Often overshadowed by the Heroes of Telemark – the Special Operations Executive’s (SOE) raid on the heavy water plant at Vermork – Operation Musketoon was an equally daring raid on a Norwegian industrial target that was vital to the Nazi war-machine.
On 11 September 1942, ten men from No.2 Commando, led by Captain Graeme Black, and two Norwegian corporals working for the SOE, embarked on the Free French submarine Junon destined for German occupied Norway.
Their mission was to sabotage the power station at Glomfjord, which supplied electricity for Norway’s largest aluminium smelter at Haugvik. The plant produced about five thousand tons of aluminium a year, but German demands were so great that the output had increased by nearly five times as much.
Four days after leaving Scotland the Junon entered Bjerangfjord, where the commandos loaded their equipment into a large dingy and paddled ashore. Hiding their craft among moss and rocks they completed a difficult three-day march over mountains and glaciers. Eventually sighting the power station on 18 September.
For a further three days they laid-up insight of the target, carefully probing forward to gather intelligence on the enemy, which they knew to be about at least 100 strong.
On the night of 20 September, they split into two teams and made their move. The first team, led by Lance Sergeant Richard O’Brien, wrapped gelignite around two seven-foot diameter pipes that fed the plant from the mountain above. Setting the charges with a thirty-minute delay time pencil.
Meanwhile, Captain Black split up his team. Three men were deployed as lookouts, while Black and Private Fred Trigg covered the exit from a mile-long tunnel that ran through the rock from Glomfjord village.
The remainder, under Captain Joe Houghton, followed Sverre Granlund, one of the two Norwegian corporals, into the power plant itself where they found five huge generators and three turbines.
A quick search of the area found three Norwegian workers and a German sentry who was shot by Granlund. A second sentry, alerted by the shots, fled his post and ran down the tunnel towards the village. With the alarm raised they quickly placed their explosive charges on the generators casings and set them for ten minutes’ delay.
Making their escape, the raiders were heading up the mountain to meet with O’Brien’s pipeline team, when tremendous explosions rocked the ground below them. From above they saw the building shudder and fire spreading through it.
The explosions had been the signal for O’Brien to snap his time pencils, and thirty-minutes later a thunderous roar echoed around the fjord. From high up on the mountain the pipes ruptured and millions of gallons of water, and tons of mud and rocks fell on the plant.
The operation was a success, and although the plant wasn’t completely destroyed, it was put out of service for a number of months. Long enough for the Germans to decide to end their expansion programme.
However, the commando’s withdrawal didn’t go so well. In the confusion that followed, Erling Djupdraet, the second Norwegian corporal, was mortally wounded. Four men: Richard O’Brien, Fred Trigg, John Fairclough and Sverre Granuland all escaped through Sweden and eventually made it back to Britain. The others however, weren’t so fortunate. Spotted by the Germans, low on ammunition, they soon found themselves surrounded, with no option but to surrender.
Taken to Colditz for interrogation they were then sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, near Berlin, where all seven men were executed by a bullet in the back of neck. Graeme Black, Joe Houghton, Miller Smith, Cyril Abram, Eric Curtis, Bill Chudley and Reg Makeham were the first victims of Hitler’s infamous Commando Order
Hitler’s Commando Order