On the 26th Commando’s had returned to the Lofoten Islands after the raid earlier in the year, in [permalink id=10531 text=”March 1941″]. It had been a diversion for the main raid taking place at Vaasgo, Norway. This time it would be a rather bloodier affair.
Lieutenant Colonel Durnford-Slater was leading the raid:
About a hundred yards from our landing-place, I fired ten red Very light signals. This told the ships to stop firing and the aircraft to come in with their smoke bombs. As I leaped from the leading landing craft three Hampden bombers passed over me at zero feet with a roar. As they did so they loosed their bombs, which seemed to flash and then mushroom like miniature atom explosions. Some of the phosphorus came back in a great flaming sheet.
Next thing I knew both my sleeves were on fire. Fortunately I wore leather gloves and beat the flames out before they could eat through my four layers of clothing to the skin. The beaching had been made, dry, against snow-covered rocks which rose thirty or forty feet in an almost sheer wall. For the moment, we were unopposed and hidden from the enemy by smoke.
Unfortunately, however, one of the Hampdens was hit by anti-aircraft fire as she came in. Out of control, she dropped a bomb on an incoming landing craft. Bursting, the phosphorus inflicted terrible burns amongst the men. The craft, too, burst into flames. Grenades, explosives, and small arms ammunition were detonated in a mad mixture of battle noises.
We pushed the emptied craft out to sea where it could do us no harm, and Sam Corry, our big, efficiently calm Irish doctor, taking charge of the casualties, sent them back to the Prince Charles. The rest of us turned to the battle.
Durnford-Slater’s account of the street fighting that followed can be found in Commando: Memoirs of a Fighting Commando in World War Two.
Niall Cherry has collected together several different accounts of the raid, from the men who took part, in Striking Back: Britain’s Airborne and Commando Raids 1940-1942.