Dagen H -Sweden switches from left to right-hand traffic; Sept 3rd, 1967
Dagen H (H day), today usually called “Högertrafikomläggningen” (“The right-hand traffic diversion”), was the day on 3 September 1967, in which the traffic in Sweden switched from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right. The “H” stands for “Högertrafik”, the Swedish word for “right traffic”. It was by far the largest logistical event in Sweden’s history.
There were various major arguments for the change:
- All of Sweden’s neighbours (including Norway and Finland, with which Sweden has land borders) drove on the right, with 5 million vehicles crossing those borders annually.
- Approximately 90 percent of Swedes drove left-hand drive (LHD) vehicles. This led to many head-on collisions when passing on narrow two-lane highways, which were common in Sweden due to the fact that the country’s low population density and traffic levels made road-building expensive in per capita terms. City buses were among the very few vehicles that conformed to the normal opposite-steering wheel rule, being left-hand drive.
However, the change was widely unpopular; in a 1955 referendum, 83 percent voted to keep driving on the left. Nevertheless, on May 10, 1963, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen) approved the Prime Minister Tage Erlander‘s government proposal of an introduction of right hand traffic in 1967, as the number of cars on the road tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million, and was expected to reach 2.8 million by 1975. A body known as Statens Högertrafikkommission (HTK) (“the state right-hand traffic commission”) was established to oversee the changeover. It also began implementing a four-year education programme, with the advice of psychologists.
The campaign included displaying the Dagen H logo on various commemorative items, including milk cartons and underwear. Swedish television held a contest for songs about the change; the winning entry was “Håll dig till höger, Svensson” (‘Keep to the right, Svensson‘) written by Expressen journalist by Peter Himmelstrand and performed by The Telstars.
As Dagen H neared, every intersection was equipped with an extra set of poles and traffic signals wrapped in black plastic. Workers roamed the streets early in the morning on Dagen H to remove the plastic. Similarly, a parallel set of lines were painted on the roads with white paint, then covered with black tape. Before Dagen H, Swedish roads had used yellow lines.
On Dagen H, Sunday, 3 September, all non-essential traffic was banned from the roads from 01:00 to 06:00. Any vehicles on the roads during that time had to follow special rules. All vehicles had to come to a complete stop at 04:50, then carefully change to the right-hand side of the road and stop again (to give others time to switch sides of the road and avoid a head on collision) before being allowed to proceed at 05:00. In Stockholm and Malmö, however, the ban was longer — from 10:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday — to allow work crews to reconfigure intersections. Certain other towns also saw an extended ban, from 15:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday.
The relatively smooth changeover saw a reduction in the number of accidents. On the day of the change, only 157 minor accidents were reported, of which only 32 involved personal injuries, with only a handful serious. On the Monday following Dagen H, there were 125 reported traffic accidents, compared to a range of 130 to 198 for previous Mondays, none of them fatal. Experts suggested that changing to driving on the right reduced accidents while overtaking, as people already drove left-hand drive vehicles, thereby having a better view of the road ahead; additionally, the change made a marked surge in perceived risk that exceeded the target level and thus was followed by very cautious behaviour that caused a major decrease in road fatalities. Indeed, fatal car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian accidents dropped sharply as a result, and the number of motor insurance claims went down by 40%.
These initial improvements did not last, however. The number of motor insurance claims returned to ‘normal’ over the next six weeks and, by 1969, the accident rates were back to the levels seen before the change.
The capture of Henry Rinnan, notorious Norwegian Gestapo agent, mass murderer, torturer and war criminal. Verdallsfjellen, near the Norwegian border to Sweden; May 14th, 1945
Henry Oliver Rinnan (14 May 1915 – 1 February 1947) was a notorious Norwegian Gestapo agent in the area around Trondheim, Norway during World War II.
Rinnan led a group called Sonderabteilung Lola. This group, known as Rinnanbanden among Norwegians, had fifty known members. Among them were Karl Dolmen, Arild Hjulstad-Østby and Ivar and Kitty Grande.
Born in Levanger on 14 May 1915, Rinnan was the eldest of eight children in an impoverished family. Unusually short (1.61 metres – 5 ft 3 in), he was a loner during his childhood. He worked briefly for his uncle, but was sacked for theft.
During the Winter War, Rinnan tried to enlist with the Finns to fight against the Soviet Union, but was rejected due to his poor physique.
