"THE INVASION OF NORWAY
AN ADDRESS BY
CAPTAIN HJALMAR RIISER-LARSEN, R.N.N.
Chairman: The President, The Honourable G. Howard Ferguson.
Thursday, November 14, 1940
THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: I have very great pleasure in presenting to you today a gentleman who occupies a very prominent position in our minds at the moment-Captain Riiser-Larsen. He has had a varied career, a remarkable career, the old viking type of career, that carries our memory back to the days when they had the colossal nerve to sail up the River Thames and try to capture London, centuries ago. Captain Riiser-Larsen is not unknown in this locality. He has an encampment of flying men in training on the lake shore here and perhaps it would surprise many of you to know he already has four hundred Norwegians out there in training. Their intense devotion to their country, coupled with their confidence in the leadership of Captain Riiser-Larsen, is bringing daily accretion to the already substantial number he has. I am sure it is a great delight to feel that we have Norway as an ally. (Applause.) Captain Riiser-Larsen came from Oslo, one of the prettiest spots I have ever visited in my life, nestling down at the bottom of a huge fjord, beautifully surrounded, open to the sea, and laying special stress, very naturally, perhaps, upon the training of men for the sea. I recall seeing their Marine Training School, where huge numbers of their husky young Norwegians were enthusiastically taking training to assist in the development of their trade and the protection of their own land. Now, I haven't asked Captain Riiser-Larsen what he will talk about. I have told him to talk about anything he likes, because we will be interested in anything that comes from a man who has had such a continuously adventurous life. Captain Riiser-Larsen. (Applause.)
CAPTAIN HJALMAR RIISER-LARSEN, R.N.N.: Gentlemen: I am exceedingly glad to have this opportunity to speak to so many distinguished gentlemen on this side of the Atlantic, because I want as many as possible of you to hear what actually took place in Norway this spring. On the 9th of April and the following days, German press agencies sent out a lot of articles all over the globe, telling the people that the Norwegians were rascals and traitors and actually good for nothing. Their intention in doing that was to have the other smaller nations believe that there was nothing for the smaller nations to do but just go down, but these articles were far from correct and I want to tell you how I saw it happen and state a few facts.
In order to make you understand what is going on in Europe today and to understand the situation in regard to Germany, one has to take out the Treaty of Versailles and read through it. There are a couple of items in this Treaty which were not at all bad for the Germans and those paragraphs said that Germany had to abandon their Army and their Navy and their Air Force after the last war. But when Hitler came into power they began secretly to start to build up a new Army, a new Air Force and a new Navy. They had nothing whatever to start on. They had no old staff to hamper them, no old ships, no old guns, no old planes, they could start at the base of the technical developments of 1934, forgetting all about what was before that time, and building up these new forces with modern planes and tanks and everything, they saw how these things could be used in war and gradually they invented quite a new war technique. There was not very much left of the strategy of Napoleon, about which we had to read in army colleges until recently. They saw perfectly well that the Air Force today was no auxiliary to the Navy, or an auxiliary to the Army, it was something huge in itself, and of great importance, compared even to the Navy and the Army, and they saw how tanks could be used and should be used, and there was no more marching of soldiers twenty and thirty miles a day with all their equipment. They were all transported by truck and lorry and came to the scene of fighting not fatigued by long marches but ready to go into action.
You know, during the long winter, nothing actually happened to the Maginot Line. During those days the Germans laid plans for what was going to happen in the summer. They included in this plan submission of Norway but they based their plans on the presumption that Norway would not defend itself. They might have had certain reasons to believe that, when they looked upon the Norwegian defence, but the Germans are very bad psychologists and they didn't think about what was inside our hearts. We had a very little Navy which was mobilized in September last year; a very little Air Force, also mobilized; and the Army was not mobilized at all. There were just a few thousand troops in northern Norway, on account of the situation on the Finnish border.
