On Oct 2, Norway awarded its highest military decoration for the first time in 60 years, honoring a soldier who was killed while helping the wartime government flee the country as Nazi troops invaded in 1940.
Captain Eiliv Austlid was granted the recently reinstated War Cross with Sword, a military medal created in 1941 by King Haakon VII and suspended since 1949.
“Today’s award honors a man who showed personal courage and made a significant contribution on the battlefield with strategic import,” said Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.
Austlid fell to Nazi bullets as he led a small Norwegian unit in an attack on a German detachment in Dovre on April 15, 1940. The assault held up the Germans long enough to allow the Norwegian government to escape to England where they ruled in exile. The government officials eventually made it to England where they governed in exile throughout the war.
The decoration comes after Austlid’s role in the attack was revised. Postwar reports suggested that he had acted recklessly, getting himself killed while doing little to protect his charges. But historians, relying partly on interviews with Austlid’s fellow soldiers, later found he had acted valiantly. Recent media interest in Austlid’s story helped bring him to the attention of the Defence Ministry. “The stories say he was a fool,” Defence Ministry adviser Asgeir Spange Brekke told The Associated Press. “But history shows that he in fact was a hero.”
The War Cross with Sword, given to Norwegian or foreign civilians and military personnel who have distinguished themselves by personal bravery or by leadership of a troop division, flight division or vessel during battle, was reinstated in June. It was brought back after much deliberation about how best to honor the extraordinary achievements of Norwegian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and other war zones.
Spange Brekke noted that the reinstatement also allows for retroactive conference. “We are opening for old cases from World War II and the Korean War and every other conflict that Norwegian troops have been included in up to today,” he said.
There are two other cases currently under consideration for the War Cross, Spange Brekke said. He said both cases involve Norwegian troops in Afghanistan, but declined to give details because they involve sensitive special forces operations.
The Defence Ministry has yet to decide on a date for the award ceremony. It’s also not clear which of Austlid’s family members will be presented with the medal.