740.0011 European War 1939/22372: Telegram

The Minister in Sweden ( Johnson ) to the Secretary of State

1577. 1. The transit of men and supplies via Swedish railway for German armed forces in Norway and Finland has for some months been of concern to British Military and Naval Attachés. A check over an extended period armed them with figures which forced Swedish officials to admit extent of traffic as follows:

Supplies of all kinds to both countries during 1941 amounted to 250,000 tons. This amount about equally divided between two countries although some of Finnish tonnage went via Norway. Swedes claim only 72,000 tons was “war material” (this exceeds the 25,000 to each country given Rikstag, Legation’s 1536, June 8 [18], 9 a.m.) and claim that remaining 178,000 tons of food, clothing, fuel and forage for German forces was normal trade.
Transit of men limited to unarmed individuals supposedly on leave. (See Legation’s 1560, June 19, 7 p.m.) The number going north from Germany claimed not to exceed number returning to Germany so as to prevent reinforcement of forces in Scandinavia. However, as no check is kept on individuals, replacements can be made at will. All casualties, excluding dead, undoubtedly so replaced. Total during 1941 admitted to be 250,000 men in each direction to and from Germany, this exclusive of traffic over Sweden between Norway and Finland and between Norwegian points not connected by land transportation.

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2. Although traffic within international law, Swedes find it difficult to justify under their widely proclaimed policy of strict neutrality. They claim traffic to Norway justified because was not initiated until hostilities cease[d] and Germans occupied whole country. In case of Finland, the Swedes fall back on “moral obligation” owed Finns.

3. After considerable pressure from the Attachés, who wished to see traffic forced on the sea and thus more vulnerable to attack, the British Foreign Office took issue and informed Swedes unless traffic reduced, British safe conduct for import of oil and other necessities would cease. Insistence on total restriction impossible as Germans can hold identical conduct threat over Swedes.

It is understood that Swedes are willing to reduce traffic in actual munitions from 72,000 tons to 30,000 tons per annum [each to Norway and Finland].17 British Attachés feel this worthless as there is no limit on total tonnage and only inconveniences Germans to extent of shipping 42,000 tons of munitions by sea and transferring an equal amount of other material to Swedish rails.

4. Our Military Attaché18 has been kept informed throughout. He has pointed out to his colleagues that a balance must be struck between their desire for reduction in traffic and the desirability of keeping Swedish armed forces supplied with sufficient gasoline and other necessities to enable them to resist attack. Colonel Waddell has also suggested to them that since Swedes justify traffic to two countries on different grounds and German armed forces in Norway are occupation troops while those in Finland are in actual combat, traffic to two countries should be attacked from different angles. He believes more would-be gained if traffic to Finland via Sweden could be entirely cut off than by any partial reduction in traffic to both countries. His reasons are:

The distance to Finnish ports much greater than to Norway.

Shipment via Baltic more vulnerable to Russian submarines than that across Skagerrak is to British.

Ice-freeze season for sea shipment, during which winter supplies must also be transported, is much shorter in Baltic; Finnish railways from ports to troops over-crowded, in poor condition and vulnerable to air attack from Russia; German forces in north Finland and extreme northeast Norway, particularly their air forces, are more serious threat to allied shipping to Russia than those in central Norway; that Germans appear to be grouping their land forces in northern Finland for an attack which Swedish General Staff believes will come in September and will be without Finnish help; Swedes are on less [Page 338] sure ground in permitting shipments to troops engaged in combat. Shipment of Swedish goods to the Finns could be allowed to continue and the “moral obligation” fulfilled; complete elimination of traffic for German forces in Finland could be accomplished and still leave Swedes with the threat of cutting off Norwegian traffic to counter Germans cutting off all imports to Sweden.

I concur in this line of reasoning.

  1. Corrected in accordance with telegram No. 2213, August 19, 5 p.m., from the Minister in Sweden (740.0011 European War 1939/23614).
  2. Col. H. B. Waddell.