ON THAT sort of expedition it was useless to make a detailed plan, because nobody could foresee exactly what was going to happen. The leader always had a degree of responsibility which few people are called upon to carry in a war. The orders he was given were in very general terms, and in carrying them out he had nobody whatever to advise him. His success, and his own life and the lives of his party, were in his own hands alone.
As leader of this party in north Norway, Eskeland had a specially heavy load to carry. From the south, or from any country from which a lot of refugees had escaped to England, a fund of information had been collected about German dispositions and the characters and politics of innumerable people, and the information was always being renewed. The leader of an expedition could be told, in more or less detail, whom he could trust and whom he should avoid, and where he was most likely to meet enemy sentries or patrols. But information about north Norway was scanty. A good many people had escaped from there, but the only route they could follow was across the mountains into Sweden, where they were interned. Many of them were content to stay in internment and wait for better times; and even those who made the effort to escape again, and managed to pass on what they knew to the British intelligence services, had usually been held by the Swedes for a matter of months, so that all that they could tell was out of date. Eskeland had been given the names of a few people who were known to be sound, but beyond that very little could be done to help him. Once he left Britain, he could only depend on his own training and wit and skill.
He had been as thorough as he possibly could be in his preparations. Ever since he had known he was to lead a landing from a fishing-boat, he had pondered in a quiet way over every emergency he could foresee. On the high seas, the skipper of the boat was in command, and out there the problems had been comparatively simple. The boat might have been overcome by stress of weather, which was a matter of seamanship; or its one single-cylinder engine might have broken down, which was a job for the engineers; or it might have been attacked by aircraft, which would have been fought with the boat’s own “Q-ship” armament. But now that it had closed the coast, he had to take charge, and now anything might happen and an instantaneous decision might be needed. For the present, the boat’s first line of defence was for its guns to be kept hidden, so that it seemed to be innocently fishing. But once they got into the constricted waters of the sounds among the islands, they might meet a larger ship with heavier armament at short range at any moment, and then the boat’s armament would be nothing but a hindrance. They might still bluff their way out as a fishing-boat, but they could not hope to fight an action at two or three hundred yards. Apart from anything else, a single shot in their cargo might blow them all to pieces. The only way they could prepare for that kind of encounter, as Eskeland foresaw it, was to hide every vestige of war-like equipment and to lure the enemy ship to within pistol shot. Then, by surprise, there was a chance of boarding it and wiping out its crew.
During the past night, as Brattholm approached the coast, Eskeland and his three men had begun to prepare for this possible crisis. They had cleaned and loaded their short-range weapons, Sten guns and carbines and pistols; and they had primed hand-grenades and stowed them in convenient places, in the wheelhouse and galley, and along the inside of the bulwarks, where they could be thrown without warning on board a ship alongside. In case it came to close quarters, he and his three men had all put on naval uniform, although they were soldiers, so that the Germans would not be able to identify them as a landing party.
But even while they made these preparations, they all knew that although with luck they might be successful in that sort of hand-to-hand action, they had very little chance of getting away with their lives. Between themselves and safety there were the thousand miles of sea which they had crossed. They might hope to kill or capture the entire crew of even a larger ship; but unless they could do it so quickly that no radio signal could be sent, and unless it happened in such a remote place that nobody heard the gunshots, all the German defences would be alerted; and then, it was obvious, Brattholm at eight knots would not get very far. The only hope of escape then, and it was a small one, was to scuttle the ship and get ashore.
