Transit of German troops through Finland and Sweden

Storlien, Sweden, 1940, German transit traffic
Storlien, Sweden, 1940, German transit traffic, alpine riflemen

The matter of German troop transfer through Finland and Sweden during World War II was one of the more controversial aspects of modern Nordic history beside Finland's co-belligerence with Nazi Germany in the Continuation War, and the export of Swedish iron ore during World War II.

The Swedish concession to German demands during and after the German invasion of Norway in AprilJune 1940 is often viewed as a significant breach with prior neutrality policies that were held in high regard in many smaller European nations. After they were publicly acknowledged, the Soviet Union immediately requested a similar but more far-reaching concession from Finland, which invited the Third Reich to trade similar transit rights through Finland in return for weaponry badly needed by the Finns. This was the first significant proof of a changed, more favorable, German policy vis-à-vis Finland, that ultimately would put Finland in a position of co-belligerence with Nazi Germany in the Continuation War against the Soviet Union (June 25, 1941 September 4, 1944).

German troops through Sweden

After Denmark and Norway were invaded on April 9, 1940, Sweden and the other remaining Baltic Sea countries became enclosed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, then on friendly terms with each other as formalized in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The lengthy fighting in Norway resulted in intensified German demands for indirect support from Sweden, demands that Swedish diplomats were able to fend off by reminding the Germans of the Swedes' feeling of closeness to their Norwegian brethren. With the conclusion of hostilities in Norway this argument became untenable, forcing the Cabinet to give in to German pressure and allow continuous (unarmed) troop transports, via Swedish railroads, between Germany and Norway.

The extent of these transports was kept secret, although spreading rumors soon forced prime minister Per Albin Hansson to admit their existence. Officially the trains transported wounded soldiers and soldiers on leave (permittent-tåg), which would still have been in violation of Sweden's proclaimed neutrality.

In all, close to 100,000 railroad cars had transported 1,004,158 military personnel on leave to Germany and 1,037,158 to Norway through Sweden by the time the transit agreement was disbanded on 15 August 1943.[1]

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in early summer of 1941, Operation Barbarossa, the Germans on June 22, 1941 asked Sweden for some military concessions. The Swedish government granted these requests for logistical support. The most controversial concession was the decision to allow the railway-transfer of the fully armed and combat-ready 163rd Infantry Division from Norway to Finland.

In Sweden the political deliberations surrounding this decision have been called the "midsummer crisis". Research by Carl-Gustaf Scott argues however that there never was a "crisis", and that "the crisis was created in historical hindsight in order to protect the political legacy of the Social Democratic Party and its leader Per Albin Hansson."[2]

Soviet troop transfers through Finland

The Moscow Peace Treaty that ended the Winter War in March 1940 required Finland to allow the Soviet Navy to establish a naval base on the Hanko Peninsula, at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. The treaty didn't contain any provisions for troop and material transfer rights, and Finland's leadership was left with the impression that the Soviet Union would supply the base by sea.

On July 9, two days after Sweden had officially admitted to have granted transfer rights to Germany, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov demanded free transfer rights through Finland, using Finnish Railways. In the ensuing negotiations the Finns were able to limit the number of Soviet trains simultaneously in Finland to three. An agreement was signed on September 6.

German troop transfers through Finland

In the summer of 1940, Nazi Germany's occupation of Norway brought to the fore the need to transfer troops and munitions not only by sea, but also through the neutral countries of Sweden and Finland. The most convenient route to northernmost Norway was a rough truck road that passed through Finland. Diplomatic relations between Finland and the Third Reich improved after the Winter War, when Germany had sided with the Soviet Union, and on August 18 an agreement was reached that allowed Germany to set up supporting bases along the long Arctic truck road. The agreement was kept secret until the first German troops arrived in the port of Vaasa on September 21.

The German transfer rights were in breach of, if not the letter, then the spirit of the Russo-Finnish Moscow Peace Treaty, as well as the Russo-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but the Finns greeted the agreement as a balance against the increasing pressure from the Soviet Union. The transit road through northern Finland had a significant symbolic value, but in transit volume it was of lesser significance until the run up to Operation Barbarossa, when the route was used to deploy five Wehrmacht divisions in northern Finland.


In 1943, as Germany's prospects began to wane, Swedish public opinion turned against the agreement, and pressure from Britain and the USA mounted, the Swedish Cabinet declared on June 29, 1943 that the transits had to stop before October 1943. On August 5, it was officially announced that the transits were to cease.[3]

In popular culture

Attentatet i Pålsjö skog is a 1996 alternate history novel by Hans Alfredson. In the book a group of Swedish communists blow up a German train passing through Sweden, killing Eva Braun who is on board. Hitler is infuriated and invades Sweden, which surrenders on May 12, 1941.

"Konjak & nazister" ("Cognac and Nazis"), a song by Euskefeurat, tells the story of a sabotage on a German train in Abisko where they drill a hole in the bottom of a freight car to get to the large barrel of cognac there.

Karl Gerhard performed the song "Den ökända hästen från Troja" (The Infamous Horse of Troy) in 1940 and it was later banned. The song used the tune by Isaak Dunajevskij with new words in Swedish by Lille Bror Söderlundh. When the song was performed, a large Dalecarlian horse was brought onto the stage, but instead of legs it had columns. It also had a fifth column that opened and Karl Gerhard stepped out.

See also


  1. Kungl. Militärhögskolan (Sweden). Militärhistoriska avd (1982). Sveriges militära beredskap 1939-1945. p. 498. ISBN 91-85266-20-5.
  2. From the abstract of: Carl-Gustaf Scott, "The Swedish Midsummer Crisis of 1941: The Crisis that Never Was" Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 37, No. 3, 371-394 (2002) (SAGE JOURNALS ONLINE)
  3. "Transiting" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-08-30.

Further reading

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