Halvdan Koht

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Halvdan Koht : biography

7 July 1873 – 12 December 1965

On 5 April the Allies sent notes to both Norway and Sweden warning that they would take any action necessary if the Germans were allowed to use the neutral countries’ territory to their advantage. Koht responded with a speech in which he said that the Allies had nothing to gain by interfering with Norwegian shipping lanes—the British had a more significant trade with Norway than the Germans. The next day the Allies decided to launch a mining operation on the Norwegian coast, and to land troops at Narvik in case the Germans responded to the mining by landing in Norway. Shortly before the mining was carried out, Koht warned the British that no further neutrality violations would be tolerated, and that in the future the Norwegians would respond with force.Lunde, 2009: pp. 37–39 The Germans too repeatedly violated Norwegian neutrality, and, following a visit from the Norwegian fascist leader Vidkun Quisling to Hitler in December 1939, began serious planning for a possible occupation of Norway. Following the Altmark Incident, Hitler ordered the invasion of Norway.Lunde, 2009: pp. 54–66 In response to the British mining operation on 8 April 1940, the Norwegian government lodged formal protests with the British and French governments, while secretly remaining set on avoiding war with the Allies at all cost. Koht told the Norwegian parliament that he believed that the Allies were trying to bring Norway into the war. The Allied mining of the Norwegian coast coincidentally distracted the Norwegian government from realizing that large German forces had been on their way to invade Norway for several days prior.Lunde, 2009: pp. 97, 222

German invasion and war

At the advent of the Nazi German Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Norway of 9 April 1940, Germany sent the envoy Curt Bräuer to present demands of capitulation. Koht personally met with Bräuer, and rejected his demands and threats of war, stating that "war had already started". Koht and the cabinet fled Norway’s capital in the morning of 9 April. Even though Koht rejected Bräuer’s initial contact, he did convince the cabinet to listen to further German proposals for negotiations later the same day. All Norwegian negotiations with the Germans ended after a failed attempt to capture the Norwegian king and government in Midtskogen early on 10 April.Lunde, 2009: pp. 226-229 Koht was willing to take up the fight against the invaders. He wrote several key speeches, some of which were delivered by King Haakon VII, to convey staunch resistance to the German demands.

Vital to the Norwegian effort to try to halt the German advance was assistance from the Allies, which Koht requested in the early hours of 9 April, although skeptical of the potential of Allied aid.Lunde, 2009: pp. 223, 227 When the rest of the government fled from Molde to Tromsø, landing on 1 May, Koht and Ljungberg (Minister of Defense) continued from there with the cruiser HMS Glasgow to London. Here, from 5 May they negotiated with British government representatives (Lord Halifax, Chamberlain and Admiral Philips) on British aid to Norway. Koht also made a radio speech from London on the BBC, broadcasting to Norway, and a speech on American radio. On 8 and 9 May he met Reynaud, Gamelin and Daladier in Paris. The Norwegian Ministers departed from London on 11 May, arriving back in Norway on 17 May. The talks with the Allies resulted in concrete promises and plans for large French reinforcements for the Norwegian front. These plans were however abandoned by the Allies on 24 May 1940, following the worsening situation for the Allies in France, and an evacutation decided.Lunde, 2009: pp. 514-515 Koht was informed by British Minister to Norway Sir Cecil Dormer on 1 June that the Allied Forces had decided to retreat from Norway, owing to the difficult situation at the Western Front.

In response to the Allied decision to evacuate, the cabinet sent Koht to Luleå in Sweden to try to reinvigorate a previously rejected plan to create a demarcation line between the Germans and Norwegian in Northern Norway. Swedish troops were planned to occupy Narvik. The plan was named the Mowinckel plan, after its initiator, the former prime minister Johan Ludwig Mowinckel. During a meeting with the Swedish minister of foreign affairs, Christian Günther, who was to act as a middle man with Germans in relation to the plan, Koht revealed that the Allies were about to evacuate Norway. Although Günther never revealed the evacuation plans to the Germans, Koht was heavily criticized for doing so by his colleagues upon his return to Norway.Lunde, 2009: pp. 518-519