The Ohio State University
Notes on Journal Article in Preparation:
Controversial Aspects of
Norwegian Military History, 1905-1950
by David G. Thompson
This article does not attempt to present a rounded narrative of Norwegian military history. Rather, it is a summary of some of the most interesting and controversial issues that have arisen in the author's research for a doctoral dissertation, tentatively entitled, "From Neutrality to NATO: The Norwegian Armed Forces and Defense Policy, 1905-1950." Approaching this topic as a non-Norwegian, one quickly discovers that there is almost no literature available in English that is not directly related to the 1940 campaign; and most of that deals with the role of Norwegian forces only in passing. With a reading knowledge of Norwegian, however, one discovers a multitude of additional aspects to the subject which are almost entirely unknown outside Norway. The following ten rhetorical questions represent issues that remain controversial among many Norwegians.
1. How important was the Norwegian military in determining the outcome of the independence crisis in 1905, and in maintaining Norway's neutrality during World War I?
Following nearly five hundred years of Danish rule, Norway came under Swedish domination in 1814 as part of the general settlement of the Napoleonic Wars. Nationalism flourished in the following decades, however; and by the 1890s it was clear that Norway desired full independence. The question was how far the Norwegians were willing to go to achieve it, and how far the Swedes would go to maintain the dual monarchy. In summer 1905, the Norwegian parliament (the Storting) voted to dissolve the union. For several weeks, the respective armed forces faced-off across the border while diplomats pursued negotiations that eventually led to Swedish acceptance of the fait accompli.
Fortunately, the crisis in 1905 never boiled over into armed conflict; but it could easily have done so. Opinions continue to differ over the significance of the military aspect. Not surprisingly, the Norwegian armed forces and their advocates have emphasized the role of deterrence in convincing the Swedish government that the dual monarchy was no longer worth the blood it would cost to maintain by force. Others, however, especially anti-military leftists, have argued that the Swedish labor movement actually played the decisive role by demonstrating the extent of working-class opposition to a war against Norway.
Swedish public opinion surely played an important role, but in my view Norway's military readiness was a more fundamental prerequisite for independence. Anti-military critics like to point out that the Norwegian officer corps was one of the last bastions of conservative, monarchist, pro-Union opinion in Norway; and there is little doubt that this was true. By 1905, however, the overwhelming majority of officers had joined the nationalist cause; and the Storting relied on their loyalty implicitly. The contrast with a previous crisis in 1895 was remarkable, for in that episode Norwegian officers had taken active steps to forestall a nationalist insurrection, leaving the government little choice but to back down.
In the ten years following that earlier crisis, Norway "put its house in order" by building up the armed forces. This, combined with the change of opinion in the officer corps, gave the government in Christiania (as Oslo was known between 1624 and 1924) a much stronger hand in 1905. Granted, the Swedish armed forces remained considerably stronger than the Norwegians, by a margin of roughly two-to-one, both on land and at sea; and in a protracted conflict, Sweden probably would have prevailed. Ultimately, however, as much as King Oscar and his conservative supporters wanted to preserve the Union, there were too many imponderable factors involved to make the military option a viable one.
Although public enthusiasm for defense waned considerably after 1905, especially in the growing labor movement, the Norwegian armed forces were still reasonably modern and efficient at the outbreak of World War I. Equally important, the government acted decisively to increase their readiness as soon as the war began. Both the navy and coastal fortresses mobilized fully within the first few days, and the army also conducted large-scale maneuvers and expanded considerably. As a result, although the forces remained small by great-power standards, they were sufficient to support the policy of armed neutrality.
It remains questionable, however, whether Norway's military readiness really made much difference. In retrospect, we know that the Germans never seriously contemplated invading Norway, due to the Royal Navy's domination of the North Sea. The British meanwhile did examine the possibility of seizing an advanced base on the southwest coast of Norway, such as Stavanger, with or without Norwegian acquiescence. By 1917, however, they probably could have persuaded Norway to declare war on Germany, had they been willing to divert the necessary resources to assist in the defense of southern Norway. In the complicated assessment of pros and cons, the allied leadership simply concluded that it was better to leave Norway as a pro-Allied neutral.
