Our HistoryOur Historyhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Etterkrigsforsvar034-english.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=3285Our organisation has roots back to the Viking Ages. Since then, the Armed Forces have gone through enormous changes. But one thing remains unchanged: The will to defend ourselves from enemies.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The first Norwegian defence organisation, the leidangen, was established along the coastline in the 10th century. The leidangen protected the Norwegian coast and the land within "as far in as the salmon goes", according to old sayings.

The Vikings also established a line of cairns and fires on strategic mountain peaks along the coast. They were used for spreading news, messages and warnings to the whole country. A message would take a week to reach from the south to the north of Norway. The system of cairns was the precursor of today's sophisticated control and warning system.

In addition to the leidangen, the hird was also an important military power. In Norway, the hird was initially the King's lifeguards. From the Viking Age and up to the 1500s, the royal hird made it possible for the King to claim his rights and powers – both in Norway and abroad.

The ​unions with Denmark and Sweden were fundamental for the development of Norway's defence.

Prese​​​nce at sea

In 1380, Norway formed a union with Denmark that would last until 1814. During the Late Middle Ages, the trade alliance the Hanseatic League eventually became a substantial power in Northern Europe. To avoid losing out to the League, the Dano-Norwegian authorities needed to be present and show their powers at sea. In 1510, a permanent Dano-Norwegian Navy was established, and during the reign of King Christian IV, the fleet was one of the strongest in Europe. While the Army was administered as a Norwegian unit, the Navy was joint for both states.

From the 16th to the 19th century, the union with Denmark and later on, the union with Sweden, were fundamental for the development of Norway's defence. Danish King Christian IV reorganised the army, and in 1628 he decided to establish a Norwegian army. The country was or​ganised in small geographic areas, and the farmers in each area had to provide soldiers, food and some equipment to the army. In total, the Norwegian Army consisted of about 7,000 soldiers. Personal conscription came much later.​​



Bondesoldater 1697Bondesoldater 1697http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Bondesoldater 1697.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=830Bondesoldater 1697Peasant soldiers. Drawing from 1697.Tegning av bondesoldater 1697
Fotfolk og rytteri 1800Fotfolk og rytteri 1800http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Fotfolk og rytteri 1800.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=824Fotfolk og rytteri fra rundt 1800.Foot soldiers and cavalry around 1800.
Infanteriet 1810Infanteriet 1810http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Infanteriet 1810.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=816Infanteriet 1810.The Infantry in 1810.
Skiløper 005Skiløper 005http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Skiløper 005.bmphttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=805Skiløperkorpset i uniform anno 1774The skier's corps dressed in uniform in 1774.


The​​ battles with Sweden

The union of Denmark–Norway was in a nearly constant battle with neighbouring Sweden from the 16th to the 19th century. In the 17th century, there were no less than four large conflicts between the countries. The Swedes eventually succeeded in claiming Norwegian land territories. Large areas were transferred from Norway to Sweden, and today's border between Norway and Sweden was more or less established in the 1600s.

The army in Norway gradually became more independent from the army in Denmark. In 1750, a Norwegi​an military academy was established, and the first school for non-commissioned officers was created in 1784.​​

T​​​​oday's border between Norway and Sweden was more or less established in the 1600s. ​

Alliance with France and Napole​​on

The 18th century was a relatively peaceful period, despite the constant rivalling with Sweden. The Dano-Norwegian navy grew in size and organisation, but was rarely involved in battles and wars. The presence of the Navy was nonetheless important, especially during the Napoleonic Wars from the 1790s and onwards. The British had long feared that the Dano-Norwegian navy would join Napoleon's side. To prevent this from happening, the United Kingdom raided Denmark in 1807, known as the Battle of Copenhagen. The​ result was disastrous for Denmark–Norway. Most of its fleet was destroyed, and the remaining ships were taken to Britain.

