Can anyone and knew but I think many will be interested in the historical prototype mission Libye 3
In early November, 1958, a British oil exploration team was flying over North Africa’s harsh Libyan Desert when they stumbled across something unexpected… the wreckage of a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) plane from World War 2. A ground crew eventually located the site, where a quick inspection of the remains identified it as a B-24D Liberator called the Lady Be Good, an Allied bomber that had disappeared following a bombing run in Italy in 1943. When she failed to return to base, the USAAF conducted a search, ultimately presuming that the Lady and her crew perished in the Mediterranean Sea after becoming disoriented.
The British oil surveyors found that the desert environment had preserved the aircraft’s hardware astonishingly well; the plane’s 50 caliber machine guns still operated at the pull of the trigger, the radio was in working condition, one of the engines was still functional, and there were still containers filled with water on board. But the remains of the crew were nowhere to be seen.
It took the US military over a year before they took the sighting seriously, but eventually they dispatched a search operation which scoured the desert for the remains of the crew. The search teams found several improvised arrow markers at varying distances to the northwest— one made of boots, others made from parachutes weighed down with rocks— but the markers stopped at the edge of the vast, shifting sea of sand known as Calanscio. The group was unsuccessful in finding any further trace of the crew.
The Lady Be Good had been crewed by nine men:
1st Lieutenant William J. Hatton, Pilot
2d Lieutenant Robert F. Toner, Copilot
2d Lieutenant Dp Hays, Navigator
2d Lieutenant John S. Woravka, Bombardier
Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger, Flight Engineer
Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte, Radio Operator
Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelley, Gunner & Assistant Flight Engineer
Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, Gunner & Assistant Radio Operator
Staff Sergeant Samuel R. Adams, Gunner
The official search was eventually called off on account of equipment problems from the harsh environment. But quite by accident, all but one of the crew were located during the year of 1960, over sixteen years after the Lady had disappeared into the desolation. Combined with the findings from the crash site, the clues found with the remains of the crew told the story of men’s final days.
The April 4th, 1943 bombing run on Naples had been the first call to action for Lady Be Good and her crew. That afternoon they launched from the Benina air strip in the city of Soluch in Libya. They departed amidst a sandstorm which incapacitated two other bombers in the flight group, forcing them to return to base. Lady’s engines ingested some of the airborne sand as well, but seemed to be running normally, so Lieutenant Hatton opted not abort the mission. En route to the target, the aircraft was buffeted by severe winds that pushed her off course and further away from the bomber group, forcing numerous course corrections on the way to Naples. By the time they neared the target, the other Liberators had long since come and gone, and visibility was reportedly poor. So the pilot turned back, dumping their bombs into the Mediterranean Sea.
The last contact from the crew of Lady Be Good was a radio transmission from her pilot, William Hatton: “My ADF has malfunctioned. Please give me a QDM.” This indicated that his position-finding equipment had failed, and due to the thick cloud cover he had become disoriented. For reasons unknown, Lt. Hatton never received a response to this request for a position report, but it has been suggested that the radio tower suspected a German trick. Later, in the darkness, the distinct droning sound of a B-24 emanated from the clouds over Benina airport. Flares were launched to signal the bomber, but the engine sound passed overhead, and faded into the distance.
Realizing that they were hopelessly disoriented, several members of the Lady’s crew made notations in their logs indicating that they had become lost. A notepad belonging to bombardier Lt. John Woravka revealed one side of a written conversation, probably penciled so their pilot wouldn’t hear them over the intercom. It suggests that there may have been some disagreement in the cockpit:
“What’s he beeching (bitching) about?”
“What’s going to happen?”
“Are we going home?”
Running dangerously low on fuel and probably believing they were over the Mediterranean Sea, the nine men donned parachutes and ditched the aircraft to take their chances. It’s likely that the men were surprised when their boots hit sand rather than water. Using revolvers and flare guns, the seven scattered survivors managed to find one another in the desert. They decided to get underway immediately, knowing that the unforgiving Libyan desert reached daytime temperatures of up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lady Be Good flew on through the dark night, slowly descending to crash-land sixteen miles from the men’s gathering place. Not realizing that their plane and its supply of food and water were a scant sixteen miles away, the men estimated that travelling northwest would bring them back to the airbase in Soluch. They set out on foot with what supplies they carried. By their calculations, they were no more than 100 miles from the base. In reality, the distance was over 400 miles.
Left-to-Right: Staff Sgt. Vernon L. Moore, 2nd Lt. Lieutenant Hays, 2nd Lt. John S. Woravka, Staff Sgt. Guy E. Shelley, and Technical Sgt. Harold J. Ripslinger
When the plane’s wreckage was located in 1958, desert survival experts predicted that the airmen could only have moved up to thirty miles on foot, particularly considering the fact that they were unprepared for the unforgiving desert environment. Much to the amazement of investigators, the remains of the first group of men were found about eighty miles north of the wreck. A British oil survey team discovered the five bodies, closely grouped together in an area strewn with personal effects such as wallets, flashlights, pieces of parachutes, flight jackets, first-aid kits, and most importantly, the diary of Lieutenant Robert Toner which described his final eight days with a sober brevity:
Sunday, Apr. 4, 1943
Naples—28 places—things pretty well mixed up—got lost returning, out of gas, jumped, landed in desert at 2:00 in morning. no one badly hurt, cant find John, all others present.
Start walking N.W., still no John. a few rations, 1/2 canteen of water, 1 cap full per day. Sun fairly warm. Good breeze from N.W. Nite very cold. no sleep. Rested & walked.
Rested at 11:30, sun very warm. no breeze, spent P.M. in hell, no planes, etc. rested until 5:00 P.M. Walked & rested all nite. 15 min on, 5 off.
Wednesday, Apr. 7, 1943
Same routine, everyone getting weak, cant get very far, prayers all the time, again P.M. very warm, hell. Can’t sleep. everyone sore from ground.
Hit Sand Dunes, very miserable, good wind but continuous blowing of sand, every[one] now very weak, thought Sam & Moore were all done. La Motte eyes are gone, everyone else’s eyes are bad. Still going N.W.
On 9 April, Lieutenants Hatton, Toner, Hays and Sergeants Adams and LaMotte ended their trek, too exhausted to continue. Sergeants Shelley, Moore and Ripslinger continued northward in search of help. There was no further written record for the three men who departed, but with negligible water, no food, and temperatures as high as 130 degrees, the misery of their last few days is difficult to imagine. Lieutenant Toner continued to keep his diary as they waited:
Shelly [sic], Rip, Moore separate & try to go for help, rest of us all very weak, eyes bad, not any travel, all want to die. still very little water. nites are about 35, good n wind, no shelter, 1 parachute left.
Saturday, Apr. 10, 1943
Still having prayer meetings for help. No sign of anything, a couple of birds; good wind from N. —Really weak now, cant walk. pains all over, still all want to die. Nites very cold. no sleep.
Still waiting for help, still praying. eyes bad, lost all our wgt. aching all over, could make it if we had water; just enough left to put our tongues to, have hope for help very soon, no rest, still same place.
No help yet, very cold nite
The entry from Monday, April 12 was the last, written in thick pencil lines.
Of the three men who continued on, the remains of two were eventually found; Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelley was discovered twenty-one miles north of his five crewmates, and Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger may have been the last to fall, having crossed an incredible 109 miles of open desert. Radio operator Moore has never been located.
Later that year, the remains of the bombardier, 2nd Lt. Woravka, were found a few miles from the crash site. His parachute was still attached but appeared to have malfunctioned during evacuation, causing him to fall to his death. Under the circumstances, he was probably the most fortunate of his crew.
