RELATIONS between Norway and Sweden are being strained with the publication of a book that details how Stockholm aided the Nazis during the Second World War as their neighbours fought and lost a battle against the German invaders.
Sweden stayed neutral in the war, but Norway was among Adolf Hitler’s first conquests. Now a new book shows how Sweden let the Germans use its efficient rail network to transport men and materials to the battle of Narvik, where British troops were deployed in a bid to stave off the Nazis.
Narvik-based journalist Espen Eidum spent three years sifting through Norwegian, Swedish and German archives to discover how the Nazis had managed to get troops and supplies to the front lines in Narvik in 1940, enabling them to turn a losing battle into a decisive victory, which led to the occupation of the whole country.
Sweden, although neutral, had in fact gone out of its way to aid the Germans, who relied on the country for much of its iron ore during the war.
“The Germans used the Swedish rail network on a large scale during the fighting,” Eidum said after the publication of his book, Blodsporet, or The Blood Track.
“The operation was much more extensive than historians have previously realised.”
The book details how in October 1940, four months after Narvik had become a crushing defeat for both the Norwegians and Winston Churchill, who had sent British forces there, Swedish diplomats in London lied to representatives of the Norwegian government in exile, telling them Sweden had not allowed the Nazis to use its rail network to get to the front.
“This was not the case,” said Eidum. “The German foreign ministry had earlier summoned the Swedish ambassador in Berlin to inform him that Adolf Hitler had personally requested for the Nazis to be permitted to send three trains with 30 to 40 sealed carriages through Sweden to the far north of Norway.
“Hitler’s representatives told the Swedes that the Germans had a number of wounded soldiers at the front and urgently needed to send in medical officers and food. The Germans also made no secret of the fact that winning the battle in Narvik was a matter of some pride for Hitler.”
Once permission was given, Germany sent in combat troops disguised as medical personnel. “For every actual medical officer or orderly, the trains carried 17 infantrymen,” said the author. “A report sent by a Swedish representative in Berlin, who watched the officers board the train, left little doubt that the Swedes knew the trains were being used for troop movements.”
In addition, according to the book, the trains carried heavy artillery, anti-aircraft guns, ammunition, and communications and supply equipment. And once the swastika flew over Narvik, Sweden allowed German trains to run to the ice-free port, taking Swedish iron ore back to Germany.
The rail network was also used to send Norwegians to Germany, many of them bound for concentration camps., said Eidum. “And hundreds of thousands of Germans passed through Sweden on their way to the eastern front. This made a great deal of money for Swedish rail operator SJ over a three year period.”
In a 1940 letter to Anders Frihagen, his envoy in Stockholm, Norway’s prime minister, Johan Nygaardsvold, asks him to convey his anger to Swedish prime minister Per Albin Hansson.
“If YOU can arrange a private conversation with Per Albin Hansson, tell him there are two things I want to experience, and those are: that the Germans get hunted out of Norway and, secondly, that I get to live long enough to give him and his entire government a proper dressing down.
“There is is nothing, nothing, nothing I hate with such passion and wild abandon as Sweden – and it is his fault.”