Student illuminates overlooked story from second World War


Sept. 20 in the Gentile Gallery, a gathering of over 25 people listened attentively to a student’s presentation on an often overlooked facet of World War II. 

Bryan Calligan, a senior history major, presented an adaptation of his thesis from the spring 2019 semester, which he wrote on the 1940 German invasion of Norway. With his notes in hand and a slideshow overhead, Calligan captivated the audience with a mixture of well-researched storytelling and humor. 

Explaining why he chose this topic for his thesis, Calligan said, “I’ve been obsessed with Norway since I was young, and I developed a love for military history as I grew older. So, I figured, why not combine the two?”  

He began by giving the audience the historical background for the invasion, explaining that Norway was essential for the Germans to be able to acquire iron from Sweden. Because the British blockaded Germany early in the war, Germans attempted to outmaneuver the British on the diplomatic front by trying to persuade Norway to sign a non-aggression treaty with them. 

Norway had declared itself neutral when the war started. However, Norway’s neutrality was violated several times by both the British and the Germans. Calligan explained that eventually, a Norwegian turncoat named Quisling persuaded Germany to invade Norway, for which Quisling, in return, would be made the prime minister of the new German colony. 

Calligan highlighted the Norwegian city of Narvik, which was the central port from which iron from Sweden would be shipped to Germany. The city was so important that during the invasion, Germany sent 10 warships — almost half of their destroyer fleet — to Narvik to support the troops. 

The invasion was the brainchild of German Admiral Raeder and called for both stealth and speed: stealth to sneak past the British blockade of Germany and speed to catch the Norwegians off guard. 

Within the capital, the Norwegian parliament, known as the Storting, debated for many hours about how to respond to the invasion once reports started coming in. Finally, at the urging of the king, they declared war on Germany, evacuated from the capital and formed a government-in-exile. 

Despite having help from British and French soldiers, Norway eventually surrendered and would be the last German territory to surrender to the Allies after the fall of Germany in 1945.

For Calligan, the presentation was a chance to gain experience publicly speaking about history since he hopes to be a professor in the future. 

Senior Niamh Batstone said she felt this presentation was a “good opportunity to learn something that’s not usually covered in academic classes.” 

The Explorers of the Past: History and Anthropology Club sponsored the presentation.