Fact of the week: The Shetland Bus

The Shetland Bus memorial. Picture: Nicholas Mutton/Geograph.org.uk (CC) [http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/15201]
The Shetland Bus memorial. Picture: Nicholas Mutton/Geograph.org.uk (CC) [http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/15201]
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THINK of buses and you may think of shopping trips, old ladies loudly chatting, and schoolchildren taking up the entire upper deck. During the Second World War, The Shetland Bus was carrying a very different cargo - agents of the Norwegian Resistance.

By 1941, German forces controlled much of Europe, and the Shetland Islands’ nearest neighbour Norway was under Nazi occupation.

However, the Norwegians were not about to go down without a fight, and a group of Norwegian exiles and British intelligence hatched a plan to fight back against the Germans.

The first Shetland Bus boat vessels were little more than regular fishing boats, but in 1943 the US Navy transferred three specialist submarine chasers to the operation.

Boats left from Scalloway on the Shetland mainland laden with Norwegian spies, British agents, weaponry and supplies.

The crossings to the west coast of Norway were perilous - the crews had the threat of German mines and submarine patrols to contend with - and the crews were comprised primarily of local fishermen and sailors.

The Bus also tended to travel in poor conditions - this made it easier for the boats to sneak past German defences undetected.

The Shetland Bus made over 200 crossings in total, transporting 383 tons of weaponry and saving over 350 refugees from the Nazi occupation. 44 members of the Shetlandsgjengen - the Shetland Gang - died in service on the Bus.

The story of the Shetland Bus is remembered today in memorials on the Shetland mainland, and in the Norwegian port of Alesund, and plans have been mooted for a replica boat to carry passengers along the Bus’ route.

The bravery of those who manned the Shetland Bus has gone down in history, and certainly puts the terror of a bus journey surrounded by hormonal schoolkids in perspective.