SOE in Scandinavia

Title:                      SOE in Scandinavia

Author:                 Charles Cruickshank

Cruickshank, Charles Greig (1986). SOE in Scandinavia. New York: Oxford University Press

LCCN:    85021501

D810.S7 C77 1986


Date Updated:  September 23, 2015

The author and publisher represent this to be an official history of SOE. Although Denmark and Norway were occupied for most of World War II, their patriot forces aided the Allied cause with the help of arms, equipment, and training supplied by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Based on closed papers, this official history of the SOE in Scandinavia draws on agents’ contemporary reports to describe vital operations in Scandinavia against the Germans, the techniques of the agents, and the role played by the Royal Air Force and the famous Shetland Bus Service in equipping and transporting the patriots. The book also pays a special tribute to the women of the resistance in Denmark and Norway.

In his official history, SOE in Scandinavia, British historian Charles Cruickshank wrote that the “OSS…wanted to establish itself in Denmark, where another factor in the equation would have caused problems. Happily [they] were persuaded…to drop the idea.” (p. 4)12 Danish historian Dr. Peer Hansen tells a different story in Second To None.[1]

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[2]

Chiltern Court, Baker Street. SOE’s Scandinavian sections (located here) faced very different situations in the three Scandinavian countries. The Danes quickly acquiesced to German occupation and were allowed to keep their king and parliament almost intact. The Norwegians resisted from the start, their king fleeing to Britain (with thousands of his countrymen) to set up a government-in-exile. The Swedes remained neutral, avoiding any offense to Germany until certain the Allies would win.

Denmark was the first to be invaded. Hitler tried to convince, the Danes, and probably the British, that German occupation of a fellow Nordic country could be a model of civility. He wanted Danish foodstuffs and industrial goods for his war effort, so the Danes suffered rather little interference in everyday life. Hitler purported to be merely “reuniting” Denmark and Germany (which prompted King Christian X to comment drily that he considered himself too old to rule both Denmark and Germany).

In the absence of a Danish government-in-exile, it was necessary for SOE to work with a small cabal of officers in the general staff of the Danish army (which Hitler had allowed to survive in reduced form). These officers, known as the Princes, advocated great caution; claiming that the actions proposed by SOE would bring massive German reprisals. According to some observers, the Princes may have been more concerned with preserving private property than with protecting civilians. As elsewhere, SOE hoped to form a “secret army” in Denmark to rise on The Day, but the Princes, astonishingly, considered this plan illegal. The Danish military even ordered help denied to British raiding parties, arguing (falsely, I think) that such restraint would encourage the Germans to move their troops from Denmark to Russia and thus make The Day easier for the Allies.

SOE was substantially frustrated in Denmark in the early days. The Princes promised that the Danish army would rise .up when the Allies invaded Denmark, but meanwhile they didn’t want to do anything against the Germans or help the British do anything. Since the Princes argued that they could help by means other than violent resistance, however, they were obliged to provide the British with intelligence. Almost all British intelligence activities in Denmark, and all escape and repatriation activities, were run through SOE (causing SIS some humiliation).

By August, 1943, the Germans had dropped their pretense of a friendly sojourn among their Nordic brothers; they disbanded the Danish military, prohibited the parliament from meeting, and put the king and queen under house arrest. Did this cause the Princes to lead, or at least approve, a massive uprising? No. Three of the four leaders fled to Sweden and the fourth was taken to Germany for questioning. Only then did the remaining lower-level Princes co-operate with SOE in a more active resistance in Denmark.

Norway’s situation was altogether different. SOE trained 650 of the Norwegians who had fled to Britain; 540 ultimately saw service in Norway. (By contrast, SOE trained only 150 Danes from the smaller pool of Danish refugees; only 60 saw service in Denmark.) Norway’s vast and crenelated shoreline was easily accessible by boat, unlike the closely patrolled coast of Denmark. Indeed, so many Norwegian seamen and fishermen escaped to the Shetland Islands that SOE’s transport service between Norway and the Shetlands operated with such frequency and regularity as to be called the Shetland Bus.

Then too, the Norwegians were less subtle in their resistance than the Danes. When the Danish owners made their shipbuilding industry available to the Germans, the Danish workers responded by damaging their output to the extent that little of it could be used. The less sophisticated Norwegians were more forthright, mounting an enthusiastic and resourceful campaign against the enemy from the start. The Heavy Water raid is perhaps the best known of SOE operations in Norway; an SOE team overcame terrain, weather, and German defences to destroy the factory that was producing deuterium for an atom -bomb.[3] SOE-trained Norwegians later completely sank Hitler’s hopes for the bomb when they sent the remaining deuterium to the bottom of Lake Tinnsjo. (These agents resuscitated SOE’s flagging fortunes by succeeding where the RAF’s conventional methods had failed.)

But the Norwegians were unsuited to the mindset of clandestinity, suggests Charles Cruickshank in his book SOE in Scandinavia. He mentions the “simplicity of the people, who had a childlike confidence that no one would give them away”—they often did their secret work openly! The Norwegian resistance was further burdened, near the end of the war, by the need to shift gears; the Wehrmacht’s scorched-earth policy was designed to leave no building standing in their retreat, and the Norwegians, who had been single-mindedly blowing up factories, bridges, and rail lines now needed to prevent the enemy from doing exactly the same.

Sweden; the third of the Scandinavian countries in which SOE operated, maintained a scrupulous but synthetic neutrality. The Swedes grew rich selling minerals and industrial products on a cash-and-carry basis to anybody. But they worried about a German invasion. As long as Germany seemed to be winning, Sweden can fairly be described as having been neutral on the side of Germany.

SOE’s predecessor (Section D) had cultivated Swedish industrialists and bankers before the war and still maintained good relations in military, financial and governmental circles. But sabotage against Swedish industrial output was out of the question, and even propaganda activities had to be polite and mild to avoid strengthening the already substantial pro-German and anti-British sentiment in Sweden. Some in the London Controlling Section urged a more assertive policy towards Sweden, in order to provoke a German occupation that would tie down vast numbers of German troops, also in order to spur a resistance movement that would diminish Sweden’s contribution to the German war effort. But the Joint Planning Staff in London considered a German occupation of Sweden neither likely nor desirable, and SOE confined itself in Sweden to support-and-supply for Norwegian and Danish ops. (MI6 in Sweden was involved in the usual information-gathering by any means possible, as we learn from an anecdote in Sir Peter Tennant’s recent memoir, Touchlines of War[4]. The service found a homosexual tennis-playing agent to debrief the homosexual tennis-playing German agents who were cavorting with the homosexual tennis-playing King of Sweden. All is possible, in love and war.)

[1] Hansen, Peer Henrik (2011). Second to None: US Intelligence Activities in Northern Europe 1943-1946. Dordrecht : Republic of Letters Publishing BV

[2] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 158-162

[3] Note: heavy water (deuterium oxide) has nothing to do with a nuclear bomb, per se. It can be used as a moderator in a reactor, slowing down neutrons, and, if the Germans understood it, which obviously they didn’t, the reaction of slow neutrons with U238 could produce plutonium, which could be used in a nuclear weapon (by chemically extracting it from the reactor fuel.) It is a fable that the Germans were close to a nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, the Norweigian Resistance was marked by incredible bravery. (FLW)

[4] Tennant, Peter (1992). Touchlines of War. Hull, UK: Hull University Press. [LCCN: 93115549]


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One Response to SOE in Scandinavia

  1. Pingback: Second to None | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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