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First World War


During the First World War the Nordic countries succeeded in staying neutral, but the warring countries made demands on the mining of the Sound. It was also possible to co-ordinate the foreign policy during the war, but afterwards there was much disagreement about the continuation of the policy of neutrality and the foreign policy collaboration.

The First World War
During the First World War the Nordic countries succeeded in staying neutral, but the warring countries made demands on the mining of the Sound. It was also possible to co-ordinate the foreign policy during the war, but afterwards there was much disagreement about the continuation of the policy of neutrality and the foreign policy collaboration.

A Neutral Skandinavia
At the outbreak of the war Denmark, Norway and Sweden declared themselves neutral in to the two big power blocks. This was partly the result of a diplomatic cooperation, which took place before the outbreak of war. As early as 1909 and 1910 joint neutrality initiatives were negotiated, and an agreement was reached in 1912. The Scandinavians´ neutrality declaration was thus well prepared and the three countries protested jointly against the English perception that all of the North Sea was to be considered war area, as well as the Germans´ mine blocade of the SOund and the Belts.
The Mining of the Sound
The Mining of the Sound

The Malmo Meeting
In order to strengthen the joint Nordic policy the three Scandinavian kings met at the so-called Three Kings´ Meeting with their foreign ministers in Malmo on December 18th and 19th in 1914. Malmo´s possibilities of arranging this kind of summit was at this point very limited, but with a bit of good will it was possible for the participants to be accommodated. King Christian lived at Herslow, Haakon at the widow Kockum and Gustav at the county mayor, while the foreign ministers Scavenius, Ihlen and Wallenberg lived at Hotel Kramer.
Behind a splendid setting of student singers from Lund, the waving from balconies, visits to museums and churches, the diplomatic work was in progress. The result of the meeting was a new good will for increased Scandinavian cooperation. It was obvious that the wounds from Denmark´s loss at the German border, and Norway´s liberation from Sweden, had now healed. Hjalmar Bratning wrote in his newspaper that you could now get a glimpse of “The United States of the North, being formed under free circumstances”.
Three Nordic Kings 1914
Three Nordic Kings 1914
Three Bareheaded Kings
Three Bareheaded Kings
Drawing of The Monarchs
Drawing of The Monarchs

The Scandinavism Is Revived
The meeting had evidently reawakened certain Scandinavistic hopes and it was followed by more Inter Scandinavistic gatherings. In Copenhagen the prime ministers and the foreign ministers gathered in March 1916 and in Kristiania (Oslo) a ministers´ meeting was held in September that same year. All three countries had problems with violations, done by the warring countries against the neutral. Especially problematic was the question of access to the Baltic. Here Denmark as well as Sweden landed in diplomatic difficulties.

The Mining of the Sound
Germany had free passage between the North Sea and the Baltic via the Kieler Channel, but naturally they did not want England to have the same opportunity for access to the Baltic. Therefore the Germans demanded that the belts were to be blocked by mines.
The neutrality declaration form the Scandinavian countries meant that none of the sides were to be given any advantages. The Danes, who were dependent on the English, landed in a difficult situation. If the Danes refused the German demand, the Germans would mine the belts anyhow, and then there was only one thing left for the Danes to do and that was to attack Germany, which was completely hopeless. Denmark also wanted to secure its domestic navigation and in the final end, they decided to close off the belts.

German Pressure
The Swedish government refused the German demand for the mining of the Swedish side of the Sound, but accepted to turn off all lighthouses and light buoys in the Sound in order to make passage difficult. The Germans closed off international waters south of the Sound in order to limit access further, but there was another fairway, close to Skanör, where vessels could pass. The Germans now demanded that this fairway should be mined and the Swedes gave in in the summer of 1916. The Baltic was thus completely closed off for English vessels and almost 100 English ships were closed in in the Baltic. Only one mine free passage was left, and Swedish war ships, which were to ensure that only Swedish ships passed, guarded it.

Pro-German Neutrality
The German fleet thus dominated the area. It had great significance for the Swedish decision that Gustav V´s queen, Victoria, had influenced the king in a pro-German direction. This was also the case with Prime Minister Hammarskjöld´s perception of the character of neutrality. He had promised Berlin that Sweden would maintain a “favourable neutrality”, while the allied had been informed of a “strict Swedish neutrality”.
The Germans tried several times to get Sweden involved in the war. Prince Max of Baden, who was related to the Swedish Queen Viktoria, took an active part in these pressure attempts. The royal couple were interested, but the government was mutually disagreeing. Foreign minister Wallenberg wanted to show more sympathy towards England and the Socialist opposition, lead by Branting, demanded strict neutrality, also towards Germany.

