Norway in World War I: A Neutral Ally? (2022)

The story of how the Great War came to test Norway’s declaration of neutrality.

In 1905, Norway finally regained its independence as a sovereign nation. Centuries of unions with some combination of Denmark and Sweden, through either choice or necessity, had finally come to an end.

It was time for Norway to decide how it wanted to present itself as a country on the world stage. Even though a world war was not necessarily inevitable, Europe at the time still had a tendency towards conflict. Many historians report of ‘a sense that war was coming’.

Norway in World War I: A Neutral Ally? (1)

In the years leading up to the war, two major alliances accounted for the vast majority of the European population. Norway, in the middle of the two sides and with no real grudges to bear, chose the sensible option of neutrality.

Being on the Northern edge of things, and perhaps being seen as a remote place by many, allowed Norway to stand back and avoid fighting for other people’s causes.

Read more: Norway in World War II

It was, after all, more important to get on with the business of being a country than helping others with some centuries-old argument that had nothing to do with them!

The outbreak of World War One

Obviously, the causes and effects of the first World War are beyond the scope of this story, but it’s important to bear in mind the role that alliances played. When Serbian nationalists assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, war was not inevitable.

Instead, Austro-Hungary felt that Serbia was involved in the attack and, backed up by Germany, issued an ultimatum of near-impossible demands. Russia started ‘pre-mobilising’, getting ready to defend its ally Serbia.

Norway in World War I: A Neutral Ally? (2)

When Serbia rejected the demands, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia declared war on Austro-Hungary and France, an ally of Russia, declared war on Germany.

(Video) The Neutral Ally - Norway in WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

When Germany violated Belgian neutrality by invading it to get to France, Britain, an ally of France and Russia, also joined the conflict by declaring war on Germany.

Within a month of the assassination, almost all of Europe was involved. But Norway was still neutral.

The dilemma of neutrality

Being a neutral country is easy in theory and it’s especially easy in peace time. But when a conflict breaks out it becomes hard not to pick a side. There are three main reasons for this.

Read more: A Brief History of Norway

Firstly, victory for one side will usually align more with your own goals. Obviously, it depends how much difference there is as to how much this affects you. You may be fine, or you may be completely not fine no matter what happens!

It’s also likely that you’ll have something that is needed by one of the sides. In this case they’ll likely approach you and try to convince you that you can lend certain assets out without compromising your neutrality.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, one side will likely have something that you desperately need. Maybe goods, fuel or natural resources – most countries aren’t actually able to be 100% self-sufficient.

Norway in World War I: A Neutral Ally? (3)

So, while it’s easy to be neutral in theory it’s a lot harder in practice. Even though Norway was a neutral country in terms of war, in trade terms it was very much within the British sphere of influence.

In other words, if anything went wrong, there was a sense that Britain would likely be the country that came to Norway’s aid.

Getting close to Britain

Once war broke out, Norway restated its neutrality and mobilised its forces to protect that neutrality.

(Video) Neutral Norway and the First World War

They then carried on as before, doing whatever they could to keep running, with war starting to be fought to the South. War brought a little initial panic but on the whole the country carried on as normal.

Like much of Norway’s history, what happened next comes down to ships…and global commerce. At the time of the war, Norway’s merchant navy was the fourth largest in the world overall and, in terms of carrying capacity per person, actually the largest.

Of prime importance is the fact that Norway imported to and exported from both Britain and Germany and had no desire to stop either. Some of Norway’s major exports were fish and fish-related products (fish oils etc) and copper. Meanwhile, imports were dominated by fuels such as coal and oil.

The fuels were vitally important for keeping both Norway’s industries and the merchant navy running. And most of the fuels came from Britain. Once Britain successfully secured the North Sea as a military zone under their control, they had two main levers to use to ensure Norwegian compliance.

So, even though Norway was a neutral country able to trade with both sides, the trade became so heavily skewed towards Britain that Norway was, in some ways, starting to appear like a neutral ally.

Flexing Norwegian muscles

International law limited British influence slightly. Norway maintained neutrality and so Britain couldn’t completely control Norway as it could control a real allied nation.

Norway in World War I: A Neutral Ally? (4)

Britain held most of the cards so, initially at least, Germany was limited to making complaints through Diplomatic channels. The Norwegian Foreign Minister at the time, was able to deal with these concerns quite well. He was a businessman and fluent in German, which was an advantage in the situation.

Given that Norwegian ships could get to Germany without using the North Sea, it was easy for Norway to bypass the Royal Navy checks that would have seized goods.

When Britain issued various demands of blockades, intended to starve Germany of both food and materials for ammunition, Norway was able to politely demand recompense.

So, if Britain wanted to stop Norway selling fish to Germany then Britain would have to replicate the market for fish.