Thus, Norway's neutrality remained formally intact, albeit tattered by pragmatic concessions, until the end of the war. This was due primarily to the great powers' own strategic calculations of advantage, rather than to Norwegian policy. Nevertheless, the fact that Norway stood ready to defend itself, at least against outright territorial violations, also played a significant role. In particular, the British had to reckon that an attempt on their part to occupy a Norwegian base might meet with armed resistance, with unforseeable consequences. Although the British military attaché to Scandinavia during the war, Rear Admiral M.W. Consett, did not consider the Norwegian army to be a "reliable instrument of war", one could not entirely overlook the fact that it had a full mobilization strength of over 150,000 men. Had Norway appeared less resolute, for example by failing to place the navy and coastal defenses on full alert, it is conceivable that the British might have decided to occupy a Norwegian base in 1915 or 1916. In that case, Norway might have found itself in a situation comparable to that of Greece, which played unwilling host to an allied army and ultimately became fully embroiled in the war, with serious political disruption and infringements of sovereignty.
2. How did the Norwegian military respond to the apparent threat of a communist revolution in the interwar period? Was there any real foundation for such fears?
Although this subject remained almost completely unpublicized prior to 1978, recent research has revealed that domestic labor unrest and alleged communist subversion became a major preoccupation of the military leadership in Norway between the wars. Even before the end of World War I, the Norwegian general staff began intensive efforts to monitor leftist activities and thwart a possible Trotskyite coup d'etat.
In addition to intelligence-gathering, the army by 1922 had developed a system of highly secret mobilization plans to activate special internal security units, composed of men hand-picked for their political reliability (i.e., anti-communism). Designated the ordensvern (among several other related categories), these detachments usually bore no relation to the army's normal order of battle for general mobilization. In effect, the army adopted two separate tables of organization: the normal conscript army for use against external foes (which seemed highly implausible at the time), and a secret army designed for rapid, selective activation against domestic enemies. After 1923, the civilian government knew almost nothing of the secret mobilization system; and its existence was known only to a few highly-placed officers. Although the ordensvern system never received a full-scale test, it demonstrated considerable ingenuity on the army's part and probably would have presented a major obstacle to any leftist attempt to seize political power by force.
In retrospect, there is almost no evidence of any serious plans, still less physical preparations, for such an insurrection by the leftists. Labor leaders often styled themselves as Marxist revolutionaries for public consumption, but by the early 1930s their inflammatory rhetoric bore little relation to the increasingly moderate reality of the party's position. The elaborate military countermeasures therefore tend to seem like a great waste of time at best, the product of paranoid, over-active imaginations.
Nevertheless, the armed forces did provide an important deterrent that helped convince Labor leaders to seek power through the parliamentary process instead of fomenting revolution. Although they knew almost nothing specific about the army's secret plans, they understood clearly that the conservative officer corps was prepared (and in some cases eager) to crush a leftist uprising with massive force. In this sense, at least, the internal security system made an important contribution to Norway's political history, by making illegal action appear too dangerous and unlikely to succeed.
3. What was the extent of sympathy for Vidkun Quisling's right-wing movement among Norwegian officers? Was there ever any real possibility of an anti-democratic military coup d'etat?
At the same time that many moderates feared a violent communist takeover, leftists perceived a corresponding threat from anti-democratic extremists on the right wing. Given the well-known conservatism of the officer corps as a whole, Labor activists regarded the military as a bastion of opposition to their agenda; and many of them feared that if they ever did gain power through the political process, they might in turn become the target of a coup by right-wing militarist forces. By 1933, Vidkun Quisling seemed to personify this threat; and most leftists took it for granted that a large proportion of military officers belonged to his NS (Nasjonal Samling) party.
Although specific numbers are still unavailable, fragmentary and anecdotal evidence indicates that a significant number of officers were indeed members of the NS in the 1930s. Without a doubt, support for Quisling among professional officers was proportionally greater than among the overall population. NS membership was especially common among junior officers, for whom the movement was an expression of patriotism, a response to the exaggerated and almost universal anti-militarism of the other parties, and a sign of disgust with the apparent ineffectiveness and corruption of the parliamentary system.
