My watch list  

Swedish iron ore during World War II

Swedish iron ore was an important economic factor in the European Theater of World War II. Both the Allies and the Third Reich were keen on the control of the mining district in northernmost Sweden, surrounding the mining towns of Gällivare and Kiruna. The importance of this issue increased after other sources were cut off from Germany by the British sea blockade during the Second Battle of the Atlantic. Both the planned Anglo-French support of Finland in the Winter War, and the following German occupation of Denmark and Norway (Operation Weserübung) were to large extent motivated by the wish to deny their respective enemies iron critical for wartime production of steel.



The Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) of 1935, concluded between Britain and Germany, seriously challenged the independence of Sweden and its long-standing policy of peaceful neutrality. Signed on June 18, the agreement was "the most startling event of 1935". Despite provisions in the Treaty of Versailles, the AGNA allowed Germany to increase the size of its navy to one-third the size of the Royal navy. At the same time, Britain agreed to withdraw its navy from the Baltic Sea completely, making Germany the dominant power in the Baltic, making itself a potential threat to Sweden and the other Baltic countries during a time of war as well as in peacetime.

  The Anglo-German Naval Agreement made it easier for the German navy to control a major portion of the sea traffic traveling in and out of the Baltic, including sea traffic traveling through the Gulf of Bothnia. The majority of Germany's iron-ore imports originated from the Gulf of Bothnia and the Swedish port of Luleå. With 50 percent of Germany's iron-ore imports coming from Sweden, iron-ore was of major importance to Germany, especially for the German military's attempts at rebuilding its war arsenal. Grand Admiral Raeder, head of the German navy, said himself that it would be "utterly impossible to make war should the navy not be able to secure the supplies of iron-ore from Sweden". By controlling the Baltic, as Gunnar Hägglöf has stated, "All the iron-ore needed by Germany could be shipped from the harbours of the Baltic".

Germany's expanded power, as granted through the AGNA, posed a serious threat to the independence of nations that bordered on the Baltic, particularly Sweden and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It forced some of those nations to seriously reconsider their traditional policies up to that point, with Sweden being no exception.

See also: British submarine flotilla in the Baltic

Iron ore trade

For Germany, the import of Swedish iron-ore was of extreme importance in its attempts to rebuild its military strength, despite the stipulations presented in the Treaty of Versailles. Prior to the Second World War, Germany was able to supply itself with only a quarter of its total iron-ore consumption per year, with the rest being imported from other countries. Sweden provided up to almost 60 percent of the iron-ore that was imported into Germany. In 1940, iron-ore imports from Sweden as well as Norway constituted 11,550,000 of the 15,000,000 tons Germany consumed that year. With the absence of Britain in the Baltic due to the Anglo-German Naval agreement, Germany was capable of controlling the vital trade routes between Sweden and Germany. The AGNA also made it difficult for Sweden to avoid the wishes of Germany, since its navy was capable of virtually controlling the main body of the Baltic Sea.

The primary ports where Swedish iron-ore originated from were the town of Narvik in the Norway. During the winter, all Swedish iron ore had to pass through Norway.

British attempts to disrupt German-Swedish trade

Interdiction of the German-Swedish iron ore trade was a prime military objective of the British during the early months of World War II. Winston Churchill, during his tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty from September, 1939 - May, 1940, devoted considerable energy to this task; he pushed two initiatives.[citation needed]

The first was to send a British fleet into the Baltic Sea to stop shipping reaching Germany from the two Swedish iron ore ports, viz.: Luleå, the summer port on the Gulf of Bothnia, and Oxelösund, an alternative winter port south of Stockholm. The project was called Project Catherine and was planned by Admiral of the Fleet William Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork. However, events overtook this project and it was canceled.[citation needed]

The second project was the mining going on near the Norwegian Leads, the inland waterway along the coast of Norway used by ships transporting Swedish iron ore to Germany during winter months. This project was within days of launch, but it was forestalled by the German invasion of Norway.[citation needed]

Military factors

Sweden was able to remain neutral throughout the war. In part this was probably because with Norway conquered, and with Finland as an ally there may not have been enough of an advantage to make an invasion desirable from the German point of view. Another consideration is the Swedish military, which had three Pansarskepp of the Sverige class as well as four older Äran class ships (1902 vintage). Since the border between Sweden and Norway follows a mountain chain, any invasion would have to be by sea, and while these ships were old (the newest was built in the 1920's) and slow, they could operate in shore, and in fjords where the Kriegsmarine was limited to the use of light units.

The possession of these three Sverige class ships and their older sisters has been cited in Warship Magazine as another reason that Germany did not try to invade.


Churchill, Winston S., The Gathering Storm. The Second World War, Vol. 1, Bantam books, New York, 1961.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Swedish_iron_ore_during_World_War_II". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE