GLOMFJORD - 15/21 SEPT 1942
Operation Musketoon was a daring raid on an electricity generating station at Glomfjord in German occupied Norway not far away from the Arctic Circle - a station that provided the electricity for a nearby aluminium plant. The unit chosen for the mission comprised 2 Officers, 8 Commandos from No 2 Commando and 2 Norwegian corporals working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). They were transported by submarine to a remote Fjord, completed a difficult high level overland route to approach their target from the rear and successfully destroyed their target. They paid a high price but such was the damage that the plant was inoperable for the duration of the war.
Norway's wealth of natural resources was not far from Churchill's mind at any time during the German occupation of the country. Under German control these resources contributed in a variety of ways to the fuelling of the German war machine. The objective of Operation Musketoon was to stop aluminium production at a nearby factory by disabling its source of power - the electricity station at Glomfjord just north of the Arctic Circle and south of Narvik. Click on map to enlarge.
The Free French submarine Junon was selected for this raid because it had a silhouette similar to some German U boats. This was a useful attribute especially when working close to enemy coastlines. She slipped her moorings in the Orkney Islands at 11.40 a.m. on September 11 1942 escorted for a few hours by submarines HMS Sturgeon, Tigress and Thunderbolt. On board were the crew, 12 Commandos, two rubber dinghies lashed to her casing and a variety of guns, ammunition, explosives and supplies.
The small team selected for the operation was led by Captain Graeme. D Black MC from Ontario, Canada with Captain Joseph. B J Houghton MC 2nd in command. There were 8 other ranks from No 2 Commando - Rflm. Cyril Abram, Pte. Eric Curtis, Cpl. John Fairclough, L./Sgt. William Chudley, Pte. Reginald Makeham, C S M Miller Smith, Sgt. Richard O'Brien, Pte. Fred Trigg and two Norwegian corporals working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) Cpl. Erling M Djupdraet and Cpl. Sverre Granlund - in all a party of 12.
The power station was located at the head of Glomfjord. Black anticipated that the Germans would be well prepared for a frontal attack since access from other directions was very difficult especially with the onset of the Arctic winter. To achieve the element of surprise he decided to disembark in Bjaerangsfjord immediately south of Glomfjord, the original choice. Commander Querville agreed to this change of plan despite having no information on currents, depths and conditions on the bottom of the fjord. As they passed up the fjord the skipper of a fishing boat spotted their periscope just ahead and keeping pace with him. At the time the Commandos were taking in the beauty of the scenery and were unaware of the craft behind them. When the navigator later took a 360 degree sweep the fishing boat was spotted and the sub dived. Fortunately the sighting did not compromise the raid.
[(Courtesy of Michel Guyot) © 2013 Michel Guyot all rights reserved.]
On arrival at the head of Bjaerangsfjord on the afternoon of the15th they submerged and settled gently on the bottom surfacing again at 9.15 p.m. A dinghy was made ready and they launched into the darkness of the night passing close by the hamlet of Bjaerangsjoen and several houses on the shore. They landed safely, deflated the dinghy and hid it under moss and stones. An elderly lady had however spotted the dinghy at about 1 a.m. on the 16th but her "vision" was fortunately attributed by her neighbours to an over active imagination or the onset of senility!
The men were well rested and fed as they set out over a grassy plain between the fjord and the mountains to the north. At a safe distance from the hamlet they grabbed a few hours of fitful sleep, had breakfast of hot soup and tea and struck out once more. They took cover when some cattle and a herdsman passed close by otherwise the trek to the mountains was uneventful. On reaching the foot of the Black Glacier Houghton and Granlund went ahead to reconnoitre while the others rested. On their return in a couple of hours they started the ascent, easy at first and then increasingly difficult. At one point a traverse across a near vertical rock face, with holds down to one inch in places, was undertaken successfully thanks to the expertise of Sergeant O'Brien. There were some anxious moments but they gained the summit in clear blue skies and warm unbroken sunshine. They had panoramic views down to the sea.
As the Commandos relaxed they were blissfully unaware that a German topographical party led by Lieutenant Wilhelm Dehne was active in the area at the time. He spotted some figures close to the Lake above Glomfjord but they were too indistinct for identification. Later in the day he discovered some discarded "Players" cigarette packets and other scraps of paper at the remains of a camp. Fortunately Dehne's pet dog, which he had on the outward trek, had returned to Glomfjord on a coastal ferry from Bjaerangsfjord. But for this the Commandos might well have been found. In the event Dehne's route back to Glomfjord took him well away from where the Commandos were laid up. By dusk they were on a narrow trail with a sheer drop to a lake. Later the two Norwegians found a shelter which overlooked the power station at the head of the Glomfjord. It was the night of the 17/18th.
