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Trondheim – Trøndelag- Resistance

On the night of April 8th 1940, the people of Trondheim went to bed as citizens of a peaceful city in an independent land. When they awoke next morning, the heavy cruiser “Hipper”, and four destroyers were anchored in the harbour and seventeen hundred German troops occupied the city. For the Germans, Trondheim, (pop. 65,000) was an important strategic port, a ‘gateway’ to Northern Norway and a safe haven for ships preparing to attack allied convoys heading for Murmansk. The unwillingness of the British military leaders to land and maintain troops in an attempt to eject the enemy, and the inability of the Home Fleet to stem the flow of German troops had dire consequences – and some unexpected benefits. German control of the ports and airfields was a constant threat to Allied supply routes but the very nature of this control tied up essential resources that the Germans had greater need for elsewhere.

Trondheim Harbour

The Hipper had been the first German ship to encounter a unit of the British Home Fleet when, almost accidentally, she sighted the destroyer Glowworm which had been separated from the fleet in search of a man overboard. The Hipper quickly silenced the smaller vessel but the Glowworm in a final death throe, managed to ram and damage her. A month later, on June 9 the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau entered the harbour. The Scharnhorst had been severely damaged by a torpedo after sinking the British aircraft carrier Glorious and her two supporting destroyers. A young girl in Trondheim wrote in her diary, “We can see the Scharnhorst clearly from the veranda. It is the one with the hole in it. An English submarine has done it. The hole goes all the way through the bow… a motorboat could go through it.”[1] This may have been an exaggeration but regardless, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau left Trondheim at the end of June for extensive repairs at Wilhelmshavn. They did not return to active service until January 1941 – when, again, they headed north.

Local Resistance

Many Norwegians were firmly convinced that the allies would repeat their attempt to establish a bridgehead in Norway. According to Reidar Jørgensen, a noted Norwegian Olympic athlete and teacher in Trondheim, “…several men in Trondheim had started to build up a Resistance movement after the capitulation of the Norwegian Forces.” Jørgensen had direct contact with four who were particularly active: “Good friend and neighbour Valdemar Aune, good friend and fellow-athlete Professor Leif Tronstad, subsequent Prime Minister John Lyng and an old-friend and fellow athlete Olaf Helseth.” [2]

All these men were to play decisive roles in the Resistance movement. After April 9th, Reidar Jørgensen travelled to Lillehammer to enlist but, like many others throughout Norway, he was turned away. He joined forces with a group that had established a radio station in direct contact with GHQ. They relayed messages, collected information. Their orders were to keep up their activities for as long as possible. They continued to work alongside the allied troops in Gudbrandsdalen and made their final transmission at Dombas. On his return to Trondheim, Jørgensen helped Lyng with the printing and distribution of illegal newspapers and continued his resistance work. He was a member of the ‘Monday Club’, with, among others, Just Finne, Professor Vogt, and Henry Gleditsch[3], a gathering of ‘Good’ Norwegians[4] that met regularly to discuss and give advice, on illegal activities and other aspects of the occupation.

Special Intelligence Service (SIS)

The latter part of 1940 and the first half of 1941 were difficult months for the Norwegian presence in London. Norwegian men and women, who arrived in increasing numbers, all wanted to “do their bit” for the war effort and cried out for action. At the same time, misunderstandings between the exiled Norwegian government in London, the growing resistance organizations in Oslo, and the British military authorities, created uncertainties, mistrust and inaction.

The British were desperate for information about the situation in Norway and especially about ship and troop movements. Radio contact with England was essential if this information was to be of any use. The first two radio stations, “Hardware” in Haugesund (June 10, 1940) and “Oldell” in Oslo (July 4, 1940), had been established by Naval Intelligence in London with poorly trained, independent, Norwegians. In the autumn of 1940 however, the British Special Intelligence Service (SIS), prodded by Norway’s Foreign Minister Koht and War Minister Eden, began training Norwegians as radio operators.[5] They decided to establish the next two radio stations in Oslo, (Skylark A) and Trondheim. (Skylark B). On September 5th 1940, four freshly qualified Norwegian radio operators, Sverre Midtskau, Erik Welle-Strand, Finn Juell and Sverre Haug, left Peterhead on the cutter Nordlys, crossed the North Sea and landed at Florø. The men continued on to Bergen where they parted company: Midtskau and Haug travelled to Oslo, and Welle-Strand headed for Trondheim with Finn Juell. In spite of numerous attempts, the group in Oslo never did make contact with London[6]and as we shall see, Midtskau returned to London later in the year. In Trondheim, Erik Welle-Strand struggled to set up Skylark B.


