World War II - Occupation and emergency coinages of Europe

NumisdocNumismatic encyclopedia

Written on August 25, 2013 • Comments (7)


During the Second World War, many changes had to be made to the currency systems of many of the participant nations, as well as the neutral nations who lost all supplies from their war-focused neighbors. As well as the precious silver, which could no longer be spared for coins, many base metals (such as nickel or copper) had to be used elsewhere for the production of war materials, normally leaving zinc or aluminium in their places.
As countries were invaded and occupied by others, these authorities issued their own coins, of the same currency as previously was being used, but of different designs or metals.
In the long term, the war, and its impact on the economies of many countries, left a lasting scar on the coinages of Europe and the world.
The historical aspect of this series makes it fascinating to collect.



Nazism and World War Two

In the 1930's the national currency of Germany, the reichsmark, was a strong currency, backed by silver coinage. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the coinage remained almost the same, the first coins to indicate Nazi rule being the commemorative 2 and 5 reichsmark coins of 1934, celebrating 1st year of power. These show the Potsdam garnison church, where the opening of the first reichstag had been held in 1933.
During 1936, all denominations of German coins were redesigned, showing the eagle, the national bird, holding a swastika. The reverses were simplified in most cases, showing the denomination, in large numerals, with the mintmark (see the Germany article) beneath this. Only the silver coins retained the bust of Paul Von Hindenburg, the former president of the Weimar Republic.

One year after the onset of war in 1939, Germany, like many other nations, had to cut down on the metals in their coins. Coins of 1 through 10 reichspfennigs were made in zinc, the 50 pfennig in aluminium, and all higher coins were discontinued. Coins were also made for use by the military in 1940 and 1941, denominated 5 and 10 pfennig.

The end of the war and long term impacts

The war ended in 1945, when the Soviet army captured Berlin. This resulted in the issuing of allied occupation coinage, the same as the nazi coins, but without the swastika. This went on until 1946, and the coins were in use until the division of Germany in 1948. The two new nations issued their own coins until reunification in 1990.


The start of the war

The coinage of France was already in a poor state due to the First World War, but was on its way to recovery with the introduction of silver 10 and 20 franc coins, and the gold 100 franc piece. However, from 1939 to 1941, the entire coinage was debased. The 5 centime was removed from circulation, and the 10 centime was made in zinc, replacing the pre-war aluminium bronze alloy. The 20 centime was introduced, also in zinc, to replace the 25 centime. The 50 centime and 1 and 2 francs were made in aluminium, and all more valuable coins were replaced by banknotes, with the exception of a commemorative 5 franc struck in 1941.

The Vichy French State

The Vichy French State was a puppet state run by the Germans, to control France. This authority, of course, issued the national coinage. The franc was linked to the reichsmark at a 20:1 ratio and the coins were of the same specifications as the previous wartime coinage, but with different designs. The aluminium coins had an axe design, the symbol of the Vichy State. The lower denominations showed only a plant design on the obverse, with varying reverse designs. The weight of all the coins, aluminium and zinc, were reduced during the war. Some 20 centime pieces were struck in iron.

Liberation and post-war

After France was liberated, the coinage was reverted to the pre-war designs, showing Marianne on the obverse, still mostly in aluminium. As inflation set in, a result of France's war-ravaged economy, the low value coins were eliminated, and higher value coins, up to 100 francs (all base metal), introduced. This inflation destroyed the franc, which was then replaced, in 1960, by the new franc, backed by silver and worth 100 times as much as the old franc.


War and occupation

The Belgian economy, like that of the French, was of its way to recovery at the start of the war, 1933 having seen the introduction of the silver 20 franc coin, which was soon followed by the 50. When the country was invaded and occupied by Germany, this silver, along with the 50 centime, 2 franc and 10 franc, was removed from circulation. The remaining coins, now made in zinc, retained the same design, showing the monogram of Leopold III. These coins still bore the legend in different orders, showing BELGIE-BELGIQUE on some and BELGIQUE-BELGIE on others.


