Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter IV


Scouting in Occupied Countries: Part Two — Denmark and Norway


The contrast between the lot of Scouts in Denmark, the next country to be overrun by the Germans, and that of those in Poland was marked. But Denmark was a comfortable country badly needed by the Germans to provide them with milk, butter, bacon and other foodstuffs. The Danes had to be treated well and must be lulled, if not into a sense of security, at least into one of acquiescence. The fewest restrictions possible were accordingly placed upon them. Scouting was allowed to continue fully and freely, save that camp-fires could not be lighted during the hours of darkness because of the blackout regulations. After a time the comparatively small number of active Danish Nazis made an attempt to start a Youth Movement financed by Germany and devoted to German ideals. This movement had a marked effect upon Danish Scouts, though perhaps not one which the conquerors had intended. The number of Scouts increased and Scouting was stimulated in all its branches. The Danes, with memories of the war of 1864, have no love for the Germans. Nevertheless, some considerable time elapsed before they adopted active measures on a scale similar to that prevailing in other occupied countries. It was not until 1944, when the Danish Scout Organisation was officially abolished, that many of the older Scouts, Rovers and Scouters joined the nascent Resistance Movement. Soon several of its groups were composed entirely of Scouts, and they proved a great help to the Jews, of whom ninety per cent succeeded, largely through the Scouts, in esc aping to Sweden.

In the course of these and other operations against the enemy, more than one Scout lost his life, some being judicially murdered, others shot in cold blood or in the heat of battle. Among them was Orla, who on the 13th January, 1944, was arrested for helping British agents landed by parachute in Denmark. In high spirits, he went off to a concentration camp, where he soon became a local leader among the prisoners, and was strong-minded enough to protest vigorously when one of them was tortured. It was probably because of his courageous demeanour that the Germans determined to make an example of him. On the 24th May he was sentenced to death, and despite an appeal by his parents to Dr. Best, German Minister in Denmark, was executed at four o’clock the next morning. He died with great composure, and in his last letter to his parents he wrote: "Life has given me only good things. I am no miserable culprit mounting the scaffold with trembling knees…. I am writing this letter at 11.35 p.m., and I feel quite sure I shall spend a cheerful night fast asleep. The war calls for many victims and I am one of them. I hope my sacrifice will not be in vain." To his brother Scouts he sent a message: "In life," he wrote, "we must have one aim and for this we must fight and never compromise."

Of the same pure metal was Charles, the wireless operator of a clandestine radio transmitting group. On the 26th April, 1944, the house in which he worked was surrounded, but rather than surrender he fought to the death, killing several of his enemies before he, too, fell. A similar fate befell Preben, who on the 9th August, after having been in prison for some months, was murdered together with ten of his companions, in a cellar in Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, an act which caused the greatest resentment all over the country. Of the eleven who died that day, four were Scouts.

Eric was a very active member of the Resistance Movement. Single-handed and showing great daring, he made many journeys to various groups in it, each time carrying a consignment of arms in a large bag seldom empty of lethal weapons. He also acted as courier in the illegal post office organisation, sheltered fugitives from the Gestapo, and maintained a voluminous correspondence with friends and helpers in Sweden. On the 13th January, 1945, the Gestapo searched the house of his parents, but Eric had long since abandoned his home. Finding nothing, they left, but almost immediately afterwards Eric arrived, and on learning what had happened, went out to warn a member of the Troop to which he belonged and who lived close by. Entering the house, he was shot in the leg and then in the stomach. His wound, he knew, was mortal, but he knew also that he might linger for some hours, during which the Gestapo would not hesitate to torture him in order to obtain the information on the Resistance Movement they knew him to possess. He lifted his revolver and blew out his brains.

Preben, murdered in the Copenhagen cellar, was a member of the illegal post office organisation. Its "mail" was sent out to Sweden through one of the numerous Danish islands. On one occasion those carrying it were about to take it down to the shore, when s ix rifle shots followed by the cry of a wounded man warned them of the presence of Germans. A moment later they were challenged by three German soldiers, but the mailbag-carriers were wearing Danish police uniform and bluffed their way to the boat, which got safely away. In the darkness another member of the Resistance Movement was standing with the mailbags from Sweden which had just been put ashore. In the confusion, and fearing that they would be captured, he hid them behind a hedge and reported their whereabouts the next day. Once more the illegal postmen donned their Danish police uniforms, set out on bicycles and picked up the missing bags. They successfully deceived a German officer by telling him that they contained lists of Danish fishing vessels, and brought them safely to Copenhagen. Two days later the man who wrote the report containing this story was caught by the Gestapo and spent fifteen months in a concentration camp. All the persons concerned were Scouts.