Established in 1910, Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH) merged with the University of Trondheim in 1995 as the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (NTNU).  The institute was, and is still, familiarly called Gløshaugen after the geographic location.

In September 1939, eight hundred and eighty nine young men and women studied in one of the seven departments: Architecture, Geology, Building, Electricity, Chemistry, Machine and General. Among these students were 160 new admissions and an extraordinary intake of 143 foreign students – most of them from technical institutions in Germany. The staff comprised 184 men and women, including 33 professors.

Norwegian students at that time were subject to compulsory military service in which they served six months in three periods taken during their summer holidays. Most of them ended with the rank of sergeant, but others joined Officer Candidate programmes and qualified as Second Lieutenants.

As early as 1938, NTH students had reacted to the vicious Nazi anti-Jewish pogrom of November 9thThe night of broken glass. At a meeting on November 12, they passed a resolution condemning the action and asking German students: “to use all their influence to oppose this tendency in Germany which all friends of the German people follow with sorrow and shame on behalf of European culture.”

On the fateful day, April 9th, 500 students, faculty and staff gathered at Gløshaugen. They had a panoramic view of the German ships in the harbour. The expected mobilization call had not come, the enemy had already occupied key positions and transport services were highly uncertain. Nevertheless, 400 students left Trondheim; most of them in an attempt to reach their units in the south, others, some of them with officer training, on skis to the fortress at Hegra or others eastward towards Sweden.

Fortified by the ‘seasoned’ military students, the Hegra Fortress was the last Norwegian military outpost to give up the fight on May 3rd.

After the futile, unprepared, stopgap, efforts to stem the German advances, students, staff and faculty gradually returned to Gløshaugen. Their will to resist had not weakened and they found new outlets for their passions. So much so, that the NTH became known as The Bulwark of Resistance.

(Source:  Holdningskamp og Motstandsvilje) Tapir Forlag

Radio Contact – Skylark B 

Skylark B was the third active radio station and the first manned by trained wireless operators.

Erik Welle-Strand (‘Welle’) studied at the prestigious Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH) in Trondheim, so it was natural for him to contact some of his friends and fellow students: Egil Reksten, Lorentz Conradi, Nico Selmer, Haakon Sørbye and Bjørn Rørholt. The latter two were enthusiastic amateur radio operators and technicians. Professor Leif Tronstad was a sympathetic professor for several of these students and at the same time he was actively engaged in the Resitance movement.

The transmitter Welle-Strand had brought from England, a bulky object nicknamed ‘the butter cask’, ran on 220 volts but the voltage in Trondheim was only 150 volts. This meant that the group had to find suitable locations for their station outside the city limits.

Their schedule called for transmissions three times weekly from three different locations. They had to carry the transmitter and heavy batteries to and from the city – a dangerous operation, especially in daylight. Following the instructions ‘Welle’ had brought with him from London, they began tapping out Morse messages. From September 21 until the beginning of November –they tapped away, with n’er an answering ‘dit-da-dit’ (‘R’ for received in Morse). Even when Sørbye had rigged up a new antenne with a much stronger signal, they were unable to make contact. Just before Christmas, they gave up. For one thing, they were running out of locations –which had to be close to a road or path and with access to power lines – for another, the danger of their being caught increased daily. On one occasion, they saw local farmers watching them and had to make up a ‘cock and bull’ story about their activities.[7]  On November 26, Midtskau travelled from Oslo to Trondheim to discuss the situation with the men of ‘Skylark B’. They decided that Midtskaug, should return from Oslo, via Stockholm to London with a copy of the schedule to compare it with the one used by SIS. He returned to Oslo next day but getting to London wasn’t as easy as it sounds; it took him almost two months to get there.