When the Allies took Belgium back in 1944, they continued to produced the same coins, still in zinc, apart from the 5 centime piece, which was discontinued. They also issued a 2 franc coin in 1944, in zinc coated steel, as none had been produced during the war. The war also impacted the economy, with many of the low value coins being phased out due to inflation over the next few years.

The Netherlands


In 1940, The Netherlands was invaded by Germany. The German government of the region abolished all coins of greater value than 25 cents. The remaining denominations (1c, 2.5c, 5c, 10c and 25c) were made of zinc for the duration of the war, replacing, in the case of the 10 and 25 cent, silver coins. These coins each featured a different national symbol, such as a tulip on the 10c, which replaced the absent Queen Juliana on the obverse. These were produced and used until the liberation of the Netherlands after the end of the war, all previous attempts to recapture Holland having failed.

Overseas Colonies and Territories

Many of the Dutch colonies of the WWII era, one example being Suriname, used the same coins as The Netherlands, but the coins that circulated in these territories were unaffected by the war, as they remained in Dutch possession and were not affected by material shortages. This, led to, for instance, small silver coins (such as 10 and 25 cent pieces) being used in the colonies, whilst German occupation coinage in zinc was used in Europe. Some colonies, such as Curaçao, made their own coins during the war, struck in the US.


Luxembourg, during the years of German occupation, struck no coins of their own, the Reichsmark being sole legal tender from 1941 to 1944, after which the Belgian Franc was adopted. The Luxembourgish Franc was reintroduced in 1946, on par with the Belgian equivalent.


Denmark was another of the countries seized by Germany in 1940, and the same material shortages applied. The coins of Denmark were struck, for the duration of the war, mostly in zinc, apart from the 1 krone, which stayed at the pre-war aluminium-bronze composition, and the 1/2 krone and 2 kroner which were discontinued during occupation. 2 and 5 ore coins were also struck in aluminium in 1941. At the end of the war, the 2 kroner returned, and coins were again made in copper-based alloys, apart from the coins worth less than 10 ore, which were made in zinc until 1972. The 1/2 krone returned in 1989.

Danish territories

Denmark remained in possession of the territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, for which the responsibility of the coinage fell to Britain and the United states, who provided interim coinages. The Faroe Islands, having relied previously on Danish coins, had a series of local coinage, from 1 to 25 ore and struck to Danish specifications, struck for them at London and Philadelphia. These were gradually withdrawn from circulation and replaced, alongside their pre-war Danish counterparts. Greenland was in less need of current coinage, already having indigenous issues, but 1944 saw the introduction of the first 5 kroner issues for the region. Another alteration of the coinage during the war years was the holing, in 1940/1, of many of the 1926-issued 25 ore pieces, to help distinguish them from the similar Danish 1 krone pieces, undertaken in New York.



The invasion of Norway, a major source of raw materials, was a key objective in the German conquest of Europe in 1940. The coinage system during occupation was, as with the rest of war-torn Europe, heavily economized. The 1 krone, the highest denomination coin, was removed from circulation, while the 10, 25 and 50 ore were made in zinc. Due to the fact that the region was rich in iron, the 1, 2 and 5 ore coins were made in this cheap metal. None of these coins mentioned the King, who was in exile at the time. The coinage returned to the pre-war designs and specifications after the war.

Exile coinage

In 1942, the government of Norway, currently in Britain due to the German invasion, struck exile coinage, as a symbol of resistance. These were denominated 10, 25 and 50 ore, and were struck in nickel-brass. Many millions were made, but they were rarely used, and most found in circulation by Nazis were destroyed. About 10,000 of each denomination remain today.


Sweden remained neutral for the duration of the war, but still suffered material shortages, especially of copper. The previously bronze denominations were struck in iron, a commonly occurring resource in Sweden, and were only reverted to bronze in 1950. The silver coins (10 öre to 2 kronor) were standardized to a 40% silver alloy, which for most of them was a debasement. Neither the Swedish economy nor the kronor suffered long term damage due to the war.