Eskeland had provided for this too. The three radio transmitters in their cargo were a new type still graded top secret, and they also had a few important papers: ciphers, maps, and notes about trustworthy people and German defences. They all understood quite clearly that they had to defend these things with their lives. It went without saying. It was one of the basic rules which they had been taught. Ever since they had entered enemy waters, the papers had been stowed in an accessible place with matches and a bottle of petrol; and a primer, detonators and fuses had been laid in the eight tons of high explosives in the hold. The transmitters were on top of the primer. There were three fuses. One had a five-minute delay, for use if there seemed to be a chance to destroy the ship and cargo and then to get away. The next was thirty seconds, and the last was instantaneous. Each of the twelve men on board was able to contemplate soberly the prospect of lighting the instantaneous fuse, and they understood the circumstances in which they were to do it; if they had tried a hand-to-hand fight with a German ship, for example, and been defeated. The main point was that the Germans should not get the cargo.
Eskeland should have felt satisfied with these preparations as he approached the coast; they were intelligently conceived, and carefully carried out. But on that very day a change of plan was forced upon him, and he was reminded, if there had been any doubt about it, how sketchy his information was. They had intended to land on an island called Senja, about forty miles south-west of the town of Tromsö; but as they approached it, steaming peacefully through the fishing zone, they sighted a trawler coming out towards them. They altered course to the eastward, waiting to see what was going to happen. The trawler reached the open sea at the outer edge of the islands, and then it turned back on its track and went into the sounds again. As it turned, they saw a gun on its foredeck. It was a patrol ship, where no patrol ship had been reported.
At the stage of the expedition, it was their job to avoid trouble rather than look for it, and there was no sense in trying to land their cargo on the one island, from all the hundreds in the district which they now knew for certain was patrolled. Their disguise had worked so far. They had been seen, and passed as a fishing-boat. The sensible thing to do was to choose another island; and after a discussion, they agreed upon one a little farther north. It is called Ribbenesöy. It is due north of Tromsö, thirty miles from the town. On the chart of it, they found a little bay on the north-east side which seemed to offer good shelter, and one of the men who had been in that district before remembered the bay as a remote and deserted spot. At about midday on the 29th of March, they set course towards it. Its name is Toftefjord.
It was late in the afternoon by the time they reached the skerries which lie scattered in the sea for seven miles off the shore of Ribbenesöy, and began to pick their way among them. In bad weather the passage which they used is impassable. There are thousands of rocks awash on either side, and the whole area becomes a mass of spray in which no marks are visible. But on that day the sea was calm and the air was clear. They sighted the stone cairns which are built as seamarks on some of the biggest rocks, and passed through into sheltered water. They steamed below a minute island called Fuglö, which rises sheer on every side to a black crag a thousand feet high; they skirted the north shore of Ribbenesöy, a steep, smooth, gleaming sheet of snow which sweeps upwards to the curved ice-cornice of a hill called Helvedestind, which means Hell’s Peak; and as the light began to fade they crept slowly into Toftefjord, and let go an anchor into clear ice-blue water.
When the engine stopped, Toftefjord seemed absolutely silent. After six days of the racket and vibration of a Norwegian fishing-boat under way, the mere absence of noise was unfamiliar; but there is always a specially noticeable silence in sheltered places when the land is covered thickly with snow. All familiar sounds are muted and unresonant. There are no footfalls, no sounds of birds or running water, no hum of insects or rustle of animals or leaves. Even one’s own voice seems altered. Even without reason, in places hushed by snow, the deadening of sound seems menacing.
Yet the appearance of Toftefjord was reassuring. They stood on deck when the work of coming to anchor was finished and looked round them, talking involuntarily in quiet voices. It was almost a perfect hiding-place. To the south and west and east it was shut in by low rounded hills. The tops of the hills were bare; but in the hollows by the shore, the twigs of stunted arctic birch showed black against the snow. To the north was the entrance of the bay, but it was blocked by a little island, so that one could not see into it from outside. Brattholm was quite safe there from observation from the sea, and she could not be seen from the air unless an aircraft flew almost overhead.
The beaches showed that the bay was always calm. On the rocks and islands which are exposed to the sea, there is always a broad bare strip of shore where the waves have washed the snow away; but there in the land-locked fjord the snow lay smooth and thick down to the tidemark. There were no tracks in it. Close inshore, the sea itself had been frozen, but the ice had broken up and was floating in transparent lumps around the ship. The air was cold and crisp.
