Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Shetland Bus

The Shetland Bus was a clandestine operation set up by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) Norwegian Naval Independent Unit. The latter was renamed the Norwegian Naval Independent Unit (NNIU) in mid 1942, and when it became an official part of the Royal Norwegian Navy in October 1943, it was renamed yet again and became the Royal Norwegian Naval Special Unit (RNNSU).

The main purpose of the Shetland Bus was to transport agents to and from Norway and to supply the Norwegian Resistance with weapons, radios and other supplies. On occasions they also brought out Norwegians who might be arrested by the Germans for taking part in Resistance activities. In addition the group became involved in special operations, such as the failed human torpedo (or Chariot) attack on the German battleship Tirpitz (Operation Title) ...

... and the raids on Vågsøy (Operation Archery) and Lofoten (Operation Claymore).

The group was organised by Major Leslie H Mitchell and his assistant, Lieutenant David Howarth RNVR. At first it was based at Lunna Ness, north of Lerwick, but the boats were eventually moved to Scalloway where repair and maintenance facilities were provided by William Moore & Son, which had a well-equipped workshop. Eventually an additional slipway (named the Prince Olav's Slipway) was added to the facilities.

When it first started the Shetland Bus used fourteen ordinary fishing boats but these were eventually supplemented by three US-built SC-497-class submarine chasers. The boats used by the Shetland Bus included:
  • Aksel (M40G): Sank with the loss of the entire crew of six men in December 1942.
  • Heland (M5V): Preserved at the Sunnmøre Museum in Norway.
  • Vita (H95B): It was seized by the Germans in September 1941, and the crew were arrested. Currently being preserved and renovated for display at the Sør-Trøndelag Coastal Museum at Hitra, Norway.
  • Olaf (M73V): Badly damaged in May 1942, it was returned to its owners after the war. They sold it in 1948.
  • Nordsjøen: Sank in heavy weather off the coast of West Norway in October 1941.
  • Blia (H197S): Lost with all hands (and the thirty refugees who were aboard) during a storm in November 1941.
  • Sjø: Captured by the Germans in September 1942. The crew were arrested and later shot.
  • Arthur (M192B): Scuttled after the failure of Operation Title. The crew managed to escape to Sweden, but a British agent who was with them was captured and shot.
  • Sandøy: Attacked by German aircraft in December 1942. The boat was sunk and all seven crewmen aboard were lost.
  • Feiøy (H10AM): Disappeared without trace in January 1943. All eight crewmen were lost.
  • Bergholm: Attacked by German aircraft and sunk in March 1943. One crewman was killed but the rest of the crew (including the skipper) eventually made their way back to Shetland.
  • Brattholm: Attacked and sunk be a German torpedo boat in March 1943. Of the crew of eight and the four agents who were aboard, only one survived. The rest died during the attack or were captured, tortured, and shot.
  • Frøya (M32G): Bombed and sunk by a German aircraft in April 1942. Of the crew of seven and the two agents they were carrying only one died. The rest either made it back to Shetland or were captured and imprisoned by the Germans.
  • Streif (H261B): Whilst returning from a mission to Norway, the boat lost all power and eventually drifted as far south as the Netherlands! The crew gave themselves up and were imprisoned by the Germans.
  • Bodø: Lost with all hands in January 1943 after hitting a mine off the Scottish coast.
  • Hitra: One of the US-built SC-497-class submarine chasers. She was retained as part of the Royal Norwegian Navy until she was deactivated in 1953. She was formally decommissioned in 1959. After being sold into private ownership she served in a variety of different roles until 1982. She was then bought and eventually restored to her original configuration. She is currently preserved and on show at the Royal Norwegian Naval Museum, Horten.
  • Vigra: One of the US-built SC-497-class submarine chasers. She was retained as part of the Royal Norwegian Navy until she was deactivated in 1953. She was formally decommissioned in 1959 and then sold to Sea Scouts. She sank near Malmö where she was being used as a sand barge.
  • Hessa: One of the US-built SC-497-class submarine chasers. She was retained as part of the Royal Norwegian Navy until she was deactivated in 1953. She was formally decommissioned in 1959 and then sold to Sea Scouts. She was lost on the coast of Bohuslän.

The Scalloway Museum on Orkney has a large display devoted to the role of the Shetland Bus. It includes models of some of the boats used.

Aksel (M40G)


Blia (H197S)

Arthur (M192B)




  1. The fate of so many of the boats is a good indication of the courage of the men.

    1. Ross Mac,

      They were truly heroic men, and the links between the Norwegians and the Shetlanders that were forged during the Second World War are still very strong today.

      All the best,


  2. What a wonderful story, the museum seems to be a right cracker. Thanks for sharing and stimulating my interest, already had a rummage through woodedn odds and sods box for suitable material!

    1. Robert (Bob) CorderyTuesday, August 02, 2016 5:24:00 pm
      Chris Platt,

      I am really pleased that you enjoyed reading this blog entry.

      If you ever manage to visit Scalloway, the museum is an absolute 'must see'. It is small but very well laid out, and a large part of it is devoted to the story of the Shetland Bus.

      All the best,


  3. Hi Bob, Your blog is always educational as well as being so interesting. To my shame I had never heard of the 'Shetland Bus' before. Such a sacrifice made by so many brave people. Heroes all.
    Best wishes,

    1. Jason,

      I am always pleased to hear from people who enjoy reading my blog, especially when they find what I write informative and interesting.

      I remember reading about the Shetland Bus when I was growing up in the 1950s. Stories about the resistance movements across Europe - and numerous other war stories - seemed to fill the pages of the numerous comics that I read whilst growing up.

      All the best,


  4. Fascinating stuff Bob- thanks for posting.



  5. Fascinating and inspiring. Thanks for sharing this, Bob!


    1. Gonsalvo,

      I could have written a lot more as there was just so much information about it at the museum in Scalloway.

      All the best,