~ 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 ARCHERY ~

VAAGSO and MAALOY - 27TH DEC 1941

The raid on the Norwegian islands of Vaagso and Maaloy, codenamed Operation Archery, broke new ground for combined operations. It was the first time air support was integrated into the raiding plans from the outset. Lessons had been learned from the 2nd Lofoten raid earlier in the year, when the absence of air support left the raiding vessels very vulnerable to air attack.

Background

Vaagso and Maaloy lie on the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Trondheim. They had no significant strategic importance but the raid would tie up German forces in the defence of Norway that might otherwise be deployed on the eastern front. Churchill was keen to mount a major raid, ideally against Trondheim, where damage to dock and repair facilities would help to protect allied convoys to Murmansk by denying their use to the enemy but this was not feasible in late 1941. A diversionary raid on the Lofoten Islands, 300 miles to the north, was mounted to coincide with Operation Archery.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

Plans & Preparation

Mountbatten was appointed to the post of Combined Operations Adviser in October 1941. He decided that a sizeable raid was required to cause the enemy to deploy larger numbers of troops in Norway than would otherwise be the case. The target also provided an opportunity to damage or destroy German military establishments in the area.

 

This was not the first such planned operation. On December 9th, No 6 Commando and half of No 9 Commando, under the codename Operation Anklet, steamed for the Norwegian town of Floss in the landing ship HMS Prince Charles. An accidental grenade explosion on board caused casualties including those skilled in navigation. With his navigational capability severely compromised, the Senior Naval Officer called the raid off.

Rear Admiral  H M Burroughs and Brigadier Charles Haydon were appointed on Dec 6 to be naval and military commanders on Operation Archery. At their disposal were No 3 Commando, two troops of No 2 Commando, a medical detachment from No 4 Commando, a party of Royal Engineers from No 6 Commando primarily for demolition jobs and a Royal  Norwegian Army detachment under the command of Major Linge. In all, there were around 51 officers and 525 other ranks. Colonel John Durnford-Slater, who had been involved in the detailed planning, was to be in charge of the landing party.

Many had served with Haydon on the first Lofoten raid of the previous March, which was an undefended action. 'Vaagso and Maaloy' was an entirely different proposition. There were German troops on both Islands and significant coastal defences to overcome. Intelligence sources indicated that 150 men from the 181st Division, a solitary tank and 100 construction workers were billeted in the town. Four squadrons of fighters and bombers, totalling 37 planes, were operating in the area from bases at Herdia, Stavanger and Trondheim. No enemy warships were thought to be in the area.

The small island of Maaloy (also known by other names) was less than 500 metres by 200 metres. It had a concentration of 4 coastal defence guns, ammunition stores, oil tanks and barracks for the troops. Its position, at the southern mouth of main sea access to the Maaloy and South Vaagso communities, was ideal to protect them, their oil factory, fish factories and a power station, from attack. It was known that enemy convoys assembled further north in the fjord, offering the possibility of another target.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

By the 15th of December, the raiding forces had assembled and training exercises were largely completed. The flotilla, comprising the Cruiser HMS Kenya fitted with 6-inch guns, four destroyers and two landing craft, HMS Prince Leopold and HMS Prince Charles, left Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on Christmas eve. After about 100 miles on their northerly journey, they were forced to divert to Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands due to a severe westerly gale, that was causing material damage. Prince Charles took onboard 145 tons of sea water, which was pumped out and other damage was repaired. The men enjoyed the respite and Christmas dinner in relative comfort. They resumed their journey of 300 miles to the north west, on the evening of the 26th.

The Raid

The next morning, at 07.00 hours, they rendezvoused with HMS Tuna, a submarine on station at Vaagsfjord to provide an accurate navigational reference point and general assistance. Landing Ships Infantry, LSIs , were positioned out of view of the main batteries on Malloy. Fire was opened on the coastal defences by the warships at 08.48 hours, initially with a salvo of star shells from HMS Kenya to light up the island, followed by a heavy bombardment of 500 shells in 10 minutes from all five war ships.

