The Danish Resistance Movement
(Modstandsbevægelsen) was an underground insurgency movement to resist the German occupation of Denmark
during World War II
. Due to the unusually lenient terms given to Denmark
by the Nazi occupation authority, the movement was slower to develop effective tactics on a wide scale than in some other countries. However, by 1943, many Danes were involved in underground activities ranging from producing illegal publications to spying
and violent sabotage
; ultimately, the Danish resistance sabotaged its nation's Nazi occupiers on a larger scale than did any other resistance movement.
Nonviolent resistance: 1940-1943
After the invasion of Denmark
on April 9
the German authorities allowed the Danish government to remain in power. They had a number of reasons for doing so, (See: Occupation of Denmark
), the main one being that they were anxious to showcase Denmark as a "model protectorate." As the democratically elected Danish government remained in power, there was less motivation for Danish citizens to fight the occupation than in other countries such as Norway
, and Poland
. Jews remained under the protection of the Danish government, democratically
elected politicians remained in power, and the police
remained in Danish hands. Daily life in Denmark remained much the same as before the occupation though the Germans did make certain changes: official censorship
, prohibitions on dealings with the Allies
, and the stationing of German troops in the country. The Danish government actively discouraged violent resistance because it feared a backlash from German authorities.
Immediately after the occupation, there were nevertheless some isolated attempts to set up resistance and intelligence activities. Intelligence officers from the Danish army known as the Princes
began channelling reports to London as early as 13 April 1940. Soon afterwards, Ebbe Munck
, a journalist from Berlingske Tidende
arranged to be transferred to Stockholm where he could more easily report to the British.
After The Danish Communist Party was banned on 22 June 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the organization went underground and many Communist cells appeared. From October 1942, they published a clandestine newspaper "Land og Folk" which was widely distributed across the country, circulation growing to 120,000 copies per day by the end of the occupation. At the beginning of 1943, the Communist cells were centrally coordinated under BOPA ("the Bourgeois Partisans") which also began to plan acts of sabotage.
As time went on, many other insurgent groups were set up to oppose the occupation. These included Hvidstengruppen which received weapons parachuted by the British over Denmark and Holger Danske which was successful in organizing sabotage activities. There was also Churchill-klubben (the Churchill Club), a group of eight schoolboys from Aalborg who performed some 25 acts of sabotage against the Germans.
When the Germans forced the Danish government to sign the anti-Comintern pact, a large protest broke out in Copenhagen.
The number of Danish Nazis was low before the war and this trend continued throughout the occupation, and was confirmed in the 1943 parliamentary elections, in which the population voted overwhelmingly for the four traditional parties or blank. The latter option was widely interpreted as votes for the Communist Party which had been outlawed on German orders in 1941. The election was a disappointment for the DNSAP and German Reichsbevollmächtigter, Dr. Werner Best, abandoned plans to create a government under Danish Nazi leader, Frits Clausen, due to Clausen's lack of public support.
In 1942-43, resistance operations gradually shifted to more violent action, most notably acts of sabotage. Various groups succeeded in making contacts with the British SOE which began making airdrops of agents and supplies. There were not many drops until August 1944, but they then increased until the end of the occupation.
Military intelligence operations
On 23 April 1940, members of the Danish military intelligence established contacts with their British counterparts through the British diplomatic mission in Stockholm, and the first intelligence dispatch was sent by messenger to the British mission in Stockholm in the Autumn of 1940. This evolved into regular dispatches of military and political intelligence, and by 1942-43, the number of dispatches had increased to at least one per week. In addition, an employee of the public radio
was able to transmit short messages to Britain through the national broadcasting network. The actual intelligence was gathered mostly by officers in the Danish army and navy, and contained information about political developments, the location and size of German military units and details about the Danish section of the Atlantic Wall
fortifications. In 1942, the Germans demanded the removal of Danish military from Jutland
but operations continued, this time by plainclothes personnel or by reserve officers, since this group was not included in the evacuation order. Following the liberation of Denmark, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery
described the intelligence gathered in Denmark as "second to none".