The question of whether Quisling's supporters in the military ever presented a real, significant threat to the civilian government of Norway remains open to speculation. In general, Norwegian military historians since the war have taken it for granted that Labor's distrust of the officer corps was unwarranted. A recent study has concluded, however, that while Quisling held office as minister of defense under an Agrarian government in 1931-33, there probably was at least a limited conspiracy including several highly-placed officers, who seriously considered activating the ordensvern system for their own purposes. Following a wave of mass-arrests of leftists and other political opponents, Quisling intended to dissolve the Storting and revise the constitution on a corporatist model. Whether or not any serving officers actually participated in the planning, Quisling clearly believed that he could rely on support from key members of the general staff and the district commands. The fact that he did not attempt to execute the coup probably was due mainly to his misplaced confidence that his movement would soon gain a legal majority anyway.
Fortunately, reactionary impulses among officers abated considerably after Johan Nygaardsvold's Labor government took office in 1935; and although many military men remained sharply critical of the socialists, there was no longer any significant possibility of an anti-parliamentary coup originating from within the armed forces. Labor leaders, however, continued to regard the officer corps with suspicion, if no longer outright hostility, a factor that contributed heavily to the failure to re-arm in time for the approaching crisis.
4. To what extent were the various Norwegian political parties, and military leaders themselves, responsible for the decline of the armed forces in the interwar period?
Reductions in the Norwegian defense budget in the 1920s were both appropriate and inevitable, given the absence of any major threats to the country's security from abroad after 1918. In 1927, the international situation still looked so placid that even the Conservative party agreed to a comprehensive military reorganization that made deep cuts in training and readiness. After that, the Liberals under J.L. Mowinckel took the lead in further reductions, culminating in the Defense Act of 1933, which effectively gutted the officer corps and left the armed forces little more than a paper organization and a collection of aging, unmanned ships.
Remarkably, passage of the 1933 act coincided with the final weeks of Quisling's defense ministry, a fact that later prompted some people to make Quisling a scapegoat for the entire decline of the military between the wars. Regardless of his many other sins and shortcomings, this judgment is unfair, because in overseeing the development of the plan, he was merely bowing to the unassailable majority in the Storting (including most of the Agrarian party in whose cabinet he was serving) that demanded further defense cuts.
Thus, it was by no means only the Labor party that sought to curtail the armed forces. Labor does bear the primary responsibility for the belated, inadequate response to threatening developments after 1935; but even then, the other parties, above all the Liberals, played a significant role. The economic crisis remained at the top of almost everyone's agenda until the war was at hand, and the preoccupation with fiscal economy frustrated efforts to revitalize the military at every turn.
The anti-military political climate is a familiar story that parallels events in the other western democracies, but there is another aspect of the situation that most historians have tended to neglect: the institutional weaknesses and failures of the Norwegian armed forces themselves. Apologists for the defeat in 1940 generally argue that given the severe lack of resources imposed by the politicians, the military made the best of what little it did receive. This was not always the case.
For example, politicians found it relatively easy to ignore the official recommendations of the Norwegian navy regarding new construction, because many professional officers themselves disagreed sharply over the technical issues of what type of ships they needed most. As a result, political considerations had an inordinate impact on the modest naval construction that did take place. In another example, a minority of forward-looking army officers expressed increasing alarm over Norway's total lack of anti-tank weapons, pointing to recent lessons demonstrated in the Spanish Civil War. The majority of senior officers remained complacent, however, and failed to impress upon the government the urgent need to acquire such weapons.
Ultimate responsibility for the failure of the armed forces to make better use of their limited resources, and to play a more active role in the policy-making process, rests with the service chiefs, General Kristian Laake and Admiral Henry Diesen. Unfortunately, both of their appointments were due mainly to political factors, and many other officers regarded their professional qualifications as mediocre. Both their temperaments and the nature of their careers made the two chiefs reluctant to challenge the cabinet, even when the national interest clearly demanded that they do so--above all on the eve of the invasion, when they ought to have seen clearly that a precautionary mobilization was imperative.
