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The Shetland Bus

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  385 ratings  ·  54 reviews
A WWII Epic of Escape, Survival and Adventure.

The occupation of Western Europe and Scandinavia in the spring of 1940 crippled Britain's ability to gather intelligence information. After the Germans invaded Norway, many Norwegians knew that small boats were constantly sailing from the Shetland Islands to land weapons, supplies, and agents and to rescue refugees.
Paperback, 248 pages
Published February 1st 2001 by The Lyons Press (first published 1951)
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A.L. Sowards
This book chronicles the work of a British and Norwegian unit based on Shetland Island during WWII that ferried men and equipment to German-occupied Norway and brought back refugees. The author was one of the British officers involved in the relatively small unit. He was never allowed to sail to Norway (he would stick out if he had to land, plus he knew too much to risk going behind enemy lines), but he worked with and debriefed the men, so he was in a unique position to record events and write ...more

Copyright © The Literary Estate of David Howarth, 1998

First published in Great Britain by
James Nelson and Sons Ltd 1951

From the Foreword: During the war a group of small Norwegian boats manned by Norwegian refugees, normally with a background as fishermen, maintained a route between The Shetland Islands and occupied Norway.

Opening: SAGA is an old Norse word which meant simply a story. But from its association with the kind of story which ancient Norseman liked to tell, it has come to mean a story of heroism and endeavour, and of adve
Dec 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am not usually a fan of war stories but was interested in this book because of its connection to Shetland. The books starts somewhat slowly describing all the technical aspects of running Norwegian fishing boats from Shetland to Norway under the noses of the Nazis. The sheer impossibility of what they did amazed me. The stories of the boats that didn't make it and what happened to those men were tragic but fascinating. Towards the end I couldn't put the book down in order to read the story of ...more
Nov 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-ii
During World War II when Norway was invaded and occupied by the Germans, there was an essential spy ring that operated on the Shetland Islands. Captains and crews of small boats braved the temperatures of the Arctic winters, the unexpected squally weather and the threat of being attacked by German boats and planes all under the cover of darkness. The trips to transport necessary weapons and supplies as well as transporting agents and refugees were long (some were thousands of miles and took up t ...more
P.S. Winn
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the story of a little know event. Written by David Howarth, who was second in command of the Shetland base. The journey tells of the trips made by fishing boats resisting the Nazi atrocities.
Linda Harkins
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I knew absolutely nothing of this operation before reading David Howarth's book. Small fishing boats constantly sailed the North Sea between the Shetland Islands and Bergen, Norway (180 miles as the crow flies), during WWII to deliver munitions and radio equipment and agents and to pick up refugees bound for England. The Shetland Bus, as this operation was known, could offer escape when there was no other option. David Howarth thinks this mission for which he served as second in command was a wo ...more
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Saw this on the Kindle deal of the day, missed it that day, and went ahead and paid the full price because it looked so interesting. Glad that I did. It was fascinating. I can't believe that no one has picked it up to write a screenplay and make a movie of it. And as you read it, you know that there are so many many more stories than the author knew or could write about fully. It is put forth in an almost documentary style, but that didn't take anything away from it. There were many who lived an ...more
Merry Rabb
Nov 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I don't often read non-fiction historical accounts, but I loved this one. I have visited the Shetland Islands but hadn't heard much about the "Shetland Bus" until recently when I saw a reference to it in a work of fiction. Written by one of the British officers who helped run the mission, this book tells the story of this mission which used small Norwegian fishing boats to travel between the Shetland Islands and Norway during the German occupation of Norway. They delivered weapons, supplies and ...more
Ingrid Ytterland
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have been struggling to find information on my great-uncle, William Enoksen, and this book gave me a great view of what he did during ww2. Greatly written and researched.
Beautifully written (not as many pages as Goodreads says it is by the way). There's an old copy of this book around somewhere (my grandparents having lived on Shetland for a while) but I was reading this new edition, the first actually published there, and it has some additions although the original text is reproduced as was.
The story of the Shetland Bus, the lines of communication between Shetland and Norway kept open during the second world war, is one of great courage and it is told with com
Nathan Albright
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge
This book, which was written by the late English historian who was also profoundly involved in espionage efforts in occupied Norway during World War II, is obviously the work of someone of great skill who is writing a war memoir that manages to give a great deal of honor and praise to the brave volunteer Norwegian refugees in the Shetlands who helped popularize a new expression in Norwegian and show their loyalty to the Allied cause during that nation's dark hour under German misrule. The expres ...more
Andy Renals
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Shetland Bus is not about buses in a conventional sense - it is a term used for the fishing vessels and their crews, sailing between Shetland and Norway during World War 2.

