Norway’s Favorite Son

Today would have been the 96th birthday of one of World War II’s great unsung (at least in the US) heroes – Max Manus.  I’m not sure if McGyver had a real-life model, but if he did, it may have been Manus.

Born in Bergen in 1914, Manus had quite a life before the war, galavanting about the jungles of Latin America for some years (his father, a Norwegian businessman, had spent many years in Spanish-speaking countries on both sides of the Atlantic; he’s changed his name to “Manus” from “Magnusson” to fit in better; Max’s full name was the very un-Nordic “Maximo Guillermo Manus”), adventures that later became the subject of a book published in Norway and translated into English.

From there, at age 25, he transitioned to the motti of Finland, volunteering to fight against the Soviets during Finland’s Talvesota, the “Winter War“.  But on on April 9, hearing news of the German invasion of Norway,  gathering a company of 130 men around him to fight on in the interior until resistance ended.

Manus quickly connected with the resistance –  serving mainly as a weapons collector as well as printing illicit counterpropaganda newspapers – until his group was betrayed and Manus was arrested by the Gestapo.  He escaped with the aid of a sympathetic doctor, and escaped to Sweden.  There, he was approached by the British “Special Operations Executive” (SOE), and escaped across the USSR, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and thence across the ocean to the USA.  Hitchhiking to Canada to join Norway’s small army in exile, he returned to Scotland in 1941 for more training with the SOE.

There, recognized for his combat experience, coolness under fire and mechanical aptitude, he was recuited into the elite – the Lignekompaniet, the exile army’s Commando unit.  Trained in sabotage, close combat and parachuting, Manus and a small team of saboteurs were air-dropped into the woods near Oslo.

There, Manus spent the rest of the war making life hell for the occupiers.  His specialty was sinking ships – big merchant ships needed by the Germans for supplying their garrison and hauling much-needed goods back to Germany from Norway.  In 1945 alone, using home-made magnetic mines and a few homemade torpedos, he sank two large cargo ships, as well as many smaller bombings and the killings of not a few German officers and Gestapo agents.  There’s an excellent accounting of his wartime record here.

As the war ended and the royal family returned, Manus was rewarded by being put in charge of King Haakon’s security detail.  He spent the rest of his life – until 1996 – running a variety of businesses, indulging his wanderlust, and eventually living in Spain.  He apparnently suffered from nightmares and a bit of a drinking problem; his years in the (literal) cold took their toll.

But he was one of the great heroes of World War II.   Big enough to get his own movie:

4 thoughts on “Norway’s Favorite Son

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday Max Manus - Norwegian Hero - World War 2 Talk

  2. I missed this film when they ran it here in the Cities, because it would have meant… you know, leaving the house. But it’s in my Netflix cue, whenever they get around to stocking it. I may end up buying the DVD, if I have to wait too long.

    Hey, the Peace Prize ceremony’s today! Two reasons to give props to Norway! That doesn’t happen often.

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