5. How significant and effective was the resistance put up by the Norwegian armed forces in the 1940 campaign?
Inevitably, any reasonable answer to this question must address the severe disadvantages under which the Norwegians had to fight, factors that resulted from both the long-term neglect of the armed forces over the preceding twenty years and the more immediate circumstances leading up to 9 April 1940. After taking these things into account, one cannot help but admire the skill and determination that many Norwegians displayed in their struggle to repel the invaders.
In giving credit where credit is due, however, many accounts have tended to gloss over the unpleasant fact that, regardless of the underlying reasons, the Norwegian forces failed. In the Norwegian historiography of the campaign, a relative handful of heroic episodes have provided welcome distractions from the more numerous, deeply humiliating defeats and catastrophes that led to the country's occupation. Thus, at the risk of seeming unfair or disrespectful of the many brave and loyal people who did their best in a terrible situation, one must look beyond the pre-war neglect of the armed forces and ask, what else went wrong?
First and foremost, the army never was able to mobilize properly. This was primarily the fault of the government and the service chiefs, but the inherent nature of the mobilization system also complicated the problem. Many personnel were slated to join units far from their homes, which often proved impossible amid the chaos of April 1940. As a result, most of the units that did assemble were ad hoc collections of individuals who had never trained together before; and unit cohesion suffered accordingly.
Rumors of treachery probably were aggravated in many cases by the fact that men had to serve under unfamiliar officers. In fact, the post-war courts never convicted a single Norwegian officer (unless one counts Quisling) of treason in connection with the 1940 campaign. However, several senior officers did receive prison sentences on lesser charges such as neglect of duty; and many other questionable cases never received full investigation.
In retrospect, it seems highly unlikely that the Germans alerted Quisling or any of his followers to the invasion beforehand. Once it became clear that the country was under attack by an outside power, the great majority of officers who had belonged to the NS ignored Quisling's appeal and fought loyally (if not always enthusiastically) on the side of the king and cabinet. It remains open to speculation whether prior sympathy for Germany and the NS caused some officers to surrender prematurely or to remain passive when they could have acted more vigorously. There are, however, enough examples of former Quisling sympathizers who distinguished themselves in action against the Germans to demonstrate that one cannot draw any sweeping conclusions of this nature.
Contrary to popular myth, the Norwegians often demonstrated less understanding of local terrain and conditions than did the Germans. Although the individual skills of the average Norwegian soldier (especially skiing and marksmanship) offered great potential, the training, organization, and doctrine of the army generally failed to exploit these advantages. Apart from the 6th Division, few units were prepared to take the field under winter conditions. Although there were occasional exceptions, most Norwegian forces remained road-bound and vulnerable to flanking maneuvers, at which the Germans proved remarkably adept.
Norwegian operational doctrine failed to address the problem of tempo, which demands a delicate balance between maintaining security and providing soldiers with adequate rest. As a result, many units found themselves physically exhausted at decisive moments, while others allowed the Germans to exploit devastating tactical surprise.
General Otto Ruge's leadership also played a role in the failure to mount a more active, determined defense in central Norway. As traditional accounts have emphasized, Ruge deserves great credit for rallying the spirit of the nation in the immediate aftermath of April 9, when it seemed likely that the government would forego further resistance and accept the occupation as a fait accompli . In his specific conduct of the campaign, however, Ruge failed to appreciate the need to seize and retain the initiative at the local level wherever possible, and to achieve at least minor tactical victories, even at the cost of some casualties, simply for the sake of maintaining morale. Instead, his directives essentially called upon commanders to avoid losses at almost any cost and authorized them to retreat at the first sign of a determined attack. Consequently, on the decisive front in central Norway, the German advance quickly achieved a momentum that proved unstoppable; and many Norwegian units suffered a fatal loss of confidence even in the absence of any serious casualties.