What happened also showed that they believed we would not fight. On the night of the 8th of April they sent ships to attack all the strategic points of the coast. We got warning in the middle of the day on the 8th that a huge column of ships, transports and war-ships had passed the Danish Straits going north. We were alarmed, of course, but not perhaps as much as we should have been because on the 25th of December that very same fleet did the same thing and returned. We believed it to be some kind of manoeuvre. Anyway, to tell you how unprepared Norway, as well as Denmark was, I will tell you a little incident that happened in Copenhagen on the 8th. I happened to be there with my wife. We had attended a meeting when news came about the transport fleet. I was immediately called to Oslo where I was Chief of the Naval Air Staff. I had to take a plane at three o'clock in the afternoon to get back there. Our Danish friends begged me to let my wife stay back in Copenhagen because they said it looked as though something were going to happen to Norway. They said, "The Germans are going to attack Norway. Why not let your wife be here in Denmark? She will be perfectly safe here." I said, "Why?" They said, "Because we have a non-aggression treaty with Germany." Twenty hours later, Denmark was totally invaded.
Well, I will tell you, as briefly as possible what happened around the coast of Norway. In the Fjord of Oslo there is a very narrow part where we have an old fortress. The Germans sent several big ships with transports up the fjord in the middle of the night. It was a pitch black night, there were low clouds and poor visibility. The patrol boat at the outlet of the fjord was suddenly silent. Nothing was heard from it and another boat was sent out to find what had happened.
The patrol boat had been rammed in the darkness of the night and had not been able to warn the place by radio. The German ships proceeded and came up very close to this fortress and the fortress opened fire on the leading ship, the "Blucher". She was hit by two shots from the 12-inch guns but she proceeded a few hundred yards farther and came abreast of our shore torpedo stations. They dropped two torpedoes into her and that was enough. One of the torpedoes tore open the fuel tank, and the fuel spread all over the water. When the ship turned over and went down the fuel was ignited. There were fourteen hundred men on board the "Blucher" and most of them were burned in the water. There was one thing which didn't make us Norwegians cry the next morning when we heard about it. On board the "Blucher" there were the three hundred Gestapo officers which were to have had control. The three hundred of them went down and none of us wept. There were direct hits on another of the big ships and they all turned around and retreated but sent the people ashore and turned out the fjord, on both sides of it. Their plans had been that these ships should have passed the fortress without being shot at and go directly to Oslo, send the troops ashore, surround the place and take the King and Government prisoners-and then dictate the peace terms.
By this incident the King and the Government got time to get away from Norway into the north end of the country. At Kristiansand, on the southern part of the coast, they sent a cable to the garrison at the fortress, in Norwegian, saying that three French war-ships had permission to enter the port. Three war-ships came under the French flag and were permitted to enter the port. The Commander there believed they were French ships that were coming to our help and assistance. When they had got inside the range of the guns at the fortress they pulled down the French flag and hoisted the swastika instead. A small Norwegian patrol boat sank one of the ships. At Stavanger a small Norwegian torpedo boat sank a big German transport before it was hit itself and blown up.
At Bergen several instances of fighting happened during the first night and during the first days after the night of April the 9th. I know that one of the naval aircraft sank a German mine layer.
In the Fjord of Trondhjem, which is quite a long fjord in the middle of the country on the west coast, the Germans got hold of all the Norwegian coast steamers they could lay their hands on during the night and lined them up along the sides of their ships, so that when they steamed past the fortress our gunners dared not shoot because they would hit Norwegians. Many would say they should have shot. I just want to remind you that Norway has had no war since 1814. For one hundred and twenty-six years no Norwegian soldier has lifted a gun to shoot another man.
At Narvik we had two old coast defence battle-ships of forty-two hundred tons. One was lying outside the port and one just at the entrance, when in the middle of the night German destroyers hove in sight-this is another trick of the German way of fighting. They sent an officer with a white flag in a boat to the Norwegian ship. The officer went on board and asked to see the Norwegian Commanding Officer and requested him to surrender. His answer was that "Our orders are to fight and go down." That is the standing order for the whole of the Navy. Well, nothing could be done and this German officer went down into his boat; but instead of going directly back to his ship-and the Norwegian ships couldn't open fire before this man got on board his own ship again-he went a few yards ahead with his motor launch and then fired a Very pistol, with a brilliant light and gave full speed, which gave the torpedo aimers on the destroyers a chance to aim their torpedoes, and the Norwegian ship was ten seconds later hit by one of the destroyer's torpedoes. In one minute the munitions magazine and the ship were blown in the air and only five or six men were saved. The second Norwegian battle-ship opened fire immediately following this attack and damaged, very badly, one of the destroyers and also damaged the second one before she was hit herself by two torpedoes. The first destroyer sank the next day. Two hundred and ninety-six good Norwegian sailors and officers went down. That is what happened around the coast in the middle of the night. I should have liked very much to have had a chance to stand behind some curtains in Hitler's room around three o'clock in the morning when it was reported to him that the Norwegians were fighting, because then he got panic-stricken.
