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Norway is a young nation. It only achieved full independence in 1905, and in the first century of its short life has had to endure two World Wars, the Cold War, and now most recently the unravelling of what was supposed to be a peaceful new world order. The Army is the oldest of the service branches, established as a modern military organisation in 1628. Among the historical milestones, was the establishment of the first Norwegian general staff in 1814 and the build-up of troops along the Swedish border in 1905. The Army participated in wars during the 17th, 18th and 19th century as well, both in Norway and abroad.

The Norwegian army, in its present form, dates back to the beginning of the 17th century. The well-developed defence of the middle ages, ledingen, had altogether degenerated in the time of troopers and lansquenets; and it was a completely new formation, when a special, national, Norwegian army was again raised by Christian IV.

The warlike traditions of the army consist of a long series of border engagements, in which it defended the frontier with honour and success against the renowned Swedish troops. The strength of the troops of the line generally amounted to between 2.5 and 3 per cent of the population; the organisation was territorial, 4. subsequently 2 farms having together to provide one soldier. The towns had their city militia. On the coast and the frontier, there were a great number of batteries and fortresses.

When the Kalmar War broke out in 1611, the Danish king tried to revive the volunteer leidang, with dire results. As the Norwegian citizenry had not been armed or trained in the use of arms for nearly three centuries, the rag-tag army the Danish king was able to muster was hopelessly inept. Soldiers deserted en masse, or were routed. However, this military disaster prompted the Danish King Christian IV to promulgate a series of military ordinances between 1614 and 1628. Designated groups of farmers were required to provide, equip and billet one soldier each. The soldiers had to participate in military drills, while providing supplementary labour to the local community when not in active service. Although the army still did not represent the whole nation, as city residents were exempt from military duty, 1628 is generally regarded by historians as the year when the modern Norwegian citizen army was born.

During the war of 1643-45, the Norwegian army performed well while its Danish counterpart flopped. As a result, large areas had to be ceded to Sweden. This led the Danish king to invite German mercenaries to coach and command the Danish-Norwegian Armed Forces: a decision echoing down the centuries in traces of Germanic vocabulary used by the Norwegian military to this day.

In the early 18th century the Swedes invaded Norway yet again, and this time the Norwegian army held its own, setting the stage for nearly a century of peace - the longest yet in modern Norwegian history - during which a distinct Norwegian identity began to take root. German was dumped as the official language of command in 1772, in favour of "Dano-Norwegian". With the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars, Denmark-Norway and Sweden-Finland tried to remain outside the fray; but Denmark's King Fredrik IV's decision to align with Napoleon meant that hostilities had to reach Norway sooner or later.

By 1807, Denmark-Norway was formally at war with Britain. As the Napoleonic era drew to a close, the victorious allies decided to award Norway to Sweden in 1814. The fundamental law of 1814 determined that obligatory service should be universal and personal. After the union with Sweden had been entered upon, however, a great reduction was made in the army, and most of the fortifications were vacated. The bill for liability to service was not passed until much later. It is on the basis of the conscription act of 1885 that the army has obtained its present complete organisation, in which, however, most of the former line commands are retained.

In June 1905 the Storting unilaterally dissolved the 91-year-old union with Sweden. After a short but tense period of mobilization, Sweden bowed to the inevitable.

But no sooner had independence celebrations in 1905 died down than Norway, together with the rest of Europe, had to face up to the end of the make-believe paradise that was Europe at the dawn of the 20th century. Though nominally a neutral nation during World War I, Norway was in the unenviable position of being dependent on the warring sides for its trade. Coal from Britain was needed to keep the country going, and Norway had thus to agree that each shipload of coal leaving Britain be matched with incoming Norwegian cargoes such as copper ore and fish. This attracted the attention of German submarines.

By 1920 the army of Norway was a national militia. Service was universal and compulsory, liability commencing at the age of 18, and continuing till the age of 56. The men were called out at 21, aud for the first 12 years belonged to the line ; then for 12 years to the landvarn. Afterwards they passed to the landatorm, in which they remained until they have attained 55 years of age. The initial training was carried out in recruits' schools ; it lasted for 48 days in the infantry and garrison artillery, 62 in the mountain batteries, 72 in the engineers, 92 in the field artillery, and 102 in the cavalry. As soon as their courses were finished the men were passed to the units to which they would permanently belong, and with them went through a further training of 30 days. Subsequent training consisted of 80 days in the second, third and seventh years of service.