The Finnish economy already having been ruined by Russian occupation and a civil war, the coinage of Finland was already entirely base metal. However, there were still shortages, demonstrated by the 5 and 10 penniäs, which were reduced in size, the 5 eventually being abolished in 1943, while the rest of the coinage, already copper, was made in iron, again due to the abundance of this material on the Scandinavian peninsula. The iron coinage was struck until 1952, in some cases.


General Government coins

Poland in 1939, was invaded by Germany, the Slovak Republic and the Soviet Union in 1939, starting the second world war. The General Government (run by the Nazis), issued a limited quantity of zinc and iron coins in 1939, denominated 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 grosz (1/100 of a zloty), although the 10 and 20 were dated 1923 due to the availability of the old dies. These can be distinguished from the original issue as those were struck in nickel. The General Government also removed from circulation the higher value coins, made of silver. The zloty was then set at a fixed rate of 1 reichsmark: 2 zloty (although it could depend on the person) and the reichsmark was generally adopted.

Ghetto coinages

Poland, as the home of many Jews, had many different ghettos (sealed districts within cities), and many issued their own coinages, usually of low denominations and low quality.


Czechoslovakia was divided into many different parts during the war, many of these integrated into surrounding territories, and not issuing their own coins. The remaining was divided into Slovakia (effectively a puppet state of Germany) and Bohemia and Moravia, in what was left of the Czech portion. The nation, before its division, issued some zinc coins.

Bohemia and Moravia

The protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia issued coins of 10, 20 and 50 Haléřů and 1 koruna during the war, on par with the former currency of Czechoslovakia, all in zinc. These showed the Czech lion on the obverse, and the value on the reverse. This currency was pegged to the reichsmark at a 10:1 ratio. Production ceased in 1944, and this currency became the basis for the newly reformed Czechoslovakian Koruna.


Slovakia to issued coins during the war, initially based on the Czechoslovakian Koruna, and then linked to the reichsmark, again at 10 koruna to the mark. This valuation was revised to 11.62 to the mark, devaluing the Slovak koruna against that of Bohemia and Moravia. The currency in regular use were the coins from 5 halierov to 5 korún, in metals varying from copper-nickel to zinc. These showed, on the obverse, the coat of arms of Slovakia, the obverses varying on different denominations. Some one-off editions were made in silver, of 10 to 50 korún, to commemorate important events or people, such as Josef Tito, or the 5th anniversary of the Slovak Republic. These circulated with the rest of the coins, but were less used. Upon reunification, the Slovak koruna was abolished.


Austria was incorporated into Greater Germany for the duration of the war, and did not issue its own currency. After the war, the schilling was reintroduced, with coins in aluminium and zinc, due of the poor state of the economy.


War years

Hungary was pro-German at the start of the war, and participated in many German invasions, such as those of Yugoslavia and the USSR, and gaining small amounts of territory for each. This independence allowed them to continue issuing national currency, again heavily debased due to the war. The 1 filler coin was eliminated in 1939, the 2 fillér, however, surviving until 1944 in steel and zinc. The 10 and 20 fillér coins were made in iron for the war years, and the 50 fillér was discontinued. The 1, 2, and newly introduced 5 pengő coins were made in aluminium.


Throughout 1945 and into 1946, the pengő was subject to hyperinflation, and was replaced by the forint by the allies, to stabilize the economy.


War years

Italy, as an Axis power, retained relative independence throughout the war. At the start of the the war, the 5 and 10 centesimi coins were struck in aluminium-bronze, the copper ones being phased out by 1941. The higher denomination coins were made in stainless steel, either ferritic or austenitic, whilst coins of 5 lire or more had production ceased in 1941, having been made in silver.


At the end of the war, inflation set in, forcing the removal of all fractional coins (worth less than 1 lire). 1, 2, 5 and 10 lire were made in aluminium, until inflation made them impractical.


Monaco struck no coins for the first half of the war, relying on the French franc, on par with its own currency. When Italy invaded the country in 1942/3, it struck coins of 1 and 2 francs in aluminium, featuring King Louis II of Monaco and the Monaco coat of arms. These coins had no dates. The Italians, and later Germans, continued to issue dateless francs in Monaco, but now in aluminium bronze. The design used on these coins was retained after the war, with the striking of coins from 1, 2 and 5 francs in 1945 (some of which were dated), with increasing higher- valued coins being introduced over the next few years.


