Tag Archives: Scalloway

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.

Shetland Islands 60 degrees North

The Shetland Islands  are a subarctic archipelago comprised of some 100 islands, of which only 16 are inhabited.  Sumburgh, at the very south tip has the main airport, and Lerwick, with the safe harbour and is the seat of Shetland Constituency of the Scottish Parliament, are both located on what is known as the Mainland.  The Mainland is 373 square miles, whilst the entire Shetland Islands is 567 square miles.  Animals associated with the Shetland Islands are the Shetland pony, Shetland sheep (for which I have a fondness since Jessica raised Shetland sheep for about six years before going off to uni), Shetland Sheep Dog, as well as pigs, geese, ducks, and chickens all having been naturally or purposefully selected for thousands of years to thrive in this rugged environment.  Norse and Scottish heritage blend seamlessly here and evidences of both are found in music, prose, and signage.  Fiddle playing is most associated with traditional Shetland music.  The average high in winter will be 45 and lows around 34F, whilst summers may top out about 62F and lows around 50.  Summer days are almost perpetual day, while the winter days are short indeed.  The wind blows about 12 miles per hour everyday with usually a bit of showers.  Average annual precipitation is 39 inches.

St, Ninian’s Isle is connected to the main Shetland Island by a tombolo, which is a narrow sand or gravel bar connecting two islands.  St. Ninian’s is named after a small chapel which was discovered on the island, but more famously, the location at which a 16-year-old schoolboy discovered treasure which professional archaelogists had overlooked for years!  A local farmer grazes his Shetland sheep on the island.  Sadly, the peace is disturbed by a couple of four wheelers racing up and down the tombolo.

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Driving a stick shift on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, on the ‘wrong’ side of the car on these lovely 2 lane paved roads (think oil money) wasn’t quite as daunting as expected, although driving in the city would be another thing altogether.  Although most of the roads are single paved tracks, there are several passing points alongside to allow approaching traffic to press by.  Keep to the left!

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Our first full day (Sunday) started with a quick trip to one of the finest, albeit small, beaches in the Shetland Islands and it’s right here in Levenwick!  Too cold for a dip and of course we were the only ones walking the sandy beach, but no doubt in warmer weather, this would be a popular spot to play in the quiet water.

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As we made our way up from the beach, I spotted a family gathered about some sheep in a holding yard.  I pulled over quickly and went to meet them.  They kindly answered my questions about sheep production in Shetland Islands.  We really had a good chat for about an hour!  They were expecting the truck soon to load the lambs to ship to Aberdeen for finishing.  Farming is fraught with the same obstacles as American farmers.  I tried asking a few sheep farmers what grazing land sold for but they didn’t know!  It simply is not for sale.  A small lot for building a home is about  £17,000 or $27,780.  Not really out of line for a lot with stunning views of the North Sea!

Later. in the early afternoon, we made our way to Sandsayre Pier at Sandwick to meet our Mousa Boat ride to Mousa Island at which we hiked around enjoying the scenery and wildlife, as well as the highlight, the Broch of Mousa.  This is the best preserved broch in all the world.  Brochs are unique to Scotland and it is still unclear as to the purpose.  It’s only about a mile across from the main island, but today it was cloudy, hazy, windy, and quite cool.  However, we all had layered up well, so we were not uncomfortable.  We enjoyed a chat with a few people in a group of Aussies from Sydney who were our boat mates.

Later tonight, I watched Downton Abbey, months before my American friends are able.  Unfortunately, I’ll only see 3 or 4 episodes before we head back to the States which means waiting until late January – early February before watching the last of the season!

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Next day, after a good rest, we headed south towards Sumburgh Head.  The drive down the main road was stunning as usual and, as we kept hearing, the weather is unusually nice for this time of year.  Shortly before arriving at Jarlshof, part of our drive included passing across the end of the Sumburgh Airport runway.  Definitely a first for me!

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‘Jarlshof; is a made up word for Facebook 01an area near the southern coast of the main Shetland Island which has been excavated to reveal several thousands of years of generations.  Very interesting for us history buffs.

Next stop was beyond the airport and to the very end of the island at Sumburgh Lighthouse and Hotel at Sumburgh Head.

