The Shetland Bus

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Photo by Shetlandpeat.
Kergord House, formerly called Flemington.
Lunna House which became home for some of the Shetland Bus crew.
Shetland Museum photo of the Norwegian refugee camp at Browns Road.
The harbour, in West Lunna Voe, with the pier and the pier house that was used as a workshop
Dinapore House in Scalloway

The Shetland Bus (Norwegian: Shetlandsgjengen) was the nickname of a special operations group that made a permanent link between Shetland and then occupied Norway from 1941 until the German occupation ended May 8th. 1945. The official name of the group was "Norwegian Naval Independent Unit" (NNIU)

The pre-history of the group was that in early Fall 1940, both SIS (Secret Intelligence Service ) and SOE (Special Operations Executive) Norwegian Section I, later known as 'Company Linge', established a base and an office in Lerwick. SIS later moved to Peterhead. They asked some of the skippers of the boats that were coming from Norway if they would return and bring agents into Norway, and bring others back to Shetland. This went on through the winter 1940-41. In spring it was decided to establish an independent group of crewmen and boats to assist the SIS and the SOE.

The men put in charge of organizing the group were an Army officer, Major Leslie H. Mitchell and his assistant, Lieutenant David Armine Howarth RN. Upon their arrival in Shetland they commandeered 'Flemington House', (later named 'Kergord House'), in Weisdale, for their headquarters, and they found a perfect location at Lunna, north of Lerwick, from which the boats could operate. Until this time, the boats had been moored in Cat Firth . Lunna had a natural sheltered harbour, at West Lunna Voe, and a small population that were not too curious about what was going on. 'Lunna House' was used as accommodation for the boat crews. Whilst Mitchell stayed in 'Flemington House', Howarth set up quarters in 'Lunna House'. Their whole staff was 3 British Sergeants; Almond, Sherwood and Olsen; a British stenographer, Norman Edwards; a Norwegian cook, Harald Albertsen at Lunna; and two maids in 'Flemington'.
The first winter 'Flemington' was not only used to train saboteurs and house agents, but also to house incoming Norwegian refugees. Later all refugees were received in a special refugee camp in James Sutherland's Herring Factory in Browns Road, Lerwick. The camp was administered by James Adie and his Norwegian-born wife.

The main purpose of the group was to bring agents in and out of Norway, and bring them weapons, radios and other supplies. They would also bring out Norwegians who feared arrest by the Germans. But sometimes the group was involved in special operations, like the failed attack on the "TIRPITZ" and the raids in Måløy and Lofoten.
All crewmen were civilians, and had a wage of £4 a week, free accommodation and a bonus of £10 for each mission to Norway.

At the start, they had 14 fishing boats of different sizes. The first Shetland Bus boat, the 'Aksel' skippered by August Nærøy, departed for Bergen, from West Lunna Voe on 30th August 1941. The other crewmen on this first mission were: Mindor Berge, Ivar Brekke, Andreas Gjertsen and Bård Grotle.

Because of the lack of a slipway and other repair facilities, the boats had to be repaired at Malakoff's in Lerwick, forcing them later to move the boats and crewmen to Scalloway, where William Moore & Son had a mechanical workshop, and where a slipway (Prince Olav's Slipway) was built. Harald Angeltveit and Johan Haldorsen were head mechanics and Severin Roald became leader for the carpenters. All repairs on the ships were done there. But West Lunna Voe was still in use for preparing special operations.
When he was 90 years old, Jack Moore, the owner of the workshop in Scalloway, received the highest Norwegian Order that can be given to a civilian: "Ridder av den Kongelige Norske St.Olavs Orden" (Knight of the Royal Norwegian St.Olav's Order), for his invaluable help with the ships during the war.

Dinapore House was headquarters for the base in Scalloway. Flemington house became quarters for the agents awaiting transport to Norway, or de-briefing on return. A former net loft owned by Nicolson & Co became accommodation for the ship crews , and was named 'Norway House'. Sevrin Roald's wife, Inga Roald, became housekeeper in 'Norway House'.
Flemington house also became a place visited by high ranking officers like the Commander in Chief, Scottish Command, and the Admiral Commanding Orkney and Shetland. The most prominent guest was HKH Crown Prince Olav of Norway, who visited 'Flemington' in October 1942.
Mitchell left the base in Scalloway in December 1942, and Captain Arthur William Sclater, known as 'Rogers' became leader of the operations, and his Norwegian born wife, Alice became welfare officer for the crews.