Smoke bomb screens, to obscure the path of the advancing troops as they landed on the beaches, were provided by Hampdens from RAF Bomber Command. Throughout these carefully choreographed procedures, air cover was provided by Beaufighters and Blenheims from Wick on the Scottish mainland and Shetland, round trips of 650 and 400 kilometres respectively.

The Commandos were formed into 5 groups. The 1st group landed at Hollevik, about 2 kilometres south of South Vaagso, to disable a German stronghold there. The 2nd group landed just south of the town itself, while the 3rd group landed on Maaloy Island to mop up after the bombardment. The 4th group was held as a floating reserve and the 5th group passed by Maaloy into Ulvesund on the destroyer HMS Oribi. They landed to the north of South Vaagso to prevent German reinforcements getting through from the north.

[Photo; An oil factory burns in Vaagso, 27 December 1941. British troops can be seen on the quay in the foreground. © IWM (N 459)].

The Germans were taken completely by surprise but fought back bravely. On Maaloy, three of the four coastal guns were knocked out by the accurate bombardment, which was lifted only when the invading troops were about 50 metres from the landing beach. Because the Germans had so little time between the end of the bombardment and being overrun by the 105 Commandos, fighting there was over in just 20 minutes. However, in the action, Linge was killed.

The German survivors were rounded up, demolition work completed and the group crossed the short stretch of water to join the fighting in South Vaagso. Meantime, group 1 at Hollevik experienced less resistance than expected, since 8 defenders were having breakfast in South Vaagso. Group 1 also joined the South Vaagso skirmish and later group 4, the floating reserve, was called in since German resistance was greater than expected. It later transpired that 50 crack troops were on Christmas leave in the town at the time.

On board the destroyer HMS Orbis, No 5 group were by then north of Malloy, accompanied by HMS Onslow. The men landed without opposition and blew craters in the road to prevent enemy reinforcements from North Vaagso joining the battle. They also destroyed the telephone exchange at Rodberg. Merchant ships, the RE Fritzen and an armed trawler, the Fohn, came into view. Those under power beached themselves when they saw the White Ensign, while the Fohn and the Fritzen were boarded under sniper fire from the shore. They hoped to find confidential papers or secret code books. Around this time, two ME 109s and two JU 88s were active in the area. No 5 group later joined the fighting in South Vaagso.

Resistance was not completely overcome in the street fighting but all the major demolition jobs were accomplished including the power station, coastal defences, the wireless station, factories and lighthouse. 150 Germans were killed, 98 Germans and 4 Quislings made prisoner and 71 Norwegians took passage back to England. Further up the fjord, the destroyers sank 9 ships, totalling 15,000 tons and shot down four Heinkels. Both Herdia and Stavanger airports were bombed, the wooden runway of the former suffering sufficient damage to limit activity.

There were many instances of bravery on both sides in the taking and defending of entrenched positions. At 13.45 hours, Colonel Durnford-Slater ordered the withdrawal from South Vaagso to begin. It was led by No 2 troop with No 1 in rearguard. The force re-embarked at 14.45 hours, as the short Arctic day drew to a close. Of the 70 army casualties, 17  were killed and of the 8 Navy casualties, two were killed. In addition two Beaufighters and a Blenheim (Hampden?) were lost.

 [Photo;  It shows Lieutenant O'Flaherty being helped to a dressing station with an injury that resulted in the loss of an eye. He remained in the army and eventually became a Brigadier. The soldier on the right is Derek Gordon Page - a commando. He subsequently left the commandos and served with the Gurkas in India, fighting in Burma and eventually ending the war in Indonesia. © IWM (N 495). See "Correspondence" below for further comment about this photo].

