Have you heard of “The Shetland Bus”? I recently read a book with that title by a British author named David Howarth. During World War II Norwegian fishing boat captains were recruited by the British military to use their boats to carry personnel and supplies between the Shetland Islands in Scotland and the west coast of Norway in support of the Norwegian resistance against the German occupation of Norway. Each mission that left Scalloway harbor was a harrowing journey and several boats were sunk with a loss of all hands over the course of the war. The missions had to be carried out at night in order to avoid being seen by German aircraft during the day. They were also limited to travel during the winter months because at such a high latitude, there’s sunlight 24 hours a day during the summer.
The sailors that operated the Shetland Bus were known as Shetlandsgjengen (Shetland Gang) and the most well-known of the skippers was Leif Larsen, known by all as “Shetlands-Larsen”. He made 52 North Sea crossings during the war and skippered multiple vessels in the process. He had to deliberately scuttle the ship Arthur to avoid capture by the Germans. Captain Larsen is in the middle of the photograph at the top of this post.
Most of the boats in the Shetland Bus fleet were from villages on Norway’s west coast and most of those were from either the Ålesund region in More og Romsdal Fylke (county) or the Bergen region in Hordaland Fylke. There were many more boats that made the perilous journey across 250 miles of the North Sea than those in the Shetland Bus. Over the course of the five years of the war in Norway, nearly 3,500 Norwegians escaped Norway in these boats either to flee from German pursuit or to join up with the resistance.
When I visited Norway in 2003 with my daughter Kari, cousin Erling Mjanger was our host during our stay on the family’s home fjord, Masfjorden, north of Bergen. One day he took us for an afternoon drive up and down the east coast of the fjord pointing out places of interest and homes of relatives along the way. One story that particularly grabbed my interest was about a fishing boat that was commandeered during the war and sailed to Britain carrying local men to join the war effort.
Recently, I asked Erling’s older brother, Ragnvald, about this story because I couldn’t remember any of the details. Here’s what he told me.
Bertin Kvinge, Ragnvald and Erling’s grandfather on their mother, Launa Bertinsdatter Mjanger’s side, owned a boat named “Leda” which was a working fishing boat at the time of the German occupation. One night during the war a group of young Norwegian men “borrowed” the boat and sailed it to Scotland to join the Allied forces in Britain. Ragnvald couldn’t remember the names of the passengers or who the skipper of the boat was, but he told me that it wasn’t possible for anyone to return the Leda to Norway after she successfully landed her passengers in Scotland. Sometime later in the war the boat sank while in the UK. After the war it was raised and returned to Norway, but sadly, his grandfather never got it back for some reason. It was retrofitted as a transport vessel and hauled sand and concrete for many years. Eventually it was retrofitted again into a pleasure boat and it’s still in use on Masfjorden near Andviki according to my cousin.
Since my conversation with Ragnvald last week, I’ve spent time on various websites that document stats and stories of the occupation and the Norwegian resistance looking for any mention of Masfjorden or the Leda. This week I have found several! This is what I learned from the website www.warsailors.com:
The M/S Leda (H 1 MF) departed Masfjorden on September 1,1941 with 27 people, and arrived in Lerwick, Scotland on September 4. She carried the following:
Skipper Monrad Kvinge, Nils G. Amundsen, Louis Danielsen, Odd Engebrektsen, Olav Farnes, Billy Fortun, Øivind Gjertsen, Sverre Hallervik, Otto Hansen, Gert Strindberg Heide, Johanne Hollevik, Karl Johannesen, Fredrik Kayser, Anfinn Konow, Magda Kvinge, Magnus Lid, Arne Lindtner, Gudrun Lindtner, Einar Krogh Nilsen, Ulf Ottesen, Albert Rognøy, Sverre Sandnes, Karl Sebak, Ingebrigt Valderhaug, Ragnar Wiik, Karl Øyjorden, Tomas Ådland.
I don’t know if the skipper, Monrad Kvinge, had any blood relationship to Ragnvald’s grandfather, but I do know they both lived in the North Kvinge community on Masfjorden, just a couple of farms apart from each other. I’m sure they were well acquainted. I’ve also learned that passenger Fredrik Kayser was a highly decorated local hero by the end of the war. I’ll write more about him in a future post.
The Norwegian newspaper, Bergens Tidende, did an interview in 2008 with three WWII veterans from the Hordaland area. The names of the men weren’t familiar to me, but they were interviewed on the deck of a boat that surprised me. The photograph that accompanied the article was taken on the restored Leda! For a boat that was built in 1931, she looks remarkably good.
Every time I hear a personal story about the Norwegian people pushing back against Nazi aggression during the period from April 1940 until May 1945 I am humbled. When I learn that some of those people were my own kin, I am awestruck.