When they set out after evacuation, had the survivors trekked southeast towards the wreckage of Lady Be Good, they would have greatly increased their chances of survival by retrieving the food and water stored there, and using the radio to call for help. But they had no way to know how far Lady had glided before landfall. And had their emergency maps included the area where they bailed out, they might have realized the severity of their predicament, and instead headed for an oasis to the south. Good fortune certainly did not favor the crew of Lady Be Good on her first— and last— battle mission. But the toughness of the crew is unquestionable, surviving days of marching across unforgiving desert with only a half-canteen of water to share between them.
The remains of the eight crewmembers which were found were all returned to the United States. Today the wreckage of the plane is stored in a compound in Libya, but many of the crew’s personal effects and a few parts from the plane are on display at the Army Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Last Edit: 1 week 10 hours ago by Sasha. Reason: changed the name of the topic
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Many favorite because of its complexity mission in Norway has its own real history.
Meet: operation source
The British decided to try using X-craft midget submarines in an attempt to damage or even sing Tirpitz.
The 12th Submarine Flotilla carried out specialised training during the summer of 1943.
The X-craft needed to be towed by ordinary submarines. Although the craft had an operational range of 2,400 kilometer (1,500 miles) at 4 knots, just sufficient to make the passage to and return from Kåjord, the living conditions were so uncomfortable that the crew would be exhausted long before they reached the target. The idea was that the X.craft would be manned by a passage crew and when they were close to the target they were replaced by a operational crew.
The codename for the midget submarine attack on Tirpitz was Operation "Source", but even within this overall plan there were three separate sets of plans to be prepared. Operation "Funnel" was the attack on the target in Kåfjord; Operation "Empire" was for the Narvik area between 67° and 69° north; and Operation "Forced" for the Trondheim area between 63° and 65° north.
In order to give the X-craft sufficient darkness and at the same time sufficient moonlight to make their approach up the fjords the attack had to be made during the period 20-25 September 1943, and the former was therefore chosen as the latest date for slipping from the towing submarines. This entailed a departure from the Loch Cairnbawn base on the 11 September 1943.
The six towing submarines that would be used was: Thrasher, Truculent, Syrtis, Seanymph, Stubborn and Sceptre. Satyr and Sea-Dog were held in reserve at Scapa Flow at 24 hours' notice.
Photos: X-5 onboard the depot ship HMS Bonaventure before the attack on the Tirpitz.
On 6 September the X-craft were hoisted inboard of the depot ship HMS Bonaventure for final preparations and the fitting of side cargoes. There remained only the briefing of the crews.
The Admiralty was well advised of Tirpitz's presence in Kåfjord, in company with Scharnhorst and Lützow, the latter in the adjacent Langefjord. On 7 September the first Spitfire reconnaissance for several days was flown and reported Tirpitz and Scharnhorst absent from their berths. Unknown to the British, Tirpitz and Scharnhorst had sailed for the bombardment of Spitzbergen. However by 10 September reconnaissance showed that Tirpitz and Scharnhorst were back at their normal berths.
The date for the slipping of the X-craft was known as D-day (subsequently to be used for a far more notable occasion). The towing submarines after leaving Loch Cairnbawn were to make their way independently to a position 120 kilometer (75 miles) west of the Shetlands and then to proceed on parallel courses 32 kilometer (20 miles) apart until about 240 kilometer (150 miles) west of Altafjord, when they were to steer for their landfalls. Each submarine had an area off Sørøy Island where it was to slip its X-craft just outside the declared mined area after dusk on D-day and was then to patrol there until 27 September before attempting to recover the returning X-craft. The X-craft themselves were to cross the mined area on the surface and to make their way via Stjernsund to Altenfjord, bottoming during the daylight of 21 September. They were to enter Kåfjord at dawn on 22 September.
Photo: HMS Thrasher with X-5 on tow leawing Loch Cairnbawn on 11 September 1943 to begin operation Source. X-5 made a succesfull passage across the Norwegian Sea but disappeared during the operation. Her fate is unknown.
At 1600 on 11 September Truculent with X-6 and Syrtis with X-9 on tow left Loch Caimbawn, followed at intervals of 2 hours by Thrasher with X-5, Seanymph with X-8 and Stubborn with X-7. Sceptre with X-10 having the shortest route sailed at 1300 on 12 September. The passage for the first 4 days was uneventfully made in fine weather. The X-craft were towed dived, surfacing every 6 hours or so for 15 minutes to ventilate the craft.
On 14 September Spitfire photographs were received in England and Flag Officer, Submarines was able to signal details of the defences and to allocate targets to the X-craft. Target plan No. 4 was adopted: X-5, X-6 and X-7 were to attack Tirpitz, X-9 and X-10 Scharnhorst ( both ships berthed in Kåfjord), and X-8 were to attack Lützow berthed in Langefjord, a long arm on the west side of Altafjord some 16 kilometer from Kåfjord at its head.
The next 2 days of the passage, 15 and 16 September, were to be very eventful for 3 out of the 6 X-craft.
The tow between X-7 and Stubborn was parted but they managed to stay in contact and an auxiliary tow was passed.
The tow between X-8 and Seanymph parted as well. They were separated for over 36 hours before they found eachother again and continued the passage.
Also the tow between X-9 (Sub-Lieutenant Kearon) and Syrtis was parted. Syrtis sighted an oil slick while searching for X-9. No further trace of X-9 was ever seen.
X-8 ( Lieutenant McFarlane) and Seanymph were again having difficulties throughout the 17 September. Due to technical problems there was nothing else to do but to jettison the charge. Unfortunately the explosion from the charge severely damaged X-8. The crew could only scuttle the craft and then taken on board of Seanymph.
Throughout the 18 September the remaining submarines continued to tow the X-craft satisfactorily. Truculent and Thrasher had experienced little if any difficulties and had made their landfalls on the preceding day.
Sceptre who likewise had an uneventful passage made a landfall on 19 September. It is worth noting that these 3 submarines and their X-craft were using the new nylon tow ropes; it was the herrip tows which gave trouble and parted.
By dawn on D-day, 20 September 1943, all 4 of the towing submarines with their X-craft were in their respective slipping zones, the operational crews safely transferred. Seanymph had been ordered to a patrol position some 96 kilometer (60 miles) west of Altenfjord, but Syrtis, the loss of X-9 unknown to Flag Officer, Submarines, had received no new orders and so had taken station in her originally scheduled area to help with recovery after the attack.
Photo: Aerial view of Altenfjord and Kåfjord, showing Tirpitz (see arrow) and the approximate route taken by X-5, X-6 and X-7
Between 1830 and 2000 on the evening of 20 September X-5, X-6, X-7 and X-10 all slipped from their towing submarines and began to make their way on the surface across the declared minefield towards Sørøy Sund.
X-5 (Lieutenant Henty-Creer) exchanged shouts of good luck with X-7 (Place). It was the last time the latter was to be seen. No one know what happened and the craft has never been found.
X-6 (Lieutenant Cameron) continued on the surface until 0125 when she dived at first light and continued up Sørøy Sund submerged to the entrance of Stjern Sund and by dusk she was nearing Tommelholm, one of the Brattholm group of islands off the entrance to Kåfjord where the X-craft were to rendezvous if possible. X-6 surfaced to recharge batteries but had to make an emergency dive at the approach of a patrol boat. By 2100 they surfaced again. Shortly before midnight Cameron tucked X-6's bows between a couple of rocks to await first light.
X-7 (Lieutenant Place) had a comparatively uneventful passage up to the rendezvous. At 1630 they sighted a large ship, probably Scharnhorst, steaming north in the lee of Aarøy Island. X-7 also spent the dark hours among the Brattholm group of islands, charging her batteries and undertaking final maintenance, but no contact was made with X-6.
