Crown Princess Märtha-Norway’s Wartime Weapon .

Although the German invasion of Norway had led to the flight of Norway’s Crown Princess Märtha and her three children (Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald) across the border into ‘neutral’ Sweden, to avoid capture, in the early hours of 10 April 1940, it was not a situation with which Crown Prince Olav was happy. From his current refuge at Trangen, Langvatnet, Olav wrote to his friend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on 10 May, recalling a conversation between the two at Roosevelt’s Hyde Park country estate, in April 1939, during which the President offered sanctuary to Olav and Märtha’s children in the event of war reaching Norway. In his letter, the Crown Prince also questioned how safe his children actually were in Sweden. Certainly, even though the Crown Princess was Swedish, some in Sweden believed that her and her children’s presence compromised the country’s neutrality. Olav certainly had reason to be fearful for Märtha, who was now staying at Ulriksdal Palace in Stockholm, and was under constant political pressure from both the Administrative Council in Oslo and her Uncle, King Gustav V of Sweden, to embrace a ‘Norwegian Regency’ model whereby Harald would be proclaimed king, although his Swedish-born mother would act as regent until the Prince reached his majority. Those who held to this viewpoint, promoted it on the basis that it offered the only opportunity to save the Norwegian monarchy. The plotting had reached a crescendo following the departure of King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav from Norwegian soil on 7 June for exile in London and caused the Crown Princess to send a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law of the situation.

There was now the very real danger that Prince Harald might be kidnapped and taken to Oslo. This must have crossed the mind of Crown Prince Olav for, on 22 June, he wrote again to President Roosevelt, from Buckingham Palace, asking him to make good on his offer of sanctuary for his children, while also requesting that it be extended to include the Crown Princess. Roosevelt would be as good as his word and more, for on 13 August, the royal children and the Crown Princess left Ulriksdal and travelled northward through Finland to Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) where, on 15 August, they embarked the USS American Legion which transported them and other refugees across the Atlantic Ocean to New York. The Crown Princess-who was given accommodation in the Captain’s cabin-appeared on the ship’s manifest as ‘Mrs Jones.’ Other members of the royal party included her Chief of Staff, Peder Anker Wedel Jarlsberg, Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Ragni Østgaard and the children’s nurse, Signe Svendsen.

Märtha and the children arrived in New York on 28 August, after a stormy journey. From the quayside, the Crown Princess and her party went immediately to the Waldorf Astoria hotel where a room full of dolls and toys had been arranged to amuse the children. As the Crown Princess had not spoken to her husband in over four months, her first request was for an international call to be put through to Crown Prince Olav in London. Aside for the usual romantic endearments, Olav was able to give his wife some useful advice on ‘official lines to take’ with the US press.

The family’s suite at the Waldorf Astoria was luxurious and spacious and was being paid for by the Boomer family, who owned the hotel and had strong dynastic links with Norway. Märtha chose to give her press conference in the sitting room. She emphasised that her presence in America was temporary, stating that, ‘All we Norwegians look forward to the day when we shall return to a free and independent Norway.’ It was not an altogether pleasant experience and the Crown Princess would later confide to a friend that she ‘would rather submit to an operation’ than go through the ordeal again.

The Crown Princess’ next stop was to the private home of her host, President Roosevelt at Hyde Park. At the President’s informal retreat on his Springwood estate, Top Cottage, the children played happily in the swimming pool, while Märtha took the chance to have a long chat with the President about her situation. They also discussed where she might live. Within days, the Crown Princess was heading to the White House in Washington D.C., from where the President took her for a ride in his official car to view a large twenty-four roomed property, set in 105 acres, at Pook’s Hill, Maryland. This is subsequently leased by the Norwegian government-in-exile for the royal family’s use. While the house was being made ready, the Princess stayed at the White House in the Rose Guest Bedroom.

America was a whole new way of life, both for the children and their mother. Although Märtha was already proficient in English (albeit with a strong Scandinavian accent) the three children-who all attended local schools-were soon completely fluent in English. Nevertheless, their mother insisted that only Norwegian was spoken at home. The Crown Princess’ initial focus was on providing the children a secure upbringing. However, her charm and beauty, allied to her ability to listen, soon made Märtha a hit with the President and his family. Roosevelt would often drive out to Pook’s Hill to take tea with the Norwegian royals; in turn they were often asked for lunch, tea, dinner or a swim at the White House or even to take a sailing trip on board the Presidential Yacht USS Potomac. The friendship became so close that by August 1941, the Crown Princess was included in a party that sailed from New London on the Potomac to Martha’s Vineyard, before transferring to the heavy cruiser USS Augusta which then sailed to Newfoundland where a clandestine bi-lateral meeting took place between the President and Winston Churchill. Norwegian author Tor Bomann-Larsen recently stated that Roosevelt had became ‘infatuated’ with Märtha. If he was, it was to the ultimate benefit of the Princess’ adopted homeland as it helped to establish close relations between Norway and the US, as well as to boost Norway’s standing amongst the Allied powers. Roosevelt was certainly a willing participant in this regard and, in September 1942, during the handover ceremony, at Washington’s Navy Yard, of a submarine chaser to the Norwegian Navy, the HNoMS King Haakon VII, President Roosevelt, with the Crown Princess strategically seated by his side, implored Americans to ‘look to Norway’ and its resistance movement for inspiration to win the war. Märtha thanked the presence effusively for his ‘beautiful and generous words’ adding that ‘your words will bring hope and renewed faith and deliverance from the yoke of the barbarians.’

