The Shetland Bus was the nickname of a clandestine special operations group that made a permanent link between Shetland, Scotland, and German-occupied Norway from 1941 until the German occupation ended on 8 May 1945. From mid-1942 the official name of the group was "Norwegian Naval Independent Unit" (NNIU). In October 1943 it became an official part of the Royal Norwegian Navy, and was renamed the "Royal Norwegian Naval Special Unit" (RNNSU).
Crossings were mostly made during the winter under the cover of darkness. This meant that the crews and passengers had to endure very heavy North Sea conditions, with no lights, and constant risk of discovery by German aircraft or patrol boats. There was also the possibility of being captured whilst carrying out the mission on the Norwegian coast. However, early on it was decided that camouflage was the best defence and the boats were disguised as working fishing boats, with the crew as fishermen. The fishing boats were armed with light machine guns concealed inside oil drums placed on deck. The operation was under constant threat from German forces, and several missions went awry, of which the Telavåg tragedy is a prime example. Several fishing boats were lost during the initial operations, but after receiving the three submarine chasers there were no more losses.
Leif Andreas Larsen (popularly known as Shetland Larsen) was perhaps the most famous of the Shetland Bus men. In all he made 52 trips to Norway, and became the most highly-decorated Allied naval officer of the Second World War.
Establishment of the Shetland bus
In late 1940, both the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) Norwegian Naval Independent Unit (not to be confused with another SOE Norwegian unit: the Norwegian Independent Coy. No.1, or Kompani Linge), established a base 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 to deliver agents and bring others back to Shetland. This went on throughout the winter of 1940-41. In early 1941 it was decided to formally establish a group of men and boats to assist the SIS and the SOE.
The main purpose of the group was to transfer agents in and out of Norway and supply them with weapons, radios and other supplies. They would also bring out Norwegians who feared arrest by the Germans. Sometimes the group was involved in special operations, like the failed attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, and the raids on Måløy and Lofoten.
The men put in charge of organizing the group were a British Army officer, Major Leslie H. Mitchell and his assistant, Lieutenant David Howarth RNVR. Upon their arrival in Shetland they commandeered Flemington House, (later named "Kergord"), in Weisdale, for their headquarters and they found a perfect location in Lunna Ness north of Lerwick, from which the boats could operate. Before then the boats had been moored in Cat Firth.
Lunna Ness had a sheltered harbour 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, Howarth set up headquarters in Lunna House. Their whole staff consisted of three British sergeants; Almond, Sherwood and Olsen; Norman Edwards, a stenographer; Harald Albertsen, a Norwegian cook at Lunna and two maids in Flemington.
During the first winter Flemington House was used to train saboteurs and house agents and also accommodate incoming Norwegian refugees. Later all refugees were received in a special camp at the James Sutherland Herring Factory in Lerwick. The camp was administered by James Adie and his Norwegian-born wife.
The lack of a slipway and other repair facilities, meant that at first the boats had to be repaired at Malakoff's in Lerwick. Later they moved the boats and crews to Scalloway, where William Moore & Son had a mechanical workshop and where "Prince Olav's Slipway" was built. Harald Angeltveit and Johan Haldorsen were the head mechanics and Severin Roald became leader of the carpenters. All repairs on the ships were done there but Lunna Voe was still used for preparing special operations.
Dinapore House was headquarters for the base in Scalloway, while Flemington House became quarters for agents awaiting transport to Norway, or for de-brief on return. A former net loft, owned by Nicolson & Co. became accommodation for the boat crews and was named "Norway House". Sevrin Roald's wife, Inga Roald, was housekeeper there.
Flemington House was also on occasion 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 in October 1942.
Mitchell left the base in Scalloway in December 1942 and Captain Arthur William Sclater, known as "Rogers", became leader of operations and his Norwegian-born wife, Alice, acted as welfare officer for the crews.
Operations of the Shetland bus
In the beginning, there were fourteen fishing boats of various sizes available. The first Shetland Bus boat, the Aksel, skippered by August Nærøy, departed for Bergen, from Hamna Voe, on the west side of Lunna Ness, on 30 August 1941. The other crewmen on this first tour were: Mindor Berge, Ivar Brekke, Andreas Gjertsen and Bård Grotle.