X-10 (Lieutenant Hudspeth) suffered from technical problems. Lieutenant Hudspeth decided to seek a discreet shelter on the north side of Stjernøy, to try and repair them. They spent all day of the 21 September making repairs though with little success, but at 1750 set off for Kåfjord. At 0135 an approaching vessel forced them to dive. Hudspeth later surfaced to ventilate the craft and because he was unable in any way to navigate while dived he made for Tommelholm on the surface. At 0215 he bottomed for the day in 59 meter of water and the crew set to work to try and repair the defects, hoping to be able to attack their target, Scharnhorst, during the night of 22-23 September.
In order that the X-craft should not damage each other a careful schedule had been laid down. The first period for attacking was from 0100 to 0800 on 22 September with a firing period for any side cargo of 1 hour after this, i.e. from 0800 to 0900. Thereafter there was to be an alternating cycle of 3 hour attack periods and 1 hour firing periods.
In Kåfjord Scharnhorst's berth by Auskarneset was empty but Tirpitz was secured behind her antitorpedo nets. There was also anchored in the fjord the repair ship Neumark, a tanker and a Norwegian ship, three destroyers, Z30, Z31 and Erich Steinbrink, and the very old Norwegian coastal defence ship Tordenskold, re-named by the Germans Nymphe and fitted out as an ack-ack ship.
X-6 (Lieutenant Cameron) planned to attack Tirpitz at 0630 on 22 September and started the journey into the Kåfjord. Just after 0700 X-6 slipped unseen through the boat gap in the A/T net. At 0707 X-6 ran aground at the western shore and broke surface. She was seen aboard Tirpitz and reported but mistakenly considered to have been a porpoise and was disregarded! At about 0712 X-6 again broke surface about 27 meter (30 yards) abeam of Tirpitz and was identified correctly. The periscope was flooded and the gyro compass had stopped due to the violence of grounding and the subsequent large angles of dive and rise to which it had been subjected. Cameron groped his way blindly in what he believed was the right direction and was caught in what he thought were the starboard side A/T nets surrounding Tirpitz. He broke clear and surfaced close under Tirpitz's port bow to be met with a fusilade of small arms fire and hand grenades. X-6 was too close for any of the battleship's guns to be brought to bear. it was obvious that escape was impossible so Cameron and his crew destroyed their more secret papers while he backed the submarine alongside Tirpitz and released both sidecargoes beside "B" turret. Then they scuttled the craft and surrendered to a German picket-boat. Cameron and his crew were taken aboard the Tirpitz.
At almost the same moment that X-6 was releasing her charges by "B" turret of Tirpitz, X-7 was doing likewise just a little further astern.
Place with X-7 had left Brattholme Island at 0045, an hour earlier than X-6, and had passed unseen and without incident through the boom at the entrance to Kåfjord at 0350. Then X-7 ran into trouble. The craft became severely entangled in a rectangle of nets which protected a berth in the middle of the fjord. Here X-7 remained enmeshed for an hour before her violent exertions enabled her to break free, but only at the expense of a defective gyro and a broken trim pump. By 0600 X-7 was free and Lieutenant Place decided to go deep beneath the anti-torpedo nets surrounding the target.
Lieutenant Place expected the nets to reach some 18 meter (60 feet) or so down from the surface but in fact another net covered the space below to the bottom of the sea-bed and X-7 was again entangled. She worked herself free but broke surface unnoticed and had to dive again, only to become enmeshed yet again at 29 meter (95 feet). Some erratic manoeuvres enabled her to break free. The gyro was now completely useless and Place let the craft come slowly to the surface so that he could see where he was. By some "extraordinary lucky chance" (Place's own subsequent report) X-7 had broken clear of the A/T nets and was inside them with nothing between her and Tirpitz 27 meter (30 yards) ahead. Place ordered the craft to 12 meter (40 feet) and struck the battleship abreast of "B" turret where he released his first side-cargo under the keel. He then went to 18 meter (60 feet) and having turned went astern under Tirpitz for some 55 meter (180 feet) and released his other side-cargo as nearly under "X" turret as he could estimate. The first grenades thrown against X-6 were heard as X-7 hit Tirpitz, so X-7 must have laid her first side-cargo at about 0723 and the second a couple of minutes later.
After releasing both side-cargoes X-7 was taken down to 30 meter (100 feet) and course altered to try and get her out through the gap where she had entered. However the compass was still not functioning and with no proper idea of a course to steer she was again caught in the nets. For about three quarters of an hour Place worked the craft on motors and by blowing ballast to clear her, but each time he won free it was to become enmeshed again. At 0740 X-7 broke surface and came under small arms fire, but cleared the net and dived to the bottom in 37 meter (120 feet). Getting under way but still blind X-7 again ran into a net somewhere off Tirpitz's starboard bow until at 0812 a violent explosion shook the craft free. Place again bottomed to inspect the damage but although the pressure hull was still intact the machinery was so damaged that it was clearly impossible to try and make the return passage. Place therefore brought X-7 to the surface close to a battle-practice target and climbed out on to the casing under a hail of fire, waving his sweater in surrender. He had just time to step on the target before X-7, her ballast tanks leaking, sank beneath him at 0835.
Place was taken prisoner and nearly 3 hours later Sub-Lieutenant Aitken made a successful escape from the craft but his two companions, Sub-Lieutenant Whittam and ERA Whiteley failed to follow him and died, having exhausted their oxygen supply before they could get out of the hatch. All 3 had been forced to breathe their escape oxygen for much of the time while flooding up as the water reacted with the battery acid to produce chlorine.
On board Tirpitz the day had begun much as usual. At 0500 the hydrophone listening watch had been secured and maintenance on the sets had been started when at 0707 an object was briefly sighted but mistaken for a porpoise and disregarded: it was X-6 running aground inside the A/T net. At 0712 X-6 was correctly identified when she again broke surface some 68 meter (75 yards) off the port beam (a note in Tirpitz's log states that times between 0710 and 0730 are inaccurate) and the power boat was manned at the gangway. At the same time the alarm was raised throughout the battleship by the alarm bell.
A certain amount of confusion seems to have arisen here by the misuse of the alarm bell. Instead of the correct number of rings for "submarine danger" the bell was rung for "'close water-tight doors", so that the actual threat to Tirpitz was unknown to most of her ship's company. The anti-aircraft armament was manned but X-6 was too close to the battleship and her attendant craft to allow them to open fire. The X-craft was seen to dive and then resurface some minutes later when a power boat went alongside, embarked the crew and endeavoured to take the craft in tow. At 0736 water-tight doors were all closed and the prisoners brought on board where their demeanour caused the Germans to believe that they had successfully completed their task. The order was given for Tirpitz to raise steam.
At 0740 a second midget submarine was sighted outside the A/T net boom. This was X-7 forcing her way out. A.A. guns opened fire, grenades were thrown and the destroyers Z27 (Erich Steinbeck) and Z30 told to drop depth-charges. The boom gate to the net enclosure was shut.
On the sinking of X-6 close beside Tirpitz at about 0730 it had been Captain Meyer's intention to take the battleship to sea as quickly as possible away from any danger that might have been left by X-6. Already divers were preparing to check the hull for limpet mines and a wire was being drawn along the battleship's bottom. However the sighting of X-7 outside the nets caused Captain Meyer to change his plan as there was obviously a possibility of danger in the fjord and he had no means of knowing whether the attackers carried a locomotive torpedo or merely some form of static mine. Moreover it would probably take at least an hour before Tirpitz could be under way. Since X-6 had been sighted on Tirpitz's port side it was probable that any explosive charge would have been laid on that side and Tirpitz's bows were hauled over to starboard with her anchors and cable-holders. Moving the stern, which was secured to the shore by wires, was not readily feasible.
At 0812 there were 2 violent explosions, almost simultaneously, and Tirpitz leapt upwards several feet. A very considerable amount of damage occurred. All the lighting circuits and much of the power supply were put out of action and the ship settled down with a slight list to port with No. 2 generator room flooded, as well as other adjacent compartments. Some minutes later a second midget submarine (X-7) was seen to surface and was fired on as a member of the crew came out and stepped on to a practice target. After the submarine was seen to sink the destroyer Z27 dropped 5 depth-charges in the vicinity.