The geographical position of Denmark made the smuggling of arms into the country by Danish partisans somewhat easier than it was in other countries. The bulk of the weapons came from England, most of it dropped by parachute, but on occasion carried by sea, in ships which were met by Danish fishing-boats some 270 miles from the coast. After transshipment, the arms were landed at various spots in Denmark, as much as four and a half tons of machine-guns, pistols and hand grenades being thus safely smuggled. "We began discharging at midnight on the quay, only seventy-five metres from the German guard," runs the report of one Scouter. "Everything went swimmingly. The goods were loaded on to a lorry and looked like cases of fish. Two hours later we were ready to get it off to a depot two miles outside the town. The guards reported everything all right, when suddenly forty German soldiers came marching along in the darkness in such a way that our car nearly ran into the whole force. Only by turning the car into the s oft edge of the road was a collision avoided. But the car got stuck in the roadside and we felt quite sure that we were done for. There was wild confusion among the soldiers, together with the usual crying and screaming which characterises these people. Quietly the rest of us made ready to shoot, being prepared for the worst. We were agreed to sell our lives as dearly as possible. But the Germans had no suspicion. We worked hard to get the car out, but all in vain. What else was to be done than to ask the Germans to help us? So we did, and the car got out. The Germans marched on. We went on to our ammunition dump, but it must be admitted that our hearts were throbbing wildly."

The arms and explosives so smuggled were used for sabotage and to give the saboteurs, many of them ex-Scouts, a chance to defend themselves if necessary. One consignment reaching Denmark in 1944 had been dropped on a small island, the arms consisting of a few carbines with ammunition. Three Scouters were sent to collect them, and eventually brought them to the mainland inside an ambulance which the Germans, as a favour, allowed them to ship on a ferry reserved for the Wehrmacht.

Thus this consignment of arms was carried surrounded by the men against whom it was designed to use them. On another occasion a Danish Scout induced a German soldier to help him push his tricycle up a steep hill. Upon the carrier was a large wooden case marked "Fresh Fruit." It contained automatic pistols. It was constantly necessary to shift depots of arms from one place to another so as to minimise the chance of their discovery. During one of these operations a battle broke out between the Germans and the Danes, and a cordon was thrown across the street in which the arms depot was situated. Fortunately the quantity was small and could be concealed in a pram. It was, though the baby protested strongly against lying on a bed composed of "knobbly automatic." Two former Scouts went to blow up a turn-table and succeeded in doing so despite a cordon of guards which the Germans had thrown across the mouths of all streets leading to the yard where it was situated. The moment the explosion was heard these guards arrested every one in the street. Only two men were allowed through the cordon. They were in evening dress, very drunk and much inclined to song. These were the saboteurs. The leader of a sabotage gang was hit by nine bullets and taken by his friends to a hospital to be treated. "Fearing that the Gestapo might find him there," the report runs, "we fetched him the next day in an ambulance which we had ‘borrowed’ for the occasion. Everything worked well, but when we were about to leave the hospital it occurred t o us that it would be better if the nurses could tell the story that they had been exposed to a hold-up. A Scout-fellow of mine made the following arrangement. ‘Ladies,’ he said, ‘now you must promise not to be frightened. In a moment I produce a pistol-a tiny little one-which is properly secured.’ So he did and placed the pistol on the flat of his hand. ‘Now, ladies, you know what a pistol looks like, and when the Gestapo arrives to examine you, you declare that you have been brought to silence and held up by masked saboteurs armed with revolvers.’ The nurses were quite on and acted accordingly."

Sabotage parties were not always successful. One of them, composed for the most part of Scouts, failed to destroy a large and heavily guarded factory on the outskirts of Copenhagen, for they were discovered by "the man with a dog," a German soldier in charge of an Alsatian. He gave the alarm and they had to fight their way out, but lived to profit from the experience and subsequently to do much damage. Better fortune attended the destruction of a large ship taken over by the Germans, who used it for the transport of stores and war material. The leader of the sabotage party, a former Scout, came down to the quay-side with a fishing rod across his shoulders. He began to fish some distance from the ship but gradually moved closer until he was very near its hull . His fishing rod had been specially prepared and, instead of a hook on the end of the line, there was a powerful magnet which, when he was near enough to the ship, attached itself to her hull. The "fisherman" cut the line and repeated the same process wit h another line and another magnet farther along the hull. At the other end of the severed lines, delayed-action bombs were tied and slipped gently into the water. They went off an hour later and blew out the ship’s bottom.

