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Norwegian Flag during World War II

Last modified: 2013-04-11 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: norway | world war ii |
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Norwegian Flag

Occupied Norway kept the flag. However, use of the flag was restricted by the Quisling government in an attempt to restrict its use for nationalist – that is, anti-Nazi and anti-German – purposes.
Jan Oskar Engene, 11 April 1996

The government in exile, the legitimate and constitutional government, used the usual Norwegian flags and ensigns. At the outbreak of the war, Norway had the fourth largest merchant fleet in the world (after the UK, USA and Japan). In late April 1940 the Allies demanded that the fleet (most of it outside Norwegian waters and so not controlled by Germany) be transferred to Allied flag. The Norwegian government, still in Norway, resisted this, but took over the right to manage and use all vessels so that they could be used to secure supplies and advance the war operations of Norway and the Allied powers (40% of the fleet was sailing for the allies already, under an agreement from September 1939). Norwegian vessels sailed mostly in trans-Atlantic convoys during the war, under Norwegian flag.

Most of the Norwegian merchant fleet was under the control of the government based in London. Those ships remaining in Norway probably just sailed in coastal waters. A ship under Norwegian flag anywhere else in the world would be considered an Allied ship. If it hadn't, using false colours would not succeed.

Actually the government in exile (and the resistance movement at home, but they were not able to display emblems openly) competed with the Quisling government over the official national symbols. The government in exile in London used the national flag and the coat of arms it took with it from home. It succeeded in bringing with it the State Seal stamp, so that the Nazis had to make a new ('fake') one. The Quisling government used the same national symbols along side its party symbols. Because the flag was used for patriotic purposes (that is anti-occupation and anti-Nazi purposes) in circumstances the Nazis could not control, a flag law restricting public use of the flag was introduced 8 December 1941.

Here are the first lines of one of the most famous poems referring to the flag of Norway (or rather its absence):

Now stands the flagpole bare
Behind Eidsvoll's budding trees,
But in such an hour as this,
We know what freedom is.

The title of the poem is '17. May 1940'. It was read on radio by the poet Nordahl Grieg and transmitted from Tromsoe, a town in Northern Norway that was still not taken by Nazi-Germany. The poem is stuffed with national symbols: The (missing) flag, the building at Eidsvoll where the constitution was adopted 17 May 1814, and the budding trees as symbols of a young nation.
Jan Oskar Engene, 16 May 1997

Nazi Occupation Flag?

I noticed that the flag used by Norway under the German administration in WWII had the Nazi logo in the middle of the cross, but the flag is not found in the Norway page of World Statesmen. I have produced one based on images from a documentary from The History Channel.
Nagathisen Katahenggam, 2 May 2002

This shows a flag that never existed. During World War II, the Quisling regime never changed the national flag, though it did restrict the use of it. The Quisling regime continued to use the Norwegian national flag, unchanged. As did the Government in exile in London. Might Nagathisen Katahenggam have confused the German War flag of the time with the Norwegian national flag? If not, the "flag"  is most likely something made up by film makers because it suited the purposes of illustrating the Nazi occupation of Norway.
Jan Oskar Engene, 2 May 2002

I completely agree with Jan Oskar Engene that this flag is spurious. I suspect that it may have been made up, either by film makers (as he suggests) or by others, and I think it is likely to have been based on a confusion with the German Reichkriegsflagge which, when shown in black and white in WW II documentary film material, may at first glance look as if it has something to do with the Norwegian flag. It seems clear that no version of the Norwegian flag with the swastika was ever used during the war.
Bjarne Birkrem, 1 October 2004