At 0843 yet another submarine was sighted about 592 meter (650 yards) away broad on Tirpitz's starboard bow. Both heavy and light AA guns opened fire and several hits were seen as the craft went under water, probably damaged. 2 minutes later a destroyer dropped a pattern of five depth-charges over the spot. This must have been X-5 and is all that is known of the craft since Place and Henty-Creer had exchanged shouts of good-luck off Sørøy at 2315 on 20 September, 33 hours earlier. it is probable that Henty-Creer was waiting until the next "safe-to-attack" period after 0900 before attempting to force the nets.
Photo: Taken shortly after the attack showing Tirpitz and other German vessels in Kåfjord and Altenfjord. Note the oil slicks in the water.
The damage to Tirpitz was severe. There were splits in the bottom of the hull and buckling and distortion underneath and to outlet pipes. No. 2 generator room was flooded and all the other electrical generators shocked so that no power was available in the ship for two hours, which effectively prevented the starting of boilers and the ship putting to sea. Much of the machinery was shocked on its mountings and put out of action: the propeller shafts could not be turned and "A" and "X" turrets jumped off their roller paths and temporarily made unserviceable. P III twin AA mounting was jammed, range-finders and fire control equipment were severely damaged and W/T and radar equipment rendered useless. 2 aircraft were severely damaged and the port rudder was put out of action.
2 power supply ships were sent to aid the battleship, the Karl Junge and the Watt, the latter arriving in the afternoon from Langefjord. On 25 September the German Naval Staff decided, with the approval of the Führer and the C-in-C Navy, that repairs should be carried out in a northern port, but it was appreciated that the battleship might never again be completely and operationally efficient.
X-10 spent all the daylight hours of 22 September dived by Tommelholm, trying to make good her defects. By sunset X-10's defects were still not solved. Hudspeth (having heard the explosions) decided that any attempt to attack an alerted enemy in his defective craft would be virtual suicide. At 1800 on 22 September X-10 surfaced and began her homeward journey. X-10 reached the rendezvous position at about 2300 on 23 September. For a day and a half Hudspeth manoeuvred in the area, dived and surfaced, trying to contact a towing submarine, but without success and at 0430 on 25th September he set course for Sandøy Fjord, securing there towards dusk alongside the beach of Ytre Rappafjord. Here the crew of X-10 rested and cleaned up.
At dawn on 27 September X-10 again set off, this time for 0fjord 32 kilometer (20 miles) to the west, where a submarine was due to rendezvous that night. At 0150 28 September X-10 was in tow of Stubborn.
On 1 October Truculent and Syrtis were ordered to keep pace but a planned fleet operation caused their course to be modified. On 3 October at 1807 a signal from Flag Officer, Submarines, warned them of an imminent gale and instructed Lieutenant Duff in Stubborn to embark the passage crew and scuttle X-10. At 2045 on 3 October X-10 was sunk in 66° 13' N. 04° 02' E. The expected gale broke 2 days later, by which time the submarines were all safely in Lerwick.
Except for Seanymph who had been ordered to patrol to the westward, the other 5 towing submarines remained on patrol in their areas after slipping their X-craft. On 21 September the Seanymph was ordered to shift area and patrol off Andøy in the hope of intercepting any enemy ships moving from Altenfjord to Narvik after the X-craft attack. At about midday 22 September Sceptre received instructions to shift area and patrol off Kvaløy outside Tromsø but unfortunately she arrived just too late to see Lützow on her way south. The 4 remaining submarines were redisposed to cover the seaward side of Sørøy, clear of the minefields. From 23 to 27 September they remained on patrol, trying to rendezvous with any returning X-craft, unharrassed by any German anti-submarine activity which indicated that the Germans had not appreciated how the X-craft had made the passage to Altafjord. On the nights of 27 and 28 September the submarines searched off Sørøy, where on 27 September Stubborn found X-10 in 0fjord, and in the morning of 29 September they separately started back for Lerwick, where they arrived between 3 and 5 October. Sceptre and Seanymph remained on patrol until 4 October without incident and both were back in Lerwick by 7 October 1943.
So ended the first attack by British midget submarines and the first successful attempt to destroy or damage Tirpitz. Of the six X-craft which set out none returned home but their casualties were fortunately light. 3 men were lost on passage in X-9 and X-8 was scuttled without casualty. In X-5, X-6 and X-7, all detailed to attack Tirpitz, 6 men were lost and 6 men were taken prisoner and came safely home after the war. X-10 was scuttled without loss on the way home.
The attack had been a tremendous success. For the loss of only 9 men killed and six men captured the battleship had been severely damaged, perhaps irreparably, and put out of action for six months and the morale of her crew undermined.
Throughout the winter months of 1943-44 the Germans laboured in Kåfjord to repair Tirpitz, with special ship workers based on the repair ship Neumark.
During the night between 10-11 February 1944, 15 Soviet bombers, each carrying a 2000 lb bomb, set out with Tirpitz as their target. Only four of these located Kåfjord and none of them hit the ship, although one was credited with a near miss.
By 15 March 1944 all possible repairs without dry-docking had been completed. Tirpitz began trials in Barbrudalen and Altafjord.
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landing of the British in the Lofoten Islands was only a small part of the global landing in Norway - Operation Archery
They came out of the sea, out of the darkness, and they brought death, terror, and destruction with them. Leaving behind towering pyres of oily smoke, they were gone before their foe could react. Every German soldier would hear about these raiders and remember them. They would fear the name Commando.
The Special Service Brigade, formal designation of the Commando forces, attracted quite a collection of daring, aggressive officers, a few of them a bit on the eccentric side, but all ready to take on any job that would get them into the war. An example was Second Lt. Peter Young, a young officer of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment.
Young rode a motorcycle through vile weather to appear at an interview for the brigade, and by the time he arrived, he “was in a desperate mood and ready to volunteer for anything, particularly if it did not involve motor-bicycles. I was an hour late. The interviewing officer, happily, was two hours late. Eventually, I was ushered into the presence of a captain who bore, I thought, a superficial resemblance to Mr. Pickwick and certainly looked benevolent. This, I said to myself, will be some staff officer from the War Office…. He asked next if I knew anything about small boats; much experience of canoeing on the River Isis justified me in assuring him that my knowledge was extensive. I was in.”
Only later would the youngster realize that the benevolent captain was his commander, Lt. Col. John Durnford-Slater.
Special Service Brigade was a different sort of outfit. Each of its Commandos was stationed in some small town. There was a headquarters, but individual soldiers lived and ate in private homes and received an allowance to cover expenses. In such an elite outfit, there was little need for conventional disciplinary measures: the ultimate, dreaded punishment was RTU, “returned to unit,” banishing a soldier from the Commandos. Once the ranks were filled in 3 Commando, new men entered at the lowest officer or enlisted grade and competed with their comrades for promotion.
“Men of Character Beyond the Normal.”
A good many first-class NCOs gave up their precious stripes to serve as Commandos and won them back by demonstrated excellence in the unit. Among them were characters like Corporal Lofty King of the Rifle Brigade, tall and hard-nosed, very tough on his men. “It’s good for them, Colonel,” he told Durnford-Slater. “It won’t do them any harm.” Lofty King was one of those happy warriors who actually love combat; in action he was a lion, but he was kind to his men. He and his fellows were Durnford-Slater’s kind of men: in the colonel’s words, “men of character beyond the normal.”
Combat training was very tough indeed, almost brutal, with much use of live ammunition. Physical training was equally tough; when the Commandos were not running cross-country with full gear, they were bashing each other on the rugby field. Three Commando was stationed at Largs, on the River Clyde in Scotland. There its men trained in the rocky hills and barren uplands above the river and practiced landing operations on the beaches along the Clyde itself.