In fact, Roosevelt might also have added ‘look to Märtha’, for the Princess can now be regarded as a key figure in the Norwegian war effort, particularly in the USA, as she patriotically toured hospitals, churches and schools with links to Norway, dressed in her wide trademark hats with a jewelled Flag of Norway brooch on her lapel. Nor was she averse to enrolling her family to further the cause, as is exampled with the royal foursomes’ regular visits to ‘Little Norway’, the Norwegian Air Force training camp at Muskoka Aerodrome in Ontario. The propaganda value of five-year-old Prince Harald, pictured for the first time in military uniform, patriotically saluting the Norwegian flag or sitting in a flight simulator was immeasurable, all the more so if these pictures somehow found their way into the hands of Norwegians in their occupied homeland. The Crown Princess also regularly invited the press into her Maryland home for charming photographic opportunities, featuring the children on their bicycles or posing with their mother in the drawing room. These were subsequently released to the US and international press. Sometimes the children were also photographed with President Roosevelt and, in the case of Prince Harald, with the President’s photogenic Scottish Terrier, Fala. It all made for good publicity, as did Märtha’s radio broadcasts at Christmas to the people of Norway in which she stated with emotion, ‘We think of you with sadness in our heart but also with unspeakable pride.’

Were the Crown Princess and the President involved in a romantic relationship? The evidence is very much to the contrary. It is no secret that Roosevelt was involved in a long-term relationship with Lucy Rutherfurd, who had once served as Social Secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt. Furthermore, in the Crown Princess’ letters to the President, such as one thanking him for a ten-day family break at Hyde Park, Märtha uses the introduction, ‘My dear Godfather…’, hardly a term of romance. The Norwegian historian, Trond Norén Isaksen is of the opinion that the Crown Princess fulfilled a political role, during her US sojourn, in that she passed on a plethora of information to the President about the war in Europe sourced through the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. As she now had the President’s ear, Märtha was also perfectly placed to advance Norway’s cause. Yet, there is no doubt that the President was taken by the Princess’ teasing good humour and lively manner. There is also the sense that Märtha was captivated by this powerful elder statesman, from a completely different milieu and culture, serving out the final years of his political career. Indeed, she liked nothing better than taking colour 16mm ciné films of their encounters, whether it be during their regular afternoon drives in the President’s car or in the White House or at Hyde Park or even aboard the Potomac (where there is a charming frame of Roosevelt lifting his hat to the Princess in a friendly greeting) using her Bell, Duck and Howell ciné camera, a 40th birthday gift from the staff of the Norwegian Embassy. However, there is one common denominator that features in each of these images: The President was constantly surrounded by Secret Service men or secretaries or chauffeurs, while Märtha was invariably accompanied by a Lady-in-Waiting or her children to whom the President was particularly kind. Indeed, to Prince Harald he was almost a surrogate grandfather figure, sharing interests in common, such as collecting postage stamps. Nevertheless, despite her endeavours on behalf of Norway, Märtha was, at times, almost guilt-ridden that she and her children were enjoying such a good life in the States, ‘while my compatriots are suffering at home. I really feel rather miserable about it.’

Following President Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural in January 1945, Märtha and Crown Prince Olav were part of the ‘inner circle’ who joined him afterwards for a private lunch in the Red Room of the White House. Next day, the President toasted the Norwegian royal’s good health prior to setting out for the Yalta Conference in Russia, for he surely realised that the time was fast approaching when Märtha and her children would return home to Europe permanently. One of the Princess’ final engagements in Washington was to attend a Girl Scouts of America reception at the Norwegian Embassy on 11 March during which she received a selection of gifts for a Norwegian Girl Scout group currently located at Drumtochty Castle in Scotland. The 300-strong American contingent present that day also pledged to ‘adopt’ the first Norwegian Girl Scout troop to be re-established in Norway following the liberation from German occupation.

On 24 March, Märtha and Olav dined at the White House with President and Mrs Roosevelt. It was to be their final meeting with Roosevelt. Thereafter, the somewhat fatigued President left for a two-week period of rest at the Warm Springs Resort in Georgia. He died there suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage on 12 April, at his beloved ‘Little White House’. Lucy Rutherfurd was present at the time. Roosevelt’s death was a bitter blow to the Crown Princess. Crown Prince Olav-who always met up with the President during his wartime visits to Washington (indeed Roosevelt had once been personally responsible for arranging Olav’s visit to the capital, as a surprise Christmas present for the Crown Princess)-gave an indication of the depth of his family’s feelings for the late President during a radio broadcast the following day: ‘It is as though I have lost a near relative and dear friend whom it was always a great joy to meet and from whom one never took his leave without feeling enriched by his exuberant personality.’