After the British bombardment, Denmark–Norway joined France and Napoleon. The alliance with France meant that the kingdom now was at war with both Britain and Sweden. A Norwegian campaign against Sweden was successful for the Norwegian troops, but the war against Britain was long and hard for the Dano-Norwegian kingdom. Britain established a strict embargo. This especially hurt Norway, since the country was completely dependent upon imports of corn and other food. The embargo resulted in hunger and famine, and made Norwegians more opposed to the already unpopular union with Denmark.​​

Union ​with Sw​eden

Napoleon was finally defeated in 1814, and Denmark–Norway stood on the losing side. As a punishment, the Dano-Norwegian kingdom was dissolved, and Norway was transferred from Denmark to Sweden. But before the union with Sweden was formalised, Norwegian authorities managed to create a Norwegian constitution. The Constitution became important in the union with Sweden, because it formally recognised Norway as a state. In a military perspective, the most important part of the Constitution was paragraph 109, which established conscription for all men. But it would last until the end of the 1800s before all Norwegian men were included as conscripts. 



Gardemusikken 1860, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivGardemusikken 1860, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Gardemusikken 1860.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=820Gardemusikken ca 1860Musicians from the King's Guard Band. Photo taken around 1860.Fem musikere fra Gardemusikken 1860
Heimstadmoen ca 1890, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivHeimstadmoen ca 1890, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Heistadmoen1890 tallet.tifhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=819Heistadmoen leir, ca 1890. Soldiers having a meal at Heistadmoen Camp, Eastern Norway, around 1890.
Hotchkiss 1905Hotchkiss 1905http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Hotchkiss 1905.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=817Hotchkiss mitraljøse, cirka 1905.Hotchkiss machine gun, around 1905.
Steinkjer 1895Steinkjer 1895http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Steinkjer 1895.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=804Bilde fra Steinkjer 1895.Norwegian soldiers in the town of Steinkjer, Central Norway in 1895.

P​​eace – And Two World Wars

After the Napoleonic Wars, people in Europe were tired of wars and fighting. This general mood slowed down the development and growth of the Norwegian Army and Navy. At the end of the 19th century, the authorities built up the Army and the Navy, due to the growing Norwegian fight for independence. The union with Sweden was peacefully dissolve​d in 1905, but Norwegian politicians strongly believed that the Armed Forces had been an important factor for securing Norwegian independence.​​

During the World War from 1914 to 1​918, Norway managed to stay neutral, but the Norwegian neutrality is debated. The Norwegians sympathised with the British, and more than 3,500 Norwegian sailors were killed in German attacks. After the war, Europe once again was tired of war. This led to strong demands of disarmament – also in Norway. The Norwegian Armed Forces were built down, and the military budget was held at a minimum.



Nøytralitetsvakt 1914Nøytralitetsvakt 1914http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Nøytralitetsvakt 1914.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=811Nøytralitetsvakter fra 1914Soldiers guarding Norway's neutrality during World War I. Photo taken in 1914.Tre nøytralitetsvakter fra 1914 står ute i naturen
Nøytralitetsvernet 1939Nøytralitetsvernet 1939http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Nøytralitetsvernet 1939.tifhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=812Nøytralitetsvernet 1939Norway worked hard to stay neutral in the first half of the 20th century. Here are soldiers from the so-called Neutrality Protection in Oslo in 1939.Soldater fra nøytralitetsvernet 1939
Minefiske, Brønnøysund, oktober 1916Minefiske, Brønnøysund, oktober 1916http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Minefiske, Brønnøysund, oktober 1916.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=808I løpet av første verdenskrig drev miner i land langs norskekysten. Her fra Brønnøysund i oktober 1916.During World War I, several mines came ashore along the Norwegian coast. Here from Brønnøysund, Central Norway in October 1916.


