The Port of Narvik lies inside the Arctic Circle at the head of Ofotfjorden, an inlet of the Norwegian Sea, about 53 kilometers southeast of the Port of Harstad and 57 kilometers east of the Port of Lodingen. In 2007, almost 14 thousand people lived in the Port of Narvik.
Because the Swedish Gulf of Bothnia ports are frozen over in the winter, this ice-free port serves the rich iron ore mines at Kiruna-Gallivare in northern Sweden. Exports are the base of the local economy, but fishing and tourism also contribute.
The modern history of the Port of Narvik began in the 1870s when Swedes realized they needed an ice-free deep-water port to export iron ore. In 1883, the site for the Port of Narvik was selected by an Anglo-Swedish consortium. They named the new port Victoriahavn to honor Sweden’s crown princess.
However, the consortium went bankrupt in 1889, and Norway’s government took over the port in 1892, naming it the Port of Narvik in 1898. The Swedish mining corporation LKAB still exports about 25 million tons of ore from the Port of Narvik each year. The Port of Narvik was incorporated as a town in 1902, and it grew quickly after the railway (the world’s northern-most) arrived to link Narvik with Kiruna, Sweden’s most northern city.
During World War II, Germany depended on iron ore from Sweden’s Kiruna and Malmberget mines for its war industry. While it could get the ore from Swedish ports in the summer, ice made shipments impossible during the long northern winters. German troops took the Port of Narvik in 1940 in what they called Operation Weserubung.
Realizing the Port of Narvik’s strategic importance, Winston Churchill knew that controlling the Port of Narvik could mean slowing the German war effort considerably. Several major naval battles took place offshore between Germany and Britain.
Although the Allies attempted to retake the Port of Narvik in 1940, they were forced to retreat when France fell to Germany, and Allied troops were needed on the European continent.
Norwegian natives continued the fight, however, operating in a guerilla fashion in inland Norway throughout the war. The Port of Narvik was rebuilt and began its ore port functions again after the war.