Famous Swedish Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun used by all sides in World War Two. (Once war came countries which could not get them directly from Sweden manufactured them under license. The gun above is being manned by British troops).
Domestically produced British anti-aircraft manufactured from British designs lacked the effectiveness and versatility of the Bofors 40mm.
A group of Finnish soldiers operating a Bofors gun during the Continuation War, Suulajärvi
Abandoned World War Two bunker in Sweden. This one and many similar bunkers were built both for troop protection and as bomb proof electric substations. Swedes dug deep to protect military assets.
According to the website below, on which I found the picture and the caption: “this is one of more than than fifty underground bunker substations built in Sweden during World War II. Concealing powerful generators, bomb-proof, cooled by underground rivers…”
Recently I read Neither Friend Nor Foe: the European Neutrals in World War Two by J.M. Packard. I’m not certain this is the best book on the subject since there are some mistakes of fact about World War Two. However, what he mentioned about Sweden and its violation of neutrality laws is widely known.
Sweden’s most significant violation of international law applicable to neutral countries in wartime was allowing German troops to transit Swedish territory. As time went on, the Germans ran regular troops trains with military supplies to occupied Norway overland on Swedish territory utilizing the Swedish state rail system.
Many of what we call “Laws of War” along with numerous regulations governing relations between neutrals and belligerent powers in wartime are spelled out in the Hague Convention of 1907 which has been amended many times.
You can find detail at the link below on the Convention Respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land (Hague V); October 18, 1907
The Swedes were in a rough neighborhood and in my view didn’t have a lot of choice but to accede to certain German demands. (The Swedish government did refuse some German demands. However, before officially refusing, they usually mobilized their entire military including reserves and put them on war footing).
German demands which the Swedes acceded to included huge exports of Swedish ball bearings and their famous iron ore which contains more iron per ton than any other iron ore in the world or any other iron ore in Europe. Other demands included Swedish manufactured weapons one being the outstanding medium range Bofors anti-aircraft gun.
The famous Swedish Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun used by all sides in World War Two. (Once war came countries which could not get them directly from Sweden manufactured them under license. The gun above is being manned by British troops).
When you look at the map below you will see the only way Sweden could import food and other vital supplies was through the Swedish port of Goteborg.
If you look at the arrow, you will note that neutral ships carrying freight to Sweden had to go through the Skagerrak, a body of water completely controlled by the Germans. And if the Swedes want to import food and other supplies into Stockholm then you can see the very narrow bodies of German waters ships had to steam through. (Prior to sailing, all neutral ships carrying cargo to neutral countries had to be inspected by Allied contraband control officers and receive a “navicert” showing they were not carrying military cargo. There were other detailed regulations which had to be adhered to before one could receive a “navicert”).
On many occasions after the Germans had demanded something from the Swedes which violated international law, the Swedes would hesitate. The Germans would then graphically remind the Swedish government of the delicate geography of the Kingdom of Sweden by torpedoing Swedish freighters “by accident.” Since these ships were lighted up and steaming with running lights in specified sea lanes and broadcasting their position on a regular basis, sinking one “by accident” would be hard to do.
According to Neither Friend Nor Foe, 40 Swedish freighters were sunk by German U-boats. Switzerland, by contrast, which had had purchased a fleet of merchant ships before the war to ship food to the Italian port of Genoa where it could be offloaded and trans-shipped on trains, didn’t lose one of its freighters.
The Swedes had to think about this interesting philosophical question: in his Second Treatise on Government, English philosopher John Locke wrote that the first duty of a state was to protect its citizens and their property most especially in time of war. So when the British and Americans complained to the Swedes for violating neutrality laws, the Swedes replied that they were surrounded by Germany and German dominated states and the British and Americans were a long way away. Swedish intelligence did favor the Allies, however, and provided useful information.
While Sweden had levied heavy taxes and spent most of its budget on its military during the war years, the Swedish forces would not have been able to stave off a German attack which we now know the Germans had planned to do. So what choice did they have but to give the bare minimum of cooperation they could to the Nazis?
I’m not sure if they had much of a choice. It speaks well for Sweden that if you were an enemy of the Reich and could make to Sweden, they didn’t hand you over to the Germans. This included RAF and USAAF bombers which were damaged in raids over Germany and landed in Sweden. The Jews smuggled out of Denmark went to Sweden where they were protected and cared for although this annoyed the Nazis.
The Swedish military was strong enough to have caused the Germans a lot of trouble and a lot of casualties before succumbing and this persuaded the Germans that there wasn’t a lot of point in attacking Sweden since they could bet what they wanted without warring with the Swedes.
Royal Swedish Air Force Italian made Fiat CR 42 over Sweden circa 1942.
“The CR 42 came into Swedish service via Finland. During the winter war the Finish Air Force ordered a few CR 42 aircraft. They arrived too late to see service in the winter war and for some reason Finns sold them to the Swedish Air Force that was desperately short of modern materiel. The first 12 Finish CR 42s were complemented with more aircraft bought later, in total 72 aircraft did good service at F9 wing at Säve near Gothenburg and proved to be a popular and dependable aircraft even if it wasn’t exactly modern!”
Sweden had a difficult time securing modern weaponry they did not manufacture themselves such as aircraft. Ironically, because they did not want cash from the Germans since Reichsmarks were not convertible into other currencies, Swedes conducted most of their trade with the Third Reich through barter. One of the items they would receive from the Germans in return for their iron ore and other exports were German fighter planes.