During the Norwegian Campaign in 1940, he drove a truck for the Norwegian Army. According to Rinnan, he was recruited by the Gestapo in June 1940. His parents were members of Nasjonal Samling, but it is uncertain if he ever was a member himself. After the war, former members of Nasjonal Samling attempted to disassociate themselves from the group, which was seen as a pro-German unit.
Beginning in September 1943, the Rinnanbanden had its headquarters in Jonsvannsveien 46 in Trondheim, known as Bandeklosteret (“gang monastery”). Rinnan worked closely with the German Sicherheitspolizei in Trondheim, where his main contacts were Gerhard Flesch and Walter Gemmecke. During this decade the private residence of the Rinnan family was in the captured house of Landstads Vei 1, located approximately one kilometre from the gang’s headquarters.
The members of the independent Gestapo unit Sonderabteilung Lola infiltrated the resistance movement by engaging people in conversation in buses, trains, cafés, etc., encouraging them to talk about their attitudes toward the Nazi occupation. Having identified people who they thought were in the resistance, Rinnan’s agents worked to build trust with them and penetrate their networks. The Rinnan gang was responsible for the death of at least a hundred people in the Norwegian resistance and the British Special Operations Executive, for torturing hundreds of prisoners, for more than a thousand arrests, for compromising several hundred resistance groups, and in some cases, for deceiving people into carrying out missions for the Germans. Rinnan operated with impunity and little interference from his German taskmasters, often using murder and torture as sanctioned means.
During the war Rinnan was appointed “SS-Untersturmführer der Reserve”, and received the Iron Cross 2nd grade in 1944.
After Germany’s capitulation in May 1945, Rinnan and a band of followers tried to escape into Sweden, but were caught. On 24 December he escaped from prison again, gathered some followers, but they were again apprehended after a few days.
In the course of two trials after the war, forty-one members of the Rinnan group were convicted and sentenced. Twelve received sentences of execution by firing squad from the court of Frostating on 20 September 1946. Ten of those death sentences were carried out. Eleven other defendants were sentenced to lifelong forced labour (later pardoned), while the rest were given long prison sentences.
Rinnan was sentenced for personally murdering thirteen people, but the real number may be higher.
Four hours after midnight on 1 February 1947, Rinnan was taken from his cell in Kristiansten Fortress. A guard blindfolded him and led him outside, where he was tied to a pole. He showed no fear at his fate. At 04:05, Rinnan was executed by firing squad. He was cremated, and later unofficially buried at the Levanger Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Forty percent of the people executed as a result of Norwegian war crimes trials after the Second World War were connected to Sonderabteilung Lola.
Opening ceremony of Bromma Airport in Sweden with the flags of Denmark, Great Britain and Nazi Germany in the foreground and a Junkers G-38 (which was the largest land-based airplane when it was first built) in the background – Bromma, Sweden; ca. 1936
The Telefontornet connecting some 5,000 phone lines in Stockholm; ca. 1890.
“In the late 19th century, shortly after the patent of the telephone, the race was on to connect everyone to the phone grid. However, due to technical limitations of the earliest phone lines, every telephone required its own physical line strung between a house or business to a phone exchange where the call was manually connected by a live operator. The somewhat quixotic result of so many individual lines was the construction of elaborate and unsightly towers that carried hundreds to thousands of phone lines through the air.
In Stockholm, Sweden, the central telephone exchange was the Telefontornet, a giant tower designed around 1890 that connected some 5,000 lines which sprawled in every direction across the city. Just by looking at historical photos it’s easy to recognize the absurdity and danger of the whole endeavor, especially during the winter months. Everything that could possibly go wrong did. From high winds to ice storms and fires, the network was extremely vulnerable to the elements. Luckily, phone networks evolved so rapidly that by 1913 the Telefontornet was completely decommissioned in favor of much simpler technology. The remaining shell stood as a landmark until it too caught fire in 1953 and was torn down.”
Finland: The Swedish Period.
The earliest period of Swedish colonization of Finland proper (in the area around the city of Turku) occurred at the end of the 12th century, and could be considered a part of the religious and political movement known as the Northern Crusade. The Swedish monarchs and nobles would have had numerous reasons for the effort including
•suppression of piracy in the Gulf of Finland and Aaland archipelago.
•conversion of Finnic tribes to Catholic Christianity.
•creation of markets, establishment of feifs, and access to raw materials.
•to check the influence of Novgorod, and counter the spread of the “heretical” Orthodox creed.
Indeed, the spread of Swedish language and construction of fortresses goes hand in hand with the construction of Catholic churches and cathedrals in the early period.
