-120 tanks armed with a 37 main gun.[8]

The Swedish army had been organized into four divisions since the 1890s, with the regiments of northern

  • Adolfsson, Mats (2007). Bondeuppror och gatustrider: 1719–1932 (in Swedish). Natur och kultur ; Svenskt militärhistoriskt bibliotek.  
  • Andrén, Nils Bertel Einar (1996). Maktbalans och alliansfrihet (in Swedish). Norstedts Juridik.  
  • Linder, Jan (2002). Andra Världskriget och Sverige (in Swedish). Stockholm: Svenskt militärhistoriskt bibliotek.  
  • Wangel, Carl-Axel (1982). Sveriges militära beredskap 1939–1945 (in Swedish). Stockholm: Militärhistoriska Förlaget.  

In Swedish

  • Åselius, Gunnar (2005). The rise and fall of the Soviet Navy in the Baltic, 1921–1941. Psychology Press.  
  • Beckman, Bengt (2002). Codebreakers. Providence: American Mathematical Society.  
  • Collier, Basil (1976). The Battle of the V-Weapons, 1944–45. Morley: Elmfield Press.  
  • Franklin, Thomas (1987). American in Exile, An: The Story of Arthur Rudolph. Huntsville: Christopher Kaylor Company. 
  • Garliński, Józef (1978). Hitler's Last Weapons: The Underground War against the V1 and V2. New York: Times Books. 
  • Huzel, Dieter K (1962). Peenemünde to Canaveral. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall. 
  • Klee, Ernst; Merk, Otto (English translation: 1965) [1963]. The Birth of the Missile:The Secrets of Peenemünde. Hamburg: Gerhard Stalling Verlag. 
  • Neufeld, Michael J (1995). The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era. New York: The Free Press.  
  • Ordway, Frederick (2003). The Rocket Team. Detroit: Apogee Books.  
  • Pocock, Rowland F (1967). German Guided Missiles of the Second World War. New York: Arco Publishing Company, Inc. 
  • Rikmenspoel, Marc (2004). Waffen-SS Encyclopedia. City: Aberjona Pr.  

German rockets

  • Carlgren, W. M. Swedish foreign policy during the Second World War (London: E. Benn, 1977)
  • Fritz, Martin. The Adaptable Nation: essays in Swedish economy during the Second World War (Göteborg: Ekonomisk-historiska inst., Univ.: 1982)
  • Gilmour, John. Sweden, the Swastika, and Stalin: The Swedish Experience in the Second World War (2011) online
  • Levine Paul A. "Swedish neutrality during the Second World War: tactical success or moral compromise?" in Wylie, Neville, European neutrals and non-belligerents during the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • Levine, Paul A. From indifference to activism: Swedish diplomacy and the Holocaust, 1938–1944 (Uppsala: Univ.: 1996)
  • Ludlow, Peter. "Britain and Northern Europe 1940–1945", Scandinavian Journal of History (1979) 4: 123–62
  • Ross, John (1989). Neutrality and International Sanctions. New York: Praeger.  
  • Scott, Carl-Gustaf (2002). "The Swedish Midsummer Crisis of 1941: The Crisis that Never Was". Journal of Contemporary History 37 (3).  
  • Wahlbäck, Krister. "Sweden: Secrecy and Neutrality", Journal of Contemporary History (1967) 2#1
  • Ziemke, Earl F. (1960). "Command Decisions". United States. Dept. of the Army. Office of Military History.  