“At the end of the action (during which his tank was destroyed in an attack in Sicily July, 1943), I was collected by the German troops with one other survivor. They called, ‘Come, Tommy’… I could not raise my left arm and shouted ‘Wounded!’, which fortunately is similar to the German word and we were taken in to their lines.The soldiers were quite friendly… and took me to the dressing station where my wounds were treated….
Account of Bill Williams of 50th Royal Tank Regiment from
I was sent to an assembly area for repatriation, where I found quite a lot of Americans and Commonwealth troops.. After a few days we were loaded on to a train which took us through Germany to the Swiss border…. When we reached the border, a train the other direction with German wounded crossed the border at the same time.
Our guards were taken off and replaced by Swiss nurses who looked after us until we reached Marseilles where a hospital ship was waiting to take us to England. We landed at Liverpool and trained to a hospital at Loch Neigh which was rather a gloomy old place but it was home!”
Below is an account from a British Merchant Marine officer about his wartime voyage through German waters to Sweden.
SS Arundel Castle which sailed from time to time during World War Two from Liverpool with her British merchant crew through the Baltic to Sweden to embark badly wounded British soldiers.
It seems odd that in the middle of total war between the Allies and Nazi Germany, that such formalities as exchanging badly wounded prisoners-of-war were not only negotiated but carried out. British Merchant Marine officer Peter Guy, cited in Convoy: Merchant Sailors At War 1939-1945 by P. Kaplan and J. Currie , describes an exchange which occurred in the late December of 1944.
He was aboard the British merchant ship Arundel Castle and their destination was Goteborg, in neutral Sweden where the exchange would take place.
“We were granted safe passage, and it was a treat to have portholes open and lights showing. On Christmas Eve 1944, we lay off Gibraltar after embarking the Germans at Marseilles, and everyone who was able gathered on the deck to sing a grand selection of carols….Later we passed through a narrow channel in the Skaggerak into the Baltic, and we could see the faces of the German gunners looking down on us from their gun positions. They weren’t impressed when some of our crew gave the V-sign. Arriving at Goteborg, we were surprised to get a welcome from a German brass band playing on the quayside…The saddest part was when close on a hundred of our lads who had lost their sight were led up the gangway. Theexchange was all over in about three hours and we sailed home to Liverpool.”
It is important to note that both Norway and Denmark were occupied by the Germans at this time so the German gunners he refers to are stationed in those countries.
[Images courtesy ofWikimediaand Wayne Ray & the Windfield Photographic Collection and Archives)
The escort carrier HMS Hunter seen off the island of Santorini in the Aegean in the autumn of 1944. The carrier was part of a small British fleet conducting harassing operations in the Aegean as the Germans pulled out. Royal Navy escort carrier HMS Hunter was named in honor of the sunken destroyer. Although not a well known theater in World War Two a number of bitter and hard fought small unit actions took place in the Aegean. Remnants of the Royal Italian Navy, under British command, were active against their former German allies in this area.
In the article below, from the archives of the BBC, is an interview with one of the handful of British sailors to survive the sinking of the HMS Hunter.
Saturday, 8 March 2008
HMS Hunter: A survivor remembers
On the morning of 10 April 1940, 110 people on board HMS Hunter died when the Royal Navy ship was sunk by German forces during World War II’s first Battle of Narvik, in Norway.
John Hague, now 87, but then a 19-year-old able seaman, was one of just 35 survivors.
[A sailor fresh from a training depot such as Chatham, began as an Ordinary Seaman. Once he knew what in the hell was going on and had mastered the multifarious tasks required of an experienced sailor, he became an AB or “Able Bodied” seaman. The step up was Leading Hand.]
“It was early morning, around four-thirty or five o’clock and I was down, below deck, in the ammunition room feeding munitions from the shell room to the gun room,” he said.
He and the other men on duty felt “a jolt” and realised HMS Hunter had been hit, but they did not know the extent of that damage.
He recalled there was no evacuation siren, no orders to abandon ship. Climbing the steps to the outside world, the men were struck by the chilling winds of the blizzard and an eerie absence of people.
“The first we knew it was bad was when we started to tilt, we went up to the deck and saw that there was no-one around – those that could leave had gone,” said Mr Hague.
When asked what it was like, he retorted: “What’s it like being in a freezer? It was very icy and the blizzard was blowing and we knew we had no choice but to get off the ship.
“I don’t know how long I was in the water, I tried not to think about the cold and I tried to keep moving to keep warm and to stay afloat,” he said.
As the men trod water, a ship appeared and a rope ladder was thrown over its side. Shivering and drenched in a mix of seawater and oil, the men scaled the ladder and clambered aboard the vessel.
“As soon as we got on board, they scrubbed the oil off us and gave us what clothes they could find for us to wear,” Mr Hague said.
“They [the Germans] were alright and I didn’t have time to be frightened, it was all happening so quickly.”
They were taken to Narvik and transferred to a German ship where they signed an agreement promising that when they returned to Britain they would not fight the Germans.
“We had to sign a declaration saying we wouldn’t take up arms against them.
“That really upset me because of course I wanted to go back.”
Mr Hague and the other HMS Hunter prisoners spent two days in the hands of the Germans before they were handed over to the Swedish authorities and interned.