Quisling had begun life honorably enough. Born in 1887 of peasant stock, he had graduated first in his class at the Norwegian Military Academy and while still in his twenties had been sent to Petrograd as military attaché. For his services in looking after British interests after diplomatic relations were broken with the Bolshevik government, Great Britain awarded him the C.B.E. At this time he was both pro-British and pro-Bolshevik. He remained in Soviet Russia for some time as assistant to Fridtjof Nansen, the great Norwegian explorer and humanitarian, in Russian relief work.
So impressed had the young Norwegian Army officer been by the success of the Communists in Russia that when he returned to Oslo he offered his services to the Labor Party, which at that time was a member of the Comintern. He proposed that he establish a “Red Guard,” but the Labor Party was suspicious of him and his project and turned him down. He then veered to the opposite extreme. After serving as Minister of Defense from 1931 to 1933, he founded in May of the latter year a fascist party called Nasjonal Samling—National Union—appropriating the ideology and tactics of the Nazis, who had just come to power in Germany. But Nazism did not thrive in the fertile democratic soil of Norway. Quisling was unable even to get himself elected to Parliament. Defeated at the polls by his own people, he turned to Nazi Germany.
There he established contact with Alfred Rosenberg, the befuddled official philosopher of the Nazi movement, among whose jobs was that of chief of the party’s Office for Foreign Affairs. This Baltic dolt, one of Hitler’s earliest mentors, thought he saw possibilities in the Norwegian officer, for one of Rosenberg’s pet fantasies was the establishment of a great Nordic Empire from which the Jews and other “impure” races would be excluded and which eventually would dominate the world under Nazi German leadership. From 1933 on, he kept in touch with Quisling and heaped on him his nonsensical philosophy and propaganda.
In June 1939, as the war clouds gathered over Europe, Quisling took the occasion of his attendance at a convention of the Nordic Society at Luebeck to ask Rosenberg for something more than ideological support. According to the latter’s confidential reports, which were produced at Nuremberg, Quisling warned Rosenberg of the danger of Britain’s getting control of Norway in the event of war and of the advantages to Germany of occupying it. He asked for some substantial aid for his party and press. Rosenberg, a great composer of memoranda, dashed out three of them for Hitler, Goering and Ribbentrop, but the three top men appear to have ignored them—no one in Germany took the “official philosopher” very seriously. Rosenberg himself was able to arrange at least for a fortnight’s training course in Germany in August for twenty-five of Quisling’s husky storm troopers.
During the first months of the war Admiral Raeder—or so he testified at Nuremberg—had no contact with Rosenberg, whom he scarcely knew, and none with Quisling, of whom he had never heard. But immediately after the Russian attack on Finland Raeder began to get reports from his naval attaché at Oslo, Captain Richard Schreiber, of imminent Allied landings in Norway. He mentioned these to Hitler on December 8 and advised him flatly, “It is important to occupy Norway.”5
Shortly afterward Rosenberg dashed off a memorandum (undated) to Admiral Raeder “regarding visit of Privy Councilor Quisling—Norway.” The Norwegian conspirator had arrived in Berlin and Rosenberg thought Raeder ought to be told who he was and what he was up to. Quisling, he said, had many sympathizers among key officers in the Norwegian Army and, as proof, had shown him a recent letter from Colonel Konrad Sundlo, the commanding officer at Narvik, characterizing Norway’s Prime Minister as a “blockhead” and one of his chief ministers as “an old soak” and declaring his willingness to “risk his bones for the national uprising.” Later Colonel Sundlo did not risk his bones to defend his country against aggression.
Actually, Rosenberg informed Raeder, Quisling had a plan for a coup. It must have fallen upon sympathetic ears in Berlin, for it was copied from the Anschluss. A number of Quisling’s storm troopers would be hurriedly trained in Germany “by experienced and diehard National Socialists who are practiced in such operations.” The pupils, once back in Norway, would seize strategic points in Oslo,
and at the same time the German Navy with contingents of the German Army will have to put in an appearance at a prearranged bay outside Oslo in answer to a special summons from the new Norwegian Government.
It was the Anschluss tactic all over again, with Quisling playing the part of Seyss-Inquart.
Quisling has no doubt [Rosenberg added] that such a coup … would meet with the approval of those sections of the Army with which he now has connections … As regards the King, he believes that he would accept such a fait accompli.