  1. ^ Andrén 1996.
  2. ^ Portugal offered to honor her treaty with Britain but was declined
  3. ^ Some Spanish troops fought in Russia but as the volunteer Blue Division
  4. ^ Linder 2002
  5. ^ Adolfsson 2007, p. 249.
  6. ^ Adolfsson 2007, p. 304.
  7. ^ Linder 2006, p. 53.
  8. ^ Linder 2006, p. 54.
  9. ^ Linder 2006, p. 52.
  10. ^ Wangel 1982, p. 15.
  11. ^ Wangel 1982, p. 126.
  12. ^ Åselius 2005, p. 166.
  13. ^ Wangel 1982, pp. 444–465.
  14. ^ Wangel 1982, pp. 338–351.
  15. ^ Wangel 1982, p. 136.
  16. ^ F 19, the Swedish unit in Finland during the Winter War Urban Fredriksson
  17. ^ "Sotalasten Tiet Ruotsiin 1941–1946" [Children Evacuated to Sweden 1941–1946].  
  18. ^ Ziemke 1960, p. 67.
  19. ^ Ziemke 1960, p. 68.
  20. ^ Wangel 1982
  21. ^ a b Beckman 2002, p. 105.
  22. ^ Hall, Allan (6 June 2012) Sweden’s role in Nazi defeat of Norway is laid bare The Scotsman, retrieved 6 June 2012, The hard copy paper has more details than the web page
  23. ^ Scott 2002, pp. 371–394.
  24. ^ a b Churchill 2002
  25. ^ Wangel 1982, p. 637–644
  26. ^ Johansson, Anders (2005). Den glömda armén: Norge Sverige 1939–1945 [The Forgotten Army: Norway Sweden 1939–1945] (in Swedish). Falun: Fisher & Co Rimbo.  
  27. ^ a b c Huzel 1962, p. 100.
  28. ^ The Rocket and I Linus Walleij
  29. ^ Klee 1965, p. 68.
  30. ^ a b Pocock 1967, pp. 71,81,87,107
  31. ^ Garlinski 1978, p. 166.
  32. ^ Neufeld 1995, p. 235.
  33. ^ Franklin 1987, p. 91.
  34. ^ Churchill 1953, p. 45
  35. ^ Ordway 2003, p. 167.
  36. ^ Dahlin, Niklas. Hitlers hämndraket slog ned i Småland, NyTecknik website, August 5, 2011 (Swedish).
  37. ^ "The Air Torpedo of Bäckebo" (PDF). Archived from the original (pdf) on 2008-06-26. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  38. ^ "The Rocket and I". Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  39. ^ Henshall, Philip (1985). Hitler’s Rocket Sites. New York: St Martin's Press. p. 133. 
  40. ^ Collier 1976, p. 103.
  41. ^ "The Man Who Opened the Door to Space". Popular Science. May 1959. 
  42. ^ a b Neuman, Ricki (25 August 2009). "Ny bild av Sverige under krigsåren" [New picture of Sweden during the war years].  
  43. ^ Bruchfeld, Stéphane; Levine, Paul A (1998). Om detta må ni berätta [Tell Ye Your Children] (in Swedish). City: Regeringskansliet.  
  44. ^ Sverige. Vissa tryck- och yttrandefrihetsrättsliga frågor: internationellt rättsligt bistånd, brottskatalogen, målhandläggningsfrågor m.m. : delbetänkande. Statens offentliga utredningar, 2004:114. Stockholm: Fritzes offentliga publikationer, 2004. p. 305
  45. ^ Odén, Tomas Andersson (1999). "Mellankrigstiden och andra världskriget" [Interwar period and World War II] (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 9 December 2006. 
  46. ^ Leitz, Christian (2000). Nazi Germany and Neutral Europe During the Second World War. Manchester University Press. p. 66.  
  47. ^ Ross 1989
  48. ^ Lennart Lundberg Krigsmalmens offer (Värnamo 1993) ISBN 91-86748-10-6
  49. ^ Rikmenspoel 2004
  50. ^ ThorHilfskreuzer
  51. ^ WidderHilfskreuzer
  52. ^ Lundberg, Lennart (1999). Lejdtrafik och kvarstad (in Swedish). Karlskrona. p. 16.  
  53. ^ Leifland, Leif (1995). "...Secret Matters Not So Far Disclosed". Vårstormar 1944. Stockholm: PROBUS Förlag.  
  54. ^ The Legionnaires: A Documentary Novel. Per Olov Enquist.Delacorte Press, 1973
  55. ^ Baltutlamningen New York Times movie summary



See also

In 1970, film director Johan Bergenstråhle made a documentary, Baltutlämningen (English title: A Baltic Tragedy), about the Latvian soldiers who were given to the Soviets to be sentenced to hard labor in prison camps.[55]

In January 1946, Sweden forcibly transferred to the Soviet Union over 146 Baltic and 2,364 German soldiers who had been interned in Swedish prison camps. At least seven of the internees committed suicide at their camp in the village of Rinkaby, rather than allowing themselves to be sent by Sweden to near certain death in the Soviet Union.[54]

Baltic and German soldiers being extradited from a prison camp in Eksjö

Forced refoulement to the Soviet Union

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, Winston Churchill, accused Sweden of ignoring the greater moral issues and playing both sides for profit during the conflict,[24] including its supply of steel and machine parts to Nazi Germany throughout the war. Such claims, however, use a different definition of the word "neutral" from that defined in the 1907 Hague convention, which set out the rights and duties of belligerents and neutral countries.