One additional factor that badly damaged the Norwegian will to resist was the appalling disorganization and ineffectiveness of the Allied forces that tried to intervene. Ruge's strategy from the beginning was designed merely to delay the enemy until Allied reinforcements arrived in sufficient strength to turn the tide. The simple fact that the Germans had evaded the Royal Navy on April 9 already represented a major disappointment, since Norwegians had long assumed that British power would shield them from sea-borne invasion; but a considerable store of faith and confidence in British assistance remained. When the first British troops arrived in central Norway on April 19-21, however, they quickly proved inferior not only to the Germans, but also to the Norwegians themselves, exhausted and ill-equipped as the latter were. The successive Allied withdrawals from Åndalsnes, Namsos, and Narvik, conducted in a manner that showed no concern for Norwegian interests, proved the final blow.
Overall, the performance of the Norwegian forces was mixed at best. Given the severe constraints under which they fought, many specific units and individuals achieved far more than anyone had a right to expect of them. Clearly, the Norwegian military was not "rotten to the core"; but it did have a great deal of dead wood.
6. In the long-run, was the invasion of Norway actually a strategic mistake on Hitler's part?
This question may seem odd, given the resounding victory the Germans won in Norway in 1940. In a longer view, however, one must consider what the original objectives of the invasion were. In conference with General Falkenhorst in February 1940, Hitler stated three basic goals: 1. to secure operational freedom for naval operations in the Atlantic, 2. to secure the shipment route for iron-ore from Sweden, and 3. to secure the northern flank of future German operations on the continent.
Many historians have emphasized the heavy naval losses the Germans suffered in taking Norway, which included a heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, ten destroyers, and six U-boats, as well as damage to many other vessels including the Scharnhorst, Gneisnau , and Lützow. For the time being there were almost no German warships available to exploit the operational freedom offered by the new bases in Norway, and this played an important role in the decision not to attempt an invasion of Britain. Nevertheless, in later stages of the war Norway did provide a valuable staging area for air and naval operations against allied shipping, particularly the Murmansk convoys. Thus, Weserübung did achieve Hitler's first objective, albeit at high cost.
Ironically, the supposedly critical iron-ore route through Narvik proved otherwise in the aftermath of the invasion. The Germans' own demolition of Narvik's port facilities, to prevent their use by the Allies following the counter-attack of May 27-28, meant that the iron-ore route remained closed for many months. Nevertheless, with the German navy in fairly secure control of the Baltic, it was possible to increase shipments by that route and to accumulate stocks during the summer months. The capture of additional sources of iron-ore in Belgium and France also reduced the importance of the northern mines. Overall, the supply of Swedish ore presented no critical bottleneck to German industry, at least until the closing stages of the war. A British staff study in 1941 concluded that "the importance of Narvik in this context [i.e., the supply of iron-ore to Germany] has previously been greatly over-estimated." In retrospect, therefore, the iron-ore objective appears less significant than either Hitler or the allies imagined in 1940. Had the Germans not invaded Norway when they did, however, then the issue might have become more complicated; and Hitler's northern flank would have remained vulnerable to British initiative.
At least one historian has argued that on the strategic level, at least in hindsight, Hitler's decision to invade Norway before France and the Low Countries was a mistake. Following their crushing victory on the continent, the Germans probably could have occupied Norway at their leisure in the summer or fall of 1940, with much less interference from the British. Had the Germans waited, however, then the British probably would have occupied bases in Norway in response to the invasion of the Low Countries in May, if not already in April. Even with the subsequent strain on British resources, the Germans might have found it much more difficult to take Norway without the critical element of surprise they enjoyed on April 9. Furthermore, Norway under British control would have presented a serious threat to Barbarossa, providing both a secure supply route to Murmansk and a potential threat to German control of the Baltic. The only obvious military solution would have been to invade Sweden, or at least to obtain free passage, in order to bring German power to bear in Norway; and such action against Sweden would have had unforeseeable consequences.
One final argument against the strategic success of Weserübung is that as it turned out, Norway became a backwater in the latter stages of the war, tying down massive German resources that could have made a crucial difference in more decisive theaters. This was a real and important factor in the dilution of German power, especially in connection with Operation Overlord. Allied planners concluded in 1944-45 that Germany had more to gain than to lose by evacuating from Norway, since the western powers had almost no spare assets with which to develop a Scandinavian-based offensive. By that point, although Hitler never realized it, Norway clearly had outlived its usefulness to Germany.
