Norway and Germany

I recently traveled to Norway and as a minor military historian was fascinated by their historical entanglement with Germany. I was not able to travel to see the coastal fortifications in the Northern part of the country that I wrote about here.

Balestrand and The Kaiser

Balestrand is a beautiful little community along a large fjord (Sogenfjord)in Norway. While we were there I stayed at the Hotel Kviknes, which has a long tradition as a fine tourist hotel.

The Kaiser brought a portion of his fleet up the fjord with him while he visited Norway as a tourist. I saw a photo from a local guide but I can’t seem to find one on the internet. He had a touring vessel and it looked like a couple of light cruisers but am not certain.

This is the chair in the Hotel Kviknes where the Kaiser supposedly sat when WW1 was declared. There was a young couple having a drink at the table and they were nice enough to let me get a photo of the bottom of the chair which was marked accordingly.

Stalheim Hotel and the Kaiser

The Stalheim Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in Norway, known for its fabulous views as you can see below.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was the Emperor of Germany at the start of WW1. For twenty years in a row the Kaiser visited this hotel in Norway during the summer. Below is a monument to the Kaiser, which apparently is misspelled (per the manager of the hotel, who gave us an excellent historical tour).

This is a view of the Stalheim hotel today, which has been substantially rebuilt since the world war I era.

Bergen and WW2

The Germans attacked Norway in 1940. Here is a solid summary of the campaign at wikipedia. Per wikipedia the German soldiers had orders not to shoot unless fired upon; apparently they hoped that the citizens in Norway (and Denmark) would view them favorably. This likely factored in with their racial politics, and the long history that Norway and Germany shared.

But the Norwegians did resist. While they were ultimately defeated (and caught mostly unawares by the invasion) they had a major victory with the destruction of the Blucher, a heavy cruiser with 8″ guns which was damaged by shore batteries and then sunk by land based torpedoes. At that engagement they also damaged the pocket battleship Lutzow, which had to reverse away full speed from the guns. This is a photo of a print on the wall in the Hotel Kviknes.

You can get a fantastic overhead view of Bergen if you take a cable car called the Fliobanen. I went up there looking for evidence of the German u boat pens that were constructed in Norway (and to have a beer and be a regular tourist, too). Apparently there are some remnants (it is damn hard to get rid of the immensely strong concrete structure) used by the Norwegian navy today but I wasn’t able to find them.

The Norwegian merchant marine made very large contributions to the Allied war effort. After the fall of Norway in 1940 their ships sailed with the Allies under the name “Nortraship“. One side of the “Sailor’s Monument” in Bergen contains an engraving of a merchant ship with sailors drowned in the cold sea.


After Bergen fell quickly to the Germans the Norwegian army regrouped (and were receiving British and French help to the north) and made a stand at Voss. We visited there (it is a quick train ride from Bergen) and when I inquired about history the guide said that Voss was blasted by the Germans and ruined because the men made a stand there. Today it is very attractive and you can take a cable car up to the ski resort atop the mountain.

On Occupation

When researching the war effort there are many references to the resistance against the German occupiers. The famous “heavy water raid” in 1943 which was rated as “the most successful sabotage effort in WW2”. There were many other books about individuals who resisted and / or escaped over the border to Sweden.

Due to the high amount of German soldiers present in Norway any acts of concerted resistance would have been suicide. I am not aware of a “standard” for occupation but in terms of soldiers as a percent of citizens Norway has to rank near the top of the list. There were hundreds of thousands of German military personnel in Norway at various points of campaigns with under 4 million inhabitants, a ratio that made serious resistance efforts impossible.

The biggest contribution that Norway made to the Allied cause, in my opinion, was the fact that the German navy was seriously degraded upon completion of the Norway campaign. Per wikipedia

At sea the invasion proved a significant setback. For the Kriegsmarine the campaign led to crippling losses, leaving the Kriegsmarine with a surface force of one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers and four destroyers operational. This left the navy weakened during the summer months when Hitler was pursuing plans for an invasion of Britain.