Yet the place was not quite deserted. At the head of the bay, below the hill, there was a barn and a very small wooden house. Close by, on the beach, there were racks for drying fish. There was nobody to be seen, but there was smoke from the cottage chimney.
The first thing to be done, when the ship was at anchor, was to find out who lived in that cottage, and whether they were likely to cause any difficulties or danger. Eskeland and the skipper changed out of their naval uniforms into fishermen’s clothes and rowed ashore. Perhaps they wanted to be the first to land in Norway. It was always a moment of unexpressed emotion.
They soon came back, saying there was nothing to worry about. There was a middle-aged woman with her two children, a boy of about sixteen and a girl who was younger. Her husband was away at the cod fishing in the Lofoten islands, and she did not expect him back for several weeks. Eskeland had told her that they had stopped to make some engine repairs. There was no reason why she should be suspicious, and there was no telephone in the house. It would be quite easy to keep an eye on her and the children. She had told him, incidentally, that no Germans had ever been in Toftefjord. In fact, she herself had never seen a German. Her husband had had to hand in his radio set to the authorities, and her nearest neighbours were two miles away. She was quite out of touch with the world and with the war.
The landing party and crew had dinner in relays, leaving a watch on deck. They were very cheerful. For one thing, it was the first good dinner they had had on board, not only because it is difficult to do much cooking in a fishing-boat at sea, but also because the cook had been seasick and Jan Baalsrud, who had deputised for him, had had rather limited ideas. The landing party was happy also because the voyage was successfully ended, and they could really get to work. For soldiers, a sea voyage is always tedious; they are usually pleased to get out of the hands of sailors.
While they ate, they discussed the coming night. When the four men of the sabotage group had started to prepare themselves for the expedition, they had divided among them the enormous territory they were to cover, and each of them had studied his own part of it in detail. But by changing the landing place from Senja, they had put themselves farther north than any of the districts they knew best. However, Eskeland remembered a little about Ribbenesöy from his days as a postal inspector, and he had taken the precaution of learning the names of a few reliable people in the neighbourhood. One of these was a merchant who kept a small general store on the south side of the island. Eskeland had never met him, but his name was on a list in London of men who could be trusted. His shop was only a few miles away and they decided to make a start that night by going to see him and asking him about hiding their cargo. Experience in the southern part of Norway had shown that shop keepers were often more adept than anyone else at providing a temporary hiding-place for stores. Most shops had outhouses and back premises which in war-time were nearly empty. Cases of weapons had often been stacked among cases of groceries. A shopkeeper was also a likely man to tell them where they could get a local boat to take them into Tromsö, where they would find their principal “contacts”.
So Eskeland set off, as soon as it was dark, in Brattholm’s motor dinghy. He took the ship’s engineer with him to look after the motor, and another man who had been added to the crew as an extra hand because he knew the district. They steered out of the bay and followed the shore of Ribbenesöy to the eastward, through the sound which separates it from the south side of the island. They saw the shop and a few buildings near it, and a wooden jetty, silhouetted against the afterglow in the western sky. There was a light in the shop, and another on board a boat which was lying, with its engine running, a few yards off the end of the jetty.
As they approached the jetty, they passed close to the boat. It was a small fishing craft with two or three men on board. It would have seemed strange to pass it without a word, and besides, a small local fishing craft was one of the things they wanted. So they hailed it and told the men the story they had prepared: that they had engine trouble and wanted a lift to Tromsö to get some spare parts.
The men were sympathetic, and only mildly inquisitive, as fishermen would naturally be. They talked all round the subject, in the infinitely leisurely manner of people who live on islands. They asked what make of engine it was, and what horse-power, and what spare parts were needed. They recommended a dealer in Tromsö, and suggested ringing him up in the morning and getting him to send the parts out in the mail-boat, which would probably be as quick as going to fetch them, and certainly cheaper. They asked what the herring fishing was like, and where the Brattholm was bound for.
