In late March 1943, in the depths of the Second World War, four Norwegian commandos arrived by fishing cutter in the cove of Toftefjord in northern Norway. They dropped anchor there, hoping to establish a base of operations for a campaign of sabotage against the occupying Nazi forces. But they were soon betrayed. A German boat attacked the cutter, killing all but one of the would-be saboteurs.
The lone survivor, Jan Baalsrud, who was wounded in the fighting, then embarked on the adventure of his life. He swam icy fjords, climbed snow-covered peaks, endured snowstorms, and got caught in a monstrous avalanche—all in an attempt to elude his Gestapo pursuers. More than sixty residents of Norway’s Troms District risked their lives to help Baalsrud, who was slowed by snow blindness and frostbite, on his perilous journey to freedom. “Baalsrud and his rescuers,” remarked the New York Times, “displayed an unbelievable level of hardheaded toughness and resilience.”
Defiant Courage is the amazing true story of Baalsrud’s escape, which inspired the book We Die Alone and the Oscar-nominated Norwegian film Nine Lives. Meticulously researched for more than five years, Astrid Karlsen Scott and Tore Haug’s account brings out the truth behind this edge-of-your-seat real-life survival tale.
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About the Author
Dr. Tore Haug is a second cousin of Jan Baalsrud. He is an MD, and a specialized general practitioner with a private practice in Norway. Haug studied and received his medical degree from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.
Harald Zwart is a well-known Norwegian film director currently living in Los Angeles. His films include One Night at McCool’s, starring Michael Douglas, and the remake of The Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan. He has been named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch.
Read an Excerpt
German attack against Norway last night. Norway at war with Germany.
Frightening newspaper headlines tell of the German invasion on Norway, April 9, 1940.
AT ANCHOR IN SCALLOWAY
March 22, 1943: "Well men, we are on our way home at last." Sigurd Eskeland, a tall slender man, broke the silence while with his fingers he made a small clearing on the train compartment's fogged up window.
"Jaja, and this time we are not leaving before we drive the devils out!" another chimed in. "If the Germans only knew what we have in store for them!" Jan Baalsrud flashed his handsome smile and with blue-gray eyes blazing, drew a finger across his throat.
"Ja, think about it. Our efforts might bring the war to a standstill in the north. That thought excites me!" The third man, Per Blindheim, straightened up and leaned toward his comrades. "Believe me — I'm eager to play a small part in liberating Norway."
The Norwegians returned to silence, each absorbed in his own thoughts, unaware of the train's rocking motion. The train sped from London through Scotland's lower Grampian Mountains en route to Aberdeen. Strong winds from the Atlantic Ocean brought dark clouds sloshing heavy rains against the windows, blurring their view of the Scottish Highlands.
The men were returning from a furlough in London. They had been selected for an extremely dangerous and top secret commando operation in northern Norway, in the Troms District. Though many military men felt this particular mission was suicidal, the saboteurs were anxious to be on their way.
March 23, 1943: A small fishing vessel took the Norwegians from Aberdeen to Scalloway in the Shetland Islands, a cluster of small islands off the northern tip of the Scottish coast, 210 miles west of southern Norway.
During World War II, the Norwegian Resistance used the Shetland Islands as a base. They ferried refugees from Norway to Shetland in small fishing vessels and returned with supplies and trained resistance fighters.
Several boats bobbed at the quay in Scalloway including a sixty-two-foot Norwegian fishing cutter, M/K Brattholm. The Norwegians spent the final day preparing for their upcoming journey, double-checking the ammunition, explosives and the other provisions and loading them into Brattholm's hull. In the early evening they were joined by the team's fourth saboteur, radiotelegrapher Gabriel Salvesen, who arrived by plane from London.
March 24, 1943: Evening shadows veiled Brattholm as she set forth from the quay heading for occupied Norway. Aboard, in addition to the four saboteurs and the seven-man crew, was Erik Reichelt, a man of vital importance to the operation codenamed Martin.
In the fall of 1942, Erik Reichelt had been sent as a courier to the Troms District by Consul Nielsen, chief of the S.O.E. branch at the British legation in Stockholm. Reichelt's assignment was to find men loyal to Norway and to get to know them and the Troms District. Reichelt was also to track down patriots willing to help saboteurs who would arrive later by boat. Reichelt had familiarized himself with the district and had come to know the resistance leaders in the area. The plan was that he would return to the Shetland Islands with the crew after he helped the saboteurs get established, and in contact with the incorruptible men in the Northland.