The army is organised in 3 independent successive bans, opbud. The men serve first in the line for I5 years, then in the landvern for 6 years, and then for 4 years in the landstorm. The remainder of the age-classes were in the unorganised landstorm reinforcements. The three opbuds had the same number of parallel battalions, squadrons, etc., and the line and landvern have the necessary army reserves within their own age-classes. The line only, according to the fundamental law, can be employed outside the country.

This arrangement, peculiar to Norway, of the three successive opbuds of equal strength has been brought about by the position of the country as an independent member in a union. If, in defence of the united kingdoms, the line is operating in Sweden, it will be necessary to have a field army of considerable strength to protect Norway from a special attack, namely, the landvern. By consistently carrying out the territorial system, the third opbud also acquired the same conformation: the landstorm, which here, as elsewhere, was mainly intended for local defence, but also to cover the concentration of the troops belonging to the line and the landvern by instantly occupying prepared points by a sudden mobilisation.

The line was organised in 6 divisions of all arms, besides which there was the garrison artillery. There were 56 battalions of infantry, 5 companies of cyclists (skiers), 3 regiments of cavalry (16 squadrons), 27 four-gun field batteries, 3 batteries of mountain artillery, 9 batteries of heavy artillery, and 1 regiment and 2 battalions of engineers. The Flying Corps was organised in 3 divisions. The divisions were of unequal strength, according to the importance of the district in which they were recruited. In event of war, each division would mobilize 2 or 3 regiments of infantry (of 3 battalions), 3 or 4 squadrons of cavalry, a battalion of field artillery (of 3 batteries), a battalion of heavy artillery, a sapper company, a telegraph company, a medical company and a company of train. Each regimental district also forms one battalion of landvarn (of 6 companies), and the other arms would form landvarn units in the same proportion. The total peace strength was 118,500 men aud comprised 71,S36 rifles, 228 field and 36 heavy guns. The additional numbers available on mobilisation amount to 282,000 men.

The Norwegian infantry was armed with the Krag-Jorgensen rifle of 6'5 mm. The field artillery had Erhardt Q.F. guns of 7-5 cm. The budget of the army for 1919-20 was 1,940,000.

Norway's Armed Forces were kept mobilized throughout the First World War; but they were no match for the German invasion of April 1940. With the German occupational forces in 1940, as with the other parts of the Armed Forces, the Army had to surrender to a superior force, but army units were the ones resisting for the longest period of time: The 6th Division lead by the legendary Major General Carl Gustav Fleischer participated in the allied recapture of Narvik - inflicting on Nazi-Germany its first loss on the ground in World War II.

The Army was reconstructed after the War, based among others on the forces established in exile in Sweden and Great Britain during the War, as well as on domestic forces. The participation in the allied occupation of Germany was a very demanding task for the Army in the period of 1946-52, but it was also a part of the reconstruction. The Army was established in all parts of the country, with a significant stronghold in Troms based on the threat picture of that time: the fear of an invasion from the East. This picture definitely changed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

By 1989 it was planned to reorganise Brigade North as a 'Brigade 90' with 6,000 men, by adding a 828-man mechanised battalion with 26 tanks and 32 APCs, and to have two 'Brigade 90' mobilisation brigades, ten 'Brigade 78' mobilisation brigades, a standing battalion group '90', an 'Infantry Battalion 90', five 'Brigade 78 (improved)' mobilisation brigades, plus independent infantry, artillery, armored and support units and the Royal Guard.

The Army had been subject to great changes over the past few years: After a strong rebuilding after the war, it was downsized after the end of the Cold War, with the biggest changes taking place in the middle of the 1990's, when a number of garrisons and units were discontinued. This restructuring focused on moving from from a fairly static invasion army to a flexible rapid reaction army. The Parliament in 1994 and 1995 approved a series of major organizational changes, for the Army in particular. To ensure a cost-efficient implementation, it is necessary to focus the activities in the Army on the process of transforming the army from a large mobilization army to a smaller, professional army.

Norwegian contributions to international crisis management had been generated from a system that is first and foremost geared towards the rapid activation of mobilization units armed and trained for territorial defence. As a consequence, Norwegian contributions to international military operations have a high degree of sustainability, as they have a substantial number of reserve units on which to draw. However, without adaptation this force posture is to a lesser extent able to generate forces rapidly and flexibly in response to international crises. Moreover, the contributions that Norway has been able to make to international operations have tended to consist of lightly armoured mechanized infantry, well-suited for more traditional peacekeeping tasks (e.g., UNIFIL in southern Lebanon to which Norway contributed a sizable unit for over twenty years) but not sufficiently robust for missions which might entail enforcement tasks.

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Page last modified: 27-08-2016 15:34:58 ZULU