The courage and intelligence of two Scouters once obtained a large consignment of petrol for the Resistance Movement. They stalked a tanker lorry manned by two Germans and a driver, which visited various filling stations and extracted the petrol from each until its tank was full. It was indeed brimming over when the two Scouters held the Germans up with pistols, disarmed and tied them up and then "thanked them for their work of three hours’ hard pumping" before leaving with the tanker lorry.

The most beneficial action which any Danish Scout performed during the war was, beyond question, the taking of photographs of an experimental German V 1 bomb, and the successful dispatch of them to Sweden. One of these bombs, with a concrete warhead, fired from Peenemunde, crashed on the island of Bornholm. A Danish Scout happened to be at work a mile away. He at once took his camera, ran to the spot and photographed the bomb from every angle. He had barely finished when the inevitable German guards arrived and flung a cordon round the missile. Two days later the Scout stole a small sailing boat and crossed to Sweden with a crew of five. They had but one compass among them, and with some difficulty eluded a number of German vessels in the Sound. Arrived at Stockholm, the Scout immediately handed the photographs and a description of the bomb to the right quarter.

With not quite so strong a motive, perhaps, as that animating the Scouts of other occupied countries, for until towards the end of the war the persecution of the Danes was not so severe as it was elsewhere, the Danish Scouts nevertheless showed the same qualities of resistance as their less fortunate brethren, and in this did good service to their country.


The invasion of Norway followed twenty-four hours after that of Denmark. The Norwegians are a stout-hearted people, as modest as they are brave. Like the Danes, they were taken utterly by surprise, and the swiftness of the German coup left them utterly amazed. At one moment they had been a peaceful neutral country worried, it is true, by the demands of the British and French on the one hand, who complained that German shipping was using the safety of their territorial waters-there had been more than a little trouble concerning the Altmark of evil memory -and on the other by German diplomatic pressure, which was steadily increasing. It had not seemed to their Government and their King, however, that a crisis was upon them, when it fell, swooping down with the speed, precision and sudden dash of one of their own eagles.

The country was for a moment paralysed. All forms of corporate activity, Scouting included, ceased, but the Scouts remained and at once began to show their mettle. The arrival of the Germans in Oslo and Bergen was the signal for something not far short of panic. The Scouts stepped in at once and did their duty. "I saw Scouts absolutely cool-headed," reports a Scout Leader, "trying to stop people panicking on that tenth day of April. In all big towns Scouts helped the police, the fire brigade, the hospitals, etc. I remember in Oslo things were not very clear and it was not possible to know who was friend or who foe. Then one fellow, Helge Inster, who was formerly the King’s Commissioner for Scouts, was sent by the medical people to find out the situation as t o what was needed in the way of sanitary, first-aid, etc., in the country. On this expedition he had a Scout with him who was a young medical student and when they came back he said, ‘We are going to make up three expeditions and you must take charge of on e of them,’ and this fellow said, ‘I am only a young student; I can’t take charge.’ Then Inster said, ‘I know that but you are a Scout."’ He took charge.

As in Oslo, so it was elsewhere. Scoutmasters and Scouts were to the fore calming the people. They were heartened by a letter sent to them by the Chief Scout of Norway. "Now that war is here," he said, "it is no use asking why and for how long. What counts is to make the best of conditions as they are," and he went on to urge the Scouts to learn every lesson they could and to remember how much depended on them, especially in times of adversity such as had now fallen upon the country. "There will be need for self-sacrifice and mutual help," he said, "and remember, however difficult things may be for you, there are always others who are worse off." He ended by urging them to continue Scouting as much as it was possible, and at all times to bear themselves as Scouts should.

They never forgot this advice through the long years of oppression which awaited them. At first, as in Denmark, the Germans behaved well and Scouting began to lift its head. Two months after the invasion many Troops found themselves able to organise the usual summer camps, and those which could not resumed their Scout training. This period, however, did not last for any length of time, for Quisling and that very small part of the population who supported him founded a Youth Movement which they intended should swallow up the Boy Scouts of Norway. It was well organised, but as the months went by it still remained strangely short of recruits, even though the Germans were well in the saddle. By autumn, 1941, it was obvious that persuasion would yield no result and, true to type, the Germans fell back on force. Scouting in Norway was suppressed. No reasons were given. Some thought that the motives were political, others that the Scouts were by then closely connected with the Resistance Movement, an inevitable consequence of the invasion of any country by the Germans. Both opinions were correct.

The suppression of the Norwegian Scouts was made easier by the unhappy defection of one of their travelling secretaries. He was a quisling and had been deep in the confidence of the Nazis long before war broke out. His knowledge served them in good stead, for he knew the number and size of Troops, the whereabouts of their headquarters, and what funds and equipment they possessed. Having been instructed by the Germans to liquidate the Scout Movement in his country, he issued a proclamation ordering all Scout Troops to cease training and to deliver up their uniforms. A notice was sent to every Bank in Norway to place the Scout funds on deposit there at the disposal of the Nazi Youth Organisation.