They remained in hiding the next day, considered the lay of the land and finalised plans for both the attack and withdrawal. At about 8 p.m. on the 18/19th they set off towards the power station. As they neared the bottom of the hill they heard the chugging of a small craft and indistinct singing. Since surprise was vital they retreated uphill but had not yet gained the high ground when dawn broke. They were in a relatively exposed position but heavy rain and their decision not to move prevented them from being discovered. They cursed the leaky "watertight" British sleeping bags and the atrocious Norwegian weather ... and they had run out of food. Black decided to attack that night - the 19/20th September.
As they descended once more O'Brien, Chudley and Curtis split from the main group to lay charges on the two high pressure pipelines. They selected a place where the pipelines pointed directly at the station. With a little difficulty the 808 plastic explosive collars were secured in place with 30 minute pencil fuses attached but not activated. The explosives were designed to blow a one meter gap in the 7 foot diameter pipes. The time was just before midnight and the men settled down to wait for the signal to activate the fuses.
About the same time the remaining 9 men arrived at the rear of the power station. They gained entrance to the generator hall. 7 initially took cover behind some packing cases and 2 took up position as sentries outside. There was no one in the hall and after some German guards had left the control room only one Norwegian engineer was visible. There was a relaxed atmosphere and it was clear that the presence of the Commandos had gone unnoticed. Their immediate objective was to secure the area and evacuate the Norwegian workers. In the chaotic minutes that followed the whereabouts of the Norwegian workers was established including those asleep in rooms at the top of the building. They were rounded up and ordered to remove themselves urgently from the area via a tunnel over a mile in length. It was the only land route between the station and nearby villages further down Glomfjord. A smoke bomb was placed in the tunnel to delay German reinforcements. One German guard was shot by Granlund as he dozed and another escaped through the tunnel to raise the alarm. Meantime the explosives were laid on the three turbines and three generators and the 10 minute fuses set The alarm was raised and about this time flashes were seen coming from the power station. The Germans were well and truly alerted.
The sound of the explosions was the signal O'Brien and his men had been waiting for higher up the mountain. The fuses were activated which gave the party 30 minutes to leave the area and gain the high ground before millions of gallons of water came thundering down the hillside. All 12 met up and proceeded up the mountain in darkness. Meantime German reinforcements had arrived but were unwilling to use the tunnel for fear of explosion. Boats were commandeered and more and more soldiers were transported past the tunnel obstruction.
The Norwegian corporal Granlund moved well ahead of the others and was first to arrive at a mountain hut known as Fykandalen. It was occupied by two Norwegian conveyor belt operators and a young female Norwegian cook. Despite appeals to be shown the location of a nearby suspension bridge that led to a "staircase" of steps up the mountain the best response he could elicit was a hastily drawn map. Granlund tried and failed to find the bridge and by the time he returned to the hut he found Houghton and Djupdraet groping around in the dark.
They returned to the hut not realising that two Germans had, in the meantime, entered it. The Norwegian occupants of the hut lied about seeing British soldiers and the Germans visibly relaxed to the point of removing rounds from one of their guns. When Houghton and Djupdraet returned to the hut a rather confused fight ensued resulting in one German dead, one wounded and Djupdraet injured in the stomach by a bayonet. After administering morphia to Djupdraet the rest of the men split into groups of 2 or 3 and made their way up the mountain. By this time the main body of German troops were nearing the area of the hut. High above Trigg, O'Brien, Granlund and Fairclough were on Navervann Mountain to the north and Black, Houghton, Smith, Chudley, Curtis, Abram and Makeham were to the south negotiating the steep slopes of Middago Mountain. At this point Houghton was wounded in the right forearm. It was clear that there was no escape for the latter group and all 7 were captured.
As they were led down the mountain they could see, with great satisfaction, the massive extent of the devastation they had caused. The aluminium plant did not reopen during the remainder of the war. Djupdraet died in hospital three days after the raid. Trigg and Fairclough were repatriated by plane from Stockholm to RAF Leuchars in Scotland on the 7th of October followed by O'Brien on the 22nd and finally Granlund. They later met Mountbatten in London followed by MI5 debriefing. Without the assistance of many ordinary but courageous citizens of Norway and Sweden it is almost certain that all would have been captured. [Photos of their signatures in the RAF Leuchars Visitors Book provided by Trevor Baker.]