The boats used to begin with were just fishing boats, but after great loss of men and boats, it was decided that they needed faster vessels. On October 26th.1943, the US navy officially transferred three submarine chasers to the Shetland Bus operation. They were the 'Hitra', 'Vigra', and 'Hessa'. These craft were 110 feet long and powered by two 1200HP diesel engines. They were capable of a top speed of 22 knots, with a normal cruising speed of 17 knots.
When the submarine chasers arrived, the group became an official part of the Norwegian Royal Navy, and it was renamed: "Royal Norwegian Naval Special Unit" (RNNSU)
'Hitra' was commanded by Ingvald Eidsheim, 'Vigra' by Leif Larsen, and 'Hessa' by Petter Salen. They did more than 100 trips to Norway, with no loss of men or ships.
The group made a total of 198 trips to Norway, with fishing boats and submarine chasers. One man, Leif Andreas Larsen from Bergen, did 52 of them.
And on May 9th. 1945, 'Vigra', with Larsen in command, and 'Hitra' with Eidsheim , entered the harbour of Lyngøy near Bergen in a free Norway.
By the end of the occupation, the Shetland Bus had transported 192 agents and 383 tons of weapon and supplies to Norway, and they had brought 73 agents and 373 refugees out of Norway. 44 members of the group had lost their lives.

The Crewmen

The crewmen were men from the Norwegian coast, fishermen and sailors who knew every inch of their local areas. They also knew who was to be trusted in those areas, an important factor when something went wrong.
Most of them came over the first year after the occupation, some with their own vessels, others with vessels, 'stolen' with the owner's approval. They were young men, most of them in their twenties, some even younger. Many of them made several crossings in the spring and summer of 1940, evacuating British soldiers who had been left in Norway after the fights in April - May, and other British citizens living in Norway.
There have been books written and movies made about some of them, but we must never forget those who were not mentioned. They all risked their lives in service of their country, and many gave their lives.

Leif A. Larsen

Leif Larsen
The 'Prince Olav Slipway'
Plaques at Prince Olav Slipway
Memorial Plaque at Lunna House
Norway House
The lifeboat from Bergholm, now on display at Sunnmøre Museum
Recent picture of Hitra
Vigra in Scalloway during the war.
Photo from Shetland Museum and Archives.

Leif Andreas Larsen, (Jan. 9th 1906- Oct 12th. 1990), was born in Bergen. He joined the Norwegian volunteers in the Finnish Winter war. Soon after the war in Finland ended, they got the message that Norway had been attacked. A Swedish officer, Benckert, set up a company of volunteers who made their way to Norway and fought in eastern Norway until June 8th., when the war in Norway was officially over.
Larsen arrived in Shetland with the boat M/B Motig I on February 11th. 1941, and after training with 'Company Linge' in England and Scotland, he arrived in Lerwick again on the "St Magnus" on August 19th. 1941. He did his first Shetland Bus trip with M/B Siglaos, skippered by Petter Salen, on September 14th. 1941.
After the loss of the mine layer Nordsjøen, where Larsen was second in command, he became skipper and could choose his own crew. His first crew was : Palmar Bjørnøy, Leif Kinn, Arne Kinn, Kåre Iversen, Karsten Sangolt, Nils Nipen and Otto Pletten.
His first boat was M/K Arthur, the boat he 'requisitioned' and escaped from Norway with after the wrecking of 'Nordsjøen'.
On November 8th. 1941, Larsen sailed out from Shetland on his first mission as skipper. On their return to Shetland, they were caught in a hurricane, and one man, Karsten Sangolt, was blown overboard and drowned.
Larsen made several trips with the 'Arthur', but he also skippered other boats, like M/B Siglaos, and M/B Feie.
In October 1942, he had to scuttle the 'Arthur' in Trondheimsfjord after a failed attempt to attack the German warship 'Tirpitz'. He and the crew escaped to Sweden, but a British agent, A.B. Evans, was arrested and later shot.

On the 23rd. of March 1943, on return from Træna, Nordland, with M/K Bergholm they were attacked by German planes. The boat was sunk, but Larsen and the crew, many of them wounded, took to the lifeboat and rowed for several days until they reached the coast of Norway, in Søvik, near Ålesund. One of the men, Nils Vika, had died of his wounds before they reached land. The other crewmen on this mission were: Andreas Færøy, Johannes Kalvø, Finn Clausen, Gunnar Clausen, Odd Hansen, and William Enoksen.
In Søvik they got help from Lars Søviknes, a man Larsen knew from the time Nordsjøen was wrecked. He suggested that they should hide on Torholmen, a small island with just one family. After hiding for eight days there, they were transferred to Vigra, and later to Skorpa, were they hid for five days in a small barn. Finally they were rescued by a MTB from Lerwick with Lieutenant Broberg in command, on April 14th.
The lifeboat was left at Torholmen, and was later given to Sunnmøre Museum.