Switzerland remained neutral for the duration of the war, shooting down any aircraft to stray into their airspace. However, supplies of metal were still low, due to the fact that it was surrounded by Axis territories. This had no effect on the silver or nickel coins, but the bronze 1 and 2 rappen were instead struck in zinc from 1941 to 1946, before being replaced by a new design on a coin of the prewar composition.


Yugoslavia, after the 1941 invasion by the Axis powers, was partitioned into various regions with different governments, some independent but most ruled by the nations they had been conquered by.


Serbia (incorporating the north of Kosovo and the Banat), was occupied by Germany throughout the war. In this province, the German government replaced the prewar Yugoslav dinar with the new Serbian dinar, at par. This was then pegged to the reichsmark at a rate of 20:1. Coins of the denominations 50 para and 1, 2 and 10 dinara were issued. At the end of the war, this currency formed the basis of the federation dinar (worth 20 Serbian dinars), the new national currency of Yugoslavia.


Croatia was a state of Germany and a Protectorate of Italy for the war years, and covered the state Croatia as well as those of Bosnia and Hercegovina. The kuna was introduced as the national currency, replacing the dinar on par. The exchange rate was set at 20 kune to the reichsmark. Coins of 1 and 2 kune were issued, but the 1 kuna coins are very rare today. The kuna was replaced by the federation dinar at the end of the war, at a rate of 40 to 1.


Montenegro was a puppet state of Italy for most of the war, and used the Italian lire.


Italy occupied Albania during world war II, to demonstrate its military strength and to start surrounding the Mediterranean sea. The Italian government issued coins for Albania, bearing the ruler of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III. The sub-unit of the Albanian lek, the qindar, was abolished, and the fractional denominations instead used decimals. The 0.05 and 0.10 lek coins were struck in aluminium-bronze, and the 0.20, 1/2, 1 and 2 leki in stainless steel, similarly to the Italian coins of the war period. The new denominations of 5 and 10 leki were made in silver in 1939. Coins worth a 1/2 leku through to 5 leki were introduced in zinc after independence, due to economic downturn.


Greece issued no coins during the war period, with heavy inflation destroying the drachma.


Romania had already been through much political turmoil, no sub-units of the lei having survived the inflationary pressures. The leu was a by this time a small nickel-brass coin which survived until 1941, the denominations up to 20 lei made in zinc. The 100 lei was, as an exception, nickel plated iron. Coins of 200 lei or above were made in silver, despite succumbing to inflation towards the end of the war, leading to the production of 25,000 and 100,000 lei coins in silver, and eventually currency reform.


Bulgaria, on the side of the Axis, also experienced inflation and material cutbacks. In 1940, the lev was pegged to the reichsmark at a rate of 32.75:1, and the previously silver 20 and 50 leva coins were made in copper-nickel, and in 1941, the low denominations (1 lev through 10 leva) were made in iron. in 1943, the 2 leva was again struck in iron, and the 5, 10 and 50 leva were made in nickel clad steel. in 1944, the Soviet Union invaded, and the lev was revalued to 15 leva to the ruble. The lev was then pegged to the US dollar, until inflation deemed it necessary to replace it with the new lev.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union continued to issue the roughly the same coinage throughout the war, despite suffering the brunt of the German assault for the start of the war. This was mainly due to the fact that roughly 90% of the nickel deposits of the world are located in Russia, mainly in Siberia, far from the oncoming invasion in the west.

Baltic States

The Baltic nations - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithunia - were seized by the USSR during 1940 and incorporated into the ever-growing nation. This required the replacement of the national currencies of these countries with the ruble.


Iceland, although neutral for most of the war, was still affected by nickel shortages. As a result, the production of 10 and 25 aurar coins was suspended between 1940 and 1946, with the exception of 1942, when they were struck in zinc.

Written by manxcat12