Looking back on WWII’s beginning

The day that WWII started for Norway: Commemoration held at Oscarsborg

Photo: Bjørn Olsen Colonel Eriksen, whose decision to shoot bought the royal family time to flee the country.

Photo: Bjørn Olsen
Colonel Eriksen, whose decision to shoot bought the royal family time to flee the country.

Bjørn Olsen
Skien, Norway

It was here that it happened, when the Norwegian people experienced the beginning of the Second World War. Early in the morning of April 9, 1940, the German warship “Blücher” sailed into the Oslofjord. The ship was black against a dark morning sky with mist in the long fjord to the Norwegian capital city.

At Oscarsborg fort, right in the Oslo­fjord at Drøbak, stood fortress-commander Colonel Birger Eriksen, unaware that this was the start of World War II in Norway. There was great confusion on the fortress; rumors told that an unknown number of ships were headed into the Oslofjord. Colonel Eriksen tried to contact the government, without results. In the darkness and mist the Colonel could see the contour of large warships without lights. There was still no response from the Norwegian government, and Colonel Eriksen had a big challenge. Having first given a warning shot, without reaction from the unknown big ship, he gave orders to shoot: “Surely the devil must be fired with sharp” (Visst fanden skal der skytes med skarpt). He knew he could get a court martial at a miscalculation.

Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen A model of Blücher, the German ship whose sinking marked the beginning of the war for Norway.

Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen
A model of Blücher, the German ship whose sinking marked the beginning of the war for Norway.

The large flagship, one of Hitler’s prides, had just come from a shipyard in Kiel. In the morning at 4:21 a.m., “Blücher” was shot and sinking. It turned out that Colonel Birger Eriksen had made the right decision, and his assessment rescued the Norwegian royal house and the government. The King and the Crown Prince now had time to get away from Oslo and had a dramatic trip to Tromsø, where they boarded the English cruiser “Devonshire” that took them to England.

75 years after
Thursday, April 9, 2015, was marked throughout Norway. At Oscarsborg fortress in the Oslofjord, where the first fighting took place, a large-scale celebration was. The event was in the same place that cannons thundered exactly 75 years ago. Several thousand people had found their way to the little island.

Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen Blücher going down in Oslofjord some 75 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen
Blücher going down in Oslofjord some 75 years ago.

Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and Defense Chief for Norway, Haakon Bruun-Hansen, arrived at the fortress in separate helicopters from the Norwegian Air Force. The Defense Minister opened the event with a poignant speech about Colonel Birger Eriksen and his decisive orders to attack. A memorial service for Colonel Eriksen was also held. Haakon Bruun-Hansen then spoke about the first incident in Norway of a war that would last for five years.

In beautiful weather the organizers opened the doors for several events around the fortress with several invited guests and dinner. May 8 will again be a day of commemoration in Norway, 70 years since Liberation Day.

This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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