In some situations, most of us have lost our memory. But this story from Norway is Extreme.
It is on 9 April 1940. Blücher, the second of five Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruisers of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, had early in the morning been destroyed by an old fortress in the Oslo fjord. This event, along with adverse weather conditions for the German planes, slowed down the invaders, well known for their «blitzkrieg,» and gave the Norwegian government and the royal family precious time to evacuate.
Out of the capital Oslo, crowds of people were running for their lives in the traffic chaos on roads northward, seeking shelter inland, trying to escape. Many on foot, but some in cars. It wasn’t easy to move ahead. In this turmoil, there were 26 civilian lorries, which has a central part in this story.
They were trying to save the national gold reserves — 48,8 ton of gold was on these lorries.
Let`s turn back the time a little bit. The threat of war had forced the government to make some security preparations. Since 1936-1938, the central part of Norway’s gold reserves was safety in Great Britain and the United States of America. All new gold to the States.
Besides incoming shipping, which was on its way from Cape Town, there were 818 crates of 40 kg, 685 crates of 25 kg, and 39 barrels of gold coins, weighing 80 kg each: a total of 53 tons in the Norwegian banks headquarter in Oslo.
It was a race against time
The loading started from the main vault of the Norges Bank`s headquarters in Oslo already the previous day, the 8th of April, and they worked continuously all night long and into the following day. The last lorry left at 1.30 PM, about the same time as German troops came marching in the streets of the capital. Some were aiming for the gold reserves — others for the government and the king.
The gold transport was top secret. Few, besides of the chauffeurs, knew what cargo the 26 civil lorries had when they retreated north. But the invaders took up the chase, just a few hours behind.
In the evening, the precious cargo reached Lillehammer, where they stored it into a bank vault. Only the bank director, Andreas Lund, had the code. In his head. In his memory.
Nine days later, it’s time to load the gold on board a freight train for transportation to Åndalsnes on the West coast of Norway. According to the plan, the transit will be by ship, to bring the gold safe out of the country.
It’s a very stressful situation, the Germans are closing in, and when Andreas shall open the vault, he cannot remember the code. It’s blank, a mental block. It takes him thirty, sweaty, painful minutes before he gets his memory back.
Okay, I stop there. Mission accomplished, but only barely. It was bomb planes and soldiers everywhere. But they did make it, thank goodness.
Lucky it wasn’t me. Poor, Andreas.