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Norwegian Partisans in Soviet service 1940 - 1944

In Finnmark, the ties between Norway and Russia have always been very tight. As early as the 1680s Russian ships from Archangelsk sailed to the northern part of Norway to trade grain and wood for fish. This trade went on for more than 200 years, and even developed a language, which was a mix between Norwegian and Russian.

Every summer Russian fishers came to the coast of Finnmark to fish. The most popular place was the village of Kiberg, where the Russian fishers even established their own medical centre. Because of the Russian influence in Kiberg, the village came to be called “Little Moscow”.

The Russian Revolution in 1917, however, made contact between Norway and the Soviet Union almost impossible. The people in the north of Norway however, still felt a strong connection to their neighbours across the border.

In the 1920s the living-conditions for the people on the coast of Finnmark got worse. The international crisis had reached Finnmark, and in addition the important spring-season-fishing failed several seasons. The result was unemployment and poverty in the coastal areas. The fishermen were among the poorest, and the population in the coastal areas regarded their living-conditions as unjust.

The political climate in Norway in the interwar period was polarized between the far left and the far right. The fishermen and farmers in Finnmark felt sympathy for the Soviet Union and for communism. A significant number voted for and joined the Norwegian Labour Party or the Norwegian Communist Party.

In April 1940 German troops invaded Norway, and early in the summer they reached  the northern parts of the country. A few weeks into the German occupation people in Kiberg felt as though they were being watched. The Germans clearly knew about the sympathy for the Soviet Union, and they were paying close attention. Many people in the little village found the situation unbearable, and decided that an organized escape to the Soviet Union was the only alternative.
One night in September 1940 three fishing boats left the harbour of Kiberg with course set on the Soviet Union . On board the boats were 48 people; men, women and even small children who all tried to escape the occupation. And others soon followed these refugees. In all more than 100 people from Finnmark fled to the Soviet Union in 1940.

The refugees all made it safely to Vaidaguba. There they were met by Soviet navy vessels, and were brought to the navy base in Poljarnyj. The NKVD questioned them about their motives for coming to the Soviet Union, but after a few weeks they were set free and sent to Murmansk where they were put to work. The women and children were sent to Sjadrinsk to work on a state farm, while the men agreed to enrol in the North Fleet or the NKVD.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 everyone who had agreed to serve in the Soviet forces signed up for active duty. The Norwegians were trained in intelligence, sabotage in, and the use of weapons and parachutes. Some were even given education in radiotelegraphy.

The first group was sent from Murmansk to Finnmark in late august 1941. The group consisted of six Norwegians and seven Russians. They were landed by a submarine at Langbunes, not far from Kiberg, and headed for a small cabin in the inlands. With help from former friends and neighbours from Kiberg they gathered intelligence about German activity in the Varanger-area, and reported this to Murmansk. The group, however, soon found themselves in great danger, surrounded by German troops, but managed to shoot themselves free. One of the Russian interpreters was shot in the leg, and chose to take his own life to avoid coming into German hands. The others fled deeper into the mountains of The Varanger Peninsula and hid for several days. They managed to send a message to Murmansk to get a submarine to take them safely back to Russia, but the submarine never showed up as it was supposed to.

The group broke into an empty house in Kiberg to hide, but was soon discovered by German troops, and in the battle three more were shot. The rest of the group fled from the house and found new places to hide. Some of them crossed the fjord to Russia in a small fishingboat, while a submarine picked up the remains of the group after a few weeks of hiding.

The first partisan group in Finnmark had failed. They returned to Murmansk without completing their mission and with four agents dead. Everyone had learned a lesson from this experience. Most importantly one had learned that 13 people on this sort of mission was too many in the small and transparent communities in Finnmark. In the barren landscape in Varanger it was difficult to find cover and concealment, and the risk of being discovered by the Germans was imminent. The next groups that were sent out from Murmansk therefore only consisted of three persons: Two agents and one telegrapher.

