Norway remembers its D-Day heroes

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among allied government leaders invited to D-Day memorials in Portsmouth this week, because of the role exiled Nowegians played in the massive invasion 75 years ago. She said it was sad that many members of Norway’s merchant marine never received the recognition they deserved.

Ten exiled Norwegian naval vessels and 43 merchant marine ships took part in the D-Day invasion 75 years ago. These vessels were photographed off Dover. PHOTO: Ole Friele Backer

“It’s an honour to be able to represent Norway here,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) while attending commemorations on Wednesday. “D-Day is an important day to remember for Norway’s own history, since it marked the start of the liberation of Europe and Norway.”

It was on June 6, 1944 that allied forces led by US General Dwight Eisenhower and British General Bernard Law Montgomery landed in waves on the beaches of Normandy in France. Around 10,000 allied soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, but enough others survived to continue the invasion and ultimately conquer Hitler’s Nazi Germany less than a year later.

This Northrop N-3PB was part of the Norwegian Squadron based in Iceland. PHOTO: Imperial War Museums

Norwegian naval ships and 43 merchant marine vessels were among those carrying ammunition, fuel, supplies and troops, while Norwegian fighter pilots trained in Canada and the UK joined the invasion by air. Solberg could thus represent Norway’s participation in the invasion even though the country was under Nazi German occupation at the time.

“Young Norwegians risked their lives in the reconquering of Europe,” Solberg told NRK. “We must remember that the freedom we have, has not come freely.”

The Norwegian destroyer Svenner, among those escorting troop ships across the English channel on D-Day, was hit by a torpedo midships itself, tearing the vessel with 219 people on board into two. A total of 34 officers and crew were killed.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg (back row to the right of Queen Elizabeth) represented Norway as World War II allies gathered in Portsmouth Wednesday to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which brought about the end of World War II in Europe. PHOTO: royal.uk

“For a country that was occupied, we had managed to gather quite a large force abroad,” Solberg said. “These were young people, especially young men, who’d chosen to leave Norway to contribute. The forces we had here, those flying the bombing raids and not least all the sailors and merchant marine crews, made a considerable contribution for Norway and for the allies’ operations.”

Solberg acknowledged how many of the Norwegians taking part in D-Day and war efforts elsewhere around the world,  “especially members of merchant marine,” were poorly treated when they could finally return to a free Norway in the summer of 1945 or later.

“Norway was too quick about building up the country again (after the occupation years) and forgot a large group (of those contributing to the country’s liberation) for a long time,” Solberg told NRK. “We have fortunately tried to make up for that in recent years, but I think it’s sad to think about how folks who really made a contribution, under danger of being torpedoed, weren’t honoured as they should have been.”

One surviving veteran of the D-Day landings, Trygve Hansen, was taking part in a memorial ceremony in Normandy on Thursday. Hansen, now age 97, joined Norway’s exiled Navy while on his way home from whaling in Antarctica. Instead of returning to an occupied Norway, he was sent to “Camp Norway” in Canada and served on several naval ships. He was on board the destroyer Stord when the D-Day invasion began.

“We helped put an end to the war,” he said during a recent NRK report on his own participation. As tears welled up in his eyes during a salute to fallen fellow sailors on Veterans Day last month, it was clear he was proud to have been a part of it.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund