16. The Linge Company and the
I landed in the UK at Balta Sound (Shetland) in March 1941. Having been the only one on board with no feeling of seasickness, I was determined to join the Navy as the quickest possible way to active service. After a few days internment at Victoria Patriotic School I found myself in London - at that time a nightly target for enemy bombing. I remember I was deeply impressed by the way the inhabitants reacted to the agony of falling bombs. After having met Captain Martin Linge for a short interview, followed by an invitation to lunch, I forgot my intention to join the Navy.
Captain Linge, a Norwegian reserve officer who had been attached to the British Expeditionary Force in Gudbrandsdal/Åndalsnes in 1940, had gone back with the British to the UK in May 1940. Now he had been invited through friends in SOE to assist in building up a special military unit consisting of Norwegian volunteers, both young and not so young, to be trained by British experts at British special paramilitary schools at British expense to wage war in German-occupied territory. I had no reservations about joining up. Linge was to be our leader. He had been in charge of a group of Norwegian soldiers, who went to the Lofoten Islands as a small part of a British military expedition in March 1941. He was a man of great charisma and great fighting spirit, and was an inspiring leader. He assured me it would not be long before I was in active service. He made it clear to all who joined that earlier experience (military background) might be an asset, but his 'work' called for quite other qualities too. 'Forget everything about promotion (stars). Concentrate on fighting the Gs', was his message to all of us.
Early in April I marched up the alley leading to Stodham Park near Petersfield wearing a battledress of Norwegian Independent Company No. 1 (NIC 1). I was on the first official course in the company's history, together with twenty other Norwegians; and we were wondering what we would encounter. We were met by Major Tynan, CO of the school, and were introduced to the training staff. We met two other British officers whom I later learned to value highly as friends: Lieutenant Chaworth-Musters and Captain Boughton-Leigh who both worked in the SOE administration.
The next day we certainly registered a new way of life. Training was concentrated - a mixture of PT, military instructions, fieldcraft, weapon-training and silent killing: irregular but very useful methods for putting an enemy out of action. I gladly admit that it was not always easy to fall asleep while reflecting on the day's instructions and my future life as an 'irregular'. The British provided very good instructors, the right types who convinced us of our ability to survive in all situations. I later realised that the toughness and brutality of the training was meant to scare us, to make us think and perhaps ask for a transfer to a more 'normal' type of service. It was in the common interest to sort out people whose personality did not suit such special work, and the sooner the better. During the whole period of training we were under constant observation.
Those who remained with the group went from Stodham Park to Arisaig in Inverness-shire in the west of Scotland for more advanced training. Again we met friendly and expert instructors, with whom we became close friends. We always felt they did their very best to qualify us to meet future situations with self-confidence and calm. We never felt that were either Norwegian or British: we were allies in the deepest possible sense. After three weeks of intensive training we went to the south coast for three weeks of 'Finishing School' which gave us insight into codes, cover stories, knowledge of the enemy, his methods and weapons; in other words, how to become the best possible spy. We were told frankly that once in the field 'you were the loneliest person imaginable. Your future would depend on your ability to use what you had been taught during training - and a fair amount of good luck.'
After a week of parachute training at Ringway we were ready for 'take-off'. We were transferred to the holding school Fawley Court near Henley. Here we might be selected to be sent to other special schools for special training: e.g. wireless operator, demolition/sabotage, propaganda. Wherever we went there was always the same friendly reception from officers and staff. We certainly were made to feel at home!
In June 1941 Captain Linge collected me at Henley. I was to act as accompanying officer to a new group of students at Stodham Park and Meoble Lodge (Arisaig). The administration of the schools had asked for this arrangement. I went through a second round at the main training schools during which I acquired closer ties to the training section and the staff officers. When the training was completed at Meoble, I waited for a new group to arrive from Stodham Park. From then on I was attached to the training staff at Arisaig, as a result of a request from the Meoble administration. By the time I had been through the programme three times, I was urged to take responsibility for the training and for planning practical target exercises. I took it as a sign of the close cooperation between our two nations.
We often went on leave to London and met friends. Sometimes I was asked questions about my training, but I never had trouble giving a general answer: military training in Scotland. When on leave I sometimes heard Norwegians, both military and civilian, talk of a 'gang' of young Norwegians, out of ordinary control, trained by the British and also under their command. It was quite obvious that Norwegian army circles did not applaud the idea. Captain Linge once told me of the problem he often had with Norwegian authorities in London. The temperature between the SOE and the Norwegians was at times very low, early in the war and especially after the Lofoten raids in 1941. The main reason was lack of information and lack of mutual trust. Our unit and Captain Linge were blamed. I do know that Captain Linge felt this as a personal burden and, because of it, he insisted on going on the raid at Måløy in December 1941. The British could not stop him and he never came back.
