Danish resistance movement

Danish resistance movement

The Danish resistance movement (Danish: 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 Danish people 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 sabotage.


Nonviolent resistance: 1940-1943

The "model protectorate"

After the invasion of Denmark on April 9, 1940 and subsequent occupation, the German authorities allowed the Danish government to remain in power. They had a number of reasons for doing so, 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, France, 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 the Germans.

Resistance groups

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 channeling reports to London as early as 13 April 1940. Soon afterwards, Ebbe Munck, a journalist from Berlingske Tidende arranged to be transferred to neutral Stockholm where he could more easily report to the British.[1]

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 ("Land and People") that was distributed widely across the country, with circulation growing to 120,000 copies per day by the end of the occupation.[2] At the beginning of 1943, the Communist cells were centrally coordinated under BOPA (BOrgerlige PArtisaner - Civil Partisans), which also began to plan acts of sabotage.

As time went on, many insurgent groups formed to oppose the occupation. These included the Hvidsten group which received weapons parachuted by the British over Denmark and Holger Danske which was successful in organizing sabotage activities. There was also 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 abstained. The latter option was widely interpreted as votes for the Communist Party. The election was a disappointment for the National Socialist Workers' Party of Denmark (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 Special Operations Executive (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,[3] members of 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 Stockholm mission 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.[3] In addition, an employee of Danmarks 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 the Danish military

Another success was the disruption of the Danish railway network in 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[4]) executed following a court-martial.

The Danish National Museum maintains the Museum of Danish Resistance in Copenhagen.

Prominent members

Strategic impact

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 re-examining 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 is questionable.[5]

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 the overall impact of Danish resistance restored national pride and political unity.[6]

In fiction

  • Ken Follett's 2002 suspense novel Hornet Flight presents a fictionalized account of early Danish resistance.
  • Carol Matas's 1987 and 1989 novels Lisa and Jesper presented a fictionalized story on Danish resistance missions.
  • Miracle at Midnight
  • Flammen & Citronen's 2008 movie based on the lives of two Danish resistance fighters. Produced by Ole Christian Madsen.
  • Number the Stars historical fiction novel by Lois Lowry


  1. ^ Per Eilstrup, Lars Lindeberg: De så de ske under Besættelsen. Forlaget Union, Copenhagen 1969.
  2. ^ Resistance in Western Europe, edited by Bob Moore, p. 105.
  3. ^ a b H.M. Lunding (1970), Stemplet fortroligt, 3rd edition, Gyldendal, pages 68-72. (Danish)
  4. ^ Georg Quistgaard (1946), Fængselsdagbog og breve, Nyt Nordisk Forlag Arnold Busck. (Danish)
  5. ^ Denmark, Historical Role, by Hans Kirchoff in Resistance in Western Europe (p. 112 et seq).
  6. ^ The Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf including a book review of Knud Jespersen's No Small Achievement. Retrieved 19 April 2008.

Further reading

  • Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall. A Force More Powerful. New York: Palgrave, 2000. ISBN 0312240503
  • 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.

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