|History of Sweden|
Sweden maintained its policy of neutrality during World War II. When the war began on 1 September 1939, the fate of Sweden was unclear. But by a combination of its geopolitical location in the Scandinavian Peninsula, realpolitik maneuvering during an unpredictable course of events, and a dedicated military build-up after 1942, Sweden kept its official neutrality status 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 1814 and the invasion of Norway.
At the outbreak of war in September 1939, twenty European nations were
Swedish neutrality remains a subject of debate. Proponents argue that during the war, Sweden softened its policy against accepting refugees, admitting thousands of Jews and political dissenters from Norway and Denmark. Opponents, however, highlight, as Winston Churchill did, that Sweden "ignored the greater moral issues of the war and played both sides for profit".
Between 1523 and Sweden's
As the end of the 19th century approached, and the beginning of the 20th began, Sweden, like many other nations, became beset by
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 Ådalen shootings, an incident where the military opened fire on a protest march. In the same year, a secret right-wing militia, the Munckska kåren, was exposed. It had recruited about 2000 men and had access to heavy weaponry. It was disbanded the next year.
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
Sweden had very few
... 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,
The Swedish Army had been organized into four divisions since the 1890s, with the regiments of northern Norrland and Gotland standing as separate units. This was outdated, and in 1942, a new military organization was adopted.
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During World War II, Swedish industry had to supply an increased share of its own domestic goods owing to the British naval 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).
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 League's preservation.
The Swedish non-aligned policy during this period was founded on the assumption that there were two opposing powers in the Baltic Sea region, Germany and the Soviet Union; 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 defence 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.
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.
Not only was the Swedish government buying material to strengthen its defenses, it began drafting conscripts. On 6 May 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 1940, the Home Guard 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 Swedish Women's Voluntary Defence Organization had already been in existence since 1924.
While arming itself, Sweden felt that it was necessary to articulate and enforce its policy of neutrality. Per Albin Hansson's statement shortly before World War II began:
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
Georg Homin, a captain on the
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
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 the German blockade and sail to Britain).
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.
Sweden was not directly attacked during World War II. It was, however, subject to
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
Before the outbreak of the war, the Swedish Ministry of Defense (
Impact on domestic politics
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 Nilsson 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.
Defense of Finland
When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in November 1939, many Swedes favored some sort of involvement in the conflict, both on a
- 135,402 rifles, 347 machine guns, and 450 light machine guns with 50,013,300 rounds of small arms ammunition
- 144 field guns, 100 anti-aircraft guns and 92 anti-tank gunswith 301,846 shells
- 300 naval mines and 500 depth charges
- 17 fighter aircraft, five light bombers, one DC-2transport aircraft turned into a bomber, and three reconnaissance aircraft
Twelve of Sweden's most modern fighter aircraft, British Gloster Gladiators, were flown by volunteer Swedish pilots under Finnish insignia.[self-published source?] 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.
On 21 February 1940, seven Soviet bombers accidentally dropped around 150 bombs over Pajala in Norrbotten County. Six buildings caught fire and two people were injured. The event sparked further debate on whether Sweden should send aid to the Finns.
Possible Allied 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.
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
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 12 March 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. The plan was abandoned with the ending of the Winter War on 13 March. 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.
German plans for an invasion of Norway continued, since Hitler feared that the Allies were nonetheless intent upon launching their own invasion. 9 April was set as the date of Operation Weserübung, the German attack on Norway.
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 5 April (it was in fact delayed until 8 April) 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.
The first ship carrying Allied troops was to start its journey a few hours after the mine-laying. On 8 April, 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.
Occupation of Denmark and Norway
On 9 April 1940, Germany launched Operation Weserübung, an operation with the 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
When Germany invaded both Denmark and Norway on 9 April 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
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 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. 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 8 June 1940, British troops had been evacuated from Norway.
In his book Blodsporet ("The Blood Track"), Espen Eidum 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.