Brattholm's route across the north Atlantic, one of the most treacherous waterways in the world, was toward Senja, a large island thirty-five miles due south of the city of Tromsø, in northern Norway.
Brattholm, on her first voyage across the Atlantic, had left Norwegian waters under daring circumstances; her return passage, unquestionably, would be even more dramatic. A first-rate boat, she was heavily armed and well supplied with the best navigation equipment for crossing the high seas. Her beam was eighteen feet, four inches wide and she had a nine-foot draw. A two-cylinder sixty horsepower Wichman motor enabled Brattholm to cruise at seven to eight knots.
Brattholm's skipper Sverre Odd Kvernhellen was much admired by the crew. Years of operating vessels in the Norwegian Sea and several Atlantic crossings had made Kvernhellen an exceptional navigator.
Machine guns hid in large fishing barrels on Brattholm's deck, a camouflage to prove they were peaceful fishermen should they be approached by the enemy. Eight tons of dynamite, explosives, a hand radio transmitter, survival kits and other provisions filled Brattholm's hull. All were necessary requirements for survival in the Arctic and had been carefully planned and chosen. She rode heavy in the water.
September 3, 1940: Leonard Larsen and his grandfather were enjoying a balmy Saturday evening on their Remøy Island farm when a man appeared. The stranger carried an unusual phonograph, and, without a word of explanation, started it up, but no sound emerged. In a heavy German accent, the man asked Leonard many questions. Leonard realized the conversation was being recorded and he became wary.
For the past several months, Leonard and his friend Alfred Remøy had worked for the Norwegian underground. The two young men and their friends Fritjof Remøy, John Remøy, Julius Remøy, Johan Remøy, and Lars Sævik, had helped many refugees escape occupied Norway across the Atlantic. All young bachelors, the men helped English and French soldiers as well as Norwegians.
After the stranger left, Leonard sought out Alfred Remøy and some of the other men who had helped the refugees. The mysterious man had been busy with his phonograph all across Remøy Island and the young men realized their peril.
"We must get away from Norway," Alfred urged. "If there is no room for us on any other fishing vessels, I will steal Brattholm." Alfred shared ownership of M/K Brattholm with two brothers, Petter and Arthur Sævik.
"It's pretty risky to take the vessel across the Atlantic," worried Leonard. "And it will be quite a blow to Petter and Arthur."
"Ja, but our lives are at stake," Alfred said. "This is war! If you men want to come along, we sail!"
The young men decided to make their escape while they could. A few nights later, as the dark autumn night blanketed the Norwegian coast and fear of the Nazis haunted every dwelling, M/K Brattholm lay moored near the Sæviks' home.
Taking care to muffle the sound of their oars, the seven resistance workers rowed a small boat toward M/K Brattholm. They had thoroughly planned their escape, but their nerves grew taut when the rowboat gently bumped up against Brattholm. In tense silence they attached a hawser to the fishing vessel and loosened the moorings.
They pulled the cutter 150 meters across the inlet to Skotholmen Islet.
The two strongest men pulled on each set of oars with all their might to get the seventy-two-foot Brattholm to slide along the pier.
Oil was stored in barrels and tanks on Skotholmen. The young men broke into one of the tanks and filled Brattholm's bunker with fuel and lifted additional oil barrels onto Brattholm's deck.
Another small dinghy, this one with an outboard motor, came forth from the darkness. A friend had agreed to tow Brattholm further out to sea. When the men felt sure that Brattholm could not be heard from the shore, they started her engine. By 5 a.m., the cutter was on the open sea.
A few hours later, Petter and Arthur Sævik were shaken when they discovered Brattholm missing.
"Arthur, Brattholm is gone!" Petter shrieked, looking through the window. "Call the police! The thieves can't have gone far. Have the police hunt them down!"
The woman who received the incoming call at the telephone exchange was an aunt of one of the young men aboard Brattholm.
"Unfortunately, there is no answer at the police station. I tried several times, but they must be out on a call. Please try later." The aunt owned a small grocery store and she had helped the runaways with food for their voyage. She knew who had stolen the Sæviks' boat and she was determined to give them as long a head start as possible.
Furious, the Sævik brothers called back later, and finally reached the police. But Brattholm was now far out to sea, heading north. While planning the getaway, the young men expected that the theft would be reported immediately and they decided to set a course straight north, and later, northwest toward Iceland. That decision spared their discovery by German patrol planes sent out once the hijacking had been reported. The Germans assumed the runaways were heading west for the Shetland Islands, the destination point for most boats escaping from Norway.