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After a good climb up to Sumburgh Head and back down, we discovered Spiggie’s Bar restaurant located inside the Spiggie Hotel and Lodges at which, we not only had a scrumptious late lunch, but discovered that the young lady who rang up our bill had spent three months in RIchmond, Missouri as an exchange student way back in 1988!  What a small world we live in!  We had a fun visit and I think she enjoyed reminiscing about her time spent in the US.  The Spiggie restaurant uses fresh caught fish and hand cut fries along with local sourced veggies for the salads.  Beef and lamb are also from locally raised sources.

Spiggie Hotel (6)

A great place to walk off some of that huge meal was at the Shetland Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness.  This venue is another must do if you are ever in the Shetland Islands.  Free admission, though donations are accepted, this well maintained croft house, byre, shed, and water mill complete with stack of peat blocks stacked outside will make you truly appreciate our level of creature comforts.

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Except for stopping in at a local supermarket for evening snacks on the drive back to Melstadr in Levenwick, the croft house was our final venue for the day.

Tuesday is our last full day and a special stop for me was to find something lovely for Jessica which i would find at Shetland Jewellery in Weisdale.  However, first we drove up and over to Scalloway to tour the Scalloway castle and Scalloway Museum located next to one another with easy access and carpark.  Incredibly!  these venues didn’t open until 11am, so we walked down the main street and found the ‘places of interest,’ then with another half hour before opening, we opted to go sightseeing.  We headed up and around to the islands of East and West Burra which are accessed via Trondra and all connected by single lane bridges which we could drive over and wound our way to nearly the end of the islands.  Along the way, we pulled over for this picturesque landscape begging to be photographed.  Still photos sure don’t capture the breeze with bite, the warm sunshine, or the sound of crashing waves.

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As we came back towards Scalloway, we pulled in at a sign which advertised a working farm – Burland Croft Trail.  However, once we arrived, the lady landowner came over and said they really weren’t taking visitors anymore, the season was over.  Once i told her we were sheep and cattle farmers from Missouri and completely understood when she explained that they were busy with farm chores, she wouldn’t have it any other way than for us to take their tour on our own.  So we did, they have a lovely farm touching the Burland Sea Shore and across from the foundation of an ancient broch.  Afterwards, even her husband came over and we had a great chat about farming and all the challenges.  She apologised again for not being very good hosts as they were in the midst of sorting through and selecting replacement ewe lambs.  I assured her there was no reason for apology except from us for interrupting their work, but that we were mighty appreciative of the visit.  I think they enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the encouragement we received from one another.  Farming is often a thankless job and one with continual challenges.  We all agreed that if we wanted to be financially rich, we wouldn’t be farming.  But as she pointed out, there are many other ways to be rich – and so right she is!  We were meant to stop in here and meet Tommy and Mary Isbister.  This is a pasture walk – so wear appropriate footwear and enjoy Burland Croft Trail  – but it would be better for all to stop in during their regular tourist season!

Wednesday is our final day in Shetland.  Dallas and I walked to the local convenience store in Levenwick and I had only enough pounds to buy a couple Mars bars.  We ate a bit of one and saved some for Nathan who was cleaning up the room a bit.  Now with dishes done, towels piled up in the bathroom, luggage loaded, we headed out, only to get to the end of the drive and find road work being done.  However, the workmen finished in about 10 minutes.  We arrived plenty early in Lerwick to drop off the rental car, pick up our Northlink Ferry boarding passes, store our luggage, then off to town to find somewhere to get some cash which I would need to pay the taxi driver who would take us to our hotel in Orkney at 10:30 pm!  We did exchange some at the Lerwick Post Office on Commercial Street, then we spent an hour in the Shetland Museum.  It was time to head back to the docks and board.  Our ferry left spot on time at 5:30 pm with an early arrival time expected into Kirkwall, Orkney Islands of 10:30 rather than the 11:00 pm  stated time.  By the time our ship was moving past Sumbrough Head, it was dark enough that the lighthouse was already announcing the danger of its location.  Soon the Shetland Islands slipped out of sight and into our memories.