The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 12 No 1 - June 2001

The War in Norway

Thormod Thomassen's experiences in the Second World War

The German Invasion of Norway

The winter war in Finland came to an end on 13 March 1940, and I was then at the front near Salla, a small village in Finnish Lappland. Very soon, we were ordered to move to Kemi, the town where our Corps of Volunteers had its base. After a few days, we were discharged. We were given our pay (not very much) and railway tickets to Stockholm, Sweden, where the recruiting office was located. When we arrived, we enjoyed some marvellous days after the cold and rather tough days in Finland.

On 8 April, I was hooked on the night train from Stockholm to Oslo. On the same day, the newspapers and radio were full of gloomy reports of major German movements of ships steaming along the Swedish coast in a northerly direction. Everybody thought that a German invasion of England, or the isles of the North Sea, Shetland, the Faeroes, or Iceland was underway. Nobody thought of Norway. A few friends of mine and I boarded the train and went to sleep. When crossing the Swedish/Norwegian border at around midnight, we were told by customs officials that German ships had been sunk off the southern coast of Norway and that Norwegian navy vessels had rescued German soldiers who had told them that they were on their way to the city of Bergen to assist us in fighting the British! Nobody in the government paid any attention to this. They were absolutely convinced that Hitler would respect our neutrality and, besides, the British navy controlled the North Sea, did it not? Well, we were unable to sleep after having heard the news. One of us had a radio and, shortly before arriving in Oslo, we heard that German troops had occupied several of our coastal towns. However, heavy fighting was going on in the Oslo fjord, where the coastal batteries had sunk a heavy German cruiser, the Blucher, and damaged two other German vessels. This was unbelievable! The last time we had been at war was in 1814 and, after having lived at peace for 126 years, nobody believed that war could happen here. Well, we learned it the hard way. A little later, we heard that the government had rejected the German ultimatum and had given orders for full mobilisation of the armed forces.

We arrived at the Oslo Central Station early on the morning of 9 April and, as we detrained, we saw German aircraft in masses over Oslo. The anti-aircraft artillery fired at them, but to little effect as far as we could see. I immediately boarded a train bound for the little town where I was due to report in case of mobilisation. Just east of the town was an old fort where my unit, an artillery regiment, had its depot. I was one of the very first to report for duty.

At the time, every battery had a machine gun platoon of six heavy machine guns and I was given command of a platoon and ordered to take position on a hill, actually an old gun position covering the western approaches to the old fort. The guns had long since been removed, but the trenches were perfect for the machine guns, which were positioned for anti-aircraft purposes. At the post, I was met by an old friend, Lieutenant Orderud, who had been at the depot since December 1939 with a small guard detachment. He also had a platoon of six machine guns. (Later in the war, Capt Orderud commanded the Norwegian garrison at South Georgia).

Having learned in Finland that heavier guns were needed against modern aircraft, I had my doubts whether our 8 x 61 mm pieces would have any effect on the enemy. In Finland, I had seen 13 mm machine guns in action and they had been impressive, but here the 8 mm were all we had. From the hill, we could see heavy smoke coming from the place where the German cruisers had been sunk. Oil, pouring from a wreck, had caught alight. We could also see German dive-bombers in action against the coastal fort, which had to give in later that day. We observed German transport aircraft streaming up to the Oslo Airport, loaded with troops. The airport had been occupied after heavy resistance offered by the small number of troops stationed there (about fifty men). A Norwegian fighter squadron, stationed there at the time of the attack, had taken off to meet the attackers. Equipped with Gloster Gladiators, a rather old-fashioned aircraft compared with those of the Germans, the squadron nevertheless succeeded in shooting down a few of the enemy. Some of our aircraft were also shot down. When they ran out of petrol and ammunition, the pilots were forced to break off the fight and to proceed to enemy-held fields.

Suddenly, we saw some enemy aircraft heading towards us. 'Take your positions', we were ordered, and when the aircraft came into range, we were given orders to concentrate on the leading aircraft. Twelve guns opened up. We could see tracers pouring into the target, but nothing happened. Suddenly, dark smoke came out of the starboard engine. The aircraft started to lose altitude, but we did not see it fall. We heard later that it had made an emergency landing on a frozen lake and that many soldiers had been carried out, wounded or killed. The German machines were Ju 52 transport aircraft, apparently heading for a small aerodrome further north. Later in the afternoon, my platoon was ordered back to the depot. We were under strength and expecting reinforcements, but very few came. The Germans had taken a firm hold of Oslo and did their utmost to prevent young Norwegians of military' age from leaving the city. As most of our men were drawn from Oslo and the neighbouring areas, this caused us a lot of trouble. On the other hand, the enemy could not stop the stream of able bodied young men from pouring out of Oslo through the deep forest north of the city. On skis they crossed the forest to join the Norwegian forces which were being raised at various points. In the beginning of April, after a long and hard winter, the snow lay deep.