Everyone who lives under false pretences gets used to receiving perfectly useless advice with patience and cunning. Eskeland and the engineer, in the unrealistic conversation across the dark water, answered the questions carefully one by one, until a chance came for them to put the one question in which they were interested.
“I suppose you couldn’t take us into Tromsö?”
This started a long explanation about how they were waiting there for a man to bring them some bait which they had paid for already, so that they could not afford to miss him, and they said all over again that they could not see any sense in going all the way to Tromsö for spares when there was a telephone up in the shop. But they told Eskeland that if he was really set on wasting money by going there, the shopkeeper had a boat and might take him in.
Eskeland thanked them and left them, understanding perhaps that to a man who lives in the outer islands Tromsö is a very distant city, and a journey there is not a thing to be undertaken lightly. At least, he had learned that the shop at the head of the jetty was really the one he wanted.
The shopkeeper was in bed when they got to the house; but when they knocked he came downstairs in his underclothes and took them to the kitchen. They apologised for coming so late, and told the same story again. But with him, they only told it as a means of introduction, to make conversation till he felt at ease with them and they could tell him the true reason for their visit. While they were talking, they slipped in questions about the Germans. No, he said when they asked him, the Germans had really been no trouble out there on the islands. They had never been ashore. He saw their convoys passing in the channel south of Ribbenesöy, and they had been out laying minefields. And of course they sent out notices which had to be stuck up everywhere: “Contact with the enemy is punished by death.” There was one downstairs in the shop. He had heard stories about how they behaved in Tromsö, but as for himself, he had never had anything to do with them.
Carefully feeling his way, Eskeland began to broach the subject of his cargo, and his need to go to Tromsö. The shopkeeper was willing to take one or two men to town in his boat. Eskeland offered to pay him a substantial sum of money for his help. It was the size of this sum which first impressed on the shopkeeper that he was being asked to do more than hire out a boat. He looked puzzled; and then, because it would be unjust to involve a man in what they were doing without giving him an idea of the risks he was running, and because the man had such an excellent reputation, Eskeland told him that they had come from England.
At this, his expression changed. At first he was incredulous. One of them gave him a cigarette, and he took it and lit it; and the English tobacco seemed to convince him that what they said was true. Then, to their surprise, they saw that he was frightened.
He began to make excuses. He couldn’t leave the shop. It wasn’t fair to leave his wife alone in the house these days. There were the animals to attend to. Fuel for the boat was difficult to come by.
Slowly and reluctantly, they had to admit to themselves that it was useless to try to persuade him. An unwilling nervous helper would be a danger and a liability. Yet they could not understand how a man who had been so highly recommended could be so cowardly in practice. The vast majority of Norwegians, as everybody knew, would have been delighted by a chance to do something against the Germans. They puzzled over his behaviour, and told him they were disappointed in him.
“But why did you come to me?” he asked, plaintively. “What made you think I’d do a thing like that?”
They told him they had heard he was a patriot; and then the truth came out, too late, and they saw the mistake which they had made. The man told them he had only been running the shop for a few months. Its previous owner had died. His name was the same, so there had been no need to change the name of the business.
There was nothing left to do then except to impress on him as clearly as they could that he must never tell anyone what they had told him. He promised this willingly, glad to see that they had accepted his refusal. In his relief, he even recommended two other men who he thought would give them the help they needed. Their names were Jenberg Kristiansen and Sedolf Andreasson. They were both fishermen, and they lived on the north shore of the island, beyond Toftefjord. He felt sure they would be willing.
Eskeland and his two companions left him then, with a final warning that he must never mention what he had heard that night.
