Sunday, May 16, 2021

God Save Norway. King Haakon VII’s Dramatic Escape


Gustav Borgen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

King Haakon VII made a dramatic speech to his people from the inn in a small village near Elverum where he and Crown Prince Olav were staying in April 1940. He said that he could not tell them where he, the Crown Prince and the Government hid, for fear of attack by the German forces. He told them that: ‘High explosive and incendiary bombs and machine-gun fire were used against the civilian population and ourselves in the most unscrupulous and brutal fashion’. The attack could only have one object, the King informed them – to ‘annihilate all of us who were assembled to resolve questions in the best interests of Norway’.  He thanked all those fighting for Norway’s ‘independence and liberty’, and to remember those who had given their lives for the country. Finally, he parted with the moving words: ‘God save Norway.’

Norway, a neutral country, watched hopelessly as much of Europe fell to the Nazis like ten-pins, knowing that the Germans needed its iron-ore for their munitions, so it was strategically important. Sweden was also neutral, but Denmark soon fell to the Nazis, and the Danish King, King Haakon’s brother, ceded to their demands. The dark days of Nazi occupation were on the horizon. Luckily, the sinking of the heavy cruiser Blücher by the naval forces at Oscarbserg Fortress delayed the German advance into Oslo, enabling the royal family and government to flee capture.

The King, Crown Prince Olav and his family, and the government had already made a dramatic escape from the Royal Palace in Oslo in the early hours of April 8, after being told that the Germans were on their way. They headed to Hamar on the train but hearing the explosions of bombs falling nearby, they closed the curtains, lying on the floor in fear. Forced to get off the train because of the German attack, they resumed their journey, eventually reaching a tiny village near Elverum, where the King made his broadcast.

A few days after they fled the royal family made the sad decision to split up, considering the paramount importance of the young Prince Harald (now King Harald V of Norway), the heir to the throne. Crown Princess Märtha and the children travelled to her home country of neutral Sweden, and eventually went to America for the duration of the war.

The King met with the German envoy Curt Bräuer in Elverum, who pressured him to accept a new government headed by Quisling, who had staged a coup d’état, and was friendly with the Nazis. The King told him that he would ask his government to decide, disgusted that he’d left the entire responsibility on his shoulders. Supported by Prince Olav, the King threatened to abdicate if the government agreed to having Quisling as their leader, but they sided with King Haakon. According to King Haakon VII: The Man and the Monarch by Tim Greve, they were all deeply moved.

 Finally, escaping heavy bombing and the German advance they arrived at Tromso where Sir Cecil Dormer sadly informed the King about the withdrawal of Allied help, and the King and Crown Prince were requested to go to Britain where they could help the Norwegian cause. The Crown Prince offered to stay but he was strongly advised against it for fear of the royal house falling into German hands. The King’s last words to his Cabinet were: ‘God save our dear Fatherland’.

The King and Prince Olav left for London on June 2, 1940 on the Devonshire. Interestingly, the occupation government even requested his abdication in a letter to England, which he adamantly refused.

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