For this and other acts of treachery the quisling-his name is best forgotten-eventually paid the penalty and is now undergoing eight years of rigorous imprisonment.

The Scouts in Oslo decided to save as many of their uniforms and as much of their equipment as they could. Each, therefore, divided what he had into two parcels, one containing old, worn-out clothing, the other everything that was new, strong, or still serviceable. This done, they all waited until the last day of the period ordained by the terms of the proclamation for handing in uniforms and stores. They then went in a body to the depot, which was soon besieged by scores of Scouts and Guides, all eager, as it seemed, to fulfil the law, but inevitably causing the utmost confusion. The receiving authorities were overwhelmed, as the Scouts had hoped they would be. Each Scout and Guide handed in the first parcel only, that containing the bad and unserviceable uniform. They then waited, wondering whether the Germans would ask for the second parcel. Being far too concerned, however, with the first flood, they did not invite the onrush of a second. The Scouts and Guides left with the good material under their arms, and they kept it until the day of liberation. In the lonely country places, however, in the mountains and on the skerries, the Scouts were not so fortunate. All their homes were visited by SS troops or Quisling police and searched and all their Scout belongings removed from them. "Jens has been crying all day," wrote a mother in Norway to her sister in the United States, the Germans came last night and took his Scout uniform, his rucksack, his hike tent, his axe and his knife." Jens was twelve years old, an d to ‘smile and whistle’ in the face of this disaster was more than he could accomplish.

Having been forbidden, the Scout Movement, as in other countries, went underground. In a country like Norway, sparsely populated, with few towns and great stretches of forest and mountain, this was not difficult. Ostensibly the Scouts obeyed orders and were careful not to be seen wearing badges or any article of clothing which might connect them with the forbidden movement. In secret they continued Scouting. Many joined the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A., thus being able to combine welfare with Scouting work. M any of the older boys and most of the Scouters joined the Resistance Movement, which occupied all their time and led in only too many instances to imprisonment and to death.

A perusal of the reports shows that despite difficulties caused on the one hand by the occupying Power, which had suppressed them, and on the other by the demands of the Resistance Movement, which were not far short of insatiable, the Scouts continued to enroll new members and to maintain their training. In one small provincial town, for example, by the spring Of 1942 one Patrol had begun work again and was presently split up into eight. Before the year was out, two Troops had been formed, meetings being held in the open countryside and sometimes in the public meeting-houses of the town. In addition to training, the Scouts performed daily good turns to persons "whose working power had been ruined by the Germans in various ways"-a sinister phrase-by looking after their gardens and making sure that they were properly cultivated. Potatoes, a staple crop in that northern land, were sown and lifted at the proper seasons, firewood was collected against the bitter cold of winter. All the time, whenever they could, these Patrols indulged in "illegal athletics with great enthusiasm." At Whitsun, 1943, they held a camp attended by some sixty Scouts, most of the tents used having been "acquired" from the occupying Power.

A Troop near Oslo formed a special Patrol, The Owls, to serve as a nucleus against the time when Scouting would be legally resumed. Though much of the regular training had been abandoned, much was retained and a steady trickle of recruits from young boys f lowed in. Meetings were held in a hut 200 years old, of which the main feature was a chimney with the disconcerting habit of falling down, usually during the height of a discussion. As the war progressed, the number of Scouts in this Troop increased, but t he number of Owls fell off. They had grown older and had joined the Underground. The report on their activities is typical of many others, and all tell the same story-suppression in September, 1941, Underground work till the spring of 1944, and then a transfer en masse of the older members from the Troop to the Underground Movement. In another town the boys made themselves useful as orderlies in the hospital of St. Joseph and the first-aid station, and served as auxiliaries to the Police and as messengers. One of their best loved elder Scouts was presently arrested and died in a concentration camp. His example seems to have fired the boys, for they redoubled their exertions in every field until their Scoutmaster was told by a townsman whom he met one day in t he street, "Every boy had done his ‘little best’ to help the country. The town may be proud of its Scouts."