In 1945, as the Allies were planning to liberate Denmark and Norway, the United States wanted Sweden to co-operate in this action. Sweden began preparing for "Operation Rädda Danmark" (Operation Save Denmark), in which Sweden was to invade Zealand from Scania. After Denmark had been liberated, Sweden was to assist the Allies in the invasion of Norway. This proved not to be necessary, but US planes were allowed to use Swedish military bases during the liberation of Norway, from spring 1944 to 1945, and the Allies were also collaborating with the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service. Sweden allowed Allied spies to listen to German radio signals from a station on Öland.[53] A location was also established in Malmö for the British military to lead bombing actions in Germany. Additionally, from 1943 onwards, Norwegian and Danish soldiers (the Den danske Brigade) were trained at Swedish military bases. Sweden had also set up a series of training camps along the Norwegian border for the Norwegian resistance movement.

Sweden made efforts to help the Allied Forces. From May 1940, a large part of the Swedish merchant navy that found itself outside the Baltic, totalling about 8,000 seamen, was leased to Britain.[52] 100–200 Swedes traveled to Norway to fight the German invasion. German telegraph traffic to occupied Oslo went through Swedish-leased cables which the Swedes intercepted. The traffic was encrypted with Germany's Geheimschreiber device, but the cypher code was broken by Swedish mathematics professor Arne Beurling[21] in early summer 1940 and the results from this espionage were sent to the Allies through the Polish resistance movement. When the German battleship Bismarck embarked on her voyage to attack the Atlantic convoys, Swedish intelligence informed the British of her departure from port. Swedish businessmen and diplomats were also actively spying for the Allies, in Berlin and in the occupied territories.

To the Allies

With a blockade of the Skagerrak straits between Norway and the northern tip of Denmark, the Swedish merchant navy found itself physically divided. The vessels that were inside the Baltic Sea traded goods with Germany during the war, whilst the greater number of vessels was leased to the Allies for convoy shipping. Approximately 1,500 Swedish sailors perished during the war, mostly victims of mines and U-Boat attacks. German merchant raiders, too, would stop and capture or destroy Swedish vessels carrying cargoes for allies. For example, this was the fate of MVs Trolleholm and Sir Ernest Cassel, both destroyed by German auxiliary cruiser Thor; the same Thor also accidentally collided with HM Bothnia in the fog while carrying cargoes for Germany causing it to sink.[50] In the meantime, other German merchant raiders would masquerade as Swedish merchant vessels.[51]

Responding to German appeals for volunteers to fight the Soviet Union, approximately 180 Swedes enlisted in Germany's Waffen-SS, and saw combat against Soviet troops on the Eastern Front. This was a choice made by individual Swedish citizens, contrary to Swedish government policy. Their number was small compared to occupied countries, in which officials encouraged enlisting for the Eastern Front (Norway 10,000; Denmark 6,000; France 11,000; Netherlands 20,000[49]). Many more joined the Allies, which was also contrary to government policy.

Given that Britain had been unable to prevent the successful invasion by Nazi Germany of both France and Norway, the Swedish government was not convinced that the British could protect them and opted to continue exports. The iron ore provided much needed gold bullion, food and coal from Germany. The iron ore was transported by sea from the Norwegian town of Narvik and from Luleå in northern Sweden. These shipments were attacked by British aircraft and submarines in the Atlantic and North Sea and by Soviet submarines in the Baltic. About 70 vessels were sunk and 200 sailors lost their lives.[48]