Signals of a new war forced Norway to re-build its forces, but it was too late. On 9 April 1940, Germany attacked Norway, and the Germans gained control of the entire country in June 1940. Around 1,100 Norwegian soldiers were killed in the battles. After the defeat, the Norwegian Government-in-exile started building several Norwegian army, navy and air force units from the United Kingdom. Around 10,000 people lost their lives on Norwegian soil during World War II, most of them during of the liberation of Northern Norway in the autumn of 1944. In addition to this, numerous Soviet and Serb prisoners of war were killed in German prison camps in Norway.

The occupation changed Norway's military policy fundamentally. The country now understood that claiming neutrality was no guaranty for avoiding war and occupation. Norway thus abandoned its principle of neutrality.​​



Flyskolen Little NorwayFlyskolen Little Norwayhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Flyskolen Little Norway.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=825Flyveskolen Little Norway ble opprettet i Canada under andre verdenskrig av den norske regjeringen i eksil.The pilot school "Little Norway" was established in Canada during World War II by the Norwegian Government-in-exile.Norske soldater fra Flyveskolen Little Norway som ble opprettet i Canada under andre verdenskrig av den norske regjeringen i eksil.
Bilde fra Little Norway i Canada. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivBilde fra Little Norway i Canada. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Little Norway 014.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=815To mekanikere inspiserer et fly med propell i Little Norway i Canada under andre verdenskrig. Two mechanics are inspecting a propeller aircraft in the camp "Little Norway" in Canada during World War II.To mekanikere inspiserer et fly med propell i Little Norway i Canada under andre verdenskrig.
Flyveskolen Little Norway ble opprettet i Canada under andre verdenskrig av den norske regjeringen i eksil. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivFlyveskolen Little Norway ble opprettet i Canada under andre verdenskrig av den norske regjeringen i eksil. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Little Norway 019.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=814Totalt i løpet av krigen ble over 2500 norske flysoldater av alle kategorier (flygere, navigatører, mekanikere m.m.) utdannet i Little Norway.During World War II, more than 2,500 Norwegian air force soldiers (pilots, navigators, mechanics, etc.) were educated in the camp "Little Norway" in Canada.To flyvere i Little Norway går forbi parkerte jagerfly
Heimevernsoldater Foto: ForsvarsmuseetHeimevernsoldater Foto: Forsvarsmuseethttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Heimevernet 003.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=822HeimevernetSoldiers from the Home Guard after World War II.
Heimevernet 010.jpgHeimevernet 010.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Heimevernet 010.jpg.tifhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=823Heimevernsoldater får opplæring. Training of soldiers from the Home Guard.
Luc 013Luc 013http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Luc 013.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=813Norsk soldat har tatt av seg støvlene. Etterkrigstiden. A Norwegian soldier has taken off his boots. Photo taken after World War II.Norsk soldat har tatt av seg støvlene. Etterkrigstiden.
Marinens kvinnekorps, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivMarinens kvinnekorps, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Marinens Kvinnekorps 004.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=806Marinens kvinnekorps under andre verdenskrig The Navy's Women's Corps exercise during World War II. kvinnelige soldater fra marinens kvinnekorts øver


Cold War​​​

In the late 1940s, international tensions grew between the West and the Soviet Union. As a small neighbour country to the Soviet Union, Norwegian authorities were concerned. The Nordic countries did not succeed in creating a Nordic military alliance, and this led to Norway joining NATO in 1949.

The NATO membership and the experiences from the War, led to an unprecedented build-up of the Norwegian Armed Forces. Norway also received monetary help from the USA and NATO to buy weapons and to build infrastructure. In 1952 and 1953, the defence budget amounted to 30 per cent of the state budget, and 4.7 per cent of Norway's gross domestic product.

A golden ​​era for conscription

The end of World War II marked the start of a golden era for universal conscription for men in Norway. More men had to serve the initial military service, and military education and trainings grew in size and numbers. At the peak period, more than 350,000 Norwegians were part of the Norwegian military forces. Since 1949, Norway has also been an important contributor to UN peacekeeping missions. More than 40,000 Norwegian women and men have served for t​he UN.​

The Norwegian Armed Forces were at their largest in the 1950s and 1960s.