He has spoken quite a lot about a secret weapon and we have all been wondering what that weapon is. He has said several times that England is no longer an island. When he said that, we thought of the possibility of bombing England from the air. England was not invulnerable any longer. Now, he showed what his secret weapon was and what he meant by the statement that England is no longer an island. It was the mass invasion by air. He had sent far too few troops to Norway to be able to take Norway when we fought. He had to make sure of it. He couldn't lose prestige by having the German troops thrown into the water again so he used the new weapon, the mass invasion by air. I had a chance to see it on the 9th and the following days. About seven o'clock in the morning the reconnaissance planes came and a lot of air fighting took place with the Norwegian single seaters, and at ten o'clock huge waves of transport planes came. Each plane had twenty-six very well equipped soldiers on board. They landed just on the outside of Oslo and fought down the small defence we had there. They lost fourteen or fifteen planes that day. That didn't matter to the Germans. It doesn't matter to the Germans if they do lose planes because if they have decided to take a country they have counted-well, it will cost ten thousand planes to take it, and they take the country, and the ten thousand planes go. They just waste material and men-they can always get more.
Well, I was at Oslo watching this and it gradually dawned upon me that this was something new. We knew, of course, that a few hundred men could be transported by planes, but tens of thousands of men with machineguns, with bicycles and all kinds of equipment! We never thought they could do it to that extent. At Bergen, for instance, where there is no land airport they transported a whole regiment of three thousand men, with their outfits by seaplane and they landed at Bergen in a small harbour in three hours.
Well, on the land, the Norwegians had not mobilized, as I said, but the young boys sneaked out of Oslo, through the woods and through the German lines with their skis and packsacks, and gathered into platoons where they met other boys, and the platoons gathered into companies and battalions. They procured officers and made what resistance they could until the people came down from the valleys. When this fighting took place the Germans understood at once that they had to get hold of the King. There is another thing they did which a decent mind could not conceive of. A diplomat is not supposed to take part in actual fighting, but the German Air Attache was in Oslo and he got hold of the first German soldiers that came there. They took town busses and rushed after the King. Fortunately, the Norwegians had got some troops together, one hundred men or something like that, who made a stand against them just outside of the place where the King was, and the first man to fall was this German Attache. They didn't get the King. From then on they were after him the whole time, trying to kill him when they couldn't get him alive. They sent out the German Minister in Oslo and he asked to have an interview with the King. They didn't know where he was. The King gave that interview because he would try everything to stop this bloodshed. Well, in that way the German Minister found out where the King was. The King rejected his proposals and the Minister went directly back to Oslo. One hour after he got there German planes, in big waves, came over the place where the King was. They bombed the whole vicinity, and on one occasion he had to throw himself into a ditch to escape. He finally got into the woods, and for one hour and twenty minutes they bombed and machine-gunned him continuously. Finally, they had no more bombs and munitions left and they departed, but on every occasion they could get at him they tried to kill him. They hoped this would stop the war.
We made the resistance we could on land, and I will tell you a few things about how the Germans were fighting-the new ways they have of fighting, ways which never a decent mind could conceive of, and consequently no decent mind could find precautions against.
