Commando Raid on the Lofoten Islands

The expedition to the Lofoten Islands, Norway, where troops were landed to blow up the oil tanks. 4 March 1941, On board the Destroyer HMS Legion.

The expedition to the Lofoten Islands, Norway, where troops were landed to blow up the oil tanks. 4 March 1941, On board the Destroyer HMS Legion.

In the far north of Norway the Commando’s made one of their first raids on continental Europe. Brigadier Durnford-Slater was leading the raid, accompanied by Norwegian interpreter Captain Linge:

The craft I was in snuggled up to a fish jetty. I jumped eagerly ashore, followed by my men. Perhaps I was too eager: I fell at the first fence, a long, three-feet-high pile of frozen cods’ heads. When I picked myself up, somewhat sheepishly, I looked up the main street of Stamsund. It was empty as air.

Then, a moment later, someone appeared. It was the local postman, hurrying to greet us. He said something in Norwegian. I turned hopefully to Captain Martin Linge. “Ask him if there are any German soldiers in the town,” I said.

“He says no,” Martin told me. “But there are Gestapo and German businessmen.” “Where are they?” The postman, eager to help, used his hands excitedly while giving information.

A police sergeant came up and interrupted him. They were both anxious to co-operate against the Germans. Between them they provided us with the addresses of all the Gestapo agents in the town.

As each of my troops came along, I told them to go on to their planned objectives, the factories and installations to be demolished. The police sergeant was not content: he insisted on providing guides for them from his small force.

Complete surprise was achieved in the remote outpost and supplies of fish oil used in glycerine for explosives were destroyed. The units making the attack were now officially ‘Commandos’, the previous title of Special Service Brigade or SS having been very unpopular.

Raid on the Lofoten Islands, 4 March 1941 - Oil burning on the surface of the sea at Stamsund.

Raid on the Lofoten Islands, 4 March 1941 – Oil burning on the surface of the sea at Stamsund.

The dense black smoke that forms a huge cloud as the oil tanks are set alight.

The dense black smoke that forms a huge cloud as the oil tanks are set alight.

It had been very cold all day and it took us several minutes to thaw out. But at 2 p.m. our flotilla was under way for Scapa Flow. Heading away from Norway after a successful operation with the ship throbbing its heart out at twenty-four knots is a great feeling, especially with a couple of gins and a good lunch inside you.

I knew that the raid could hardly have been more successful. We had destroyed eighteen factories; had sunk twenty thousand tons of shipping in harbour; had sent nearly a million gallons of oil and petrol up in smoke. Throughout the Lofotens we had taken prisoner 216 Germans and sixty quislings. We had seized maps, code systems, valuable documents. We had carried off three hundred loyal Norwegians who volunteered to continue their country’s fight from Britain. To win all this we had not lost a man.

See John Durnford-Slater Commando: Memoirs of a Fighting Commando in World War Two

Commandos watching fish oil tanks burning.

Commandos watching fish oil tanks burning.

Fires burning in Stamsund as British commandos leave.

Fires burning in Stamsund as British commandos leave.

Troops returning from shore in landing craft personnel (ramped) on their return from the Lofoten islands, Norway, where troops were landed to blow up the oil tanks. Smoke can be seen rising from the shore.

Troops returning from shore in landing craft personnel (ramped) on their return from the Lofoten islands, Norway, where troops were landed to blow up the oil tanks. Smoke can be seen rising from the shore.

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