A policy of balance

The Norwegian Armed Forces were at their largest in the 1950s and 1960s. After this, NATO changed its policy, and the monetary support to Norway was reduced. This led to a change in the Norwegia​n Armed Forces. At the same time, the Arctic gradually became more important to the great powers.

Norway's NATO membership was intended to prevent the Soviet Union from pressuring and attacking Norway. At the same time, Norway did not want to provoke its giant neighbour more than necessary. This meant that Norway needed a flexible and trustworthy de​fence policy. One result was that Norway did not allow foreign powers to have military bases on Norwegian territory – except if Norway was attacked or threatened with attacks. Norway also refused its partners to deploy nuclear weapons in Norway during peacetime.​



Etterkrigsforsvar 005Etterkrigsforsvar 005http://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Etterkrigsforsvar 005.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=828Etterkrigsforsvar.Soldiers from Norway's post-war defence.
Luftvernsystemet NIKE var lenge i bruk i etterkrigstiden i Norge. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivLuftvernsystemet NIKE var lenge i bruk i etterkrigstiden i Norge. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/NIKE 022.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=810Luftvernsystemet NIKE var lenge i bruk i etterkrigstiden i Norge. The air defence system NIKE was used for decades in post-war Norway.Våpensystemet NIKE
Natoøvelse. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivNatoøvelse. Foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/NATO 017.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=809Daværende kronprins Harald besøker utenlandske Nato-styrker under en øvelse i Norge. The then Crown Prince Harald of Norway visits foreign NATO forces during an exercise in Norway.
Etterkrigsforsvaret, foto: Forsvasmuseets billedarkivEtterkrigsforsvaret, foto: Forsvasmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/MG 111.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=807Maskingevær i etterkrigstidenPost-World War II machine gun.
Honest John, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivHonest John, foto: Forsvarsmuseets billedarkivhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Honest John 138.jpghttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=818Det amerikanske missilet Honest John hadde en kort opptreden i den norske forsvaret på 1960-tallet. The American missile "Honest John" had a brief appearance in the Norwegian Armed Forces in the 1960s.
Stridsvogn, M 24 ChaffeeStridsvogn, M 24 Chaffeehttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Stridsvogn, M 24 Chaffee.tifhttp://forsvaret.no/media/PubImages/Forms/DispForm.aspx?ID=803M24 Chaffee-vognene ble brukt av Hæren etter andre verdenskrig og helt frem til tidlig på 1990-tallet. The M24 Chaffee light tanks were used by the Norwegian Army after World War II and until the early 1990s.


A modern, but smaller organisation

From the 1970s, military funding were incompatible with the political goals for the Armed Forces. With the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the Armed Forces were transformed from a so-called invasion defence to a more compact organisation with higher quality, modern weapons, new materiel and more professional forces and units. Norway's recent participations in international operations like Afghanistan, have given the organisation important experience and expertise.

In the last couple of years, several major changes have been made on the personnel side. In 2015, Norway introduced universal conscription. This gave Norwegian men and women equal rights and duties when it comes to protecting Norway. In 2016, the Armed Forces also established a new personnel system for non-commissioned officers, the specialist corps. The specialists follow a rank scale from OR1 to OR9 – comparable to the NATO structure. The new system has been ​​described as the greatest change in the Armed Forces since the creation of the Army in 1628.

The recent changes in the international security situation have also forced Norway to once again restructure its armed forces. In October 2015, Chief of Defence presented his advice on how the Norwegian Armed Forces should look like in the future. The final decision will be taken by Parliament in 2016, and the changes will be implemented from 2017.

Published 31 July 2015 11:28. by The Norwegian Armed Forces Museum. All photos are from the museum's archives. Translated by the Armed Forces Media Centre. Last updated 28 June 2016 10:57.