The Spitsbergen Raid

The radio mast at Spitsbergen being blown up by Royal Engineers - false weather reports sent while the raid was under way kept German reconnaissance planes away.

On 25th August 1941 a force of British, Canadian and Norwegian soldiers landed on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The unopposed raid was intended to deny the coal and port facilities to the Germans.

Mary Olsen lived on Spitsbergen with her daughter Marie and husband Andor who worked in the coal mines. She later told the British press how she learnt that the British were going to blow the place up and evacuate them to Britain:

Warm sunshine bathed the little Arctic town where we lived. I was at work in my timber-built cottage, my daughter Marie was playing outside with our pet “husky” dog Kiki.

Suddenly a neighbour cried out, “There are warships in the bay!”

I took Marie by the hand and we ran to the sea, Kiki galloping at our heels. The lifting mist revealed a great fleet of ships at the entrance to the fiord.

Ship’s boats packed with soldiers were coming towards the quay. As the first boat scraped alongside an officer in uniform sprang ashore.

“Good-morning”, he called in Norwegian. No one in the little knot of people, mostly women and children, who had gathered to watch, answered him. We did not know who they were. We were suspicious.

Soldiers in khaki climbed out of the boat – smiling soldiers who stood smartly to attention and winked at the children clinging to our hands.

Then someone noticed the flag of Norway on the officer’s shoulder. There was an audible sigh of relief. It was all right. These were British soldiers – not Germans.

Spitzbergen was being occupied. I listened uncomprehendingly to my English-speaking countrymen who were now chatting with the newcomers. I watched, wondering, until Marie suddenly said that she was hungry. We went back home. Then an excited friend told me “The Canadians have come to take us away. They are going to free our beloved Norway.”

The news was a shock. I love my home. Andor my husband, is a foreman in the mines. All our life was here. This was a big decision. Sad thoughts ran through my mind. “This is my dear Spitzbergen. This is our home. Andor and I have a beautiful home and a beautiful child. Oh God, why should there be Nazis…”

Even though it was not of great strategic importance the raid was a major propaganda boost for the British:





Churchill – the power of the English speaking peoples

U.S marines had arrived on Iceland to relieve British troops of garrison duties during July 1941.

Would it be presumptuous for me to say that it symbolizes something even more majestic, namely, the marshalling of the good forces of the world against the evil forces which are now so formidable and triumphant and which have cast their cruel spell over the whole of Europe and a large part of Asia?




Night fighter interception over the North Sea

Bristol Beaufighter in flight

As we came out of the turn, the pressure eased, and I could see that we had the other aircraft cold. John’s handling of the Beaufighter had clinched that.Oosing head-on at nearly seven miles a minute on a dark, hazy night with no moon and no horizon, he had started to wheel a heavy and rather unstable aircraft around when only a mile away, and yet he had pulled out of that turn little more than that distance behind.




Reprisals against Russian POWs

Soviet commissars in the Russian army were invariably shot soon after capture - but all Russian prisoners of war faced a terrible existence.

It so happened that we had taken very many prisoners during those fatal days, and so the lives of 4,000 men fell forfeit. They scarcely looked up when our interpreter told them in a cold voice of their fate. They lined up eight at a time at the side ofa large anti-tank ditch. As the first volley crashed, eight men were hurled forward into the depths of the ditch, as if hit by a giant fist. Already the next row was lining up.




Deportation of Foreign Jews from Paris

The German registration programme was conducted with the assistance of the French authorities from the Vichy regime.

They were shipped off to the notorious ‘internment camp’ at Drancy in the French suburbs from where they would soon be shipped off to concentration camps in the East. The general conditions in Drancy were appalling – with disease, overcrowding, malnutrition and lack of medical care contributing to a high death rate even before people were put on the cattle wagons.




Massacre of the children of Byelaya Tserkov

Field Marshal von Reichenau with Hitler in Russia during Barbarossa.

The children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with this technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing around trembling. The children were taken down from the tractor. They were lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into it.




Tobruk patrol caught out in the open

Australian troops return from a patrol outside the Tobruk perimeter, August 1941.

Our shells fell close to them, but on they came, and soon I had to tell the artillery to stop firing as the shells were beginning to land close to our mound. The two Aussie privates were itching to open fire, and I had a difficult time restraining them. Then the enemy party split up into four groups and surrounded the mound.




Surprise attack by the Waffen-SS

A German anti tank rifle on the Russian front during the summer of 1941.

We followed a country lane alongside the Dnepr up to the city and overran a Russian company building a roadblock in the outskirts. Out of sheer fright the Soviets forgot to exchange their shovels for weapons. Modern high-rises rose in front of us. Enemy machine-gun fire ripped up the earth around us. The struggle for Cherson had begun.




Torpedoed and adrift in the Atlantic

Longtaker under her former name Sessa. Photo courtesy of Danish Maritime Museum, Elsinore and Uboat .net

We had a sip of water each day and hard biscuits. When the water ran out we caught rainwater. On the seventeenth day all our water went, and our throats were so parched that we could not eat anything. The sea was moderate most of the time, but it was impossible to go right off to sleep. We should have been washed off. When I got to Reykjavik I had my first night’s sleep for three weeks.




First experiences of a German POW camp

Moosberg would later become a transit camp for United States POWs captured in Europe.

We were not left in peace for long and soon heard the now familiar shout of eraus: eraus: schnell: schnell: which mean get out and fast. We were given our gefangenen number and photographed; then we were deloused and all our hair removed. We knew what it felt and looked like to be convicts, but wondered what we had done to deserve the treatment, and how long it would have to last.