The 1930s marked a new period when Sweden's long-standing policy of neutrality was severely tested on numerous occasions, most of which came from a strongly rejuvenated nationalistic Germany. Since the founding of the League of Nations in 1919 and up to the year 1935, Sweden had been a strong supporter of the League and most of Sweden's energy on the international stage had been put into its preservation.
As the collective security system of the League of Nations started to crack with the Abyssinia crisis, and the approach of World War II, Sweden could look back on 120 years of successful neutralist politics – with one singular exception: the backup force on Jutland during the First war of Schleswig. Sweden now pursued a policy of forging a block of neutralist countries in Northern Europe. Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Baltic States were all members of this club of neutral states. Of them, only Sweden would be fortunate enough to remain unattacked during World War II.
Nevertheless, the Swedish neutrality during World War II has been much debated and challenged later. Despite the British naval blockade of Nazi Germany and the official proposed intentions from the Swedish government to maintain political neutrality, Sweden exported iron ore to supply Nazi Germany's war industry via the Norwegian port of Narvik.
German industry was heavily dependent on Swedish iron ore. The Allies had intended to use the Soviet attack on Finland in November 1939 as cover for seizing the important Swedish iron ore deposits in the north, in addition to the Norwegian harbours through which this ore was shipped to Germany. The plan was to get Norwegian and Swedish permission to send an expeditionary force to Finland across northern Norway and Sweden, ostensibly to help the Finns. But once in place, they were to proceed to take control of the harbours and the iron ore mines, occupying cities such as Gävle and Luleå and denying German access to the Swedish iron ore. In this way, an unsuspecting Norway and Sweden would be presented with a fait accompli. Realizing this danger, however, and the consequent possibility of Allied or German occupation and of the war being waged on their territory, both the Swedes and the Norwegians refused to allow this proposal.
On 9 April 1940, Germany launched Operation Weserübung, an operation with the objective of simultaneously occupying Denmark and Norway, and to stage a coup d'état in Norway. This move had several far-reaching consequences for Sweden. Sweden was in effect cut off from trade with the western world and therefore more dependent on German goodwill, ultimately leading to permittenttrafik. But it also lessened the immediate risk that Sweden would become a theater of war between the Axis and the Allies.
When Germany invaded both Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940, the 100,000 Swedish soldiers who had been deployed along the Finnish border in northern Sweden were in the process of being demobilized, owing to the end of the Winter War there. Before the outbreak of hostilities, Sweden had had no plans for defending Norway or any defense strategy against a German invasion from the direction of Norway.
Nazism in Sweden has been more or less fragmented and unable to form a mass movement since its beginning in the early 1920s. Several hundred parties, groups, and associations existed from the movement's founding through the present. At most, purely Nazi parties in Sweden have collected around 27,000 votes in democratic parliamentary elections. The high point came in the municipal elections of 1934 when the Nazi parties were victorious in over one hundred electoral contests. As early as January 22, 1932, the Swedish Nazis had their first public meeting with Birger Furugård addressing an audience of 6000 at the Haymarket in Stockholm.
Like their German counterparts, the Swedish Nazis were strongly anti-semitic and as early as May, 1945 became early adopters of Holocaust denial. The Swedish Nazi groups persisted after the war until they were officially dissolved in 1950. During this post-war period, they were more or less completely inactive politically. In 1956, a new Swedish Nazi party, the Nordic Reich Party (NRP), was formed by Göran Assar Oredsson and Vera Oredsson (previously married to Nazi leader Sven-Olov Lindholm). This party brought together the heritage of the older Nazi generations in the 1980s when Swedish neo-Nazism began growing stronger, and they managed to gather some small groups of the new generation of Nazi skinheads. A Swedish white supremacist movement arose during this period, especially among some former criminal motorcycle gang members and younger white power skinhead youths.