The crisis for this Troop, as for others, came in 1944 when the Germans made a great effort to conscript the youth of Norway, whom they sought to pattern after the Arbeitsdienst. To escape it, all who were old enough disappeared into the Underground. Those who did not performed many little acts of sabotage on the sly. "Never breathe a word about your work," exhorted one Scouter. "Many people have been sent to the wall, to prison or to concentration camps, not because the Germans are so clever, but because other people have talked too much." These words, and similar exhortations to silence from others, were well heeded throughout the war. The number of Troops and Patrols meeting and training literally in the midst of the Germans was very large, yet not one of their members ever said a word. "The whole house was requisitioned by the Wehrmacht and the Scouts had to find other quarters. Their new headquarters were right in the centre of the town, in the same building which the Germans also used…." "There were a great number of soldiers in our building right in front of the -windows…." "The older boys were summoned to form a new Troop of senior Scouts surrounded by German bunkers and bayonets…." "A very enthusiastic Nazi lived right under us, consequently we could not sing so very much, but he had to put up with the Scout Prayer…." No wonder the Germans were baffled.

Unlike Dutch, Belgian and Danish Cubs, Norwegian Cubs were used by the Underground for the performance of certain duties. These were mostly the carrying of messages and "it was very strange and wonderful how these young boys kept their heads and held their tongues." A British agent, dropped into Norway by parachute, was very much impressed by the admirable help he received from very young boys. They knew only too well that they were risking their lives but they never said a word. "Small boys," reports the a gent, "who before the war had known nothing about Germans, got really to hate them. They developed a natural resistance to them and maintained it through the long years, which was extraordinary when you come to think of it, for they were very young and might have been expected to be excited at first and then to tire of the excitement and mystery as month after month went by."

As in other occupied countries, individual Scouts paid the penalty for their bravery, some comparatively lightly by making Norway too hot to hold them and having, therefore, to flee to England. Of these Victor Carlson was one. In peace-time he had been in charge of a coastguard service manned by Scouts. In war it was transformed into a centre for the dispatch of messages giving the position of German ships. Their success in this dangerous work was very great and they earned the commendation of the Board of Admiralty. Before the war was ended, Carlson became the leader of the Norwegian Boy Scouts in Britain, an association made up of young men and boys, all of whom had had to flee their native land. Some of them had come from as far as Spitzbergen, travelling back with the British forces after the Commando raid on that island in August, 1941.

The method of escape to England, or more frequently Scotland, was almost invariably by fishing vessel. Often it was no easy passage. Olaf Reed Olsen, for example, a boy of eighteen in 1940, found it necessary to leave Norway in a hurry at the end of that y ear. With two companions he set out across the North Sea against a westerly wind. In four days they had made the coast of Scotland when a heavy gale developed which blew their boat back to the shores of Denmark, twice capsizing it. Exhausted though they we re, they determined not to land upon the shores of a country held by the enemy, put about, and began to beat back towards England, eventually reaching the English Channel where they were sighted by a destroyer. They refused, however, to abandon their vessel, which was hoisted on board. "I have heard plenty of stories about the Norwegian Vikings," was the comment of the destroyer’s captain, "but yours beats them all." The gale which had driven them to Denmark had sent the patrolling vessels of the Royal Navy back to their bases. Olsen is now returned to Norway, where he runs a Troop of Scouts, to whom he says that if it had not been for his Scout training and the general attitude of Scouts towards life, he could never have brought his small craft successfully to the end of so perilous a voyage.

Olsen had good fortune, Eric Knoll had not. At the age of fifteen this young Scout became a member of a Resistance group. An expert map-reader and woodsman, he made ninety trips across the Swedish border helping agents, refugees and others to escape from Norway. Then one day he was captured. The Germans knew enough about him to know that he had much information. They therefore tortured him but he would not speak. Eventually they cast him into a cell half-filled with water, in which he could neither sit nor lie, and there they left him for many days. But still he would not speak, and presently they took him to a concentration camp where, at the age of eighteen, he died.

Odd Starheim, a Scoutmaster from near Flekkefjord, organised resistance in South-west Norway, landing from a submarine near Egersund in January, 1941. Before six months had passed he had sent over one hundred wireless messages, including the first news that the German battleship Bismarck had sailed for the North Atlantic. Returning to England in the summer of that year, he went, back to Norway in January, 1942, being dropped by parachute as part of a special unit. A few weeks passed and he was arrested by mistake. The Gestapo had come to arrest his host, suspected of illegal propaganda. Starheim asked to go to the lavatory, knowing that it had two doors. He slipped through one, out of the other and jumped from a first-storey window on to a road where he was picked up by the driver of a passing van and so got clear away. Norway was now getting too hot, so he and five friends boarded a coastal steamer the Galtesund, of 6oo tons carrying stores on the regular Christiansun-Bergen run. When out of sight of land, Starheim held up the man at the wheel with a revolver, the captain was dealt with, and the ship headed for Scotland. On the way a signal was sent to the Admiralty which provided air escort and a trawler to take the vessel through the minefields to the harbour of Aberdeen. A few weeks passed and Starheim became a member of a Norwegian Independent Company under the joint control of the Special Forces and the Norwegian High Command. They made several raids in a Norwegian whaler, the Bodo, which was subsequently sunk by a mine. On the 1st January, 1943, Starheim now a Lieutenant with the D.S.O., in command of a small highly-trained force, forty-two strong, began guerrilla operations in Norway, but misfortune dogged him and his attempt to destroy the "Titania" mine at Sogndal failed. Reinforcements sent to him were scattered by a storm and he set about extricating his small force. Repeating his former achievement, he seized the coastal steamer Tromoysund and in her began the voyage to Scotland. All went well until the escorting aircraft of Coastal Command were obliged to return to base to refuel. During their absence the Tromoysund was attacked by a Focke Wulfe 190 and sunk. Starheim’s body was washed up on the Scottish coast many weeks later and was subsequently taken to Norway to his own village churchyard where he now lies.

