Saturday, March 4, 2017

March 4, 1941: Lofoten Islands Raid

Tuesday 4 March 1941

4 March 1941 Lofoten Islands Operation Claymore burning fish oil factory
 "Black smoke rising as the oil tanks are set alight." Lofoten Islands, Operation Claymore, 4 March 1941. © IWM (A 3332).
Western Front: It is fair to say that, to this point on 4 March 1941, the results of British commando raids on the Axis have been poor. From the first operations in Norway to the failed operation on the Channel Islands, to the botched affairs in southern Italy and Kastelorizo, the raids have had the earmarks of an idea that is good in the abstract, but with execution marred by amateurish gaffes.

That record of failure changes today. British commandos join with Norwegian partisans to stage Operation Claymore in epic fashion. A resounding and reverberating success, this raid on the Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway justifies all of the effort expended in training the commandos. The main targets are fish-oil plants that produce ingredients for explosives, but much more is accomplished than just blowing up a few buildings.

Commandos of No. 3 Commando, No. 4 Commando, a Royal Engineers Section and 52 men from the Royal Norwegian Navy are landed at Vestfjorden in the Lofoten Islands by the 6th Destroyer Flotilla and two troop transport ships of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy task force is Operation Rebel. Leading the landing craft (HMS Queen Emma and Princess Beatrix) to shore is submarine HMS Sunfish. Brigadier Charles Haydon of the Irish Guards leads the commandos into action.

Armed patrol trawler Krebs in Vestfjorden fires four shots at HMS Somali, but the Royal Navy ship quickly disables it. After the German crew abandons ship, the commandos board the ship, which has beached itself nearby. They capture its cipher machine and daily codebooks, which prove of great value at Bletchley Park. Several other small ships totaling 18,000 tons in all also are sunk:
  • Gumbrinnen (1381 tons, shelled by HMS Tartar)
  • Hamburg (shelled by HMS Tartar)
  • Pasajes (shelled by HMS Tartar)
  • Felix 
  • Mira (1152 tons, shelled and sunk by HMS Bedouin, two deaths) 
  • Eilenau 
  • Rissen 
  • Andø (demolition charges). 
  • Grotto
  • Felix Heumann
  • Elbing (collier shelled by HMS Tartar, beached, later repaired and returned to service)
  • Bernhard Schulte (shelled by HMS Tartar, later raised and repaired).
Norwegian 321-ton fishing vessel Myrand takes the opportunity to follow the British out and go to the Faroe Islands.

Arriving at the cusp of dawn, everyone is ashore by 06:50. The operation goes off without opposition. Factories are destroyed at Henningsvær, Stamsund, and Svolvær. The raiders destroy the oil, they don't take it back with them.

About 300 locals volunteer to serve in the Free Norwegian Forces in Great Britain and are taken off with the commandos (they likely fear reprisals if they stay). The commandos take 147 merchant marine sailors, 14 civilians ("Quislings"), 15 Luftwaffe crew, three German Army (Heer) soldiers, and 7 Kriegsmarine sailors captive. The British take no casualties, whereas the Germans suffer seven. Operation Claymore is a smashing success with long-term effects, as Hitler obsesses about defending Norway after this and grossly over-garrisons it.

4 March 1941 Lofoten Islands Operation Claymore returning commandos
 "Troops returning from shore in boats having accomplished their work of destruction." Lofoten Islands, Operation Claymore, 4 March 1941. © IWM (A 3320).
Italian/Greek Campaign: The Greeks remain in their forward positions along the Bulgarian border. The British wish them to retreat to the Aliakmon Line, but the Greeks claim that any such move would damage the country's morale. Local British commander Sir Henry Maitland Wilson for Operation Lustre cannot even leave the British Embassy, as the Greeks fear that his appearance alone will incite the Germans to attack.

