I was looking over a map of where the Nazis invaded and they never attacked Sweden.

I was wondering why since it seems like a much better strategic move than invading Russia. Why might they have chosen not to do so?

  • 1
    Could you detail more ^"since it seems like a much better strategic move than invading Russia." And add that to your question?
    – Rohit
    Mar 3, 2015 at 15:06
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    What? You don't think that Hitler invaded enough countries? Hitler is usually criticized for invading more countries than he could control. Just be grateful that sometimes he saw a country that he didn't invade. Jul 23, 2016 at 18:19
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    Real life isn't like playing Civ 3. Simply looking at the map won't tell you anything. You need to understand the people in all of those grid squares and hexagons ... Nov 16, 2016 at 18:53
  • Russia invaded Finland and only the 3rd Reich defended Finland whereas Great Britain and France did not. This ended the League of Nations so Sweden caught between two massive powers at War with one another smartly stayed neutral. Nov 16, 2016 at 19:34

9 Answers 9


Sweden was a vital source of iron ores to Germany, an important strategic resource for her war effort. Because the allies controlled the seas, Scandinavia was Germany's main source of good quality iron. Attacking Sweden would have disrupted the supply for no real gain.

Production of high-grade steel suitable for armour plate and gun barrels depended largely on the Bessemer process which, in turn, required ores of high phosphorus content. This Swedish iron had in plenty, and German foundries relied especially on supplies mined from ... northern Sweden.

Swedish ore was so essential to the German armaments industry, in fact, that as late as 1944, when the Reich's inland transportation network was under considerable strain, Germany went to great lengths to sustain its coal exports to Sweden in order to complete the exchange for ore.

- Greenhous, Brereton, et al. The Crucible of War, 1939-1945. The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Volume III. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1994.

Politically, this also meant that Sweden, while neutral, continued to trade with Nazi Germany. Hitler could get what he needed from Sweden by diplomacy or coercion. Soviet Russia, in contrast, was an ideological enemy and a competing or potentially competing great power. Although it ended badly, that gave Hitler an actual motivation to invade (in addition to his personal issues).

Now, if Sweden refused to supply Germany's resource needs, then that would probably have increased the likelihood of an invasion; but Swedish leaders cooperated with Hitler.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 17, 2016 at 3:29
  • Corroborating this, see also Adam Tooze's economic history, "The Wages of Destruction" (Penguin Books (USA), New York, 2008, p. 381): "In 1940 more than half of Germany's iron ore needs were supplied by imports and 83 per cent of these imports came from Sweden." "Not that Hitler's regime had anything to fear from the Swedes. Germany held the whip hand over Sweden, as over Switzerland, since both depended on Germany for their supplies of coal." He goes on to mention that Sweden's government had declared their cooperative intentions to Hitler, so invasion wouldn't have made sense.
    – andrew
    Nov 18, 2016 at 22:28

For the same reason he did not invade Switzerland, the cost-benefit ratio was not good.

Also, you should realize that the Germans were not just a bunch of frenzied madmen attacking everybody. They were happy to co-exist with other countries that were friendly, such as Sweden. After the war started, many countries, including the United States (1941), Britain (1939) and France (1939), cut off commercial ties with Germany, which meant that Germany could not trade or do banking in those countries. Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal did not cut off trade and did business with Germany normally. As far as Germany was concerned why would they want to attack them? They were friends. It's kind of like saying, hey, the United States could easily conquer Mexico and Canada, why aren't we doing it? Germany primarily attacked countries that were either outright enemies, or were expected to become enemies in the near future.

Comment on Business Relations with the US/Americas

Some people in the comments seem to have taken exception to my comment about Germany's loss of business with the US and other countries. I know there is sort of a propaganda cult about how American big business "conspired" with Nazi Germany, but the reality is that Germany and Italy's trade with the entire world other than Europe was curtailed by the British blockade which included wheat and coffee as "contraband". In fact, even a United States mail ship going to Italy was embargoed by the British on some pretext. The British not only stopped any ships from going to Germany, but often stole their cargo as well. All over the world German merchant ships tried to hide in neutral ports to no avail as Britain and the United States found any means to coerce the country involved to hand the ship over to them.

If the British blockade was not sufficient, changes to the Neutrality Act in 1939 gave Roosevelt the power to declare war zones and make it illegal for American citizens and ships to enter those zones. By declaring all of the Axis-controlled places "war zones" Roosevelt accomplished a de facto blockade of Germany even though the US was technically "neutral".

Possibly even more damaging to Germany business-wise, was not the economic blockade, but the financial blockade. The US, Britain and France all made their currency inconvertible to Deutschmarks as early as 1936. Since the Germans could not buy Dollars from the US Treasury, for example, and it was illegal under the neutrality acts for American banks to issue credit to any German company, this made it virtually impossible for Germany to buy US goods. A US manufacturer will not take Deutschmarks in payments, only dollars, so by cutting off the dollar supply to Germany, trade became not only extremely difficult not only with the United States, but even with their allies. For example, just to trade with Turkey was very awkward and required all kinds of wierd barter arrangements, even though Turkey was completely out of the Allied sphere of influence.

