740.0011 European War 1939/22685: Telegram

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

1688. Section I. Department’s 552, June 29, 4 p.m.21 Following enumeration corresponds to that in Department’s 108, February 27, 8 p.m. (1) All official announcements of military, economic and political policies of Swedish Government bearing on defense of the country have since outbreak of war been carefully phrased to avoid implication that any measures were directed toward either one of belligerents and to show that Sweden’s basic purpose was to maintain strict neutrality throughout war. (2) Widely-voiced apprehensions early in 1942 that United Nations were planning a campaign in northern Europe which might put Swedish neutrality in jeopardy and bring Swedish [German] pressure to a head were not, I think, seriously believed by responsible Government circles. In fact it appears that much of propaganda to effect that United Nations had such [Page 340] a plan emanated from Germany itself and was probably part of Germany’s war of nerves on Sweden to test out her will to resistance.

1. Principal development in Swedish policy, with special consideration for dangers inherent in a European war, followed recommendations of National Commission for Economic War Preparedness which requested for Government that Riksdag authorize broad emergency powers to be exercised in event of war or risk of war. Under these recommendations, Riksdag enacted large number of enabling laws as early as summer of 1939, principally in economic, but also in political and military fields, while other basic laws were amended with same end in view. These laws covered, for example, question of foreign exchange; maximum prices; civil expropriation; military expropriation; prohibition of sale or lease of ships without special permission; prohibition of trading in foreign waters by Swedish ships without special authorization; municipal duties in war time; commandeering of hospitals; control of insurance, et cetera. As soon as risk of war was apparent, in some cases, and when war actually commenced in others, these enabling laws, especially those giving special economic powers were put into effect, while others such as law on national labor service and that empowering Government to prohibit subversive political organizations are being held in suspense. They may, however, if circumstances justify, be placed into effect at once with subsequent confirmation by Riksdag. Furthermore, number of additional emergency laws have been enacted and put into effect since outbreak of war including numbers of laws providing for rationing, punishment for trading on black market, numerous amendments to existing laws on espionage and sabotage, and control of aliens, new conscription law extending period for compulsory military training, raising conscription age, and calling for reexamination of men previously rejected within conscription age. Plan for reorganization and strengthening of national defense under an extensive five-year plan has very recently been approved in principle but not yet passed by Riksdag. This cannot be considered as an emergency measure as it is to be part of Sweden’s permanent defense program.

Section II. Nevertheless as its provisions gradually become operative it will contribute to effective coping with any special circumstances which might arise in defense of country. At outbreak of war Swedish Government immediately proclaimed strict neutrality and applied joint Nordic rules which automatically forced enactment various laws dealing with rights of foreign war vessels under certain circumstances to enter Swedish waters, controlling use of radio transmitters, closing certain forbidden military areas to foreigners and all unauthorized persons, et cetera. During war Sweden has strengthened [Page 341] military preparedness substantially and partial mobilization during past 3 years has provided opportunity to train all conscript classes. Numerous new fortifications have been built along entire Swedish coast to meet contingencies which defense authorities conceived might arise. Army, Navy and Air Force have been equipped with modern material in large quantities to limit of Sweden’s ability to obtain it and drain on Sweden’s military supplies caused by extensive aid granted Finland during winter war 1939–40 is believed to have been more than compensated for by new acquisitions both from abroad, including American, German and Italian destroyers and motor torpedo boats, and from rapidly expanding Swedish war industry.

Present position of Sweden is from economic viewpoint almost entirely under domination of Berlin. However, Swedes have so far been successful in holding down amount of credit granted to Germany despite heavy pressure and Sweden has been fairly successful in obtaining needed manufactured goods and raw materials in exchange for exports to Axis. Trade during recent months has been altogether unfavorable for Sweden as Germany’s ability to supply coal and other products has been progressively diminishing because of demands placed on German manufacturing plants by war economy of that country and continued deterioration German transport facilities. Sweden is thus being forced more and more to rely on natural resources of country in order to maintain economic life on as satisfactory basis as possible.

