As you may remember from a previous post about Norway during World War II, “Kings and Quislings”, Norway was invaded by the German army in April 1940. The Norwegian royal family and government evacuated to England and worked as a government-in-exile while the Germans installed Norwegian collaborators, led by Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) to run the country under the direction of the Germans.
I guess I wasn’t done with WWII Norway yet.
After some early defeats, the British formed and trained commando units to conduct raids on enemy territories. The purpose of the raids was to gather intelligence and sabotage the enemy. During the war, British and the Norwegian commandos performed 12 raids on German operation in Norway. The first was Operation Claymore.
The Lofoten Islands in Norway are so far north that they are within the Arctic Circle. They are also the largest producer of fish oil. And from fish oil comes glycerin, which is used to manufacture explosives.
The objective of this first raid, Operation Claymore, was to destroy the fish-oil factories and the ships meant to carry that product to Germany. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was also hoping that a victory would raise morale for the British troops and the citizenry at home. It’s also possible that the British believed there were Enigma code machines on the islands.
Early in the morning on March 4, 1941, in a complete surprise to the Germans, about 500 British and 52 Norwegian commandos, with seven ships, raided the island. By early afternoon, they were done, loaded up, and ready to go.
What did the commandos accomplish in those hours? They destroyed 11 processing plants in 4 ports, destroyed 800,000 gallons of oil, set fire to a large oil tanker, partially destroyed a power plant, and destroyed 5-10 ships. And the only British casualty was an officer who accidentally shot himself in the leg with his revolver.
Despite the destruction, they didn’t go home empty handed. They captured 225-228 German prisoners of war and some quislings (the best number I could find was 60). They also brought back to England 314 Norwegian volunteers to fight with the Free Norwegian Forces.
They didn’t get an Enigma code machine, because the German commander threw it overboard right before he was killed. However, they did find a set of Enigma rotor wheels and code books, which helped them break codes for several weeks. Pretty sure the British government didn’t mention that to the Norwegian exile government.
In retaliation for this raid, the German leadership in Oslo imprisoned 63 Norwegian civilians. The Germans also increased the number of troops in Norway. Remember I said there were 12 of these commando raids on Norway? By 1944, there were 370,000 German troops in Norway. This pleased the Allies as it kept those troops from fighting on the eastern front.
I’ve included two videos for your viewing pleasure. The first is original footage from the raid. Watch for the telegram that was sent to Germany. The second is a short interview about the raid at a Lofoten museum.
I’ve also read about the next two raids, conducted almost simultaneously, but not all 12. Do any of you know anything about the other raids on Norway? Please feel free to share.