Perhaps the most important aspect of Sweden's concessions to Germany during the Second World War was the extensive export of iron ore for use in the German weapons industry, reaching ten million tons per year. The Swedish neutrality policy meant that the government could not interfere with the trade. As Germany's preparations for war became more apparent and the risk of another war became obvious, international interest in Swedish iron ore increased. At the time, British intelligence had estimated that German industry relied heavily on Swedish iron ore and a decrease or halt in Swedish ore exports could have a disastrous effect on Germany's military efforts. This is a contentious view that has been debated in the aftermath of the war. Sir Ralph Glyn, a British Member of Parliament, claimed that a cessation of Swedish iron ore exports would bring the war to an end within months.[46] [47]

To Nazi Germany


[45][44] banned from distribution: de facto During World War II, six newspapers were

The Swedish government was concerned that its neutrality might be compromised should the press become too vocal in its opinions. Both the Swedish Press Council and the Information Board issued advice such as: "As far as the received material permits, attempts should be made not to give prominence to the reports of one side at the expense of the other", or: "Headlines, whether on the billboards or in the newspapers, should be worded in such a way as to avoid favoring one side or the other", and: "Editorials and surveys as well as articles discussing military events or the military situation, should be strictly objective."

The Swedish public's sentiments were widely published in the Swedish press, causing many protests from the German government and prompting the Swedish government to censor some areas of the press on a limited basis. In Sweden during this time, the press fell under the control of several authorities, despite contemporary claims that the Swedish press was free. The Swedish Government Information Board determined what military information could be released and what information should remain secret. The Swedish Press Council served as a self-regulatory body, promoting "good relations between the press and the public authorities and to serve as an instrument of self-discipline for the press." The Swedish Press Council issued warnings, both public and confidential, to those whom it considered to be abusing the freedom of the press.

En svensk tiger, A famous World War II poster reminding Swedes to be wary of spies asking questions. Svensk can mean both Swedish and Swede while tiger could be read as either the animal or keeps his mouth shut, giving the poster this double meaning: A Swedish Tiger and A Swede keeps his mouth shut – comparable to Loose lips sink ships. The Tiger's stripes are in the Swedish national colors.

Press freedom

Many Swedish noblemen used their personal connections and wealth to take in and find temporary Swedish homes for children from neighboring countries, mainly Denmark and Finland. Werner Dankwort served as the first secretary for the German legation in Stockholm during the German Nazi regime and secretly helped Jewish children to escape from Germany into Sweden inside wooden crates.

Neutrality also made it possible for Sweden to have physical access to Germany, which was not only useful to Swedish intelligence but to Allied intelligence as well. Employees at Asea, LM Ericsson and the Swedish Match Factory (Svenska Tändsticksfabriken) acted as couriers for the Polish resistance.[42] King Gustav V of Sweden attempted to use his diplomatic connections with German leaders to convince them to treat Jews more humanely, as evidenced through his correspondence, although to little effect. Count Folke Bernadotte, a relative of the Swedish royal family, was able to communicate with the German government and relay information back to Sweden, as did other diplomats. He also contributed in saving 15,000 prisoners from concentration camps, as did Valdemar Langlet and the famous diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who may have saved up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews.

In 1943, Sweden received nearly all of Denmark's 8,000 Jews. With the dissolution of the Danish government in the summer of 1943, the German authorities had decided to deport Denmark's Jewish population to concentration camps. However, the Danes successfully ferried all but 450 of the Jews across the straits between Copenhagen and the Swedish mainland, across waters that were patrolled by German Schnellboots, in an unprecedented rescue effort. Once in Sweden, the Danish Jews were granted asylum and taken in by Swedish families. Many stayed in Sweden after the war. Sweden also received refugees from Finland and Norway, including some of Norway's Jews. All this, as well as the protection of Sweden's own Jewish population, was made possible by Sweden's neutrality. A daily newspaper in Sweden, the Svenska Dagbladet said that Sweden did more to assist and save Jews than any other country.[42][43]

Humanitarian effort

On July 31, 1944, experts at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in Hampshire, England, began an attempt to reconstruct the missile.[40] U.S. military scientists subsequently received some of the recovered parts from the British. The American rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard examined those components as part of his work aiding the U.S. military, and Goddard is reported to have recognized components he had previously invented, and inferred that his brainchild had been turned into a weapon.[41]

