It was perhaps ironic that a large German cruiseship would sail into Oslo early Wednesday morning, just as an historic US military vessel was sailing out. Things were different on May 8, 1945, when Norway could first celebrate its liberation from five years of Nazi German occupation during World War II, and efforts continue to hail the country’s military heroes, past and present.
Special events were planned all over the country as the Norwegian government and defense forces marked both Liberation Day and Veterans Day on May 8th. Helicopters flew in formation over Oslo and flags were raised, just as the German cruise vessel Mein Schiff docked near the site of Liberation- and Veterans Day ceremonies to be held later in the day.
From Andenes, Bardu and Kirkenes in the north to Bergen, Kristiansand and Oslo in the south, wreaths would be laid, speeches delivered and military equipment would be on display. After months of ongoing debate over fulfilling NATO defense demands and boosting Norway’s budgets for its own defense, it was time to honour past and present accomplishments instead of agonizing over Norway’s military shortcomings.
Oslo’s historic Akershus Fortress was at the heart of national ceremonies, where an “open day” would culminate with military fly-overs, the prime minister’s address and medal ceremonies from 3pm.
Allied Force operations were getting special attention this year, as the NATO defense alliance also continues to mark its 70th anniversary. Photo exhibits have been set up in downtown Oslo with more photos of veterans and their thoughts on service posted around Akershus. “The Faces of NATO” would be officially opened with veterans of various NATO operations on hand. Peder Johan Persen, who served as a young man in Norway’s post-war Tysklandsbrigaden (German Brigade) was set to attend and among those featured in the photo exhibition.
“We didn’t go to Germany to seek revenge,” he’s quoted as saying on the poster of him in the exhibit, “but to carry out the peace.” Roughly 50,000 Norwegian soldiers took part in the brigade, which was part of the allied operation to stabilize Germany after its surrender 74 years ago. When the Cold War set in, the brigade took on a new role as part of NATO forces. Norway was among the founding members of NATO in 1949.
Norway continues to take part in allied operations that have been conducted from Lebanon to Kosovo and Afghanistan over the years. Around 60 Norwegian military personnel flew off to war-torn Mali on Tuesday, just before the Veterans Day and Liberation Day ceremonies began.
They’ll be part of the Norwegian Tactical Airlift Detachment (NORTAD), flying various cargo for the UN in Mali with one of Norway’s C-130J Hercules transport aircraft. Their missions can include transport of everything from supplies and fuel to personnel and defense equipment, from an aircraft that can land “just about anywhere,” according to the army, and drop both in parachutes.
Mali is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth at present, with around 15,000 UN troops from 56 countries taking part in efforts to hinder more violence and protect the civilian population in a country torn apart by separatists and jihadist terror groups. The Norwegian troops will be station at “Camp Bifrost” in the capital of Bamako, with their duty lasting until November.
“The situation in Mali is difficult, but we’re well-prepared for what awaits us,” operation leader Staale Granli told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), referring not only to the violence but also to the heat and even bats so large they’re called “flying dogs” that can threaten aviation efforts. Nearly 200 UN troops have have been killed in Mali since the UN operation began in 2013.