History / War

Scandinavia and the First World War

Field-Of-Poppies

As the world marks the centenary of the Armistice, we discover the impact war had on the Nordic nations…


Between 1800 and 1914 the maps of northern Europe and Scandinavia changed drastically, with the states of Norway appearing, and Finland shifting from being ruled from Stockholm to becoming an integrated part of the Russian Empire. In 1914, the independent kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were all facing the question of how to deal with the military conflict developing elsewhere in Europe. Scandinavia had over the course of the late nineteenth century grown more and more used to a certain element of imported goods to feed its populations. The Norwegian, Danish and Finnish Merchant navies were all heavily involved with the shopping of goods throughout the world.


“Between 1800 and 1914 the map of Northern Europe and Scandinavia changed drastically, with the states of Norway appearing, and Finland shifting from being ruled from Stockholm to becoming an integrated part of the Russian Empire.”


This meant that when the First World War broke out, the three Scandinavian kingdoms were faced with a problem of how to stay out of the war, and still maintain their economic interests. The three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden and Norway joined in a neutrality union, and attempted to maintain their neutrality throughout the conflict. This neutrality was not without complications, Norway and Denmark were heavily dependent on Britain and United States for most of their shipping orders, and to supply them with grain as well as being their main markets for some products. However, Denmark also faced another challenge, with a shared border with Germany, and a considerable Danish minority in the then German South Jutland, it knew that it could not afford a repetition of the 1864 war against Prussia and Austria. Sweden, like Norway, exported vast quantities of iron, steel and copper to Germany, which meant that these countries could not afford to cut its financial links with the German Empire.

Sweden and Norway also shared borders with Russia, and had good economic links with the Romanov Empire. Norway could not afford to oppose Russia, as the Russian Pomor trade from Archangelsk kept the North Norwegian fishing villages alive, bringing grain to the northern counties who were unable to sustain themselves with corn.  The Scandinavian kingdoms remained neutral, though external pressure caused Norway to lean more and more towards the British and American cause. This sympathy led to the mining of the Norwegian waters and a blockage of trade with Germany. Sweden, however, favoured Germany, though this did not jeopardise the Swedish neutrality.


“Norway could not afford to oppose Russia, as the Russian Pomor trade from Archangelsk kept the North Norwegian fishing villages alive.”


Finland, which since the Napoleonic Wars had been a fundamental part of the Russian Empire, was in 1914 drawn into the First World War against Germany. The Finnish Navy and Merchant Navy were damaged and its troops took part in the conflict on behalf of the Russian Empire. But as the war turned into revolution in Russia, the Finnish parliament established a degree of extended autonomy in the Spring of 1917, followed by full independence in the Autumn of 1917. The Bolshevik government was initially supportive of an independent Finland, and the Finnish parliament successfully declared its independence, naming a German prince its King. The outcome of the First World War in Europe, however, and the abdication of the Kaiser, changed that, and the Finnish Parliament declared the state a republic. Yet a growth of Communism soon took hold, and soon after the War a civil war had broken out between the Whites (landowning farmers, educated middle class and the elite) and the Reds (the workers and landless farmers), a conflict that resulted in thousands killed. Finland, was, however,  internationally recognised as an independent state soon after, and became a 1920 a member of the League of Nations.

When the war was over, a clause was added to the Treaty of Versailles: that southern Jutland should be divided into two sections, which both should be allowed to vote over their future, to stay as a part of Germany, or to return to Denmark as they had been prior to 1864. The northern section of south Jutland, which had a Danish speaking majority, returned to Denmark while the southern section, though it contained the Danish speaking city of Flensburg, remained German. To this day there remains a German speaking minority on the Danish side of the  Danish-German border, and a Danish minority on the German side of the same border.


Text taken from a blog post by ‘W.U. History’


 

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