The men aboard Brattholm heard the planes, but the thick Atlantic fog cloaked them in safety. The weather worsened with a heavy wind and high seas. The men moved the heavy oil barrels below deck to stop their constant rolling and to stabilize the vessel. Brattholm struggled against the storm. A beam tore loose and slammed into Fritjof's back. He was badly hurt and the men considered turning back to get him to a doctor, but Fritjof refused and they continued ahead.
The men's and Brattholm's relentless struggle ended when they reached Rejkjavik, Iceland's capital, five days later. They were welcomed by both Norwegian and English authorities, who had received advance notice of their arrival. The young men had planned to earn a living by fishing while in Iceland, but instead the boat was taken over by Nortraship and rented out to the British Navy Sea Transport. On November 18, the resistance workers were ordered to sail to Seydesfjord, on Iceland's east coast. For two years, the cutter carried English troops and supplies to and from the outposts in the Icelandic fjords.
In November 1942, Brattholm was recalled to Reykjavik. She and her crew were ordered to the Shetland Islands. Two armed whaleboats escorted them to Lerwich, in the Shetland Islands, without mishap. Brattholm was put into secret service between the Shetland Islands and Norway against the Germans. The seven Norwegian underground workers were sent on to London where some ended up in the Norwegian Merchant Marine and others in the Navy.
February 2, 1942: A gruesome battle over Stalingrad in the Soviet Union took place between the Germans and the Russians. Germany lost the battle against the Russians but not before leaving the city in ashes. It would have been an impossible victory for the Soviet Union without the huge weapon supplies delivered from the United States and England.
When Denmark was attacked and invaded by the German Army in 1940, England occupied Iceland with the consensus of her people. Iceland was strategically located in the North Atlantic.
Convoys to the Soviet Union with war materials and other provisions were sent from the West via Iceland, the shortest and the safest route at the time. They sailed through the Arctic Ocean a few hundred nautical miles above the North Cape, the northern tip of Norway, and on to Murmansk and Archangel in the Soviet Union.
The plan worked well, with most ships bearing the desperately needed materials reaching their destination. The convoys only lost one ship, but after the first few months, the situation changed drastically.
Arctic pack ice forced the convoys within 300 nautical miles of the Norwegian coast.
To pinpoint the convoys' position, German reconnaissance planes were sent out from Bardufoss Airport in the Troms District, as well as seaplanes from Skatøyra seaplane-harbor close to the city of Tromsø, in the same district.
As summer had returned and the midnight sun did not set, it was easy for the German pilots to detect the convoys. The information from these sorties was forwarded to the German High Command.
June 27, 1942: Convoy P.Q.17 left Iceland for Archangel with thirty-four ships. German spy planes spotted them, and soon the German bombers and U-boats were on their way. They sank twenty-three ships and several hundred men went down.
Due to the terrible loss of lives and ships, the convoys were briefly halted. This caused large weapon supplies to accumulate in the West. In this serious situation the Allies had to find a way to stop German planes from flying out of northern Norway.
Early in the War, England had established an organization, Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.). Its purpose was to organize secret operations in countries occupied by the Germans. The Norwegian branch of the S.O.E. and the British had, for some time, planned sabotage activities against the German reconnaissance operations originating from the northern Norwegian airports. The military strategists felt these efforts, along with Russian participation in the defense of the convoys and strengthening Allied escorts, would make it reasonably safe for the convoys to resume.
The four saboteurs' assigned work placed them at the heart of the war. The importance of the men's success was beyond measure. A successful outcome of their actions could possibly shorten the war — though their lives were at risk.
Their most daring assignments, and crucial to the mission's success, was to detonate the air tower at Bardufoss Airport located fifty miles southeast of the city of Tromsø and to sink the seaplanes at the seaplane harbor in Tromsø. Jan Baalsrud, an expert swimmer, was charged with the perilous responsibility of affixing the explosives to the seaplanes' pontoons beneath the water.
The expedition leaders in England had high hopes for, and much confidence in, the operation planned so carefully in top secret meetings.
THE LINGE COMPANY
When Hitler's war machine brutally attacked Norway on April 9, 1940, in reality, the battle was over within two months. But not everyone gave up. Many Norwegian youths wished to continue the fight; they had not capitulated morally. They wanted another chance against their powerful enemy. An inner moral strength, idealism, eagerness to fight and a deep love and patriotism for their country kept them going and were the motives behind their optimism.