Cross posted at LITGM

15 thoughts on “Norway and Germany”

  1. There were some collaborators, too – the Quislings . Europe’s dirty little secret from Greece to Norway.

    Years ago while in the Army serving in Germany I had a friend who ran the photography lab that we could use.

    Willi Schubert had an interesting life – drafted he talked of the heady days of marching into Paris – then they sent him to Narvik (Norway) where he said life was relatively easy.

    Then he was sent to the Russian Front and eventually captured. Of the 100,000 surrendered at Stalingrad only about 6,000 returned in 1955 – Willi was one of them.

    He was a diesel mechanic, and the Russians needed diesel mechanics.

    During that Army time I had a nice trip into Norway – took the Oslo- Bergen railway – 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle – what scenery – picture a snow-covered moon punctuated with occasional huts.

    We stopped about midway (was it Voss?) took a small train down 2-3000′ to a little town called Flam – it was isolated them but now on the tourist path I’m told.

    Beautiful postcard picture town on the end of a fjord.

    Stayed at a family’s house – I remember waking up with light – it was July – thinking it was time to get up and it was 2AM.

    The fjord was glass smooth –

    I have to send this on to my Norwegian friend.

  2. I’m reading “Lions of July”, which says the Kaiser had started back before the war began, depending on how you date the start.

    Wilhelm was really a nut and his senior advisors used to not tell him everything.

    Medical history had a large hand in world history here because his father died of cancer of the larynx due to delay in diagnosis. Wilhelm’s mother was an English princess and she insisted on English doctors in spite of the fact that English surgeons were well behind German surgeons.

    Wilhelm’s grandfather was heartbroken by his son’s illness and the prospect of his grandson’s succession.

  3. There is a great chapter on Bergen in the Middle Ages in the book The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern (1889), a terrific book I read last year.

    As to the raid on the heavy water plant, there is a good secion on that in another one of my favorites, Commando Country by Stuart Allen, with a good discussion of the various Allied troops who passed through the Highland training camps, including the Norwegian contribution to Allied special operations in World War II.

    The book Viviens by Mary Vivien Hughes is a memoir about the author’s mother and aunt as young women in Mid-Victorian England. Her aunt was engaged to a Norwegian ship-owner and there is a lot about rural and seafaring life in Norway in the mid-19th Century. Highly recommended. This book is too little known. It is a sort of prequel to Mrs. Hughes trilogy A London Family: 1870-1900, which is one of my all-time favorites. It is the best book I know to capture the feel of daily life in Victorian England among normal, middle class people, in other words, not the dirt poor, or the very rich, but people more or less like ourselves.

  4. Michael’s comment left me wanting more info on ol’ Kaiser Bill; any suggestions on a good biography of him?

  5. I strongly suggest the chapter on the Kaiser in Winston Churchill’s Great Contemporaries. Short and to the point. My favorite thing in the Kaiser. And, not surprisingly from Churchill, the whole book is good.

    One problem with Wilhelm as the subject of a biography is that he was not a rational actor. So, decisions emerged from the murk of his inner mental world, filtered through his entourage of hangers on and lickspittles, then manifested themselves through lobbyists and politicians and bureaucrats into something approximating actual policy. In other words, it is hard to follow his life and actions because none of it makes sense. The foreign policy of Napoleon III — so called, a man unworthy of the name — is similar: A destructive, incoherent jumble, grown men playing with armies and navies like children playing with pistols and hand grenades. Something very bad was sure to happen, and it did.

    To see what sensible people confronted with this mess act like, take a look at Zara Steiner, Britain and the Origins of the First World War (1977), which is brilliant.

  6. I am not aware of a “standard” for occupation but in terms of soldiers as a percent of citizens Norway has to rank near the top of the list.

    For some time the Channel Islands had one German per three inhabitants. (If my memory is right.)

  7. Thanks, Lex.

    Now I am more intrigued. My prior understanding of Wilhelm was that he was vainglorious and militaristic, but your reference echoes the claims cited in Wikipedia (yes, I know) that Wilhelm may have not have been “all there,” shall we say.