Having visited Shetland during the month of January, to witness Up Helly Aa, I have some small experience of getting to the islands by sea. That trip was aboard the CalMac ferry from Aberdeen, a sizeable vessel that was delayed leaving because of the sea-state. The adverse weather and battering waves that we encountered e
Paul S
Mar 18, 2019 rated it liked it
If you are a fan of history and particularly of WWII this book is for you. It focuses on an almost hidden part of the history of the war. Norway was invaded by Germany and completely cut off from the world. In response, Britain recruited Norwegian fishermen to operate Norwegian fishing boats from a base in the Shetland Islands. These boats blended in with the thousands of legitimate fishing boats in and around Norway and were able to supply the Norwegian resistance, insert British agents and rem ...more
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I recently finished "Red Bones" by Anne Cleeves where the Shetland Bus was mentioned and it interested me. I have never been to the Shetland Islands but have been to the Resistance museum in Oslo and don't remember a reference. The author of this 1951 book was one of the commanders of an outpost of the Royal Navy that prepared Norwegian boats and mostly fishermen to make secretive trips back and forth to Norway taking materials and trained agents into Norway and bringing out people who were thre ...more
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is a pleasure to read well researched, well written history, but one step above that is reading about the historic event written by an accomplished historian who took part in the event. Author David Howarth has produced thoughtful, well-regarded histories of persons, ships, battles, incidents and periods spanning from 1066 to the 20th century. This story describes a little known spy/resistance, refugee rescue and infiltration operation along the north coast of Norway that took place throughou ...more
Pat Delwiche
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What I liked best about the book was the author’s tone- humble, willing to acknowledge the bravery of his crew, always aware of his responsibility for their lives. His descriptions of crew members were colorful but not overly so. The book was a good introduction to the role of the Norwegian resistance in WW II.
Nanci Scott
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an interesting and well-written book about an operation carried out during WW II that I had never heard about. It became known to me when I watched "Shetland" a Netflix police/crime series which takes place on the Shetland Islands north of Scotland. Reading this author makes me want to read some of his historical novels.
The true story of espionage, smuggling, and sabotage carried out by Norwegian fishermen and fishing boats based in the Shetland Islands. Refugees who were forced to flee from the Gestapo, referred to their journey as, "taking the Shetland Bus."
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent story of WWII in the Shetland Islands and Norway. The extraordinary people who risked their lives evacuating persons from Norway and supplying the Norwegian resistance movement are highlighted here along with the Shetlands ties to Norse history.
Lois Mitchell
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a history book that reads like an adventure book. Follow the daring journeys across the North Sea in winter to provide resources and money to Nazi-occupied Norway. Mr. Howard's book, We Did Alone, traces the story of one failed mission and the miraculous survival of one man.
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After visiting Scalloway in Shetland this summer, I was keen to understand more about the brave Norwegian fishermen who kept the Shetland Bus going during World War Two. This is a great account by someone who was part of it.
Sep 17, 2017 added it
Shelves: history, memoir, wwii
I definitely enjoyed this more for being at least somewhat familiar with the coast of Norway, but it's a neat story regardless. Lots of brave and resourceful sailors, but I appreciated that Howarth made a point of not glorifying warfare itself.
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Just the Facts

I had trouble finishing this book because it was one war story after another. The characters were not developed and too numerous. The author's portrayal of the bravery of the crews and the willingness of the rescuers to risk all makes the book have value.
Erik Johnson
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A part of WWII you don't hear about.
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful presentation of a little-known part of World War II history.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting and well written. Enjoyed it very much.
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read about the role the Shetland Islands and fisherfolk played during WWII.
Heidi Bakk-Hansen
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Historical account of the Shetland Bus operation during WWII. Interesting, but not as immersive as his other books. Definitely an important read for those studying the Norwegian resistance.
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little dry on the writing, but an excellent history if a little known part of WW2
An excellent history of a minor theatre of WWII. An account of supplying the the Norwegian resistance across the North Sea ...
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David Armine Howarth was a British historian and author. After graduating from Cambridge University, he was a radio war correspondent for BBC at the start of the Second World War. Howarth joined the Navy after the fall of France. He became involved in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and ultimately in the Shetland Bus, an SOE operation manned by Norwegians running a clandestine route between ...more