In October 1943, the new submarine chasers arrived and Larsen became commander on Vigra, with the title Sub-Lieutenant.
In total he made 52 trips to Norway and back with fishing vessels and submarine chasers.
Leif Andreas Larsen, known as 'Shetlands Larsen', became one of the highest decorated Norwegians in WW II.
British awards: Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, Distinguished Service Medal and Bar, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Order.
Norwegian awards: Krigskors med sverd og stjerne, St. Olavsmedaljen med eikegren, Krigsmedaljen, Deltagermedaljen med rosett.

In 1954, a Norwegian movie called "Shetlandsgjengen", was made. It was based both on Fritjof Sælens book "Shetlands Larsen" and David Howarth's book "The Shetland Bus". Leif Larsen and many other of the Shetland Bus men played themselves. An English version of the movie was also made, called "Suicide Mission".
In 2009 the film "Shetlandsgjengen" was re-released on DVD, with subtitles in English.

Kaare Emil Iversen

Kaare Iversen's grave at Whiteness Churchyard
  • Kaare Emil Iversen, (10th of October 1918 - August 2001), was born in Flatanger, Norway.

Iversen was the son of a sea pilot and had joined his father on the pilot vessel. When the Germans attacked Norway he was a fisherman and soon joined the underground army. His activities were discovered by the Germans and he had to leave the country. He and three other men escaped to Shetland in August 1941 with his father's boat, the 42 foot Villa II.

HARVEST GLEANER LK 21 from Scalloway, owned by Kare Iverson.
Photo from Shetland Museum and Archives.
From Shetland he was transfered to England where he joined and trained with the 'Company Linge' unit. He was among the men Larsen chose as crew on M/B Arthur and he sailed on several missions with Larsen. He was crewman on M/B Siglaos, M/B Feie, M/B Harald and M/B Heland.

In December 1943, he joined the crew on the submarine chaser Hessa as engineer under command of Petter Salen. When 'Hessa' was under repair, Iversen served as engineer on 'Vigra', and one mission with one of the Norwegian Navy's MTBs. When 'Hessa' was back in action again he rejoined the crew , and stayed there until the war ended. Kåre Iversen did 57 trips across the North Sea, most of them as engineer.
On December 6th. 1944, he married Scalloway girl Christine 'Cissie' Slater. They stayed in Scalloway after the war and had three daughters.
Kaare returned to the life of a fisherman, and had his own boat. He also spent years on whaling crews in South Georgia in the South Atlantic.
In 1996, Shetland times Ltd. published his memoirs ; "I was a Shetland Bus Man". It was reprinted in 2004, with a new introduction and the title "Shetland Bus Man".

Lost Crewmen

The Shetland Bus Memorial on Main Street, Scalloway, erected by the "Shetland Bus Friendship Society", unveiled by Barbara Melkevik on June 21st. 2003, in memory of the brave crewmen who lost their lives.
Memorial Plaque 1
Memorial Plaque 2
Memorial Plaque 3
Memorial Plaque 4
Name Age Year Boat
Nils Nesse 23 1941 Siglaos
Karsten Sangolt 28 1941 Arthur
Ingvald Lerøy 21 1941 Blia
Arne Lerøy 24 1941 Blia
Even Fagerlid 27 1941 Blia
Olav Kvalheim 25 1941 Blia
Ole Økland 25 1941 Blia
Odd M. Svinøy 18 1941 Blia
Birger O. Bjørnsen 21 1941 Blia
Per Blystad 31 1942 Sjø
Mindor Berge 25 1942 Sjø
Bård Grotle 25 1942 Aksel
Schander Berg 26 1942 Aksel
Ivar L. Brekke 21 1942 Aksel
Tore Frøysa 26 1942 Aksel
John L. Odden 26 1942 Aksel
Ove Ålen 21 1942 Aksel
Harald Dyb 25 1942 Sandøy
Arthur Byrknes 25 1942 Sandøy
Nils Horgen 27 1942 Sandøy
Olav L. Kinn 27 1942 Sandøy
Olav Melkevik 28 1942 Sandøy
Ole Strandekleiv 19 1942 Sandøy
Kåre Støbakvik 21 1942 Sandøy
Ola Grotle 27 1943 Feiøy
Roald Strand 25 1943 Feiøy
Anders Geiterøy 23 1943 Feiøy
Ulf T. V. Johansen 25 1943 Feiøy
Johan Klungreset 27 1943 Feiøy
Harald Notøy 20 1943 Feiøy
Walter Olsen 23 1943 Feiøy
Hans H. Øvertveit 23 1943 Feiøy
Nils Vika 20 1943 Bergholm
Sverre Kverhellen 36 1943 Brattholm
Bjørn N. Bolstad 21 1943 Brattholm
Eric Reichelt 25 1943 Brattholm
Magnus Johan Kvalvik 29 1943 Brattholm
Harald Petter Ratvik 25 1943 Brattholm
Fritjof M. Skaugland 26 1943 Brattholm
Sjur Olai L. Trovaag 36 1943 Brattholm
Alfred A. Vik 23 1943 Brattholm
Olaf Skarpenes 49 1943 Bodø
Peder K. Nonås 18 1943 Boating accident
Ragnar E. Sandøy 32 1943 Boating accident