We were cut off from the rest of the country. All telephone and telegraph communications were routed through Oslo, and cut by the Germans. There was no radio connection and we were completely on our own. I went to sleep late in the evening of 9 April, not knowing what was going on. I knew that I had six machine guns and an under-strength platoon of rather untrained men. They were keen and in good spirits, but how would they stand up against enemy fire? With my Finnish experience, I felt rather confident. In a couple of days, I found out.

The next morning, I and all officers present were ordered to report to the officer commanding to receive new orders. The major briefed us on his knowledge of the situation, which was not much, but he had had contact with the general commanding the south-eastern area of operation, our front. We were told to hold out as long as possible in order to keep the enemy occupied in our area, thus enabling our main forces to assemble in the north and to await support from the British and the French. We were told that we were completely on our own and could expect no help.

To the west of us ran the Glomma, the largest river in the country, which the Germans would have to cross to reach us from Oslo. It was obvious that it was here that we should meet them. I was ordered to deploy my platoon on the river bank in such a position that the machine guns would cover the bridge and its approaches. Before leaving the depot, we replenished our stock of ammunition and I personally drew a Colt .45 (Kongsberg-made pistol, ordinary Army issue) and, not trusting myself with the pistol, I asked for and was given a Krag carbine M712. The bridge was approximately 15 km away and it did not take us long to reach it. After a short recess, I found a good position for the guns. To our left we had Lt Orderud and his guns and a company of infantry. The company commander, a captain who had taken overall command of the position, came up to me and approved my deployment of guns with the exception of one which he preferred to have closer to the bridge. I disagreed, feeling that the new position was too open, but had to obey. I sent my men back to a small cottage about 200 metres behind us to rest and eat, keeping only one man at each gun. It was cold, approximately -15degC, the sky was clear and the stars bright.

The next day was quiet and the news over the radio was very confusing. We had stopped listening to the German-controlled Oslo Station, and tuned in to the Swedish radio instead, which we received loud and clear. We were only about 60 km from the Swedish border. The Swedish radio did not provide much help, since the Swedes were rather in the dark themselves. Nothing happened on 11 April. The day was used to improve our positions, and quite a number of refugees from Oslo were stopped before they were permitted to move on. When interrogated, they informed us that a large number of German troops had arrived in Oslo. This did nothing to improve the morale of the troops. (We found out later that these reports had been highly exaggerated, but at the time we took them at face value). The previous winter had been especially cold, with plenty of snow. Even in the beginning of April, the snow lay waist-deep, making it difficult to move outside in the fields and forests. When we were not working on our positions, we used the day to rest and eat. That night was also a quiet one, although the tension was beginning to be felt, particularly since the men had only sixty days' basic training to their credit. On 12 April, another fine and clear day, German spotter aircraft began to appear and I felt that action was imminent. Arrangements had been made with some trustworthy people on the opposite side of the river to contact us by telephone should they observe the enemy.

Early on the morning of 12 April, we were ordered to fall in. We were told that our observers on the other side of the river had telephoned, reporting a column of Germans headed our way in requisitioned buses. At about 07.00, we saw the column. In front were two buses, followed at a distance of a kilometre by several others. The front vehicles stopped at a roadblock immediately before accessing the bridge. The order 'open fire!' was given at once and, presumably, everyone in those first two buses was killed or seriously injured, since nobody was seen leaving them. The Germans in the other buses went into action, and very soon we received a massive fire, which we returned. The bridge had been blown, though not completely and, while no vehicle could cross, it could be used by men on foot. The Germans made several attacks, but were repulsed, time and again. They must have suffered quite heavy losses, and we had our losses too, not many, but with our few numbers we could not tolerate many. Later in the afternoon, the Germans brought their mortars into action and used them with good results. Regrettably, the machine gun which had been positioned close to the bridge was destroyed. We hung onto our positions for the rest of the day, but began to feel the 'heat'. Lack of sleep and little food did not improve the morale. Shortly before midnight, the enemy fire increased and they managed to get troops across. At 04.00, we began to receive fire from enemy machine pistols and understood that they had crossed in force. We were ordered to retreat and managed to take all the machine guns with us, except the one damaged by mortar fire. My men were worn out, the machine guns very heavy, the night dark, and the enemy all around, but we managed to get away.

