SCORCHED EARTH …

The Autumn of 1944 was highly dramatic. The Soviet Union had the edge in the war, and both Germany and Finland were under great pressure. Finland and Moscow signed an armistice. Germany and Finland had been allies but were suddenly enemies. German soldiers were to be withdrawn from Norway through

Finnmark and northern Troms.On their side, 130,000 Red Army soldiers on the Litza Front near Murmansk were preparing to liberate their own territory, and securing it by invading Kirkenes and the areas further west up to the Tana River. Confronted with this superior force, the German military were in a hurry to retreat. The withdrawal of the vast numbers of Wehrmacht soldiers and thousands of starving prisoners of war took place on the same, poorly developed road network.

In October 1944 the order came directly from Hitler: The whole civilian population – more than 70,000 people, including children, young people, the elderly and sick – were to be forcibly evacuated. The order from Hitler ended with these words: “Compassion for the civilian population is uncalled for”. In order to delay the advance of the Russian forces, the German military power used “the scorched earth policy”. Nearly all buildings and infrastructure in the Norwegian areas to the north and east of the defence line Lyngen in northern Troms were obliterated. Many experienced the destruction at close quarters.

The following were burnt down or blown up:

  • 12,000 residential buildings for 50,000 people. 4700 barns and outhouses.
  • 150 schools. 27 churches with 15 vicarages. 21 hospitals and nursing homes.
  • 500 industrial firms of all sizes. 200 fish processing centres. 53 hotels and inns.
  • 350 bridges. 180 lighthouse stations. 22,000 telegraph poles. 430,000 metres of overhead lines and cables.
  • 1066 electric motors. 118 power plants. 12 telephone exchanges. 11 telegraph stations.
  •  350 motor boats. Several thousand rowing boats, and quays and harbours.

All domestic animals were to be slaughtered. Finnmark was mined, with close to 100,000 laid in the sea and onshore.