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The launch of Operation Muskatoon

The Free French submarine FFS JUNON at a buoy in Plymouth Sound. She was now operating alongside the Royal Navy and was selected for the Muskatoon mission to Norway because her profile was closer to a U-boat than British submarines. It was hoped that if she had to surface in the shallow waters into the Fjords she was less likely to cause alarm.

The material resources of Norway were proving very useful to the German war machine and there were a number of targets that Britain’s Special Operations Executive were interested in. Conventional bombing of relatively small industrial targets hidden amongst the mountains was usually ruled out as impracticable.

Commando raids were preferred but there were still formidable problems getting the men into the country – and even more problems extricating them after their operations. For Operation Muskatoon it was decided that a submarine offered the best prospect of delivering men close to the target in Glomfjord.

Free French submarine Junon Captain Querville decided on the north side of the Bjoerangfiord despite all the navigation problems because the Commandos would have a much shorter walk (7 miles):

On the 15th while we were in the Lyngvaerfiord, a strong surface current forced us to go down to 60 metres to find better conditions. This was a delicate business because the sailing instructions advised that the fiord should not be entered without a pilot with local knowledge.

We identified two tankers and some other interesting ships, which we were not allowed to torpedo until we had completed our mission.

We entered the Bjoerangfiord. The sea was flat calm and we found ourselves nose-to-nose with a Norwegian fisherman whose eyes were popping out of his head as he stared at the periscope and its tell-tale wake.

In the afternoon we lay 50 metres down and not very far from the end of the fjord. All motors were shut off; in the silence we heard the worrying and myste- rious sound of a propeller.

At 2115 we surfaced to disembark the commando team, but encountered a few problems blowing up the two inflatables, for it was cold out there and the compressed air air lost pressure. Some buckets of hot water sorted that out, There was calm all around us and the silence was broken by the barking of dogs, the familiar sounds of the countryside and even the ringing of bicycle bells. The wind brought the scent of the pine forests to us: it was so serene. And within that magical scene our likeable, anonymous men (one of them worked for a bank) left in their camouflage, faces blackened, loaded up with their equipment and explosives.

At 2200 our part of the operation was over; we left using our motors. The lighthouses and light-buoys of the Melofjord were burning; that’s how little the enemy knew of the danger arising from our presence.

But we weren’t out of the woods yet. All sorts of problems lay ahead. A launch seemed to be following us. In a cloud of smoke resulting from water in the system, we started the diesels, which were faster than the motors. The danger receded.

Surfaced, in the pitch black, working by dead reckoning, surrounded by the reefs and shoals of Gjesoflesa, we looked for the way out, running on our electric motors because they are silent and more manoeuvrable. We worked our way out from the centre in all directions, using the sounder to measure the depths.

Daylight was approaching: dawn would break at 0300. Phew, we emerged into the open sea just in time. It’s worth saying here that the work of the glaciers that carved out the fjords left them much deeper inland than at the outlets to the sea.

This account by the First Officer Etienne Schlumberger is from L’honneur et Les Rebelles de la Marine Fraincaise an extract of which appears in Jean Hood’s excellent work Submarine: An Anthology of Firsthand Accounts of the War Under the Sea, 1939-45.

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