Civil defense has been carefully planned and appears to have support of great majority of population. Homeguard, women’s auxiliaries, etc., take considerable interest in their duties and devote a great deal of time to training. It is believed that civil discipline would stand up well under war conditions. Anti-air watching organization and air-raid alarm system appear to function well. Granite underlying most cities has enabled them to construct very effective, although expensive, air-raid shelters. Many municipalities and industrial plants maintain their own anti-aircraft artillery. Police and secret service organizations are believed effective. Due to homogeneity of population, fifth column activities would probably be confined to Nazi sympathizers and as most of these are known it can be assumed that prompt measures will be taken to eliminate them. Training in guerrilla warfare is rumored to be conducted. Essential industries are dispersed. Preparations have been made to prevent paralyzing of transportation system by bombing.

Total Swedish expenditure for defense in fiscal year 1938–39 was 258,000,000 kroner; in 1939–40, 1,250,000,000 kroner; in 1940–41, 2,400,000,000 kroner; in 1941–42 (estimated) 2,000,000,000 kroner; in 1942–43 (budgeted) 1,982,000,060 kroner. Since outbreak of war and [Page 342] including fiscal year 1942–43 just begun, total Swedish budget deficits estimated at 6,000,000,000 kroner. Thus far actual deficits have totaled 4,500,000,000 kroner.

Section III. 2. Germany has since active warfare in Scandinavia commenced in April 1940 and until recent months made continuous demands on Sweden which have in part been caused by stress of special circumstances but it is also apparent that these demands were in nature of a “war of nerves”, a considered policy on part of Germany in an effort gradually to wear down Swedish diplomatic resistance and to test out capacity of Swedish will to resist. These demands have included requests for use of airdromes, transport of troops, use of Swedish ports for repair of naval vessels, all outside normal provisions of international law, and in economic field enormous credits and supplies. These efforts have been at various times implemented by violent anti-Swedish press campaigns. Except for minor concessions in economic field and permission for passage of a single division fully equipped of German Army to pass through Sweden from Norway to Finland shortly after commencement of hostilities between Finland and Russia in July 1941, all appear to have been within framework of neutrality under international law. All other demands have been refused and war of nerves having proved ineffective Swedish Government now feels that it has been abandoned.

3. (a) Events in countries occupied by Germany particularly in Norway during last year have tended to strengthen determination of Government to maintain Sweden’s neutral position and have likewise served to strengthen its determination to fight if attacked. It would hardly be possible for any democratic government to have a more united nation back of it in support of a national policy than Swedish Government has today. Moreover there is not in my view any doubt that sympathies of overwhelming majority of the governing classes and people are on side of democracies. All public official announcements since beginning of war relating to military, economic and political policy have however been designated to cause no offense to either belligerent and to preserve neutrality of Sweden in present conflict. Swedes have no doubt that only possible place from which an attack would be made against Sweden during present war is from Germany. This was particularly evidenced during critical moments soon after cessation of hostilities in Norway in 1941 and again early in 1942 when for a time there was genuine apprehension that Germans would attempt to occupy Sweden. In my opinion Swedish Government and people at that time would have made wholehearted resistance to a German attack and this view is shared by all service attachés of Legation. This will to resist has been carefully nurtured by a free press and there is no present reason to believe it will decline. Swedes have successfully resisted German “war of nerves” which seems now [Page 343] to have been abandoned and it is doubtful if any further effort along this line will be effective. Germany’s real leverage on Sweden is her economic control and her physical ability to strangle Swedish economic life. As trade with Sweden however is highly useful to Germany such a measure is hardly to be expected unless Germany should succeed in crushing Soviets and obtaining active control of and access to natural resources of Near and Far East.