After the raids in December 1941 at Måløy and in the Lofotens, the feelings between the Norwegian authorities and SOE rose to boiling point as the Germans took heavy reprisals in Norway, and at the same time launched a propaganda attack on the Norwegian government in exile, accusing them of being under British rule with no influence whatsoever. It added to the problems that Norwegian participants came back disillusioned as a result of the quick withdrawal. At the same time several smaller groups were training in sabotage against power plants and industry in Norway. On leave in London they had heard the reactions to the recent raids and now they demanded to know if their planned operations had Norwegian approval. For security reasons members of three groups were 'interned' in the Arisaig district; the fourth group (Høyanger) continued with their training. After a motoring accident on the way to 'ST 61', which resulted in the deaths of some of the members, the operation had to be cancelled. I met the 'interned' groups while on an exercise at Inverarie and heard the bad news of Linge's death at Måløy and of the situation in the unit in general. In February 1942 I was transferred from the Arisaig training unit to our new holding school at Aviemore to take over the sabotage/demolition training. When I arrived I found a unit in uproar!
A new leader from Norwegian HQ in London, Major E. Hjelle had just arrived. Unfortunately he knew very little of the very special and complex unit he was to command, and he was obviously under orders to bring us under Norwegian control! The older members of the unit who favoured Linge's line of action felt unhappy and wished for even stronger British influence. Major Hjelle represented the Norwegian view: wait and see; train for some future day far ahead! He had a following of pre-war officers and youngsters who saw a possible military career ahead. Apparently consultations on the highest level were going on between the British (SOE) and Norwegians. We felt we were pawns in a struggle for influence that was tearing the unit apart. Everything was in a mess! We nearly forgot the Germans. Since I belonged to the staff, I was asked one day to inform the British CO (Hampton) that the older members of the company wanted action to bring back the fighting spirit of Linge as soon as possible, otherwise they wished to be transferred to more active service (Navy, merchant fleet etc.). The threat reflects the desperate situation at the time. How we and the British felt the loss of our leader, Captain Linge!
We had several visits from Norwegian HQ in London, one from the minister of defence, Oscar Torp. The 'Høyanger' group put on a show at Drumintoul Lodge to demonstrate the planned attack on the works at Høyanger. They intended to cut the pipeline after putting the valves out of action. The free flow of water would result in a landslide, thus putting the power station out of use. When told this by one of the group, the minister of defence remarked sarcastically that the result would be lots of water in the valley below. A quick reply from the attacker: 'OK, I will stop at the valve house and close the valves when a message comes from the factory'. A roar of laughter underlined the difference in opinion and the minister of defence made his exit, a bit insulted. The Norwegian policy was to stage attacks anywhere but in Norway. We also had representatives from Milorg who warned us against acts of sabotage etc. They would endanger clandestine work in Norway. Returning SOE personnel should never leak information to the British - only to the Norwegian authorities! No wonder the older members with experience in the field reacted promptly on behalf of SOE. The other members wanted the British out and the unit altered to a special Norwegian training school. I was even asked to make new pamphlets for sabotage/demolition in a new organisation ... Something had to be done!
Norwegian representatives from both sides had to start negotiations to improve the situation. Major Hjelle was replaced. When he left, quite a few of the 'rebels' followed him to begin as students at a Norwegian military college in London. Things returned to normal. A depot leader was appointed. Most people felt happy again. The nights grew darker and the time for action drew nearer.
In 1942 the Norwegian military organisation
was altered. Forsvarets Overkommando (FO) was established and
and our unit was placed under FO IV, its leader being Bjarne Øen.
Our new leader was Major Leif Tronstad. From now on no operation
was to be launched without consultations between SOE and FO IV.
Cooperation grew better and better as time went on, not only
between SOE, the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Norwegians
in exile, but also with the Milorg leadership inside Norway.
All of those involved did their best to hit the enemy and cause
as little trouble as possible to the civilians in Norway or to
Milorg. Agents went in and out by air and by sea, as did tons
of military equipment for Milorg. Blows were struck at industrial
and other targets of value for the Germans. 'ST 26' Aviemore
took over training of new recruits, and also of updating groups
of non-army officers for service with Milorg inside Norway.
Reflections on Special Operations
Norway is a very difficult for any
responsible military planner because of its climate and topography.
Missions in towns and populated districts could be compared with
those in other European countries, but very often the operational
area called for special insight and knowledge. Very few Norwegians
in FO IV had this expertise, nor did any of the British in SOE.
Their understanding of living conditions for groups on jobs in
desolated mountainous districts was nil! When planning for Gunnerside
(Vemork) I had to take the responsibility of procuring quite
a lot of special equipment myself: sleeping bags (specially made
on advice at a bedding firm's factory in London), ski-boots (from
Rob. Lawrie & Co. in Newark - makers of footwear for climbing
and Arctic expeditions - whose address was given me by a climber
I once met in Scotland), and a variety of winter equipment collected
and specially made after a private visit to the Norwegian army
depot (Major Myrset) in Dumfries in Scotland. I urged strongly
that a Norwegian specialist should be appointed to a new job as
'Equipment Adviser'. He never came! Lack of insight and understanding
of special living conditions often resulted in long dispatches
being sent to groups in remote areas. It meant waste of batteries,
waste of time, and a real danger of being detected by the enemy.