The first British troop transports for Operation Lustre arrives at Piraeus. One is British 3566-ton freighter Alavi, escorted by destroyer Greyhound. Another is 3791-ton transport HMS Ulster Prince, escorted by destroyer HMS Hotspur. The Ulster carries primarily RAF personnel, and it departs quickly carrying the remaining commandos from Operation Abstention (the failed attempt to occupy Italian-held Kastelorizo).

Going the other way, Convoy AS 16 departs from Piraeus bound for Alexandria and Port Said.

A British troop convoy bound for Piraeus departs from Suda Bay, Crete. The soldiers are carried on four cruisers (HMS Ajax, Gloucester, Orion, and Perth). Meanwhile, Convoy AN 17 departs from Alexandria also carrying troops for Piraeus.

The Italians, meanwhile, are blissfully unaware of most of what the British and Greeks are doing. However, Mussolini is determined to salvage Italian pride by showing that his troops can achieve success against the Greeks before the Germans invade. Accordingly, he is reinforcing his garrison in Albania, both in terms of fighting men and air units. An offensive is planned by Italian VIII Army Corps in less than a week's time, with the preliminary objective the recapture of Klisura and a further advance south toward Ioannina.

The Greeks also are blissfully unaware of what the other side is up to. They continue to mount minor offensive operations by II Corps in the Klisura section. These are not major operations, but simply line-straightening attacks and the like.

The British cancel a planned attack on the large Italian base at Rhodes due to the failure of Operation Abstention.

Australian fighter ace Nigel Cullen is shot down near Himarë, Albania during an attack on Italian shipping.

4 March 1941 Lofoten Islands Operation Claymore burning fish oil factory
"The oil blaze at the village of Stamsund, situated 70 miles up the West Fjord, with a few Norwegian fishing boats in the foreground." Lofoten Islands, Operation Claymore, 4 March 1941. © IWM (A 3315).
East African Campaign: The British are preparing another attempt to force their way past the firm Italian defenses at Keren. However, the strategy now is to bypass the narrow gorge which controls entry to Keren and instead secure other, nearby passes. The 7th Indian Infantry Brigade moves toward Cogai Pass, while the British troops at the Mescelit Pass expand their reconnaissance. Unfortunately for them, the British find that, while Keren is relatively close, another mountain range lies between them and the town. To get to Keren, they will have to force their way through another pass at Mendad. The Italians occupy the high ground in all of these places, and they also have mined the approaches to Keren. The actions at this point are patrol activity, with the British having some success taking isolated Italian outposts which really don't advance the overall strategic agenda.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe continues attacking Cardiff, one of its favorite targets recently. The Germans send 61 bombers over the city. RAF Coastal Command raids an airfield near Brest. After dark, RAF Bomber Command raids railway infrastructure at Calais.

4 March 1941 Lofoten Islands Operation Claymore burning fish oil tanks
"Commandos watching fish oil tanks burning." Lofoten Islands, Operation Claymore, 4 March 1941. © IWM (N 396).
Battle of the Atlantic: At the War Cabinet meeting today, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (apparently recovered from his cold) uses the term "Battle of the Atlantic" to describe the naval conflict. The term, noted by attending Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies in his diary, sticks.

U-105 (Kapitänleutnant Georg Schewe) refuels from German 7747-ton tanker Charlotte Schliemann in Las Palmas, Canary Islands. Doing this extends the range and time of station of the U-boats. Typically, a U-boat can remain at sea for only 30 days, with about ten of those days eaten up by transiting to and from the station. However, as an example, refueling at sea enables U-105 to spend 112 days on this patrol. This undoubtedly leads to more offensive opportunities.

The Charlotte Schliemann is refueling multiple U-boats - yesterday, U-124 refueled from her. The German maritime supply network is what keeps their raiders in operation, and amplifies the reach of the U-boats.

The Luftwaffe attacks shipping off Fastnet, damaging 192-ton British trawler East Coast. There are no casualties and damage is relatively minor.