A captured German prisoner later explained to the British that the controller was an expert at steering glider bombs from aircraft, but that the spectacle of a rocket launch had caused him to incorrectly operate the control lever in his astonishment.[33][34] Peenemünde guidance and control expert Ernst Steinhoff explained that the excited operator applied a set of planned corrections (such as that for the Earth's rotation) in the opposite direction to the way he had been instructed.[35] The rocket subsequently exploded in an air burst (a common V-2 malfunction)[27] several thousand feet above the county of Bäckebo mainly over a farm with no injuries,[36][37][38] and the valuable wreckage was exchanged with Britain by the Swedes for Supermarine Spitfires.[39]

On June 13, 1944, a V-2 rocket under test by the Germans (test rocket V-89,[27] serial number 4089[28]) from Peenemünde crashed in Sweden after the rocket had flown into cumulus clouds which had strayed into the controller's line of sight. It was supposed to crash in the sea outside Bornholm in occupied Denmark.[29] V-89 contained a FuG 230 Straßburg[30] radio control receiver unit, normally commanded by a remote FuG 203 Kehl joystick-equipped radio control transmitter set that had also been meant for use with the Wasserfall[31] anti-aircraft missile, (code named Burgund),[30] as a development of the same FuG 203/230 equipment pairing used to guide both the Fritz X gravity-propulsion guided ordnance and the Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb.[32] The ground controller appeared to have no trouble manoeuvring the rocket until it disappeared into the high cloud layer.[27]

rocket on a trailer
A German V-2 rocket.

The Bäckebo rocket

In all, around 15,000 men were trained and organized into ten battalions and at the end of the war, eight of these battalions, about 13,500 men, were ready for action. They entered Norway on May 8, 1945. The number of Danish refugees had been much lower than the 50,000 Norwegians, but a brigade of about 3,600 Danish men was also trained and they were transferred to Denmark on May 5, 1945.[25][26]

During the war, more than 50,000 Norwegians fled to Sweden. These refugees were sent to camps at Öreryd in Småland and Kjesäter in Södermanland. From the summer of 1943 onwards, the military training of Norwegian troops was carried out in Sweden, in cooperation with the Swedish government and the Norwegian government-in-exile in London. To prevent protests from Nazi Germany, this training was ostensibly for the Norwegian police. From the start, the recruits only had light infantry weapons, but later they were able to train with artillery. Military exercises were held in Dalarna in December 1944 and in Hälsingland in spring 1945. 8,000 men took part in this latter exercise.

Mälsåker Castle was a Norwegian Military academy during World War II (photograph taken in 2007)

Training of Norwegian and Danish troops

From late 1942 and into 1943, Germany began to meet with a series of military reverses after its losses at the Second Battle of El Alamein, the Battle of Stalingrad and elsewhere. Germany was forced into a more defensive position as the Allied forces met with unaccustomed success on the battlefield, such as in North Africa. It was becoming increasingly apparent to Sweden that Germany was unlikely to win the war. Prior to 1943, Sweden's policy of neutrality had been largely under the close scrutiny of Germany. After August and September 1943, however, Sweden was increasingly able to resist German demands and to soften its stance to Allied pressure. However, despite Germany's new, defensive posture, Sweden's constant fear was that the unexpected would happen, an attitude that continued until the very end of the war. With Germany's weakening position came stronger demands from the Allies. They pushed for Sweden to abandon its trade with Germany and to stop all German troop movements over Swedish soil. Sweden accepted payments from the Allies to compensate for this loss of income through reduced trade with Germany, but continued to sell steel and machine parts to Nazi Germany at inflated smugglers' rates.[24]

1943 onwards

At the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the early summer of 1941, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, the Germans asked Sweden to allow the transportation of armed German troops, the 163rd Infantry Division, commanded by General Erwin Engelbrecht, along with all its military equipment, through Swedish territory by train from Norway to the eastern front in Finland. The Swedish government granted this permission. In Sweden, the political deliberations surrounding this are known as the "Midsummer Crisis"; however, according to research by Carl-Gustaf Scott there never was a "crisis", he argues that "the crisis was created in historical hindsight in order to protect the political legacy of the Social Democratic Party and its leader Per Albin Hansson."[23]