Behind a bend in the road, a couple of trucks awaited us. We were driven a few kilometres to the rear, where we were given quarters in a school. Hot food was prepared and wolfed down. Before going to sleep, I had to check my platoon and found that eight men were missing. Years later I learned that two had been killed and the others wounded and taken prisoner.

Early the next morning, after a quick breakfast, we were again sent forward to meet the advancing Germans. Then began a couple of days of delaying actions, which brought us quite close to the Swedish border. The Norwegian 'front' was collapsing on all points and we were ordered to cross into neutral Sweden. It was an extremely sad moment when I led my men over the border, but what could one expect with badly trained men, poorly equipped and with a government which had been led by the axiom 'it can't happen here'.

The Swedes were as unprepared as we had been. Their field army was concentrated in the north, prepared for a Russian attack through Finland. In the south, there were only a few Home Guard units, which we encountered deep in the country's interior. We were disarmed and ordered to proceed to the city of Karlstad, a journey which took us a full three days, constantly marching without an escort. At Karlstad, we were shown our quarters and told that we could move freely inside the city, but that all exits were closed and guarded. My friend, Lt J Orderud and I decided that we had no intention of spending the duration of the war in internment in Sweden, and began to formulate some plan of escape.

The return to Norway

After our arrival at Karlstad, we took a walk in the streets to learn the lay of the land. The main road leading north was heavily guarded by Swedish army personnel. On our way back to the town centre, we met a group of Norwegian students from the Gothenburg Technical University, where many Norwegians came to study. They had come to Karlstad to see if they could be of any assistance to us. Through them, we learned that the Norwegian Consulate General at Gothenburg had ample funds for assisting Norwegian officers and men to escape in order to join the forces fighting in Norway.

The students took us to a coffee shop for a much-needed meal. Later, we were joined by two Swedish girls, whom we asked to check for a guard on the railway. They returned a little later, saying that the station was unguarded and we discussed where we should go. There were many possible places in southern Norway, but news from the Narvik front, way up in the north above the polar circle, was rather optimistic. A north-bound train was due to leave Karlstad early the next morning. We decided to buy tickets to the small Swedish town of Kiruna in Swedish Lappland. In Norway, the railway from Sweden was under German control, as was the town of Narvik, but the country further north remained in the hands of Norwegian forces being mobilised there.

The Swedish girls bought the railway tickets for us, the cost being borne by our student friends, who also took us to a Swedish clothing store to purchase civilian ski pants and sweaters. Early the next morning we boarded the north-bound train without difficulty and began our long and tiresome forty-eight hour journey through Sweden. The train was full of young Swedish men on their way to their regiments. Expecting a German attack, Sweden had declared all-out mobilisation of its forces. At all the major stations en route, the Swedish Lottas (Women's Auxiliary Service Corps) had set up canteens and served the men. No questions were asked and, at every stop, Lt Orderud and I had our fill, free of charge.

Eventually we arrived at Kiruna. We went to a sporting goods shop and bought skiing equipment with money given to us at Karlstad, and caught a bus to the Lappish village of Karesuando, at the river which marks the border between Sweden and Finland. We left the bus a few kilometres from the village to avoid being stopped by Swedish Police. We went cross-country until we reached the river, which was frozen, and we had no difficulty in crossing over into Finland.

No Finnish patrols stopped us. In any case, we carried our Finnish discharge papers. Ahead of us lay a stretch of some 250 km before we would reach the first settlement in Norway. This part of Finland consists of a narrow strip of land which forms a wedge between Sweden and Norway. It is Lappland - an isolated mountain plateau with lots of marshland and lakes the vegetation consisting of shrubby birch trees, which stretches across Sweden, Finland and Norway. The population is very sparse, consisting only of a few Lapps, who live in tents and tend their reindeer herds. After having covered a long stretch (about 30 km) of deep snow cross- country without any sign of a track, we reached a so-called winter trail (used by horse and sleigh transport between Finland, Norway and Sweden). No proper road existed as yet in that area. The trail was an enormous help, as the going was much easier. Eventually, however, we had to settle down for the night.

With some difficulty, we started a fire, but the night was very cold and we did not sleep well. After a breakfast of boiled coffee and crackers, we set off again, reaching a rest house in Norway in the afternoon. The house was owned by the Norwegian Government and operated by a Lapp family, who received us warmly and gave us a bunk to sleep in. We were soon sitting in front of a huge kettle of reindeer meat, and bread and butter. The rest house had a telephone and we were able to contact the Norwegiarn police officer at the Lappish village of Kautokeino, some 40 km away. We learned that a draft of mobilised personnel was preparing to leave for the local battalion at the coast in a couple of days and that, if we hurried, we could join the transport.

