The "Shetland Bus's" activity is very well known from books, films, and the restoration of "Hitra". Operations of the Norwegian Navy's fishing boat division from the Peterhead Intelligence Base (north of Aberdeen) are, however, very little known.
The "Shetland Bus's" main task was transport of instructors, weapons, sabotage material, etc. to the Norwegian underground forces. The operations being directed by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in cooperation with the Norwegian authorities in London.
The intelligence base at Peterhead was used only for transportation of intelligence agents to and from Norway. The agents' main task was naval intelligence sent by radiotransmitters. These Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), operations were carried out under extra security. It was not desirable to mix the SOE and SIS operations. This was main reason for establishing the Peterhead base.
Both the Shetlands base and the Peterhead base used Norwegian refugee fishing vessels for transportation. These were recruited by the Norwegian Naval Headquarters in London, carried the naval flag, and had a naval crew. In some instances, SIS expeditions were carried out with the help of Catalina planes from the Navy's air force, Norwegian MTB's, or allied submarines.
The following is a brief outline of the background of SIS operations from Peterhead, the organization, and a few examples of SIS expeditions along the Norwegian coast.
The Royal Navy's requirement for naval intelligence in Norwegian waters was understood by Norwegian officers as well as the British. After the German occupation of Norway and the re-establishment of the Norwegian Naval Headquarters in London in June, 1940, a mutual trust and cooperation was quickly established with the Naval Intelligence Department in the Admiralty and the Scandinavian Section in SIS. The British submarine HMS "Sea Wolf" sailed for the coast of Norway the same month. Two Norwegian naval officers –Captain E. C. Danielsen and Lieutenant H. Voltersvik – were on board. They were secretly set ashore in the Farsund area. With radiotransmitters and codes, they went to Oslo where they made contact with Commander Gabriel Smith. Smith had been serving on the Admiral's staff when the Germans invaded Norway. When the war in Norway was over Danielsen (before himself fleeing to England) had ordered Smith to organize intelligence work in occupied Norway, - primarily to gather information about German Naval activities in Norwegian waters. Danielsen and Voltersvik were picked up by the HMS "Sea Wolf" after a week and returned to England.
Smith and his assistant, Lyder Larsen, quickly organized naval intelligence operations along the coast using naval officers as primary contacts. Intelligence reports were transmitted to London by radio and this service was in full operation from the beginning of July and continued until March, 1941, when it was "blown up" by GESTAPO. Smith managed to escape the GESTAPO and flee to England.
London Cooperation Problems
After his arrival in England, Smith worked together with the head of Scandinavian Section in SIS and Naval Intelligence Department (NID) – now in the capacity of leader of "The Royal Norwegian Navy's Secret Intelligence Service." Through its foresight in planning and handling of the naval intelligence's areas in close cooperation with SIS and NID, the Navy made a strong contribution to the impressive results already achieved. The Navy, by arrangement with the Royal Navy and SIS, had control over a number of Norwegian fishing vessels stationed at Peterhead.
The problem arose when the government established its own intelligence office in the Defense Department (DD/ I). The government decided that all contact with SIS was to go through this office. The head of Scandinavian Section in SIS preferred to continue working with the Norwegian Naval Headquarters and Commander Gabriel Smith. This was well-established, effective, and gave good results. This was however stopped by the head of DD/ I. The Navy was outmaneuvered with help of the Defense Minister and the Chief of the Armed Forces. The Navy's secret leader – Commander Gabriel Smith – was later ordered to another service
A conflict of competency between the head of DD/ I and the Navy also arose concerning the Peterhead base. This was similar to what had earlier been the situation with the school for agents. The Navy pointed out that the head of DD/ I had nothing to do with the naval transportation system and that he should not involve himself unnecessarily in the recruiting of personnel and other affairs of the base. Nothing resulted from the strenuous efforts of the head of DD/ I to steal control over the fishing boats.
Perhaps the Norwegian government in London felt that the conflict was going too far. In the summer of 1942 it was therefore finally decided that the fishing boats would continue under administrative and operative control of the Navy.
It is worth nothing that the head of Scandinavian Section in SIS – Commander Newill – was not in agreement with the new system for cooperation with the Norwegian authorities. He was relieved of his post in SIS and ordered to a new position as head of the Peterhead intelligence base. This position was later taken over by a Norwegian naval officer, Lieutenant M. Hellesund.
The following quotation from Bjørn Rørholt's and Bjarne Thorsen's book, "The Invisible Soldiers," indicates the uneasiness that arose because of the reorganization: "Many wondered why two such remarkable naval men like Smith and Newill were pushed out, and then asked themselves what had been achieved if Smith had been the leader. Some were sure it had been better, but most understood that the British could not relinquish control of such special operations. ---"
The men who Smith and Newill had selected and trained as intelligence agents (mostly seamen), formed actually the basis for manning all the intelligence stations along the Norwegian coast throughout the war. Most of Gabriel Smith's plans also survived and were to a great extent used by SIS in cooperation with DD/ I.