Skipping ahead from the 1200s up to the 1400s, Sweden joined Denmark and Norway in a union of the skandinavian kingdoms called the Union of Kalmar, which was dominated by Denmark. Under Gustav Erikson, later King Gustav I Vasa, Sweden (and Finland) left the Kalmar Union in 1523. Gustav Vasa profoundly changed the Swedish monarchy, weakening the power of the nobility and church to enhance his own power. Following a dispute with the Pope about the appointment of Bishops, Gustav allowed the spread of the Lutheran church in his kingdom. This period also saw the administration of the provinces in Finland come under the supervision of royally appointed bailiffs, rather than being administered by local Bishoprics and noble families (who tended to be Germans appointed by pre-Kalmar kings).
Following Gustav I, his sons Eric XIV and John III ruled. John originally ruled as Duke of Finland during his brother’s reign, and used his power base in Finland to depose his mentally unstable brother. John had strong catholic sympathies, and under his reign and that of his son Sigismund, Sweden would see the reintroduction of many Catholic ceremonies and the drift back towards Catholicism being the state religion.
Sigismund was troubled in that his Catholicism as well as his duties as King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth put him at odds with his Swedish nobles, and he was deposed in turn in favor of Gustav I’s youngest son Charles IX. During this conflict in Sweden proper, the provinces of Finland saw what has been called the Cudgel War, where peasants rebelled against burdensome and exploitative nobles and military garrisons. Charles IX expressed support for the peasantry, but his forces were engaged fighting Sigismund in Sweden.
The period of Charles IX reign would see the lessening of the old rivalry with the Russian principalities (Muscovy was descending into the Time of Troubles) and a heightening of rivalry with Poland-Lithuania ruled by the disgruntled Sigismund who never relinquished his claim to the crown of Sweden. In fact, this period would see Russia as the playground for Polish and Swedish invasions and puppet Czars (something never mentioned in discussions of Charles XII/Napoleon/Hitler).
Charles IX was succeeded by his illustrious son Gustav Adolph, also known by his latinized name Gustavus Adolphus. Gustav Adolph’s reign saw the conquest of Skane from the Danes by the young monarch, an extended war against his cousin, Sigismund, in Prussia, and eventually Swedish intervention in the 40 years war. During this long period of war, Finnish cavalry regiments known as Hakkapeliitas made a name for themselves for their endurance and savagery. Actually, Jean Sibelius wrote a concerto about them known as the Hakkapeliita March.
At the end of Gustav Adolph’s reign, Sweden could be considered one of the “great powers” of Europe to come out of the 40 years war, along with France.
However, Swedish strength would ebb away with the reforms of Peter the Great of Russia. King Christian XII fought the Russian Czar to a standstill in the early phases of the Great Northern War in 1700, but the Swedish monarch made the drastic mistake of engaging in a long and inconclusive war with Poland while the Russians recouped their strength. The result was Russia took over the territory of Estonia, gained access to the Gulf of Finland including the site on which St Petersburg was constructed, as well as the loss of Viipuri/Vyborg, the lynchpin of the eastern defenses of Finland.
Finally, Sweden would lose the entirety of Finland in the 1808-09 Finnish War.
What caused Sweden to transform from a highly militaristic society (30 years war through the Napoleonic Wars) to one of staunch neutrality?
First of all, Sweden being neutral did not mean it was not militaristic or even belligerent at several times even after the Napoleonic war. In general, Sweden had more soldiers per capita and invested a larger percentage of its GDP into defense spending than most western countries.
Sweden’s foreign ambitions almost all start with weak neighbors or potential threats.
As the Livonian Confederation was falling apart and faced Russian invasion 1558-1583, the Duchy of Estonia – we are talking the nobility and the burghers of Reval (Tallinn) here, the only ones with a voice in Estonia at the time – swore allegiance to Sweden 1561, which was confirmed by all powers 1570 in the Peace of Stettin.
Sweden’s first real war after the final dissolution of the Kalmar Union was the Nordic Seven Years’ War 1563-1570, which was indecisive, but forced the Danish King to finally abandon his claims on the Swedish throne and thus ending a potential restoration of the Kalmar Union.
Johan III, son of Gustav I (Wasa) married a Polish princess, and their son, Sigismund, became King of both Poland-Lithuania and Sweden. He preferred to host his court in Poland and was a catholic. His uncle, Karl, used fears of continental serfdom, catholicism and counter-reformation, his own position as a very independent Duke with vast estates to revolt against the King and siezing the Swedish throne.
