Military Wiki

'Denmark Fights for Freedom', film about the Danish resistance movement from 1944

The Danish resistance movement (Danish language: Modstandsbevægelsen ) was an underground insurgency movement to resist the German occupation of Denmark during World War II. Due to the unusually lenient terms given to Danish people by the Nazi occupation authority, the movement was slower to develop effective tactics on a wide scale than in some other countries. However, by 1943, many Danes were involved in underground activities ranging from producing illegal publications to spying and sabotage.

Nonviolent resistance: 1940-1943

The "model protectorate"

After the invasion of Denmark on April 9, 1940 and subsequent occupation, the German authorities allowed the Danish government to remain in power. They had a number of reasons for doing so, the main one being that they were anxious to showcase Denmark as a "model protectorate." As the democratically-elected Danish government remained in power, there was less motivation for Danish citizens to fight the occupation than in other countries such as Norway, France, and Poland. Democratically-elected politicians remained in power, and the police remained in Danish hands. In October 1933, Sweden offered asylum to the Danish Jews. The Danish underground organized a nationwide effort to smuggle Jews to the coast where Danish fishermen ferried them to Sweden.[1] Daily life in Denmark remained much the same as before the occupation though the Germans did make certain changes: official censorship, prohibitions on dealings with the Allies, and the stationing of German troops in the country. The Danish government actively discouraged violent resistance because it feared a backlash from the Germans.

Resistance groups

Immediately after the occupation, there were isolated attempts to set up resistance and intelligence activities. Intelligence officers from the Danish army known as the "Princes" began channeling reports to London as early as April 13, 1940. Soon afterwards, Ebbe Munck, a journalist from Berlingske Tidende arranged to be transferred to Stockholm where he could more easily report to the British.[2]

After the Danish Communist Party was banned on June 22, 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the organization went underground and many communist cells were created. From October 1942, they published a clandestine newspaper Land og Folk ("Land and People") that was distributed widely across the country, with circulation growing to 120,000 copies per day by the end of the occupation.[3] At the beginning of 1943, the cells were centrally coordinated under BOPA (BOrgerlige PArtisaner - Civil Partisans), which also began to plan acts of sabotage.

As time went on, many insurgent groups formed to oppose the occupation. These included the Hvidsten group which received weapons parachuted by the British and Holger Danske which was successful in organizing sabotage activities and the assassinations of collaborators. There was also the Churchill club, a group of eight schoolboys from Aalborg who performed some 25 acts of sabotage against the Germans.

When the Germans forced the Danish government to sign the anti-Comintern pact, a large protest broke out in Copenhagen.

The number of Danish Nazis was low before the war and this trend continued throughout the occupation, and was confirmed in the 1943 parliamentary elections, in which the population voted overwhelmingly for the four traditional parties or abstained. The latter option was widely interpreted as votes for the Danish Communist Party. The election was a disappointment for the National Socialist Workers' Party of Denmark (DNSAP) and German Reichsbevollmächtigter. Dr. Werner Best abandoned plans to create a government under Danish Nazi leader Frits Clausen, due to Clausen's lack of public support.

In 1942-43, resistance operations gradually shifted to more violent action, most notably acts of sabotage. Various groups succeeded in making contacts with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) which began making airdrops of agents and supplies. There were not many drops until August 1944, but they then increased until the end of the occupation.

Military intelligence operations

On 23 April 1940,[4] members of Danish military intelligence established contacts with their British counterparts through the British diplomatic mission in Stockholm, and the first intelligence dispatch was sent by messenger to the Stockholm mission in the autumn of 1940. This evolved into regular dispatches of military and political intelligence, and by 1942-43, the number of dispatches had increased to at least one per week.[4] In addition, an employee of Danmarks Radio was able to transmit short messages to Britain through the national broadcasting network. The actual intelligence was gathered mostly by officers in the Danish army and navy, and contained information about political developments, the location and size of German military units and details about the Danish section of the Atlantic Wall fortifications. In 1942, the Germans demanded the removal of the Danish military from Jutland but operations continued, this time by plainclothes personnel or by reserve officers, since this group was not included in the evacuation order.[4] Following the liberation of Denmark, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery described the intelligence gathered in Denmark as "second to none".[5]

Violent resistance: 1943-45

As the years went by the number of acts of sabotage and violence grew. In 1943, the number grew dramatically, to the point that the German authorities were unsatisfied with the Danish authorities' handling of the situation. At the end of August, the Germans took over full administration in Denmark, which allowed them to deal with the population as they wished. Policing became easier for the Nazis, but more and more people became involved with the movement because they were no longer worried about protecting the Danish government. In particular, the Danish Freedom Council was set up in September 1943, bringing together the various resistance groups in order to improve their efficiency and resolve. An underground government was established, and Allied governments, who had been skeptical about Denmark's commitment to fight Germany, began recognizing it as a full ally.[6]

Due to concerns about prisoners and information held in Gestapo headquarters at the Shellhus in the centre of Copenhagen, the resistance repeatedly requested a tactical RAF raid on the headquarters to destroy records and release prisoners. Britain initially turned down the request due to the risk of civilian casualties, but eventually launched Operation Carthage, a very low level raid by 20 de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers escorted by 30 P-51 Mustang fighters. The raid succeeded in destroying the headquarters, releasing 18 prisoners of the Gestapo, and disrupting anti-resistance operations throughout Denmark, but at the cost of 125 civilian deaths (including 86 schoolchildren) at a nearby boarding school.


Railway shop workers in Frederiksværk built this armored car for offensive use by the Danish resistance. It was employed against Danish Nazis, known as the Lorenzen group, entrenched in the plantation of Asserbo in North Zealand, May 5, 1945.