About this time, one of ‘Skylark B’s’ reserve WT operators, pilot Per Bugge, announced that he would be leaving for England to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). Reksten decided to gave him a copy of the schedule document as a back-up. The schedules showed Skylark’s transmission days, times and frequencies, these had to be compared with the ones used by SIS. If ‘Skylark’s’ schedules were correct, the group would be informed through a message sent to Trondheim on the BBC’s evening news.

Skylark ‘B ‘ Trondheim (SIS)

Arrested Fate Function
Bjanes Ola Jacob 27.09.1941 Killed N Assistant
Danielsen Ina Courier
Erlandsen Yngvar Killed N Assistant
Hjelde Bård Gunnar 15.08.1941 Killed N WT operator
Jacobsen Anton Martin 15.08.1941
Johansen Einar Survived war WT operator
Juell Finn Assistant
Lynner Bjørn 07.12.1940 Killed N contact Bergen
Løken Alf 27.09.1941 Killed N Assistant
Reksten Egil ??.09.41       Survived war Organisor
Rørholt Bjørn Survived war WT/Technician
Selmar Nicolai Assistant
Skeie Olav Survived war WT operator
Sørbye Haakon 10.09.1941 Survived N and war WT/ technician
Welle-Strand Erik Survived war Organisor/WT
N Natzweiler
WT Radio Operator

Normally the BBC evening news to Norway began with; “This is the news from London.” However, if Reksten’s schedules turned out to be correct, the preamble  would be changed to: “Here comes the news from London.” With Bugge and Midtskauug’s departures, the Skylark team could only worry, wait, enjoy a less than festive Christmas season – and listen to the BBC!

In London too, the lack of signals from Oslo and Trondheim worried ‘Sentralen’ but in the aftermath of the ferocious ‘blitz’, there were many other pressing problems. However, in late January two important messages arrived: Midstskau, from Oslo, had landed in Scotland and Bugge, from Trondheim was at the ‘Patriotic School’[8]. Reksten’s schedule document showed that transmission days were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The schedule used by ‘Sentralen’[9] showed Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – Reksten’s was correct – little wonder there had been no connection. But now the problem was solved and SIS-boss Commander Newhill had to accept the blame.

Heavy Water

Arnfinn Moland and Ivar Kraglund’s first lines in their introduction to Jan-Anton Poulsson’s book ‘The Heavy Water Raid’ are:

“The Raid on the Heavy Water Plant is imprinted forever on the annals of Norwegian and international war history.”

Anyone seriously interested in understanding why this is so, should read Poulsson’s book – either in the original Norwegian or in the English translation by Ingrid Christophersen. The story has been told many times in other books and on film but, as Poulsson himself writes“some good, some not so good. …They have all irritated me, not only because the actual events have been erroneously portrayed but owing more to the fact that they have been over-dramatized and opinions and words have been

assigned to us which we never either held or expressed.”

Interest in the raid has not dimmed with time – a recent article about the raid, in the New York Times (Nov. 2015) elicited 243 comments.

Scientists at Vemork first observed the curious heavy water in 1934 when it appeared as a by-product of their revised ammonia production process. Physically and chemically, the substance is similar to ordinary water, but while the hydrogen atoms in normal H2O consist of one proton and one electron, many of the hydrogen atoms in heavy water have the added weight of a neutron– an isotope known as deuterium.

On the evening of January 15 1941, the BBC broadcast to Norway began: “Here comes the news from Norway.” In various parts of Norway, the men of Skylark B heard the subtle change in the introduction and understood its meaning. Within a few days they were all back in Trondheim. On Saturday, January 25, London and Trondheim reported signals loud and clear. At last, the men of Trondheim were part of the war – well, almost.