In course of the spring 1942 several three-man-groups were sent out from Murmansk to places along the coast of Finnmark. There were groups at Sørøya, near Berlevåg, near Båtsfjord, and at Segelodden by Persfjord. These groups spent their days reporting German vessels and convoys on their way to the Litsa front. This shipping was vital for the Germans to sustain the large forces in East-Finnmark and on the Litsa-front. Because of the information the Norwegian and Russian partisans in Finnmark provided, the Soviet naval forces in the North Fleet could use their naval and air forces more efficiently on the German ships. The damages the partisan groups inflicted on German shipping were considerable.

The Norwegian-Soviet groups were responsible for the sinking of many German ships even though the conditions they operated under were extreme. The partisans often lived in rock caves along the arctic coast for long periods of time, with little protection from the harsh winter climate. They were also under constant danger of exposure to the Germans or from enemy informants among the local population. In cases when the groups were discovered by the Germans they defended themselves to the last, sometimes being killed by flamethrowers in their hideouts.

The Germans for a long time believed that their losses were coincidental. But soon the timing and the precision of the attacks convinced them that the Soviet naval and air forces had to be supported by radio agents ashore. After extensive countermeasures including radio interception, the Germans in the summer of 1943 launched a concerted action by all available army, counter intelligence and security police units in East-Finnmark. As a result many of the partisan groups were hunted down.

This led to a tragic and bloody summer. Partisans were killed or captured, and local contacts were arrested, condemned to death and executed. The German operations  had been successful. During the summer of 1943, 71 Norwegians who had been working for the Soviet Union were neutralized. 18 agents were killed, 23 persons who had contributed with information and food for the agents were executed and another 30 persons were sent to German concentration camps. The partisan net had efficiently been broken up.

After this there was not enough agents to continue sending three-man-groups to Norway. There were some attempts to land agents in the western part of Finnmark, but none of them were very successful.

When the partisans who survived returned to Norway after the war, they could not talk openly about their experiences because of the declaration of silence that they had been required to sign when they signed up for duty in the Soviet forces. When the east-west relations deteriorated shortly after the war, suspicions were raised against the former partisans and their helpers. The people of Kiberg now became the target of active surveillance by the Norwegian Surveillance Police. This was regarded highly unjust by the former partisans and their relatives, and caused much bitterness and hard feelings among the few inhabitants of Kiberg.

In 1992, when King Harald V of Norway visited Finnmark he unveiled a monument in the honour of the partisans. He also offered an apology on behalf of the Norwegian authorities by saying that “ I am afraid that we may have unjustly inflicted great personal strains on some people in the shadow of the Cold War.” This statement by the King has to a considerable extent rebuilt the self-esteem among the population of Kiberg, and also contributed to a general respect in Norway for the for the partisans great contribution to the victory over the Germans in the war in the high north.

Eight years later, the Partisan Museum was opened by Minister of Defense Bjørn Tore Godal. It was constructed by Vardømuseene(now Varanger Museum avd. Vardø) in collaboration with Kiberg Bygdelag. It mainly concerns two themes: The history of Kiberg in the years leading up to the Partisans and their more or less tragic fate. The other theme is the German operations in Kiberg during WWII. Their high activity around the strategic gun batteries at Kibergsneset we consider a paradox when viewed in relation to the appearance of the many Communist Partisans in Kiberg.

Denne artikkelen ble opprinnelig framført som et foredrag i Murmansk Regionale Museum i 2004 av Ane Dalen Eriksen. Det er foretatt noen endringer og tilføyelser av Ole Lindhartsen i 2010.

Teksten krediteres til Hans Kristian Eriksen ”Partisaner i nord”1979 og Kjell Fjørtoft ”Lille Moskva – den glemte krigen” 1983.
”Bulletin for Science and Education” utkommer ved Murmansk Statlige Universitet for Pedagogikk.

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