The next day, we skied the entire day and reported to the police officer late in the evening. We were given a meal and lodging at the local school, where we found many men assembled for the journey the next day. Most were Lapps, whose knowledge of Norwegian was rather poor (the two languages being quite different).

Early the next morning, after breakfast, the transport was assembled and on its way. It consisted of four or five horses in front of each sleigh and each sleigh could accommodate only a few men. Thus, most of us had to use our skis. At that time, it was not possible to keep the road open in winter for motor transport, as the snow was too deep and snow-storms not uncommon.

We spent the night at another rest house and were able to report to the commanding officer of the battalion the next afternoon. We received a warm welcome and, being the first officers from the south, we had to tell our story of what had happened there. Apart from our personal experiences, there was not much to tell. From the colonel we heard that British and French forces had landed at a couple of places in the south of Norway and that our forces had prevented the Germans from moving out of Narvik. In reality, the Germans had taken possession of the railway from Narvik to the Swedish border, and had advanced some 50 or 60 km to the north of the town before running into heavy opposition from a unit of young 16 to 18 year old cadets from the NCO School which had its training camp in the area. There, the German advance had been stopped.


The colonel told us that he and his troops would be dispatched to the Narvik front as soon as the battalion was assembled. As artillery officers, Lt Orderud and I should report to the field artillery regiment further south, but still north of Narvik. We were welcome to follow the colonel when he and his troops left for the front. Until then, we were given quarters in camp and invited to join the officers' mess for meals. In the meantime, we served as assistants to the adjutant and the quarter-master. It was a hectic time. The battalion received its uniforms and the various companies their arms, and horses were designated to the companies and supply units.

The days passed quickly and suddenly the whole battalion was on parade, ready for inspection. They were a tough-looking lot, not a parade unit but men used to the harsh, tough life of the north. They knew the snow, were good skiers and were skilled in handling their weapons. I was very impressed with their sniping abilities, which were quite unbelievable, at ranges of 500 to 600 metres, using open sights only.

Early one morning, a ship called at the harbour and we began to embark, which was a lengthy process considering all the equipment and horses to be loaded. A second ship was called before we steamed out of the fjord. At the fjord entrance, we were met by two Norwegian navy vessels, sent to escort us to our port of disembarkation. Two full days later, we reached the port, the small town of Harstad, where the army's Northern Command had its headquarters. Taking leave from our friend, the colonel, we reported to the officer of the day at the headquarters and received orders to report to the officer commanding the Field Artillery Regiment, which had its office nearby. There the Second-in-Command welcomed us and told us to report to the OC, then at the regimental training camp and depot, some kilometres to the south. A truck was due to leave for the depot and we were invited to follow it.

On our way out of town, we observed British troops marching in the streets, In front of them was a Scot in a kilt, blowing his bagpipe and marching in the snow with bare knees. I remember wondering how they would manage warfare in the Norwegian winter.

Within a couple of hours, we reached the depot and reported to the colonel who, after hearing our stories, said he was happy that we had been able to escape internment in Sweden. He was short of officers and in need of our services. The regiment required three batteries, and two were almost complete. Seeing from my discharge book from the Scandinavian Corps in Finland that I had been Forward Observation Officer (FOO) of a mortar battery, I was appointed FOO of the 2nd Battery. My friend, Lt Orderud was ordered to the regimental staff.

My battery consisted of eight 75 mm mountain howitzers, actually pack artillery to be drawn by horses, and six heavy machine guns. Early the next day, we began our march to the front. Late that evening, we received orders to follow an infantry battalion up a steep mountainside and across a plateau. The enemy was reported to be on the other side of the plateau. During the march, a blizzard blew up. It became dark and was difficult to keep the battery together. The men were tired and the horses struggled in the deep snow. At the top, we had to bivouac as best as we could. The wind was strong, making it difficult to get the shelters up to afford some protection against the storm. Guards were posted and, as the field kitchens had been unable to keep up with us in the deep snow, we were given orders to open emergency rations. Out of communication with the infantry battalion a few hours ahead of us, we assumed that they had crossed the plateau to take up positions in the valley. Another infantry battalion arrived, also having experienced a very tough march through the snowstorm. It turned out to be the same battalion we had met up with after our escape from the south.

At about 04.00 or 05.00 in the morning, I was called by a sentry who reported heavy firing in the valley. From my observation post, I was able to confirm this. The commander of the infantry battalion soon joined me. It was daylight already at that time of the year, and still snowing. My orders were to be ready to open fire as soon as the enemy had been spotted. A reconnaissance patrol would be dispatched to find out what was happening. A little later stragglers from the infantry battalion in the valley began to come through our lines. They told us that the battalion had taken quarters in some farmhouses. The troops were worn out after the hard march and their commander had been negligent in posting sentries. As a result, the Germans launched an attack which took the Norwegians by surprise. Three company commanders had been killed, the commanding officer was wounded, about a hundred men had been killed or wounded, and 144 had been taken prisoner. A heavy toll indeed, but it taught us a valuable lesson.

