German Invasion of Denmark


The German invasion of Denmark and Norway began on 9 April 1940. Some troops crossed the Jutland border into Denmark, others emerged from hiding in German merchant ships in Copenhagen harbor, and paratroops landed at key points around the country.

The invasion of Denmark was a part of the operation “Weserübung” directed towards the invasion of Norway. German invasion was to ‘protect’ Denmark against an Allied attack.

German planes over Denmark 1940
German planes over Denmark 1940

Hitler was not particularly interested in Denmark in itself, but he needed to control the country and its air bases to make it easier for the German army to attack Norway.

The Danish army was in barracks, the navy was too surprised to fire a single shot, and the air force was destroyed on the ground. If nothing else, the Royal Life Guards at Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen prevented the Germans from capturing King Kristian X just long enough for him to order a surrender. Hitler now added a second conquered nation to his quarry, which began with Poland.

Denmark remained in theory a sovereign state under German protection, but when the king ignored Hitler’s effusive greetings on his birthday in 1942, the pretence was dropped.

Operation Weserubung
Operation Weserubung

By the summer of 1943, in the midst of World War II, Denmark had been occupied for more than three years. Resistance to the invaders had been sporadic, mainly limited to displays of Danish cultural identity or scattered acts of sabotage.

However, provoked by German brutality and refusing to sanction death sentences of the increasingly active Resistance movement, the Danes began to act more boldly to resist the Nazi war machine. Mass nonviolent direct action began first with labor strikes. When SS troops arrived to round up Danish Jews for deportation to the death camps, the Danes rescued their fellow citizens, ferrying most to safety in Sweden.

German troops pass Danish civilians in Copenhagen
German troops pass Danish civilians in Copenhagen

Although Denmark is not liberated until the end of the war, nonviolent resistance stymied German plans for extracting value from the occupation.

A new government was expected to jump at Hitler’s whim, but it refused to sanction death sentences on members of and made arrangements to smuggle Denmark’s endangered Jews to safety in Sweden.

Feature image (on top) Invasion of Denmark 1940 (Photo Bundesarchiv Jutland)

German Invasion of Denmark, written by Tor Kjolberg