After the last war, during the long blockade, Norwegians took German boys to Oslo and throughout the whole of the country, and kept them for half a year. They took them up the next year and had more for another half a year or a year, just feeding them--thousands and thousands of young boys. They learned, of course, to speak Norwegian, because children easily learn languages. Well, all of these former boys now came visiting Norway as officers, speaking fluent Norwegian. They could go to broadcasting stations and so on, and the Norwegians couldn't tell that it was Germans that had taken over the stations. And they did worse than that. During the first days they dressed the German soldiers up as Norwegians. They then went out into the country and burned down the farm homes, and when the Norwegians did come, they, of course, were shot at too, because the farmer's didn't know who were Norwegians and who were Germans. They machine-gunned- the streets, as they are doing now in England. They bombed hospitals and hospital ships so that the Chief of Medical Services had to issue an order that the Red Cross should not be flown anywhere because they would go for that first. They even machine-gunned funeral processions, every living thing they saw on the road they shot at. They bombed lonely houses in the mountains that were no military object whatever, just with the object of terrorizing the people in an attempt to make us give up fighting.
In most of the small towns of Norway the houses are built of wood--because, of course, we have plenty of it. They would set fire to these small houses with the incendiary bombs and they kept the firemen away from putting out the fires by machine-gun fire. Most of the towns were burned down and are now left in ruins. I received, some time ago, the statistics which showed that fifteen thousand homes in Norway had been destroyed, and if you take everything into consideration, the public buildings and so on, it will take us two generations to build again and to get as far as we were on the 9th of April.
When the fighting in Norway had to be given up the King and the Government went to London and at the first meeting they had there they decided to go on fighting. You may ask how can a country which is completely invaded from land's end to land's end go on fighting? Where do they get their money? Well, Norway was one of the biggest shipping nations in the world and five-sixths of our merchant marine was outside of Norway, sailing the seven seas, which they are still doing. That gives us money for our war effort.
The best part of the war effort is, of course, this great shipping fleet which is manned by thirty thousand sailors, bringing munitions and guns and bringing food also, to the colonies. (Applause.) Apart from that we have two Air Forces here in Toronto; that is the Army Air Force and the Navy Air Force, which we are reorganizing here. The Chairman told you that we have five hundred men and officers today and that is increasing gradually. The nucleus of this crew here are people who have been fighting in Norway, in the Air Forces, and who have escaped. We have here a lot of fliers who flew their own planes to England when they had to give up fighting. From Norway they flew to the Shetland Islands, which is a long distance to fly. They stole German planes and flew over to England. They came over in fishing boats and small sailing boats. I have two men who bought a small rowing boat for five dollars up in the northern part of the country. They rowed down the coast to the western part and rowed across the North Sea. It took them five days and nights to row the North Sea. I asked one of them when they came over here, "What about sleep in a little boat rocking about?" He said, "O, no, Sir, we didn't think of sleeping, it was much too cold to sleep. We had to row in order to keep warm."
Three days ago a young Norwegian arrived here who got out of the country as late as October the 6th. They tell me that all over the country they know that we have a training camp here in Toronto, and all the young lads are speaking about nothing else but how to get out of the country and get to Canada.
And further, as to our war effort--at the time the British Navy was short of hands, nine hundred Norwegian sailors, being in England, joined up with the British Navy where they now are fighting, and we have quite a big Army Legion training in Scotland where they have already done some useful work.
What I was going to say about this secret weapon of Hitler's was that that problem of mass invasion from the air opened the eyes of everybody when they saw what had happened in Norway and also what happened in the Low Countries. This gave England a chance to take the precautions necessary to stop German planes from landing. Such precautions were not taken at an earlier date and it gave England all the necessary time to equip and drill their Home Guards. That was during the nine weeks of fighting in Norway.
The programme of Hitler was completely upset. Now he saw that he could not invade from the air. He knew, I suppose, that it would be pretty hard to do it from the sea, so he switched over his plan and got all these parties gathered together in the Channel ports. But he didn't reckon with the Royal Air Force which he never has reckoned with in this war. They have, however, shown him what they are--the most magnificent corps that ever was fighting for its country in the history of the globe. (Applause.)
It was written in the English papers and many other papers, when the Germans went into Norway-you know the background- of the long winter without any fighting it was written that the war was going to be won in Norway. That didn't come true, but it is partly true anyway, because the Germans lost the war in Norway, and because the cost was so expensive to them, too. It cost sixty-five thousand men to take Norway. It is now a question of finishing it and that question is also a humanitarian question, to a very large extent, because the sooner it can be finished the better for all the people in the occupied countries. They will have to suffer quite a lot, so it mustn't last too long, and therefore one must not slacken on this war effort but go on.
