Sogn og Fjordane
Møre og Romsdal
Bjørn West museet
BA 1 / BA 2 / BA 3
Bjørn West marsjen
Kamp og siger
Museets venner
The "Bjørn West" Museum, Matre, Norway
Forfatter: Kjell Espelid
Publiseringsdato: 19.03.2003
On October 15th 1994, H.M. King Harald V came to Matre to officially inaugurate the Museum and at the same time take part in the commemoration of the establishment of Bjørn West 50 years previously. The first stage of the celebrations took place in a hydro-electric power station some 120 metres inside the mountain. 

In the spring of 1944 the so-called "Minister-president” Vidkun Quisling went to Berlin on his own initiative to please Hitler by offering to conscript 75,000 young Norwegians for forced labour in agriculture forestry and building construction, Quisling’s plan failed because advance details were leaked to the Norwegian Resistance-MILORG-who realised that this was a camouflage operation to fool Norwegians into the German Army, which badly needed reinforcements. Milorg saboteurs blew up the records and the machines used to print the recruitment documents. But the fear remained that Quisling would make a second attempt. 

Milorg and the Norwegian High Command in London supported by the British Special Forces Headquarters therefore decided to establish 5 guerilla bases in specially selected remote areas in Norway where those most seriously at risk could be safely hidden. They would be given arctic clothing, and be armed and trained to support possible military operations. 

One such base was Bjørn West, situated, as the crow flies, Only 30-40 miles from Bergen in a very mountainous area some 500 metres above sea level from which steep hillsides and precipices lead down to the fiords. The base was established in October 1944 under the command of captain Harald Risnes who, before he was assigned to Bjørn West, had been Second in-Command of the Norwegian Commando Company and had distinguished himself in comrnando raids on the Norwegian coast. His staff consisted of 6 top officers from Norwegian Independent Company No. I -Kompani Linge. On December lst the first men joined them from Bergen and by the end of April 1945 there were 259 of them. All recruits were told upon arrival that they would have to stay there until the end of the war. 

Weather conditions in Western Norway were exceptionally bad in the vinter of 1944-45, making it impossible to fly in supplies by air. The men at Bjørn West were living in extremely primitive mountain huts originally used for summer dairy farming, and needed food, clothing, weapons, etc., which had to be shipped by Subchasers from the Shetlands. They would land their cargo at meeting places on islands off the coast at night. Local contactmen would then take over and bring the stuff in their fishing boats past the German patrol vessels to selected landing places in the fiord. This must in many ways have been considered the most risky part of the scheme. The more strenuous part started there, for the Bjørn West men had to carry the goods in their rucksacks in loads of up to approx. 40 kilos up the mountain at night in places where normally nobody would climb the hillsides even in daylight. 

At the beginning of April weather conditions improved and British and American aircraft took over the transportation. The establishment of such a guerilla base so close to Bergen was of course a dangerous gamble, but Bjørn West’s existence remained a secret from the Germans until the last weeks of the war when the base came under fierce fire from superior enemy forces. After 6 days of heavy fighting Bjørn West retreated following orders from the High Command in London. Peace negotiations were in progress for the final end of the war in Norway, and “the battle in Masfjordfjellene" had developed into a very delicate situation for the German Army which lost some 80-100 men. Bjørn West lost 7. 

The story of Bjørn West is an interesting, dramatic and exciting piece of Norway’s war history which the newly opened BJØRN WEST MUSEUM encapsulates and preserves. The Museum is situated at Matre (N-5l98 Matredal) north of Bergen - in the centre of the area where Bjørn West existed 50 years ago - and houses a fine collection of authentic weapons. In addition, it gives an impression of the conditions under which the Bjørn West boys lived: hard toil, snow storm and rain, cold, lack of food, but with a plentiful supply of camaraderie and amazing fighting spirit. 

On October 15th 1994, H.M. King Harald V came to Matre to officially inaugurate the Museum and at the same time take part in the commemoration of the establishment of Bjørn West 50 years previously. The first stage of the celebrations took place in a hydro-electric power station some 120 metres inside the mountain where all production bad been stopped for the occasion. 280 guests gathered in the ceremoniously decorated huge mountain hall when King Harald arrived and a memorable programme was presented in honour of, and in gratitude to, the Bjørn West men. In this unique setting the military band was especially proud to play "In the Hall of the mountain King" ("I Dovregubbens Hall") from Edvard Grieg’s "Per Gynt"! 
In order to include the 2,500 or so visitors who had come to Matre for this special day, the whole programme was transmitted on TV screens in local classrooms and auditoriums in the aqua-research station. 

The opening ceremony took place in the open air in front of the museum building where all the visitors could flock around the King when he gave his inaugural address. He pointed out that "the history of Bjørn West is now not only part of the local history of Nord-Hordaland, but is part of our national history, although up to now only fragments of this part of it have been known outside the area. It is therefore of national interest that this institution should become a thriving museum with presentations directed particularly at the rising generation." 

After the inauguration King Harald was given a guided tour of the Museum and thereafter 25 local ladies in their spectacular national costumes served a delicious luncheon for His Majesty and the specially invited guests before he returned to Bergen by helicopter. 

Matre is a very small place where only a few farmers lived before the war. In 1949 King Olav V spent a night there when,as Crown Prince and Norway's Chief of Defence at the end of the war, he unveiled the memorial at the little mountain farm, Stordalen, where Bjørn West had its headquarters in 1945. But King Harald is the first reigning monarch to visit this remote rural district. 

October I5th 1994 was therefore in more than one way a historic day for the people of Matre and the Masfjorden area. 


Kjell Espelid provided a companion piece to the Bjørn West Museum story but lack of space makes it impossible to do more than summarise it: 

In November 1994 i group of 38 Bjørn West veterans. some accompanied by their wives, spent week in England. Though they were in London on November I2th for the Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance, and though they visited the Cabinet War Rooms in company with Annette Groth, NRK’s correspondent, they did not confine themselves to events and sightseeing in the capital. They also visited the RAF Museum at Hendon and the small village of Tempsford, near Bedford, where an airfield had been established for the final briefingg of agents about to be flown to join up with resistance groups in occupied Europe. Per Hysing-Dahl, who was later to become Stortingspresident, was stationed there as a pilot and made many flights to France as well as to Norway, including the Bjørn West base. Another link was at Earls Colne, near Colchester, where 38 Group, RAF Coastal Command had its HQ. It was from there that supplies were flown to Bjørn West towards the end of the war. The airfield has since become a golf course, and the Norwegian party had lunch in the club house after inspecting a small but remarkably comprehensive museum, set up there by enthusiastic RAF veterans. 

The guide, Thomas Nielsen, a Bjørn West man himself, won praise from all for his expert handling of the whole tour. 

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