Quisling’s estimate of the number of German troops needed for the operation coincides with the German estimates.6
Admiral Raeder saw Quisling on December 11, the meeting being arranged through Rosenberg by one Viljam Hagelin, a Norwegian businessman whose affairs kept him largely in Germany and who was Quisling’s chief liaison there. Hagelin and Quisling told Raeder a mouthful and he duly recorded it in the confidential naval archives.
Quisling stated … a British landing is planned in the vicinity of Stavanger, and Christiansand is proposed as a possible British base. The present Norwegian Government as well as the Parliament and the whole foreign policy are controlled by the well-known Jew, Hambro [Carl Hambro, the President of the Storting], a great friend of Hore-Belisha … The dangers to Germany arising from a British occupation were depicted in great detail …
To anticipate a British move, Quisling proposed to place “the necessary bases at the disposal of the German Armed Forces. In the whole coastal area men in important positions (railway, post office, communications) have already been bought for this purpose.” He and Hagelin had come to Berlin to establish “clear-cut relations with Germany for the future … Conferences are desired for discussion of combined action, transfer of troops to Oslo, etc.”7
Raeder, as he later testified at Nuremberg, was impressed and told his two visitors that he would confer with the Fuehrer and inform them of the results. This he did the next day at a meeting at which Keitel and Jodl were also present. The Navy Commander in Chief (whose report on this conference is among the captured documents) informed Hitler that Quisling had made “a reliable impression” on him. He then outlined the main points the Norwegians had made, emphasizing Quisling’s “good connections with officers in the Norwegian Army” and his readiness “to take over the government by a political coup and ask Germany for aid.” All present agreed that a British occupation of Norway could not be countenanced, but Raeder, become suddenly cautious, pointed out that a German occupation “would naturally occasion strong British countermeasures … and the German Navy is not yet prepared to cope with them for any length of time. In the event of occupation this is a weak spot.” On the other hand, Raeder suggested that OKW
be permitted to make plans with Quisling for preparing and executing the occupation either:
a. by friendly methods, i.e., the German Armed Forces are called upon by Norway, or
b. by force.
Hitler was not quite ready to go so far at the moment. He replied that he first wanted to speak to Quisling personally “in order to form an impression of him.”8
This he did the very next day, December 14, Raeder personally escorting the two Norwegian traitors to the Chancellery. Although no record of this meeting has been found, Quisling obviously impressed the German dictator,* as he had the Navy chief, for that evening Hitler ordered OKW to work out a draft plan in consultation with Quisling. Halder heard that it would also include action against Denmark.10
Hitler saw Quisling again on December 16 and 18, despite his preoccupation with the bad news about the Graf Spee. The naval setback, however, seems to have added to his cautiousness about a Scandinavian adventure which would depend first of all on the Navy. According to Rosenberg, the Fuehrer emphasized to his visitor that “the most preferable attitude for Norway would be … complete neutrality.” However, if the British were preparing to enter Norway the Germans would have to beat them to it. In the meantime he would provide Quisling with funds to combat British propaganda and strengthen his own pro-German movement. An initial sum of 200,000 gold marks was allotted in January, with the promise of 10,000 pounds sterling per month for three months beginning on March 15.11
Shortly before Christmas Rosenberg dispatched a special agent, Hans-Wilhelm Scheidt, to Norway to work with Quisling, and over the holidays the handful of officers at OKW who were in the know began working on “Study North,” as the plans were first called. In the Navy opinion wasdivided. Raeder was convinced that Britain intended to move into Norway in the near future. The Operations Division of the Naval War Staff disagreed, and in its confidential war diary for January 13, 1940, their differences were aired.12
The Operations Division does not believe an imminent British occupation of Norway is probable … [It] considers, however, that an occupation of Norway by Germany, if no British action is to be feared, would be a dangerous undertaking.
The Naval War Staff therefore concluded “that the most favorable solution is definitely the maintenance of the status quo” and emphasized that this would permit the continued use of Norwegian territorial waters for the ore traffic “in perfect safety.”
Hitler was displeased with both the hesitations of the Navy and the results of Study North, which OKW presented to him the middle of January. On January 27 he had Keitel issue a top-secret directive stating that further work on “North” be continued under the Fuehrer’s “personal and immediate supervision” and directing Keitel to take charge of all preparations. A small working staff composed of one representative from each of the three armed services was to be set up in OKW and henceforth the operation was to have the code name Weseruebung.13
This step seems to have marked the end of the Fuehrer’s hesitations about occupying Norway, but if there were any lingering doubts in his mind they were dispelled by an incident which occurred in Norwegian waters on February 17.