The boats used at the start were ordinary fishing boats but after some loss of men and boats, it was decided that they needed faster vessels. On 26 October 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 (34 m) long and powered by two 1,200 hp diesel engines. They were capable of a top speed of 22 kn (25 mph; 41 km/h), with a normal cruising speed of 17 knots. When the submarine chasers arrived, the group became an official part of the Royal Norwegian Navy and was renamed: "Royal Norwegian Naval Special Unit" (RNNSU).
- Hitra was commanded by Ingvald Eidsheim.
- Vigra was commanded by Leif Larsen.
- Hessa was commanded by Petter Salen.
They carried out more than 100 tours to Norway, with no loss of men or ships.
On 9 May 1945, Vigra, with Larsen in command and Hitra with Eidsheim, entered the harbour of Lyngøy near Bergen in free Norway. The group had made a total of 198 tours to Norway, with fishing boats and submarine chasers and one man, Leif Larsen, did 52 of them. The "Shetland Bus" had transported 192 agents and 383 tons of weapons and supplies to Norway and had brought out 73 agents and 373 refugees. Forty-four members of the group were killed.
The crews of the Shetland Bus were men of the coast, fishermen and sailors with detailed local knowledge. They knew who was to be trusted, important when something went wrong. Most of them came over after the occupation, some with their own vessels, others with vessels that were "stolen" with the owner's approval. They were young men, most of them in their twenties, some even younger. Many of them did several tours in the spring and summer of 1940, evacuating British soldiers who had been left in Norway after the battles of April–May, and other British citizens living in Norway.
Leif Andreas Larsen, known as "Shetlands Larsen", (9 January 1906–12 October 1990), was born in Bergen. He joined the Norwegian volunteers during the Finnish Winter War. Soon after the war in Finland ended, Norway was invaded by Germany. A Swedish officer, Benckert, set up a company of volunteers who made their way to Norway and fought in eastern Norway until 8 June 1940, until the war was officially over.
Larsen arrived in Shetland with the boat M/B Motig I, on 11 February 1941. After training with Kompani Linge in England and Scotland, Larsen returned to Lerwick in the St Magnus on 19 August 1941. He did his first Shetland Bus tour with M/B Siglaos, skippered by Petter Salen, on 14 September 1941.
After the loss of the minelayer Nordsjøen, where Larsen was second in command, he became a skipper and could choose his own crew. His first crew was Palmer 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 8 November 1941, Larsen sailed from Shetland on his first tour as skipper. On their return to Shetland, they ran into a storm and Karsten Sangolt was blown overboard and drowned.
Larsen made several tours 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 Throndheimsfjord 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 23 March 1943, returning from Træna, Nordland, with M/K Bergholm, they were attacked by German aircraft. The boat was sunk but Larsen and the crew, many of them wounded, rowed for several days until they reached the coast of Norway, near Ålesund. One man, Nils Vika, died of his wounds. The other crew were: Andreas Færøy, Johannes Kalvø, Finn Clausen, Gunnar Clausen, Odd Hansen and William Enoksen. After hiding in different places, they were rescued on 14 April by a MTB from Lerwick with Lieut. Broberg in command.
In October 1943, the new submarine chasers arrived and Larsen became commander of Vigra, with the rank of Sub-Lieutenant. In total he made 52 tours to Norway in fishing vessels and submarine chasers.
- Conspicuous Gallantry Medal
- Distinguished Service Medal and Bar
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Distinguished Service Order
- Krigskors med sverd og stjerne
- St. Olavsmedaljen med eikegren
- Deltagermedaljen med rosett
Kåre Emil Iversen, (10 October 1918–2001), was born in Flatanger, Norway. He was the son of a sea pilot and had joined his father on the pilot boat. 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. From Shetland he was transferred to England where he joined and trained with the Kompani Linge. He was among the men Larsen choose as crew on M/B Arthur and sailed several tours 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 did one tour on a Norwegian Navy MTB. When Hessa was back again he rejoined the crew and stayed there until the war ended. Kåre Iversen did 57 tours across the North Sea, most of them as engineer.