Following Germany’s capitulation on 8 May 1945, the Crown Princess and her children crossed the Atlantic once again–this time by air–to land at Prestwick in Scotland. There they were briefly reunited with Crown Prince Olav, prior to his return to Oslo on 13 May, sailing from Rosyth aboard HMS Apollo. It had already been decided that Märtha and her children would also return to Oslo by sea from Rosyth, accompanied by King Haakon, as soon as the 300,000 German Prisoners-of War in Norway had been rounded-up and disarmed.

On 5 June the King, Crown Princess Märtha and the children received a wonderful send-off from the naval top brass at Admiralty House, North Queensferry. They then boarded HMS Norfolk for the two-day journey home to Oslo. On entering the Oslofjord, on 7 June, the royal party (which now included Crown Prince Olav who had embarked the Norfolk at Moss) went out on deck to wave to the well-wishers who congregated both on the shore and also aboard a varied selection of flag-bedecked sailing craft. The royal party were then piped off the Norfolk by pipers from the Scots Guards.

After greeting the members of the Honour Guard and standing to attention for the Norwegian National Anthem, the King and Crown Princess drove together in the King’s limousine (which had survived the occupation intact), right up the city’s main boulevard, Karl Johan Gate, to the Royal Palace. After a while, all of the royal family appeared together on the palace balcony. Flying from the flag post was the very same Royal Standard which had been hidden from the Germans on the King’s instruction when he departed the Palace early on the morning of 9 April, 1940. Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, headlined the occasion as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway’.

In sum, the role of the Crown Princess during World War II should not be underestimated. She was tireless in her promotion of Norway both in the United States and throughout the Allied nations. Furthermore, she deftly gained the confidence of the most powerful man in the world in a way that many-including the world leaders of the time-could only have dreamed off. She may have been born Swedish but she was ultimately Norway’s greatest wartime asset.

Robert Prentice has a keen interest in the fate of the various royal families during World War 2. He is the author of the recently-published Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is available to buy through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.

King of Norway’s Triumphal Return to Oslo: June 1945

On 7 June 1945, King Haakon made a triumphal return by sea to Oslo, following the capitulation of Nazi forces on 8 May. The date was highly symbolic for several reasons: Exactly forty years before, to the day, the union between Norway and Sweden was formally dissolved. Secondly, this was the fifth anniversary of the day, on 7 June 1940, when the King and his son and heir, Olav, had been forced to flee Norway after a harrowing, three-month game of cat and mouse with the German forces who had occupied this Nordic Kingdom on 9 April.

Accompanying Haakon on this sea voyage, leaving from Rosyth in Scotland, aboard the British cruiser and flagship, HMS Norfolk, under the command of Vice-Admiral Rhoderick McGrigor, was his Swedish daughter-in-law Crown Princess Märtha and her three children Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald, who had just flown in from the United States after nearly five years in exile. Some sources have indicated that the Norwegian Sovereign had actually wanted to return aboard the same ship which had taken him into exile, from Tromso, on 7 June 1940, HMS Devonshire. However, on this occasion, the Devonshire’s role was limited to that of a ‘Royal Escort’ ship. Nevertheless, the King had received a wonderful send-off from the naval top brass at Admiralty House, North Queensferry, on 5 June, and was grateful to the British for permitting him to see out his exile in the land of his late wife and son’s birth, a fact he had already acknowledged in a radio broadcast to his people from London on 17 May. Haakon also spoke movingly of his Norwegian subjects’ steadfastness and thanked his armed forces for their loyalty and tenacity.

As HMS Norfolk entered the Oslofjord, with HMS Devonshire following on to the rear, local Norwegians took to the waters in all manner of flag-bedecked sailing craft, from fishing boats to tugs, to welcome their beloved Sovereign home. They had been partying ever since German forces surrendered a month earlier, but this was undoubtedly the highlight of these celebrations. Crown Prince Olav, who had returned to Norway on 13 May, was amongst them. He came aboard HMS Norfolk at Moss and must have been somewhat startled at the sight of his three children dressed in oversize duffle coats against the breeze. These outfits were quickly swapped for ‘Sunday Best’ clothing for the welcome home festivities in Oslo.