Durnford-Slater drove his men hard: Every morning they did 20 to 30 landings, pouring out of landing craft, sprinting for cover with all their gear and weapons. Before they were through, 30 men could exit a landing craft, reach cover 25 yards away, and do it all in 10 seconds. The days began early and did not end until dark; on top of that, the Commandos were out on night operations at least three nights a week.
Aching for Combat
Billeted in and around the town, the young soldiers of the Commando seem to have gotten on well with most of the local population, a happy relationship that produced more than a few marriages. Occasionally, however, high spirits and too much beer required the intervention of the Commando’s own police force, led by an ex-boxer and ex-cop, Sergeant Bill Chitty. Chitty’s hardcases normally took care of minor disciplinary situations themselves, with what their commanding officer called “a good handling,” to the satisfaction of both their commander and the local police. On one occasion, in fact, Chitty’s heroes took on a whole camp of troublesome imported Irish laborers and whipped the lot, to the intense satisfaction of the local constabulary.
Still, in spite of hard training and simple off-duty pleasures, the men of 3 Commando ached for a chance at the enemy. They were about to get their chance, for in November 1941, 3 Commando’s commanding officer, John Durnford-Slater, was called to London to report to Lord Louis Mountbatten, chief of Combined Operations. Mountbatten asked his young commander a straightforward question: Could 3 Commando successfully raid a town in central Norway defended by a garrison and a battery of guns covering the approaches to the town? They could, said Durnford-Slater, if escorting warships could close in and hammer the battery. “You can rely on our men to look after the German garrison.” Mountbatten nodded, and the show was on.
Adolf Hitler set great store by the German occupation of Norway. He had therefore been furious when the Commandos struck the Norwegian Lofoten Islands in March 1941, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the master race. The Lofotens squatted in the frigid gloom of the North Sea off the Norwegian coast, about due west of Narvik, and on these islands factories produced about 50 percent of Norway’s enormous output of fish oil. This product was used by Germany in vitamin tablets for the Army and to make glycerine, a critical ingredient in the manufacture of explosives. The Lofoten operation—dubbed “Claymore”—aimed to destroy these factories and to hurt the occupying Germans in any other way that seemed good to the raiders.
A Dominating Victory for the Commandos
The darkness of mid-winter was the perfect time for the Lofoten raid, in spite of the bitter cold. Most German aircraft were grounded on the north Norwegian airfields—without ski-landing gear. No plane could take off to interfere with the raid. Armed German trawlers worked the area, but no heavier naval units were reported. And so, when the Commandos appeared out of a murky dawn, they were unopposed. A single German armed trawler was quickly battered into surrender by the destroyer HMS Somali. Most of the German crew died or were wounded. The only British casualty in the whole operation was an embarrassed officer who managed to shoot himself in the leg with his own pistol.
The raiders fired the oil factories, destroyed 11 ships and some 800,000 gallons of oil, and returned to Britain unchallenged, taking with them more than 300 volunteers for the forces of Free Norway. They also took home more than 200 German prisoners, including the head of the local Gestapo, some 60 Quislings (Nazi collaborators), and a captured trawler. And before they left, Durnford-Slater addressed another group of suspected Quislings with some terse and ominous advice for the future: “Yeah, well, I don’t want to hear any more of this bloody Quisling business. It’s no bloody good, I’m telling you. If I hear there’s been any more of it, I’ll be back again and next time I’ll take the whole bloody lot of you. Now clear off!”
To add further insult to the injury inflicted on the Germans, one Lieutenant Wills found the local post office and sent a wire addressed to “A. Hitler, Berlin.” It is worth quoting: “You said your last speech German troops would meet the English wherever they landed stop where are your troops? Wills 2-lieut.”
In September, a British-Canadian force struck isolated Spitzbergen, some 350 icy miles north of the tip of Norway. Again the raiders hit without warning and got away clean. Behind them they left towering fires consuming almost half a million tons of coal and some 275,000 gallons of petroleum products, vital resources Germany would never see. More loyalist Norwegians went home with the raiders. For the master race, there was still more trouble to come.
For toward the end of October, leadership of British Combined Operations had been taken over by Lord Mountbatten, cousin to the king, a dashing Royal Navy officer of daring, keen intelligence, and great energy. Within two months of assuming command, Mountbatten staged the most damaging raid yet, and mightily got Hitler’s goat in the process.
As Durnford-Slater learned to his delight, the target was again Norwegian: the little port of South Vaagso, some 350 miles north of Norway’s southern tip and about halfway between Bergen and Trondheim. Like the Lofotens, this area also produced substantial quantities of vital fish oil for the German war machine. The sheltered waters around the town provided a staging area for German coastal convoys traveling up and down the Indreled, the Inner Passage, sheltered by Norway’s hundreds of offshore islands. Vaagso lies on spectacular Nordfjord, stretching 70 miles deep into the hinterland of Norway. It is ice-free throughout the year, thanks to the waters of the Gulf Stream.
The operation was called “Archery,” and planning and preparation for the raid were painstaking. Combined Operations specialists in London built a detailed model of the Vaagso area, which Durnford-Slater carried back to Scotland in a packing case, in a passenger compartment on the train. Briefings were made from this model, although nobody but the raid’s leaders knew the actual name of the place they were to attack. Successful dress rehearsals were run at the Royal Navy anchorage of Scapa Flow in the far north of Scotland.
Mounting a Small But Elite Strike Force
After the walk-over raids on the Lofotens and Spitzbergen, the Commandos were spoiling for a real fight. This time it appeared they might get one. There were perhaps 240 German troops in and around the town, plus a tank and about 50 sailors. On Maaloy Island, near the town, a four-gun battery of French 125mm guns protected Vaags Fjord, on which the town lay; the Maaloy garrison also manned an anti-aircraft gun, a searchlight, and a couple of machine guns.
There were two more cannon—liberated 130mm Russian field pieces—on the nearby island of Rugsundo, and a battery of mobile 105mm guns protected Ulvesund, the anchorage where German convoys formed up for voyages down the coast. Two torpedo tubes were trained on the entrance to the fjord. Three Luftwaffe bases were within flying distance of Vaagso—Trondheim, Herdla, and Stavanger—capable of launching about four squadrons of fighters and bombers. However, British planners hoped that the perennial dirty weather of the far northern winter might give some measure of cover against German aircraft. In addition, the RAF would do what it could to interdict German aircraft before they could reach the Vaagso area.
The British strike force would number fewer than 600 men, a neat package of 3 Commando, a troop and a half of 2 Commando, Royal Engineers from 6 Commando, medics from 4 Commando, some War Office Intelligence officers, and interpreters of the Royal Norwegian Army. By this time in the war a Commando troop was composed of three officers and, in British terminology, about 60 “other ranks,” soldiers and NCOs. Six of these troops, plus a small headquarters, made up a Commando, the equivalent of a very small battalion.
In overall charge of the operation was Brigadier Charles Haydon, an Irish Guards officer given to careful planning of the most minute details of any operation. The better you planned, Haydon believed and preached, the better the operation went and the fewer casualties you took. He was the sort of commander junior officers adored, careful of his men but willing to let them do their jobs without micro-management. Haydon customarily gave great responsibility to his young leaders, issuing mission-type orders, standing by to help, but otherwise letting his officers get on with the war on their own.
Churchill Carried a Claymore Broadsword and Bagpipes Into Combat
On shore, the landing party would be led by Colonel John Durnford-Slater, still commanding officer of 3 Commando. Durnford-Slater, a gunner, was a 30-year-old captain at the beginning of the war, a veteran of years of service in India. He had volunteered for the Commandos when the force was first raised. Like the other volunteers, he did not know what he was joining, but was eager to leave his adjutant’s job at an artillery training post and get into the war. He was both delighted and startled when his orders arrived, promoting him to lieutenant colonel and directing him to forthwith “raise and command number 3 commando.” Suddenly he was part of the war in a big way.