Midsummer Crisis (Midsommarkrisen)

In his book Blodsporet ("The Blood Track"), Espen Eiburn detailed how, at the request of Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany sent three trains with 30 to 40 sealed carriages through Sweden to the battle of Narvik. These trains ostensibly transported medical personnel and food for the wounded German soldiers in Narvik. However, in reality there were 17 soldiers for every medical officer or orderly. Sweden knew that the trains were being used to transport troops because a Swedish representative in Berlin reported that he had watched them board. The trains also transported heavy artillery, anti-aircraft guns, ammunition and communications and supply equipment.[22]

During its invasion of Norway, Germany demanded access to the Swedish telephone and telegraph lines between Germany and Norway. Sweden allowed this, but tapped the lines. In the early summer of that year (1940) the Swedish mathematician Arne Beurling succeeded in deciphering and discovering the source codes of the Geheimfernschreiber cypher machine that Germany used, which afforded the Swedes advance knowledge of Germany's military intentions.[21] Although the British Plan R 4 had not been able to be carried out, Allied troops were swiftly sent to Norway and were able to fight alongside the Norwegians unsuccessfully against the German invaders. However, the success of the German campaign against France and the occupation of the low countries led to a British troop re-deployment and by June 8, 1940, British troops had been evacuated from Norway.

When Germany invaded both Denmark and Norway on April 9, 1940, the 100,000 Swedish soldiers who had been deployed along the Finnish border in northern Sweden were in the process of being demobilized, owing to the end of the Winter War there. Before the outbreak of hostilities, Sweden had had no plans for defending Norway or any defense strategy against a German invasion from the direction of Norway. Moreover, an agreement from the Scania.

On 9 April 1940, Germany launched Operation Weserübung, an operation with the ambitious objective of simultaneously occupying Denmark and Norway, and to stage a Coup d'état in Norway. This move had several far-reaching consequences for Sweden. Sweden was in effect cut off from trade with the western world and therefore more dependent on German goodwill, ultimately leading to permittenttrafik.[20] But it also lessened the immediate risk that Sweden would become a theater of war between the Axis and the Allies.

Swedish soldier during World War II

Occupation of Denmark and Norway

The first ship carrying Allied troops was to start its journey a few hours after the mine-laying. On April 8, a Royal Naval detachment led by HMS Renown mined Norwegian waters as a part of operation Wilfred, but German troops were already on their way and "Plan R 4" was quickly made obsolete.[19]

Hitler was correct about Allied intentions. The Allied plan had two parts, Operation Wilfred and Plan R 4. Operation Wilfred was to take place on April 5 (it was in fact delayed until April 8) when Norwegian territorial waters were to be mined, violating Norwegian neutrality. This would force the ships carrying ore to Germany to travel outside the protection of Norwegian territorial waters and thus become legitimate targets for the Royal Navy. It was hoped that this would provoke a German military reaction. As soon as the Germans reacted, under "Plan R 4", 18,000 Allied troops were to land in Narvik, closing the rail link to Sweden. Other cities that the Allies hoped to capture were Trondheim and Bergen.

German plans for an invasion of Norway continued, since Hitler feared that the Allies were nonetheless intent upon launching their own invasion. April 9 was set as the date of Operation Weserübung, the German attack on Norway.

Scandinavian reluctance to allow Allied troops onto their territory had halted the original Allied plan for using aid to Finland as a pretext for moving in troops, but on March 12, 1940, the Allies decided to try a "semi-peaceful" invasion nonetheless. Troops were to be landed in Norway, and proceed into Sweden to capture the Swedish iron ore mines. However, if serious military resistance was encountered, they were not to press the issue. However, Finland sued for peace on March 12, so this plan had to be abandoned as well. The Germans were partly aware of these Allied intentions, as they had intercepted radio traffic showing that Allied transport groups were being readied. A few days later, they also intercepted messages confirming that the Allies had abandoned their plan and were to redeploy their forces.

Meanwhile, the Germans, having suspected an Allied threat, were making their own plans for an invasion of Norway in order to protect their strategic supply lines. The Altmark Incident of 16 February 1940 convinced Hitler that the Allies would not respect Norwegian neutrality, so he ordered plans for an invasion.