They went back to their dinghy, annoyed and slightly uneasy. There was no reason to think that the shopkeeper was hostile, or that he would do anything active to harm them. Not one man in a thousand would go out of his way to help the Germans. But many Norwegians of the simpler sort were prone to gossip, and any man whose own safety was not at stake was potentially the nucleus of a rumour. It was a pity, but the risk, so far as they could see, was small, and without entirely recasting their own plans there was nothing much they could do about it. It was sheer bad luck that the one man they had selected from the lists in London should have died, and even worse luck that another man with the same name should have taken his house and business. But it could not be helped. At least, he had given them new contacts.
They set off back towards Toftefjord, to tell the rest of the party what had happened. On the way, they were overtaken by the fishing-boat which had been lying off the jetty of the shop. Its crew had got their bait and were on their way to the fishing-grounds. The took the dinghy in tow; but just before they came to the mouth of Toftefjord the skipper shouted that they had forgotten a rope, some part of their fishing gear, and that they had to go back to the shop to fetch it. He cast the dinghy off. Eskeland went on into Toftefjord, and saw the fishing-boat turn round and steam away.
What happened when the skipper and crew of the fishing-boat got back to the shop will never exactly be known. The shopkeeper had gone back to bed, but they called him out again, and this time his wife joined them to hear what was going on. He said he was feeling sick and giddy. He thought it was due to the cigarettes the strangers had given him. His brother was one of the crew, and he and the skipper plied him with questions about the strange boat and the three unknown men. Before very long, the shopkeeper had told them everything.
It was probably during this conversation that a new and appalling fear struck him. Was it possible that the three men were German agents sent to test him? He had heard people say that the Germans sent men about in the islands, dressed in civilian clothes, to do that very thing: to say that they came from England, and then to report anyone who offered to help them. What was more likely than that they should pick on him, a merchant, a man with a certain standing in the community, and one who had only recently set up in business? He was thankful, now he came to think of it, that he had refused to help them. And yet, had he been careful enough? He racked his brains to remember exactly what he had said about Germans. He felt sure he had been indiscreet. There had been something about minefields. That was probably secret. Of course, he said to the others, the only way to make sure of his position, the only safe thing to do, was to report what the men had told him. Supposing they were German agents, it would not be enough only to have refused to help them. They would be waiting now to see if he reported them. If he didn’t, they would get him anyhow.
The three men discussed this dilemma for an hour. The shopkeeper’s wife listened in distress at his agitation. His brother was in favour of doing nothing. It would be a bad business, he admitted, if the men were Germans; but on the other hand, if he reported them and it turned out that they had really come from England, it would be far worse. The trouble was, it was impossible to be sure; but on the whole, he thought it was right to take the chance.
With this decision, after a long confusing argument, the skipper and the shopkeeper’s brother left for the fishing again. The shopkeeper himself went back to bed, still feeling sick and dizzy. He could not sleep. He knew what it meant to be disloyal to the Germans, or rather, to be caught at it: the concentration camp for himself and perhaps for his wife as well; the end of the little business he had begun to build up; the end of his safety was so easy. There was the telephone downstairs in the shop. And yet, if they were really Norwegians, and had really come from England, and the neighbours got to know he had told the Germans, he knew very well what they would say, and he knew very well what his customers would do. Those men had sounded like Norwegians: not local men, but they spoke Norwegian perfectly. But of course there might be Norwegian Nazis, for all he knew, who would do a job like that for the Germans. And was it possible to come in a fishing-boat in March all the way from England? That sounded an unlikely story. Perhaps the best thing would be to get up and go over to Toftefjord and speak to them again and see if they could prove it. But then the Germans were too clever to do anything by halves; they would have their proofs all ready. How could he tell? How could he possibly find out?
The shopkeeper lay all night, sick with fear and confusion. Towards the morning, the last of his courage ebbed away. About seven, he crept down to the shop, and picked up the telephone. He had thought of a compromise. He asked for a man he knew who had an official post in the Department of Justice.
