OPERATION ARCHERY ~
VAAGSO and MAALOY - 27TH DEC
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 conc
erns 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
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.
Air - Luftwaffe Heinkels, ME 109s and JU 88s.
Land - 150 men from 181 Division, 50 troops on leave in the area.
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).
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).
[Photo; British troops with Norwegian civilians on HMS PRINCE
LEOPOLD after the raid. © IWM (N 474)].
Veterans Return in 2005
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
The trip was
funded by the National Lottery Returning Heroes Fund.
Howard P Habron
to right - Charles Stacey, Arthur Ashby, Tom Sherman, Paddy (laurence)
Murphy, Paddy (Patrick) Habron, Dusty (Osmond) Miller, Henry Brown