German industry was heavily dependent on Swedish iron ore. The Allies had intended to use the Soviet attack on Finland in November 1939 as cover for seizing the important Swedish iron ore deposits in the north, in addition to the Norwegian harbours through which this ore was shipped to Germany. The plan was to get Norwegian and Swedish permission to send an expeditionary force to Finland across northern Norway and Sweden, ostensibly to help the Finns. But once in place, they were to proceed to take control of the harbours and the iron ore mines, occupying cities such as Gävle and Luleå and denying German access to the Swedish iron ore. In this way, an unsuspecting Norway and Sweden would be presented with a fait accompli. Realizing this danger, however, and the consequent possibility of Allied or German occupation and of the war being waged on their territory, both the Swedes and the Norwegians refused to allow this proposal.[18]

Franco-British support was offered on the condition it was given free passage through neutral Norway and Sweden instead of taking the road from the Soviet-occupied Petsamo.

Possible Allied invasion

Twelve of Sweden's most modern fighter aircraft, British Gloster Gladiators, were flown by volunteer Swedish pilots under Finnish insignias.[16] These aircraft constituted one third of Sweden's fighter force at the time. In addition, Sweden received some 70,000 Finnish children who were sent to Sweden to find safety during the 1940s.[17]

  • 135,402 rifles, 347 machine guns, 450 light machine guns with 50,013,300 rounds of small arms ammunition;
  • 144 field guns, 100 anti-aircraft guns and 92 anti-armor guns with 301,846 shells;
  • 300 sea mines and 500 depth charges;
  • 17 fighter aircraft, 5 light bombers, 1 DC-2 transport aircraft turned into bomber, and 3 reconnaissance aircraft.

When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in November 1939, many Swedes favored some sort of involvement in the conflict, both on a humanitarian and on a military basis. Sweden's interest in Finland lay in the fact that Finland had been an integrated part of Sweden for more than six hundred years, with Sweden losing control of its eastern provinces in 1809. Despite several pleas from the Finnish government, the Swedish government declined to engage militarily with the Red Army as it advanced during the Winter War. However, Sweden declared itself "non-belligerent" rather than neutral during the conflict and as many as 8,000 Swedes voluntarily went to Finland to fight. The Swedish government and public also sent food, clothing, medicine, weapons and ammunition to aid the Finns during this conflict. This military aid included:[15]

Defense of Finland

War broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union in November 1939. In Sweden, the Liberal, Conservative and Agrarian parties were concerned about a perceived threat from the Soviet Union. The Social Democrats were in the main equally concerned. Leading social democrats like Rickard Sandler and Torsten Nillsson played a prominent role in mustering support for Finland. The Communists were openly loyal to the Soviet Union and supported its Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany. However, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they swung around to a pro-Allied view.

Impact on domestic politics

Winter War

Before the outbreak of the war, the Swedish Ministry of Defense (Kungl. Flygförvaltningen) had ordered some 300 combat aircraft from the United States, primarily Seversky P-35s and P-66 Vanguards. In 1940, however, the US administration halted these exports. Only about 60 aircraft had been delivered. Sweden succeeded subsequently in buying 200 aircraft from Italy, a fascist ally of Germany at the time; these aircraft were primarily Fiat CR.42s, Reggiane Re.2000s, and Caproni Ca.313s.[14]

At the beginning of the war, agreements had been signed between Sweden and the United Kingdom and Nazi Germany in order to sustain vital trade; but in spite of this, and the fact that Sweden had declared itself a neutral country, Swedish shipping began to be attacked. Sweden's trade with Britain was cut by a total of 70%. Within the North Sea blockade, trade with Germany increased, until 37% of Sweden's exports were shipped to Germany. For very important goods such as ball bearings for the British aircraft industry, delivery was made by blockade runners, using rebuilt Motor Gun Boats, which could use winter darkness and high speed to penetrate the German blockade of the Skagerrak straits between Norway and the northern tip of Denmark.