In 1941 when war was declared all vestigial business that the US was doing with Germany through third parties was ended.

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    But surely Sweden had a Jewish population that hitler would want to exterminate
    – philip
    Oct 22, 2014 at 19:25
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    Germany's priorities in the beginning of the war were to unify the German people and neutralize hostile neighbors like France, not exterminate people. Oct 22, 2014 at 19:28
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    This is blatantly untrue: "In the 1930s many countries, including the United States, Britain and France, cut off commercial ties with Germany, which meant that Germany could not trade or do banking in those countries". Many US corporations didn't even cut-off relations with Nazi Germany after Pearl Harbor. Oct 23, 2014 at 3:06
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    @jwenting: Check your facts - significant trade continued through Spain and Portugal with Nazi Germany by many US companies right through the war. Roosevelt was able to minimize the effect of this on the war effort by getting public buy-in by the dollar-a-year men, and restricting access to critical war materials to factories producing for the Allied war effort, even while those individuals continued to reap profits from trade with Nazi Germany. Oct 23, 2014 at 3:32
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    @TylerDurden Incorrect Your answer continues to be factually incorrect and misleading. The US did not cut off commercial ties with Nazi Germany at the start of the war. In 1939 the US declared it neutrality after the Nazis had taken Czechoslovakia and invaded Poland, and after Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand had declared war. The US was doing business with Nazis before and during the war. Oct 24, 2014 at 16:59

It is somewhat important to realize that even Hitler was not so mad as to actually consider invading all of Europe, and getting away with it. He had to consider cost vs. benefit.

Hitler's target -- "the plan", as early as 1925 -- was the Soviet Union. That's where his ideological enemy was: Bolshevism. That's where his whole screwed "Lebensraum" vision played out: land, slaves, and resources.

As such, the pre-war invasions and occupations -- Austria, Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia -- and the attack on Poland were merely setting the stage for the attack on Soviet Russia.

But when England and France started switching from a policy of Appeasement to eventually declaring war on Germany after the invasion of Poland, he had to consider stabilizing his position to the west as well. That is where the second set of invasions and occupations comes in.

Denmark and Norway (crippling the German navy), to deny the northern flank to England, secure the Swedish iron ore supplies, and give the German navy some wiggle room in the North Sea. France (via the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg), the most direct threat to Germany and its industrial heart, the Ruhr area.

That last one succeeded beyond expectations, and rather surprisingly to everyone (including the Germans) an invasion of Britain itself was considered... Although you could say that Operation Sea Lion was (at least) as much an attempt to scare Britain into an armistice as a credible threat. At the same time Hitler was still deluded enough to make peace offers to Britain... which would have allowed him to focus all his powers on the Soviets.

So now he had to fortify France, fought the Battle of Britain (crippling the Luftwaffe), and had to help his ally Italy in North Africa, and handle the situation on the Balkans -- to deny England access and secure the supply of Romanian oil.

All this was a severe strain on available forces, and crucially delayed the attack on Soviet Russia. Had he been given the choice, he'd rather have done without all this.

Note that the first set of invasions was mostly offensive in nature: Getting at Russia. The second set was mostly defensive in nature ("defensive" in a very lose definition of the word): Securing his back, flanks, and access to crucial resources.

The second set was not originally part of "the plan". The historian in me is wondering what would have happened if France and Britain hadn't declared war, or if Britain had folded after the fall of France...

Now, Sweden... With Norway held by Germany, and Finland still free, Sweden was not under threat. It was much easier delivering coal to Sweden in exchange for ore than stretching the German war machine yet further and invade (probably disrupting the supply of ore for several months).

There was nothing to be gained from invading Sweden, and the German forces did not have the resources to spare anyway.

  • I am not sure why this answer didn't get more upvotes. It actually addressed the question directly from a geopolitics and geo strategic perspective. Nov 16, 2016 at 18:51
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    @KorvinStarmast: Over the many years I have delved into WWII history, I found there is a significant reluctance to give the Nazis any credit for actually having goals and a plan. Because that makes them even scarier than picturing them as mass-murdering lunatics.
    – DevSolar
    Nov 16, 2016 at 18:55
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    I think that is due to people latching on to "Nazis" and not "Germans" as whom they are discussing. Easier to dismiss and depersonalize that way. Nov 16, 2016 at 19:44

Sweden like Switzerland was a neutral country and not involved in the conflict. Attacking Sweden would have tied up military resources and it wasn't really necessary since the resources Germany needed from Sweden could be obtained by trade or diplomacy. See Wikipedia's article on Sweden during World War II for more information.