British 303 ton freighter Anonity hits a mine and sinks near Skegness Pier. There are four deaths and two survivors. Another ship, 20-ton Lyndis Kitwood, also is damaged by a mine (perhaps the same one) off Skegness, but its damage is minor.

British 321-ton freighter Ruth II hits a mine in the Thames Estuary near the Bar Light Vessel. British 594-ton freighter Anglian Coast also hits a mine in the same area and also is damaged. Both ships make it back to port with no casualties.

Minelayer HMS Plover lays minefield ZME 21 in the Irish Sea.

4 March 1941 Lofoten Islands Operation Claymore returning commandos
"Troops returning from shore in boats having accomplished their work of destruction." Lofoten Islands, Operation Claymore, 4 March 1941. © IWM (A 3322).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Afrika Korps continues digging defensive lines near El Agheila in Libya. The British remain unconcerned, their entire focus now on Greece.

General Richard O'Connor, the victorious commander of XIII Corps which captured Bardia, Tobruk, and Benghazi, is made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. This belies Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies' cynical conclusion that Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell would win all the plaudits for the successful campaign, but there is one salient fact which apparently eluded him: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill deeply dislikes Wavell and feels much more favorably toward O'Connor. There is no question that O'Connor deserves recognition for his troops' stunning accomplishments. Historians, however, actually adjudge Wavell one of the premier generals of the entire conflict - the British are blessed with an abundance of talent in the theater despite Churchill's misgivings.

In Malta, the government tightens curfew regulations. They now are from 21:00 to 06:30. The morning curfew is the hardest for many to bear because many people typically like to start the day well before sunrise.

Convoy BS 18 departs from Suez.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: Convoy BM 4 departs from Karachi, bound for Singapore. It is a large convoy that later will be joined by several ships from Bombay.

Battle of the Pacific: Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra is patrolling off the Dutch East Indies when its Walrus seaplane spots two suspicious ships together. They are German raider Coburg and captured (by the Germans) Norwegian tanker Ketty Brøvig. The Canberra immediately heads toward the ships and orders them to stop for inspection. Instead, the two ships head off in opposite directions. Following the Coburg, Canberra fires at it from maximum range but misses. In all, Canberra fires 215 shells, but virtually all of them miss or cause inconsequential damage. Both the Coburg and Ketty Brøvig are scuttled by their crews. Mirroring one of the results of Operation Claymore, the British manage to capture some code documents when a quick-thinking seaplane pilot lands his Walrus next to the sinking Coburg, boards it, and carries out a quick search.

4 March 1941 Lofoten Islands Operation Claymore blowing up barrels
"Royal Engineers preparing to blow up barrels of fish oil on the quayside at Stamsund." Lofoten Islands, Operation Claymore, 4 March 1941. © IWM (N 418).
German/Yugoslav Relations: Adolf Hitler knows how to handle smaller powers reluctant to join his empire. He summons the crown regent, Prince Paul, to the Berghof in Berchtesgaden. After hectoring the regent all night long, Hitler is satisfied that he has eliminated Yugoslavia as a problem and in fact turned it into a useful vassal state, though not a military ally. Prince Paul agrees to sign the Tripartite Pact after Hitler sweetens the deal (upon Prince Paul's insistence) by offering him Greece's northern port of Salonika (Thessalonika). In fact, Hitler agrees to virtually all of Paul's demands aside from one that the agreement between the two governments must be published. In effect, the agreement turns Yugoslavia into a neutral party, as the Wehrmacht is barred from using the country for its invasion.

Yugoslavia's signing is scheduled to take place in ten days' time. Prince Paul knows that there is far from unanimity at home about joining Germany and wishes to keep the signing ceremony as low-key as possible.

German/Turkish Relations: Both the British and the Germans have been courting the Turks, who possess a large army and a strategic geographical position. The Turks already, in effect, have turned down the British, and today they effectively turn down the Germans. Turkish President İsmet İnönü tells the German ambassador, Franz von Papen, that German troops should stay well clear of the Turkish border and that Turkey views Bulgarian military mobilization as a threat to its own integrity.

