Operation Safari (ii)

This was a German operation in which German and Danish SS troops disarmed and then disbanded all Danish military units in German-occupied Denmark (29 August 1943).

One torpedo boat, three minesweepers and nine patrol boats managed to escape to Sweden, and 32 other larger vessels were scuttled or blown up. The Germans managed to take 14 larger and 50 smaller vessels, and later to salvage and refit 15 of the vessels which had been sunk.

After its seizure by the Germans on 9 April 1940, Denmark had been allowed a considerable degree of internal autonomy, but as the war continued the Danish population became increasingly hostile to the Germans. Soldiers stationed in Denmark had found most of the population cold and distant from the beginning of the occupation, but their willingness to co-operate had made the relationship workable. The government had attempted to discourage sabotage and violent resistance to the occupation, but by the autumn of 1942 the numbers of violent acts of resistance had increased to the level at which Germany declared Denmark ‘enemy territory’ for the first time.

After the Germans had lost the 2nd Battle of El Alamein and the Battle of Stalingrad, the incidence of resistance, both active and passive, increased rapidly. In March 1943 the Germans allowed a general election, and in this a high voter turn-out (the greatest ever recorded in a Danish parliamentary election) recorded 94% for one of the democratic parties backing the policy of co-operation with Germany, only 2.2% for the Dansk Samling, which was against co-operation, and a mere 2.1% for the local Nazi party. The combination of the election results, increasing discontent and a increasing optimism about Germany’s eventual defeat led to many strikes and civil disturbances during the summer of 1943.

The Danish government refused to deal with the situation in a manner satisfactory to the Germans who, on 28 August, issued an ultimatum demanding a ban on public assemblies, the outlawing of strikes, the introduction of a curfew, the introduction of censorship undertaken with German assistance, the introduction of ‘special’ (German military) courts, and the death penalty for sabotage. The government refused, and on the following day the Germans dissolved the Danish government and instituted martial law.

In the autumn of 1944, the naval vessels which escaped to Sweden became the core of a Danish navy in exile. Moreover, in 1943 the Swedish government allowed 500 Danish soldiers in Sweden to train as ‘police troops’, one year later raising the permitted number to 4,800 and recognising the entire unit as a brigade of the Danish army in exile.