Tuesday 26 January 2021

Find out what life was like in the Shetland Islands during World War 2 with #HistoricalFiction author, Deborah Swift #WW2 #Shetland @swiftstory

Publication Date: January 5th 2021
Publisher: Sapere Books
Page Length: 324 pages
Genre: WWII / Historical Fiction

1942, Nazi-occupied Norway

Schoolteacher Astrid Dahl has always kept out of trouble. But when she is told to teach the fascist Nazi curriculum, she refuses and starts a teacher’s rebellion, persuading eight thousand teachers to go on strike.

The Germans arrest her, and terrified of what punishment her trial might bring, she is forced to go into hiding.

Astrid's boyfriend, Jørgen Nystrøm, has joined the Norwegian Resistance. When his cover is blown he escapes to Shetland where he is taken on as crew for the Shetland Bus; a dangerous clandestine operation of small fishing boats that supply arms and intelligence to war-torn Norway.

In Shetland, hearing Astrid is in trouble, Jørgen sets off through enemy waters to meet her. But the Nazis have a spy on Shetland and have been tipped off about the Shetland Bus. With the enemy in pursuit from both directions, will Astrid and Jørgen be able to find each other? Or will they be separated forever by the brutal Nazi regime?  

The Island of Shetland during WW2

You might think that a place like Shetland had no involvement in WW2, given how far it is from the British Isles, and a long way from cities and the south coast from where most fighting activity was co-ordinated. But Shetland did indeed play a big part in the war.

Shetland shown within Scotland - Wikipedia.

Over 20,000 servicemen were posted to the islands, the idea being that they could attack German warships heading for Norway from the air bases at Sullom Voe. Accommodation was in short supply and the men were housed in newly built Nissen huts and even tents! There was a fear that Germany might invade Britain by landing first in Shetland. But the most extraordinary operation of WW2 was the Shetland Bus.

In a dilapidated house on the island of Shetland, in amongst a plantation of birches and conifers, a party of saboteurs, along with their instructors, were testing out bombs, detonators, explosive devices and booby traps. At the same time, refugees from Norway were arriving by boat to the islands, and soon the idea arose that if a place could be found with the right anchorage, arms could be shipped to Norway to help in the fight against Nazism, and Norwegian agents trained to man them. At the same time, a lifeline could be established for desperate refugees looking to escape Norway. This operation became known as The Shetland Bus.

Lunna House - Wikipedia.

A place was found – Lunna Voe, a small sheltered harbour with a house that could accommodate 35 men, and there were outhouses for storing ammunition, hand grenades, and all the necessary equipment for an undercover operation. The beaches below the house were used for testing one-man submarines and other equipment, as part of the Special Operation activities, and stocks of explosives were in fact secreted all over the island, including in the dungeon of a ruined castle.

In the year 1940, more than fifty fishing boats made the perilous journey between Norway and Shetland, known to Norwegians as ‘England’, although in fact Shetland is an island in the North Sea closer to Scotland. In 1941 more than 2000 people were carried by the small army of boats that made up the Shetland Bus, and this continued until late 1942. An increase in German Forces around Norway’s coastline, and the Nazi determination to stop the traffic to England, and infiltration of their contacts, made it too dangerous for fishing boats to take the risk.

During its time of operation the Shetland Bus took not only sabotage equipment, but also radio transmitters with their trained operators. Hundreds of tons of arms, weaponry and military equipment were shipped to the Resistance in Norway, and in return naval intelligence on the location of German troops, positions of warships, and the German military plans for the Baltic made the journey back. Many members of the Resistance who were refugees, along with others whose lives were in danger, had reason to be grateful to this lifeline as they were brought over to the safety of Shetland. 

A Norwegian fishing boat of the type used for the Shetland Bus – Wikipedia.

Behind the scenes, at Lerwick, the main town on the island, there were customs officers, doctors and security police who would assess the refugees, and also provide links to supplies such as false documents, and the kind of stores needed for a clandestine operation in an occupied country. Transport from RAF Sumburgh would arrange to take refugees or agents on to London or elsewhere. For a small island, Shetland was remarkably busy!
As the operation expanded and more space was needed to repair boats and store equipment, the operation moved to Scalloway, the ancient capital, and the place where the Vikings originally held their parliament.

Scalloway - Wikipedia.

Operating mainly in the winter months, where cover of darkness made it possible to go in and out of the small inlets and fjords of the Norwegian coast, the Shetland Bus was lashed by the worst weather at sea that any boat could be expected to survive. This, and the fact that the boats were vulnerable to attack by German planes and submarines made the journeys especially hazardous.

After the Shetland Bus operation was infiltrated by the Germans, many of the Milorg (Norwegian Resistance) were arrested and tortured, and the support network for the Shetland Bus broken apart. Realising how essential the flow of traffic was between occupied Norway and the British Isles, The United States sent three sub chasers which were more effectively armed and better able to survive Nazi attacks from air and sea. However, Norway still honours those countrymen who made the perilous journeys across the North Sea in their wooden fishing boats, and there is a museum for The Shetland Bus in Scalloway, where visitors to Shetland can learn the real story.

Find out more about The Shetland Bus: 

Watch a video about The Shetland Bus here:

Deborah Swift
 is the author of fourteen historical novels. Her other WW2 books are Past Encounters, A BookViral Award Winner, and The Occupation, a Gold Medal Winner with the Coffee Pot Book Club. She lives in the north of England near the mountains and the sea. 

Connect with Deborah:

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