Shetland Bus

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Shetland Bus

Post  Bob Pearson on Mon 19 Sep 2011 - 21:40

The following article has featured on the SOE Discussion Group hosted by Steven Kippax, so thanks to Steven for spotting the this one:

Times, The (London, England)-August 29, 2011
Author: Nick Drainey

It was one of the most perilous secret operations of the Second World War - a convoy of small fishing boats that ferried spies and refugees between Shetland and Norway under cover of darkness, keeping the Norwegian resistance movement supplied with weapons, equipment and money.

This week the Shetland Bus, as it came to be known, marks its 70th anniversary.

One of those who remember the secrecy that shrouded its early beginnings is Douglas Smith, who recalls, as a boy, the roads around the ancient Shetland capital of Scalloway being blocked. In the dark days of the Second World War he knew not to question why the security zone was in place. Seventy years ago this week, on August 30, 1941, the first of a series of small Norwegian fishing boats that had fled Hitler's invasion returned across the North Sea to deliver spies and bring back refugees. The 65ft cutter Aksel, skippered by August Næroy with a crew of four of his countrymen, slipped out of West Lunna Voe just after 9pm.

Like the other 198 trips made until 1945, it was done at night to avoid detection, usually when the Moon was not full. The boat was taking a messenger just north of Bergen to make contact with a group of underground Norwegian army officers and deliver money.

By 1945, 44 had died on the dangerous missions, but 192 agents and 383 tonnes of weapon and supplies were delivered to Norway. On their return, the boats brought back 73 agents and 373 refugees from Nazi-occupied Norway.

The operation was set up by the Secret Intelligence Service and Special Operations Executive and later became an official section of the Royal Norwegian Navy. But Mr Smith, despite living only six miles from the centre of operations, was oblivious at the time.

Now a member of the Shetland Bus Friendship Society and of the Shetland Norwegian Friendship Society, he said from his home in Lerwick: "There was a real security zone around Scalloway and what was going on there. The people in Scalloway never said a word about it to anyone.

"They had road blocks that you had to pass through, but of course there were only military vehicles in any case. As an 11 or 12-year-old I really didn't know anything about it."

But the Shetland Bus is very much a part of local history. In 2003 a memorial to those who died was unveiled on the waterfront at Scalloway.

And next spring the Scalloway Museum will open with a dedicated section on the exploits of the Second World War. Among the exhibits will be a four-man rowing boat, found abandoned in a shed in Norway, that was used as a tender and lifeboat by a Shetland Bus boat.

John Hunter, chairman of the Shetland Bus Friendship Society, said the achievements were still important for local people. "There are people in the village descended from Shetland Bus veterans - it is a source of pride."

Norwegian fishing boats had already made some trips across the North Sea in the winter of 1940-41, delivering agents and bringing others back from enemy-controlled Norway. But it was only in 1941 that the British military began the full-scale Shetland Bus operation.

Danger came not only from Germany naval patrols, but also the sailing conditions. Winter was the only time when there was enough darkness to get boats all the way across the North Sea without being seen. This meant, however, that severe weather, sometimes up to hurricane force, was encountered.

At the start, 14 fishing boats were used, all Norwegian so as not to draw suspicion from German naval ships and aircraft. The crews, too, were Norwegian; sailors and fishermen who knew the fjords and islands of their country's coast in great detail and, importantly, knew who could be trusted when they landed on Norwegian soil. Detail was vital, from the avoidance of Virginia tobacco, as it would give away a British presence, to forged papers to give the crew credible identities as fishermen.

With guns mounted on oil drums as the only defence, the death toll began to mount and help was needed. In 1943 the US Navy donated three submarine chasers, which were used to great effect, still crewed by the Norwegians in Scalloway. These three were welcomed by crowds of thankful Norwegians in Bergen and Ålesund the day after the Nazis retreated in May 1945.

Jack Burgess, 74, who still lives in Scalloway and is the founding chairman of the Shetland Bus Friendship Society, can remember the secrecy surrounding the Shetland Bus.

"I never heard it mentioned until after the war," he said. "Some people in Scalloway knew most of it, all of them knew a little - that something clandestine was under way - but they didn't know any details and nobody asked."

The legacy lives on, he added. "It means a lot - it showed when we built the memorial on the sea front. Money was raised for it with no difficulty. But it is more than that. People in Scalloway are very happy with the Norwegian connection, which goes on to this day. The museum is one of the ways of carrying forward the original Shetland Bus concept."

Edition: 01 - scotSection: NewsPage: 14,15
Record Number: 51103252(c) Times Newspapers Limited 2011
Bob Pearson

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The Shetland bus

Post  Cutstone on Tue 20 Sep 2011 - 1:23

Thanks for sharing Bob. Would love to take part in such a memorial.
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Some more info ...

Post  Magnum on Tue 20 Sep 2011 - 12:30

Some more info


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