Each Commando unit had a Medical Officer and a number of medical orderlies attached to it, as first line support. On the Vaagso raid, they carried a haversack containing basic medical supplies, such as shell dressings, bandages, morphia and water. Further medical facilities were available on the transport ships, on this occasion provided by Captain Sam Corry RAMC.

The Outcome

This was the first time all three services combined in support of an amphibious raid against a defended coast. As Mountbatten said at the outset "... nobody knows quite what is going to happen and you are the ones who are going to find out." The RAF provided air cover for over 7 hours and undertook diversionary raids elsewhere. None of the British ships was hit by enemy bombs but a phosphorous bomb from a disabled British plane hit one of the landing craft, resulting in some casualties.

[Photo; Wounded being helped onto a landing craft at Vaagso, 27 December 1941. © IWM (N 481)].

Much had been learned by both sides. The Germans later reinforced their Norwegian Atlantic wall with the deployment of 30,000 extra troops. Hitler perhaps had concerns that Norway might well be "the zone of destiny in this war."

The British Press Unit was very active during the raid and some of the most graphic and dramatic photographs in WW2 were taken on this raid. These photos and eye witness reports were later used in morale boosting propaganda initiatives, to boost the morale of the British public and armed services, when the tide of the war favoured the enemy.

The future pattern of sizeable raids and landings had been set.

Summary of Action

Allied Forces: Air- Bomber Command and Coastal Command; Sea - Cruiser H.M.S. Kenya, Landing Ships H.M.S. Leopold and Prince Charles, Submarine H.M.S. Tuna plus four destroyers; Land - No 3 Commando, two troops of No 2 Commando, a medical detachment from No. 4 Commando and demolition experts from No. 6 Commando, a Royal Norwegian Army Detachment.

Axis Forces: Air - Luftwaffe Heinkels, ME 109s and JU 88s. Land - 150 men from 181 Division, 50 troops on leave in the area.

[Photo; British troops with Norwegian civilians on HMS PRINCE LEOPOLD after the raid. © IWM (N 474)].

Outcome (positive) - successful destruction of coastal defences, oil and fish factories, radio transmitters, stores, a lighthouse, a power station, 9 merchant ships totalling 15,000 tons and four Heinkels. 30,000 additional German troops deployed to the Norwegian sector taken from other fronts but notably the Atlantic Wall. 150 Germans killed, 98 captured and 71 Norwegians took passage to the UK.

Outcome (negative) - Commandos: 2 Officers and 15 OR killed, 5 Officers and 48 OR wounded, Norwegians: 1 Officer killed and 2 OR wounded, Royal Navy 2 OR killed and 2 Officers and 4 OR wounded and RAF 31 killed (2 Hampden's, 7 Blenhiem's and 2 Beaufighters were lost).

The Army, Norwegian and Naval casualties come from PRO document DEFE 2/83. The RAF casualties come from DEFE 2/83 (for the Coastal Command losses) and Bomber Command losses 1941, W.R. Chorley, Midland Publishing (for the Bomber Command losses).

Veterans Return in 2005

OPERATION ARCHERY VETERANS

I attach a photograph of the 7 veterans who attended a commemorative trip to Vaagso and Maaloy in 2005. The esteem in which they were held by the

The veterans met up in Bergen and travelled to Maaloy on a WWII gun boat - the fully restored "HITRA"  given to the Norwegian Navy by the USA. Whilst in Maaloy they were treated like royalty, attending many functions and parades, also laying a wreath on the grave of the only civilian killed on the raid. They were presented with plaques and a painting by the Norwegian Chief of Defence and the Mayor of Vaagso.

The trip was funded by the National Lottery Returning Heroes Fund.

Howard P Habron

Left to right - Charles Stacey, Arthur Ashby, Tom Sherman, Paddy (laurence) Murphy, Paddy (Patrick) Habron, Dusty (Osmond) Miller, Henry Brown (Commando Association)

 

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.

List of Commando operations in Norway

The Vaagso Raid by Joseph Devins Jr. Published by Robert Hale 1967.

