This year, in 2020, marks 75 years since World War II ended. It’s also 80 years since war came to the monarchies of Norway and Denmark. While the Danish royal family was taken prisoner by the Germans, the Norwegian royal family managed to escape from the Germans and carry on the war for the next five years from exile.
Following the German attack on Norway on April 9, 1940, Crown Princess Märtha and her children Astrid, Ragnhild and Harald travelled as refugees to Stockholm. King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav travelled with the government to the north of Norway while being hunted by German soldiers and bombers. Their own future in Norway was completely uncertain. Vidkun Qusling formed a Nazi-friendly government in Oslo through a coup d’état. King Haakon continued the fight with the elected government but was officially deposed by the Qusling regime.
Crown Princess Märtha, who was born amSwedish princess and niece of King Gustav Adolf V, lived with her children at Drottningsolm Castle outside Stockholm in 1940. Hitler then turned to the Swedish king as he knew that the heir to the Norwegian throne, Prince Harald, was with him. The present King of Norway, Harald V, was at that time a prince and only 3 years old.
On June 24, Crown Prince Olav received a telegram from the deeply concerned Crown Princess Märtha. She told her husband and father-in-law that her family and Hitler may be planning to have Harald proclaimed king. She herself was to act as a guardian until Harald was old enough.
The 82-year-old Swedish King Gustav V had, several times throughout the 1930’s, sent letters to Adolf Hitler with “good advice” on how he should proceed in various war cases. Now the old monarch apparently wanted to make an effort to save the Norwegian royal house. In a telegram to Hitler on June 16, the Swedish king asked the Germans to still allow a “Norwegian regency” in the occupied country.
A British diplomat in Stockholm heard about this and reported it to his government in London a few days later. When King Haakon heard this he became so angry that he never forgave the Swedish king and relative for his betrayal.
Crown Princess Märtha felt trapped by the Swedish King and his many German-friendly politicians. It became a high-level diplomatic game. In Sweden and Germany, a solution was worked on to secure Prince Harald’s reign under Hitler’s control. In London, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav worked for another solution.
Fortunately, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav found a solution faster than Hitler. King Haakon, and the British government, worked to get Crown Princess Martha and her children to exile in the United States. A secret plan was laid down. Without telling her Swedish royal relations, Crown Princess Martha took with her Princess Ragnhild, Princess Astrid and Prince Harald and travelled from Stockholm. President Roosevelt sent the American navy ship “SS American Legion” across the Atlantic towards the Nordic region.
“American Legion” sailed for Finland on 25 July, and reached Petsamo on 6 August, as scheduled. On the 15th, Crown Princess Märtha and her three children, the Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid, and Crown Prince Harald, embarked. “American Legion” sailed for the United States on 16 August, and reached New York, 12 days later, escorted on the final leg of the voyage by several American destroyers.
The royals then lived in exile in Washington DC until the war was over in 1945 and they could return to Norway. The Crown Princess became a lifelong good friend of the President. Hitler’s plan for a Norwegian child king was luckily a failure.