The Crewmen
Shetland "Hands Across the Sea" Norway



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Many men served on the boats that ran across the North Sea, and some died trying to help their friends and compatriots in Norway. It is sadly not possible to write about them all, but here is a little more information about three of the brave men who made 'The Shetland Bus' possible.

To the right is Leif Larsen.

A completely modest, totally unassuming man, known throughout Norway as 'Shetland's Larsen!' He said, 'I didn't very much like the Germans walking around the streets of my home town!'

He escaped from occupied Norway in February 1941 in the fishing smack MOTIG 1 and trained with the Linge Company. When the crews of the fishing boats were invited to elect their own skippers, Leif Larsen was the first to be elected by the vote of the men who had sailed with him.

Leif Larsen is perhaps the most famous of the Shetland Bus men. In all he made 52 trips to Norway. Perhaps the most dramatic of these was his mission to Traena in Nordland in March, 1943. A resistance group was based in Traena and Larsen's task as skipper of the Bergholm was to deliver arms and equipment to the base. On the way back to Shetland Larsen's boat was attacked by two German planes. Six of the eight man crew aboard were hit; the young Nils Vika died of his injuries while they were in the lifeboat trying to get ashore. After rowing for four days they reached the Alesund area and some time later were picked up by an MTB sent over from Shetland to find them.

Even before the end of the war Leif Larsen had become a legend and a symbol of the Shetland Bus. When he was appointed a sub-lieutenant in the Norwegian Navy he also became eligible for the Distinguished Service Order, the highest distinction given to a non-British officer. With his eleven distinctions he is the most highly decorated naval officer of the Second World War. At the time, no other man, British or Foreign, had ever received all of these British military honours. The Victoria Cross is only offered to British Nationals.

In February, 1985 at the age of 79 Leif Larsen paid a return visit to Shetland. At Scalloway he met Jack Moore, whose firm repaired the fishing boats and sub-chasers on the slip still known as the Prince Olaf Slipway.
Larsen made fifty trips from Shetland to Norway, some of them in horrendous conditions. Each of them could have been his last yet somehow he survived. He received numerous medals for his heroism from several countries among them the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the Distinguished Service Order, The Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal and bar.

He has learned to forgive the Germans for their invasion of his country and he was amused to discover that Norway House, the former net loft in Scalloway, which was home to so many Norwegians from 1942 to the end of the war, is now the Westshore Garage and the agency for two makes of German cars.


Leif Larsen

Two radio interviews with Leif Larsen can be heard here:-
Interview one
(542k wav)
Interview two
(782k wav)

Kåre Iversen
On the left is Kåre Iversen

Kåre E Iversen was born in Flatanger, Norway, on 10th October 1918.
His father was a sea pilot and in Kåre's own words 'I was brought up, you might say, with my feet and my head mostly in the sea!' When he finished school he joined his father on the pilot boat for two and half years.

After six months at college he spent two years salmon fishing in summer and halibut fishing in winter. He was coasting with a purse netter in 1940 when Norway was overun by Germany. He continued coasting, but joined the Norwegian underground. His activities were discovered by the Germans, so in August 1941, when he was asked by three men if he could take them away, he persuaded his father to let him take the VILLA 1, the 13 meter long boat which they shared. After adjusting the compass and obtaining fuel from a helpful Norwegian merchant, in the darkness of night and without lights, they stealthily set sail for Shetland.

(Kåre Iversen explains in his own words how he escaped from occupied Norway)
"My father and I had a fishing boat between us which was 42 feet overall. It was named the Villa. After the salmon fishing was finished I went to a slipway with the boat to get the engine overhauled and have her painted so that the boat and engine would be in good order when I decided to escape to Britain.
In August 1941, I got news that two Norwegians and a Swede had to get out of Norway, so I got the boat ready to go with them.

"After arranging for fuel, lub oil and stores to last a month the only outstanding detail was to acquire a chart for the North Sea. One of the Norwegian skippers at the pilot station (Iverden, Flatanger) where my father worked gave me one of his charts after he had erased the boat's name from it. The Germans had an armed whale-catcher as a patrol boat outside the station but it did not stay on patrol after darkness came down. I sent my young brother up the hill to watch where the patrol boat went in to anchor. At 8 o'clock the patrol boat went off duty, so the coast was clear for us to go.

"The first two days passed in perfect weather conditions. But at 3.10 on our third day trouble arrived. I was coming out of the engine room when I saw through the wheelhouse door that a German flying boat was coming straight for us.  At the time two of us were down in the engine room, two in the forward cabin. After the first burst of gunfire, I went out on deck and released all the halyards to let the sails drop to the deck, then went back down to the engine room. The Germans continued shooting at us for twenty minutes. Their gunfire riddled the wheel house and holed the boat just above the water line with their shelling. Whenever we rolled , a big rush of water now came in to the hold. The flying boat tried to land but the sea was too rough, so they gave up the attempt. Vila was just drifting.

"We set course again for Shetland and I drove the engine to its maximum. I myself was in the engine room from four o'clock on Saturday afternoon until five o'clock on Sunday. At 6a.m. on the Monday I was on top of the wheelhouse when I spotted land to the west of us. We knew that it was somewhere in Shetland but where? There was only one thing to do - put two of the boys ashore. They found an old rowing boat and came back to us.  We had dropped anchor and stopped the engine, ready to go ashore and find out how far we were from Lerwick. We made the beach and pulled the boat clear from the water then began to walk up through some fields. We came to a farmhouse and the lady of the house told us that we were on an island called Fetlar and that our boat was at anchor at Sandwick."

After questioning in Lerwick, Kåre was among 101 Norwegians who left Lerwick for Buckie in three fishing boats. From Buckie they went to London where Kåre joined, and was trained by, the Linge Company.

From London he came back to Lunna, in Shetland. His first trip was with Leif Larsen on board the ARTHUR. The story of that trip, in one of the worst storms for 70 years, is told by David Howarth in his book 'The Shetland Bus'. Kåre stayed with Larsen for the remainder of 1941 until the end of spring 1942.

Among the fishing boats he sailed on were ARTHUR, FEIE, SIGLAOS and HELAND. He joined the submarine-chaser HESSA in December 1943 and was still with her in Alesund in May 1945 when peace was restored to Norway.

The link between Scalloway and Norway was strengthened on 6th December 1944 when Kåre married Scalloway lass, Cissie Slater.

Palmer Bjørnoy

On the right is Palmer Bjørnoy

Palmer Bjørnoy was the engineer on the NORDSJOEN when, after a successful mine-laying expedition the boat had to be abandoned.

It was to be his home village that the crew, with Larsen as leader, made their way and from there that they 'acquired' the ARTHUR. Bjornoy sailed with Larsen as engineer on ARTHUR, including the mission against the TIRPITZ.

After ARTHUR had been scuttled, the men split into two groups to make their escape to Sweden. He helped to lead one of the groups. After a journey in intense cold through the mountains he got frostbite and had to have several toes amputated in a Swedish hospital where he remained for nine months before returning to Scalloway.

He later joined as Chief Engineer on VIGRA.

Pictures on this page courtesy of the Scalloway Museum


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Made in Shetland