In that year, 1943, another brave Norwegian Scout, Knut Haugland-he was to win both the D.S.O. and the M.C.-was involved with eleven other Scouts in the attack on the "heavy Water" installations in Norway which the Germans hoped to use in connection with t heir attempts to produce the atomic bomb. More fortunate than Starheim, he survived the war and set out in 1947 on the Kon-Tiki expedition to prove the ethnological theory that, many thousands of years ago, a movement of races took place between Peru and Tahiti. He and a number of others drifted across the South Pacific towards Kon-Tiki on a wireless-equipped raft. By the end of that year two-thirds of their vast journey had been successfully accomplished.

"Heavy water" (deuterium oxide) is used in nuclear physics for harnessing atomic energy. Its production-a singularly slow process-was of importance to the Germans in their search for atomic means of destruction and their only considerable source in Europe during the war was the Norsk Hydro Hydrogen Electrolysis Plant at Vemork, in the deep Norwegian valley of Rjukan. The destruction of this plant was of great importance to the Allies, and the story of how this was done must be given a place of honour in the record of what Norwegian Scouts accomplished in the war, for the planning, mounting and control of the operation were in Scout hands. The technical adviser in London, Professor Lief Tronstad, O.B.E., was a Scout in Trondheim, and, of the twelve men actually engaged in the operation, eight had been Scouts.

Einar Skinnerland was an old Rjukan Scout, and had come to Scotland in March, 1942, in the coastal steamer Galtesund with the gallant Starheim. He was given a week’s intensive training and parachuted back into Norway ten days after he had landed in Aberdeen. He was to stay there in Rjukan and find out all he could about German intentions in regard to the "heavy water" plant. In October, 1942, an advance party of four men, three being Scouts, were dropped on the high Hardangervidda plateau, west of Rjukan. T he wireless operator was Knut Haugland, another was Claus Helberg, of whom the leader of the party wrote: "Claus travelled to Barunuten and back, a distance of fifty miles, under terrible going conditions, and proved the saying ‘A man who is a man goes on till he can do no more, and then goes twice as far.’"

To join these four men and with them to do the deed, a glider force of thirty British Special Service troops left Scotland on the 19th November but disaster overtook them. One aircraft and both gliders crashed almost two hundred kilometres southwest of Vemork. The few survivors were "interrogated," and, in the best traditions of German fair play, were shortly afterwards shot. The entry in the advance party’s log for 20th November reads: London’s radio message about the glider disaster was a hard blow. It was sad and bitter, especially as the weather in our part of the country improved. But we are happy to hear that another attempt would be made in the next moon period."

The difficulties of attack were multiplied. Well aware of the gliders’ objective, the Reichkommissar and Colonel-General von Falkenhorst inspected Vemork; the Rjukan garrison was increased; the area was combed for saboteurs. A second attempt to land was prevented by weather. "…To make matters worse," runs the entry in the log for 13th December, "everybody except myself went sick with fever and pains in the stomach. We were short of food and were obliged to begin eating reindeer-moss. Knut found a Krag rifle and some cartridges. I went out every day after the reindeer, but the weather was bad and I could find none. Our supply of dry wood came to an end…." On the 23rd December "the weather cleared and at last I shot a reindeer. We celebrated a happy Christmas."

