Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg emphasised that Gunnar Sønsteby dedicated his life to democracy.
“He played a key role in the resistance movement from 1940 until Norway was liberated in 1945. During the war, he showed an extraordinary determination to win back our freedom, and after the war his capacity for reconciliation touched us deeply,” said Mr Stoltenberg.
As one of the most important witnesses of the wartime years, Gunnar Sønsteby became renowned for the part he played in passing on his experiences to later generations of Norwegians – right up until recent years.
“He taught young people in Norway not to hate. He taught them to differentiate between those who are responsible and those who are not. He taught them the importance of reconciliation,” said Mr Stoltenberg.
Mr Stoltenberg also highlighted Gunnar Sønsteby’s longstanding efforts in support of the war veterans.
“He spent more than 60 years in what could be described as a continuous effort to honour veterans in Norway and abroad,” he said.
“There are many of us who are deeply grateful for all that Gunnar Sønsteby has done. We are grateful for the stories about “Kjakan” (The Chin), No. 24, and the Oslo Gang’s historic actions during the war, and for the stories he told from the war until very recently. Gunnar Sønsteby has earned a proud place in our modern history,” said Mr Stoltenberg.
Gunnar Sønsteby (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 person in Norway, including being the only one to have been awarded the War Cross with three swords.
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.