1) During training we were again and again reminded of the importance of security. One could never be careful enough! Nevertheless, SOE allowed quite a few staff members to be sent into occupied territory: people like Linge, Leif Tronstad and J.C. Adamson. They all knew too much and could endanger the situation for groups in the field, if they were caught and tortured by the Gestapo. It was a grave mistake.
2) Signalling routines when receiving
drops. The Fieldfare operation was positioned on the German
flying route Bergen - Værnes. We very often saw planes
passing and at night heard them flying past. We asked to have
procedure altered. We thought it would be safer if the plane
sent a morse signal when nearing the dropping point, and we sent
a signal as confirmation. Otherwise we might send our signal
to a German aircraft. The reply from RAF was: 'You follow procedure,
or we drop the visit!' We had to run the risk of signalling to
a German plane, thus giving ourselves away.
When going home by air we were in the hands of RAF. They refused any help or advice when deciding on the flying-in route. On the Gunnerside operation we were landed blind 25 kilometres from pinpoint. Fortunately we detected it and managed. On the next operation it happened again. During the first flight for Operation Fieldfare in October 1943, our offer through SOE to guide the plane in was refused. The flight was unsuccessful. The second attempt in February 1944 was also unsuccessful. Pulling up a blind and looking out, we immediately registered our position south of Ålesund. We guided the plane out to sea, avoiding several 'ack-ack' batteries. The pilot was impressed by our local knowledge of the countryside and German fortifications: 'Why were we not in the cockpit as guides?' We asked him to mention the episode in his report. For the third attempt, in March 1944, the RAF finally accepted guiding assistance. I was in the cockpit on the last part of the flight. There was no difficulty in checking the positions as we flew in. Pinpoint was picked out and agreed upon by the pilot. We were dropped ten minutes later. He had obviously lost pinpoint. When my parachute opened at 2,500 metres I took my position. We had been dropped 25 kilometres from where I had pointed out! We had a very bad landing indeed, but fortunately no casualties.
Morning drops (no moon period):
Owing to the desperate food situation just before we were ordered
into action (railway sabotage) we begged to have an early morning
drop. The RAF refused. We blew up a railway bridge, causing
a three-week delay in traffic and forfeited our security, expecting
German air activity to find us. Three days after the attack the
RAF came to their senses and offered a morning drop. Although
this was very risky we accepted the offer and got a drop on our
doorstep. Only two days later, after a short snowstorm, German
planes came searching, but by then all traces of the drop had
Supplies - or rather lack of them
We landed in March with enough supplies
for two months. Due to an error in the destined drop site, we
asked for fresh supplies. We were told we had to manage until
June-July. Flying in bright summer light meant that all security
regarding the plane's safety would be put aside - in other words,
we thought, invasion. We planned accordingly and stole food from
a neighbouring tourist hut to keep us going. At the end of May
a new message altered the situation - and showed a great lack
of understanding: 'No supplies can be sent this side of summer.
You must not leave the area. Hope you can manage?' We had to
steal more food. In the middle of July another message came:
'Can you take a drop?' We had food stocks for six months on order
and decided to risk a drop although it was now the middle of the
tourist season and hikers abounded. The drop contained weapons
and explosives, but only very little food (rations for 30 days).
We continued to wait for drops in early September - living on
stolen food. Autumn arrived with bad weather and all drops were
cancelled. We had no choice but to live on stolen and scarce
supplies. Our next drop was in mid-January 1945. By then we
had been in Norway for ten months, living 1,200 metres above sea
level, miles from the nearest farm, with UK supplies for only
four months. We felt we were 'out of sight, out of mind'. We
survived thanks to our own initiative, the inspiration that came
from positive news, and an undiminished fighting spirit.
The internal cooperation between
SOE and the members of the unit was extremely good: full of respect
and friendliness, full of intentions to do the best at all times.
The RAF might have improved matters all round by accepting offers
of assistance in finding the best possible way to the target,
as well as by listening to advice from agents in the field. SOE
- the experts in clandestine work - might sometimes have lent
an ear to suggestions about equipment for operations in Norway.
A strong and willing cooperation between the different elements
in an operation was imperative: the agent, the planning sector,
equipment, training, transport. Mutual trust and the dissemination
of information were vital to success. Looking back: serving with
SOE was a very friendly, uplifting and valuable experience. I
never regretted my choice of service in 1941. The British made
me feel that I had two homelands. When stationed in Britain we
talked of going home on a mission; in Norway we talked of going
'home' to relax or to new appointments.