Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

Max Manus -- Chronology & Events

Set in Norway during the World War II, Max Manus chronicles the story of Max Manus, one of the most brilliant leaders of the Norwegian Resistance, and his team’s battle to earn Norway’s freedom from the Nazis. The film, based on the true events of the war, begins with the formation of Manus’ resistance group and follows him until the end of the war. This analysis of the historical accuracy of the chronology of events in the film is based one of Manus’s books entitled 9 Lives Before Thirty and historical sources regarding WWII.

1940-1941: The Early Stages of Resistance

The beginning scenes of the film highlight the events to take place within Manus’ resistance group; specifically, the use of propaganda as a form of promoting resistance. According to the film, these initial ideas were developed in 1940 Oslo. It was in 1940 that Germany invaded Denmark and Norway; the Norwegian forces finally surrendering on June 9, 1940. The king of Norway and the Norwegian government left for England to operate in exile for the remainder of the war.(1) As evidenced in the movie, many Norwegians were not pleased with Germany’s occupation of their country. The depiction of the Resistance’s early stages in the film mirrors what Manus describes in 9 Lives Before Thirty.  In 1940, the group did indeed utilize propaganda to inform others of the resistance movement.(2)
During the next year, 1941, the film portrays Manus’s arrest. He leaps out of his bedroom window to avoid capture. He is brought to a hospital, from where he eventually escapes to resume his resistance efforts. He makes his way to the Forrest Lodge Army Training Camp in Scotland where he meets Gregors Gram, his longtime friend of the Norwegian Independent Company. From there, their ability to act for the Norwegian resistance is heightened. These events are chronologically consistent with Manus's account in 9 Lives Before Thirty

1943: Operation Mardonius

Following the depiction of the initial stages of resistance in Norway, the audience watches as Manus and his team begin formulating their first sabotage. This plan was called Operation Mardonius, and was to be executed in 1943. The men entered Oslo Harbor in small, inconspicuous boats with explosives, or limpets in hand. Their mission was to place these explosives on the large carrying-ships and damage as many as possible. In his book, Manus wrote, “At the island Kris and I had a job to do. First I put a limpet on top of a big stone, hoping that noise of the explosion would be heard all over the harbor and cause confusion.” Furthermore, the men then sailed around the harbor placing the limpets on the large ships. Following the success of this mission, Manus was honored with the Military Cross at Forest Lodge in 1943.(3) In the film, the chronology of this first attack was depicted accurately; the year and order of events that occurred were correct. This historical accuracy early in the film leaves the audience with a sense of credibility and intrigue.

1945: the Attack on the Donau

The film shifts to spotlight how Manus handles the death of his friends.  Devastated by the loss of Gregers Gram, one of his closest friends and original resistance members, Manus decides to carry out the mission to sink the Donau, one of the largest German carrying-ships. To do so, the team had to utilize disguises to get past the guards and conceal the equipment to avoid suspicion.(4)  This is shown accurately in the film as well, as the team enters the harbor as men hired to fix a mechanical issue. Interestingly enough, the film showed one of the men slipping on the ice on the way into the harbor, this actually occurred and assisted them in carrying out their plan.(5) In the film, the men then organized their gear and placed the explosives on the ship. This plan was carried out with success in January of 1945, and was shown in the film as the ship was sinking. This event was very significant, as it further promoted Norwegian resistance until the end of the war on May 8, 1945.

An Overall Analysis of the Chronology and Events

Overall, Max Manus is not only an entertaining film that garners attention to the actions and history of Norwegian resistance during WWII, but it is also an historically accurate depiction of Max Manus and his mission. This historical accuracy gives the film more credibility as a source of Scandinavian history.

(1)  Byron J. Nordstrom, Scandinavia Since 1500 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 301, 303-304.
(2) Max Manus, 9 Lives Before Thirty (Garden City, NY: Country Life Press, 1947). 117.
(3) Max Manus, 9 Lives, 179.
(4) “Max Manus- An Extraordinary Man,” Bob Pearson, accessed November 23, 2014,
(5) “Max Manus,” Bob Pearson.

Written and edited by Marah Moy, Ali Froslie and Phil Kuball.

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