Collectors sometimes “lift” stamps on covers to see what kind of paper the stamp was printed on. “Lifting stamps once helped save the free world from Adolf Hitler’s evil empire. Here’s a neat story about stamps, espionage and a 200-mile race across snowy mountains…
Germany invaded Norway in the spring of 1940. Sven Somme, a marine biologist, and his brother Iacob joined the underground resistance movement. Iacob plotted to sabotage the hydro plant in Telemark, where Germans were building a nuclear bomb. He was caught and executed in 1944.
In spite of the risk, Sven continued. His assignment was mapping strategic German military bases and photographing their military torpedo batteries and submarine bases along Norway’s west coast. Sven then mailed the intelligence to his Allied handlers on microfilm – hidden underneath the stamp on the envelope!
Click here to see images of Sven and one of the letters he hid beneath a stamp.
The plan worked until German soldiers spotted the sun glinting off his camera lens as Sven snapped pictures of a U-boat base on the island of Otteroy. He hid his camera under a rock as the Germans ran toward him, firing shots. Sven told them he was bird watching. His cover fell apart when the soldiers found his camera before he could get off the island.
Sven was taken to the mainland by boat and confined to the vessel overnight to await his execution. When his guard fell asleep, he slipped off his handcuffs and walked casually past five armed soldiers, who mistook him for a civilian. Sven fled into the countryside.
About an hour later, the Germans realized he was gone and sent 900 soldiers and a pack of hounds after him. By now Sven had crossed streams in his light shoes and was climbing up snowy mountains, where frostbite was a real possibility. With the Germans in pursuit, he sometimes swung from one pine tree to another to avoid leaving footprints in the snow. A family sheltered him and exchanged a pair of boots for his shoes. Sven made it to a safe house, where he hid for five weeks while false papers were made for him. He walked across the border into Sweden and arrived in Great Britain for a private audience with the exiled King of Norway. Sven had walked more than 200 miles in brutal conditions during the two-month escape.
Sven married an English wife and had three children before dying of cancer in 1961. After the death of his wife, his daughters found an archive of secret documents – envelopes with tiny maps hidden under the stamps, instructions from the resistance written in invisible ink, a map used during his escape and a Nazi warrant ordering Sven’s arrest and execution. Amazingly, the family that sheltered him was found – and they had kept his shoes, preserving even more of this 70-year old story.