His executive officer was one of the legitimate characters of an army that abounded in them, Major J.M.T.F. Churchill, MC, known to his friends as Jack. Churchill was a born leader, a ferocious officer who carried a claymore broadsword in combat and roused his own Scots blood by playing on his own bagpipes, a sound not everyone found edifying. Churchill had survived Dunkirk, arriving at the port by bicycle, carrying a longbow with which, legend tells us, he had dispatched at least one German. He would later win the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for the singlehanded capture of some 30 Germans, apparently by appearing suddenly out of the night with a great warlike shout and brandished claymore.
The rest of Durnford-Slater’s officers were unique characters in their own right. Captain John Giles, commanding 3 Troop, was a huge man, a heavyweight boxing champion, worshipped by his men. On one occasion, during training at Largs, he marched his troop off the end of a pier carrying full equipment, then ordered “column right,” swam them back to shore, and marched off. His counterpart in 6 Troop was the inventive Peter Young, now a captain. Mustachioed Captain Algy Forrester commanded 4 Troop. A newspaperman by trade, he had trained as an artilleryman. With no idea of infantry tactics, he had volunteered for the Commandos and learned to be an expert foot soldier in a hurry. One Troop followed Captain Bill Bradley, described as a “tall and rather wild northern Irishman.”
Tip of the Spear
This collection of free spirits, eager for action, included three Irish officers who actually hatched a plan to plant explosives at the German Embassy in Dublin, an effort authorized by Durnford-Slater himself. The officers were sure the embassy was a clearinghouse for information about British convoys, and they felt the building could first be emptied of innocent Irish employees by the judicious offer of good whiskey “and other rewards.” The unit doctor, Irish Captain Sam Corry, had arranged leave to Dublin to check out the target, and supply officer Charley Head was collecting the requisite explosives when the word came down. A new operation had been laid on, and Durnford-Slater’s men were its spearhead.
Rear Admiral Harold Burrough commanded the Royal Navy units involved in the raid. Burrough, an Oxford-educated veteran of the great World War I fight at Jutland, was a career Royal Navy man, a calm, thoughtful officer of great experience. Naval support for the raiders came from HMS Kenya, a 31-knot, 6-inch gun cruiser that would also serve as the headquarters vessel. With Kenya sailed Hunt-class destroyer HMS Chiddingfold and three O-class destroyers, Oribi, Onslow, and Offa. All carried 4-inch armament: two guns for Offa, four for each of the rest. The troops were embarked in infantry assault ships Prince Charles and Prince Leopold, in civilian life excursion ships in the Channel trade. Finally, the submarine HMS Tuna would serve as a navigational beacon, a sure point of reference in the gloom outside the mouth of the fjord.
The RAF, operating at very long range, would furnish such support as it could. Its bases were a long way from the target: Wick, far to the north of Scotland, and Sumburgh in the Shetlands. The nearest base to Vaagso—Sumburgh—was some 250 nautical miles from the target; Wick was about 400 nautical miles away. The Bristol Beaufighters and fighter-model Blenheims of the cover force, and the Hampden and Blenheim bombers would have a long way to fly, a limited time above the objective, and a very long flight home, especially for a damaged aircraft.
29 Prisoners, No Casualties
The infantry attack ships, covered by destroyers, sailed on Christmas Eve, headed into a Force 8 gale for Sollum Voe in the Shetland Islands. Just before they left Scapa Flow, Mountbatten spoke to the raiders. He told the men how proud and confident he was of them and their effort, and he reminded them that when his destroyer, Kelly, had been sunk off Crete, the Luftwaffe had machine-gunned the survivors in the water. “There is,” he said, “no need to treat them gently on my account.”
After a very difficult passage through heavy seas, the little flotilla reached Sollum Voe, and stayed there a day while the storm diminished a little. Prince Charles, helped by Chiddingfold, pumped more than a hundred tons of seawater out of her vitals. Meanwhile, on December 26, Boxing Day, a diversionary force, 12 Commando, was going ashore in the Lofotens to distract the German command from the real objective. During the diversion, 12 Commando would stay on shore two days destroying German installations without suffering casualties and return with 29 prisoners and about 200 eager recruits for the forces of Free Norway.
In the late afternoon of December 26, the main force sailed for Vaagso from Sollum Voe, making a perfect landfall in the deep cold of the early-morning darkness. The captain of Kenya had done a spectacular job of navigation in the night, and he had gotten the flotilla to Vaagso precisely on schedule, even though in these latitudes the winter sun does not rise until about 10 o’clock and the morning sky was clear and spotted with stars. It was 0700, and HMS Tuna was precisely where she was supposed to be, her steady signal heard on Kenya’s asdic before her conning tower came into view in the gloom.
On board the transports, the landing force was ready. They had been called to breakfast at 0500, checked their gear and weapons, and now stood by, ready to board the landing craft that would take them ashore.
Graffiti, Lectures, and Waiting
The task force moved into the mouth of the fjord, cruising slowly, the ships keeping their interval by using the ancient device of the “towing spar,” a white-painted float towed behind each ship. The float left a visible wake behind it, and following vessels had only to keep the float in sight to stay on station.
On shore, the Norwegian inhabitants were up and about the day’s business. Daily life went on, although, with few exceptions, the citizens had no love for their conquerors. Some of the younger men had already fled to England to join the forces of Free Norway, and those who remained behind dreamed of the day when the hated invader was driven out. Patriotic graffiti appeared magically on building walls in Vaagso and other Norwegian towns. When the Germans threatened reprisals against any property on which the slogans appeared, the graffiti began to appear only on the walls of structures owned by collaborators.
This chilly morning, yawning German soldiers were turning out to go to their duty stations. Over on Maaloy Island the crews of the four coastal defense guns were having breakfast; the business of the morning for them was the dreary monthly lecture on military courtesy, doubtless as boring to these men as such lectures are to soldiers the world over.
As the invasion fleet moved into the tight waters of the fjord, sailing in darkness between steep, snow-covered hills on either side, the Royal Navy broke out its battle ensigns, enormous flags much larger than the normal White Ensign. Watertight doors were dogged shut, and buckets appeared in compartments thereby cut off from the latrines. It was pitch dark, for the first faint light would not come until a little before 9. The attack ships dropped anchor in a little bay out of the line of fire of the Maaloy Island batteries. The landing craft, American Higgins boats, would move from there down the coast and around a projecting point of land before running in for the landing beaches.
The German garrison was both ready and unready. By coincidence, troops in South Vaagso were engaged in working on their positions, and thus already almost in a defensive posture. However, when a sentry manning a German observation post reported what appeared to be warships moving down the fjord, he was told it was probably a German convoy. When he insisted, the man on the other end of the telephone suggested the observer might have been celebrating Christmas a little too enthusiastically. The OP soldier persisted, however, and alerted the German Navy command of his sighting. Instead of telling the nearest Army officer of the report, the man on the other end of the telephone, a sailor, found a boat and rowed off to tell his naval superior.
Attack on the Oil Factory
Even then German reactions were slow: they were only finally alerted when shells from Kenya’s 12 6-inch guns began to scream into the German barracks area on Maaloy, some 400 or 500 shells in less than 10 minutes. Offa and Onslow’s 4-inchers joined in, and the German troops dove into their trenches and bunkers. Out in the fjord the British landing craft headed for shore.
Just before 9 am, RAF Hampdens roared in from the sea. Hampdens, twin-engine bombers with long, skinny, tubelike fuselages, were surely among the most peculiar looking aircraft of any war, but they bored in to carry out their mission, to dump smoke bombs on the selected landing sites covering the landing of Durnford-Slater’s men. At Maaloy Island, standing in the bow of his boat, Major Jack Churchill played his Group 3 ashore with the “March of the Cameron Men” on his bagpipes. Churchill led 105 men, 5 and 6 Troops, against Maaloy Island. Their objective was the big Mortense herring oil factory, the shore batteries, an antiaircraft position, and any German troops they might encounter.
