Shetland Bus

Hey guys!  Once again, it’s Nathan, guest writing here as I’m too lazy to make my own blog.  Today we have an effect essay I wrote analyzing the effect of the Shetland Bus on the Norwegian Campaign in WWII (roll credits).  With just one more paper to write and one sitting in the queue, we have nearly reached the end of my planned contributions to the blog, but never fear, I plan to continue writing throughout the summer, though less frequently.  As always, enjoy, and please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.  Thanks!

On June 9, 1940, after 62 days of fighting, Norwegian forces surrendered to their German invaders and the Norwegian monarchy was forced into exile in Great Britain.  This was only the beginning of the resistance in Norway as the remaining armed forces, with Allied support, carried out a guerrilla campaign against the German occupation for the next 5 years.  In December of 1940, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Special Operations Executive sent Major L.H. Mitchell to the Shetland Islands to arrange a system to deliver supplies and men to the Norwegian resistance.  Named Operation Shetland Bus, this system’s brave volunteers had a strong effect on the Norwegian campaign by shuttling refugees, spies, and munitions between the Shetland Islands and the resistance forces in Norway, and serving as a symbol of hope to the Norwegians still under Nazi rule.

Aksel, one of the first fishing boats used during Operation Shetland Bus
Aksel, one of the first fishing boats used during Operation Shetland Bus

One of the ways in which Operation Shetland Bus affected the campaign was by helping fugitives running from German arrest escape to safety in Great Britain.  Many Norwegians had already fled for Great Britain by the time their government capitulated, and as author Brenda Ralph Lewis notes, “These refugee Norwegians proved an ideal source of recruiting for the arduous undertakings Operation Shetland Bus was going to involve” (Lewis 20).   The ships of Operation Shetland Bus would often sail at night in the winter, braving choppy seas to deliver their precious cargoes, Norwegian citizens fleeing the Gestapo, and the experience of these Norwegian fishermen proved invaluable in navigating the dangerous waters.  Despite tremendous odds and the ever-present danger of being intercepted by German warships, over the course of the war more than 350 refugees would be rescued and transplanted in Shetland, many of whom would find a way to contribute back to the war effort.

Operation Shetland Bus also affected the campaign by aiding Allied espionage in the region, establishing radio transmitters, and landing agents in Norway.  In fact, on August 30, 1941, the operation’s first mission was completed by the Aksel, a fishing ship recruited for the service, when they successfully landed an agent carrying information for the local resistance corps in Bergen, Norway (Lewis 20).  These agents relayed information which allowed for large-scale coordination of resistance activities throughout Norway, and by ferrying these agents back and forth across the stormy North Sea, Operation Shetland Bus served as a vital link between the resistance forces and their exiled monarchy.  Operation Shetland Bus would eventually deliver 60 radio transmitters and nearly 200 agents who would establish a network that sent a continuous flow of information about German movements back to Great Britain.

The most obvious effect Operation Shetland Bus had was the way in which the munitions they delivered were used.  According to Lewis, by the end of the war, almost 400 tons of munitions had been landed, much of which was carried in the holds of the so-called “buses”(fishing ships requisitioned by the operation for their ability to blend in with common fishermen) which could carry as much as 10 tons of explosives at a time (Lewis 20).  With these munitions, resistance forces were able to raid strategic targets and sabotage German efforts, such as the strike on the heavy water plant at Vemork, in which Norwegian commandos were able to destroy both the facility and the entire stockpile of heavy water, which is used in the creation of atomic weapons.  Although there were no major battles during the conflict, Allied and Norwegian commandos and saboteurs also raided German installations along the vast Norwegian coastline and destroyed German ships and supplies throughout the war.

Perhaps, however, the most important effect of Operation Shetland Bus was the hope it inspired in the Norwegian citizens.  It was a beacon for partisans and patriots, giving them a cause to which they could rally, and rally they did.  From circulating an underground newspaper filled with transcribed Allied radio broadcasts to wearing paper clips to show that they were bound together, the entire Norwegian people flocked to the cause of their nation’s freedom and that of their exiled government, and in the process, they denied the legitimacy of the puppet government established by Vidkun Quisling.  The Germans issued severe reprisals for the action of the resistance, but the limited number of Norwegian collaborators hampered these efforts to break the spirit of the Norwegian citizenry.

Operation Shetland Bus ran until May of 1945 and its ships sailed 90,000 miles over the course of their service (Lewis 20).  Despite brutal odds, Norwegian sailors and Shetland civilians continued to contribute to the war and eventually, on June 7, 1945, King Haakon VII of Norway landed in Oslo, five years to the day since the German invasion forced him from his throne.  Thanks to the efforts of the brave individuals involved with Operation Shetland Bus, the Norwegian resistance was never repressed, and their rightful government never deposed.

Works Cited

. “Operation Shetland Bus ferried spies, supplies and refugees to and from Norway under the Germans’ noses.” World War II Jul. 99: 20. Print.

Shetland Bus Memorial.  These pictures were kindly sent to be by David W. Earl, who took the pics himself. The long, narrow plaque says "The Shetland Bus 1940-1945". The small plaques have the inscription "Alt for Norge" (All for Norway), with some names of casualties underneath. I'm unable to read the names on the picture on the left (see external link below), but the picture on the right has the following: Harald Dye, Arthur Byrknes, Nils Horgen, Olav. L. Kinn, Olav Melkevik, Ole Strandkleiv, Kåre Støbakvik (all from Sandøy I), Bård O. Grotle, Schander Berg, Ivar L. Brekke, and Tore Frøysa (boat's name for the latter 4 was Aksel). The oldest was 27, while most of them were in their early to mid 20's, except for O. Strandkleiv, who was 19. All of them died in 1942. The plaque next to it has 12 more names, for whom the boat also looks like Aksel.
Shetland Bus Memorial. Photo by David W. Earl.  The long, narrow plaque says “The Shetland Bus 1940-1945”. The small plaques have the inscription “Alt for Norge” (All for Norway), with some names of casualties underneath.  Harald Dye, Arthur Byrknes, Nils Horgen, Olav. L. Kinn, Olav Melkevik, Ole Strandkleiv, Kåre Støbakvik (all from Sandøy I), Bård O. Grotle, Schander Berg, Ivar L. Brekke, and Tore Frøysa (boat’s name for the latter 4 was Aksel). The oldest was 27, while most of them were in their early to mid 20’s, except for O. Strandkleiv, who was 19. All of them died in 1942. The plaque next to it has 12 more names, for whom the boat also looks like Aksel.

Blog note: We learnt about the Shetland Bus whilst visiting the Scalloway Museum in Scalloway, Shetland Islands, Scotland.  We highly recommend this first rate museum!

More information at the Shetland Bus website.

Help from America:  In the autumn of 1943 the Shetland bus operation received a major boost in the form of the arrival of three small American ‘sub-chasers’ (submarine chasers). They were named the HESSA, HITRA and VIGRA and were under the command of Petter Saelen, Ingvald Eidsheim and Leif Larsen. Each boat had a crew of 26 men, of whom three were officers. They were fast and efficient.

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