(Video) Norway in World War II - Easy History

At various points in the war, Britain was almost certainly buying things it neither wanted nor needed from Norway just to avoid it getting into German hands!

Germany fight back

For the first half of the war, more countries assumed it would be over quite quickly. As the war dragged on, and it became obvious that the assumption was false, many changes occurred around how the countries related to each other.

Germany’s literal secret weapon, the Unterseeboot or U-Boat, started to prove decisive during the second half of the war. From 1914 to 1916, Germany had used its fleet of U-Boats to sink various British ships.

Norway in World War I: A Neutral Ally? (5)

This included a few merchant ships but, mostly, Germany adhered to the accepted ‘prize rules’ that help protect commercial vessels and their crews from warring fleets. It didn’t hurt that the sinking of the RMS Lusitania and SS Sussex had angered the Americans.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the standing US Army at the time was about 100,000 men. No, I haven’t missed a zero off! That’s smaller even than Bulgaria. The Germans considered the US for quite a long time before eventually deciding that, even if they did enter the war, they’d make barely a difference.

Read more: The History of Skiing in Norway

To be sure, they opted for the swiftest victory they could imagine and ignored the diplomatic consequences. So, from the Autumn of 1916, the Germans started massively scaling up their U-Boat attacks on merchant vessels and ignoring the rules.

Britain blocks coal

Despite the overwhelming success of the German’s campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, it also helped galvanise an allied victory. Norway issued a Royal decree that armed submarines were not allowed to enter, remain in or pass-through Norwegian waters.

This angered the Germans who saw their submarine warfare as being a legitimate act along the lines of the British Navy’s blockade. As Germany was sinking what would end up being over one million tons of Norwegian merchant naval capacity, the British worried that it would kill their plans too.

The Norwegian ships had been instrumental in getting coal from Britain to France. As the Germans sank more ships, the British worried that the Norwegians might cave in and join their side.

(Video) Neutral Nations of WW1: Norway

So, the British, ever the masters of contrarian diplomacy, exerted more pressure on Norway claiming they’d broken the terms of the deal on exporting fish and copper to Germany. They stopped all coal exports to Norway in January 1917, during the harsh winter.

Norway in World War I: A Neutral Ally? (6)

The made Norway take notice quite quickly because without coal, much of Norway stops being somewhere that it’s easy to live and work, especially in winter!

Confirming the neutral ally

Norway finally agreed to stop all copper exports to Germany. In return the British, who had considered purchasing the merchant naval capacity of neutral countries, signed an agreement with the Norwegian Ship Owners Association.

This was, of course, a front for the Norwegian government to disguise their role and maintain the veneer of neutrality.

The idea was that British ships, therefore armed, would be substituted for Norwegian ships on the routes that suffered the heaviest losses. This would theoretically decrease the number of ships being lost to the submarines.

So effectively, through what is known at the Tonnage Agreement, a large proportion of the Norwegian merchant navy was under the control of, or at least the influence of, the British Royal Navy. Norway’s slow drift towards Britain had reached the point it was a ‘Neutral Ally’.

The agreement was effective and by the summer losses had more than halved. The Royal Navy had also restarted armed convoys at the time so it’s possible it was a combination of the two measures. Either way, the losses reduced.

Norway’s impact on the war

It would be foolish and absurd to state that Norway was the reason the allies of the Triple Entente won the war. But it’s also hard to argue that Norway, as a neutral country, played no role in the war effort either.

By remaining mostly neutral, Norway was able, through trade and diplomacy, to wield a little influence over both sides. Neither side could afford to capture or subsume any of the neutral countries completely. And importantly, they both lived in fear of what might happen if the other side did.

Remaining neutral has been Norwegian foreign policy since the country existed. In times of war it will always be tested and true neutrality has proved impossible overall. But the attempt is significant, worthy, and one that should be a matter of national pride.

(Video) Why can these 7 countries in Europe be neutral in World War 2?

FAQs

Was Norway a neutral country in ww1? ›

Norway managed to stay neutral during the First World War, but the war still crept into Norwegian life and impacted it in numerous ways.

Was Norway neutral in the war? ›

With the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, Norway again declared itself neutral.

Who was neutral in ww1? ›

Argentina, Chile, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Venezuela, Sweden and Switzerland. Only these countries were neutral during the Great War 1914-1918. The rest of the world conducted war with each other.

Was Norway in the allies? ›

Norway decided to join the North Atlantic Alliance, which convinced both Iceland and Denmark to follow suit as founding members. Finland had signed a treaty with the Soviet Union and Norway's last fellow Scandinavian country – Sweden – remained neutral throughout the entire period of the Cold War.