Loud and clear

Disappointment returned next day, and the day after, when the radio waves were silent again. The men of Skylark B blamed the transmitter so Haakon Sørbye built a new one overnight. They also constructed a new receiver, rigged up a new antenna, and found a hiding place under a large spruce tree in an isolated spot in the woods overlooking the city. The new setup resulted in reduced signals towards Trondheim and almost double signal strength towards England. Another NTH student, Einar Johansen, became a welcome addition to the ‘Skylark’ team.[10]

Once contact was established, there was no lack of important information for ‘Skylark B’ to send to London. In addition to the regular reports on troop and ship movements there were two especially important sources. The Germans had taken over Trondheim’s airport at Værnes the day after the invasion, on April 10. Værnes was a critical brick in the building of German domination of Northern Norway and later for attacking allied convoys to and from Murmansk.  On April 24th expansion work on the airport began and by the 28th, the first new runway opened, built with the help of hundreds of Norwegian workers. By the end of the war, more than 2000 Norewegians had been employed at Værnes and the airport comprised three runways, several hangers, bunkers and anti-aircraft posisitions – one hundred buildings in all.

On May 16, ‘Welle’ had to leave Trondheim and Egil Reksten took his place as leader. On May 22, Reksten reported that three destroyers had anchored in the harbour and that they had obviously returned from a deep-sea operation. It seemed like an innocuous incident but a few days later Skylark B received a message from London: “Congratulations on the prompt advice about the three destroyers.” These vessels had been escorting the “Bismarck” and Skylark’s message had helped the Admiralty plot the route of the mighty battleship.[11]

Meanwhile, in Trondheim, Knut Haukelid, who had originally worked with ‘Skylark A’ in Oslo, assisted ‘Skylark B’ as a WT operator. He had also managed to get a job working on what the Germans claimed to be an impregnable” submarine bunker in Trondheim harbour. From this position he was able to collect data and other vital information about the construction[12] which Skylark B transmitted to London.

One rather unusual request for information arrived from Eric Welsh, the head of the SIS Norwegian Section.

“Message No 65 For heavens sake keep this under your hat stop try to find out what the germans are doing with the heavy water they produce at rjukan stop…”

Reksten and Rørholt didn’t know much about ‘heavy water’ so they checked with the management at Hydro (the manufacturer). The head of Hydro suspected that a British competitor, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was behind the request, so Reksten and Rørholt composed a cheeky reply:

“Message no 87 stop your no 65 stop we can get the information if you confirm it is important to the present war effort stop If it is only for the ICI please remember that blood is thicker even than heavy water stop”[13]

Professor R.V. Jones the brilliant scientist at the Intelligence Section of the British Air Ministry who had instigated the original request, received the reply and “loved” the thicker even than heavy water part.[14]

The number of messages, not only from Trondheim but from other parts of Norway, grew to such an extent that Einar Johansen complained; “One would think that this is the only active radio station in Norway.”[15] He was right, from May to August 1942 the only active station in Norway was ‘Skylark B.’


On November 20, 1941 after much uncertainty, many misunderstandings and long discussions, the Norwegian government in London recognised Milorg in Norway as a military organisation – directly subordinate to the Norwegian High Command in London. Co-operation with the British military authorities improved and Norwegians began to volunteer for service in the Special Operations Executive. (SOE). Hugh Dalton had founded SOE on July 19 1940. Its mandate was to organise resistance in occupied countries and to carry out sabotage, “…set Europe ablaze!” enjoined Prime Minister Churchill. At its formation, SOE had taken over ‘Section D’ of the SIS. SIS, however, retained its monopoly on radio communications; a fact that was to cause some operational problems. The ‘Golden Rule’ – that there should be no contact between SIS and SOE operatives – was difficult to follow when SOE agents had to send messages through SIS radio stations.

Churchill strongly supported SOE and he was an ardent advocate, with his Jupiter plan, for invading Norway. Hitler was even more obsessed with Norway in general and Northern Norway in particular. His decision to send his mighty battle-ship Tirpitz to Trondheim was based on his belief that the allies would use Norway as a ‘back-door’ to Europe. Indeed, this was Churchill’s plan. His Jupiter foresaw that; “if things go well…we could advance gradually southward, unrolling the Nazi map of Europe from the top.”[16] Hitler responded by moving troops, naval units, and defence specialists to Norway. He reasoned: “Norway is the zone of destiny in this war” [17]–  it was, but not as he had expected.