By the next morning, the snow had stopped and from my OP I had a wonderful view of the valley below, the road through the valley, and the mountains on the other side. There was German traffic on the road, and we spotted enemy machine gun and mortar positions. My commanding officer and the commander of the infantry battalion discussed the situation at my post. My battery commander joined the discussion. Our forces were going to attack, and I received my orders. At the designated hour, we opened fire on the machine gun positions and, after some time, the enemy was forced to move their remaining machine guns to new positions. Then our infantry went in and pushed the enemy back after some engagements. The Germans were good fighters, but our troops mastered their skis better and generally outmanoeuvred the enemy from their positions. The fighting was not hard, and casualties on both sides were slight.

Gradually, the Germans began to fall back, which meant that my battery had to change its position. This was hard work for the battery, often entailing manhandling the guns into a new position, but sometimes the gun crews had to dismantle the guns and carry them in to position. The guns were pack artillery, meant to be carried by horses, but the snow was so deep and the terrain so difficult that horses could not be used. We in the observation post had an easier time, although we were entirely dependent upon our field telephone, being without radio communication. Our linesmen struggled to lay the lines, of which each battery had only some 1 000 metres if I remember correctly. This meant that we had to position our guns fairly close to the OP. The previous summer, I had experimented with radios at the School of Artillery and how I now wished for them, primitive and heavy as they were. The conditions became cold and wet during the day as the snow thawed, only to freeze again that night. In the barren mountains, there was no wood for making fires and since the field kitchens remained far behind, we very seldom received a hot meal. Most of the time we had bread, butter and tinned food, with water to drink, and no tea or coffee. The situation improved later, when we were issued with Primus stoves.

To our right were the French troops, the Alpine Chasseurs, good soldiers but not used to the cold, harsh climate north of the Arctic Circle. I did not see any British troops, but heard that they were heavily engaged on the sea front. The British put up a poor show in action in southern Norway, where they were even worse off than our own forces, who, at least, were used to our climate. The British were mainly territorial troops with very little proper training apart from, I assume, parade ground drill. This may be useful for raw recruits, but before being committed to real action, they need a minimum of field training and practice in firing a rifle. Given decent training, the Tommy is a very good, tough soldier, one of the best.

Our advance continued. We crossed rivers and in front of us lay our objective - the railway to Sweden. We were so close that we saw the mountain peaks on the other side of the railway, one of which is called Spionkop. I have, as yet, found no explanation for the name, except that the railway was constructed in 1900, when news of the war in South Africa would have been the topic of conversation.

One day, we received a signal that Norwegian and French forces had captured the city of Narvik, but news from Europe was alarming. The German offensive in the west had begun, the Netherlands and Belgium had been overrun, and the Germans were continuing their victorious advance into France. They seemed to be unstoppable. The Allies needed their troops in France and suddenly we were left alone. Short of everything, ammunition, guns, food, uniforms and so on, we had to capitulate. Our navy left for England and our King and government followed to keep the Norwegian flag flying there. We were astounded. After being in the field for nearly two months, we had pushed back the enemy so far that we felt that we had victory in our hands. We felt bitter and it was one of the saddest days of my life. We, the volunteers from southern Norway, were ordered to cross the border into Sweden. Having had some trouble with my eyes (snow blindness), I was checked by a Swedish army doctor and sent to recuperate at a military hospital in central Sweden where I remained for about ten days - in clean sheets, hot baths and with good food, but worrying about what I should do. I had no intention of giving up.

Upon discharge from the hospital, I was given a railway ticket and ordered to report to the Swedish commandant of the camp where my original unit from Norway was interned. Instead, I went to Stockholm with the intention of contacting the Norwegian military attaché there. Perhaps he could furnish me with some means of escaping from Sweden to join the free Norwegian forces then being raised in England. In view of the German occupation of Norway, Norwegian military personnel bound for England were sent on a rather long route around the globe: From Sweden to Russia, along the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostock, from there to Japan and then across the Pacific Ocean to an established transit camp in Canada and, eventually, across the Atlantic Ocean to England.

The Norwegian military attaché in Stockholm was sympathetic, but since I was an army officer (not in the navy or the air force) and unable to pay for my own transport (I had only a few kroner in my pocket), he could not help me. He took my name and advised me to report to the officer in charge of civilian Norwegian refugees, who were gradually being repatriated to Norway. Noticing my disappointment, he put me in contact with an Embassy officer who was the head of military intelligence. This officer told me to return to Norway, where I would be contacted by a reliable person.