Why did Norway stay neutral? ›

Since the Great powers had no desire for unrest in Scandinavia, they signed an agreement respecting Norway's neutrality. Still, the political direction was clear: fearing Russian ambition in the north, the sentiment was that Norway should be neutral if war broke out, and rely on help from Great Britain if attacked.

What does neutrality mean in WW1? ›

Perfectly Neutral Nations in WW1

A perfectly neutral nation in any war is one that does not take a side, participate in combat, or contribute in any way to the war effort.

What did Norway do in WWI? ›

With the outbreak of war in 1914, Norway, like Sweden and Denmark, issued a declaration of neutrality. Norway was badly hurt by the war at sea, about half of Norwegian merchant shipping being lost.

How many wars has Norway won? ›

Denmark–Norway (1523–1814)
ConflictCombatant 1Combatant 2
Kalmar War (1611–1613)Denmark–NorwaySweden
Thirty Years' War (1625–1629)Denmark–Norway SwedenHoly Roman Empire The Catholic League
Torstenson War (1643–1645)Denmark–Norway Holy Roman EmpireSweden
First Karl Gustav War (1657–1658)Denmark–NorwaySweden
13 more rows

Is Norway part of NATO? ›

At present, NATO has 30 members. In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.

What makes a country neutral? ›

A neutral country does not take sides with belligerents during times of war. In contrast to many countries which are currently at war, many neutral countries managed to remain so even during World War II. The general guidelines to neutrality were outlined in the Hague Convention of 1907, Articles V and XIII.

Which country remained neutral during the war? ›

Countries That Claimed Neutrality Throughout the War

They included Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan as well as the microstates of Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Vatican City.

How many neutral countries are there? ›

Most people know that Switzerland is a neutral country, but may not realize that the Swiss are not alone in their neutrality. There are a total of eight neutral countries: Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkmenistan.

When did Norway leave NATO? ›

24 August 1949

How important is Norway to NATO? ›

' Norway has shared a border with the Soviet Union and then Russia, and while being a member of NATO, managing a balanced relationship of cooperation and also necessary deterrence next to military power.” NATO's emphasis on Russia in its new strategic blueprint, he said, is “a balanced message from NATO.”

Does the U.S. protect Norway? ›

Defense and Security Cooperation: As NATO allies, the United States and Norway are committed to each other's defense and partner in critical crisis areas around the world. Libya: Norway was one of the first allies to step up and deploy fighter aircraft as part of the NATO civilian protection mission in Libya.

What did Norway do in WWI? ›

With the outbreak of war in 1914, Norway, like Sweden and Denmark, issued a declaration of neutrality. Norway was badly hurt by the war at sea, about half of Norwegian merchant shipping being lost.

Is Norway a part of NATO? ›

As a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Norway has been an active participant in NATO since the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington on the 4th of April 1949.

Why was Sweden neutral in ww1? ›

During World War I, Sweden attempted to remain neutral and to assert its right to trade with the belligerent countries. For Great Britain, the blockade was an important weapon, and Sweden's demand to import freely favoured Germany exclusively. As a result, the Allies stopped a large percentage of Sweden's trade.

Was Denmark neutral in ww1? ›

When World War I broke out, Denmark declared its neutrality as a result of the political defence debate ensuing from its losses to Germany in 1864. Many neutral countries were involved in the Great War as suppliers of food to nations at war.

Origins

Norway and its NATO Allies in 1949. His Majesty King Haakon VII of Norway signs the Instrument of Accession for the Kingdom of Norway in Oslo on 12 May 1949.. Maps provided by one of NATO’s strategic commands: Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT).. Commander in Chief AFNORTH (CINCNORTH), British General Sir Horatius Murray in 1959. The Three Wise Men.. From left to right: Halvard Lange of Norway, Gaetano Martino of Italy and Lester B. Pearson of Canada.

The images record the war years from 1939 to 1945, spanning three conflicts: Winter War, the Continuation War and the Lapland War.