In Toftefjord, when Eskeland had told the others about the two merchants with the same name, they agreed that there was nothing to be done. The man had promised not to talk, and short of murder they could not think of any way of making more sure of him than that. So Eskeland set off again, not very much discouraged, to see the two fishermen the shopkeeper had recommended.
This time he got the answer he expected. There was no point in telling these men the story about spare parts, By then, it was about three o’clock in the morning, and even in the Arctic, where nobody takes much notice of the time of day, people would not expect to be woken up at such an hour with any ordinary request. He did not ask them to go to Tromsö either. Most of the first night was already gone, and the most urgent need was to get the cargo ashore so that Brattholm could sail again for Shetland.
The two fishermen agreed at once, enthusiastically, to hide it in some caves which they knew. Eskeland did not tell them the whole story. He did not mention England, but left them with the impression that he had brought the cargo from the south of Norway, and that it contained food and equipment for the home forces to use when the tide began to turn. But the two men did not want to be told any more about it. If it was anti-German, that seemed to be good enough for them. They said they would come to Toftefjord at half-past four on the following afternoon to pilot Brattholmout to their hiding place, so that everything would be ready for unloading as soon as it was dark.
It was daylight by the time the dinghy got back to Toftefjord. Eskeland and then men who were with him were tired, not merely by being out all night, but by the long hours of careful conversation. When they came aboard, they found that Jan Baalsrud, the only one of the landing party who had not been either to the shop or the fishermen, had been at work all night checking over their small arms again. As an instrument maker, Jan loved the mechanism of guns and always took particular care of them; and like Eskeland, he had been a little worried about the shopkeeper.
They made breakfast, and talked about the shop again. It was only two hours’ steaming from Tromsö, somebody pointed out, for any kind of warship; so if they had really had the bad luck to hit upon a Nazi and he had reported them, they would surely have been attacked by then. Dawn would have been the obvious time for the Germans to choose. But dawn was past, and Toftefjord was as quiet and peaceful as before. They agreed in the end that the landing party should stay on watch till ten o’clock. If nothing had happened by then, it really would look as if that particular danger was over; and then the landing party would turn in and leave some of the crew on watch till the fishermen came at half-past four.
The morning passed. The only thing which was at all unusual was the number of aircraft they could hear. There was the sound of machine-gun fire too, from time to time. It was all out at sea. But none of the aircraft flew over Toftefjord. It sounded as though there was a practice target somewhere beyond the islands, and that seemed a possible explanation. The air forces at Bardufoss must have somewhere for training, and the sea or the outer skerries would be a likely place. As the day went by, the men began to relax. By noon, they were reassured. Eskeland and his party went below to sleep leaving half of the crew on deck.
A shout awoke them: “Germans! Germans!” They rushed for the hatch. The men on watch stood there appalled. Two hundred yards away, coming slowly into the fjord, there was a German warship. As the last of the men reached the deck, it opened fire. At once they knew that the aircraft were on patrol stopping the exits from the sounds. There was no escape for Brattholm. Eskeland shouted “Abandon ship! Abandon ship!”
That was the only order. They knew what to do. Somebody ran up the naval flag to the mizen head. The crew leaped down into one of the boats and cast off and rowed for shore. The German ship stopped and lowered two boats. Troops piled into them and made for the shore a little farther north. Jan Baalsrud and Salvesen poured petrol on the cipher books and set them all on fire, and cast off the second dinghy and held it ready in the lee of the ship out of sight of the Germans. Eskeland and Blindheim tore off the hatch covers and climbed down among the cargo and lit the five-minute fuse.