The seven captured men were taken by boat, train and truck to Colditz Castle. Despite the best efforts of the Germans to isolate them from the regular prisoners there was sufficient contact to confirm their presence there. There was some confusion amongst the Germans about what should happen to the Commandos. Ominously they were removed to Berlin arriving at Camp Sachsenhausen in the afternoon of October 22nd. They were detained overnight in what was effectively a prison within a prison. At about 11pm the names of the Commandos were posted up with an "S.D." designation signifying that they were to be executed. Just before dawn on the 23rd they were taken out under S.D. command. Each was killed by a single shot in the back of the neck and their bodies cremated. None of the prisoners or regular guards in the camp knew what had taken place. These Commandos were the first to fall victim to Hitler's Commando Order of 18 Oct 1942. On the 15th of November 1945 Capt Black was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order effective from 22/10/42. [Photo of memorial plaque at Sachsenhausen showing the names of the seven - Abram, Black, Chudley, Curtis, Houghton, Makeham and Smith... courtesy of Pamela Hannah.]
Of the four survivors Granlund was lost in Feb 1943 with all hands when Norwegian submarine Uredd sank off the Norwegian coast. Fred Trigg was killed in Italy. Only O'Brien and Fairclough survived the war.
It is a cruel twist to the story that the hopes of relatives and friends were raised when the Germans let it be known that the Commandos had escaped. This of course was a cover up to prevent the grotesque truth being revealed. Hopes and expectations for many back home had remained high and it was only after the war that the real fate of the men became known.
The raid was an outstanding success but even before the return of the four survivors Mountbatten had decided that a fresh approach was needed for winter operations in such hostile weather and terrain. No doubt the debriefing of the survivors confirmed that view. The outcome was the establishment, in the Shetland Islands, of a special Troop of No 12 Commando under Capt F.W. Fynn . Officially called North Force the designation Fynn Force was used with a cover story of "hardening training" for the Commandos.
There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.
Musketoon - Commando Raid on Glomfjord 1942 by Stephen Schofield. Pub by Jonathon Cape 1964.
....and other Commando raids.
Commandos and Rangers of World War 2 by James D. Ladd. Pub 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
The Watery Maze by Bernard Fergusson published 1961 by Collins.
Please let us know if you have any information or book recommendations to add to this page.
Captain Graeme D Black M.C.
No. 2 COMMANDO was formed by volunteers from 41 different regiments of the British Army and one Canadian soldier from Dresden, Ontario.
Lieutenant Black was my first training officer when I arrived as a seventeen year old, accepted for Commando service. I remember him as a very respected leader and also as a man who had already won the Military Cross. Behind the ribbon of the M.C. he had four bullet holes in his left shoulder from the Vaagso, Norway raid.
After No. 2 Commando had been decimated in the St. Nazaire raid, Lieutenant Black was promoted to Captain and became my Troop Commander. He was held in high esteem and we were sorry when he departed for another operation in Norway.
The operation with our Canadian, Captain Black, in command, left Scotland by submarine in September, 1942. The raiding force arrived in Glomfjord, Norway and landed its ten members from No. 2 Commando, who then destroyed the power plant objective. It was a perfect, textbook example of efficiency and courage. The massive devastation caused by this tiny force resulted in an important aluminium plant not re-opening during the remainder of the war.
The withdrawal of the raiding force was to be made by trying to walk across the mountains to Sweden. By the time the withdrawal got underway the force was without food and just about everything else. They were all captured and taken to Germany. Captain Black and six others were executed in Berlin on October 23, 1942. Our boys were the first to fall victim to Hitler’s "Commando Execution Order" of October 18, 1942.
During the course of World War II, the British Army Commandos earned thirty-eight battle honours and many other awards, including eight Victoria Crosses. It was a record which prompted the Founder of the Commandos, Winston Churchill, to pay the following tribute to the Commandos:
"We may feel that nothing of which we have any knowledge or record has ever been done by mortal men, which surpasses their feats of arms. Truly we may say of them, when shall their glory fade?"
I like to think that maybe Sir Winston had Captain Black in mind.
Bob Bishop, (No 2 Commando) Royal British Legion (St. James Branch), Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 60).
Musketoon - Commando Raid on Glomfjord 1942 by Stephen Schofield. Pub by Jonathon Cape 1964 was the main source of information in preparing this page.