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Throughout WW2 Germany had 400,000 troops stationed in Norway essentially doing occupation duty and fighting of partisans after Norway's surrender.

Now as the war started to turn against the Germans in 1942 were there any official or unofficial plans on what to do with them?

It seems like a waste to leave 400,000 fighting men on a small country like Norway and not use them to shore up operations on the Eastern or Western Front.

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  • 4
    And risk Norway being the invaded to cut off iron ore from Sweden?
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 13 at 0:50
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    I believe that the Allies actually took steps to ensure that Hitler thought Norway was in danger of invasion to tie them up.
    – Mary
    Aug 13 at 1:25
  • Certainly Churchill considered Norway as a possible target. Wiser heads prevailed…
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 13 at 2:40
  • Norway's strategic value to Germany was not measured by its own population or its domestic economy. Aug 13 at 10:24
  • He did not leave 400 000 troops in Norway, number gradually declined as end of war loomed.
    – rs.29
    Aug 13 at 22:59
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Plans were made for whole of Scandinavia

First thing we need to notice is that Armee Norwegen controlled not only German troops dispositioned in its namesake country (Norway), it also controlled troops in Finland, participating in invasion on USSR. Also, it did contain troops that could be possibly used against Sweden. As such, it had effect on whole of Scandinavia.

Before we discuss situation country by country, let's first examine number of divisions in Scandinavia, during the war. As we can see, it started as just 7 in 1940, but quickly increased to 11 and then 13, as invasion of USSR started because troops were sent to Finland and from there to Soviet soil. In 1943 number of divisions reached 20, with now increased number of troops in Norway (as deterrence against invasion, and as warning to Swedes ). This remained until half of 1944, when Finland was forced out of the war, and German troops from there withdrew to Norway. Number of divisions gradually dropped (to 11), as some of them were pulled back to continent. It could be assumed that late in the war these divisions did not have full complement of men, and were usually lacking heavier weapons like artillery and especially armor.

According to some sources, at 10th of May 1945, German forces in Norway numbered 327 393, but this included Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, SS (not just Waffen SS, but also Gestapo and other members) and even Organisation Todt, Transportflotte Spee and other semi-civilians. Obviously, these were mostly not first-class combat troops. Units fit for combat were prioritized to be sent back to Germany via Denmark.

Now let's briefly examine mission of these forces regarding various Scandinavian countries:

  • Finland : Finland was springboard for invasion into USSR, and initially Finns had great plans, hoping that Germany would quickly defeat and destroy USSR. Finns and Germans aimed for Murmansk, and Finnish army supported German drive towards Leningrad. However, as invasion stalled in late autumn/winter of 1941, Finnish attitude begun to change. Finland had initially mobilized large part of its male population for the invasion, and this could not be economically sustained. Therefore, form early 1942, until Soviets forced Finland out of the war, Germans had to keep certain number of troops on Finnish front. These strengthened Finnish resolve to fight, or at least to hold certain part of frontline against Soviet Union and tie down Soviet troops that could be used elsewhere. Potentially, these troops could intervene in case of Finnish betrayal. In the end, this ended with Lapland War.

  • Sweden : Sweden was of course important for Germany due to resources like iron ore, but also strategically, because with benevolent Sweden Germans controlled Baltic Sea and northern "soft" side of Germany was not exposed for potential attack. Germans had high hopes for Sweden, and wanted to include fellow Germanic nation into alliance. This almost happened in summer of 1941 when German troops were allowed to cross Swedish territory going into war against USSR. In the end, Sweden remained formally neutral, but many of its citizens volunteered for the formations like SS-Panzerdivision Wiking. However, as situation in frontlines begun to change, Sweden leaned more towards Allies. Germans troops had a mission to at least dissuade Sweden from openly siding with them. Such situation essentially remained till the end of the war.

  • Norway : Finally, we have Norway itself. Reasons for holding and defending Norway are numerous. First, you would have control over Norwegian Sea and eastern part of North Sea, with access to Atlantic Ocean. Second, having control over Norway and Denmark would effectively isolate Sweden from Western Allies, and force it into semi-alliance with Germany. Same goes with Finland, plus it allows supply of forces in Finland. Third, it is much easier to defend northern borders of Germany in Norway then in Germany itself, especially with potentially hostile Sweden.

In the ending days of the war, German decisions were torn between strategic concerns mentioned above, dire military necessity and unavailability of transports and other logistic needs that could transfer all of German forces back to Germany. Therefore, they did what they deemed best for them in such circumstances.

