In 1940, the German Wehrmacht conquered Norway and wanted to secure two advantages at the same time. On the one hand easy access to Swedish iron ore, on the other hand aluminum for the German Air Force should be produced in Norway – at least that was the plan of Field Marshal Hermann Göring. A Norwegian historian has investigated in more detail why he chose a country that did not have any aluminum ore itself.
At the beginning of this story is a country that has one resource in abundance: hydroelectric power. Due to its mountainous topography and abundance of water, Norway has many waterfalls whose gradients can be used relatively easily to generate electricity. At the beginning of the 20th century, the then still young country of Norway offered the growing heavy industry in Europe and the USA the tempting prospect of an almost unlimited amount of cheap electricity.
This is also where the story of Göring’s plans and the conquest of Norway by the German Wehrmacht in World War II begins. One of the reasons for Hitler’s interest in this rather sparsely populated country in northern Europe was its ports and the rail connections to the ore mining areas in neutral Sweden. The enormous deposits of iron ore were important for German industry and the capture of the Norwegian ports ensured the German Reich access and easy transport of the ore.
Goering’s ambitious plan
But there is a second reason, as historian Hans Otto Frøland of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (NTNU) has discovered. “To understand this, we have to realize that aluminum had become a strategically important metal at that time,” explains Frøland. “If you wanted to win the war, you had to control the airspace, and for that you needed airplanes. But in order to produce airplanes, aluminum and other light metals were needed – and their production in turn required energy.” This energy was in abundance in Norway because of its hydroelectric power.
When Germany occupied Norway in 1940, Field Marshal Hermann Göring saw an opportunity: “As head of the Air Force and the Air Ministry, he pushed ahead with plans that were to make Norway a main supplier for the German Air Force and aircraft production,” explains the historian . From the records, company documents, letters and other historical documents he evaluated, it emerges that Göring wanted to ship the aluminum ore bauxite from producing countries such as South America to Norway. Existing factories there were to be confiscated by British companies, among others, as so-called “enemy assets”, and others were to be rebuilt in order to then produce aluminum for the German Air Force on site.
…and why he failed
Norway-based aluminum entrepreneurs faced the choice of cooperating with the enemy or fleeing. While the director of the British aluminum factory BACO, Maurice Turner, fled to Great Britain just in time, Sigurd Kloumann, head of the Norwegian Aluminum Corporation (NACO), decided to collaborate. Among other things, he revealed to the German occupiers where the power plants were located and where the conditions for new plants were particularly favorable, as Frøland reports. Together with the occupiers, Kloumann expanded the Norwegian aluminum industry and relied on a long, profitable cooperation with the German Reich.
But things turned out differently. Goering’s ambitious plans for a German aluminum industry based in Norway fell through. “This program was oversized from the start and it didn’t produce a single kilogram of aluminum anywhere in Norway during the war,” explains Frøland. One of the reasons for this: the new aluminum works did not lack electricity, but aluminum ore: the bauxite freighters were held up by the Allied naval blockades and therefore did not reach their destination. The factories could therefore not work for lack of raw material.
After all, after the end of the war, Norway benefited from the infrastructure that the German occupiers had left behind. The aluminum factories promoted by Göring and his collaborators formed the basis of the Norwegian aluminum industry in the late 1940s. However, Kloumann was no longer able to benefit from this: he was put on trial as a collaborator and traitor and ostracized throughout his life.
More information about the history of the aluminum industry in Norway can be found at 63 Degree North Podcast Listen to “Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe and the six billion deal”.
Source: NTNU/ SINTEF