With her boats away the German ship began to approach again. It was firing with machine-guns and a three-pounder, but the shots were going overhead. The Germans meant to capture them alive: they were not expecting much resistance. Eskeland called from the hold: “Jan, hold them off!” Jan took a sub-machine gun and emptied the magazine at the German’s bridge. The ship stopped for a moment, and then came on again. Eskeland jumped up from the hold, calling to the others “It’s burning,” and all of them climbed down into the dinghy, and waited. They knew the drill: to wait till the last possible minute hidden in Brattholm’s lee before they started to try to row away.
Eskeland sat looking at his wrist-watch, with his arm held steadily in front of him. One of the others held on to the side of Brattholm’s hull. Two were ready at oars. One minute had gone already. They could not see the German ship from there. They could hear it approaching the other side of the Brattholm, firing in bursts at Brattholm and at the crew in the other dinghy. Per Blindheim said: “Well, we’ve had a good time for twenty-six years, Jan.” Eskeland said: “Two minutes.” Jan could see the crew. They had got to the shore. Two were still in the dinghy with their hands up. Three were on the beach. One was lying on the edge of the water. One was trying to climb the rocks, and machine-gun bullets were chipping the stones above him and ricocheting across the fjord. Eskeland said: “Three minutes.” The German landing party came into sight, running along the shore towards the place where the crew had landed, jumping from rock to rock. When they got near, the firing stopped, and for a few seconds there was no sound but the shouts of German orders. “Three and a half,” Eskeland said. “Cast off.”
They began to row, keeping Brattholm between them and the Germans. In that direction, towards the head of the fjord, it was two hundred yards to shore. But the German ship was very close, and it was much bigger than Brattholm. Before they had gone fifty yards they were sighted, and at this point-blank range the Germans opened fire. The dinghy was shot full of holes and began to sink. But the German ship was slowly drawing alongside Brattholm, and the last quarter of a minute of the fuse was burning down, and the fascination of watching the trap being sprung blinded them to the miracle that so far they had not been wounded.
The ship and Brattholm touched, and at that very moment the explosion came. But it was nothing, only a fraction of what it should have been. Only the primer exploded. The hatch covers were blown off and the front of the wheelhouse was wrecked, but the German ship was undamaged. There were shouts and confusion on deck and for a few seconds the firing stopped. The ship went full speed astern. Brattholm was burning fiercely. In that momentary respite, the men in the dinghy rowed for their lives, but the ship swung round till its three-pounder came to bear. Its first shot missed the dinghy. And then the whole cargo exploded. Brattholm vanished, in the crack of the shock wave, the long roar in the hills, the mushroom of smoke streaked with debris and blazing petrol. Eskeland was blown overboard. Jan leaned out and got him under the arms and hauled him on to the gunwale, and the German gunner recovered and a shot from the three-pounder smashed the dinghy into pieces. They were all in the water, swimming. There were seventy yards to go. The Germans brought all their guns to bear on the heads in the water. The men swam on, through water foaming with bullets, thrusting the ice aside with their heads and hands.
All of them reached the shore. Jan Baalsrud stumbled through the shallows with his friend Per Blindheim beside him. As they reached the water’s edge Per was hit in the head and fell forward half out of the water. With a last effort, Jan climbed a rocky bank and found cover behind a stone. As he climbed he had been aware that his leader Eskeland had fallen on the beach and that Salvesen, either wounded or exhausted, had sunk down there unable to make the climb. He shouted to them all to follow him, but there was no answer. A bullet hit the stone above his head and whined across the fjord. He was under fire from both sides. He looked behind him, and saw the Germans who had landed. Four of them had worked round the shore and crossed the hillside fifty yards above him to cut off his retreat. He was surrounded.
