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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 for 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 under Churchill's directive to harass German forces in coastal areas of friendly occupied countries.

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 March 1941.

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 were made all the worse by seasickness. 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.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

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.

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.

[Photo; The 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 and 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 were examined in the hope of gaining some advantage in the battle to intercept German military communications.

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.

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.

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.

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 playwright.

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 survivors.

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 132 onwards).

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