Operation Safari & How The Danish Scuttled Their Own Navy


It is well known among those who study World War II that Vichy France scuttled its own navy in Toulon on November 27, 1942 as the Germans were approaching the port to seize the fleet.

When the Germans had invaded Vichy France, Vichy Secretary of the Navy defected to join the Free French and his replacement, Admiral Auphan, guessing that Germany wanted the French fleet, ordered that it be scuttled.

However, that was not the only time during World War II in which a nation scuttled its own ships rather than let the enemy seize them. The Danish Navy did the same thing to keep the Germans from capturing Denmark’s fleet.

Occupation of Denmark

In April 1940, Nazi Germany conquered Denmark in only one day. From then on, Denmark was under German occupation. The Danish Army was almost entirely demobilized, but the occupiers allowed Denmark to have 2,200 soldiers supported by 1,100 auxiliary troops.

The German transport ship Hansestadt Danzig at Langelinie in Copenhagen on April 9, 1940. Copenhageners are watching while the ship is being unloaded.Photo: National Museum of Denmark CC BY-SA 2.0

In March 1943, Germany allowed Danish people to vote in a general election. Emboldened by the election and recent German defeats, the Danish people felt strong enough to start strikes against the occupiers that summer.

The Danish government did nothing to stop them. The Germans, knowing that the situation was critical, sent an ultimatum to the government.

They demanded an end to the strikes and the establishment of the death penalty, as well as making some other demands to control the country from Berlin.

Barricades erected during a general strike, Nørrebro, Copenhagen, July 1944

Operation Safari and how Danish scuttled their own Navy

Danish authorities refused the ultimatum. In the early hours of August 29, German military authorities took over the country again. At that moment, the occupiers prepared Operation Safari to disarm the Danish Armed Forces.

Having guessed an operation like that would occur, the Danish Navy had instructed its officers not to give up their vessels to the attackers.

Dannish coastal defence ship Niels Iuel trying to escape to Swedish waters, but attacked by German fighter planes on 29 August 1943

At 4 a.m., the German military attacked the Danish naval base at the Royal Dockyard in Copenhagen. Escaping with their ships intact was impossible for the Danish sailors, as the attackers controlled the only exit of the base.

Therefore, at 4:08 a.m., a signal was sent to all units that ordered Danish officers to scuttle their vessels.

The Danish Navy had 55 ships before 4 a.m. on August 29th. This was the end result of the signal sent:

  • 32 vessels were scuttled.
  • 4 vessels reached Sweden.
  • 2 vessels reached Greenland.
  • 14 vessels were taken undamaged by the Germans.

As a result of this event, 4,600 members of the Danish military were detained. This action was not as decisive as the one that happened in Toulon, but the Danish had made their message clear: They were not Nazi collaborators.

Danish Ships sunk, 29. August 1943


Minelayer Laaland sunken on 29 August 1943


Minelayer Lindormen sunken on 29 August 1943


Minelayer Lougen sunken on 29 August 1943


Minesweeper Havkatten successfully escaped to Sweden on 29 August 1943 and joined Den Danske Flotille


Minesweeper MS 1 escaped to Sweden on 29 August 1943


Minesweeper MS 4 burnt on 29 August 1943


Minesweeper Søhunden sunken on 29 August 1943


Sælen and Nordkaperen sunken by their own crews at Holmen, 29 August 1943


Salvaging of Hvalrossen on 17 October 1943, sunken on 29 August 1943


Salvaging of minesweeper MS 8 sunken at 0415 on 29 August 1943


Salvaging of torpedo boat Makrelen, sunken on 29 August 1943


Søbjørnen sunken 0422 at Holmen, 29 August 1934


Submarine Bellona sunken at 0412 on 29 August 1943


Submarine Havfruen sunken on 29 August 1943


Submarines Dryaden and Flora sunken on 29 August 1943


The Danish cruiser Peder Skram sunken at Holmen in Copenhagen, 29 August 1943


Torpedo boat Havørnen unsuccessfully escaping to Sweden on 29 August 1943

Read another story from us: The Embarrassing British Attack on the Port of Dakar: Operation Menace

Varmebåd 3 sunken on 29 August 1943
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