12th Man: The Norwegian Resistance in WWII

When WWII broke out in 1939 after the Third Reich’s invasion of Poland, Norway declared itself neutral like its neighbour Sweden. But, on 9 April 1940 German forces invaded the country in Operation Weserübung, taking Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Navik.

At first, the Norwegian Army took the fight to the invading German troops with assistance from the Allied Expeditionary Force but when Allied troops were called to France in June 1940 the Norwegian government was forced to capitulate to the Nazis.

Faced with invasion, the Norwegian government, parliament and royal family were evacuated from Oslo to Elverum. Following several Nazi attempts to capture or kill the King and the government, they successfully evaded German forces and fled to the UK on the HMS Devonshire on 7 June.

The Norwegian Campaign of April-June 1940 was the only major battle in Norway during WWII, but during the occupation there were many small military raids, sabotage operations and acts of civil disobedience carried out to undermine the Nazi authorities and work towards the overall war effort.

The main domestic resistance group was Milorg (militær organisasjon), which was formed in May 1941. Due a number of failed operations and issues dealing the Allied forces, Milorg kept a low profile towards the beginning of the war but by the end of the war had been able to train and supply 40,000 soldiers adding great value to the war effort.

In the UK the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was the organisation that planned and led resistance in occupied countries. In March 1941, they established Norwegian Independent Company 1 (NOR.I.C.1), a group under Captain Martin Linge that would carry out commando raids against the Nazis.

On 27 December 1941 Martin Linge’s NOR.I.C.1 carried out Operation Archery, the primary aim of which was to destroy sites the Germans used to manufacture explosives and to divert German troops north, away from the Eastern Front. Linge and 21 members of the Norwegian and Allied force lost their lives but the operation succeeded in destroying four factories and sinking 10 German ships.

NOR.I.C.1 is perhaps most famous for carrying out heavy water sabotage, a series of operations designed to stop German forces acquiring heavy water (deuterium oxide) for their nuclear weapons programme. Between 1940 and 1944 (alongside Allied bombing) they carried out a series of bombing raids to destroy a heavy water plant at Vermok, which had fallen into German hands. Because of this, the plant was knocked out of action in 1943. The story of the heavy water sabotage operations was made into the British war classic The Heroes of Telemark (1965), starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.

An iconic figure of the Norwegian Resistance was Max Manus, who fought in the initial Norwegian Campaign in 1940 and throughout the Nazi occupation was a key resistance figure, organising the manufacture of weapons and disseminating propaganda. Manus was a specialist in ship sabotage and sank many important German ships throughout the war using limpet mines, including the SS Donau on 16 January 1945. His story was made into the Norwegian film Max Manus: Man of War (2008).

In March 1943 Jan Baalsrud (a member of NOR.I.C.1) embarked upon Operation Martin with eleven comrades, the aim of which was to destroy a German air control tower at Bardufoss. The operation was compromised and a German vessel sank their boat on 29 March. Eleven of the men were captured and eventually executed; only Baalsrud was not.

For the following two months, Baalsrud evaded capture with the help of Norway’s defiant civilians before eventually fleeing into neutral Sweden. The German’s inability to capture him became a symbol for national resistance and Baalsrud’s incredible story has been made into the breath-taking and epic new film The 12th Man (2018), with Baalsrud portrayed by Norwegian musician and actor Thomas Gullestad. 

Signature Entertainment presents The 12th Man in select Cinemas & Digital HD 4th January and on DVD 7th January

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