Once the Norfolk had reached its destination, the sun broke through the clouds and the King and his family disembarked and were transported by launch to the quayside near to Akerhus Fortress (Honnørbryggen) where, after shaking hands with the official welcoming party, the King straightened his back and strode purposefully down the red carpet to a waiting pavilion decked out flags bearing the royal insignia. The Oslo City Hall provided a fitting backdrop. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess and their children followed on close behind. All of the royal ladies were then presented with large bouquets of flowers. Hundreds of thousands of the King’s loyal subjects lined the quaysides and surrounding thoroughfares. Princess Astrid, who was then aged thirteen, told the broadcaster NRK that she had been overwhelmed by the strength of the welcome for which she was ‘totally unprepared’ following five years spent, in relative anonymity, as a schoolgirl in Bethesda, Maryland.

After greeting the members of the Honour Guard, formed at the King’s express wish from the 99th Norwegian-American ‘Viking’ Battalion of the US Army, and standing to attention for the Norwegian National Anthem, the King and Crown Princess entered the royal limousine bearing the famous A1 registration plate and which had survived the occupation intact. For security reasons, a soldier with a rifle sat in the front passenger seat. The other members of the royal entourage settled into other official cars behind to form a convoy, accompanied by army jeeps and military outriders, which swept up the city’s crowd-packed main boulevard, Karl Johan Gate, to the Royal Palace that sat atop a hill at one end. In the city, a special stand had been erected for frail and elderly spectators. All around, buildings were decorated with banners bearing either the colours of Norway or with the King’s own distinctive cipher. On one street, a large sign the breadth of the road read ‘Velkommen Hjem.’ Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, headlined it as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway’.

King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, Crown Princess Märtha and the three royal children later all appeared together on the balcony of the Royal Palace which was bedecked with a large flag of Norway. Already flying from the palace flag post was the very same Royal Standard which had hidden from the Germans on the King’s instruction when he left the Palace early on the morning of 9 April, 1940. Meanwhile down in the port, a dance was held on the upper deck of HMS Devonshire. The day concluded with an impressive firework display.

Within a few days, the King was busy undertaking his official duties including the chairing of his first State Council meeting on 12 June (his first in Norway since 5 April 1940).In late summer, by which time many of the German prisoners-of-war had been repatriated, the King embarked on a tour of the country to see for himself the destruction wrought by the war, as well as the ongoing efforts to rebuild.

The writer of this blog, Robert Prentice, is the author of a new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times published by Grosvenor House Publishing and available to purchase as a hardback or e-book through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.

Crown Princess Märtha Eludes Nazi Regency plot.

Following the German invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940, King Haakon, his son Crown Prince Olav, daughter-in-law Crown Princess Märtha and three grandchildren (Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald) journeyed northwards by train, accompanied by members of the government, from Oslo’s Østbanen Station to Hamar in an attempt to evade capture. By the early evening, the royals had settled at an estate at Sælid, a few kilometres outside of Hamar, where they were just sitting down to dinner when word was received from the local police chief of the impending arrival of several busloads of German troops. The little group immediately set out by car towards Elverum, to rendezvous with members of the government who had fled there from Hamar, arriving at 10.30pm. However, the news there was equally uncertain and it was at this juncture that a decision was taken to send the Swedish-born Crown Princess Märtha and her three children over the border into neutral Sweden for reasons of safety. A royal convoy of three cars crossed the border into Sweden from Trysil, in the early hours of 10 April, and proceeded to the Høyfjellshotell in the ski resort of Sälen. As it was a glorious sunny day, the children spent most of the time skiing on the nearby slopes, while their mother remained at the hotel glued to the radio for news of events in neighbouring Norway. What she heard could hardly have lifted her spirits, as the Germans were now bombing Eleverum and Nybergsund, killing dozens of people. At one stage, King Haakon and his son Olav are forced to take shelter in a ditch to avoid being fired on by low-flying Heinkel bombers.

Crown Princess Märtha’s mother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden arrived at Sälen a few days later, visibly tired yet ‘filled with a glowing hatred of the Germans’, according to one of the Norwegians, for her homeland of Denmark had also been occupied. Ingeborg was also deeply concerned for the welfare of her brother, King Haakon and her son-in-law (and nephew) Olav. Meanwhile, the Swedish authorities were nervous of the Norwegian royalty remaining so close to the border area so, thanks to Princess Ingeborg’s efforts, the royal party was able to take up temporary residence at Count Carl Bernadotte of Wisborg’s home at Rasbo near Uppsala.

After about two weeks, Märtha’s paternal uncle, King Gustav V of Sweden, who was known to have pro-German leanings (and had already refused a plea from King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav to cross the border into Sweden for fear of provoking Hitler) offered Crown Princess Märtha and her party accommodation at Ulriksdal Palace, on the outskirts of Stockholm. Although at dinner on the first evening, ‘everyone was terribly kind and friendly’, there was no discussion of the increasingly perilous situation in Norway, where King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav remained in constant danger from a crack unit of German commandos’ intent on their capture or possibly death. But Olav was also concerned for the safety of his children and wife in Sweden and wrote to President Franklin D Roosevelt from Trangen, Langvatnet, on 10 May, mentioning an offer which Roosevelt had made, in late April 1939, during the Crown Prince and Princess’ weekend stay at the President’s country home at Hyde Park, ‘to take care of the children’ if the war should reach Norwegian shores.