An auxiliary supply ship of the Graf Spee, the Altmark, had managed to slip back through the British blockade and on February 14 was discovered by a British scouting plane proceeding southward in Norwegian territorial waters toward Germany. The British government knew that aboard it were three hundred captured British seamen from the ships sunk by the Graf Spee. They were being taken to Germany as prisoners of war. Norwegian naval officers had made a cursory inspection of the Altmark, found that it had no prisoners aboard and was unarmed, and given it clearance to proceed on to Germany. Now Churchill, who knew otherwise, personally ordered a British destroyer flotilla to go into Norwegian waters, board the German vessel and liberate the prisoners.
The British destroyer Cossack, commanded by Captain Philip Vian, carried out the mission on the night of February 16–17 in Jösing Fjord, where the Altmark had sought safety. After a scuffle in which four Germans were killed and five wounded, the British boarding party liberated 299 seamen, who had been locked in storerooms and in an empty oil tank to avoid their detection by the Norwegians.
The Norwegian government made a vehement protest to Britain about this violation of its territorial waters, but Chamberlain replied in the Commons that Norway itself had violated international law by allowing its waters to be used by the Germans to convey British prisoners to a German prison.
For Hitler this was the last straw. It convinced him that the Norwegians would not seriously oppose a British display of force in their own territorial waters. He was also furious, as Jodl noted in his diary, that the members of the Graf Spee crew aboard the Altmark had not put up a suffer fight—“no resistance, no British losses.” On February 19, Jodl’s diary discloses, Hitler “pressed energetically” for the completion of plans for Weseruebung. “Equip ships. Put units in readiness,” he told Jodl. They still lacked an officer to lead the enterprise and Jodl reminded Hitler that it was time to appoint a general and his staff for this purpose.
Keitel suggested an officer who had fought with General von der Goltz’s division in Finland at the end of the First World War, General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, who now commanded an army corps in the west, and Hitler, who had overlooked the little matter of a commander for the northern adventure, immediately sent for him. Though the General came from an old Silesian military family by the name of Jastrzembski, which he had changed to Falkenhorst (in German, “falcon’s eyrie”), he was personally unknown to the Fuehrer.
Falkenhorst later described in an interrogation at Nuremberg their first meeting at the Chancellery on the morning of February 21, which was not without its amusing aspects. Falkenhorst had never even heard of the “North” operation and this was the first time he had faced the Nazi warlord, who apparently did not awe him as he had all the other generals.
I was made to sit down [he recounted at Nuremberg]. Then I had to tell the Fuehrer about the operations in Finland in 1918 … He said: “Sit down and just tell me how it was,” and I did.
Then we got up and he led me to a table that was covered with maps. He said: “… The Reich Government has knowledge that the British intend to make a landing in Norway …”
Falkenhorst said he got the impression from Hitler that it was the Altmark incident which had influenced the Leader the most to “carry out the plan now.” And the General, to his surprise, found himself appointed then and there to do the carrying out as commander in chief. The Army, Hitler added, would put five divisions at his disposal. The idea was to seize the main Norwegian ports.
At noon the warlord dismissed Falkenhorst and told him to report back at 5 P.M. with his plans for the occupation of Norway.
I went out and bought a Baedeker, a travel guide [Falkenhorst explained at Nuremberg], in order to find out just what Norway was like. I didn’t have any idea … Then I went to my hotel room and I worked on this Baedeker … At 5 P.M. I went back to the Fuehrer.14
The General’s plans, worked out from an old Baedeker—he was never shown the plans worked out by OKW—were, as can be imagined, somewhat sketchy, but they seem to have satisfied Hitler. One division was to be allotted to each of Norway’s five principal harbors, Oslo, Stavanger,Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. “There wasn’t much else you could do,” Falkenhorst said later, “because they were the large harbors.” After being sworn to secrecy and urged “to hurry up,” the General was again dismissed and thereupon set to work.
Of all these goings on, Brauchitsch and Halder, busy preparing the offensive on the Western front, were largely ignorant until Falkenhorst called on the Army General Staff Chief on February 26 and demanded some troops, especially mountain units, to carry out his operation. Halder was not very co-operative; in fact, he was indignant and asked for more information on what was up and what was needed. “Not a single word on this matter has been exchanged between the Fuehrer and Brauchitsch,” Halder exclaimed in his diary. “That must be recorded for the history of the war!”
However, Hitler, full of contempt as he was for the old-line generals and especially for his General Staff Chief, was not to be put off. On March 29 he enthusiastically approved Falkenhorst’s plans, including his acquisition of two mountain divisions, and moreover declared that more troops would be necessary because he wanted “a strong force at Copenhagen.” Denmark had definitely been added to the list of Hitler’s victims; the Air Force had its eyes on bases there to be used against Britain.