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."
From late 1942 and into 1943, Germany began to meet with a series of military reverses after its losses at the
Training of Norwegian and Danish troops
During the war, more than 50,000 Norwegians fled to Sweden. These refugees were sent to camps at
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 8 May 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 5 May 1945.[page needed]
The Bäckebo rocket
On 13 June 1944, a
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. 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. The rocket subsequently exploded in an air burst (a common V-2 malfunction) about 1500 metres above the county of Bäckebo, mainly over a farm with no injuries, and the valuable wreckage was exchanged with Britain by the Swedes for Supermarine Spitfires.
On 31 July 1944, experts at the
Soviet bombings of Sweden
The Soviet Union dropped more than a hundred bombs on Swedish cities and villages during World War II, though no one was killed in these strikes. The first time on 14 January 1940, when Soviet aircraft attacked Swedish airspace and dropped about 10 bombs in northern Sweden, close to the port of Luleå. On their return flight, the three DB-3 aircraft ran out of fuel and were forced to land in Finland, where they were captured by Finnish troops. On 21 February, seven Soviet bomber planes appeared in the village Pajala, 10 kilometres from the border to Finland. Pajala was hit by more than 130 bombs, causing damage to local buildings. A bomb hit the local school gym, where the Norrland Dragoon Regiment were stationed at the time, but did not detonate. There were two injuries during the bombing of Pajala.
On 22 February, Stockholm was bombed by four Soviet bombers, a 100kg bomb destroying a newly opened theater, injuring two Swedish soldiers. Sweden concluded that this instance was by mistake, but the Soviet Union refused to acknowledge the involvement of its bombers in the raid when requested to clarify. Though the event remains unclear, a theory developed that it was a deliberate attack in response to Sweden rejecting Soviet appeals for Vasily Sidorenko, who had been arrested for espionage, to be released.
Before the war, thousands of European Jews sought temporary refuge in Sweden, and were denied. Sweden allowed Germans to pass freely to other countries, and sold iron ore that became vital to the Nazi campaign of war. As the war began to shift in favor of the Allies, the Swedes changed their strategy with regard to aiding the precariously situated European Jews, who up to that point had been refused refuge in Sweden. The first shift in Sweden's stance towards Jews occurred in 1942. When the Germans began their campaign of persecution against the Jews of Norway, the Swedish government accepted 900 Jewish refugees, slightly more than half of Norway's Jewish population.
In 1943, Sweden received nearly all of
Neutrality also allowed Sweden to have physical access to Germany, which was not only useful to Swedish intelligence but to Allied intelligence as well. Employees at
The Swedish public's sentiments were widely published in the
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."
During World War II, six newspapers were de facto banned from distribution:
To Nazi Germany
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
It must be understood that an adequate supply of Swedish iron ore is vital to Germany...the effectual stoppage of the Norwegian ore supplies to Germany ranks as a major offensive operation of the war. No other measure is open to us for many months to come which gives so good a chance of abridging the waste and destruction of the conflict, or of perhaps preventing the vast slaughters which will attend the grapple of the main armies.
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 subject to attacks from British aircraft and submarines in the Atlantic and North Sea and by Soviet submarines in the Baltic Sea. About 70 vessels were sunk and 200 sailors killed during the war.
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 6,000; Denmark 6,000; France 11,000; Netherlands 20,000[page needed]).
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 the 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. In the meantime, other German merchant raiders would masquerade as Swedish merchant vessels.
To the Allies
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 Sea region, totalling about 8,000 seamen, was leased to Britain.
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
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II,
Forced refoulement to the Soviet Union
In January 1946, Sweden forcibly transferred to the Soviet Union over 146 Baltic Waffen-SS 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 allow themselves to be handed over to the Soviet Union.
In 1970, film director
- Diplomatic history of World War II
- Military equipment of Sweden during World War II
- Neutral powers during World War II
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