Gegen Engeland: A WWII memoir

From occupied Norway to England’s Navy, one young man’s wartime experiences

Photo: Wikimedia Commons The German Schnellboot (“E-boat”) S 204 flying a white flag of surrender at the coastal forces base HMS Beehive, Felixstowe, Suffolk (UK), on May 13, 1945.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The German Schnellboot (“E-boat”) S 204 flying a white flag of surrender at the coastal forces base HMS Beehive, Felixstowe, Suffolk (UK), on May 13, 1945.

Harald Hansen
Mountain Home, Ark.

It was now two years since Germany attacked Norway. Two other young boys and I were at that stage when we were not afraid of anything. We decided to sail to England and maybe join the navy.

We had heard that Norway had a small navy, and if they took us in we could do our share in the war. What we needed now was an old sailboat, and we heard that an older retired seaman had an old sailboat, and that it would need some work. He wanted 800 kroner and we had that. So we started right then and found the many places it needed work. So after two weeks it looked like that was it, and Lars painted the name “Eva” because all boats should have a name, and we were told to make it a girl’s name. Now, we were anxious to get going, and we couldn’t tell our parents because they would tell us we were too young.

The weather was nice and we hoped it would last. The next morning at 4:00 a.m. we started out, and if we were stopped we pretended we were going fishing. We didn’t think we looked much like fisherman, but we couldn’t have had any better weather and we felt good. It didn’t last.

A fast-moving camouflaged German torpedo boat, called a “snellboat,” stopped and told us, “Drop your sail, we are coming on board,” and a young officer and a marine came on board. The young officer said to us jokingly, “Gegen Engeland, right?” and he laughed.

But then, all of a sudden, two fighter planes dove on the snellboat. We saw the English marking on them, and we saw them drop two bombs. They must have hit something explosive; the boat just blew up and sank fast. It didn’t look like there were any survivors, and the two Germans were in shock and cried out. Finally, the officer said, “let’s get the sail up and head for land.” But Anton, the oldest of us, said, “you are our prisoner now,” and pointed a pistol at them, and told them “surrender your weapons and go down in the cabin.”

We figured it was not a good thing to hang around there, so we got going and sailed for three days without any happenings—the only thing we saw was some playful whales. Finally we were enjoying the nice evening when suddenly a bright light hit us, and an English voice said, “stand by” and “welcome to England.” Anton told them we had two prisoners and also told them about what happened, and the officer said he knew all about it, and also that the pilots in the spitfires were both from Norway.

We were told to follow them, and soon we saw land and a small town, and he told us we were to be turned over to the military. They put us in a barrack for the night, but first we were given a big mug with tea loaded with sugar and cream, and it tasted so good.

We were thankful we had made it, and so said the officer too. The next morning we were put on a train and after all day we finally came to where we were to spend three days. We had to be checked out; they could never be sure, and England was loaded with spies so they had to be careful.

Then back on the train again for half a day, and we finally arrived at a huge training camp for the navy. And we were told there were many training camps for different countries in Europe, including Norwegians. We were first checked out by doctors, and after that they took us to a huge building where we were given boots, uniforms, and blankets. Then they took us to our small cabin, which held four people, and the three of us were still together, so we felt good about that.

We spent nine weeks in training. We learned about all kinds of weapons and explosives. Some days we had to go on outings, sometimes ten miles with heavy packs. You’d better not complain; they were very strict. At the end of it they called us to their office and told us we would be shipping out tomorrow, and that we would still be together for now, and we were grateful for that.

After eight hours on a train we were back on the coast again. A car picked us up and took us to a small harbor town and told us to get on board an MTB, a small torpedo boat, and quickly. Anton was to serve in the engine room, and Lars and I were to stay on deck and handle the small cannon and machine guns when needed.

This small boat also carried at least four torpedoes. The captain told us we would go on patrol alongside the coast for a while. The weather was still very nice, and we were lucky because we heard that the weather in the coastal region was very stormy and had lots of fog.

Then over the speaker we were told to stand by on starboard side. There were two men in a dingy who said they were from Holland. They had taken off in a small motorboat and had gotten into some rough seas. It was now late afternoon and we stopped in a small harbor town and turned over the two “Dutchmen” to the military. Two days later the captain reported that the military said to him, “The two men were not Dutch but two Germans there to spy,” and we were not at all surprised. We were allowed to go ashore for a little bit and stopped and had fish and chips, and then it was time to get onboard.

We were hoping for a good night’s rest, but the officer said they had seen a German patrol boat speed by, and we were to make chase. We were onboard one of the fastest boats in the war at the time. It wasn’t long before we had caught up with the German boat, and we launched two torpedoes, but only one made contact and blew out part of the starboard side. It heeled over and sank fast, and we went over to pick up survivors. There were seven; the rest of course went down with the boat. One of the Germans spoke good English and told the captain they were heading back to their station across the channel. Then they said that the war was over for them. We headed back to the little town and turned the prisoners off the boat to the military.

Finally we were told to rest, and were pleased to be there a couple of days. We looked the town over, and there was a lot of history. We were told how the Vikings would stop and pick up wives there, probably against the wives’ will most of the time.

Back on the boat, we headed to Shetland, an island in the middle of the North Sea. To my surprise and joy we joined my brother there. He had escaped from Norway before me. He had gone to Sweden and after a while there had flown to England. He was stationed here and served on MTBs. There were many Norwegians there. He told us they took trips to Norway and picked up saboteurs [those fighting against the Nazis].

Time went fast. Sometimes we picked up some news from Norway, something bad about people arrested by the Gestapo, who were hated by everyone, even the Germans themselves. Finally came the invasion on the coast of France and we had a busy time in the channel, mostly picking up the survivors. There were a lot of German warships also in the channel, and the weather was bad, especially for small boats like ours. Airplanes, I’d say by the thousands, crossed the channel, and you didn’t see any Germans anymore. I got a letter from my brother and he said it shouldn’t be too long now, before we would have peace and could go home to Norway.

Finally the day came when we walked into my parents’ home and into their arms. It was wonderful, and we had been very lucky.

This article originally appeared in the March 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.