Lieutenant R. Clement’s Group 1 had the mission to carry the village of Hollevik, then form the onshore reserve. Durnford-Slater would lead Group 2, about 200 men of 1, 2, 3, and 4 Troops, against Vaagso itself, while Captain D. Birney’s 30 men of Group 5 blocked the road south into Vaagso from Rodberg. Group 4, Captain R.H. Hooper’s 65 troopers, would remain as a floating reserve in Kenya. Clement carried out the first part of his mission easily, then moved north up the edge of the fjord toward Vaagso.
A Tragically Errant Bomb
Durnford-Slater was in the lead Higgins boat, 10 Verey pistols laid out beside him. Ten flares were the signal for the Navy to cease its bombardment, and Durnford-Slater had made the intelligent decision to avoid the delay caused by reloading a single pistol. In the event, he got no further than his third Verey light before Kenya and the destroyers ceased fire. The main force closed the shoreline as planned, at the foot of a sheer rocky cliff, so unlikely a landing place that it was not covered by German defenses.
However, Durnford-Slater’s men encountered tragedy even before they stepped on shore: not German fire, but an RAF phosphorus smoke bomb from a Hampden hit by flak from the German armed trawler Foehn. At least half a Commando troop was either killed or burned by the bomb. Lieutenant Arthur Komrower, trapped against a flaming landing craft, was pulled from the frigid water by Captain Martin Linge, a tough Norwegian intelligence officer who had been a well-known actor before the war.
A line of Commandos quickly offloaded the landing craft of much of its ammunition and pushed it away from shore, out into the current to sink. Doctor Corry turned to treating the terribly burned survivors of the blazing Higgins boat.
The rest of Durnford-Slater’s men surged ashore and went straight into action against German infantry in the town. Vaagso was a long, skinny settlement, about three quarters of a mile of unpainted wooden buildings stretched out along the shoreline road, with the cliffs not far behind them. Clearing the town meant fighting house to house for much of the length of the village.
German resistance was determined, especially from one large building they had made into a strongpoint. And it was ferocious. It developed that some 50 men of a first-class German regiment had spent Christmas in the town and were still there. Captain Johnny Giles led a wild charge to carry the strongpoint, crashing through the front door, tossing grenades into each of the rooms, and chasing the German survivors through the back door. Giles was mortally wounded at that door, shot down by a wounded German, but the strongpoint remained British. His brother down and dying, Lieutenant Bruce Giles took command.
The Decimation of Commando Leadership and a Resourceful Comeback
Along the waterfront, Captain Algy Forester led what was left of the troop decimated by the errant bomb, firing his Thompson submachine gun from the hip and throwing grenades into the houses as he passed. Komrower was in the thick of the fighting as well, even though he was hobbling badly, helping himself along with a stick used as a cane.
The Germans fell back into the Ulvesund Hotel, and the British twice attempted to storm the building under heavy fire. Forester got as far as the hotel door, an armed grenade in his hand. A German bullet slammed into his chest, and he fell on his own grenade as it detonated. Norwegian Captain Linge took command when all the British officers were down, led another charge, and in his turn died at the hotel door.
Other officers were dead or wounded, depriving the Commandos of many of their leaders. A veteran corporal called Knocker White took charge of the handful of men around him, and the Commandos prepared again to storm the Ulvesund Hotel, packed with German defenders. At this juncture, Captain Bill Bradley appeared with a 3-inch mortar. The weapon was not official. Bradley had obtained it and its ammunition on his own. Such were the tough and resourceful characters who wore the Commando flash.
Now his Sergeant Ramsey got the weapon into action. The tube was pointed almost straight up to fire at minimum range, and his amateur gunners put their first round down the hotel chimney, causing many casualties and setting the place afire. As the mortar continued to drop shells on the blazing hotel, Knocker White, a handful of Commandos, and a few Norwegian soldiers carried the place with grenades and gunfire. White would earn a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his leadership and courage this day.
The fighting in the streets was confused and vicious. A Reuters correspondent accompanying the Commandos wrote afterward: “Many Germans were roasted to death in homes they made strongpoints and from which they doggedly refused to emerge, even when grenades or a fusillade of shots had set the rooms about them on fire … Norwegian men, women and children, anxious to go to England, were running back to our barges, some in tears, some laughing, all rather scared…. Heavy gunfire reverberated down the fjord to add to the clamour of explosions and the heat of battle.”
During the battle for the hotel, two Commandos, Trooper Dowling and Sergeant Cork, went hunting for the solitary tank known to be part of the German defense force. It was still in its garage next to the hotel. Apparently the crew had been caught in the first attack and killed or scattered. Sergeant Cork laid plenty of demolition charges to make sure of his quarry, then lit his fuses as Dowling crawled out the garage door. The ensuing thunderous explosion destroyed the tank, but a piece of debris struck and killed Sergeant Cork before he could get clear.
”They Appeared to be Enjoying Themselves…”
As the fighting in Vaagso got heavier and heavier, Durnford-Slater called for help. Brigadier Haydon immediately committed the floating reserve under Captain R.H. Hooper. He also called on Mad Jack Churchill, who had by now finished most of his task on the island of Maaloy. Sword in hand, Major Churchill had led his men across the island, overrunning the four guns of the German shore battery and capturing most of the garrison … along with a pair of resident “comfort women,” one Norwegian, the other Belgian.
There had been no substantial organized resistance to Churchill’s rapid advance. The German commander was captured along with some 15 of his men, and other prisoners were collected in ones and twos; those men of the island garrison who tried to fight, died quickly. One tried to disarm Peter Young. Young lived on; the German did not. One horribly wounded German soldier, writhing in agony, was put out of his misery by a British bullet. With German resistance destroyed, one of Churchill’s officers blew up the German coastal defense guns and a dump of mines, while a second officer crossed the sound to set fire to the Mortense herring oil factory.
Churchill sent Captain Young over to help out the main force in Vaagso. Young and 18 men joined up with fiery Lieutenant Denis O’Flaherty, who was leading his men in point-blank fighting through the town. One of Young’s men wrote later: “Our Captain [Young] led the attack here, and although it was slow as we had to go from house to house, we were able to spot and shoot the snipers who were doing the damage…. One of our sergeants received three shots in the back from a sniper who had let us pass. We opened fire on this sniper’s window and settled him. We dashed to the next house…. We threw in petrol, set fire to it and went on our way, leaving one man to deal with the Hun when he eventually appeared.”
Durnford-Slater watched Young and Sergeant George Herbert grenading their way down the main street of Vaagso. “They appeared,” the colonel wrote later, “to be enjoying themselves.”
Now, reinforced by Hooper’s men of the floating reserve, Durnford-Slater’s force began to clear the rest of the town. The fighting was especially fierce for the building the British called the Red Warehouse. O’Flaherty, Peter Young, and a soldier named Sherington rushed the building, where both Sherington and O’Flaherty were badly wounded. The British finally set fire to the warehouse, flushing the remaining defenders out into the fire of a Bren gun. Peter Young led his men on deeper into the town.
Discovering a Valuable German Artifact
Meanwhile, Luftwaffe fighters swept in to attack, and the RAF aircraft and the antiaircraft guns of the Royal Navy struck back. The hills sent back the booming echo of heavy fire from the guns of Kenya and her destroyers, the hammer of AA from the ships, and the roar of automatic weapons, rifles, and grenades from Vaagso itself. As the Navy fought off German air attacks, the warships were also dealing with German shipping. The armed trawler Foehn, battered by the destroyers’ guns, ran aground, as did two small cargo ships. Another merchantman was sunk by Onslow.
