Consulates, the eyes and ears of foreign powers.
During the First World War, the Allies eventually manged to block the northern exit from North Sea into the Norwegian Sea with a mine belt all the way to the Norwegian coast. The Royal Navy patrolled the gaps between Scotland and the Shetland Islands. At Calais, the narrow waterway was so close to the actual front lines that no real maritime traffic was sailing that way. The German merchant fleet was thus nearly completely blocked. The Imperial Navy feared little better. After the Battle of Jutland, virtually only the German U-boats made their presence known in the Atlantic. The early battles off South America faded away and strategists like Wegener started to look at the benefits of controlling the Norwegian and French coast lines. As war was declared early in September 1939, a steady stream of German merchant ships sailed around Iceland to avoid the British blockade, across to the Norwegian coast and followed this south, inside the chain of islands, the so-called Inner Leads, safe in Norwegian territorial waters. As long as they stayed inside the Norwegian territory, they could, via Swedish and Danish waters, reach Germany without being exposed to the might of the Royal Navy.
Whilst the arms race between the Allies and Germany started to escalate during the inter-war years, the German Foreign Office was starting to look at more permanent arrangements to support their interests in Norway. Due to the large Norwegian merchant navy, it was not unusual to see several foreign nations being represented by honorary consuls in coastal towns. The British Foreign Office was a case in point. Apart from the embassy in Oslo, they had, in 1939, a Vice Consul in virtually all coastal towns from the Swedish border to the southern tip:
Continuing up the west coast they had a consular presence in most key coastal towns all the way to the Russian border:
Judging from the names in the British Foreign Office list, these were all Norwegians, probably business people with strong links to Britain. Only Bergen and Trondheim had representatives with the ‘full’ Consul title and probably only C.A. Edmond in Bergen was a British citizen, paid for his services. Nevertheless, Britain clearly appreciated their work, as several had been awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) or were Members of the British Empire (MBE). In Bergen, the British Consulate was situated at a particularly interesting location on the quay, with some very interesting stories attached, but that is in the manuscript…..
Against this array of British information gathering capability, Nazi Germany had its Legation in Oslo, and a Consul General in Bergen. Their known list of consular offices in Western and Northern Norway are limited to:
We know there were German Officials at the Consulates in Bergen and in Haugesund. In fact, the Haugesund operation was so new that during the City of Flint episode they were operating from the local hotel. We also know they got a ‘right rollicking’ by telephone over their handling of the City of Flint affair! The story of the German Consulate in Haugesund in the autumn of 1939 is fascinating; it is all in the manuscript…. In fact, apart from their Stavanger office, all the above German consulates were involved one way or another, in the City of Flint story.
In comparison, the Americans, apart from their Legation in Oslo, had only one Consulate and that was located in Bergen. They had a full-time American diplomat deployed there. In the light of the Germans taking the neutral American City of Flint as a Prize, it is fascinating to think that the Consul Dunlap at the American Consulate could most probably stand at his office window and look across to the entrance of the German Consulate less than two hundred metres away.
When he received the US Ambassador to Norway, Mrs Harriman, at the Bergen railway station during the City of Flint incident, the Bergen press rather undiplomatically described him as ‘that little man accompanying the Ambassador…’ It was at this stage the City of Flint crew drained his bar, although the Captain, Joseph Gainard, did not touch a drop of the stuff, he was a teetotaller.