Section IV. 3. (b) Effectiveness and length of Swedish resistance would depend entirely upon strength of German attack and amount of aid which Allied nations would be able to get to Sweden immediately. Military Attaché states that informal estimates among Swedish officers vary as to number of German divisions which would be required. Average estimate is 30 to 35. In Military Attaché’s opinion 20 first line divisions could conquer Sweden in 3 months if all out air support was at hand. As Germany has possession of air fields practically encircling Sweden such air support could be provided if planes were available. Swedish military authorities believe Germany will not attack during winter months because of transport difficulties and because they believe Swedes are better individual winter fighters than Germans. During summer Germany would not be able to spare troops from other operations. An attack if made therefore would be in spring or autumn and would have to be concluded within 2 or 3 months. Sweden has had at most 3 years in which to prepare her defenses and is known to have studied and profited by the examples and mistakes of nations at war. Military Attaché states that military preparations appear to have been thorough and as extensive as capacities of country permit. Mobilization system has been thoroughly overhauled and frequent test mobilizations in various sections appear to have brought its efficiency to high level. Training has been continuous since outbreak of war for both new conscripts and previously trained older conscripts. Other older conscripts hitherto untrained because of various reasons have been called up for training. Sweden can put 12 field divisions under arms. These are well equipped with infantry divisions but corps and army artillery is lacking. Skeleton staffs of higher troop units are maintained but lack of experience in maneuvers makes their ability questionable. Air force consists of 12 squadrons which are equipped with obsolescent planes. A considerable number of pilots have had actual service in Finnish winter war. It is believed that gasoline reserves for about 6 weeks full scale active operations are available. Practically all officers would be loyal to decisions made by Government. Nazi sympathizers are known and plans for their quick removal are understood to have been prepared. Swedish intelligence as to German movements in Denmark, Norway and Finland is excellent. Complete surprise is therefore improbable.

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3. [c] Most serious weaknesses in Swedish military preparations are believed to be lack of air power, particularly fighters, lack of reserve supplies of gasoline and lubricating oil for air force and navy, lack of large calibre artillery for higher troop units, and lack of tanks. Boheman of Foreign Office told at time we were discussing question of increased oil allocations for Sweden that primary need [was?] for fighter planes and for gasoline and lubricating oil for planes and naval vessels.

Swedish political, military and economic measures adopted to protect Sweden’s position in a Europe at war appear to have been designed by experts with greatest care and detail and to cover all phases of national life and activity of its citizens, with full emergency powers granted to government by Riksdag. Although soundly conceived and benefiting from mistakes made by countries already at war, their weaknesses might not be apparent until put to test. Chief economic weaknesses are Sweden’s difficulties in getting access to continuing supplies of certain raw materials essential for any military effort and sufficient supplies or [of] certain essential foods for human beings and cattle. Swedish food position has become more precarious through bad harvests over a number of years.

3. (d) Finland is only country adjacent to Sweden except Germany which might possibly make any independent military move. Her involvement in Russian campaign and partial exhaustion in supplies and manpower makes her, however, a negligible factor on whichever side she may be involved. As a large proportion of its population is of Swedish descent or connection, loyalty of Finnish Army in any move against Sweden would be very questionable.

Section V. 3. (e) Military Attaché is of opinion with which I concur, that any detailed recommendations for assistance would require considerable study in collaboration with Swedish General Staff. Such studies would necessarily require consent of Swedish Government. Swedish defense staff has undoubtedly made studies of assistance desired but are evidently unwilling to discuss this as both American and British Military Attachés have put out feelers in this direction without response. Principal assistance which would be desired and would be essential if Swedish resistance were to be prolonged would be fighter planes with operating crews, bombers, gasoline and lubricating oil. Early in February, a Swedish naval staff officer discussing with Naval, Attaché22 Swedish needs in event German attack, suggested that 500 bombers, 500 fighters and 50 destroyers would be desired from Allies but it developed on discussion that this Swedish officer admitted figures probably high but one-half numbers suggested would be insufficient. In May a junior Swedish air staff officer [Page 345] stated to Naval Attaché that Allies would have to furnish Sweden with 500 bombers and 500 fighters immediately upon beginning of hostilities by Germany. Naval Attaché’s opinion is that in event Sweden is attacked by Axis, Allies should be ready to furnish Sweden immediately 500 fighter planes, 300 bombers, 15 destroyers, 35 motor torpedo boats, with 20 light mine sweepers and layers. These figures are Naval Attaché’s estimates as he has experienced no less difficulty than Military Attaché in having discussion on these matters with responsible Swedish naval officers.

Any estimate we might make of figures in relation to requirements for aircraft in particular would seem to be meaningless without some information as to practical use Swedes could make of them. This opinion has been suggested to me by Military Attaché and I think is a sound one. We would need precise information regarding airfield facilities available, ground crews for servicing of planes and other information which is now held in secrecy by Swedes and which could only be obtained from them.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Comdr. W. L. Heiberg.