Internal disputes between Furugård and the editor of the party's newspaper, Sven Olov Lindholm, led to Lindholm and his followers being expelled from the party on January 13, 1933. These individuals formed the National Socialist Workers' Party (SNAP, later NSAP). The two parties were commonly referred to by their leaders as "Furugårdists" or "Lindholmists". On October 5, 1933, ten followers of Furugård stormed Lindholm's headquarters and stole cash and membership lists and were only stopped by police intervention. The fight between the two parties continued with periodic violence through the parliamentary elections of 1936 where the split caused the parties to fail miserably. Furugård was so discouraged he closed down operations of his SNSP. The NSAP saw further disappointments and a split of the left wing of the party.
In March 1931 Hitler and Joseph Goebbels were invited to speak at public meetings in Sweden, but the police chief in Stockholm refused to give permission.
Until 1933 Furugård was the main leader of the Swedish extreme right, and he was portrayed by his followers as future Führer of Sweden (Swedish: riksledare) in the event of a Nazi seizure of power. In 1933 the second-in-command Sven Olov Lindholm formed the National Socialist Workers Party (NSAP), rapidly superseding Furugård as the most prominent Nazi leader in Sweden.
During the Second World War Sweden was a neutral country with a relativelystrong pro-Allied sentiment. The last major fighting Sweden took part in wasduring the Napoleonic Wars. When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in1939 though, at least 10,000 men volunteered for service with the Finnishforces to fight against the Soviets. This number is especially significantbecause there were approximately 6.5 million people living in all ofSweden at the time. Sweden and Finland are both Northern Europeancountries and had much in common, therefore, when the Soviets invaded,many Swedes felt compelled to join the Finnish Forces.
Because Sweden was a strict neutral during WWII, other than during the shortexperience of the Winter War in 1939, it did not openly allow forrecruitment into foreign armies. When Germany invaded theSoviet Union in 1941 its sentiments changed very little, although the Finnswere allowed to garner volunteers once again. Approximately1,500 Swedes volunteers for service with Finland between 1941 and 1944.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Sweden's concessions to Germany during the Second World War was the extensive export of iron ore for use in the German weapons industry, reaching ten million tons per year. As Germany's preparations for war became more apparent and the risk of another war became obvious, international interest in Swedish iron ore increased. At the time, British intelligence had estimated that German industry relied heavily on Swedish iron ore and a decrease or halt in Swedish ore exports could have a disastrous effect on Germany's military efforts. Sir Ralph Glyn, a British Member of Parliament, claimed that a cessation of Swedish iron ore exports would bring the war to an end within months.[page needed] Winston Churchill himself said the following about the Swedish ore exports in an internal memo to the cabinet discussing the Norwegian trade route with shipments of Swedish iron ore.
Responding to German appeals for volunteers to fight the Soviet Union, approximately 180 Swedes enlisted in Germany's Waffen-SS, and saw combat against Soviet troops on the Eastern Front. This was a choice made by individual Swedish citizens, contrary to Swedish government policy. Their number was small compared to occupied countries, in which officials encouraged enlisting for the Eastern Front (Norway 6,000; Denmark 6,000; France 11,000; Netherlands 20,000[page needed]).
With a blockade of the Skagerrak straits between Norway and the northern tip of Denmark, the Swedish merchant navy found itself physically divided. The vessels that were inside the Baltic Sea traded goods with Germany during the war, whilst the greater number of vessels was leased to the Allies for convoy shipping. Approximately 1,500 Swedish sailors perished during the war, mostly victims of mines and U-boat attacks. German merchant raiders, too, would stop and capture or destroy Swedish vessels carrying cargoes for allies. For example, this was the fate of MVs Trolleholm and Sir Ernest Cassel, both destroyed by the German auxiliary cruiser Thor; the same Thor also accidentally collided with HM Bothnia in the fog while carrying cargoes for Germany causing it to sink. In the meantime, other German merchant raiders would masquerade as Swedish merchant vessels.