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    With regards to Sweden: almost happened. It was Midsommarkrisen 1941, though the big risk was in 1940. What should Sweden do if a group of british and french soldiers wants to assist Finland in the winter war , and while travelling on the train betwen Narvik and Torneå (Finland) decides to destroy the installations in Kiruna ? Aug 16 at 10:23
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    Many of it's citizens ??? It is estimated to be somewhere around 180 swedes in total who voluntered for the SS divisions Wiking and Nordland. Aug 16 at 10:23
  • @StefanSkoglund It would be a duty of neutral country to intern combatants from both sides if they enter its territory.
    – rs.29
    Aug 16 at 19:29
  • @StefanSkoglund As for Swedish citizens, as far as I know 300 in SS Wiking, but many more in various other units : feldgrau.com/ww2-swedish-volunteers-german-wehrmacht
    – rs.29
    Aug 16 at 19:32
  • feldgrau basically iterates numbers from different sources so somewhere between 150 and 300. Aug 17 at 16:38
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Norway was strategic for a number of reasons. Two of them were as follows:

  1. Germany received most of its iron ore from the north of Sweden, and it was brought in ships, which were targets of the Royal Navy, down the long coastline of Norway to the north German ports.

At the start of the war, at the time of the Chamberlain government, Norway remained neutral. The German ore carriers, if they spotted the British on the horizon, would dart for cover into a Norwegian fiord. Any attack, by Britain, would have been regarded as a breach of Norwegian neutrality. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, argued in Cabinet that the Royal Navy should mine the Norwegian fiords. Eventually Chamberlain accepted this position - which led to Hitler's invasion of Norway. It enabled Nazi Germany better to protect the supply routes, and prevented the ore falling into British hands.

  1. After the USSR entered the war on the Allied side, an important route for getting British and later American material aid into the country was through the northern Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel (Russian: Arkhangelsk). The aid supplies in question were vast. Britain's aid alone to the USSR, was greater than she in turn received from the United States.

It was mostly shipped in convoys out of the UK around the northern tip of Norway. Those convoys, in which many RN sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives, were bombed by the Luftwaffe out of bases in Norway - in summer, under the midnight sun, for almost 24 hours a day.

It also provided the German navy with the port of Narvik, which could be used for protecting the ore supplies as well as threatening the Soviet navy, and inhibiting the latter's emergence into the Atlantic.

Hence the Norwegian coastal waters were strategic, and would have been recognised by Hitler as worth the substantial investment involved in the occupation of Norway.

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    Small objection: Murmansk was not the only port of entry. It was an important one and remained an important one, but eg Persia/Iran would like to have a word on "only way"… Aug 13 at 20:23
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    As @LangLangC says. Murmask-Archangelsk where 8M tons, while Persian route were 4M tons, and the Pacific route were another 8M tons. Murmansk was a good route because it was the shortest one from UK.
    – Santiago
    Aug 13 at 20:34
  • @Santiago Useful information which I had omitted. I have edited accordingly.
    – WS2
    Aug 14 at 5:41
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Plans are lofty, and Hitler usually a big fan of 'not one step back'. So, any plan would include keeping and securing what's gained. That may include thinning occupational forces to the bare minimum, but no withdrawal, ever. Easily seen in that German troops remained and controlled Norway right until the fat lady had sung her song in Berlin 1945.

But that's not all to it. Look at some maps to re-appreciate Norway's strategic value:

WP: Second_World_War_Europe_06_1940_de.png
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Go north for long enough, see that not only longitudinal lines become fuzzy in West-East meaning, but Norway indeed part of the Eastern front: supporting Finnish efforts, directly facing Soviets and troops engaging from there against allied shipping to Murmansk.

And indeed part of the Western front as well: possible staging ground for invading Britain, partially securing the Eastern North Sea and thus access to Atlantic for friendly shipping but denying the same to the Baltic for unfriendly…

These are disincentives for Britain and other allies, and 'incentives' for Sweden, Finland to not come up with funny ideas.

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To answer strictly to the questions, No: Hitler had no plans for the troops in Norway.

Now why?

First of all, the land troops in Norway were stationned there because English commando raids threatened Norwegian harbours: As said in another answer, thos harbours were important to control for the Germans because:

  • Swedish iron went from Sweden to Germany through the Baltic sea and through those harbours
  • The Germans used the Norwegian coast as a road to open Atlantic for their surface and submarine units

Then they were also used to support the invasion of Northern Russia, which was overall a strategic failure: no major objectives, especially Murmansk, was reached by German troops (but Finnish soldiers did reach the railway Moscow-Murmansk) and no success in terms of casualty ratio was registered.

Troops belonging to the Luftwaffe were used to attack Allied shipping to the USSR, with more (PQ 17) or less success. That was the plan for air units stationned in Norway. Same plan for the Kriegmsarine's U-Bootes, as well as most of surface units that would threatened both the Northern convoys (Hipper, Lutzow) or the Atlantic convoys (Tirpitz).

When you think about those German soldiers stationned in Norway, think of them not as a force stationned for an offensive plan, but more as a part of multiple defensive plans for the Germans:

  • Block the Allied shipping to USSR
  • Defend against British commando raids
  • Secure communication lines in North sea and, as a consequence, in Baltic sea
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  • Norway doesn't have harbours which is in the Baltic. Aug 16 at 9:14
  • @StefanSkoglund Read carefully, this is an "and" in my sentence. The iron went through Swedish harbours on the Baltic, and Norwegian harbours Aug 16 at 16:47

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