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Gunnar Fridtjof Thurmann Sønsteby DSO (11 January 1918 – 10 May 2012) was a member of the Norwegian resistance movement during the German occupation of Norway in World War II. He is also known for being the most highly decorated citizen in Norway, including being the only one to have been awarded the War Cross with three swords, Norway's highest military decoration.
Second World War
Sønsteby was decorated for his work as a Norwegian resistance fighter during World War II. Known also as Kjakan (The Chin) and No. 24, he participated in the resistance effort from 1940. At the time of the German invasion of Norway in April 1940, Sønsteby was living in Oslo and fought in Philip Hansteens Skiløperkompani.
Norway's regular armed forces surrendered on 10 June 1940, after two months of fighting, and the country was subsequently occupied by the Germans. Sønsteby then became involved in the underground resistance, both through Milorg and the illegal press. In 1942 he became "Agent 24" in the Special Operations Executive. After saboteur training in England in 1943, he became the contact for all SOE agents in eastern Norway and head of the Norwegian Independent Company 1 group in Oslo. This group performed several spectacular acts of sabotage; among them smuggling out plates for the printing of Norwegian kroner from the Norwegian Central Bank and blowing up the office for Norwegian forced labour, thereby stopping the Nazis' plan of sending young Norwegian men to the Eastern Front.
In addition to the attack on the labour office the recommendation for this award mentions the theft of 75,000 ration books, which allowed pressure to be placed on authorities, stopping a threatened cut in rations; the destruction of sulfuric acid manufacturing facilities in Lysaker; destroying or seriously damaging over 40 aircraft, and related equipment which were being repaired at a tram company depot in Korsvoll; destroying a railway locomotive which was under repair at Skabo; destroying a number of Bofors guns, a field gun and vital machine tools at the Kongsberg arms factory; and starting a large fire in an oil storage depot at Oslo harbour which destroyed large quantities of lubricating oil and other specialist oils.
Operating in occupied territory, and being high on the Gestapo list of wanted men, Sønsteby became a master of disguise. He operated under 30 to 40 different names and identities, and the Germans did not acquire his real name until near the end of the war. They were never able to catch him.
Assassinations of informants
When Sønsteby was 80 years old, he said "Of course wrong decisions were made, also by the Resistance Movement. But one must remember that war was going on. It did happen that we had to kill without being sure that the person concerned was an informant. But the decisions were correct—there and then."
After the war Sønsteby moved to the United States where he enrolled in Harvard Business School. He also worked in the oil business before returning to Norway where he continued a career in private business. Throughout the post-war years and particularly after reaching retirement age Sønsteby has engaged in an extensive information and lecturing activity to pass on the lessons of the Second World War to future generations.
His additional recognitions include the following:
- In 1945, Sønsteby was awarded the British Distinguished Service Order and the U.S. Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm.
- In 2001 he was awarded the American-Scandinavian Foundation's culture award.
- On 13 May 2007, a statue of him was erected on Solli plass in Oslo. The statue was sculpted by Per Ung and portrays a 25-year-old Sønsteby standing next to his bicycle. The statue was unveiled by King Harald of Norway.
- On his 90th birthday on 11 January 2008, he was honoured with a reception at Akershus Fortress attended by King Harald V of Norway and the other members of the Royal Family.
- In 2008 he was the first non-American awarded the United States Special Operations Command Medal.
- There are monuments for him in Oslo (at Solli Plass) and in Rjukan.
A state funeral for Sønsteby was held on 25 May 2012 in Oslo Domkirke. Twenty-four soldiers from Hans Majestet Kongens Garde provided an honour guard, while the service was attended by the King of Norway, the Prime Minister of Norway, current and seven past Ministers of Defence, and the Chief of Defence. Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was represented by a wreath. Several embassies to Norway were represented, including the United States Ambassador to Norway Barry B. White.
The pallbearers were six high-ranking officers, a break from the norm of using soldiers drafted from the King's Guard, and as they carried the coffin from the church, four Air Force F-16s performed a missing man flypast.
In popular culture
- The War Cross: The War Cross with swords (Norwegian)
- StOlav.com: The Statutes of the Order of St. Olav Invalid language code.&(Norwegian)
- Jensen, Finn Robert; Gunnar "Kjakan" Sønsteby Om samhold og innsatsvilje; Pantagruel forlag; Oslo; 2008
- Moland, Arnfinn; Gunnar Sønsteby – 24 kapitler i Kjakans liv; Orion; Oslo; 2004.
- Dagbladet article
- Lars Martin Gimse, Cato Guhnfeldt (10 May 2012). "Gunnar "Kjakan" Sønsteby er død" (in Norwegian). Aftenposten. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- "Gunnar Sønsteby: Hero of the Norwegian Resistance". Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 15 October 2008.
- Gunnar Sønsteby, obituary, Daily Telegraph, 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2013-02-26.
- "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Sonsteby, Gunnar". Documents online. The National Archives. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
- Guhnfeldt, Cato (2012-05-11). "Krigeren med de ni liv". Aftenposten. p. 4.
Det er klart man tok gale avgjørelser også innen motstandsbevegelsen. Men man må huske på at det var krig. Det hendte vi måtte drepe uten å være sikker på at vedkommende var angiver. Men avgjørelsene var riktige der og da.
- Aftenposten Newspaper: War hero turns 90
- "Levende legende på sokkel" (2007) Norwegian Armed Forces (Norwegian). Retrieved 26 July 2007.
- No24 home page (Norwegian)/Invalid language code.
- Gunnar Sønsteby — obituary in the Daily Telegraph
- Gunnar Sønsteby — obituary in the Guardian
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