Reading Antony Beevor's "The Second World War" he makes the point several times that a peculiar obsession of Hitler's was the defence of Norway and that there were close to half a million German troops kept fairly idle in the region right up to the German surrender in May 1945. He also writes that partisan activity in Norway was minor compared to most of the other occupied territories.

Bearing in mind that - assuming you weren't a fanatical nazi - service elsewhere in the German army from 1942/3 onwards was grim, involving heavy losses, constant instructions to hold hopeless positions and fight to the last man, and with no prospect of anything but certain defeat, was Norway the perfect posting?

Was this generally (if quietly) acknowledged and is there any evidence that well connected families were able to have their sons posted to Norway?

Since posting this I've seen Beevor lecture. He mentioned interviewing at least two wealthy Prussian aristocrats, in old age, for his book about Stalingrad. One of them ran into one of his former tenants in Stalingrad (the tenant says "I used to see you driving past in your Mercedes"). Both peasant and aristrocrat at this point were reduced to ransacking bodies in the mortuary for scraps of food.

Clearly, anecdotally, some of the Prussian nobility, either as a point of honour or because it was unavoidable, were sending their sons to the very worst of the fighting.

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    +1 Excellent question. I'm Norwegian and have never thought of this, but it certainly seems reasonable. Though there seems to be some stereotype about the joys of serving in France, as well, at least before D-Day.
    – Jørgen
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 8:14
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    As to Hitler's preoccupation with Norway: Note that Norway was Germany's iron supplier. Hitler had a bit of a weakness for prioritizing stategic resources over political objectives. This also led him to go after the Ukraine (oil), doubling his front in Russia, rather than going straight for Moscow.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 14:20
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    I believe that Norway was initially invaded by merely 30000 soldiers, so I am curious to get the half a million troops confirmed.
    – David
    Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 7:17
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    Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_occupation_of_Norway) claims that Norway was garrisoned with 300,000 men, citing the Encyclopedia Britannica. As to the rationale, it adds the Norwegian ports and airfields, from which Germany could attack Britain and intercept US convoys to the Soviet Union passing through the Arctic. Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 20:11
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    I searched in the German-speaking web, using a variety of keywords, for evidence of such "set-asides" for well-connected sons. Did not find any but that doesn't mean there wasn't any of that. Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 9:40

2 Answers 2


The German high command (OKW and OKH) was never of a single mind on anything but, not being privy to the intense pressure applied by Stalin for a second front in France, many high ranking officers believed that the Western Allies would begin the re-conquest of Western Europe by invading Norway and then blocking transport of the Swedish iron ore which were almost as vital to the German war effort as the oil in Ploesti.

This importance in the minds of both Hitler and the Wehrmacht can be seen by tracking number of divisions stationed in Norway over the curse of the war:

Sep. 1940   7
Mar. 1941   7
Sep. 1941   7
Mar. 1942   8
Sep. 1942  11
Mar. 1943  12
Sep. 1943  13
Mar. 1944  13
Sep. 1944  11
Mar. 1945  13

So while Norway eventually ended up being a safe haven for German soldiers, this was far from a foregone conclusion while the war was in progress.

With a ballpark figure of 10,000 men per division, 500,000 men would be roughly 50 divisions. That figure is out by a factor of 3 to 5 in regards to infantry and armour forces. Naval and Air forces were of course also stationed in Norway, but those were primarily offensive forces engaged in combat against the Murmansk Convoys and, to a lesser extent, the North-West approaches to the British Isles by merchant marine convoys. (The South-West approaches used so extensively during WW I, passing south of Ireland, were unusable for much of WW II because of the vulnerability to air attack from France by the Luftwaffe.)

  • I believe that there is a difference between "field strength" and total divisional strength. The 13 divisions would average (at full strength) 12,000 fighting men each, for a total of just over 150,000. That said, I believe that there might have been 35,000-40,000 men per division counting supply, support, logistical units etc., with a "tail to teeth" ratio of 2 or 2.5 to 1. So if influential Germans were putting their sons into Norway, there might be quite a few slots for them at "desk jobs," (not out on patrol).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 22:16
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    +1. The Iron Ore was the reason behind German Invasion of Norge in the first place. No point abandoning such a strategic holding.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 9:35
  • The British did take the trouble to drop hints about invading Norway, just to encourage the Germans to keep troops there. The 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division spent years in Scotland training for mountain warfare before becoming an air-mobile division. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 19:01

The Germans and the Russians were killing each other in Northern Norway through most of WWII. The Russians were preparing to annex Finnmark at the end of the war, but a ruse perpetrated by some army officer (can't remember if it was a Brit or a Yank), convinced them to back off. There is a statue of a young Russian soldier with his Ppsh41 submachine gun...maybe in Kirchenes. The German battleship Tirpitz was sunk by bombs in a fjord outside Tromso in Nov 1944. German naval bases in Northern Norway supported the battlecruiser Scharnhorst and other ships, submarines, and warplanes that harassed the convoys going to/from Russia.

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    I'm not sure this answers the question. I'd be much more comfortable if the opinions and assertions were backed up by citations and research.
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 11:44

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