The next day, March 1, Hitler issued the formal directive for Weser Exercise.
The development of the situation in Scandinavia requires the making of all preparations for the occupation of Denmark and Norway. This operation should prevent British encroachment on Scandinavia and the Baltic. Further it should guarantee our ore base in Sweden and give our Navy and the Air Force a wider starting line against Britain …
In view of our military and political power in comparison with that of the Scandinavian States, the force to be employed in “Weser Exercise” will be kept as small as possible. The numerical weakness will be balanced by daring actions and surprise execution.
On principle, we will do our utmost to make the operation appear as a peaceful occupation, the object of which is the military protection of the neutrality of the Scandinavian States. Corresponding demands will be transmitted to the Governments at the beginning of the occupation. If necessary, demonstrations by the Navy and Air Force will provide the necessary emphasis. If, in spite of this, resistance should be met, all military means will be used to crush it … The crossing of the Danish border and the landings in Norway must take place simultaneously …
It is most important that the Scandinavian States as well as the Western opponents should be taken by surprise … The troops may be acquainted with the actual objectives only after putting to sea …15
That very evening, March 1, there was “fury” at the Army High Command, Jodl reported, because of Hitler’s demands for troops for the northern operation. The next day Goering “raged” at Keitel and went to complain to Hitler. The fat Field Marshal was furious at having been left out of the secret so long and because the Luftwaffe had been put under Falkenhorst’s command. Threatened by a serious jurisdictional dispute, Hitler convoked the heads of the three armed services to the Chancellery on March 5 to smooth matters out, but it was difficult.
Field Marshal [Goering] vents his spleen [Jodl wrote in his diary] because he was not consulted beforehand. He dominates the discussion and tries to prove that all previous preparations are good for nothing.
The Fuehrer mollified him by some small concessions, and plans raced forward. As early as February 21, according to his diary, Halder had got the impression that the attack on Denmark and Norway would not begin until after the offensive in the West had been launched and “carried to a certain point.” Hitler himself had been in doubt which operation to begin first and raised the question with Jodl on February 26. Jodl’s advice was to keep the two operations quite separate and Hitler agreed, “if it were possible.”
On March 3 he decided that Weser Exercise would precede “Case Yellow” (the code name for attack in the West) and expressed “very sharply” to Jodl “the necessity of prompt and strong action in Norway.” By this time the courageous but outmanned and outgunned Finnish Army was facing disaster from a massive Russian offensive and there were well-founded reports that the Anglo–French expeditionary corps was about to embark from its bases in Scotland for Norway and march across that country and Sweden to Finland to try to save the Finns. * The threat of this was the main reason for Hitler’s hurry.
But on March 12 the Russo–Finnish War suddenly ended with Finland accepting Russia’s harsh terms for peace. While this was generally welcomed in Berlin because it freed Germany from its unpopular championship of the Russians against the Finns and also brought an end, for the moment, of the Soviet drive to take over the Baltic, it nevertheless embarrassed Hitler so far as his own Scandinavian venture was concerned. As Jodl confided to his diary, it made the “motivation” for the occupation of Norway and Denmark “difficult.” “Conclusion of peace between Finland and Russia,” he noted on March 12, “deprives England, but us too, of any political basis to occupy Norway.”
In fact, Hitler was now hard put to find an excuse. On March 13 the faithful Jodl recorded that the Fuehrer was “still looking for some justification.” The next day: “Fuehrer has not yet decided how to justify the ‘Weser Exercise.’” To make matters worse, Admiral Raeder began to get cold feet. He was “in doubt whether it was still important to play at preventive war (?) in Norway.”16
For the moment Hitler hesitated. Two other problems had in the meantime arisen: (1) how to handle Sumner Welles, the United States Undersecretary of State, who had arrived in Berlin March 1 on a mission from President Roosevelt to see if there was any chance of ending the war before the slaughter began in the West; and (2) how to placate the neglected, offended Italian ally. Hitler had not yet bothered to answer Mussolini’s defiant letter of January 3, and relations between Berlin and Rome had distinctly cooled. Now Sumner Welles, the Germans believed, and with some reason, had come to Europe to try to detach Italy from the creaky Axis and persuade her, at any event, not to enter the war on Germany’s side if the conflict continued. Various warnings had reached Berlin from Rome that it was time something were done to keep the sulking Duce in line.