Märtha, meanwhile, spent time playing rummy and bridge each evening after dinner while the children and their nurse played games of tennis, swam in a nearby inlet or went picnicking. However, underneath, the minutiae of everyday Palace life, the Crown Princess was increasingly anxious about the future, for her sole communication with her husband was via courier and, as he was constantly on the move, that was sporadic at best. This left her in a very vulnerable position and soon Märtha was subjected to considerable political pressure from the Administrative Council (among others) in Oslo, who indicated that they wanted her and Prince Harald to return to Norway and cooperate with the occupying power in order to save the monarchy. This would, of course, involve King Haakon’s abdicating. The timing of this political intervention was no accident for, as the Germans were only too well aware, the Norwegian King was no longer in Norway as, following the decision of the Allied powers to withdraw from Norway, he and his son Olav had departed Norwegian soil at Tromsø, on 7 June, to settle temporarily in England and carry on the fight for Norwegian democracy there. To make matters worse, the Swedes also became involved in discussions over the future of the Norwegian monarchy. In a telegram to Hitler on June 16, the Swedish King openly encouraged the Germans to adopt a ‘Norwegian Regency’ model whereby Harald would be proclaimed king, although his mother would act as regent until the Prince reached his majority. Märtha was clearly aware of the growing danger and sent a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law that her Swedish family (i.e. King Gustav) and Hitler were conspiring to remove King Haakon and set up a regency.

It has to be said that there was now the very real danger that Prince Harald might be kidnapped and taken to Oslo. This must have crossed the mind of Crown Prince Olav for, on 22 June, he had written again to President Roosevelt from Buckingham Palace asking him to make good on his offer of sanctuary to his children, but this time he also included a request on behalf of his wife. Olav also made an approach to the US Secretary of State via the US Ambassador in London, Joseph Kennedy, entreating ‘if there is anything you can do in a hurry to get the [Crown] Princess out [of Sweden].’ On 12 July, the US Secretary of State sent a message to the US Minister in Stockholm saying that President Roosevelt was arranging for a naval transport vessel to be sent to Finland to evacuate the Crown Princess and her family along with a group of ‘stranded’ US citizens. Both the German and British governments had agreed to grant the ship safe passage. The US Minister was now instructed to meet with Märtha and ascertain if she wished to proceed with this offer.

Meanwhile, in Norway, word had reached the Administrative Council that King Haakon was refusing to abdicate, thus placing in doubt on the regency option. According to the US Minister in Stockholm, the Administrative Council were now trying to reach a satisfactory agreement with the German occupying authorities, whilst also being careful to avoid upsetting the local population by attempting to ‘dethrone’ Europe’s only elected Sovereign. A National Council was proposed to conduct state affairs while the King remained overseas.

On 18 July, Märtha received a telephone call from the Norwegian Minister in Washington, Wilhelm Thorleif von Munthe af Morgenstierne. He informed a somewhat surprised Crown Princess (who, not unsurprisingly, seems to have been in the dark about Crown Prince Olav’s recent correspondence with Roosevelt) that an American warship was being sent Finland to transport her and her children to the US. On 20 July, Märtha received the US Minister to Norway, Mrs Florence Harriman, who was now ensconced temporarily at the US Legation in Stockholm, and indicated to her that she was happy to accept President Roosevelt’s offer. Nevertheless, Märtha was keen to emphasise that she wanted to enter the US ‘as quietly as possible’ and ‘would not be required to meet reporters or a reception committee’. The Crown Princess also clearly hoped the date of her arrival would be kept confidential.

On 22 July, Mrs Harriman was informed by the US State Department that a naval transport, the USS American Legion, was about to leave for the Finnish port of Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) and should reach there around 5 August. It was also made clear that there was ‘no possible way’ the Crown Princess’ arrival in the US could be kept confidential. Indeed, soon after Märtha left Ulriksdal, on 12 August, the Norwegian Legation released a statement to the press, also broadcast over Radio Sweden, stating that the Crown Princess and her three children ‘will leave for the United States in the next few days to visit President Roosevelt’ who had issued ‘a personal invitation’ to the Norwegian royals. In the interim, the Crown Princess travelled northward into Finland and on to Petsamo where, on 15 August, she and the royal children embarked the American Legion which transported them across the Atlantic to New York. Märtha appeared on the ship’s manifest as ‘Mrs Jones.’ Others in the party included her Chief of Staff, Peder Anker Wedel Jarlsberg, a Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Ragni Østgaard, the latter’s son Einar and the royal children’s nurse, Signe Svendsen. Touchingly, Prince Harald was pictured clutching his beloved teddy bear. However, in her luggage, Märtha also had a touching, splendid farewell gift from her mother: a magnificent suite of emerald and diamond parure which had once belonged to Queen Sophia of Sweden. The intention was that should the Crown Princess ever be in financial difficulties, during these difficult war years, she could raise cash by selling the parure.

