The Operation
Shetland "Hands Across the Sea" Norway
 

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Online translation of
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 is available free by
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Most pictures can be clicked on to view a bigger version

The map gives a rough idea of the
distances travelled from Shetland
to the Norwegian drop-off points

The following outline of the story of the Shetland Bus was written by J R Nicolson as part of a magazine article for the Shetland Life magazine (July 1987)

The story of the Shetland Bus is one of the most dramatic to emerge from the Second World War. It goes back to April 1940 when German forces occupied Norway, resulting in a stream of refugees heading west, most of whom landed in Shetland. On 10th June 1940 Norway surrendered and almost immediately Norwegians began training with units of the British armed forces, knowing full well that there were thousands of Norwegian servicemen, hiding in their country, who needed only arms and communications to become an effective underground movement.

In the summer of 1941 a secret base was set up at Lunna on the north east coast of the Shetland Mainland and during the winter that followed many successful missions were carried out, using the small fishing cutters that had carried refugees to Shetland. They landed agents, radio sets arms and ammunition and returned with refugees.

Lunna was an ideal base for a secret organisation being off the main road and away from the main shipping area. Unfortunately it lacked repair facilities so after only one season there the Norwegians decided to move to Scalloway, where the local firm of William Moore and Sons, with forty years of engineering skills behind it, was just what they needed to make them independent of outside help.

And so began a wonderful story of cooperation as local engineers and carpenters worked closely with their Norwegian counterparts to maintain a vital sea link between Shetland and Norway.

A slipway was built at Scalloway to service and repair the fishing boats. Crown Prince Olaf agreed that it should be given his name and the royal connection was completed when he visited the base in October 1942.

There had been losses of men and boats in that first winter at Lunna and these steadily increased after operations started at Scalloway. The Sjo, Aksel, Sandoy, Feioy, Bergholm and Brattholm were either captured, sunk by enemy action or lost in bas weather with the loss of more than thirty men. It was even suggested that, in view of the heavy losses, the base should be closed and the remaining seamen transferred to the regular Norwegian navy but the response of the men was emphatic- "Give us better boats and we will carry on the fight".

The restored sub-chaser 'HITRA' on
a visit to Scalloway in the 1990's

A solution was found when the U.S. Navy provided three fast sub-chasers (MTB's),100 feet long and powered by two 1,200 hp General Motors engines which gave them a cruising speed of 17 knots and a top speed of 22 knots. They were so well armed that German aircraft kept their distance and their speed was sufficient to get them quickly out of trouble. They were named HITRA, HESSA and VIGRA after small islands off the west coast of Norway. From November 1943 until the end of the war they carried on the same kind of operations that the fishing boats had done but they emerged virtually unscathed, and with no further loss of life.

 

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Design and Authoring by Force 10
Made in Shetland