Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Rescue of Norway's Gold: A WWII Story & A GIVEAWAY

by Cindy K. Stewart

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain

For the past two months, I’ve shared the experiences of two prominent figures who lived through the German invasion of Norway in April 1940. If you missed those posts, you can read them here and here. Among the miraculous accounts from this event is the story of how every bit of Norway’s gold reserves was saved from the Nazis and spirited out of the country right under the enemy’s noses. If the Germans had obtained it, they would have gained more wealth to supply their war machine.

Norwegian Gold Coin - Public Domain
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Although Norway was neutral during WWII, Nicolai Rygg, the director of Norges Bank where the nation’s gold reserves resided, made preparations in case Norway should fall or a crisis develop. Early in 1940, Rygg brought in volunteers to pack bars of gold in white painted boxes and seal them with iron bands. Bags of gold coins were packed in smaller kegs. Of the 421 million Krone stored in the bank, 300 million was shipped to the United States. The rest was left in the vault because Norwegian law did not allow all the gold to be removed from the country at one time.


After Rygg learned that German warships were headed up the Oslo Fjord on April 9th, Rygg contacted General Laake, the Commander-in-Chief of military forces, who ordered Rygg to immediately evacuate the gold to the bank in Lillehammer. Moments later, Rygg learned that the Germans already occupied major cities but hadn’t reached Oslo (the sinking of the Blücher kept the Germans from seizing the capital for an extra eight hours).


Norges Bank at Oslo 1906-1986. Courtesy of Norges Bank.

Twenty-six trucks were chartered from local merchants, and the drivers were directed to the side entrance of the bank but were not informed about what they would be carrying. Bank guards were placed close to the bank to keep inquisitive eyes away, but the military was not used to avoid drawing attention to the operation. The bank employees loaded the gold.

Each truck, along with two armed bank guards, drove away immediately after loading so there was no convoy to draw the attention of the Luftwaffe. The first truck left at 8:15 AM and the last truck shortly before 1:30 PM. German soldiers marched down the main street of Oslo at exactly the same time, and the Norwegian commander of the Oslo garrison surrendered the city at 2:00 PM at the Akershus Fort, only a couple hundred yards from Norges Bank.


A Gold Bar from the Norges Bank. Courtesy of Norges Bank.

The gold shipment totaled 818 large crates, 685 smaller crates, and 39 kegs of gold coins. Lillehammer was 115 miles from Oslo, and the trucks traveled over snow-laden roads. Vehicles and pedestrians fleeing the capital slowed down the trucks, and people became angry because the trucks didn’t stop to help them. The last truck arrived at the bank in Lillehammer at 8:00 PM.

The bank employees in Lillehammer tucked the gold away in their vault; however, they could only unload the cargo when the Luftwaffe wasn’t flying over them. The media picked up on the activity and broadcast that trucks of gold were arriving in Lillehammer. A Trondheim newspaper also reported on the shipment, but the Germans did not pick up on the reports. The Royal Family, the Norwegian government, and the Norwegian gold had escaped for the time being!

The gold remained at Lillehammer for ten days while the Norwegians barricaded the roads and kept the Germans from advancing. Rygg checked on the gold twice and on the second trip, he asked the bank manager, Andreas Lund, to memorize the numbers to the vault lock. Frequent bombing raids forced the bank to close and wait to reopen until the planes disappeared.


Norges Bank at Lillehammer. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain

On April 14th, 15 German transport planes dropped about 180 lightly armed paratroopers in the Dombås area, northwest of Lillehammer. They were spread over a wide area, and the Norwegian troops successfully killed or captured them over a five-day period. This kept the railway lines to the north and the west coast open. 

In the mean time, it became obvious that the Germans could overtake Lillehammer at any time. Oscar Torp, the Norwegian Minister of Finance, tasked Fredrik Haslund, Secretary of the Labour Party, with transporting the gold from Lillehammer to the port of Åndalsnes where the British Royal Navy could take it safely away. On April 17th, the British—determined to assist the Norwegians in ousting the Germans—had landed a large number of troops and equipment at three Norwegian ports—Harstad, Namsos, and Åndalsnes


United States Military Academy Dept. of History - Courtesy of Wikipedia - Public Domain

At midnight on April 19th, orders came to open the bank vault door. Unfortunately due to fear and anxiety, Lund had a difficult time getting the lock to the brand new vault open—it had only been opened once before and Lund was operating by memory. He finally succeeded with the code a little past 1:00 AM.

