Lorin Peters - The heart of our journey was an 11 day cruise, on a Hurtigruten coastal transit vessel, north from Bergen around to Russia and back. Finnmark, latitude 71º N, is the north-most “county” of Norway. The winters are so long, and the soil so little, that agriculture is not really an option. Their only resource was cod, dried cod. During the 18th century, Russian traders from around the White Sea (NW Russia), called Pomors, began trading their grain and timber and ceramics for the cod. The Norwegians built a fortress, 1737, in Vardo, and the Czar established a consulate near the border, in Kirkenes. Local Norwegians and Russians have a reservoir of good will, even after the Bolshevik Revolution.
But the Nazis occupied Norway, including Finnmark, 1940 April 9. Kirkenes was bombed 320 times. When Hitler finally ordered a withdrawal from Finnmark, he specified a “scorched-earth” retreat. The Soviet Army liberated Kirkenes 1944 October 25. When the exiled Norwegian military returned to Kirkenes (from England), they had no provisions for their starving countrymen. So the Soviet commander simply gave ten tons of flour to the city for Christmas. I ran across several monuments in northern Norway in honor of the Soviets.
We spent an hour at Trondenes, the world’s north-most medieval church, built 1250 AD and still in use. The priest conducted a brief service - we sang and prayed in seven languages (not counting our Thai). While everyone else went to the museum, I stumbled across a graveyard of 403 Soviet prisoners-of-war. The Nazis had held 100,000 Soviet PoWs in Norway.
Southern Norway apparently suffered less damage during WWII. But Hurtigruten was not so lucky. They lost nine ships and 700 lives during the Nazi occupation. (They had lost six ships and 50 lives during their first 47 years.) Five of the nine losses were by torpedo, presumably by the Allies. Locals seem inclined to assume most of these losses were due to mistakes in identifying ships. To further complicate matters, at least one of the losses was a ship being used to transport German soldiers. The good news is that Hurtigruten has lost no ships at all since 1962, at least in part due to improvements in navigation technology.