UPDATED: One of Norway’s last resistance heroes from World War II will be honoured next week with a funeral to be conducted at state expense. Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen will also attend the funeral for Ragnar Leif Ulstein, who died this week at the age of 99.
Ulstein was just shy of 20 when Nazi Germany invaded Norway in 1940, 10 days before his birthday on April 19. The native of Ulstein on Norway’s northwest coast quickly decided to make the hazardous journey over the North Sea to Shetland, to join the resistance effort against Norway’s Nazi German occupiers.
He won admittance to the famed resistance unit known as Kompani Linge, and took part in several missions including a landing and raid at Reine in Lofoten in December 1941 that brought newly trained resistance fighters back to Norway. British officers’ decision to pull out after realizing an invasion was not possible frustrated many of the Norwegians , according to Norway’s defense department, but also sparked changes in how Kompani Linge was organized. Instead of trying to mount large raids they switched to fewer and more precise sabotage operations behind enemy lines.
Ulstein, who died in Ålesund on Tuesday morning, took part in such sabotage operations including one against a German warship anchored off Nord-Gulen near Svelgen in September 1943. He led the build-up of the resistance force Siskin in Sogn and was involved in three major offenses during the course of the war.
“He was a hero in so many ways,” said Vice Admiral Elisabeth Natvig, chief of Norway’s defense personnel. “It’s with sorrow that news of his death has been received around the country.”
Ulstein later took part in the Norwegian Tysklandsbrigaden that contributed towards stabilizing and securing the rebuilding of Germany after the war. “He was able to see the consequences of the war from both sides,” Natvig said.
That proved important when he left military service and pursued a career as a journalist, author and historian for the rest of his life. “With the bravery of a soldier and the integrity of a journalist he related the realities of war to many new generations,” Natvig added. “He was a local patriot as well as a national spokesman.”
Frode Færøy, a historian at the Resistance Museum in Oslo, told state broadcaster NRK that “no single person has collected more material about the war effort than Ragnar Ulstein did. The combination of being a participant in the war and a historian and story teller made him unique.”
Ulstein wrote massively about the resistance traffic between Norway and Great Britain during the war, the traffic to and through Sweden and intelligence operations during the war years. He worked for newspapers Bergens Tidende and Sunnmørsposten, and wrote books about border guides who helped many flee to Sweden during the war, about Jewish persecution and their efforts to flee Norway under the Nazis. “It’s work that will continue to set the standard for many, many years,” Færøy said. Ulstein was also known for going directly to the sources involved in wartime resistance activities, interviewing around 1,200 people, many on tape.
He was highly decorated for his war contributions in both Norway and England. Ulstein, who’s survived by his wife Jenny Mine, will be laid to rest at the Spjelkavik Church in Ålesund next Friday.