~ Operation Claymore -
Lofoten Islands 1st Raid ~
3/4 March 1941
Operation Claymore was the 1st
Commando raid on the Lofoten
Islands off the Norwegian coast, just north of the Arctic Circle. The Commandos
destroyed German ships and factories producing fish oil and they gave free passage to the UK to over 300 Norwegian volunteers, a few
Germans and quislings. It was, however, most notable for boosting flagging
morale within the ranks of the Commandos and the country, as news of its success was made public.
[Photo; Rear Admiral L H K Hamilton, DSO, who was in
command of the naval operations. © IWM (A 6822).]
The primary targets were Norwegian fish oil factories,
whose product was used in the manufacture of Glycerine, which was useful to
the German munitions industry.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
Plans & Preparations
The Lofoten Islands lie off the Norwegian coast,
about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. In appearance and size they
resemble the rugged Scottish islands of the Outer Hebrides. They were
targeted in accordance with Churchill's directive to harass German forces
in occupied Europe and because they contributed to the German war effort in
processing herring oil into glycerin for munitions.
On 21 February, with
land forces under the command of Brigadier J C Haydon, a flotilla comprising
HMS Queen Emma,
HMS Princess Beatrix and a naval escort of 5
destroyers, left Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands for the Faroe Islands. There
they completed 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 re-organisation of Special Forces, which was completed by mid
On the 1st of March,
around 500 commandos, some sappers for demolition work and 50 Norwegian
sailors, departed 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 most on board.
With 24 hours to go before their arrival, a German aircraft spotted them and reported to German Air force HQ. There was,
fortunately, no visible response from German forces.
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 were twinkling in the distance,
a good indication that the possibility of a raid was not on the minds of the German command. The
intense cold and sea spray caused ice to form on the Commandos' protective clothing and the landings were more abrupt than usual, as the craft
lowered their ramps onto solid ice.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
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, buildings used for
military purposes and ships in the harbour, were systematically blown up.
The Norwegians provided hot ersatz coffee for the Commandos.
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 frustrating, considering the special training effort undertaken for the raid.
They also had hoped to contribute to the wider objective of denuding German forces.
pom-poms of one of HM Ships silhouetted against the snow covered mountains
as she lies in Kirke Fjord. © IWM (A 6799).]
However, it was not a
wasted trip by any means. They had destroyed 11 factories, 800,000 gallons
of oil and five ships. They also gave free passage to 314 volunteers (including 8 women) for the Norwegian forces
and took into custody 60 quislings, 225 German prisoners. The
English manager of Messrs Allen & Hanbury, chemists, who had been caught
there when the Germans occupied the country was liberated. The cost to the Allies was an 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. They were dispatched
to Bletchley Park, the top secret code breaking establishment near MIlton Keynes
in southern England, where they would be minutely studied in the hope of
gaining some advantage in the battle to intercept German military
The months prior to this raid had been a frustrating time for the Commandos/Special Services. They had
been encouraged to volunteer for hazardous duties by the military authorities but were left with little to do.
There was even disagreement about how these forces should be organised and
deployed. Morale was understandably at a low ebb and although this raid was virtually unopposed, it
demonstrated what could be achieved by a relatively small, well trained unit,
with the element of surprise. The success of the raid was a fillip to morale but
some Commandos were disappointed that the hazardous duties they had volunteered
and trained for, had not been utilised on this operation.
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.
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
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
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