Storm from the Sea by Lt Col Peter Young. Published by William Kimber 1958.

In Harms Way by Brian Crabb. Published 1998. The story of HMS Kenya from her build to break up including a chapter on the Vaagso raid. Hardback with a full-colour cover, 250 pages. ISBN 1 900289 02 4

Supplement to The London Gazette dated 2/1/48. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/38342/supplement/3881

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. Published by William Kimber, London 1985. ISBN 0 7183 0553 1

Commando by John Dunford-Slater. Published by Kimber 1953 - from the pen of one of the major players.

The Watery Maze by Bernard Fergusson published 1961 by Collins.

Correspondence

Dear Geoff,

I am trying to find information and possibly a picture of a monument that was dedicated Aug 30th 1970 on the island of Maloy in Norway to commemorate those members of H.M. Armed Forces who died in the combined operation which took place on December 27th  1941.  My uncle Pilot Officer Roderick McLachlan with the RCAF  has his name inscribed on the monument which is described as being made of granite, six metres high surmounted by a golden ball held by two hands.

Thank you for any help you can provide in my search.  I am 78 years old and trying to gather up some family history to leave to my five children and nine grandchildren.

Ronald McLachlan

Ronald, with the help of his son, found the memorial he was looking for.

[Photo reproduced here under the GNU Free Documentation License].


Dear Geoff,

Great site!

I read your account of the Vaagso raid with interest. My father was Denis O’Flaherty who is referred to in your text alongside a photo of him being led away for medical attention. Prior to this, he had been wounded in the shoulder but he continued in the action including the storming of an enemy strong point. He was further wounded during which he lost his right eye, was shot through the roof of his mouth losing many teeth, shot through the jaw and his spinal vertebrae. One of his ribs was latter extracted and used to repair the damage to his spine. He was in hospital for nearly 2 years.

My father returned to active service and fought in Normandy with 3 Commando Brigade before being wounded again in late June 44. On this occasion he was hospitalised for four months. Once he had recovered, he returned to 3 Commando Brigade and participated in the Rhine crossing at Wesel in March 45.  He was then transferred to the Far East but was spared further combat duty after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the surrender of Japanese forces. My father then returned to the Royal Artillery (RA), which he had joined in 1938, and served in the UK/Indian Army occupation forces in Japan.

Post WW2 he served in Korea, first with the US Army, and later with 45 Regt RA. He was awarded a US Bronze Star for bravery and mentioned in dispatches. He was evacuated in 1951 with pneumonia, subsequently serving in Malaya, during the emergency there, as commanding Officer, 34 Regt RA, when he raised and formed 29 Commando Regt RA. He later commanded New College, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. In 1975 he was awarded the CBE.
 
He died in 1980 aged 59. I am the youngest of my father’s 8 children. My mother met my father in Japan in 1945 and she has just celebrated her 92nd birthday.

I hope this is of interest and I wish you all success with the website.

Best regards,

John O'Flaherty


Vaagso Raid Photograph. My Dad, Derek Page, was one of the two soldiers in the photo on this webpage supporting Lieutenant O' Flaherty after he sustained an eye wound. A few years ago my brother was flying over Norway on a business trip seated beside the Queens' Messenger. In conversation my brother explained our father's role in the Vaagso Raid. "Amazing" replied the Queens Messenger," Brigadier O'Flaherty was my boss and always wore an eye patch. He died two years ago".

My father reluctantly left the Commandos when our mother became very ill. He subsequently served in India and Burma and met my mother in Sumatra after it was liberated. She is Dutch and at the age of 15 was interned in Kampili by the Japanese. My father became a tea and coffee planter in Uganda after the war and remained there until Idi Amin began his wicked reign.

Regards

Jacqueline Bennett (6/14)


If you have any information or book recommendations about Operation Archery, the raid on Vaagso and Maaloy, please contact us.
 

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