There was also an ideological base for it. Hitler thought the Swedes were good Aryans so the Nazis expected Sweden to become an ally after the war.

If we turn the question around. What benefits would an invasion give? Norway was occupied to prevent the allies from doing it (Plan R 4). The allied plans to occupy Sweden was cancelled so that reason disappeared.

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    Germany needed working and well-functioning mines, so if they would have tried to invade Sweden, how easily would it be to make the iron mines in Bergslagen and Kiruna/Malmberget unoperative for an period of say two years ? Very easy i would say. Mar 6, 2020 at 8:57

It was because there was no STRATEGIC reason for Hitler to attack Sweden. Hitler goal is to colonize Slavic lands in eastern Europe, especially Poland and Russia. He attacked Norway to keep the Allies from opening a second font in the north. He attacked Belgium because it was on the way to France. He attacked France because France didn't want let him attack the east, which was always Hitler's goal. Sweden was already surrounded by Germany's friends and wasn't posing any threat, so there was no reason to attack. Yes Hitler was a genocidal maniac but even then, he wasn't trying to conquer all of Europe. He didn't officially annex most of France either, mainly just Alsace-Lorraine and I think some other parts near the border.


Why would it seem like a much better strategic move than invading Russia? They are extremely different propositions, it seems to me.

It proved true that Sweden did not need to be invaded. It continued to supply trade and needed resources (mainly iron), and not invading it had advantages such as having a neutral country nearby, which is useful for other sorts of trade and politics. Also, invading and occupying a country requires time and many resources, and can have various negative results, both immediately and indirectly.

From a purely military perspective, since France and England declared war on Germany when they attacked Poland, Germany decided to address that threat as quickly as possible, which they felt required securing Denmark and Norway first, to avoid being outflanked by a naval invasion while they moved against France. (Hitler had hoped France and England would remain neutral even as he went on to attack Russia; Russia was the opponent he was always most concerned with.)

The schedule of attacking Denmark and Norway was something that had to be done quickly in order to have time to redeploy for a crushing attack on France and the Low Countries (and Britain) as early as possible in 1940. Attacking Sweden after Norway would have been even more effort than Norway, and probably would have delayed and weakened the attack on France, for little or no immediate gain or even reason. The reason for attacking Denmark and Norway was to be able to defend the coast against invasion, while Sweden offers no invadable coast if Denmark and Norway are held.

Once France had fallen, again there was little reason to attack Sweden, but there was a similar rush to consolidate eastern European countries before moving on Russia in 1941. A common criticism of what Germany did was their effort to help Italy in Africa, which delayed the invasion of Russia. Invading Sweden would have similarly tied up forces and further delayed the invasion of Russia, but again would have had little or no reason and negative results, as well.

Even if there was seen to be a reason to attack Sweden, it would have been greatly outweighed by the competing military need to hit France and Russia as soon and as strongly as possible, to prevent them from building up defensive positions or going on the offensive themselves.

This situation has been clear in all of the World War II strategic wargame representations I have played, such as Third Reich, Hitler's War, or even the simplistic Strategic Command, all of which do let you invade Sweden for an advantage to production, but also in all of them, it's almost certain that doing so will mess up your ability to deploy quickly in strength against France and/or Russia, which is pretty clearly more important.

In some games, invading Sweden also tends to make it more likely that the United States will declare war on Germany (and start war mobilization) earlier, which is of course also a very bad thing.

As for why Sweden vs. Russia, Hitler and Stalin both anticipated eventual war with each other, and Sweden had no plan to fight Germany, and massively fewer resources with which to do it. The only way that choice makes sense to me is if you could find a way be sure to never have to fight Russia at all, which would have been better, but probably wouldn't involve attacking Sweden to achieve it (though it might involve letting Stalin invade Finland). That would require a very different mindset than actually existed, particularly while Hitler and Stalin continued to rule.

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    Almost, but falling short. Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries and France were not even considered as targets prior to the declaration of war by England and France. The schedule was Poland - Russia...
    – DevSolar
    Oct 24, 2014 at 13:04
  • @DevSolar Before invading Poland (which immediately caused England and France to declare war), ok. I did mention that Hitler anticipated war with Russia. It seems to me that's not really the OP's question, which was about the context of looking at the full map of places the Germans actually invaded, which was the result of the actual situation that developed.
    – Dronz
    Oct 24, 2014 at 20:34
  • At the risk of further downvotes from people who don't think historical wargames are well researched, I will say that of a dozen or more WW2 historical strategy games I've seen, almost all assume the war starts with Germany invading Poland, leading automatically to war with England and France.
    – Dronz
    Oct 24, 2014 at 20:36
  • @DevSolar Also I'm curious if you have a source for Germany not even considering England and France as potential targets. It seems to me that, German military thinking tending to be thorough, and the actual plan being very much like what was done in WWI, the existence of the Maginot Line showing it was very much considered by France, that I am sure some Germans were at least considering the possibility.
    – Dronz
    Oct 24, 2014 at 20:38
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    The french army was (theoretically) the largest one in Europe and so needed to be dealt with or neutralized. Mar 6, 2020 at 9:04

