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Shetland Bus

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The Shetland Bus was the name given to a secret operation linking Norway and Scotland by sea during World War II.

In April 1940, German forces occupied Norway, forcing the country's surrender and leaving thousands of Norwegian servicemen hidden throughout the country, an effective underground movement if only they could be supplied with arms and communications.

In mid 1941, a base was secretly established at Lunna, on the north east coast of the mainland of Shetland. From here, small fishing cutters sailed to Norway with agents, arms and communications, travelling the route under cover of darkness. On the return trip, they would bring Norwegians to safety. Some were so desperate to get away from the occupation that they rowed kayaks, open 20 foot boats, to Scotland.

The Shetlanders gave the operation their full suport, and refused to speak about the movements of the boats. The operation came to be known as Hands Across the Sea.

Lunna proved too remote and lacked facilities for repairs, so by late 1942 the move was made south east, to Scalloway, where the facilities of an established local engineering firm meant they had no need for outside assistance.

The operation continued, and inevitably began to incur losses, as small fishing boats being used in heavy North sea waters. This led to suggestions that it be ended, however those involved demanded better and faster boats, and in Autimn 1943 were provided with 3 fast sub-chasers by the US Navy. Powered by twin 1,200 hp engines, the Hitra, Hessa and Vigra were so fast (17 knot cruise, 22 knot dash) and well armed that the enemy were forced to keep their distance, and no more lives were lost.

Continuing links between Norway and Shetland commemorate the Shetland Bus.


The following story was found in the Marine Times. Undated in an archive, but estimated to be around August 2003:

While underway from Stravanger to Scalloway to take part in the official unveiling of a memorial to the Shetland Bus, MFV Andholmen (a 65 year old fishng boat with 10 crew on board) began to take on water in heavy seas 70 miles south east of Shetland. 5 of the crew were winched off by Coastguard helicopter and flown to Sumburgh, while the remainder sailed on (accompanied by an emergency tug), clearing the water using pumps provided by the Coastguard.

Ironically, MFV Andholmen was chosen to be depicted on the memorial, being one of the few original Shetland Bus boats to survive, and had crossed the North Sea many times before, often in more severe conditions.

The memorial is the first in the UK to commemorate the heroic actions of the Shetland Bus crews, and those who lost their lives in the operation. Constructed using stones collected from the 24 districts in Norway where the 44 men who died were from, and additional stones collected from 5 areas in Shetland connected to the bus, the memorial marks their loss, and is topped with a sculpture of the MVF Andholmen, recalling the loss of 10 boats in the early days of the operation.

The monument was unveiled at a ceremony held in Scalloway, attended by a delegation of officials and servicemen from Norway, together with family members of the veterans.

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