In 1943, the movement scored a great success in rescuing all but 500 of Denmark's Jewish population of 7,000-8,000 from being sent to the concentration camps by helping them into neutral Sweden.[7] The Danish resistance movement has been honoured as a collective at Yad Vashem in Israel as being part of the "Righteous Among the Nations.".[8][9] They were honoured as a collective rather than as individuals at their own request.[citation needed]

Another success was the disruption of the Danish railway network in the days after D-Day, delaying the arrival of German troops based in Denmark to France.

By the end of the war the organized resistance movement in Denmark had scored many successes, and slightly more than 850 members of the resistance had been killed, either in action, in prison, in concentration camps, or (in the case of 102 resistance members[10]) executed following a court-martial.

The Danish National Museum maintains the Museum of Danish Resistance in Copenhagen.

Prominent members

  • Christer Lyst Hansen
  • Mogens Fog
  • Flemming Muus
  • Niels Eberhard Petersen
  • Monica Wichfeld
  • Ove Kampman
  • Poul Kristian Brandt Rehberg
  • Poul Bruun
  • Marius Fiil
  • Niels Fiil
  • Jørgen Kieler
  • Thomas Sneum
  • Jørgen Haagen Schmith (Citronen)
  • Bent Faurschou-Hviid (Flammen)
  • John Christmas Møller
  • Jorgen Strange Lorenzen
  • Sven Fage-Pedersen
  • David Schultz

Strategic impact

The extent to which the Danish resistance played an important strategic role has been the subject of much discussion. Immediately after the war and until about 1970, the vast majority of accounts overrated the degree to which the resistance had been effective in battling against the Germans by acts of sabotage and by providing key intelligence to the Allies. More recently, however, after re-examining the archives, historians concur that, while the resistance provided a firm basis for moral support and paved the way for post-war governments, the strategic effect during the occupation was limited. The Germans were not required to send in reinforcements, leaving a comparatively small number of Wehrmacht troops to defend the country. The resistance did not enter into active combat. Even the overall importance of Danish intelligence in the context of Ultra is questionable.[11]

In his book No Small Achievement, Knud Jespersen quotes a report from SHAEF stating that resistance in Denmark "caused strain and embarrassment to the enemy...[and a] striking reduction in the flow of troops and stores from Norway [that] undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the reinforcements for the battles East and West of the Rhine." Examining the British archives, Jespersen also found a report concluding that the overall impact of Danish resistance restored national pride and political unity.[12]

In fiction

  • Barry Clemson's 2009 novel Denmark Rising imagines a Denmark that implemented a total resistance to the Nazis via strategic nonviolence.
  • Ken Follett's 2002 suspense novel Hornet Flight presents a fictionalized account of early Danish resistance.
  • Carol Matas's 1987 and 1989 novels Lisa and Jesper presented a fictionalized story on Danish resistance missions.
  • Miracle at Midnight
  • Flammen & Citronen's 2008 movie based on the lives of two Danish resistance fighters. Produced by Ole Christian Madsen.
  • Number the Stars historical fiction novel by Lois Lowry
  • The Boys from St. Petri, a 1991 Danish Drama film.

In other media

  • "Denmark 1943", a song by Fred Small on his album I Will Stand Fast


  2. Per Eilstrup, Lars Lindeberg: De så de ske under Besættelsen. Forlaget Union, Copenhagen 1969.
  3. Resistance in Western Europe, edited by Bob Moore, p. 105.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 H.M. Lunding (1970), Stemplet fortroligt, 3rd edition, Gyldendal, pages 68-72. (Danish)
  5. Bjørn Pedersen: Jubel og glæde. (Danish) Retrieved 21 April 2008.
  6. Jerry Voorhis, “Germany and Denmark: 1940-45,” Scandinavian Studies 44:2 (1972) p. 183.
  7. The Rescue of Danish Jews from Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  8. Righteous among the nations - Denmark
  9. Germany — Duckwitz, Georg Ferdinand
  10. Georg Quistgaard (1946), Fængselsdagbog og breve, Nyt Nordisk Forlag Arnold Busck. (Danish)
  11. Denmark, Historical Role, by Hans Kirchoff in Resistance in Western Europe (p. 112 et seq).
  12. The Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf including a book review of Knud Jespersen's No Small Achievement. Retrieved 19 April 2008.

Further reading

  • Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall. A Force More Powerful. New York: Palgrave, 2000. ISBN 0-312-24050-3
  • Hæestrup, Jørgen. Secret Alliance - A Study of the Danish Resistance Movement 1940-45. Vols I, II & III. Odense University Press, 1976-77. ISBN 87-7492-168-1, ISBN 87-7492-194-0 & ISBN 87-7492-212-2.
  • Jespersen, Knud J. V. No Small Achievement: Special Operations Executive and the Danish Resistance 1940-1945. Odense, University Press of Southern Denmark. ISBN 87-7838-691-8
  • Lampe, David (1957). The Danish Resistance. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Moore, Bob (editor). Resistance in Western Europe (esp. Chapter on Denmark by Hans Kirchoff), Oxford : Berg, 2000, ISBN 1-85973-279-8.
  • Besættelsens Hvem Hvad Hvor (Who What Where of the Occupation), Copenhagen, Politikens Forlag, 3rd revised edition, 1985. ISBN 87-567-4035-2.
  • Reilly, Robin. Sixth Floor: The Danish Resistance Movement and the RAF Raid on Gestapo Headquarters March 1, 2002.
  • Stenton, Michael. Radio London and resistance in occupied Europe. Oxford University Press. 2000. ISBN 0-19-820843-X
  • Voorhis, Jerry. Germany and Denmark: 1940-45, Scandinavian Studies 44:2, 1972.

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