At the head of the fjord there is a little mound, covered with small birch trees. Behind it the hills rise steeply for about two hundred feet. A shallow gully divides them. Within the gully the snow lies deeply, a smooth steep slope only broken by two large boulders. The patrol came floundering down the hill, pausing to kneel in the snow and snipe at Jan with rifles. Caught between them and the fire from the ship he could find no cover. But to reach him the patrol had to cross the little dip behind the mound, and there for a moment they were out of sight. He got up and ran towards them. He could not tell whether they would come over the mound, through the birches, or skirt round it to the left. He crept round it to the right. He had been wearing rubber sea-boots, but had lost one of them when he was swimming, and one of his feet was bare. He heard the soldiers crashing through the brittle bushes. Soon, as he and the patrol each circled round the mound, he come upon their tracks and crossed them. It could only be seconds before they came to his. But now the foot of the gully was near, and he broke cover and ran towards it.
They saw him at once, and they were even closer than before. An officer called on him to halt. He struggled up the first part of the gully, through the soft sliding snow. The officer fired at him with a revolver and missed, and he got to cover behind the first boulder in the gully and drew his automatic.
Looking back down the snow slope, he watched the officer climbing up towards him with the three soldiers following close behind. The officer was in Gestapo uniform. They came on with confidence, and Jan remembered that so far he had not fired a shot, so they possibly did not know that he was armed. He waited, not to waste his fire. Beyond the four figures close below him, he was aware of uproar and confusion, shouting and stray shots in the fjord. As he climbed, the officer called to Jan to surrender. He was out of breath. Jan fixed on a spot in the snow six yards below him. When they reached there, he would shoot.
The officer reached it first. Jan squeezed the trigger. The pistol clicked. It was full of ice. Twice more he tried, but it would not work, and the men were within three paces. He ejected to cartridges and it fired. He shot the Gestapo officer twice and he fell dead in the snow and his body rolled down the slope over and over towards the feet of his men. Jan fired again and the next man went down, wounded. The last two turned and ran, sliding down the snow to find cover. Jan jumped to his feet and began the long climb up the gully.
For a little while, it was strangely quiet. He was hidden from the fjord by one side of the gully. The snow was soft and deep and difficult, and he often slipped with his rubber boot. With all his strength, he could only climb slowly.
Above the second boulder, for the last hundred feet, the gully opened out into a wide snow slope, perfectly clean and white and smooth, and as soon as he set foot on it he came into sight of the German ship behind him.
In his dark naval uniform against the gleaming snow up there he was exposed as a perfect target for every gun on the warship and the rifles of the soldiers on the beaches. He struggled in desperation with the powdery snow, climbing a yard and slipping back, clawing frantically with his hands at the yielding surface which offered no hold. The virgin slope was torn to chaos by the storm of bullets from behind him. Three-pounder shells exploding in it blew clouds of snow powder in the air. He could feel with sickening expectation the thud and the searing pain in his back which would be the end of it all. The impulse to hide, to seek any refuge from this horror, was overwhelming. But there was nowhere to hide, no help, no escape from the dreadful thing that was happening to him. He could only go on and on and on, choking as his lungs filled with ice crystals, sobbing with weariness and rage and self-pity, kicking steps which crumbled away beneath him, climbing and falling, exhausting the last of his strength against the soft deep cushion of the snow.
He got to the top. There were rocks again, hard windswept snow, the crest of the hill, and shelter just beyond it. He dropped in his tracks, and for the first time he dared to look behind him. The firing died. There below him he could see the whole panorama of the fjord. Smoke hung above it in the sky. The German ship was at the spot where Brattholm had been anchored. On the far shore, a knot of soldiers were gathered around the crew. Nearer, where he had landed, his companions were lying on the beach, not moving, and he thought they were all dead. All round the fjord there were parties of Germans, some staring towards him at the spot where he had reached the ridge and disappeared, and others beginning to move in his direction. In his own tracks before his eyes the snow was red, and that brought him to full awareness of a pain in his foot, and he looked at it. His only injury was almost ludicrous. It was his right foot, the bare one, and half of his big toe had been shot away. It was not bleeding much, because the foot was frozen. He got up and turned his back on Toftefjord and began to try to run. It was not much more then ten minutes since he had been sleeping in the cabin with his friends, and now he was alone.