Panic Day in Oslo

10 April 1940 has remained in history as "the great panic day". The reason for this designation is the panic that spread through the population of Oslo, after the rumors of the British bombing of the capital had spread. Here you can see how the Oslo people rush out of town on foot, on bicycles, in trucks and buses. The clip is without audio.

From NRK via the excellent RealTimeWWII. (The caption has been run through Google Translate and tweaked by me so it makes more sense, so I can't vouch for its accuracy.)

This one of the many things I didn't know before. I can't find much about it on the web in English; Wikipedia says:

The same day [10 April 1940], panic broke out in German-occupied Oslo, following rumours of incoming British bombers. In what has since been known as "the panic day" the city's population fled to the surrounding countryside, not returning until late the same evening or the next day. Similar rumours led to mass panic in Egersund and other occupied coastal cities. The origins of the rumours have never been uncovered.

It's interesting that the rumours named Britain as the aggressor. Of course Germany bombing a city it already occupied wasn't particularly plausible, so given that the rumour existed it would have to attach itself to Britain. The Altmark incident (and the planned mining of Norwegian waters, though I assume that was not publicly known as it was interrupted by the German invasion which was publicised shortly before the panic) might have suggested that the British were prepared to go further and attack Norway to achieve their own ends. I don't know much about airmindedness in Norway before the war (apart from the ghost flyers) either but in recent months civilians in two small, nearby nations had already suffered aerial bombardment, namely Poland and Finland (and let's not forget China and Spain in 1938) so to that extent the panic was not unreasonable.

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2 thoughts on “Panic Day in Oslo

  1. Neil Datson

    An interesting little film. To my untutored eye it looks rather too stagey to have been actually taken on 10 April 1940. So I postulate that it was actually made after the event by the Germans as propaganda.

    A few more points / questions:

    Did 'panic day' actually happen, or was it invented by the Germans for propaganda? (If it did happen, it may well have been instigated by Nazi rumour-mongers acting on instructions from Goebbels.) In context, it should be remembered that by April 1940 neither side had bombed civilian areas, apart from the Germans in Poland. The 'apart from' may seem a bizarre qualification, but the Nazis had bizarre ideas, such as that Slavs were sub-human. Not unnaturally, they tended to think that far more people agreed with them than was actually the case. So the Norwegian campaign was an ideal opportunity to plant the idea that, in contrast to themselves, the British and French would fight dirty. In the film, the German soldiers seem intended to be a reassuring presence. So presumably its message is; 'we are here to protect you from barbarous foreign butchers, so barbarous that they're even prepared to murder innocent Nordic civilians'.

  2. Post author

    Fair question about the film itself, I did wonder if the people in it looked a bit too unruffled in some places, possibly even having fun! In others they do seem to be anxious, though. It would be nice to know who made the film and why (and as you say, when exactly).

    As to the panic itself I'm persuaded that it did happen. (Maybe the rumours which caused it were planted by the Germans, but even if so, the fact that it was believed and therefore spread is, to me, very telling.) There are contemporary English-language press accounts, for example this one from the Cairns Post, 12 April 1940, 7:

    OSLO EVACUATION ORDERED.

    STOCKHOLM, April 10. The population of Oslo was ordered at 11.45 o'clock this morning to evacuate the city immediately. British warships are reported to have threatened to bombard the city if it was not surrendered within 13 hours.

    According to a frontier report British warships have penetrated Oslo fiord. This morning there were dramatic scenes in the streets and the railway stations, as hundreds of persons were fleeing from the city in panic. Measures are being taken to attempt to organise the evacuation of women, children and aged peoples first.

    But note that this refers to a threat of naval bombardment, which was perhaps more plausible given the heavy Allied naval presence in Norwegian waters (and the Altmark and the mining -- which I see was reported at the time, in fact the day of or the day before the panic). It could be that the press accounts were wrong, or a translation error. Or maybe that the perceived threat was both naval and aerial. Or it could be that postwar accounts have equated 'bombardment' with 'aerial bombardment'? That's something which I've noticed regarding the Syrian uprising in the present day: government forces bombard rebel-held towns using artillery but 'bombarding' gets turned into 'bombing' somehow in the general discourse.

    Here's a postwar account evidently derived from interviews with an eyewitness named Eva:

    Next day, April 10, the so called “panic day” because of rumours that Oslo would be bombed precisely at noon, thousands of people left their homes and fled to the countryside. Eva and her sisters had an uncle who lived in a house at Vettakollen. On ‘panic day’ he opened his home for the needy and got his three nieces to assist him. On the way there they met scared children, women, and whole families whom they took with them to the warmth and safety of their uncle’s house. He had a friend who owned a large business in Oslo and Eva told us; “Uncle Anton went into town with a van and came back with heaps of good food – sausages, bread and butter. We put together a meal so that the, by now, large numbers of involuntary guests didn’t have to sleep on empty stomachs.Next morning the bomb scare was over, the overnight guests left and we could get the house ship-shape again”.

    Again, it's possible that 'Oslo would be bombed' doesn't mean aerial bombardment. But it seems clear that some sort of panic happened.

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