Ultimately, assessments of Weserübung's strategic effectiveness depend upon counter-factual speculation. Thus, there can be no conclusive answer. Nevertheless, it seems to the present author that within the flawed framework of what passed for German strategy in World War II, the benefits of occupying Norway exceeded the costs.
7. Why did so few Norwegian military personnel evacuate to Britain, and why did the Germans allow Norwegian troops in Finnmark to remain under arms through summer 1940?
Many traditional accounts give the impression that once the invasion began, the Norwegian government rallied admirably and conducted its policy throughout the rest of the war with a sense of resolution that contrasted sharply with its pre-war mistakes and illusions. Sadly, this was not always the case. In fact, the Nygaardsvold cabinet accomplished little between 9 April and 7 June 1940. The necessity of evacuation to Britain seems to have taken the cabinet by surprise almost as much as did the invasion itself, and the government's departure occurred in a hasty, unplanned manner that left the remaining military authorities in Norway in doubt over their legal status and responsibilities.
In theory, the Allies might have been able to embark a considerable proportion of the Norwegian 6th Division along with the other forces evacuating from Narvik in early June. This possibility was unrealistic, however, for two main reasons. First, the Allies themselves preferred to leave the Norwegians as a covering force, to keep up the pressure on the remnants of the German 3rd Mountain Division and prevent interference with the difficult process of withdrawal. The British also regarded the Norwegian army as unreliable and preferred to keep the evacuation secret until the last moment. Second, the Norwegian leadership considered it politically impossible to order conscripts to leave the country and carry on the war in exile. The cabinet did order a few professional officers, headed by General C.G. Fleischer, to accompany the evacuation; but this decision was a hasty one with no basis in longer-ranged planning. Hardly anyone except the British themselves could imagine that Germany would still lose the war, and the Norwegian government went into exile mainly for lack of alternatives, without any clear idea of what would follow.
In Norway, however, a more distinct, plausible, and pessimistic future was apparent. On the one hand, many Norwegian officers were bitter over the failure of the Allies to provide effective assistance to Norway; and it was easy for German and quisling propaganda to portray England as "Perfidious Albion". On the other hand, German domination of Europe seemed an inevitable reality; and the only path toward renewed independence seemed to be through accommodation. After all, the situation was not entirely unfamiliar, given the history of Swedish domination from 1814-1905. With this perspective, Ruge and many other officers looked forward to the re-establishment of Norwegian forces under German supervision, which they believed would form an important stepping-stone in the path to full restoration of sovereignty.
One additional factor was the fear that the Soviets might occupy and permanently annex East Finnmark, in the same manner that they had absorbed eastern Poland in 1939. Failing to appreciate the true nature of Nazi ambitions, several senior Norwegian officers concluded that the German occupation was a lesser threat to Norway's long-term interests. Hitler meanwhile also wanted to discourage any such temptation on Stalin's part, and for this reason Norwegian and German interests briefly seemed to coincide.
As a result, two Norwegian battalions remained on duty in East Finnmark until August 1940, by which time the Germans had consolidated their position in Norway sufficiently to put their own units in place. In the interim, the Norwegian units technically took their orders from the civil administration of North Norway, headed by fylkesman Gabrielsen; but for practical purposes they were under German control--a source of later embarrassment that most historians have either overlooked or preferred to ignore.
8. What were the motives of Norwegian volunteers who fought for Germany on the Russian front, and how important was their role?
Approximately seven thousand Norwegian volunteers (frontkjemperne ) served under German command in 1941-45, and nearly one thousand of them either were killed in service or died in Soviet captivity. Not surprisingly, this is another aspect of the war that has found little place in traditional Norwegian accounts.
The most difficult thing to understand in this context is that by no means all of the volunteers were Nazi sympathizers, and most of them apparently believed sincerely that they were acting in Norway's own best interests. Many of them, particularly those who re-enlisted in the SS when they could have mustered-out in 1943, were indeed Nazis by conviction; but many others were essentially decent men who made a bad decision for what seemed like good reasons. Johs. Andenaes, one of the foremost authorities on the post-war collaboration trials, concluded that "among the east front volunteers . . . were a substantial proportion who acted from unselfish motives." The most typical reasons they cited were anti-bolshevism, solidarity with Finland, and hope that by volunteering they would hasten a voluntary German restoration of Norway's independence.