Violent resistance: 1943-End
As the years went by the number of acts of sabotage and violence grew. In 1943, the number grew exponentially, to the point that the German authorities were unsatisfied with Danish authorities' handling of the situation. At the end of August, the Germans took over full administration in Denmark, which allowed them to deal with the population as they wished. Policing became easier for the Nazis, but more and more people became involved with the movement because they were no longer worried about protecting the Danish government. In particular, the Danish Freedom Council was set up in September 1943, bringing together the various resistance groups in order to improve their efficiency and resolve. An underground government was established, and Allied governments, who had been skeptical about Denmark's commitment to fight Germany, began recognizing it as a full ally.
Due to concerns about prisoners and information held in Gestapo headquarters at the Shellhus in the centre of Copenhagen, the resistance repeatedly requested a tactical RAF raid on the headquarters to destroy records and release prisoners. Britain initially turned down the request due to the risk of civilian casualties, but eventually launched Operation Carthage, a very low level raid by 20 de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers escorted by 30 P-51 Mustang fighters. The raid succeeded in destroying the headquarters, releasing 18 prisoners of the Gestapo, and disrupting anti-resistance operations throughout Denmark, but at the cost of 125 civilian deaths (including 86 schoolchildren) at a nearby boarding school.
In 1943, the movement scored a great success in rescuing all but 500 of Denmark's Jewish population of 7,000-8,000 from being sent to the concentration camps by helping them into neutral Sweden. Later, Israel awarded members of the movement who arranged the rescue the honor Righteous Among the Nations. At their own request, the rescuers were officially recognized as a collective group. (See: Rescue of the Danish Jews)
Another success was their disruption of the railway network in the country on the days after D-Day, delaying the arrival of German troops based in Denmark to France.
By the end of the war the organized resistance movement in Denmark had scored many successes, and slightly more than 850 members of the resistance had been killed, either in action, in prison, in concentration camps, or (in the case of 102 resistance members) executed following a court-martial.
The Danish National Museum maintains the Museum of Danish Resistance in Copenhagen.
The extent to which the Danish resistance played an important strategic role has been the subject of much discussion. Immediately after the war and until about 1970, the vast majority of accounts overrated the degree to which the resistance had been effective in battling against the Germans by acts of sabotage and by providing key intelligence to the Allies. More recently, however, after reexamining the archives, historians concur that while the resistance provided a firm basis for moral support and paved the way for post-war governments, the strategic effect during the occupation was limited. The Germans were not required to send in reinforcements leaving a comparatively small number of Wehrmacht
troops to defend the country. The resistance did not enter into active combat. Even the overall importance of Danish intelligence in the context of ULTRA
In his book No Small Achievement, Knud Jespersen quotes a report from SHAEF stating that resistance in Denmark "caused strain and embarrassment to the enemy...[and a] striking reduction in the flow of troops and stores from Norway [that] undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the reinforcements for the battles East and West of the Rhine." Examining the British archives, Jespersen also found a report concluding that that the overall impact of Danish resistance was restored national pride and political unity.
- Hæestrup, Jørgen. Secret Alliance - A Study of the Danish Resistance Movement 1940-45. Vols I, II & III. Odense University Press, 1976-77. ISBN 8774921681, ISBN 8774921940 & ISBN 8774922122.
- Jespersen, Knud J. V. No Small Achievement: Special Operations Executive and the Danish Resistance 1940-1945. Odense, University Press of Southern Denmark. ISBN 8778386918
- Moore, Bob (editor). Resistance in Western Europe (esp. Chapter on Denmark by Hans Kirchoff), Oxford : Berg, 2000, ISBN 1859732798.
- Besættelsens Hvem Hvad Hvor (Who What Where of the Occupation), Copenhagen, Politikens Forlag, 3rd revised edition, 1985. ISBN 87-567-4035-2.
- Reilly, Robin. Sixth Floor: The Danish Resistance Movement and the RAF Raid on Gestapo Headquarters March 1, 2002.
- Stenton, Michael. Radio London and resistance in occupied Europe. Oxford University Press. 2000. ISBN 019820843X
- Voorhis, Jerry. Germany and Denmark: 1940-45, Scandinavian Studies 44:2, 1972.
's 2002 suspense novel Hornet Flight
presents a fictionalized account of early Danish resistance.