Haslund had recruited the Lillehammer chief of police who assembled 30 volunteers who met at a secret location at 10:00 PM. They were armed with spades and shovels so they would appear to be preparing to dig trenches. Instead they were quietly transported to the bank and loaded the trucks which took the gold to the railway station, a short distance away. The gold was loaded onto the wooden railcars. A small group of soldiers was ordered to accompany the train, but the men weren’t told what they were guarding. They soon figured out the contents because of the Norges Bank initials displayed on the outside of each container.


Lillehammer Train Station. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain

The train left Lillehammer at 4:00 AM with its lights dimmed in case any Luftwaffe aircraft flew over. When dawn approached, the bullion train stopped at Otta and pulled onto a siding to wait for a safer time to proceed. Later, a train arrived at Otta Station from the north with three carriages full of British soldiers who had their thumbs in the air. The Norwegians were encouraged. Little did they know what dangers lay ahead.

Click here for the link to Part II (February 1st).
Click here for the link to Part III (March 1st).

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Source:  Gold Run by Robert Pearson. Casemate Publishers, 2015.

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Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s 2017 Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s 2014 First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-seven years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.



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GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment below by Thursday, 1/3, at 8:00 EST to be entered in the drawing for Tricia Goyer's WWII book, A Daring Escape. If you share my post on social media and mention that you've shared in your comment, you will earn a second chance to win the giveaway. 

20 comments:

  1. Goodness, how exciting! Thanks for the post!

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  2. You have me intrigued. Years ago my children and I read a children's novel about this event. It involved snowmen and children on skis. Now i'm curious about part two of your post. Always enjoy a historical novel. Sign me up.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your very interesting post. Happy New Year!

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  4. Both my grandparents were from Norway. Both were not in the country during the war but some of my grandmothers family was but never said a word about this or any of the other events. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. This is so intriguing! I look forward to learning more next month. I just shared on my Twitter account.
    Thanks for your giveaway.
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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  6. Thank you for this informative and interesting post, Cindy. Norway has been a country I was intrigued with when we studied about it in geography.
    Thank you for the giveaway opportunity. I always enjoying reading Christian historical fiction.
    marilynridgway78[at]gmail[dot]com

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  7. Oh yes, I shared this post on my FB page. Thank you.
    marilynridgway78[at]gmail[dot[com

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  8. Wow! That was very interesting and I'm looking forward to part 2. I shared on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks so much for the giveaway. :)
    bettimace at gmail dot com

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  9. Love learning about WWII . What could be better than WWII and Tricia Goyer? I shared on Facebook.
    paulams49ATsbcglobalDOTnet

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  10. Sounds like a good story, thank you for the chance to win a copy.

    I shared on twitter: https://twitter.com/WendyNewcomb/status/1080495119885848576

    wfnren at aol dot com

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  11. Shared your post on twitter ~ https://twitter.com/LaneHillHouse/status/1080574662369718272
    Looking forward to your next posting! Thank you. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House

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  12. What a fascinating story! I'm definitely intrigued by it. I love historical fiction and would love to win a copy.

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  13. Love it! Shared on Facebook palvis@cox.net

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  14. I love learning tidbits of history. Thank you for this post!
    (Shared on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DedeZoomsalot/status/1080627464097939461)

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    Replies
    1. Dianna, you've one the book giveaway! Please see my message at the bottom of this page.

      Delete
  15. Cindy, thank you for this fascinating post! I shared on Google+

    psalm103and138atgmaildotcom

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  16. I have grandparents who came from Norway and my Dad served in World War II so this makes this book sound like one I would love. Plus the fact that Tricia Goyer wrote it!
    pbclark(at)netins(dot)net

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  17. My family is from kristiansund N. (i.e, the "most destroyed city in Norway.") in More og Romsdal. I lived in Norway as a child. This is one of my favorite stories of the Norwegian resistance. Imagine only that a small amount of coins spilled from a broken barrel is all of the treasury that disappeared. In 2015, The Royal Canadian Mint have issued a new gold coin which remembers an extraordinary chapter during World War II which saw an allied country’s amazing transfer of its entire gold reserves to Canada for safe keeping. Norway’s transfer of its national treasury in gold to Canada was made all the more difficult as it had occurred after the advancing Nazi army had already landed in the country – beginning nearly five years of occupation. Great story.

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  18. Thank you for sharing this interesting post.
    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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  19. And the winner is . . . Dianna G. with Savings In Seconds! Congratulations, Dianna. Please e-mail me - cindy(at)cindykstewart(dot)com with your snail mail address so I can send your book!

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