The British boarded Foehn to find that her crew had abandoned her and that her captain, Leutnant zur See Lohr, had been killed by shellfire before he could throw overboard his ship’s lead-weighted code books. The books, taken off by Lt. Cmdr. de Costabadie, DSC, one of Mountbatten’s staff, turned out to be a gold mine. They contained a wealth of signs, countersigns, and code words, and the radio call-signs of every German vessel in northern Europe. At about 10 am, Oribi and Onslow destroyed the armed tug Rechtenfleth and freighter Anita L.J. Russ, both of which sailed down Ulvesund unsuspecting. A little after noon, Chiddingfold and Offa sank an armed trawler and the merchantman Anhalt near the mouth of the sound.
German Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters shot down several Blenheims but were unable to interfere decisively with the British landing. Onslow disintegrated one German aircraft with a single round from an ancient 4-inch gun fitted on the destroyer more on hope than faith as additional antiaircraft armament. Toward the end of the action, three Heinkel He-111 bombers and two Me-109s appeared over the fjord. RAF Beaufighters promptly knocked two of the Heinkels down, and the survivors left in haste.
The Luftwaffe was less strong than it might have been, for around noon a flight of Blenheims had attacked Herdla airstrip with 250-pound bombs. The RAF lost two aircraft to flak, but their bombs cratered the wooden runway so badly that no aircraft could take off or land. The damage to the strip also took Stavanger airfield’s aircraft out of the action, for they could not fly to Vaagso and return without refueling at Herdla on the way.
Rejection of Surrender
Beyond the cleared Red Warehouse in the streets of Vaagso, the British went on, methodically grenading their way from building to building. Enthusiastic Norwegian civilians carried sacks of grenades from the waterfront to the Commando attack parties in the flaming streets. Leading from the front, Durnford-Slater narrowly escaped death when a German sailor threw a stick grenade at him. The colonel dove for cover, but both soldiers with him were badly wounded.
The German attempted to surrender at that point, but Sergeant Mills, an enormous boxer who guarded the colonel, was having none of it. While the British took prisoners and treated them well, even the tolerant British soldier could not stomach an enemy who tried to kill and then instantly surrendered. Mills advanced toward the German with his rifle raised, and the sailor cried out “Nein, nein!”
“Ja, ja,” replied the sergeant, and squeezed his trigger. Durnford-Slater only mildly reprimanded his pugnacious NCO. “Yeah, well, Mills, you shouldn’t have done that.” And both men went on with the war.
By noon the fighting came to an end with the destruction of a fiercely defended building by Sergeant Ramsey’s deadly mortar, and the firing died away to a spiteful popping of scattered shots. A little before 2 o’clock, as the arctic winter night settled like a shroud over Vaagso and the fjord, Durnford-Slater ordered his men back to the boats. The mission had been accomplished, and it was high time to go. The wounded were carefully loaded aboard, and before 3 pm the raiding party was back on board and headed for the open sea.
On the way to the boats the British commander was profoundly impressed by the action of a dying German, whom several Commandos were trying vainly to help. As Durnford-Slater passed, the German beckoned to him, and the two enemies shook hands in the midst of the smoke and turmoil of war.
Meager Losses; Massive Damage
Behind the British boats, heading back to re-embark, great towering pillars of smoke fouled the sky. Around them, falling like snow from the sky, fluttered thousands of sardine can labels from a destroyed warehouse. The Navy had sunk 10 vessels, 18,000 tons of shipping, and the Commandos had burned or blown up four oil factories and a number of warehouses, fuel tanks, vehicles, the Seternes lighthouse, the telephone exchanges, the steamship wharf, and the German barracks. The Commandos had used 300 pounds of plastic explosive, 150 incendiary bombs, 1,100 pounds of gun cotton, and 150 pounds of ammonal. The results were spectacular.
The Maaloy coastal defense batteries were destroyed along with the garrison’s only tank, and much of the garrison had been killed, wounded, or captured. Between 110 and 130 Germans were dead, without counting the crews of the eight ships destroyed. Another 98 were prisoners of war. Of the Norwegian population, one was killed and five wounded; 70 more happily returned to England to volunteer for the forces of Free Norway. The two comfort women were held on board Kenya under the guard of two delighted British sailors. “Jerry floozies,” explained one of the guards. “Yer can’t keep ’em down.” Apparently you could, however, for the story goes that at a later time the only sign of the two sailor sentries was their rifles leaning outside the ladies’ cabin door … but that is another tale.
The raiders had lost 20 dead, 53 wounded, and no prisoners at all. Three of the dead, including Captain Linge, were Norwegian. The death toll included four mortally wounded men who had died after they had been carried back aboard ship. They were buried at sea, and with them the gallant Captain Giles, whose devoted men would not leave his body behind in the flaming town. Kenya had been hit by a single shell from one of the shore batteries; Oribi had several minor casualties; and the RAF had lost eight aircraft with their crews.
On December 30, the Germans staged a military funeral for the 11 dead of the landing force whose bodies had been left behind. Four days later, the Germans also formally interred the remains of Captain Linge, found in the wreckage of the building he had tried to storm, and those of a British sailor recovered from the landing craft set afire by the errant British smoke bomb.
At first, the Germans were going to burn the house of any Norwegian who had fled to England, but a local Norwegian official intervened and got the burning order rescinded.
A Mighty Blow to the Confidence of the Nazi War Machine
For what amounted to negligible losses, the British had struck a startling blow at a confident Nazi Germany, a blow to German arrogance and self-assurance far out of proportion to the actual losses inflicted on the Germans. Close to the sea, at least, no German soldier would sleep as well after Vaagso as he had before. And the consequences ran far deeper than that. For reasons best recognized by his own twisted view of the world, Hitler considered Norway “the zone of destiny in this war.” News of the Vaagso raid both infuriated and alarmed him, and the consequences were enormous. “If the British go about things properly,” the Führer said, “they will attack northern Norway at several points. By means of an all-out attack by their fleet and ground troops they will try to displace us there, take Narvik if possible, and thus exert pressure on Sweden and Finland. This might be of decisive importance for the outcome of the war.”
Now, Sweden was the vital source of iron ore for the Nazi war machine, and Finland was an ally in the war against Russia. Moreover, Finland and northern Norway provided bases from which to strike at British convoys hauling north through the murderous cold of the Barents Sea to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel. Hitler could not know that the British had no intention of indulging in any fanciful scheme that involved putting ground troops ashore for a long-term expedition in northern Norway. As is common with tyrants, what he did not understand, he feared.
At Hitler’s command the German Navy moved its major fleet units north into Norwegian waters: super-battleship Tirpitz, battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gniesenau, pocket battleship Luetzow, heavy cruisers Hipper and Prinz Eugen, all were sent north, and most of them stayed there. If in their Norwegian bases they posed a major threat to the convoys to Russia, they were at least where the Royal Navy could watch them and stand a better chance of keeping them out of the North Atlantic sea lanes.
Pulling the Wool Over Hitler’s Eyes
In February, Hitler sent Generalfeldmarschall Siegmund List to Norway to size up the defensive situation. List returned with a series of recommendations, and Col. Gen. Rainer von Falkenhorst, commanding in Norway, fell heir to an enormous influx of resources. He not only received 12,000 reinforcements he had earlier requested, but he got another 18,000 men organized into “fortress battalions.” Also forthcoming were new German coastal defense guns to replace the Russian and Belgian ordnance used before the Vaagso raid. By early 1942, three more divisional commands were set up in Norway, and more coastal artillery was delivered. By the time of D-day in 1944, the German garrison in Norway had swollen to an astonishing size, almost 400,000 men.
When the Allies struck in France, these 400,000, with all their weaponry, were far away from the point of decision, unable to influence in any way the outcome of the critical battle for Normandy.
They might as well have been on the moon.
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