In London, British and Norwegian authorities had agreed to establish a military organisation in Trøndelag under the leadership of Major Bøckmann and Lieutenant Aune.Both had been active in the Norwegian campaigns after April 9th and were part of the resistance movement afterwards. The objectives were, as before, to provide information about German troop and ship movements. A secondary task was to arm and train Norwegian patriots.[18]


The end of Skylark B

The first arrest

These developments and the previously mentioned activities resulted in a large increase in the volume of radio traffic and with it, the increased possibility of being located. By June 1941, the Germans knew that there was a radio station operating somewhere in the area and had begun their efforts to pinpoint its location. Though aware of the danger, Reksten and his team continued to operate the station but were unable to forestall the inevitable. The end came through lack of experience on the part of the Skylark B team, the German effectiveness at not revealing the arrest of Bård Hjelde, and their eventual success in pinpointing the station.

The Mission Hotel

On August 15th, Bård Hjelde was returning from transmitting at the hidden radio station in Bymarka. He had a fishing rod and other equipment to support his ‘story’ of having been on a fishing trip. A German patrol car stopped and questioned him. The soldiers did not believe his story and they arrested him. At the Gestapo Headquarters, the Mission Hotel, he was tortured and kept in isolation so that his arrest remained a secret.[19]

Hjelde’s disappearance worried the rest of the team but they feared that if the transmissions ceased, the Germans would have a stronger case against him. To avoid this, Haakon Sørbye and Einar Johansen decided to operate the station as usual for the time being. One day when Haakon was alone at the station, he heard an aircraft flying low overhead, it was probably looking for the station. Some days later, Haakon and Einar noticed signs of life in the woods not from their hideaway. They continued to the station however and made contact with Sentralen. Suddenly they heard noises in the bushes; they gathered up a few things, left the transmitter and escaped down an almost perpendicular rockface. They were lucky; the Germans had placed guards at most of the paths leading into and out of the Bymarka woods but the corden had been relieved before Haakon and Einar arrived.

When the ‘Skylark’ men learned that Bård Hjelde had been seen through a window at Vollen Prison, they decided to keep ‘radio silence’ for a while. They moved the transmitter a couple of times, once to a cabin owned by a Professor at NTH after advice from Professor Tronstad and then out into the woods by Jonsvatn. (Lake Jons). However, the Skylark group knew that the end was near and at a “war council,” they decided to send Reken and Bjørn Rørholt to Oslo. Reken was to contact Knut Haukelid while Bjørn was to send messages with Trondheim call signs and schedules on a new transmitter that Haakon Sørbye had built. This was an attempt to mislead the Germans into thinking that the station was still operating in Trondheim.[20]

Another Arrest

On Sept 10, Haakon went to the laboratory at school to do some experiments. A Gestapo thug appeared and stood watching the students as they entered the lab-assistant’s office. He arrested one of them, Rolf Moe. Rolf lived in the same apartment block as Bjørn and Haakon but was not one of their group. Haakon realized that the net was closing so he left the lab and went to see professor Tronstad. He pointed out the Gestapo car outside the building, told the professor about Moe’s arrest and explained the connections between Rolf, Bjørn Rørholt and himself. He added that an accumulator was being charged in Bjørn’s flat. «You must get rid of it, say that you are there to fetch a book if there is any problem», was Tronstad’s advice.[21]

Haakon’s first step was to contact other members of the group to let them know what had happened. He also sent a message to Rørholt in Oslo via the courier, NTH student and Admiral’s daughter, Ina Danielsen.

Haakon reasoned that the Gestapo could not have got a lead on Rørholt so quickly after Moe’s arrest but he was wrong; two Gestapo agents were waiting when he entered the flat. They refused to believe his ‘book’story, he was arrested on the spot and driven to the Gestapo HQ and: “subjected to the familiar German interrogation methods. It was the biggest mistake of my life, but again, an example of how naïve we were.”[22] What Haakon did not know was that Moe’s arrest had led directly to Rørholt because Rørholt had borrowed a backpack from Moe when they last relocated the station. A Norwegian nazi working for the Gestapo had found the abandoned hiding place as he searched the woods. All traces of the operators had been carefully removed, except one; on the ground lay a small clothes tag marked with Rolf Moe’ name. Moe confessed that the name-tag must have come from a back-pack he had loaned to one of the other men in the apartment block.[23]

The net widens, Oslo, Trondheim.