Thus, with a group of Norwegian civilians, I returned to Norway by train. After crossing the border, we stopped at the first town and were checked by German police. It was a very sad moment to see the German flag flying over the old Norwegian border fortress of Fredricksten, symbol of our age-old freedom. A few hours later we arrived in Oslo. The city appeared much the same, except that there were German soldiers in the streets.

With insufficient money to pay for the bus ride to my home on the outskirts of the city, I walked. (Had I explained my circumstances to the bus conductor, I am quite certain that I would have been given a free ride, but I was too proud to do that). When I rang the doorbell of my parent's home, my mother opened the door and nearly fainted when she saw me. Except for a few letters from Finland, she had no idea what had happened to me. She cried. When my father came home, we sat long into the night as I told them of my experiences.

After a few days, I went back to the university to continue with my studies. In the canteen, I met up with old fellow students, most of whom had taken part in the campaign in various places. It was interesting to hear their stories, as I had been fighting in the south and the north, and they had been more involved on the western and central fronts. Most of us were reserve officers; the others had fought as privates or volunteers. The overall situation appeared bleak for the Allies as the Germans appeared invincible. Only England stood fast. In Norway, life seemed to continue as normal. A German Reichskommissar was in charge, residing at the manor of our Crown Prince. He had his offices in the parliament building and his word was law. Believing that they had won the war, the Germans took no notice of the clandestine work being carried out amongst the Norwegians, particularly the students. We would not accept that we were beaten and went around the country collecting the arms which the Norwegian forces had spirited away before they had to give up the fight. A substantial number was found, which we greased and hid in barns, caves and other remote places. We even hid them in the towers of churches, which may seem sacrilegious today, but at the time we thought an excellent hiding place. Everyone listened to the Norwegian services of the BBC until the Germans confiscated all radios. Even after this, news filtered through via 'illegal' routes.

Very soon I personally began to feel desperate. While the war was continuing outside Norway, I was at the desk, trying to study medicine. Then, one day in February 1941, I was contacted by a person who was sent by the intelligence officer at our Embassy in Stockholm. Given specific tasks to perform, I changed, in the eyes of my professors, from being a well-disciplined and promising young student to a lazy one who often missed lectures and appeared very sleepy and distracted at those which I did manage to attend.


The Germans in Oslo were confident of their position. The Netherlands and Belgium had fallen into their hands after three weeks of fighting. More than half of France had been occupied and the British Expeditionary Force appeared to have been pushed off the continent. It seemed only a matter of time before the Germans would be installed in London. The Norwegian newspapers, under strict German control, wrote exactly that, but the general population refused to believe it. Although our campaign had been short, 9 April to 9 June 1940, we felt that the war was not over, Britain was still free and we followed the Royal Air Force fight against the Luftwaffe with more than keen interest. Until our radios were confiscated by the enemy, we listened to BBC and to the Swedish News and kept ourselves informed.

Sometime in the autumn of 1940, I was approached by somebody with the right credentials, who asked me to collect information on German shipping in and out of Oslo. My first report contained details of the number of ships, their cargo, and any ships undergoing repairs at the dockyards. This went on for some time, not very heroic, but I felt I was doing something of value. Where the information went after I handed it to my contact, I had no idea until 1959, when I learned that the recipient was a retired Norwegian naval commander who had established an intelligence network immediately after the German invasion. The network remained operational throughout the war, with the information reaching British intelligence via the embassy in Stockholm. Among the information to travel by this route was news that 'heavy water' (used in the development of the atomic bomb) was produced in fair quantities at the Norse Hydro Factory in Rjukan, a small town in the middle of southern Norway.

German counter-intelligence was slack, particularly as, in hindsight, I do not consider myself to have been particularly careful. Presumably the Germans paid me little heed as in 1940, early 1941, they were absolutely confident that victory in the war was theirs.

In the months of April, May and June, we noticed a substantial increase in the German transport of men and equipment and knew that something was about to happen. We thought that they might be planning an attack on neutral Sweden and intensified our reporting. In June, we understood. Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

The Germans strengthened their counter-intelligence and it became increasingly difficult to operate in and around the port. My superiors also feared that my activities might have been observed and changed my assignment to gathering information on anti-aircraft artillery positions in and around Oslo. This task was less challenging and very soon I had to complain that I had nothing to do. I was then given a crack course in meteorology, without any explanation. In late 1942, I was ordered to establish a meteorology station on a high plateau in central Norway. I was introduced to a man called Trygve, who would be my radio operator. (In civilian life, he was employed as a telegraphist for the Norwegian State Railways). Trygve was somewhat older than me and employed at a railway station which skirted the plateau. For some years, he had had a small cabin situated at a lake on he plateau, which was barren. The cabin had no heating except for firewood, which Trygve had to stock every autumn. Being in the employ of the railways, he had been able to 'spirit' away an ample supply of coal.