During the Russian times of trouble, Sweden took the opportunity to take Ingria and Kexholm during the Russian war 1610-1617 in order to protect Swedish Finland and take control of all ports and river mouths, thus being able to toll all Russian trade (except the one at Archangelsk, but that was closed during a large part of the year).
Sigismund was still King in Poland-Lithuania and still claimed the Swedish throne – the Poles supporting various candidates for Czar of Russia led Sweden to intervene and de la Gardies campaign, which actually instated Vasilij IV and captured Moscow for him, until de la Gardie was defeated by the Poles. The threat of a Polish-Russian alliance was too severe for Sweden to consider not intervening.
This also led to the Livonian War of 1600-1629, in which Sweden defeated Poland-Lithuania and captured Riga and most of Livonia.
Now Sweden had a strange situation – it had a competent army and a Baltic Empire – but at this time, supporting an army was extremely expensive. Sweden was sparsely populated, and although decently well off by GDP per capita, it was poor compared to most European nations. In order to maintain its Baltic Empire, it needed an army. In order to maintain its army, it needed a war. This situation would last until 1660. Sweden went to war with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, Poland-Lithuania, Denmark and Russia several times during this era.
To maintain the army, it was placed in foreign land, living mostly off the land and pay was maintained with tolls and French subsidies. As the Habsburgs surrounded France by controlling both the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, it was a sensible policy for France to pay to keep the Holy Roman Empire occupied by fighting a relatively unimportant country to the north.
After the death of King Karl X Gustav in 1660, a regency ruled for his son Karl XI until he reached maturity in 1672. At this time the Swedish army was defeated by Bremen (!) 1665-1666 which severely shocked Europe at the time, since Sweden had been seen as more or less invincible. Corruption in the regency council also led to a worsening state of the army and especially the navy and increasing French influence to the extent that France treated Sweden as a client state at the Peace of Fontainebleau 1679. France signed the peace in Sweden’s name without consulting the Swedish government. It was to Sweden’s advantage, as the enemies of Sweden and France were forced to return Sweden’s German provinces captured during the war, but it made King Karl XI wary of French influence. He had no desire to see Sweden as a client of France.
King Karl XI made two great policy changes – first of all, he changed the foreign policy, aligning with the Anglo-Dutch instead of France and ending the long-standing tense relations with the Holy Roman Empire. Secondly, he created an effective army that did not need a war to exist with indelningsverket (the allotment system). Semi-professional soldiers maintained by peasants (who maintained a soldier instead of paying tax) created a superb army that did not cost the state much to maintain in peacetime.
This army served his son, Karl XII very well during the Great Northern War 1700-1721, but Sweden still lost (against Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania, Saxony, Prussia-Brandenburg, Russia and Hannover) and the Baltic Empire was no more. Still, Sweden retained Finland and a small German bridgehead in form of Vorpommern (Nearer Pommerania).
Swedish politicians during the corrupt so called frihetstiden (freedom era), when the members of the estates parliament were openly bribed by the French and Russian embassies to vote in both foreign and internal matters as those countries wished, did not want to let go of Swedish grand power status, and on French instigation, Sweden entered a disastrous war against Russia 1741-1743 – the plan was to capture Saint Petersburg and aid a French-planned coup d’etat to replace the Austria-friendly regime of Anna Leopoldovna (regent of Czar Ivan IV). Once again France used Sweden as a pawn. The war resulted in a peasant revolt which actually captured Stockholm before being cut down by calvary and grape shot. The same government who had started the war against Russia now considered itself forced to seek Russian aid against its own population. The Russians stationed 30 galleys and 12 000 men north of Stockholm for some time – effectively, Sweden was then a pawn of Russia.
Secondly, Sweden attempted to regain lost parts of Pommerania by entering the Seven Years’ War (the Swedish participation lasted 1757-1762), which was indecisive, even if Sweden completely destroyed the infant Prussian navy in the Battle of Frisches Haff 1759. Again this war came at French instigation.
Gustav III, who had launched a coup d’etat 1772 and faced stiff opposition against his new absolutist rule from the nobility who had lost a lot of power, launched a war against Russia 1788-1790, in the hopes of reducing Russian influence in Sweden and regain territories lost. The war was indecisive, partially because noble officers refused to obey orders and wrote a letter to Czarina Catherine the Great, trying to broker a peace since the Swedish declaration of war technically was illegal. However, the Russian status as a guaranteer of the 1720 Swedish constitution (which had been dissolved by Gustav III in 1772) was ended, which meant that Russia no longer had a formal right to intervene in Swedish politics.