The overall contribution of the Norwegian volunteers to the German war effort is impossible to quantify. Several of the Waffen SS units they helped form (e.g., the Viking and Nordland divisions) played central roles in a long series of major battles. Given the vast scale of the Eastern Front, their numbers were a relative drop in the bucket; but given the small size of the forces-in-exile in Britain as well, the frontkjemperne represent a major aspect of Norway's involvement in the war.
9. What was the military policy of the Norwegian government-in-exile in London? How successful was it in preserving Norwegian interests during the war, and how important were the contributions of the Norwegian forces-in-exile to Allied victory?
The Norwegian government-in-exile had little opportunity to influence the overall direction of Allied strategy. Apart from the basic decision to gamble on the ultimate defeat of Germany and place Norwegian forces under British command, the government concerned itself mainly with relations with the "Home Front" (i.e., the situation in occupied Norway), which was more a political issue than a military one. In general, the British used Norwegian ships and air squadrons in the same way as any other units, without reference to the government-in-exile. The British SOE (Special Operations Executive) also kept exclusive control over clandestine missions and contacts with the underground, denying the Norwegian government any opportunity to chart an independent policy in that respect.
In cases where Allied strategy and operations directly affected Norwegian interests, however, the Nygaardsvold government made active efforts to bring its influence to bear. The most important issue involved a series of British commando raids in 1941 that had a direct and sometimes disastrous impact on the civilian population. Finally, in December 1941, the abortive raid on Reine in the Lofoten Islands, which led to serious reprisals against the local population, prompted the Norwegian government to insist on closer co-ordination of British planning and operations with Norwegian interests. Toward this end, the Norwegians reorganized their military staff in London by creating a unified Armed Forces High Command (Forsvarets Overkommando, or F.O.) in February 1942. Although the improvement was gradual, the F.O. eventually assumed an integral role in Allied policy toward Norway, especially with respect to contingency plans for liberation.
The main contributions of the Norwegian forces-in-exile were at sea and in the air. The Royal Norwegian Air Force (which officially absorbed the formerly separate army and naval air arms in November 1944) eventually included five squadrons, all of which saw a great deal of active service. The navy also played a central role in the Battle of the Atlantic, mostly manning ships provided by the British and Americans.
Even more important, however, was the role of the Norwegian merchant fleet, which amounted to a major portion of the total shipping available to the Allied powers. The Norwegian merchant fleet in 1940 included nearly two thousand vessels totalling nearly five million tons--the fourth largest national shipping industry in the world. Of particular value were Norwegian tankers, which amounted to about twenty percent of the world-wide tonnage of that type. In the course of the invasion, the Germans had sunk or captured forty-three vessels totalling 149,000 tons; but the vast majority of vessels escaped or were already abroad. As a result, the allies received a huge addition to their sea transport capability that proved invaluable in the global struggle. In 1941, for example, forty percent of all foreign ships entering British ports were Norwegian. The government-in-exile effectively nationalized all Norwegian shipping through the creation of a unified emergency corporation, Notraship; and this crucial source of revenue allowed Norway to maintain financial independence even in exile. This fact did not always translate directly into influence on Allied strategy, but it did place the country in a much stronger, more stable position in the immediate post-war period than would have been the case otherwise.
10. To what extent did the post-war rehabilitation and reform of the Norwegian military reflect "lessons learned" from 1940?
Following the long-awaited liberation in May 1945, the phrase "never another April 9th" (<<aldri mer 9. april>> ) became a popular slogan in Norway, expressing a new public consensus in favor of a strong national defense. Several factors continued to complicate the issue, however; and the rehabilitation of the armed forces was neither as swift nor as decisive as one might suppose.
In some respects, the new pro-defense consensus was more apparent than real. The <<aldri mer>> mandate demanded not only a more effective defense in the future, but also a thorough investigation and prosecution of the leaders responsible for the fiasco in 1940. As a result, all officers had to undergo a screening process before returning to duty after the war; and over a thousand were purged, many because of irresolution in 1940, others because of collaboration during the occupation.
