Copenhagen on the eve of war
Then, at 4am on 9 April the German ambassador in Denmark Cecil von Renthe-Fink phoned the Danish foreign minister Peter Munch and demanded an immediate meeting. Twenty minutes later von Renthe-Fink was being shown into Munch's house. He handed to the worried Munch a note that had been sent to the German embassy by radio a couple of hours earlier and was signed by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The note read:
"The Government of the Reich is in possession of documents that prove that Britain and France intend to occupy certain districts of the Scandinavian States within the next few days. The Scandinavian States have not only offered no resistance to these activities but have allowed measures to be taken without taking any appropriate counter measures. But even if the Danish Government would adopt counter measures, the Government of the Reich is well aware that he Danish forces are not adequate to furnish resistance in the event of a Franco-British invasion.
"In this decisive phase the German Government cannot passively sit back and watch how the Western Powers would turn the Scandinavian States into a theatre of war against Germany. The German Government is not willing to put up with this situation. The German Government has therefore given orders to begin certain operations which will lead to the occupation of certain points of strategic importance on Danish territory.
"The German Government hereby undertakes the protection of Denmark for the duration of the war. The Government of the Reich is, moreover, determined from now on to defend Denmark with all adequate measures against French and British attacks.
"The protection by the German forces is the only conceivable security for the Scandinavian States for the defence of their territories, so that these territories may not become theatres of war and the arena of the most terrible operations in the present war.
"The Government of the Reich expect the Danish Government and the Danish people to understand the German procedure and expect them not to offer any resistance. Any resistance that might be made will be broken and must be broken by all means, and such resistance would therefore only lead to needless bloodshed.
"In view of the traditional good relationships between Germany and Denmark the German Government assure the Danish Government that Germany does not intend by these measures to destroy Denmark's territorial integrity and independence either at the present moment or in the future".
The reason for the rather convoluted statement was that Hitler was desperately worried about the impact the German invasion might have on neutral countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and especially the USA. He needed to have not only a pretext for the invasion but a reason for acting that would not breach the non-aggression pact signed only 10 months earlier. By claiming to be coming to the defence of Denmark Hitler could march his troops in to occupy the kingdom without declaring war and, in strictly pedantic terms at least, without breaching the non-aggression pact. For these obviously hollow claims to have even a mask of truth about them it was important that the Danes not fight back - hence the emphasis on avoiding bloodshed.
The meeting between von Renthe-Fink and Munch ended at 4.35am. Munch had already phoned his king and prime minister to alert them to the meeting and he at once phoned both to tell them what the note read. Stauning at once called General Prior, also already alerted, to tell him that a German invasion was imminent. It was 4.45am. The Germans were already on the march.
The German invasion of Denmark had begun.