The Norwegian resistance movement played an important part in World War Two. The people who fought in the Norwegian resistance had a number of major advantages over the Germans – a long coast line with vast amounts of the country uninhabited. Norway also had a long border with neutral Sweden which could be easily crossed. In such an environment, a focused resistance movement could do great harm to an occupying army.
A Norwegian clandestine newspaper unit
The Norwegian secret army (known as Milorg) was led by General Ruge. Unlike Poland, Czechoslovakia and Greece, the Norwegians were not split at a political level. There was also a high degree of patriotism despite the actions of Vidkun Quisling.
Ironically, the one major clash Milorg had was with Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). Milorg wanted to engage in activities that would not lead to Nazi reprisals (the collection of intelligence being the primary one). SOE wanted sabotage and raids by Milorg, even though such an approach had caused atrocities to be committed against civilians elsewhere in occupied Europe.
This air of distrust over methods continued throughout 1942 and was only resolved at the end of that year when SOE had to reconsider its desired approach in Norway. Both sides made compromises and attacks on factories became a stock in trade of the Norwegian resistance. In particular, Milorg played a critically important part in ending the attempts by Nazi Germany to produce heavy water in Norway. Heavy water was vital in the atomic energy programme Germany was attempting to exploit. The destruction of the heavy water factory at Rjukan in March 1943 and the sinking of a ferry boat transporting about 1,300 lbs of heavy water in February 1944 had serious implications for the Nazi’s atomic research programme. The actual attack on the heavy water factory at Rjukan was carried out by Norwegian commandoes, but a lot of the intelligence data they used came from Milorg.
Milorg was very well equipped by SOE. The environment in Norway meant that parachute drops by SOE could be carried out with relative ease as there were so many potential drop zones – and the Wehrmacht could only cover so many at any one time. In 1944 , the number of people in Milorg stood at 32,000. Nazi Germany was also fed false information that Norway was a target for an invasion of Europe via Norway. As a result, Germany increased the number of men it had there – men who could have served a better purpose for the Wehrmacht elsewhere in western Europe.