  • The first one of the Shetland Bus men who lost his life, was Nils Nesse, 23 years old, from Bremnes on the island Bømlo south of Bergen. He was shot on the 28th. of October 1941 when German airplanes attacked the 'Siglaos' on its way to Shetland from Norway. Nesse was buried at Lunna Kirk churchyard with a Scottish ceremony, because there was no Norwegian parson to conduct the funeral. His body was moved to his home place in Norway in 1948, but there is still a cross marking his grave in Lunna.
    Nesse was the second Norwegian buried at Lunna Kirk. The first one was buried February 15th. 1940. He was an unknown sailor, probably from the lost cargo ship 'Hop', that left Bergen February 2nd. 1940, and was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine.
    The third was buried June 9th. 1942. He was found drifting in the sea by a local crofter, John Johnson from Lunna.
    The "Shetland/Norwegian Friendship Society" has set up a plaque on the churchyard wall in remembrance of those two unknown.
  • Epilogue
    David Howarth (1912 - 1991), who loved the Shetland Islands dearly, died July 2nd 1991. One of his last wishes was that his ashes must be scattered over the water in Lunna Voe. A Memorial plaque is mounted on the churchyard wall at Lunna Kirk.

The Boats

M/K Heland, one of the early boats, as she is today.

Germany started its invasion of Norway on April 9th, 1940. British battleships with troops were sent to help the Norwegians. Several coast towns were bombed and destroyed by the Germans, and on the last days of April and the first days of May, the British battleships had to retreat from mid-Norway. On April 29th., H.M.S. Glasgow left the totally destroyed town of Molde with King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, members of the Norwegian Government and most of the gold from the Norwegian State Bank. In North Norway, the battles lasted for one more month.

Only a few weeks after the occupation started, the first boats of an 'armada' of fishing vessels and other boats began to arrive in Shetland. Many of these early boats made several trips across the North Sea with different kinds of refugees. There were 'Hardanger Cutters', with a straight bow and long stern from the Bergen area, and the more rounded 'Møre Cutters' from the area around Ålesund. It appeared that the 'Møre Cutter' was the strongest and best fitted for the heavy weathers in the North Sea. Most of their crossings were done in the dark winter months with storms and hurricanes.

The boats were of many kinds and shapes, but most of those later used as "Shetland Bus" boats, were from 50 to 70 foot, with two masts and equipped with a 30 to 70hp single-cylindered, semi-diesel engine, which made a characteristic 'tonk-tonk' sound.

If you want to read more about the Shetland Bus Boats, their crewmen and the many boats that were lost during "The Shetland Bus Operation", you will find it here.

See also

Further reading and viewing

  • Sigurd Evensmo: "Englandsfarere" (1945) - English translation: "A Boat for England" (1947) (Movie made 1946)
  • David Howarth: "The Shetland Bus" (1951) - Norwegian translation: "Nordsjøbussen"
  • David Howarth: "We Die Alone" (1955) - Norwegian translation: "Ni liv" (Movie made 1957)
  • James W. Irvine: "The Waves are Free" (1988) - Norwegian translation: "Men bølgene er jo fri"
  • James W. Irvine: "The Giving Years" (1991)
  • James W. Irvine: "Final Curtain" (2004) -Sequel to "The Waves are Free"
  • Kaare Iversen: "I Was a Shetland Bus Man" (1996), reprint 2004; "Shetland Bus Man"
  • Erling Jensen & Ragnar Ulstein : "Company Linge" (1948)
  • John MacRae: "Kergord House" (1982)
  • James R. Nicolson: "Memories of The Shetland Bus" (1984)
  • James R. Nicolson: "The Shetland Bus" (1987)
  • L.K. Schei & G. Moberg: "The Shetland Story" (1988)
  • Willie Smith: "Willie's War and Other Stories" (2003)
  • Odd Strand: "Hitra" (1987) ( Only in Norwegian )
  • Fritjof Sælen: "Shetlands Larsen" (1947) - English translation: "None But the Brave - The Story of 'Shetlands Larsen'" (1955)
  • Trygve Sørvaag: "Shetland Bus: Faces and Places 60 Years On" (2002)
  • Ragnar Ulstein: "Englandsfarten" (1965/67) - English translation: "The North Sea Traffic" (1992)
  • Norsk Film: "Shetlandsgjengen" (aka Suicide Mission) - DVD (2009) - Re-release of 1954 film, with English subtitles.
  • Norsk Film: "Ni Liv" - DVD (2004) - Re-release of 1957 film, with English subtitles.

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