A third attempt was made in January. The operational party flew over but mist obscured all landmarks and the six Norwegians who composed it returned to Scotland. These men-of whom four were Scouts, including the leader, Captain Joachim Ronneberg, D.S.O., of the Aalesund Troop-had been selected for their military knowledge, physical fitness, skiing proficiency, and, above all, for their character. At last, at midnight on the 16th February, 1943, they landed safely on Norwegian soil. "The jump was made from a thousand feet. One package, containing four rucksacks, landed and was dragged by a wind-filled parachute for some two kilometres before coming to rest in an open ice crack from which it was salvaged." The party were dropped thirty miles north-west of the advance party because of the increased enemy activity in Rjukan, and a journey of thirty miles in the Norwegian winter can take as long as one of 300 in warmer, flatter country. By 24th February, however, all ten men had met and the two leaders could prepare their plans for the attack. Their operation orders ended with the sentence: "If any man is about to be taken prisoner, he undertakes to end his own life."

On the night of 27th February, Claus Heiberg led the way down to Vemork. "Skis and rucksacks were hidden close to the power-line cutting, from which we began a steep and slippery descent to the river at 10 p.m. On the river the ice was about to break up. T here was only one practicable snow-bridge with three inches of water over it. From the river we clambered up sheer rock-face for about 150 metres to the Vemork railway line. We advanced to within 500 metres of the factory’s railway gate…. Here we waited till 12-3o a.m. and watched the relief guard coming up from the bridge…."

A bite of food, a final assurance that each man knew what he had to do, and the advance to some store-sheds about 100 metres from the gates began. One man went forward and, with a pair of armourer’s shears, easily opened the factory gates. Once inside, the covering party took up temporary positions while the demolition party opened a second gate ten metres below the first. At a given sign, the covering party advanced towards the German guard-hut while the demolition party moved to the door of the factory cellar through which it was hoped to enter. It was locked. "We were unable to force it, nor did we have any success with the door of the floor above. Through a window of the high concentration plant, where our target lay, a man could be seen." Meanwhile, the covering party, in position round the guard-hut, passed a breathless moment when the door of the hut was flung open and a German non-commissioned officer stood silhouetted against the light. He looked round, listening. Barely four yards away four men had him covered, one with a tommy-gun. After a few seconds, which passed like hours, he turned and went in, closing the door behind him.

In their search for the cable-tunnel-their only remaining method of entry-the demolition party became separated. One of them found it, and, followed by another, "crept in over a tangled mass of pipes and leads…. We decided to carry on the demolition alone. We entered a room adjacent to the target, found the door of the high concentration plant open, went on and took the guard completely by surprise. I began to place the charges. This went quickly and easily. The models on which we had practised in England were exact duplicates of the real plant." At this point two others joined them, and the charge was checked before ignition. Then both fuses were lit and the captive guard was told to run to safety. He blurted out that he had lost his spectacles and could not possibly secure another pair in Norway. There was a frenzied search and the spectacles were found. "We left the room," writes Captain Ronneberg, "and twenty yards outside the cellar door we heard the explosion. Our sentry at the main entrance was recalled from his post. We passed through the gate and climbed up to the railway track. For a moment I looked back down the line and listened. Except for the faint hum of machinery that we had heard when we arrived, everything in the factory was quiet."

The two parties withdrew independently. Ronneberg led four men across the Swedish border, a journey of 250 miles on skis in conditions of great hardship. Knut Haukelid, D.S.O., M.C., remained behind to organise resistance farther west among the mountains. The advance party, after waiting to report results, dispersed, leaving only Einar Skinnerland and Claus Helberg.

He had a narrow escape when, rounding the corner of a hill, he came suddenly face to face with three Germans who began to shoot. He turned and fled on his skis, but found that one of the enemy would inevitably outdistance him. He fired a shot from his pistol, calculating that, at that distance, the man who emptied his magazine first would lose. He stood there as a target until the German had emptied his Luger pistol, and was turning to retreat. Claus sent a bullet after him, and the German staggered and stopped, hanging over his ski-sticks. Claus made off. A little later, in the darkness, he went over a cliff and fell forty metres, damaging his right shoulder and breaking his right arm. After various adventures, from the unpleasant consequences of which he saved himself by his courage and resource, he returned to Great Britain. In the autumn of 1944 he went back to Rjukan with a party to protect the Norsk Hydro plant from German demolitions. Colonel-General von Falkenhorst visited Vermork immediately after the explosion and described the operation as "the best coup I have ever seen." Mr. Winston Churchill characterised it as "completely successful" and wrote in the margin of the report upon it: "What is being done for these brave men in the way of decorations? " The German guards were punished and the patrols reinforced.

Keeping up the pressure, the Eighth United States Air Force attacked Vemork on the 16th November, 1943, but, owing to the mountainous terrain, little damage was done. For the Germans, however, it was the final straw. They decided to abandon Vemork and remove all stocks of "heavy water" to Germany. Messages were sent to Knut Haukelid and Einar Skinnerland to join forces and destroy the stocks in transit. On 10th February, 1944, Haukelid asked permission to sink the ferry-boat Hydro on Lake Tinnsj which would carry the containers down to the railway at Tinnoset for shipment from Skien to Germany.