Durign this time, Sweden once again aligned with Francem something which ended with the French revolution. Gustav III had plans to aid the royal family, and the Swedish nobleman Axel von Fersen, who had very close ties with Queen Marie Antoinette (he was probably her lover) attempted to aid their escape.
Gustav IIIs son, Gustav IV Adolf maintained a strict anti-Napoleonic policy. In 1807 a small Swedish army basing out of Pommerania was captured by the French, but were released when they tricked the French into believing they were going to launch a pro-French coup or even a revolution in Sweden. Sweden had to join the continental system formally in the peace, but never did so.
So, 1808 the Russians, on French instigation, attacked Sweden to force it into the continental system. Due to confusion, noble opposition to the King and bad plans, Sweden lost Sveaborg and the whole of Finland quickly. King Gustav IV Adolf was deposed, and the intended successor of his brother, Karl XIII, the Danish-Norwegian Christian August (taking the name Carl August in Sweden) died from a stroke (rumored to have been poisoned, and the earlier mentioned Axel von Fersen was lynched by a mob over it).
Since Russo-French relations were deteriorating, a few Swedes launched a mini-coup and invited the French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte to become crown prince and regent of Sweden, thinking he would recapture Finland in alliance with Napoleon. He accepted, and was elected crown prince. However, he saw the writing on the wall and refused to ally with Napoleon and attempt to retake Finland during the French 1812 campaign. Instead Sweden partook in the War of the Sixth Coalition 1812-1814 as one of the anti-French allies and received Norway as a price for its participation at the Congress of Vienna.
King Karl XIV Johan, as Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte became known in Sweden, started the long path of Swedish neutrality. As he had no designs to regain territory lost to Russia, and had traded away Swedish Pommerania for Norway at the Congress of Vienna (Denmark, which got it, traded it to Prussia and got the Duchy of Lauenburg instead). Seeing that Sweden was not a great power, and that designs towards that would only lead to ruin, he devised that “Sweden shall be free of foreign entanglements”. No alliances, and no foreign influence. King Karl XIV Johan and his government and successors and their governments saw that foreign influence had caused much more problems than they had resolved, and decided that neutrality was much better option.
Russia was content with Finland – they had mostly wanted Sveaborg as an outer fortress to protect Saint Petersburg anyway, and with the trade-away of Swedish Pommerania, Prussia (and later Germany) did not have any territorial designs on Sweden either.
While Sweden has been close to going to war several times since – an attempt to build a grand European coalition against Russia (including Austria and Prussia) to re-capture Finland was made during the Crimean War 1853-1856, and Sweden sent troops to aid Denmark directly 1848 and volunteers 1864. However, the Scandinavian Union that some wanted never materialized as Denmark was defeated by Prussia 1864 and lost Lauenburg, Schleswig and Holstein.
Sweden sent volunteers to Finland and Estonia 1917-1918 and to Finland 1939-1940 (declaring itself not neutral but rather non-belligrent in the winter war) and again to Finland 1941-1944, but has not participated in any war except UN-missions such as in Kongo.
Since neutrality has worked very well for Sweden during the 1814-1989 era, there has been no reason to revert this policy.
Elin Wägner in Sweden 1914 standing next to 351 454 signatures demanding women get the right to vote.
Carl Oscar Henning Forslund. First person in Sweden who got fined for speeding on 26 may 1900
Police constable Karlsson could outrun the car. Here is a picture of the police report.
A Swedish volunteer in the Winter War. Northern Finland, February 20, 1940.
I think people normally say that this is a photo of Simo Häyhä (since you can’t even flipping mention the Winter War on the Internet without people thinking of him.) But I compared the rifle, Häyhä used Finnish M/28 Mosin Nagant variant and the one in the photo is a M96 Swedish mauser in 6.5X55 (which is a truly amazingly accurate rifles and some of the best Mausers ever built.)
- It should also be noted that while he undoubtably was an excellent shot, the circumstances of the Winter War gave him more opportunities to more or less have a duck-shoot of enemy soldiers than most snipers would ever have. The infamous Soviet human wave tactics were apparently used to a bizarre amount during this war because of the incompetence and desperation of the Soviet command.
- Background: The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939–1940. It began with Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939 (three months after the outbreak of World War II), and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the League on 14 December 1939.
My dream home is a fishermen’s cottage in some yet to be determined Scandinavian country.