DENMARK IN WWII

Danish troops at Bredevad on the morning of the German attack. Two of these soldiers were killed in action later that day.

German Armored Car in Jutland, Denmark, 1940

Combat Motor Bikes

In 1939 neutral Denmark agreed to a nonaggression treaty with Nazi Germany. That pact did nothing to prevent Adolf Hitler from invading Denmark on April 9, 1940, in Operation WESERÜBUNG. The German assault began at first light with Fallschirmjäger drops around key bridges. Copenhagen was occupied within a few hours. At the time of the German invasion, Denmark had an army of 14,000 men, 8,000 of whom had been recently drafted. The small navy had only 3,000 men and 2 coast defense warships (built in 1906 and 1918). The air force, split between the army and navy, had 50 obsolete aircraft. The German invasion, mounted before dawn on 9 April 1940, was over in only 2 hours. The government ordered a cease-fire after the occupation of Copenhagen, leaving insufficient time for the government or King Frederik IX to get abroad.

Germany invaded Norway on 9 April 1940, after having struck Denmark and seized its two major airfields. The Luftwaffe used the bases to ferry troops and supplies into Norway— the first major airlift of the war.

The occupation was unusually lenient, partly because of the attitude of the local German commander. In addition, in specious Nazi “race” theory, Danes were considered full “Aryans.” Danes did not establish a government-in-exile or present an active initial resistance to the occupation. Instead, there was broad collaboration with the occupiers, though under subdued protest by many. The Danes upheld a legal fiction until late summer 1943 that they were still neutral rather than occupied. That gave Germany what it wanted: quiet and order in Denmark. It also helped relations with Berlin that the collaborationist government of Eric Scavenius signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, while some Danes volunteered to serve in the Waffen-SS. On the other hand, and to his lasting credit, King Christian X (1870-1947) defied Nazi orders to round up Danish Jews and refused to collaborate with more brutal aspects of the occupation.

In September 1943, the Gestapo arrived in Denmark and initiated a Nazi reign of terror that lasted to the end of the war. Some 6,000 Danes were sent to concentration camps, and hundreds more were executed outright. Many Danes sought refuge in Sweden.

Many Danes followed that lead: some heroically and successfully hid the majority of the small Danish Jewish community from the Gestapo, then helped many Jews escape to Sweden in October 1943. Danes of all walks of life actively resisted German efforts to round up Jews. Although Best ordered the arrest of all Jews in Denmark, more than 7,000 escaped the Nazi net; 5,500 were transported to Sweden by boat. Only 472 were caught and sent to Theresienstadt. Danes did not forget those who had been sent there; they regularly sent packages of foodstuffs and clothes, and only 52 of the Jews there perished.

A more active resistance movement grew slowly, notably after an “August Uprising” of strikes and other unrest in 1943 unsettled the tacit bargain with Germany, a deal in any case deteriorating from the moment it was struck. The Germans took over local administration on August 19. The small Danish Navy scuttled its ships or steamed them at flank speed for neutral Swedish ports. Most of the merchant marine had already joined the Western Allies in 1940, either out of free choice or more often as a result of chance location overseas at the outbreak of the naval war. Danish ships were already steaming in Allied convoys in the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-1945), and some Danes died at sea in the merchant marine.

There were Danes who took up cause against Germany from the beginning. On the German conquest of Denmark, 232 Danish merchant ships were at sea with some 6,000 seamen. Most of the latter helped to crew ships in the Atlantic and Arctic convoys. Ultimately, 1,500 of these men lost their lives, and 60 percent of the fleet was lost. By 1944, Danes formed the crews of two British minesweepers. Another thousand Danish nationals served with various Allied forces fighting the Axis powers.

But only a handful of Danes fought in Western armed forces. Among Denmark’s overseas territories, the Faeroe Islands were occupied by Britain in 1940. In 1944 Iceland declared independence from Denmark, under heavy Anglo-American pressure: it was already in use as a naval base. As Allied victory approached, a small popular resistance broke out in Denmark, encouraged and supplied by drops of weapons organized by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

The Germans surrendered Denmark on 4 May, and the Danish Resistance took control of the country the next day. On 5 May, a company of the British 13th Airborne Battalion arrived in Copenhagen by plane along with Major General R. H. Dewing, head of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) mission to Denmark. British infantry troops marched into Denmark on 7 May. The following day, troops from the British 1st Parachute Brigade took the formal surrender of all German forces. When the German commander on the island of Bornholm refused to surrender, Soviet aircraft on 7 and 8 May bombed the towns of Ronne and Neks, causing great damage but few deaths. On 9 May, Soviet ships arrived at Ronne, and the Germans there surrendered. However, Soviet troops occupied the island until April 1946. Following the war, the Danish government ordered the arrest and punishment of some 34,000 Nazi collaborators.

Danish Air Power 1940

Before the war Denmark was extremely unprepared having downgraded its military force. The air defence was divided into the Naval Air Service and the Army Flying Corps.

The Naval Air Service had a squadron of outdated Hawker Nimrod (Danish version of Fury) fighters and seaplanes. Some were for use in Greenland and there was a growing interest in torpedo launching.

The Army Flying Corps had Gloster Gauntlets fighters and was upgrading to Fokker D XXI fighters. The first was bought in Holland the rest were built in Denmark. A Danish production of Fairey Battle bombers had started but none were finished. Licence to build the Fokker G-1 heavy fighter was acquired.

On the morning of April 9th 1940 the German occupation started finding Denmark as unprepared as many other countries.

An attack by a stafel of ME-110 fighters destroyed most planes at the Vaerloese Army Airfield. One Danish aircraft was shot down during takeoff. From that day Danish military aviation stopped. Aircrafts were kept in storage. Some were taken by the German occupation force and reused elsewhere. The majority of the aircrafts were destroyed at a later stage by the Danish resistance.

In 1941 two lieutenants managed the refurbish a deHavilland Hornet Moth and to take off for a flight to Britain where one joined to RAF the other served in a special capacity due to his knowledge of German radar systems. In the fall of 1943 another Danish pilot under the same difficult circumstances took off in a deHavilland Moth to fly to England. He joined Special Intelligence Service.

Danes escaping to Sweden also included military personnel. A Danish Brigade was formed very discretely due to Swedish neutrality. This brigade also had a Danish flying squadron. It was flying as a part of the Swedish air force. The squadron was nominated to 15 SAAB B-17 dive bombers intended for ground support for the brigade when it should participate in the recapture of Denmark.

The German forces surrendered on May 5th 1945 and the fighting following was relatively light. The brigade did not use the air support. The squadron was flying in Swedish colours until May 5th when all planes were painted in Danish colours.

Airwar over Denmark

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