If you were a Norwegian going to bed on the evening of April 8, 1940, you fell asleep in a country at peace with the world, and with the reasonable expectation that you would wake up the following morning in a country still at peace.
After all, Norway was officially neutral in World War II, which had begun seven months earlier, with the German invasion of Poland. Norway had no quarrel with either the Allies or the Axis powers. It had previously safeguarded its neutrality through the long and bitter years of the First World War. [Although it did send a mission to the U.S. to negotiate some relief from the Allied blockade, a mission headed by none other than Fridtjof Nansen.] Norway saw no reason why it could not sit out the Second World War as well.
Norway should have realized, however, that Adolf Hitler was no respecter of neutrality. As William L. Shirer noted in a radio broadcast from Berlin as early as December 7, 1939: “[T]onight we have a semi-official statement severely taking the Scandinavian states to task and telling them in effect that they must choose between friendship with Britain and friendship with Germany. In the German view, so far as I can make it out, a neutral country hasn’t the right to be friendly with both.”
Heck, Hitler wasn’t even a respecter of nonaggression treaties he had previously signed. Examples: Poland (1934); Denmark (1939); and the Soviet Union (1939). In mid-December 1939, just days after Shirer’s broadcast, arch-traitor Vidkun Quisling secured two meetings with Hitler, where he convinced the dictator that if Germany did not soon seize control of Norway, Great Britain was surely planning to, a move that would imperil Germany’s access to Sweden’s iron ore and once again allow the Allies to blockade and slowly strangle the Axis powers. Apparently, Hitler saw no ulterior, self-interested, motive in Quisling’s warning—such as a desire to rule Norway as Hitler’s puppet—behind Quisling’s urgent warning.
So, unbeknownst to you on the evening of April 8, 1940, six German naval task forces, which had been launched at sea five days earlier, were now poised to strike, and occupy, all the key coastal ports of Norway: Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand, and Oslo. Oslo was by far the biggest prize of all: home to the Royal Family, all government ministers, the Storting (Norway’s parliament), and last, but by no means least, Norway’s central bank and the nation’s gold reserves, all 54 tons of it.
Five of the six task forces performed flawlessly, and seized their objectives at dawn on April 9 in a coup de main. The most important task force—Gruppe V—aimed at Oslo, failed miserably, allowing the King and his family, government ministers, the members of the Storting, and the all-important gold supply, to escape to the north.
All this was due to the courageous actions of one man: Col. Birger Eriksen, who commanded an antiquated fort—Oscarsborg—which sat at, and guarded, a bottleneck in the Oslofjord about 20 miles south of Oslo. Firing antediluvian weapons and fielding a force of raw recruits and trainees, Eriksen nevertheless turned back the German spearhead.
Much of this story, and the Norwegian efforts to keep their gold supply out of the grasp of the invading Germans for thirty frenetic days, is recounted in an article I recently published in the Spring issue of World War II Magazine, entitled “Rescuing Norway’s Gold.” Here is a link to the article (you may need to increase your screen size to 100% to read it):WW2P-230400-NORWAY-final (1) (1) (1)
Video Tip: The movie “The King’s Choice,” a 2016 Norwegian film with English subtitles (available on Amazon Prime), opens with the dramatic events at Oscarsborg Fortress on the morning of April 9. The movie is an excellent depiction of the agonizing dilemma faced by King Haakon VII: whether to capitulate and spare his country from destruction, or resist and face the mighty Wehrmacht. He chose resistance, and exile, and the eternal gratitude of his nation.