~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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~ OPERATION  MUSKETOON ~

GLOMFJORD - 15/21 SEPT 1942

Background

German control of Norway's wealth of natural resources posed a considerable threat to the Allied cause, in this case, aluminium, which was vital to the enemy's aircraft production.

Operation Musketoon was a daring, small scale Commando raid on an electricity generating station at Glomfjord in German occupied Norway, just north of the Arctic Circle. The station provided electricity for a nearby aluminium plant, without which the manufacture of the metal would come to a halt.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

The raiding party 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, neighbouring Fjord from where they negotiated a difficult high level, overland route to approach their target from the rear. Although they destroyed the plant, a high price was paid.

 

Plans & Preparations

The Free French submarine, Junon, had a silhouette similar to some German U boats, a useful attribute when working close to enemy held coastlines. She slipped her moorings in the Orkney Islands at 11.40 am on September 11, 1942. For a few hours, she was escorted 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 raiding party 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 - Rifleman Cyril Abram, Private Eric Curtis, Corporal John Fairclough, L/Sergeant William Chudley, Private Reginald Makeham, C S M  Miller Smith, Sergeant Richard O'Brien, Private Fred Trigg and two Norwegian corporals working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Corporal Erling M Djupdraet and Corporal Sverre Granlund - in all a party of 12.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

The power station was located at the head of Glomfjord. Black anticipated that the Germans would be well prepared for a frontal attack from the west, 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 from the submarine in Bjaerangsfjord, immediately south of Glomfjord, which had been the original choice.

Commander Querville, of the Junon, agreed to this change of plan despite having no information on currents, depths and conditions on the bottom of Bjaerangsfjord. As they passed up the fjord, the skipper of a local 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 completely unaware of the fishing boat 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.

Action

On arrival at the head of Bjaerangsfjord on the afternoon of the15th, they settled gently on the bottom. They surfaced again at 9.15 pm when the dinghies were 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 dinghies and hid them under moss and stones. However, they had been spotted by an elderly lady around 1 am on the 16th but her "vision" was, fortunately, attributed by her neighbours to an over-active imagination!

[(Courtesy of Michel Guyot) © 2013 Michel Guyot all rights reserved].

The men were well rested and fed by the time 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 reconnoitred the route ahead, while the others rested. When they returned two hours later, they started the ascent. The walking was easy on the lower slopes but soon gave way to more difficult terrain. At one point, they traversed a near vertical rock face, with  hand and foot holds down to one inch in places but thanks to the expertise of Sergeant O'Brien, it was undertaken successfully. There were some anxious moments en route but they gained the summit in clear blue skies and warm sunshine providing them with stunning 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 impromptu 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 piece of good fortune, the Commandos might have been found.

[Head of Bjaerangsfjord. Copyright Google Earth 2017].

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 Glomfjord. It was the night of the 17/18th.

They remained in hiding the next day, while they considered the lay of the land and finalised plans for both the attack and withdrawal. At about 8 pm 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, ensured they remained undetected. 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. It was just before midnight, when the two 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, where they gained entrance to the generator hall. 7 of them initially took cover behind some packing cases and 2 took up position as sentries outside. There was no one in the generator hall and after some German guards 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 using 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. 

Withdrawal

The sound of the explosions in the turbine hall was the signal O'Brien and his men, higher up the mountain, had been waiting for. The fuses were activated, which gave the party 30 minutes to gain higher 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 an explosion. Boats were commandeered and more and more soldiers were transported past the tunnel obstruction. 

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. He asked for the location of a nearby suspension bridge that led to a "staircase" of steps up the mountain and a hastily drawn map was prepared. Granlund 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 had returned to the hut, unaware that two Germans had, in the meantime, entered it. The Norwegian occupants had denied seeing British soldiers and the Germans visibly relaxed, to the point of removing rounds from one of their guns.

It transpired, that 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 pursuing German troops were nearing the area of the hut. 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, as the enemy closed in and it became clear 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 but, ominously,  they were transported 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 "SD" designation, signifying that they were to be executed. Just before dawn on the 23rd, they were taken out under SD 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.

[Photo of memorial plaque at Sachsenhausen showing the names of the seven - Abram, Black, Chudley, Curtis, Houghton, Makeham and Smith... courtesy of Pamela Hannah].

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.

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.

The hopes of relatives and friends were raised when the Germans let it be known that the Commandos had escaped. This disinformation was a cruel attempt to cover-up the grotesque truth. Hopes and expectations for many back home remained high and it was only after the war that the real fate of the men became known.

Outcome

The raid was an outstanding success but, even before the return of the four survivors, Mountbatten had decided on a fresh approach 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 FW Fynn. Officially called North Force, the designation Fynn Force was used for "hardening training" for the Commandos to obscure the real purpose.

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just 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.

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.

Correspondence

Glomfjord in 2013

"..... our heroes are still very much honoured by the locals to this date. We will remember them." We're very grateful to Ashley Barnett for his comments and photos. After 73 years, it's heart warming to know that those who took part in Operation Musketoon are still remembered and respected for what they did by the people living in the Glomfjord area. Ashley visited the area in 2013 as part of a group organised by Military History Tours.

The small raiding party came ashore from the submarine Junon along this stretch of Bjaerangsfjord. It was around 10 pm in the evening of September 15 1942. This view looks towards the sea end of the fjord.

 

The raiding party's clandestine approach to the power station followed the same route taken by today's pipelines.
The interior of power plant with its original machinery. The hall was extended post war. There is an annual commemorative walk along the route the raiding party took, albeit in the reverse direction. The power station exterior. Throughout our stay in Glomjford we were treated like VIPs by the local people we met. Their understanding and appreciation of the raid was self evident and the process of education and remembrance continues to this day in local schools.
This photo shows a relative of rifleman Cyril Abram, one of the fallen Commandos. We were presented with a fragment of the original pipeline which had been blown apart during the raid. It was a surreal and humbling experience.

 

After Glomfjord we visited Sachenhausen in Germany to see the cell which held the captured Commandos prior to their executions. The relative of Cyril Abram continued his journey of remembrance with a visit to Colditz Castle where  were the Commandos were held prior to their transfer to Sachenhausen.

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 Hitlerís "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).

Acknowledgments

Musketoon - Commando Raid on Glomfjord 1942 by Stephen Schofield. Pub by Jonathon Cape 1964, was the main source of information in preparing this page.

 

News & Information

 

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WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

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www.bramleywarmemorial.com/major-geoffrey-appleyard-book-now-available-for-purchase/

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The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

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