Sweden on the German Side
The Swedish government´s relationship to Great Britain was tense, even tenser than the relationship between Denmark and Great Britain. The Danish government had made an agreement with Great Britain about the import of goods, against the Danish guaranty that they would not be resold to Germany. The Swedish prime minister refused a similar agreement and therefore Sweden was hit by a severe shortage of goods. The shortage was especially serious in the winter of 1916-17, when Hammarskjöld received the nickname “Hungerskjöld”.
The relationship between the allied and Sweden became even more strained, when it was clear that the Swedish government had helped the Germans with the conveyance of cipher telegrams form the German government to German interests, via the Swedish foreign department. Even before this scandal was exposed a government crisis had forced the Swedish government to resign, and a conservative government took over. It held the power from March to September 1917. Then the Left won the election to the parliament’s second chamber, and a new government led by Nils Edén took over with Hjalmar Branting as minister of finance. It was a coalition government between Social Democrats and Liberals.

Scandinavia Under Economical Pressure
The total German submarine war hit both the Danish and Swedish merchant navy. When The United States entered the war in 1917, England had supplies with the help of the Americans. Convoys escorted the transports across the Atlantic and England was no more dependant on supplies from Denmark and Sweden. This threatened the Danish and Swedish economy perceptibly. The English anger at the Danish and Swedish indulgence of the Germans became expensive for the Scandinavians. Furthermore the total submarine war brought with it that the transport of goods was difficult.
All this led to the reopening of the Kogrund fairway in 1918. However, the reduced trade with the big powers in Europe led to an increase in trade between the Nordic countries. The new Swedish government worked hard to improve relations with the allied. The efforts were not entirely fruitless, first and foremost thanks to the Swedish chief negotiator, Marcus Wallenberg´s friendly relations with the British blockade minister

At the end of the war in November 1918 the trade started up again. However, the lack of raw materials was great and prices rose. This led to further demands for increased wages, and a series of strikes and violent demonstrations occurred, especially in Copenhagen. But Denmark and Sweden had gotten off cheaply from the First World War. The Nordic countries developed into stable democracies and woman suffrage was introduced all over the North.
The contacts between the European states were revived; the growing air transport diminished the distances and arms reduction negotiations and the League of Nations gave hopes for a bright future.
If the relationship between the three Nordic states immediately after the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905 had been somewhat strained, the experience from the neutrality policy resulted in a certain common platform, even though circles in Denmark had been anxiously about the Swedish-German rapprochement.

Arms Reduction and Rearmament
In Denmark the arms reduction policy became the foundation stone in the government coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the Social Liberal Party, who formed a government firstly in 1924-26 and again from 1929 to the occupation of Denmark in 1940. The relationship with Germany became the decisive factor. Could and should they resist if a big power attacked Denmark? The Social Liberals maintained that it was useless, but in the Social Democratic Party there was an increasing resistance to the arms reduction. A defence settlement between the two parties in 1937 resulted in an increase of the defence budget.

Watchdog of the North:
The Watchdog of the North
That same year a debate of a joint Nordic defence federation to the preservation of neutrality was started. In Sweden wide circles looked at a threat against Denmark and Finland as synonymous with a threat against Sweden and they started a heavy armament, which also found its way as an argument in the Danish debate. However, it was a fact that the governments of the other countries found it much to risky to enter into a defence federation with Denmark, who was so close to an obvious aggressive Germany.
The Danish Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning was clearly annoyed by the debate and in a speech in Lund in March 1937 he reacted in strong terms and rejected the role as the
“I have heard the argument that Norway, Sweden and Finland would feel insecure if Denmark does not establish a defence at the Danish southern border, a defence, which Sweden can approve of. Is this not a dangerous consideration? I do not think that any responsible man would support this. Has Denmark been given the task as watchdog or some other guard duty on behalf of the North? To my knowledge no such deal has been negotiated. From history we know that it was a widespread belief in 1864 that Swedish troops would come to Denmark´s rescue in the enforced war. Naturally nobody came”.
Thorvald Stauning
Thorvald Stauning

©  Øresundstid 2009