Following the Nazi invasion in April 1940, Denmark entered an uneasy period of occupation by their Nazi overlords. Because of their ethnic heritage as a Nordic/Scandinavian people, the Danes were generally treated better than other occupied peoples, however, King Christian X famously rode his horse through Copenhagen on a daily basis as a symbol of silent resistance. Among the institutions left to function with only a modicum of Nazi intervention was the Danish Navy which performed minor minesweeping duties off the nation’s islands to prevent the sinking of coastal ferries.
As the war progressed and it became clearer that the Nazis would soon confiscate their warships, the naval high command devised a plan to deprive the Nazis of the entire Danish Navy. The Danish Navy had once been among the most powerful in the world and it wasn’t until Admiral Nelson’s successful attacks on Copenhagen that it was reduced to a minor fleet. By August 1943 it consisted of two coastal defense ships, ten torpedo boats, seven minelayers, a dozen submarines, five ocean patrol vessels, seventeen minesweepers and a handful of auxiliary vessels. The Nazis decided to take over the Danish Army and Navy on August 29, 1943, however, the officers of the Danish Navy were determined not to let even their meager force fall into enemy hands. As the Nazi forces approached the Royal Dockyard in Copenhagen early on the morning of the 29th, a pre-arranged signal was hoisted which instructed each of the vessel’s commanders to scuttle their ships.
Within 30 minutes, 32 of the Danish Navy’s vessels lay at the bottom of Copenhagen harbor and another four were on their way to internment in neutral Sweden. Out of 52 vessels, the Nazis were only able to seize 14 untouched. Nine Danish sailors perished in the scuttling, another ten were wounded and a significant portion of the Danish Navy’s personnel were interned by the Nazis. While it may not have deprived the Kriegsmarine of any significant warships, the defiance exhibited by the Danish Navy strengthened the morale of the Danish Resistance and told the world that the Danes would not go quietly into the night.