    Which makes the build up to WWI all the more disturbing, albeit morbidly fascinating. We describe rogues like Kim Jong-il or the late Gaddafi as “madmen” (when they’re probably more accurately deemed gangsters) – but what if Wilhelm actually was certifiably mentally ill, if not outright incompetent?

    And some say history is dull.

  8. I found a quote from the Churchill essay:

    No one should judge the career of the Emperor William II without asking the question, ‘What should I have done in his position?’ Imagine yourself brought up from childhood to believe that you were appointed by God to be the ruler of a mighty nation, and that the inherent virtue of your blood raised you far above ordinary mortals. Imagine succeeding in the twenties to the garnered prizes, in provinces, in power and in pride, of Bismarck’s three successive victorious wars.
    Imagine feeling the magnificent German race bounding beneath you in ever-swelling numbers, strength, wealth and ambition; and imagine on every side the thunderous tributes of crowd-loyalty and the skilled unceasing flattery of courtierly adulation. …
    It is shocking to reflect that upon the word or nod of a being so limited there stood attentive and obedient for thirty years the forces which, whenever released, could devastate the world. It was not his fault; it was his fate. …

    As we say these days, Churchill’s assessment is “nuanced” but nonetheless believable.

    The other problem is that Germany was a modern country in terms of science, engineering, technology, medicine, military power — yet it was in a retarded state politically, with institutions that were not adequate to guide the country through the hazards of diplomatic and military confrontation. There were not brakes on the juggernaut. The British cabinet, parliament, press, public, foreign office and the entire interwoven network of leadership, was much more sophisticated, more competent, more astute in all its dealings. The Germans were like an unguided missile. Pathetic, really. As John Lukacs said, this should have been a century of German — and Judaeo-German — greatness and leadership. Instead, the 20th Century was a butcher shop, and the Germans were the butchers.

  9. Lex –

    I must say I am impressed with your historical knowledge. I had always thought that the Battle of Midway was crucial because it put the Japanese Navy on a totally defensive posture (which it did of course) with the loss of 4 carriers but never thought about our WW2 production – and the huge threat we posed once those carriers and battleships left the drydocks – and you were right about such a huge production of Navy ships –

    In wartime one rarely thinks of the production in the “pipeline” but in most cases that is what wins – or loses – wars.

    To see a picture of the Navy ships surrounding Iwo Jima was impressive.

    Bill (incognito – at work – off the clock but waiting for my flash drive to fill)

  10. The moment that the Pax Brittanica ended and the Pax Americana began was the passage of the Naval Construction Bills in the Summer of 1940. Before that, Britain had the world’s largest Navy. Our industrial power had not been translated into military or naval power. Once we started that ship construction in 1940 we set out on a course that we have been on ever since. Few people recognize that moment as the in flexion point, in fact, I am the only person I have seen say so, but that is exactly what it was.

  11. Bill/Anon – “In wartime one rarely thinks of the production in the “pipeline” but in most cases that is what wins – or loses – wars.” Sounds like you have an interest in production and supply in wartime and rightly so – supply is one of the least understood and most important parts of modern warfare. If I am correct, you need to get a copy of “Beans, Bullets and Black Oil” by Worrall Reed Carter. It is the story about how we actually moved that immense amount of stuff from the states to the Pacific Theater. I found my copy at a garage sale for fifty cents and it is one of my favorite all time books and will be staying in my permanent collection.

  12. Thanks Dan – I’ll check it out. A great set of books on WW2 is by Max Hastings – Armageddon deals with the European Theater from 1944 to the end of the war.

    One thing that stood out was his statement that had the 8th AAF continued pounding the German petroleum supplies and production the war “could” have ended in late 1944.

    It was the same thinking that caused us to hit their ball bearing production at Schweinfurt to such horrendous losses. Find a choke point and pound it.

    The Pacific War, US Navy exempted, always took a distant back seat to the European Theater as far as supplies were concerned, and I believe the Marines were hardest hit. I think some units were still using old Springfield rifles into 1943, but I could be mistaken there.

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