The author of this blog takes a keen interest on the fate of royalty during World War II. He examines the wartime adventures of Princess Olga (the onetime Consort of the Prince Regent of Yugoslavia) in Africa (and much else besides) in the new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or e-book.

King Haakon’s Courageous Fight.

With the outbreak of war in western Europe in September 1939, the Scandinavian Kingdom of Norway decided to adopt a neutral stance. Nevertheless, the country’s monarch, King Haakon VII, had strong links to the British Royal Family: his late wife (and first cousin) Queen Maud was the youngest daughter of Britain’s King Edward VII; while Haakon and Maud’s son Crown Prince Olav had been born and spent much of his childhood at Appleton House on King Edward’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

Despite Norway’s neutrality, both the Allies and the Germans were quick to grasp the strategic importance of King Haakon’s northern kingdom. The port of Narvik, in particular, possessed both useful rail transport links to Sweden and all-year-round access to the sea. Whoever controlled this harbour would be well-placed to control the flow of high-grade iron ore (so necessary to Germany, specifically, for the success of the war effort) from northern Sweden to the western coast of Norway. Furthermore, whichever power controlled the ports of Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger would effectively control access to the North Sea and have a distinct advantage where the vital supply lanes of the Atlantic were concerned.

Germany had long feared that the British would seize the initiative and launch a pre-emptive invasion of Norway. Contemporaneous diplomatic ‘traffic’ as well as the recent boarding by the British, in Norwegian waters, of a German ship, the Altmark (to rescue 299 Allied prisoners-of war), only served to galvanize this view. Thus, on 1 April, Hitler made the decision to invade Norway and, by 3 April an advance group of German supply vessels was heading northwards. This was followed, on 7 April, by a main force which included the heavy cruisers Lützow and Blücher. The latter would reach the Oslofjord on the evening of 8 April.

Britain, meanwhile, was indeed eyeing this Nordic country with interest. Neville Chamberlain’s government had decided to mine several areas of the West coast in advance of landing troops at Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger. However, due to the combination of a disagreement with the French and bad weather, this operation was postponed from 5 April until 8 April. Only Vestfjord, the channel of water that leads to Narvik, was actually mined. By this time, word had already reached the British Admiralty of a concerted movement of German military shipping traffic travelling northwards. Almost immediately, several dozen battleships and a group of destroyers belonging to the British Home Fleet set sail from Scapa Flow and Rosyth towards western Scandanavia.

In Oslo, Crown Prince Olav informed his father, King Haakon, on 8 April, that a transport ship sunk off Lillesand that morning had been transporting German soldiers. In the interim, the German envoy to Norway, Curt Bräuer, now received instructions from Berlin to persuade the Norwegian government of Johann Nygaardsvold to allow German troops into the country, under the pretext of defending Norway from a British invasion. The German request was subsequently rejected on the basis that Norway was a sovereign nation responsible for its own defence.

Nonetheless, during the night of 8-9 April, German troops invaded Norway by air, land and sea, targeting Moss, Oslo, Horten, Arendal, Kristiansand, Egersund, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. At around 4am at Oscarsborg Fortress, near the coastal town of Drøbak (some twenty-eight miles from Oslo), Colonel Birger Eriksen spotted the German heavy cruiser Blücher entering Drøbak Sound. Despite having received no official instructions from Oslo to engage, Eriksen gave the order to fire, and the fortress’s guns and torpedo battery succeeded in sinking the cruiser.

The King was informed of the impending invasion around 1.30am by his Prime Minister over the telephone. Nygaardsvold advised Haakon and his family to flee Oslo or risk capture. Norway’s Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht, who had first heard of the German military operations around the same time as the King, held a meeting with Curt Braüer at the Foreign Ministry (Victoria Terrasse) but firmly rejected a German ultimatum to surrender and cooperate with the occupation forces. This was hardly surprising since Koht was a firm believer in maintaining Norway’s neutrality.

As soon as Crown Prince Olav received news of the invasion at his official abode at Skaugum, twelve miles south-west of Oslo, he quickly roused his wife and children. After partaking of a makeshift breakfast, Olav drove his family in his American Buick straight to King Haakon’s residence at the Royal Palace. The Crown Prince later recalled, “I had decided to run down anyone who tried to stop or hinder the car”. Nor did he trust anyone else to drive.

Meanwhile, at 7am (just as Luftwaffe planes were landing at Oslo’s main Fornabu Airport), the Royal Family boarded a special train (swiftly organised by the President of the Storting, Carl Hambro) at Østbanen Station and headed eighty miles northwards to Hamar. On board, they were joined by around 100 government officials and members of the Storting (Parliament). However, the royal train had only made it as far as Lillestrøm, just northeast of Oslo, when Luftwaffe aircraft began bombing the local airport at Kjeller. The train was evacuated and everyone on board temporarily sought refuge in a railway tunnel. The official party eventually arrived at Hamar just after 11am. The Prime Minister, who had travelled north by car, was waiting at the station to greet them.