Sweden cooperated with Germany in World War II. (Although the Allies did manage to "launch" Eric Ericcson, a Swedish-American spy, from Sweden, in large part because Germans felt that Sweden was a potential "safe haven" for German "flight capital" by high-ranking Nazis.) My Swedish friends tell me that Sweden allowed Germany overflights to Norway during the Norwegian invasion. And they said, "The Norwegians never forgave us for that." As mentioned by others above, Sweden was a source of iron ore for Germany.

By June, 1940, Sweden was surrounded to the north and west by occupied Norway and Denmark, to the south by Germany itself, and to the east by pro-German Finland. Given Sweden's cooperation, there was no need to invade it to neutralize it. As is the case of Spain, Germany would much rather have a friendly neutral than an outright enemy.

  • I have never heard of any permitted overflights. Some German aircraft were shot down in Sweden, and one Swedish soldier was killed by return fire (in 1940 I believe). There were German transports on Swedish railways.
    – Tomas By
    Dec 2, 2017 at 1:27
  • @TomasBy: I used to go to a Swedish church where the average age of the parishioners is about 65-70, that is, of people born before, during, or just after World War II,and that's what they told me. "German transports on Swedish railways" suggests that overflghts were also allowed.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 3, 2017 at 18:28
  • No, they are different things... There were a series of specific arrangements. Medical supplies to (I think) forces fighting in Narvik, one division (with weapons in sealed carriages I believe) from Norway to Finland before Barbarossa. A few more maybe. It stopped in 1943 or so.
    – Tomas By
    Dec 3, 2017 at 18:36
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Tomas By
    Dec 3, 2017 at 18:41
  • Here is a page about Swedish air defense in WW2. Apparently a number of German aircraft made emergency landings in Sweden, and a few were shot down (as were some British and American).
    – Tomas By
    Dec 3, 2017 at 19:07

Sweden was already trading with Nazi Germany. No need for Hitler to conquer it.

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    There might be a reason to invade Sweden to stop Swedish export to the UK (most importantly ball bearings).
    – liftarn
    Jul 6, 2016 at 13:08
  • @liftarn: That's risible. How was Sweden going to trade with the UK through the Skagerrak and Kategat under Axis air superiority? Apr 6, 2023 at 11:31
  • @PieterGeerkens They did it by air and by sea. Using blockade runners. For instance there was Operation Bridford.
    – liftarn
    Apr 12, 2023 at 9:01
  • @liftarn: Top secret military blockade running through 9 round trips over the course of 6 months to deliver the grand total (350 tons) of product comprising under 4% the cargo capacity of a single Liberty Ship (10,000 tons) hardly meets any sensible definition of trade. Further, that occurs between October 1943 and May 1944; hardly when the Germans were capable of neutralizing Sweden through invasion. Apr 12, 2023 at 10:55

Sweden was neutral while doing business with Germany, exactly the same as Switzerland. Sweden and Switzerland were basically allies of Germany with the good sense not to join a losing fight. In Europe's many previous 'great wars' Sweden always aligned with Germany.

Britain on the other hand started 2 world wars it couldn't win with the hope that America would bail them out.

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    How exactly did Britain start world war 2 or 1. I'm pretty sure hitler was to blame for world war 2 and Austria was to blame for world war 1
    – philip
    Oct 26, 2014 at 8:46
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    The answer has unsubstantiated claims. Please rectify. Oct 26, 2014 at 11:12
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    I think pointing at one single country as being "to blame" for a war is usually rather short-sighted. It always takes a certain "stage" for a war to erupt, and the fault for letting this happen is usually more like a 60-40 or 80-20 thing than a 100-0 one. But saying that "Britain started two world wars" is ridiculous. They might have had their part in setting the stage, but were very decidedly on the 20 / 40 side. As far as WWII is concerned, even France (with its post-WWI Versailles demands) was more to blame than Britain...
    – DevSolar
    Oct 27, 2014 at 8:43
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    Unsubstantiated and incredible claims.
    – MCW
    Mar 5, 2015 at 12:57
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    "Sweden always aligned with Germany": Germany as a unit did not exist before 1871, so those previous great wars are exactly one: WW1. In that sense you are right I guess, but more generally Sweden was supported by France for a good while in the 17th century or so. One of the main enemies of Sweden in the Great Nordic War was Saxony, ie Germany.
    – Tomas By
    Dec 2, 2017 at 1:34

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