Fact or Fiction: Inside Episode 2

The story of FDR and Crown Princess Martha is new and surprising for many. Did President Roosevelt actually send an American ship to rescue Martha and her children? Did Martha’s brother give her suicide capsules? Find out which details from Atlantic Crossing Episode 2 are real history versus just really dramatic! [Contains spoilers.]


  1. 1.

    Fact or Fiction: Sweden’s king was German-friendly.

    Sweden's Prince Gustaf Adolf, Germany's Herman Goering, and King Gustav V of Sweden.
    Sweden's Prince Gustav Adolf, Germany's Herman Goering, and King Gustav V of Sweden in Berlin, 1939.

    FACT:  Despite the Swedish government’s neutral stance in WW II, its king, Gustav V, was known to be welcoming to the Nazi Party. Atlantic Crossing writers reveal that Gustav’s wife was the cousin of Germany’s Emperor William II and she swayed her husband in a pro-German direction. There were strong connections between those in power and the upper class in the two countries. Fearing a German invasion, Gustav cultivated and continued those relations. Shortly before the war began, he met with several leading Nazis, including Adolf Hitler. The conversation between King Gustav with the German minister in Episode 2 is fictional, however, and meant to dramatize the situation the king was in by harboring Martha and her children. But Gustav really did send a telegram to Hitler proposing the Nazis allow a Norwegian regency under German control.*

  2. 2.

    Fact or Fiction: The ship evacuating King Haakon and Prince Olav did not answer an urgent distress call.

    The English ship HMS Devonshire, 1940-41.
    The English heavy cruiser ship HMS Devonshire, WW II.

    FACT: As Britain’s HMS Devonshire sailed to Britain with Norway’s king, prince, government ministers, and the country’s gold reserve, its crew did receive a June 8th distress signal from aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, just 40 miles away. Glorious and its two escort destroyer ships were under attack by the German Navy as they returned home from rescuing Allied forces in Norway. Controversy remains about the Devonshire captain’s decision not to respond but to keep strict radio silence until the following day, when he passed the distress call along. All three besieged ships were sunk with a loss of over 1,500 lives.

  3. 3.

    Fact or Fiction: FDR sent a transport ship to rescue Martha and her entourage.

    Scene from the film Atlantic Crossing showing an American ship docked in Finnish waters.

    (Likely) FACT:  Passengers on the SS American Legion sailing from Finland to New York City were originally intended to be diplomats, Norwegian-Americans, and those with extended family in the U.S.  Atlantic Crossing writers say the inspiration that Princess Martha’s entourage could travel with this transport ship must have come from President Roosevelt personally. In fact, Roosevelt had written in January 1940 to Prince Olav that should Norway’s situation worsen, the family was welcome to come be looked after at Hyde Park. The SS American Legion was, indeed, marked with an American flag on both sides to emphasize neutrality, although it’s not clear whose idea that was.*

  4. 4.

    Fact or Fiction: Martha was given cyanide by her brother.

    Scene from Atlantic Crossing

    FICTION:  No solid evidence exists that the Crown Princess had poison pills with her for the crossing to America, nor that she was given anything like that from her brother, Prince Carl of Sweden. But Atlantic Crossing writers say this scenario isn’t hard to imagine, based partly on later statements from Princess Astrid that her mother was absolutely determined they never fall into German hands.*

  5. 5.

    Fact or Fiction: Norwegian sailors recognized Martha and sang the national anthem.

    Scene from Atlantic Crossing

    FACT:  It’s both emotional and true that sailors sang the Norwegian anthem, “Yes, We Love”, when they recognized the royals. And in fact, Martha held Prince Harald up high for them!  Atlantic Crossing writers say the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Florence Jaffray Harriman, confirmed the account in her writings. The Crown Princess traveled under the name “Mrs. Jones” and in reality, seven staff joined her and the children. The SS American Legion carried close to 900 passengers and among the most famous travelers was the Danish-American comedian, Victor Borge.*

*Based on a series of articles (in Norwegian) written by Mari Aftret Mørtvedt and Ola Nymo Trulsen for NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company.


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