This factor interfered with the process of re-establishing the armed forces, especially in the army, which suffered a severe shortage of properly-qualified officers. At the same time, some critics objected that the expulsion of officers discredited during the war had not gone far enough. Thus, although relations between the Labor party and the officer corps were far better than they had been before the war, the latter remained an object of considerable suspicion and criticism in some quarters.
Material re-equipment also proved a serious obstacle to the re-establishment of the armed forces. The navy and air force were relatively well off, with reasonably modern ships and aircraft obtained mostly from Britain; but the army had to resort mainly to using captured German equipment. Although the German material was excellent in many respects, much of it was badly worn-out and approaching obsolescence (for example the artillery). Britain furnished equipment for the succession of Norwegian brigades that participated in the occupation of Germany, but the rest of the army remained haphazardly equipped until it began to receive American material after 1950.
When tensions with the Soviet Union increased sharply in 1948, the Norwegian army was still in a disrupted, transitional state, which prompted army chief of staff General Olaf Helset to resign in protest of the government's inadequate defense policy. Helset's "revolt" had little direct impact, but it did represent his determination not to repeat the mistake of his predecessor Laake, who failed to challenge the government in the period leading up to 9 April 1940.
In any event, the post-war government did respond decisively to the Soviet threat, especially after the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia. Although belated, the defense policy after 1948 displayed a sharp awareness of "lessons learned" from 1940, in four main respects. First, the government and Storting granted the military a much larger budget than before. Although the service chiefs remained dissatisfied, they had far more to work with than had their predecessors in 1938-40.
Second, the military's mission was now much clearer than on the eve of the last war. When the invasion began in 1940, no one was certain whether the government would go to war or simply accept the occupation after a formal protest. To rule out such fatal uncertainty in the future, the government in 1949 enacted a new set of regulations making it absolutely clear that whatever the circumstances, every Norwegian soldier, sailor, and airman, especially if he were an officer, must resist an invasion with every means at his disposal, even in the absence of specific orders.
Third, the army's new organization incorporated important safeguards against another surprise attack. For example, every important airfield received defenses against an airborne assault; armories and depots became more decentralized in order to avoid whole units being dislocated by the loss of a single installation; and the newly-created Home Guard (Heimevern) provided a network of local militia capable of rapid mobilization in a crisis.
The fourth and perhaps most important aspect of "lessons learned" in the post-war Norwegian defense policy was the decision to join NATO in 1949. The formal commitment to a military alliance in peacetime represented a major departure from the traditional reliance on neutrality, and it also indicated the maturation of the Labor party's defense policy--a far cry from the muddled thinking in 1939.
Overall, the military history of Norway presents a series of curious parodoxes. National pride, and commitment to popular sovereignty and independence, have competed with pacifism and a deep-seated resistance to hierarchical authority in the Norwegian national character. This spirit of egalitarianism has had countless benefits, not the least of which are a strong democratic tradition and an admirable distribution of prosperity among the population. Yet with respect to defense, the sometimes irrational degree of anti-militarism in Norway exposed the entire nation to unnecessary risks.
Although the decision join NATO may be the most obvious part of Norway's response to the defeat in 1940, the renovation and reform of the armed forces were equally significant; for without these steps, membership in the new alliance would have been merely a symbolic gesture. Fortunately, the Cold War never turned "hot" in Europe; and the new, improved Norwegian forces were never put to the test of combat. But they served their purpose nevertheless. By incorporating lessons learned from the war, they gave substance to NATO's northern flank and helped to strengthen deterrence.
Since 1945, defense has become a matter of broad consensus in Norway. Critics on both fringes of the political spectrum have continued to challenge the country's membership in NATO, but hardly anyone advocates a return to the passive neutrality and virtual disarmament that characterized the interwar period. The Norwegian military's role in the events surrounding 9 April 1940 remains controversial. Yet clearly, with regard to the public status and overall effectiveness of the armed forces, that date in the long-run was indeed a turning-point for the better.