The northern end of the lake bordered a road which led to the west coast. Trygve had managed to bring the fuel to the shore of the lake and from there he had brought it to the cabin by rowing boat. Since petrol was strongly controlled by the Germans, the task of transporting all this firewood and coal to the cabin was quite a formidable one.

Eventually we were installed in the cabin. By the end of December 1942, our meteorological station was set up and we started radioing our reports to London. Since most of Europe was under the control of the Germans, the Royal Air Force and later the United States Air Force were desperate for weather reports. The northern European weather conditions are greatly influenced by those in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Thus, a chain of weather stations was established in a sort of semi-circle stretching from occupied Norway to the Norwegian territories in the Arctic under the control of free Norwegian forces (the islands of Jan Mayn and Spitzbergen, both with a Norwegian garrison) and then on to Greenland.

For the two of us in the small cabin began a life of boring routine. Observations were taken and transmitted. The winter was extremely cold and stormy. Airdrops from England were supposed to sustain us, but the weather was such that flying was often impossible. We ran short of food and had to rely on what nature could provide. Luckily, Trygve had 'spirited away' a carbine after the operation in 1940 and he also had a stock of hard-nosed army ammunition. We filed down the points to modify the ammunition into some type of hunting bullet, and succeeded in shooting a couple of reindeer, of which there were large herds in the area. I later learned that filing the points could be dangerous, but the bullets served their purpose.

Sometimes we succeeded in getting food from the railway station where our contact man stayed. But the station was far off; it took us two days back and forth (and in those days I could really ski).

The winter passed with little incident, apart from the weather. One day, we received a signal to abandon the cabin and get away without delay. The radio must be hidden as best as possible. No explanation was given, but clearly something had happened, or was happening, at least within a couple of 100 km from us. It was the end of February 1943. We left the cabin and hid the radio beneath some stones. It was very windy and we had a strenuous march ahead of us. We were both good skiers and, after many hours, we reached the station where our contact man was living. It was late in the evening and very dark. The station was blacked out, but we heard German voices. Very carefully we approached the house of 'our' man. Wearing white camouflage suits, we felt invisible in the darkness. We heard voices, speaking Norwegian, from inside the house, but were afraid to give ourselves away. After a while, a door opened and 'our' man came out. Very quietly we attracted his attention. He told us that the enemy was out in force following a major sabotage action in the southern end of the plateau, and the Germans were checking everyone entering or leaving the area in their search for the saboteurs. The station was located on the highest point of the railway between Norway's two biggest centres, Oslo in the south and Bergen on the west coast. As the only link between the two cities, the railway was of utmost strategic importance. In spite of the weather (very stormy with considerable snowfall), the Germans declared that the railway must be kept open. For this reason, a number of Norwegians were pressed into service as crew for keeping the line passable for trains. The Germans checked all passengers, but did not bother with the crew. 'Our' man, being the foreman of the 'snow' crew, got us in amongst the workers and, armed with shovels and spades, we got through the enemy checkpoints.

When we reached the station down in the valley, Trygve and I were 'signed off'. We were received by Trygve's brother, he himself also an employee of the railways. After a much needed bath and a good night's rest, I was put on board a goods train bound for Oslo, where I arrived the next day without any difficulty. In Oslo, I reported back for duty and was given some minor intelligence jobs, which kept me busy all summer. In the autumn, my closest contact was shot dead in the street by the Gestapo and I had to go into hiding - in the house of a professor at the University of Oslo located close to but not inside the university complex. Behind the house was a big field, which bordered on miles and miles of forest.

On 1 December 1943, bored to death of being cooped up inside the house with nothing to do but read the professor's books, I decided to go for an extensive cross-country skiing trip in the forest. Upon returning and just before entering the field, I noticed that German soldiers had surrounded the university. By making a long detour, I entered the professor's house from the rear. The professor had just returned from the university and his news was grave. The Germans had arrested all male students and nobody knew where they were going to be taken. (After some time, they were sent to a concentration camp in Germany). A number of students had managed to get away and the leadership of the underground movement decided to send them into exile in neutral Sweden.

My superiors were also of the opinion that I should be sent across the border, particularly as I knew too much of what was going on and might already be known to the Gestapo. By being subjected to the usual Gestapo methods, I might be a danger to those with whom I had been working. On a very dark night a few days before Christmas, I crossed the border with some students and a doctor, his wife, and two small children. The trip was eventless but strenuous as the snow was deep and we, in turn, had to carry the children.