The enemy took every precaution save one. SS troops were drafted into the Rjukan valley; two aircraft patrolled the mountains each day; guards were stationed on the factory line from Vemork to the ferry quay. The containers, loaded on to railway vans at Vemork under strong guard, were flood-lit at night with many guards round them. But, by some freak of chance, not a German was posted on the ferry-boat.

Haukelid and two friends-one of them Gunnar Syverstad, another Rjukan Scout-boarded the Hydro at 2 a.m. on Sunday, 20th February, 1944, leaving a third in charge of their car. They persuaded a Norwegian guard that they were fleeing from the Gestapo and he allowed them into the bilges of the boat, where they crept up to the bows and laid explosive charges there, hoping that the explosion would lift the stern of the ferry and render it unnavigable. The charges were coupled to two time-delay mechanisms made by Haukelid from alarm clocks, and the time was set for 10-45, because Haukelid had found out that the ferry should be at the deepest part of the lake at this time. "At 4 a.m. the job was finished, so we left. The car took us to Jondal and we were in Oslo the same Sunday evening." It was as easy as that, but it could have been far otherwise.

Einar Skinnerland’s part had been to collect information about the operation. On that Sunday afternoon, he sent a happy signal to London which said that shortly before 11 a.m. the Hydro had gone down after an explosion and that the vans with the "heavy water" were sunk in the deepest part of Tinnsji Lake.

So it was that the manufacture of "heavy water" ceased in Norway and that all stocks available to German scientists were lost. The Allied reply was the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August, 1945- Major Lief Tronstad did not live to see that day, and Gunnar Syverstad died with him; Einar Skinnerland had remained in Rjukan identifying himself with the Norsk Hydro Electric Plant until after V.E. Day, when he emerged as the District Leader of the Home Forces in Rjukan and North Telemark. His wee k’s training had been put to good account.

When the day of liberation came, Scouts appeared all over Norway, thrusting up, as it were, like rabbits from a burrow. The organisation was overwhelmed with demands from boys to be allowed to join openly a movement which so many of them had supported in secret. Foreign observers bear witness to the universal enthusiasm. The Scoutmaster of the 38th Bradford East, West Riding, Yorkshire, group, J. E. Yarborough, who landed with the Airborne Division, saw Scout badges worn everywhere when he reached Oslo. He was soon surrounded by Norwegian Scouts of the 24th Oslo Troop, who sent cordial messages to their English brothers. Their uniforms and those of the other Troops had been handed in, and the Germans had sent them to be re-made to a Norwegian clothing factor y for issue to the Quisling Youth Movement. Though not a Scout himself, its manager, whose son was, had had other views and had hidden them, issuing to the quislings uniforms made of material obtained with much difficulty from other sources. When Yarborough arrived the old uniforms had just been reissued amid scenes of great rejoicing. Another English Scout, Assistant Scoutmaster Roy Marian of the 3rd Bilston Troop, also records the warm welcome he received from the Norwegian Scouts, who pushed him to a corner "where questions and answers were flung to and fro in broken English." His left hand felt "as though it would drop off," so often had it been shaken.

It was reserved for the Chief Scout of Norway, the Reverend Hans Moller Gasmann, to give point to the great day of liberation. Soon after the Germans had thrown down their arms he held a service in the largest church in Oslo where, addressing the Scouts, h e urged them, now that freedom had come, to do each and all of them what they could to rebuild their country. To this exhortation they have most wholeheartedly responded, and no Norwegian citizen has done more than the Boy Scouts to repair the ravages of war. The Norwegians are a modest people, shy of describing their own deeds, but "By their work ye shall know them," and among all groups of resistance in all countries the Norwegians were, in the view of those best qualified to know, given pride of place. This high tribute they owe as much to their Scouts as to any one else. Scouting in Norway abundantly proved itself between 1940 and 1945.

  Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948
Chapter IV: Resolution. Scouting in Occupied Countries
Part One: Czechoslovakia and Poland
Part Two: Denmark and Norway
Part Three: Luxembourg
Part Four: Holland
Part Five: Belgium
Part Six: France
Part Seven: Greece, Yugoslavia and Hungary
Part Eight: Channel Islands and Countries Occupied by Japan
Return to the Foreward and Table of Contents

Return to the Pine Tree Web Home Page

Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to:
Lewis P. Orans
Ralf Bell (Ralf.Bell@uni.duesseldorf.de)

Copyright © Lewis P. Orans & Ralf Bell, 1997
Last Modified: 12:17 PM on August 3, 1997