And now, looking at everything that has happened around us we see that even the Germans begin to understand that it is going wrong. Look at Hitler. Before, he used to sit in Berlin, calling the big people to come to see him there or see him at Berchtesgaden. He seems to be rather nervous now. He went to Paris to see Laval. He went to the Spanish border to see Franco, to try to get him into the war. I don't think he will succeed because Spain sees now who is going to win. He used to go down to the Pass to meet Mussolini. He was so eager to see him the last time that he went to Florence and very soon he might go to Rome, but Rome is going to be a very unhealthy place in the coming days. So I think we can look forward with complete confidence, knowing that England is growing tremendously in strength from day to day, knowing that there will come what we call in Norway, a spring cleaning, when they clean up the houses in the spring, and there will be quite a cleaning up all over.
I say again, I am glad to have had this opportunity, and we Norwegians are all very glad to be on your side, of course. Mind you, we are very few but this war machine is quite a big machine, and there are small cog wheels, too. Norway is a tiny little cog wheel in this machinery, but we are going to make a good cog wheel, doing our part of the job.
Before concluding, as this is being broadcast, I want to say a few words, not to you, but to the person who is sitting not very far from here, a German who is taking down this speech of mine in shorthand. I know you are going to send it to the States and from the States it will be sent to Berlin, and from Berlin probably a copy will be sent to Oslo. I send this warning to the German soldiers in Norway. They don't know that they are going to lose the war, but even if they don't think they are, they must deal kindly with the population in Norway and also in all the occupied countries, because the day is not distant when we are going to check up your account, and it would be very well if some Norwegians would recommend your pardon. Thank you.
Concluding, I want to say a few words, not as a Naval Officer, but just as a human citizen of this globe. I am very sorry for what happened to France but there is some good in it. Always in my life, when something has happened which I haven't liked I have taken the medal and turned it, and the medal has always two sides, you know, and one often finds on the reverse side good things. This thing with France is, on the reverse, also in some respects a good thing, for when this war finishes I sincerely hope that there is only one big power that is going to settle the peace terms, and that is England. (Applause.) I hope there will be no Treaty Conference in Versailles, with a lot of countries discussing and finally just drafting something which is a compromise which will make us lose the peace.
There is another thing I want to ask of you, and that is, for Heaven's sake, don't make a League of Nations any more. That was shown to be a failure. It has got to be a failure. You can't get all races and nations together in a huge room discussing such matters, where nationalism and chauvinism are the leading factors. You cannot get them to agree where you set up such a thing as that. It is quite unnecessary, it hasn't been of any good and it will never be of any good because it can't work. There is something much nearer at hand. Great Britain has policed this world for hundreds and hundreds of years, and we in the small countries have been perfectly happy about things. It seems now that the world perhaps has grown a bit too big for one country to police, through the population increasing and through communications being improved everywhere, but why couldn't all the English-speaking people, the United States together with Great Britain, form a police union. If you two big nations would do that, undertake to police the world, I know that we small countries will be only too happy and too glad, because we know we would live in peace and we would be perfectly happy with the rock of freedom, the Gibralter of Freedom which England is today. (Applause--prolonged.)
THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: I will ask Dr. McArthur to express our appreciation.
THE HONOURABLE DUNCAN MCARTHUR: Mr. President, Gentlemen: I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to Captain Larsen for the most vivid description which he has brought to us of what happened in Norway in the middle of this year. Many of us had suspected that resort was made to the utmost means of treachery, but I am doubtful if we realized the extent to which treachery was resorted to in taking advantage of the Norwegian people. It is possible, Mr. President, that we are welcoming today a descendant of one of the first of the Europeans who set foot on Canadian soil. In these days when we welcome the valour and bravery and courage of the Norwegian people, we would like to think that they had something to do with the founding of European settlement on the North American continent. We are grateful to him, not only for his address and for his words of encouragement, we are grateful to him for the magnificent work which he is doing to assist our effort in the persecution of the war.
On your behalf, I wish to thank him and to express the hope that before many months may pass, the King and Government of Norway may be restored to their ancient capital and that Norway once again may know the ways of peace. (Applause.)