Early in the morning we reached a Swedish Army guard hut, where we were well received and given breakfast. After being interrogated by the Swedish Police, we were sent to a Norwegian refugee centre run by the Norwegian government-in-exile. I spent Christmas Day there and, on the following day, I was given railway tickets with orders to report to the military attach&eacuite; of Embassy staff and taken to a hotel. The next day I reported to the attaché, was debriefed and given a few days leave with orders to present myself at a manor some miles north-east of Stockholm.

A short note about the conditions in Sweden is necessary before continuing. The country was neutral and, in the beginning of the war, they stuck very much to their neutrality. Although very much in sympathy with Norway and the cause of the Allies, Sweden did not dare to do anything which might give the Germans an excuse to invade. By 1943, after the German collapse at Stalingrad and the Allied victory in North Africa, Sweden was in a much stronger position. Her armed forces were also in top condition after being equipped with new weapons and having received vigorous training. The Norwegian government-in-exile was thus permitted to call in all male refugees to undergo so-called 'police' training in Sweden. This was, of course, regular military training. At the time, there were about 30 000 Norwegian refugees in Sweden, the majority of whom were men of military age.

I presented myself at the manor and was told that I should be given infantry training at a course intended to introduce officers of the old Norwegian army to new Swedish arms and tactics based on experiences from the war in Finland as well as the continent. I soon found myself in a Norwegian army camp with sixty other officers from all parts of Norway. Most of these were infantry officers, with a few from other branches of the army. We were equipped with uniforms and small arms (incidentally, the rifle was a Mauser M96) and then began an intensive training period, lasting three months. Our instructors were Swedish and Norwegian officers from the Norwegian forces in England. When the course ended, we were well trained and dispatched to our units. I found myself with a battalion in northern Sweden.

Then began the task of whipping the battalion into a fighting unit. The men ranged in age from seventeen to 45, some having received military training previously, some being veterans of the 1940 campaign, and even including an ex-soldier from the French Foreign Legion. The training lasted through 1944, and by 1945 we were a good battalion.

There were nine Norwegian battalions in Sweden. Three were sent to northern Norway where the enemy retreated ahead of Soviet forces which had entered Norway after chasing the Germans out of Russia. The Russian advance stopped and our troops took over. Back in Sweden, the rest of us had a tough time, wanting to go home, but being kept back. According to the plan, we were to be used in southern Norway, but it was obvious that the end of the war would come soon and we wondered whether Norway would be the last country to be liberated. There were nearly 400 000 German troops in Norway and we did not know what they would do. Would they continue to fight after the whole of Germany had been occupied and German forces had stopped fighting on the continent?

In March 1945, I was suddenly ordered to report to the Norwegian military attaché in Stockholm. There had been rumours that an artillery regiment was to be formed and I was sure that I was to be posted to that unit. Instead, much to my surprise, I learned that I was to be sent to England, no explanation provided. A few days later I was on board an RAF aircraft, bound for Scotland. We left Stockholm late in the evening and, after having flown over occupied Norway, we crossed the North Sea and landed without any difficulties at an airport in Scotland. My orders were to report at the Norwegian Army Command in London. On arrival there, I was told that I was one of four Norwegian officers selected to undergo a course at the British School of Artillery at Lark Hill, outside Salisbury. At the School, I was informed that the course was a refresher course, designed to train British and allied officers on the latest use of artillery in modern warfare. On passing out of the course, we would be able to act as battery commanders and to conduct all officer's tasks required at battery level.

My fellow officers on the intensive training course came from Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium, those from the two latter countries having been liberated the previous autumn. We were all keen students. We knew that the war was coming to an end and one day in May 1945, while we were having a firing exercise on Salisbury Plain, a dispatch rider reported to the instructor. The instructor called us together and said: 'Gentlemen, I have just been informed that the Germans have unconditionally surrendered. The exercise goes on. We have a job to do in the Far East.' Finally, the war was over, but the course continued until March 1946, after which I left England for Norway. (During the course I had been granted two weeks' leave in June/July 1945 to fly home to see my parents again and to walk freely in the streets of Oslo without fear of being hauled in by the Gestapo. That summer had been one of the finest ever experienced and everyone had been happy that the war was over and happy to be alive). I met many of my old friends from the campaign in Norway in 1940, some of whom (such as Lt Orderud) had served abroad and others who had joined the underground movement at home. Many did not feel comfortable at home in Norway after the war, and quite a number went abroad - to Australia, Africa, North and South America.

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