Gert Madsen, like dozens of other Danish Home Guard officers, received the telephone call he had been dreading, but subconsciously expecting to come at any moment, as he was preparing to leave his office in Holstebro on 5 July, 1987. The thirty-five year old Home Guard captain was a barrister in civilian life. He was an associate in a mid-sized firm in Holstebro that dealt with insurance claims. Madsen had joined the Home Guard after his conscription time in the Royal Danish Army had ended. He did so out of a sense of obligation to his fellow citizens. It was only fair that he contribute something back to the country that had given him so much. So, on weekends, and select other times of the year, Madsen trained with the Home Guard.
The telephone call was short and curt. Madsen picked up, verified who he was when asked and was told by a voice he did not recognize, “The Van Gogh exhibit at National Gallery opens in three weeks.” The code was one of seven that Home Guard officers had to memorize. Each one had its own meaning and was understood by the recipient. For anyone who might have been eavesdropping they would have heard mindless chatter. This particular coded message instructed Madsen, and other Home Guard officers in the district to arrive at his local Home Guard depot at 9 o’clock that evening. He checked his watch. It was approaching 4:30 now. There was enough time to go home, spend some time with his wife and two boys, have dinner and then be at the depot in time.
The phone call had been expected for days, since US and Soviet warships exchanged fire in the Mediterranean. Each passing day brought a new deterioration in the crisis, and growing alarm in Western European nations. In Denmark, the tension was palpable. Citizens made a large effort to go about their regular daily routines and pay little attention to the growing menace to the east or the preparations for war taking place to the south and north.
When he arrived home, his wife Jane was waiting expectantly. The wife of a fellow Home Guard officer had called her with the news about the message going out. Madsen tried his best to calm and reassure her. A phone call and resultant meeting did not quite mean mobilization and imminent war. His wife, though, was not swayed. She understood what was happening, yet this was the moment when the real world violently collided with her own hopes and beliefs. The insulation that kept Jane’s mind padded from the foul truth of the international situation was violently stripped away. She broke down and cried. Gert brought her into the bedroom, away from the kids, and consoled her. He assured her that he would not be packing up and leaving for war that evening, though in reality, he could not rule the possibility out. In time, Jane came around, and dinner that evening was not the tense, subdued meal that Gert had begun to think it would be. Quite the opposite actually.
Madsen arrived at the Holstebro depot a little after 8 PM. The normal Elk’s lodge type of atmosphere that permeated weeknight meetings like this one was gone. In its place was quiet determination and concealed anxiousness. The Home Guard depot at Holstebro was larger than its counterparts in other towns across Denmark. Equipment and supplies for a battlegroup belonging to the Jutland Division was located nearby. In the event of mobilization, many of the reservists in this district would fill out that formation. Home Guard officers and enlisted personnel knew what their unit’s place would be in the Danish military’s order of battle in the event of mobilization. Madsen’s own company of 100 troops was specifically trained for and assigned to airbase security.
The senior officer for the district was Colonel Kruse, an affable, soft spoken civil servant in Ringkobing. He had been in this post for seven years now and proved himself as a capable officer in more than one field exercise. He normally spent the pre-meeting minutes socializing with the officers. Tonight, that was not the case. Kruse was nowhere to be found. His absence only amplified the anxious air now permeating the depot. Madsen and his fellow officers speculated in hushed tones about where Kruse might be. Arne Dahl, a short, solidly built lieutenant mentioned that the colonel’s car was outside in the parking lot. This only fueled the speculation.
At 8:55PM an NCO directed the twenty-four officers into the conference room. Madsen and the others filed in. He was fortunate enough to find a seat, many fellow officers were forced to stand. Once everyone was settled, the narrow door at the front of the room swung open and Colonel Kruse strode in. The men rose and snapped to attention but Kruse waved them down. He informed the officers that the first steps towards a national mobilization were about to get underway. The government in Copenhagen was determined to ensure that Denmark was prepared to fulfill its NATO commitments and meet its own national defense needs. All active duty military personnel would be recalled to their bases, and leaves cancelled at midnight. The next morning at 6 AM all Home Guard personnel would be ordered to their depots and mobilization was to begin officially at 12 noon on 6 July.
For the evening, Kruse told the officers they would be given the assignment and orders for their respective units. He, and a pair of active duty officers who’d arrived during the meeting handled the matter. An Army major briefed Madsen when it was his turn.
“Madsen,” he began. “Your company is trained for air base security and defense, correct? Good. You will be assigned to Karup and augment the base security there. When your men are gathered here tomorrow, equipment will be issued. Trucks will arrive shortly thereafter to transport you to Karup.”
In the blink of an eye, Denmark, and Madsen’s transformations from peacetime to war were kicked into overdrive.