3/4 MAR 1941
Operation Claymore was the 1st Lofoten Islands raid off the Norwegian coast just north of the Arctic Circle. It achieved a good measure of destruction of German ships and fish factory oil and it gave free passage to the UK to over 300 Norwegian volunteers and a few Germans and Quislings. It was, however, most notable for giving a great boost to flagging morale within the ranks of the Commandos and later the country as news of the raid was made public.
This successful raid involved naval and land forces - HMS Queen Emma, Princess Beatrix and a naval escort of 5 destroyers + No 3 & 4 Commandos. The primary targets were Norwegian fish oil factories. Their destruction would be a blow to German Glycerine production. 11 factories and 5 ships were destroyed, 225 Germans & 60 Quislings taken prisoner and 314 volunteers given passage to UK based Norwegian forces. There were no losses. Click on maps to enlarge.
The Lofoten Islands lie off the Norwegian coast about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle . In appearance and size they resemble the Outer Hebrides off the north west coast of Scotland. They were targeted by British planners, not only because they met Churchill's directive to harass German forces along the length of the North Sea and Atlantic coasts of mainland Europe, but also because they contributed to the German war effort. It was known that several factories processed herring oil into glycerin for munitions.
On 21 February, under the command of Brigadier Haydon, a flotilla comprising HMS Queen Emma, Princess Beatrix and a naval escort of 5 destroyers, left Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The destination was the Faroe Islands for final training. It was here that the No. 3 and 4 Special Services Battalion Company designations reverted to No. 4 and No. 3 Commando respectively - the former under the command of Lt. Colonel Lister and the latter under Lt Colonel Durnford-Slater. This was part of a much wider reorganisation of Special Forces which was completed by mid March 1941. On 1 March the 500 commandos, some sappers for demolition and 50 Norwegian sailors set off for the Norwegian coast.
The weather was foul on the three-day voyage and the cramped living conditions made all the worse by the seasickness suffered by all on board. With 24 hours to go before their arrival a German aircraft spotted them and reported to German Air force HQ. There was, in the event, no reaction. The flotilla arrived off The Lofoten Islands in the early hours of 4 March. As they boarded the landing craft, for four separate destinations, lights could be seen twinkling in the distance. Clearly the notion of a raid had not entered the minds of the German command. The intense cold and sea spray caused ice to form on the Commando's protective clothing and the landings were more abrupt than usual as the craft lowered their ramps onto solid ice.
The surprise was complete. Even some locals going to work assumed that the activity was a German training exercise! German soldiers, officials and collaborators were rounded up and before long fish oil factories, military establishments and ships in the harbour were systematically blown up. The Norwegians provided hot ersatz coffee to those Commandos in a position to accept.
Even in war there is humour. Lieutenant R L Wills sent a telegram to one A Hitler of Berlin from the telegraph office at Stamsund. "You said in your last speech German troops would meet the British wherever they landed. Where are your troops?" Equally cheeky was a bus ride taken by Lord Lovat and some of his men to a nearby seaplane base. The commander of the base later complained about the "unwarlike" behaviour of the Commandos and undertook to report accordingly to the Fuhrer!
By midday the demolition work was complete and re-embarkation commenced. There had been no significant resistance which for some Commandos was a disappointment considering their training and the objective of denuding German forces. However they had destroyed 11 factories, 800,000 gallons of oil and five ships and had acquired 314 volunteers (including 8 women) for the Norwegian forces, 60 Quislings, 225 German prisoners and the English manager of Messrs Allen & Hanbury, chemists, who had been caught there in the war - all at a price of one accidental self-inflicted wound to an officer's thigh!
Not reported at the time was the recovery, from the trawler Krebs, of a set of spare rotors for a German Enigma coding machine. These were dispatched to Bletchley Park where they were of great use to the code breakers.
The months prior to this raid had been a frustrating time for the Commandos/Special Services. They had volunteered for hazardous duties at a time of exaltation by the authorities but were left with little to do - and there was disagreement about how these forces should be used and organised. Morale was understandably at a low ebb. Although this raid was virtually unopposed it demonstrated what could be achieved by a relatively small force, trained for the purpose and with the element of surprise. The success of the raid was a fillip to morale in some quarters, but, there were some amongst the Commandos themselves, who were disappointed and disillusioned that the hazardous duties they had volunteered and trained for, had been used for such purposes.
Lofoten Museum's page on Operation Claymore - the 1st Lofoten Raid.
The Epic of Lofoten by Dr G Miles published by Hutchinson in 1941.
Secret German Documents Seized during the Raid on the Lofoten Islands on 4th March 1941 HMSO's Command 6270 Norway No 1 (1941)
Raid on Military and Economic Objectives in the Lofoten Islands published 22 June 1948 Supplement to The London Gazette.
A 6.75 minute film about the raid produced by the Ministry of Information and the War Office and released in 1941 that included footage of 3 Commando ashore at Stamsund.
Lofoten Letter by Evan John, published in 1941 by Heinemann, is a diary of the raid written by a member of No 4 Commando. His real name was Evan John Simpson, the author and playwright.
HMS Bedouin and the Long March Home by Percy Hagger, published by Navigator Books. The content about Operation Claymore is not extensive but it does cover the involvement of HMS Bedouin in the raid, including the sinking of the MS Mira and the picking up of survivors.
Commandos and Rangers of World War 2 by James D. Ladd. Published in 1978 by MacDonald & Jane's. ISBN 0 356 08432 9
Commandos 1940 - 1946 by Charles Messenger. Pub by William Kimber, London 1985. ISBN 0 7183 0553 1
Commando by Dunford-Slater. Published by Kimber 1953 - from the pen of one of the major players.
ENIGMA - The Battle of the Code by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. A paperback published in 2001 (pages 132 onwards).
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