In particular, the Soviets sought a base on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland, from which they could block the Gulf of Finland from hostile naval forces.. Finland followed these events closely; thus, when, on October 5, the Soviets invited Finland to discuss “concrete political questions”, the Finns felt that they were next on the Soviets’ agenda.. In the negotiations, the main Soviet demand was that the Finns cede small parcels of territory, including a naval base on the Gulf of Finland that the Soviets wanted to help them protect Leningrad.. In exchange, the Soviets offered to cede to Finland about 8,800 square kilometers of Karelia along the Finnish border, or about twice the amount of land to be ceded by Finland.. In addition, moving the Finnish border on the Karelian Isthmus away from Leningrad would have given the Soviets possession of much of the line of Finnish fortifications, the loss of which would have weakened Finland’s defenses.. Underlying the hardline Finnish negotiating position was a basic mistrust of the Soviets and a feeling that the Soviet offer was merely a first step in subjugating Finland.. General Mannerheim also urged conciliating the Soviets, because Finland by itself could not fight the Soviet Union.. The Soviet preparations for the offensive were not especially thorough, in part because they underestimated the Finnish capabilities for resistance, and in part because they believed that the Finnish workers would welcome the Soviets as liberators.. By the terms of the Peace of Moscow, Finland ceded substantial territories: land along the southeastern border approximately to the line drawn by the Peace of Uusikaupunki in 1721, including Finland’s second-largest city, Viipuri; the islands in the Gulf of Finland that were the object of the negotiations in 1938-39; land in the Salla sector in northeastern Finland (near the Murmansk Railroad); Finland’s share of the Rybachiy Peninsula in the Petsamo area; and the naval base at Hanko on the Gulf of Finland, which was leased for thirty years.. In the succeeding months, Soviet meddling in Finnish affairs and other overbearing actions indicated to the Finns a continuing Soviet desire to subjugate Finland.. Three days later, Soviet aerial attacks against Finland gave the Finnish government the pretext needed to open hostilities, and the war was declared on June 26.. Despite Finland’s contributions to the German cause, the Western Allies had ambivalent feelings, torn between their residual goodwill for Finland and the need to support their vital ally, the Soviet Union.. Fighting broke out between German and Finnish forces even before the Soviet-Finnish preliminary peace treaty was signed, and the fighting intensified thereafter, as the Finns sought to comply with the Soviet demand that all German troops be expelled from Finland.. Despite the great losses inflicted by the war, Finland fought for and preserved its independence; nevertheless, had the Soviets been vitally concerned about Finland, there is no doubt that Finnish independence would have been extinguished.

I dislike Vucic because of his Uncanny Valley face and inability to commit as pro-Russia, instead identifying as “neutral.” However, he deserves big credit for being the first head of state to actually say in public what I’ve been saying since March: World War III has already begun. The US funding the Ukraine military to […]

BlogviewAndrew Anglin Archive Select Year/MonthAll Years = 332 ItemsDecade 2020s = 332 Items Year 2022 = 206 Items January 2022 = 15 Items February 2022 = 17 Items March 2022 = 36 Items April 2022 = 32 Items May 2022 = 30 Items June 2022 = 29 Items July 2022 = 34 Items Current Item August 2022 = 13 Items Year 2021 = 125 Items Year 2020 = 1 Item--- August 2022 = 13 Items July 2022 = 34 Items Current Item June 2022 = 29 Items May 2022 = 30 Items April 2022 = 32 Items March 2022 = 36 Items February 2022 = 17 Items January 2022 = 15 Items December 2021 = 14 Items November 2021 = 14 Items October 2021 = 14 Items September 2021 = 8 Items August 2021 = 19 Items July 2021 = 15 Items June 2021 = 20 Items May 2021 = 5 Items April 2021 = 9 Items March 2021 = 3 Items February 2021 = 3 Items January 2021 = 1 Item May 2020 = 1 Item. The US funding the Ukraine military to fight Russia means that the US is at war with Russia.. The Ukraine conflict is in fact already a world war, given that the West is fighting Russia via its proxies in Kiev, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told local media on Wednesday.. “ We should understand that amid the world war – because all the talks that it is a regional or a local war must be dropped – the entire Western world is fighting against Russia via Ukrainians.. Moreover, Vucic believes that after Russia gains some more ground in eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin will approach the West with a certain “proposal.”. And if they [the West] don’t accept it, – and they won’t – all hell will break loose ,” he predicted, without providing any details on the would-be initiative.. Now I feel bad for making fun of his face.. It’s not supposed to be easy.. Life is supposed to be endless suffering.. We’ve only been promised two things in this life:. Serbia is a country with a lot of scores that need to be settled – let me tell you that much.. We will strike hard with no mercy from Toledo and Sandusky, with reinforcements coming in from the Wolf’s Lair Battalion in Pennsylvania.. This is what a world war is about.

Ukraine latest as Russian shelling killed 13 people in Ukraine's central Dnipropetrovsk region overnight; the British defence ministry says Moscow has "almost certainly" established a major new ground forces formation.

The town of Marhanets, which sits across the Dnipro River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, is one that Russia has alleged Ukrainian forces have used in the past. to shell Russian forces who are holed up at the power plant - which they took over in March.. Their statement read: "We demand that Russia immediately hand back full control to its rightful sovereign owner, Ukraine, of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as well as of all nuclear facilities within Ukraine's internationally recognised borders to ensure their safe and secure operations.. UN expects 'big uptick' in applications for ships to export Ukraine grain. Strike at Crimea airbase shows Ukraine 'serious' about not letting go of region, military expert says. China accuses US of being 'main instigator' of Ukraine war

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4. Norway in World War II | Wikipedia audio article
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