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Max Manus – leader of the Norwegian Resistance movement

Posted in Espionage, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Monday, 17 March 2014

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This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 591 published on 12 May 1973.

Max Manus,  picture, image, illustration

Max Manus, head of the resistance movement, parachutes back into Norway by Graham Coton

On a beautiful spring day in 1945, an open car drove through the main streets of Oslo. In it sat King Haakon of Norway, and the Crown Princess Martha, happily acknowledging the cheers of the people celebrating with their king the capitulation of the German forces in Norway. In the car sat another man with sandy hair and dressed in uniform. No one who watched the car going by needed telling that this man was Max Manus, which was hardly surprising as he was Norway’s most renowned hero of the resistance, who had spent five years of his life fighting the Nazis to such devastating effect that they had come to live in terror of him.

That he was there to take part in the peace celebrations was something of a miracle. As far back as 1941, he had been tracked down and arrested in his flat by the Norwegian statspolitti, the tools of the Nazis, who had taken the two guns he had carried, and then held him down while they searched the flat. The grenades and documents they found were damning evidence against him. Nothing, it seemed, could save him now from the torture chamber and a shameful death, probably by strangulation.

But his captors had been too sure of themselves. Carried away by their discoveries in the flat, they released their hold on their prisoner, in order to cluster around their leader who was examining the papers he had found. Taking advantage of the situation, Max had raced across the room and had dived through the window pane, crashing on to the pavement two floors below.

He woke up in hospital, just in time to hear the doctor saying to the statspolitti that there was no point in them taking away the prisoner to be shot, as his back was broken. The statspolitti left, promising to return later.

Happily, the doctor had been lying to gain a reprieve for his patient. Outside, waiting friends bundled him into a car, and raced off into the night. Seconds later, the statspolitti arrived.

Soon afterwards, Max was ordered to make his way to London to take part in a sabotage course. Travelling by skis across Norway into neutral Sweden, he eventually reached London, where he was trained in the use of high explosives.

When Max had left his country, he had been an ill-equipped, rather blundering fighter for freedom. He returned to it a potential killer. Dropped by parachute into the mountains, he made his way to Oslo, where he made contact with the Resistance. With Max at their head, they launched a massive campaign against the Nazis, destroying factories and oil refineries, which had been taken over to play their part in supporting the German war machine. This, in itself, was enough to make Max the most wanted man in Norway.

Moving unobtrusively around Oslo, bristling with secret police, Germans and traitors, Max Manus quietly prepared for his next task – that of blowing up the German troopship, Monte Rosa, due to berth within the next few days.

The plan was a simple, but highly dangerous one. With another man, Max was to get into the docks somehow, and then hide in the cross beams under the dock until the Monte Rosa arrived. They would then fix Limpet bombs on her, which would be timed to go off after the ship had left port. The man that Max chose to carry out this task, was his closest friend, Gregers Gram.

Posing as electricians who had come to repair some cables, the two men arrived at the gates of the factory in a delivery van. The guard examined their papers, and then curtly told them to open up the van.

With their hearts beating like hammers, Max and Gregers opened up the van, knowing that the guard was certain to look inside the two large chests they carried which were full of tools, covering twelve deadly limpet mines. Foreseeing such an emergency, they had arranged for another Resistance member to drive up and loudly ask to be admitted, in the hope that it would distract the guard’s attention. But where was the other van?

It arrived just as the guard was about to examine the two chests. Hearing the impatient horn blowing behind him, the guard slammed the doors of the van shut and went off to examine the other van which was empty. Breathing gusty sighs of relief, Max and Gregers drove off. After they had hidden the two chests, they drove out of the docks, exchanging a friendly wave with the guard as they left. The first part of their mission had been accomplished.

The next day they returned on foot to the docks, where the guard let them through without comment. As soon as they were out of sight they scurried off and collected the two chests which they then carried to the dock where they knew the Monte Rosa would berth. Creeping into the timbers, they hauled the two chests in after them, and then wriggled on their bellies through the mass of cross beams. Then suddenly the beams ended in a mass of broken timbers.

Max looked in despair at the water which separated them from the rest of the pier. “How do we get across the water?” he whispered to his companion. “It’s impossible to swim that gap with these two chests. They must weigh at least fifty pounds each.”

The two men lay and considered the position. Then Max had an idea. In his hideout in Oslo was an inflatable rubber dinghy. Somehow they would have to smuggle that into the docks, too. Wearily, they began the long crawl back.

Some hours later they returned to the dock with the boat neatly folded and tucked away at the bottom of a tool kit. The guard practically treated them like old friends as he let them pass. Back in their old position among the beams, they waited until darkness came, when they inflated the dinghy and dropped it silently into the water. Some time later, they were on the other side with the boxes beside them. Now all they had to do was to wait.

In all, they waited three days, with nothing to sustain them except some sandwiches and a bottle of brandy. In the night, the rats played hide and seek among the beams around them. The more bold rats took turns at attacking them. In the day time, they lay, half suffocated with the heat, trying not to notice the awful stench from the garbage filled waters.

The Monte Rosa came at last, and under cover of darkness Max and Gregers lowered their rubber dinghy alongside it. Swiftly, they attached the limpet mines to the ship. Then sinking their rubber craft, they scrambled back among the beams. When the daylight came, they walked coolly out of the docks.

A few days later, the Monte Rosa blew up in the docks of Copenhagen.

Max Manus continued to fight against the Nazis until the very last day of the war. Only one thing marred his joy when liberation day finally came. Just before the end, his friend, Gregers Gram had been caught and gunned down by the Nazis while he was having a quiet drink in an Oslo cafe. It was a sad end for a man who had survived so much in the company of the more lucky Max Manus.

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