On 6 December 1944, he married the Scalloway girl Christine 'Cissie' Slater. They stayed in Scalloway after the war and had three daughters. In 1996, Shetland Times Ltd. published Iverson's memoirs, I Was a Shetland Bus Man. It was reprinted in 2004, with a new introduction and the title Shetland Bus Man.
The first of the Shetland Bus men to lose his life was Nils Nesse, 23, from Bremnes on the island Bømlo south of Bergen. He was killed on 28 October 1941 when German aircraft 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 clergyman to conduct the funeral. His body was moved to his home in Norway in 1948, but there is still a cross marking his grave at Lunna.
Nesse was the second Norwegian buried at Lunna Kirk. The first was an unknown sailor buried on 5 February 1940. He was probably from the cargo ship Hop, that had left Bergen on 2 February 1940 and was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. The third man was buried 9 June 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 to these two unknown men.
David Howarth (1912–2 July 1991), requested that his ashes be scattered over the water at Lunna Voe. A memorial plaque is mounted on the churchyard wall at Lunna Kirk.
When Germany launched their invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940 British troops and ships were sent to help the Norwegians. Several coastal towns were bombed and destroyed by the Germans and during April and May, the British ships had to retreat from mid-Norway. On 29 April, HMS Glasgow left a devastated Molde with King Haakon VII, Crown Prince Olav, members of the Norwegian Government and most of the gold from the Norwegian National Bank. In northern Norway, the fighting lasted for another month. Only a few weeks after the occupation began, the first boats of an "armada" of fishing vessels and other boats began to arrive in Shetland. Many of these boats made several journeys across the North Sea carrying refugees.
Many were "Hardanger Cutters", with a straight bow and long stern from the Bergen area, others 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 weather in the North Sea. The boats were of many kinds and shapes but most of those used as a "Shetland Bus", were from 50–70 feet (15–21 m) in length, with two masts and equipped with a 30 to 70 hp single-cylinder semi-diesel engine, which made the characteristic "tonk-tonk" sound.
- When he was 90 years old, Jack Moore, the owner of the workshop, 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 services during the war.
- All the crewmen were civilians and were paid a wage of £4 a week, provided with free accommodation and given a bonus of £10 for each voyage to Norway.
- Howarth, David. (1998) . The Shetland Bus (2nd edition ed.). Lerwick: Shetland Times Ltd. ISBN 978-1-898852-42-1.
This article incorporates text from
- Sigurd Evensmo, Englandsfarere (1945) (English: "A Boat for England" (1947))
- David Howarth, The Shetland Bus (1951) (Norwegian: "Nordsjøbussen")
- David Howarth, We Die Alone (1955) (Norwegian: "Ni liv")
- James W. Irvine, The Waves are Free (1988) (Norwegian: "Men bølgene er jo fri")
- James W. Irvine, The Giving Years (1991)
- James W. Irvine, Final Curtain (2004)
- Kåre Iversen, I Was a Shetland Bus Man (1996), (reprinted 2004 as Shetland Bus Man)
- Erling Jensen & Ragnar Ulstein, Company Linge' (1948)
- John MacRae, Kergord House (1982)
- George Mikes, The Epic of Lofoten. London: Hutchinson, [194-]
- 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, Shetland Times Ltd. (2003) ISBN 978-1-898852-97-1
- Odd Strand, Hitra (1987) (Norwegian)
- Fritjof Sælen, Shetlands Larsen (1947) (English: "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: "The North Sea Traffic" (1992))
- Shetlopedia.com - The Shetland Bus - Detailed information about the Shetland Bus operation, including information on boats and people lost
- Shetland Bus
- Shetland Bus - Pictures of the ships
- Splinter Fleet - 1st section is about Hitra
- HNoMS Hitra - the Norwegian Naval museum's site on Hitra (Norwegian)
- http://www.andholmen.no/ ((Norwegian), photographs)
- The North Sea Museum
- Hitra ((Norwegian), with photographs)
- War Memorials in Lunna (mostly in (Norwegian))
- Scotland on Sunday - The Nazi bid to poison Shetland
- Splinter Fleet Website - The Wooden Sub Chasers of WWII