The Peterhead Base
The Peterhead base eventually operated eight fishing cutters. Around 60 men served on and off shore, but never so many at the same time. All were eligible for active duty, all were volunteers. The crew came mostly from students at the Norwegian Naval Defense Gunnery Section of the Merchant Marine in Dumbarton, Scotland. There was never a problem with recruiting. There was always a good selection of able seamen familiar with the Norwegian coast among the volunteers.
The first expedition from Peterhead left July 1, 1941. After that followed trip after trip until November, 1943. Because of large losses, we know that the Shetlands expeditions with fishing boats had to stop already in March, 1943.
Traffic resumed in November/December, 1943, with the submarine chasers "Hessa", "Hitra", and "Vigra". These effective boats eventually took over transportation duties in connection with the SIS stations along the coast of Norway.
As mentioned earlier, all of the SIS operations were under strict secrecy. This concealment has caused it to be impossible to know the exact number of expeditions from Peterhead. The number is probably between 25 and 30 successful trips. In addition are trips that were not completed due to weather conditions, machinery failure, hostile actions, etc. At least one of the section's boats disappeared without a trace while on a mission.
The longest expedition during the war was carried out by the Peterhead cutter "Kvalsund". In 1942, it successfully, in spite of bad weather, reached its destination of Belsvika in Lyfjord at Kvaløya (outside Tromsø). Three attempts had been made previously. With the fourth attempt, the captain (at this time Einar Kristiansen) and his crew managed to set on land the intelligence agent, Einar Johansen, along with his radio equipment and provisions. The return trip of eight days could begin. (Einar Kristiansen is today a retired captain living in Søgne.)
It can further be mentioned that the same naval officer also took "Kvalsund" on the very last fishing boat expedition during the war in November, 1943. Kristiansen was at that time a Sub-Lieutenant and served as navigating officer on one of the Norwegian MTB's operating from Lerwich at Shetland. He was requested to take the trip which was very important. He and his crew took "Kvalsund", in violent weather under nerve shattering conditions, from Peterhead to Lurøy and back again. This trip involved vital provisions to SIS reporters in the area.
Another dramatic trip with an unfortunate outcome should be mentioned. It was in October, 1941, that M/K "Streif" set ashore an agent with his radio station and other provisions on Skorpa. After taking on board another agent who was going back to England, they set a course for Peterhead. The captain was chief Petty Officer Mads Monsen who already had completed 4-5 trips on the Norwegian coast. However, "Streif" never made it back to Peterhead. The engine failed in gale storm. The cutter was driven by the wind and currents for a week. It finally stranded on the Netherlands' coast near Den Helder.
The crew was taken prisoners and spent the remainder of the war as German Prisoners of war – long, hard years. All of the official terms of prisoner-of-war rights were, fortunately, in order. The cutter carried the naval flag, the crew wore uniforms and had military service identification. Their explanation that the boat had been on its way from Scotland to Iceland was also accepted. Another fishing cutter, M/K "Frøya 2", had an unkind fate. It sailed from Peterhead in April, 1942. The captain was Lieutenant Commander Magne Braadland. As often the case, the six-man crew was volunteers from the DGM school in Dumbarton. In addition, were two intelligence agents who were to be put ashore in Troms to establish a radio station in Kåfjord.
In the sea off the coast of Trøndelag, the boat was attacked by a German bomber. The defended themselves bravely with their Colt mitrailleuse and Lewis machinegun. It later was revealed under interrogation with the Germans that the plane did not return to its base. In the meantime, "Frøya" was sinking and had to be abandoned. Five men were ordered in the dinghy and set out towards Shetland. They were later rescued by a British destroyer. Before the fishing cutter sank, they quickly constructed a raft on four empty oil drums. Braadland and the three remaining crew tied themselves to this.
After 12 days in cold, rough weather, the frostbitten and miserable crew were rescued by a German seaplane. Rough interrogation by the Sicherheitdienst in Trondheim followed. Finally, after more than four months of interrogation and imprisonment in Norway, all four were colleagues from M/K "Streif". The four from "Frøya" were also classified as prisoners-of-war. All the formalities in this connection were in order. In addition, the two agents who were to be put ashore at Kåfjord had been given naval uniforms upon departure. There is no doubt that if this capture had happened six months later all the men would have been shot. That was when Hitler's directive of October 10, 1942, went into effect. This directive specified that all commando soldiers, agents, and saboteurs that were captured were to be turned over to security police and shot with no exceptions. It is known that this directive was the basis for the execution of the crew of MTB "345" at Ulven in July, 1943.
All those who made their contribution in the Navy's fishing boat division at Peterhead deserve both mention and honor. That these war efforts are little known, especially in comparison with the Shetland Gang's efforts, is due to the special demand for secrecy of SIS activities which was adhered to after the war. The deserved official honor for Peterhead achievement has come late, at least for some of this concerned. I personally know that several were awarded the War Medallion first in the 1980's.
I hope that this article can contribute to this portion of the Navy's war efforts being better known and recognized.
Finally, M/K "Kvalsund" is still floating and in relatively good condition. Perhaps it should be restored and preserved for posterity?
Tilbake til Kvalsund siden.