Anglo/Swedish Relations: The Swedish press is an independent lot that frequently angers the Germans with its outspokenness. Today, the British feel its bit when an article appears in Svenska Dagbladet about problems caused by British barrage balloons. According to the story, drifting British barrage balloons have become a positive menace to Sweden, with their cables snagging on chimneys (one tall one reportedly is toppled) and catching on the sails and rigging of fishing boats. Power lines also suffer, with areas of Goteborg left without power due to one of the drifting menaces.

Bulgarian/Dutch/Belgian/Polish Relations: Bulgaria, now a German satellite, severs relations with these four countries.

Latin American Homefront: Argentina defeats Chile 1-0 in football (soccer) to win the South American Championship.

Canadian Homefront: Canada requires registration of all Canadians of Japanese descent.

Dutch Homefront: The repercussions from the failed Dutch General Strike continue. The Germans sentence 18 of Bernardus IJzerdraat's De Geuzen rebels to death in The Hague. The Dutch resistance is very brave, but there are many informants looking for a little favoritism from the occupying authorities. There also are many ethnic Germans living in Holland who have more allegiance to Germany than to Holland (the Kaiser, of course, still lives in Holland, though that is a special case).

American Homefront: The Boston Bruins defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2. This game sets two so-far unbroken records: shots on goal by one team (83 shots) and saves by a goaltender (80, by Sam LoPresti).

Future History: Adrian Lyne is born in Peterborough, Northamptonshire, England. Raised in London, Adrian develops an early fascination with films, and in the early 1960s begins making his own films based upon the influence of French New Wave directors such as Truffaut and Godard. He begins his career by making television commercials, and also makes some short films. Lyne does not make his feature film directing debut until 1980 with "Foxes," starring Jodie Foster. It is a success, and his next film, 1983's "Flashdance," is an even bigger one. This sets Lyne on a path to directing all different types of films, and in 1986 he directs controversial (but surprisingly successful) erotic film "9 1/2 Weeks." Many other quite successful films followed, including 1993's "Indecent Proposal" starring Robert Redford, another huge box office success. Most recently, Lyne has been producing television series, including "Fatal Attraction" (based on his own extremely successful and controversial 1987 film) and "Back Roads."

4 March 1941 Lofoten Islands Operation Claymore captured Swastika flag
"British officers with a captured German flag after the raid." Lofoten Islands, Operation Claymore, © IWM (N 419).
March 1941

March 1, 1941: Rettungsboje
March 2, 1941: Oath of Kufra
March 3, 1941: Germans in Bulgaria
March 4, 1941: Lofoten Islands Raid
March 5, 1941: Cooperation With Japan
March 6, 1941: Battle of Atlantic
March 7, 1941: Prien Goes Under
March 8, 1941: Cafe de Paris
March 9, 1941: Italian Spring Offensive
March 10, 1941: Humanitarian Aid
March 11, 1941: Lend Lease Become Law
March 12, 1941: A New Magna Carta
March 13, 1941: Clydeside Wrecked
March 14, 1941: Leeds Blitz
March 15, 1941: Cruisers Strike!
March 16, 1941: Kretschmer Attacks
March 17, 1941: Happy Time Ends
March 18, 1941: Woolton Pie
March 19, 1941: London Hit Hard
March 20, 1941: Romeo and Juliet
March 21, 1941: Plymouth Blitz
March 22, 1941: Grand Coulee Dam
March 23, 1941: Malta Under Siege
March 24, 1941: Afrika Korps Strikes!
March 25, 1941: Yugoslavia Joins The Party
March 26, 1941: Barchini Esplosivi
March 27, 1941: Belgrade Coup
March 28, 1941: Cape Matapan Battle
March 29, 1941: Lindbergh Rants
March 30, 1941: Commissar Order
March 31, 1941: Cookie Bombs


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