When World War II broke out in Norway 9th April 1940, 21 year old Gunnar Sonsteby went into the streets watching the German soldiers marching into the city. "I was irritated," he later recalled. "And I wanted to do something." That decision became of remarkable impact for the Norwegian resistance and a nation's five year long way to freedom.
Norway's regular armed forces surrendered on 10th June 1940, after two months of fighting, and the country was subsequently occupied by the Germans. Gunnar Sonsteby then became involved in the underground resistance, both through the military movement "Milorg" and the illegal press. In 1942 he became "Agent 24" in the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
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 labor, thereby stopping the Nazis' plan of sending young Norwegian men to the Eastern Front.
In addition to the attack on the labor 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 harbor 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, Sonsteby 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.
Shortly after the Nazi surrender 9th April 1945 Sonsteby visited the German Kriminalrat Sigfried Fehmer in his cell at Akershus fortress. Fehmer had been the officer hunting Sonsteby throughout the war, and had arrested, tortured and executed resistance colleagues of his. But Sonsteby showed no hate. The men had a three hour long meeting in Fehmer's cell.
"There was an understanding that the other had performed his duty according to his beliefs," Sonsteby recalled. "Fehmer was extremely interested in meeting the man he unsuccessfully had hunted throughout the whole war, and I wanted to see who he was."
The meeting was a respectful one, and the men shook hands, uttering no kind of hateful statements.
"Life must go on," Sonsteby stated. "It was time to look forward. Hate brings one nothing but misery. Forgiveness is the future." Fehmer was later executed at Akershus Fortress.
In 2008 the major feature film "Max Manus" was made about the Oslo-gang's resistance. Sonsteby was a central character, and was played by actor Knut Joner.
In June 2011 Kolby wrote to the war hero and asked if he would model for a portrait. Sonsteby was positive, and the work begun. The following months Kolby visited Sonsteby in his home and at the Norwegian Resistance Museum at Akershus Fortress, making sketches and taking photographs. In October the portrait was finished, and was bought by Sonsteby's old friend and resistance colleague, the Rio based businessman Erling Lorentzen. He donated the painting to the Norwegian Resistance Museum where it now hangs i Sonsteby's former office.
The painting was unveiled by the Chief of the staff of the Army, General Harald Sunde, 15th November 2011 at the Resistance Museum with both Sonsteby and Lorentzen present. Attending were also the Secretary of Defence and WWII veterans.
Gunnar "Kjakan" Sonsteby died 10th May 2012 at the age of 94.
Captain Sonsteby of Kompani Linge is the highest awarded citizen in Norway through all time:
Norwegian War Cross with three swords
Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav
Norwegian Police Cross of Honour
Norwegian Defense Cross of Honour
Norwegian Defense Medal with laurel branch
Defense Medal 1940–1945 with rosette
His Majesty the King's Commemorative Medal in Silver
King Haakon VII 70th Anniversary Medal
Distinguished Service Order
1939–45 Star Defense Medal
Medal of Freedom with silver palm
United States Special Operations Command Medal
Association of Former Intelligence Officers Freedom Award
Pro Memoria Medal
Medal of St. Hallvard
Honorary member of the Norwegian Defense Association