Thereafter, the elected officials convened at the nearby Festival Hall to discuss what course to take, while the King and his son travelled to a farm at Sælid. Later that day, Nygaardsvold sought an audience with his Sovereign and offered his resignation ‘in order to make way for a government of national unity’. However, during a subsequent meeting of the Council of State, the Prime Minister was persuaded to remain in post as it was felt that to do otherwise might precipitate an unwanted political crisis. Back in Oslo, Curt Braüer held a meeting with the capital’s police chief, Kristian Welhaven, who now agreed to act as an intermediary between the occupying forces, the government and the local authorities. Welhaven would also subsequently help to arrange a meeting-at Bräuer’s request-between the German envoy and King Haakon.

At 7.30pm, the Nazi sympathiser and leader of the right-wing Nasjonal Samling, Vidkun Quisling, taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the departure from Oslo of the legitimate government, entered the studio of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and proclaimed himself Prime Minister. He also called upon the Norwegian people to cease all resistance against the occupying forces and accused the British of violating Norwegian neutrality. It was around this time that Bräuer received instructions from Hitler to meet with King Haakon and convince him to recognise the Quisling government.

Meanwhile, enemy forces (including a crack force of German commandos under the command of a Captain Eberhard Spiller) were already closing in on Hamar with the aim of capturing the King and Storting members. When the alarm was raised, the politicians (who were still ‘in session’ at the Festival Hall and had just been updated on the fall of four of Norway’s largest cities) immediately boarded a train to travel eastwards to Elverum. The Royal Family, meantime, were just sitting down to dinner at Sælid, when word was received from the local police chief of the impending arrival of German troops. The little group immediately set out by car towards Elverum, arriving at 10.30pm. It was at this juncture that a decision was made to send Crown Princess Martha and the three royal children over the border to Sweden. This made sense as Martha was Swedish and her parents, Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg, were more than happy to come to their daughter’s aid. In August, the four Norwegian royals would relocate to Washington at the invitation of President Roosevelt.

Despite Crown Prince Olav’s objections and fears over his father’s safety, King Haakon agreed to a brief meeting with Bräuer at Elverum on 10 April. The German emissary urged Haakon to follow the example of his elder brother, King Christian of Denmark, and call a halt to any further resistance. The King should also recognise the new government headed by Quisling. Haakon relayed the German demands to his ‘legal government’ in an extraordinary meeting of the Council of State at Nybergsund. His Majesty also made it clear that although he would not attempt to influence the Government in this matter, he could never accept Quisling as Prime Minister. Indeed, Haakon indicated that he was prepared to abdicate both for himself and for his family if the Cabinet decided otherwise. Inspired by the King’s strength of feeling, the Cabinet backed their monarch. Bräuer was later informed of their decision over the telephone by Foreign Minister Koht at 8pm. The German representative then asked Koht pointedly if Norwegian resistance would still continue and was told that it would ‘as long as possible’. The German response was quick and deadly: Luftwaffe aircraft dropped lethal incendiary bombs on both Elverum and Nybergsund and, at one stage, the Heinkel bombers dived to a mere 50 feet to strafe the ground with machine-gun fire, thus forcing Haakon, Olav and government officials to take cover in mud-filled ditches. Forty people were killed in the attack on Elverum alone.

In a ‘proclamation’ to his people in mid-April, Haakon would refer to this incident as a deliberate attempt by the Germans to ‘annihilate all of us assembled for deciding the question for the best future of Norway’. The King also railed against his people being ‘subjected to death and inhuman suffering’ by the Nazis and urged Norwegians ‘to save the freedom and independence of the Fatherland.’

Around this time, a Press Alliance reporter, Elinar Hansen, interviewed the King and Crown Prince over coffee as they took shelter in a farmhouse. Haakon-who was dressed in a mud-spattered uniform- admitted to having only slept fitfully for an hour at a time since the invasion. He was keen to emphasise that the German military action had been launched against himself and his people, ‘at places where no sign of military movement [was] to be found.’

After much confusion at the town of Rena (which resulted in the Prime Minister and half of his government ministers taking a separate route from the others) the King and his depleted party reached the border station with Sweden, at Lillebo, on 12 April. Foreign Minister Koht, who remained with the King, was now very keen for Haakon to seek temporary refuge with Norway’s neutral neighbour. However, this idea proved to be impractical as the Swedish authorities indicated that both the King and the Crown Prince-who both held military rank-would be interned should they attempt to cross the border. Haakon and Olav then travelled on to Koppang and Lake Storsjøen, though this time without the remaining retinue of government ministers. Yet, it was pre-arranged that everyone would reunite, a few days later, in the large valley of Gudbrandsdalen, where Norway’s army chief, General Otto Ruge, had lately established his headquarters. Sadly, Ruge’s plan to block a German land advance northwards out of Oslo was already in tatters as columns of enemy motorized infantry, supported by tanks and air cover easily overcame the Norwegian military’s hastily-constructed barriers.