After a while, many a Norwegian youth had to escape from Norway, and some were able to work their way over to England.
There they contacted the Norwegian division of S.O.E., where they received a short period of training before they were sent back to Norway on secret missions as early as the summer of 1940.
One man, Captain Martin Linge, participated in the battle at Ã Åndalsnes. He was wounded, and came to England in September 1940. This idealistic man refused to give up the fight for Norway until she was liberated. He realized that the Germans were vulnerable, and that they could be thwarted as long as the right method was chosen.
He understood that specially trained Norwegian commando soldiers, who knew the Norwegian nature, climate, geography and the Norwegian temperament, could cause havoc for the enemy. Soon, Martin Linge was given the responsibility for representing the Norwegian Government in S.O.E. An office was established in London, and from there, Norwegian fugitives who arrived in London were recruited for these well-planned assignments. Linge personally selected the men.
In March of 1941, British forces together with Norwegian soldiers from England carried out a raid against Svolvær in Stamsund in the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway. Linge led the Norwegian soldiers. The raid was successful; they did not lose one man.
Because of the success, they made the decision to further develop a Norwegian military company, about 200 men. In the end, the whole company was transferred to the Scottish Highlands, a place which was chosen with great care. The terrain was excellent for the type of training necessary for commando soldiers. The group was divided between three buildings, Glenmore Lodge, Forest Lodge and Drumintoul Lodge. Company Linge was given their own division within the Norwegian High Command in July 1941.
Company Linge participated in two separate raids against occupied Norway during Christmas of 1941, one raid against Reine in Lofoten and the other against Måløy. Again Captain Linge led the Norwegian forces. The Germans fought bravely, but in the end had to fall back. Captain Linge ran in front leading his men, and he reached his goal, but was felled by a bullet.
Excerpted from "Defiant Courage"
Copyright © 2010 Astrid Karlsen Scott and Dr. Tore Haug.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Norway at War,
At Anchor in Scalloway,
The Linge Company,
Crossing the Atlantic,
I Won't Tell a Soul,
A Tragic Decision,
Battle in Toftefjord,
Courage That Defied Death,
The Gestapo Brings Terror,
A Sickening Fear,
A Warm Welcome on Hersøy Island,
Fate of the Brattholm Men,
A Triumphant Find,
The Helpful Midwife,
Down from the Mountains,
Einar and Bernhard,
A Narrow Escape,
Alone in the Mountains,
Storm in Lyngsdalen Valley,
In the Hayloft,
Busy Days on Grønvoll Farm,
A Tender Farewell,
Happenings in Lofoten Islands,
Gearing up for Revdal,
On the other Side of the Fjord,
Pushed to the Brink,
The Manndalen Men,
Grave Concerns for Jan,
Peder and Nigo Find the Snow Cave,
Rescued from the Snow Cave,
Beneath the Sky in Avzevaggi,
The Spirit of the Sami,
At Cross Purposes,
Concealed in a Cave in Skaidijonni,
The Sheriff's Assistants,
Do Not Ask Me This,
The Germans in Pursuit,
En Route to Freedom,
About the Authors,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I brought this book in hardcover about a dozen years ago. I could not put it down. I have loaned it to family and friends and they had the same reaction. What a brave man who suffered though difficult times. She also is the author of another Norweign patriot entitled Silent Patroit. I would highly recommend both books
The authors knew the story had to be told...and they decided to leave nothing out of the written account. They trekked through Norway's fjords and mountains to experience their hero's ordeal themselves. When all in his spy ship were caught and slaughtered by vengeful Gestapo men, he moved on with the help of patriotic Norwegians and Sami people to finally get to Sweden to tell the whole story of Nazi actions and the kindness of many to hide him, feed him, care for his wounds, and see him safely across the border with rifles crackling after them and his rescuers. It was arduous, but the passion of his love for freedom was and still is inspiring even though none of us would wish to endure it. It's a daring story of conquered people demonstrating that though the nation may be occupied by ignoble Nazis their hearts were still immersed in "Ja Vi Elske detted Landet," Yes, we love this land...Norway!
I could hardly put this book down. I wanted to read a different personal account of a person's life during WWII. Amazing account which is well documented! Very exciting!
This was one of the best books I've ever read. The courage of these patriotic people was awe inspiring.
It was interesting and I enjoyed it, but a little 'draggy'. If you are interested in the Norwegian fight against Nazism, it will cup of tea.