Gay Viking one of the high speed boats used as blockade runners for the ball bearing trade

Sweden was not directly attacked during World War II. It was, however, subject to British and German Naval blockades and accidental bombings from the Soviets on some cities (e.g. Strängnäs), which led to problems with the supply of food and fuels. When Germany invaded Denmark and Norway in April 1940, coupled with a German blockade of the North Sea, every single shipment had to be negotiated with both British and German authorities, which drastically reduced the volume of trade. Between 1938 and 1944, the Swedish import of petroleum products and coal decreased by 88% and 53% respectively, which led to severe shortages. Other critical items were natural rubber, alloy metals and food. This situation led to extensive rationing of fuels and food in Sweden and substitutes were developed and produced. Wood gas was used as a fuel for motor vehicles and oil shale as a substitute for bunker oil.[13]

Foreign trade

On the outbreak of the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union in November 1939, Sweden declared itself to be ”non-belligerent” in regard to this particular conflict, actively siding with Finland. This allowed Sweden to aid Finland economically, and with armaments. Sweden and Finland also jointly laid minefields in the Sea of Åland to deter Soviet submarines from entering the Gulf of Bothnia.[11][12]

When, in September 1939, Germany attacked Poland, and both France and Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Sweden declared itself a neutral country in regard to this escalating situation. An example illustrating this situation may be the failed Allied attempt to release Polish submarines (ORP Ryś, ORP Żbik, ORP Sęp) which were interned after they reached Swedish ports (requiring repairs of battle damage, unable to break to Britain).

Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson declared Sweden neutral on 1 September 1939


Without a defensive force we cannot follow any policy of our own, our declarations become merely empty words and we leave the country's fate to chance, or to the decisions of others. With a defense as strong as Swedish conditions allow, we secure for ourselves the basis of a continued independent Swedish policy.
— Georg Homin

Georg Homin, a captain on the General Staff, stated:

Friendly with all other nations and strongly linked to our neighbors, we look on no one as our enemy. There is no place in the thoughts of our people for aggression against any other country, and we note with gratitude, the assurances from others that they have no wish to disturb our peace, our freedom, or our independence. The strengthening of our defense preparations serves merely to underline our fixed determination to keep our country outside the conflicts that may erupt amongst others and, during such conflicts, to safeguard the existence of our people.
— Per-Albin Hansson, 1 September 1939

While arming itself, Sweden felt that it was necessary to articulate and enforce its policy of neutrality. Per Albin Hansson stated shortly before World War II began:

In 1940, the Swedish Home Guard (Hemvärnet) was created. Its units were small groups of former soldiers who were equipped with rifles, machine guns, ammunition, medicine and uniforms. They had the option to buy additional materials such as skis, sweaters and marching boots. The Lottorna (Swedish Women's Voluntary Defense Service) had already been in existence since 1924.

Not only was the Swedish government buying material to strengthen its defenses, it began drafting conscripts. On May 6, 1938, the government called up all those aged 15 for short periods of training. In addition to this, the Swedish Cabinet ordered that one quarter of those conscripted in 1938 should be retained for further training.

In 1936, the Swedish government started to heighten its military preparedness as the international situation worsened. Military spending in Sweden went from US$37 million in 1936, to $50 million in 1937, to $58.6 million in 1938, and then increased over fivefold to $322.3 million in 1939. During World War II itself, military spending peaked at $527.6 million in 1942.

Pre-war preparations

The Swedish non-aligned policy during this period was founded on the assumption that there were two opposing powers in the Baltic, Germany and the Soviet Union;[10] Because these two powers needed to guard against each other, the hope was that they would only ever be able to deploy minor forces against Sweden or other non-aligned countries. It was this expectation which made the defense of a small country feasible. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed at the end of August 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, upset this balance.

Sweden's long-standing policy of neutrality was tested on many occasions during the 1930s. The challenges came from a strongly rejuvenated, nationalistic Germany. From 1919 until 1935, Sweden had been an active supporter of the League of Nations and most of Sweden's political energy in the international arena had been directed towards the preservation of the League of Nations.

Military balance

During World War II, Swedish industry had to supply an increased share of its own domestic goods owing to the British blockade of the North Sea, whilst satisfying the vastly increased demand for armaments. Before the war, the annual production of armaments was typically measured in tens of millions of Swedish kronor, but during the war, output exceeded SEK 1 billion (US$240 million).

Pre-war trade


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