After another few days trying to keep ahead of the occupying forces, the King and Crown Prince Olav were forced to abandon their cars at Hjerkinn (where the road became impassable due to the wintry weather) and ride in a freight train southward to the town of Otta. The duo then travelled to nearby Heggelund where they spent the night of 14 April at a local inn. This was the first occasion, since leaving Oslo, that the King and Crown Prince were actually able to undress and obtain a decent night’s sleep in a bed. During this stay, the King had an unscheduled visit from his Prime Minister (now taking refuge at Lesjaverk).

However, German troops remained in hot pursuit and General Ruge sent a message to the royal party to seek sanctuary at an isolated mountain farm, Sandbu, near Vågåmo, which belonged to a shipowner, Thomas Olsen. The royals, by now reunited with the party of government ministers, remained there for a period of four days from 17 to 21 April. On 19 April, the Crown Prince briefly journeyed southwards to Øyer to receive a military briefing from General Ruge, for by this time British forces had landed in Harstad and Namsos with the idea of recapturing Narvik and Trondheim from the Germans. From Sandbu the royal party then travelled on to another inn at Stuguflåten, during which the government held several meetings and agreed to the nationalisation of Norway’s merchant fleet. However, with little food available locally, the party was forced to motor on to the town of Molde on the Romsdal Peninsula, which they reach in the early hours of 23 April. This coastal location proved to be far from secure, as Luftwaffe planes were continually bombing the town in anticipation of landings by British forces. Indeed, the King and Crown Prince were forced to abandon their accommodation at dawn each morning and spend much of the day hiding out in the surrounding birch woods.

Towards the end of April, with German forces on the ascendency, the British Minister, Sir Cecil Dormer, invited the King, Crown Prince and government to join a group of British troops who were retreating to Tromsø from their current positions in southern and central Norway aboard the British light cruiser HMS Glasgow. This offer was accepted and, on the evening of 29 April, the Norwegian VIP party gathered at Molde’s key side to embark the ship for the 800-mile journey northwards. Tromsø would now become the seat of the provisional government. An article in the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen states that if King Haakon had not accepted the British invitation, he would most likely have been captured and taken to England. However, His Majesty certainly remained full of spirit and pithily declared that the occupiers, ‘are not practising war but murder and arson.’

Thereafter, the appointment of Winston Churchill as Britain’s new Prime Minister, on 10 May, combined with the simultaneous German invasion of the Low Countries, would lead to a change of strategy on the part of the Allies. Subsequent to this, British forces suffered heavy casualties when several British Royal Navy ships were sunk off Norway by the Luftwaffe. Then, on 25 May, (ironically three days before the recapture of Narvik by Norwegian and French forces), Allied commanders received orders to commence a comprehensive evacuation from Norway. This left the King with a difficult decision. Should he remain in Norway (which would mean capture by the Germans) or leave with the Allies? On balance, he decided it would be best to depart Norway and continue the fight for his country’s liberation from Britain.

On 7 June 1940, the Norwegian government held its last meeting on Norwegian soil at Tromsø. A few hours later the King, Crown Prince, members of the government, and the diplomatic corps—a total of 400 passengers—boarded the British heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire for England. Haakon and Olav arrived in London on 10 June and were greeted at Euston Station by King George VI. That same day, German and Norwegian forces signed a cease­fire. However, it is important to emphasise that this cease­fire did not prevent Norway’s legitimate government—now operating out of London—from continuing the struggle against the German invaders.

Subsequently, in Oslo, the German Reich Commissioner Josef Terboven, attempted to establish a ‘legal’, compliant occupation government. However, this would require the King’s abdication. In a speech, delivered over the airways from London on 8 July, King Haakon refused this request and stated that, ‘such action would prevent Norway regaining her freedom and independence.’ The Norwegian monarch also later put up a spirited riposte to those who had criticised his departure from his Nordic Kingdom: ‘If we had stayed in Norway the present rulers of the country would have been able to force us to accept what they wished. It was in order to avoid this that we left the country. From the place where we are now, we can still represent a free Norway.’ Indeed, King Haakon would now become the living symbol of Norwegian patriotism and freedom through his regular broadcasts from London which provided untold comfort to his fellow countrymen.

Certainly, the majority of Norwegians remained loyal to the Crown and did not hesitate to mock Vidkun Quisling and his collaborationist government. Furthermore, the Milorg group (formed in May 1941) which began life as a small sabotage unit, would gradually grow into Norway’s main resistance movement with 40,000 active members. The organisation would go on to play a crucial role in bringing about a German surrender in Norway in May 1945.

The author of this blog takes a keen interest in the fate of royalty during World War II. He examines the wartime adventures of Princess Olga (the sometime Consort of the Prince Regent of Yugoslavia) in Africa (and much else besides) in the new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or e-book.