In Oslo, Bjørn Rørholt found that the bomb-damaged German Pocket Battleship “Admiral Scheer” had been in the harbor since September 4. He sent this information to London using his old amateur radio operator’s antenna at his home in Holmenkollen.That evening, the Gestapo surrounded the house and sent men to the front door to arrest him. Bjørn grabbed his father’s pistol and ammunition, ran into the garden, jumped over the fence and exchanged shots with his persuers before disappearing into the woods. Escaping was not easy; the day before, Viggo Hansteen and Rolf Wickstrøm had been executed Martial Law proclaimed with a curfew of 9 pm. Whilst the Gestapo fine-combed the surrounding woods with dogs, Bjørn, helped by neighbours and a doctor, was driven to safety smothered in bandages.[24] Reken was not so lucky. He and Knut had found refuge in a remote cabin on the Hardanger plateau but the Gestapo were on their trail. Haukelid managed to escape, but Reken was arrested and taken to Oslo for interrogation. Back in Trondheim, the Gestapo rounded up most of the Skylark B group and continued looking for the rest. Einar Johansen and Nico Selmar evaded them and escaped to England via Sweden. Alf Løken was arrested during a razzia at the NTH.[25]


Looking for information on Trondheim, I thought I had hit the jackpot when I found a link to Lt. Waldemar Aune on Google. I was wrong. The link was to a group of friends who had a joint football pool and who lived in  Waldemar Aune’s Road in Helset, Trondheim

After the Gestapo found code books and ciphers at one of Skylark’s abandoned stations the very foundations of resistance in Trondheim crumbled. On September 22 1941, the Gestapo arrived at Lt. Aune’s home. As we know, Lt. Waldemar Aune had been teamed with Major Brochman to recruit, organize and train men for Resistance work. Amongst Aune’s other activities had been the “export” of Norwegians to England. The Germans had intercepted one of his “transports”, the fishing boat Vita, in the approaches to Namsos some days earlier. While the Gestapo interrogated Aune, another resistance worker, Arthur Mørch Hansson, who had been hiding in Aune’s loft, managed to slip out. He rang the doorbell at neighbour Reidar Jørgensen’s house. Jørgensen was not at home but his wife, Annasof opened the door. Hansson confirmed his identity and told about the unwelcome ‘visitors’ next door. He also said that it was imperative that Professor Leif Tronstad, be warned of the situation. Mrs Jørgensen offered to do the job. Tronstad lived close by and as there was a strong possibility that the Gestapo would be watching his house, Mrs Jørgensen concocted a plausible story for her call. The coast was clear however, so she gave Tronstad the bad news and asked if there were others she should warn. Tronstad asked her to continue to the home of funds manager Magnar Breida.[26] The Gestapo’s interrogation of Lt. Aune could have had serious consequences for these men so Mrs Jørgensen’s warnings were timely. Breida went ‘underground’ immediately. Tronstad and his family were on the train to Oslo at 1915 that same evening, on the first stage of his journey to England, the planning of the Vemork operations, and lasting fame. The Gestapo arrested Aune after his interrogation and he spent the rest of the war in captivity. Bøckman continued his task alone.

Help from Scotland

To assist Bøckman in Trøndelag, two Norwegians, Odd Sørli and Arthur Pevik, left Scotland on February 2 1942 and arrived in Norway 4 days later. Both were SOE agents, trained in sabotage and weapon instruction at the Norwegian Independent Company No.1 (Norisen), later known as the Linge Company.[27] By pure chance, Bjørn Rørholt, (alias Rolf Christiansen), was also onboard. His objective was to report on the Tirpitz. According to Rørholt they left on February 8 – but that’s another story to be told in the next section, Naval Matters.

At their first meeting with Major Bøckman, the two SOE men explained the directives they had received for the new organization in Trøndelag. The main points were: the training of young Norwegians in modern guerrilla warfare, reception and storing of arms, ammunition and supplies, direct radio communication with London, and the least possible connection with other illegal groups of any kind. Because of the many recent arrests and informer activities in Trøndelag, Major Bøckman was not entirely happy with the two first tasks but he had to accept the joint decision from London. Lark 1 was the codename for the operation and Odd Sørli was the man in charge.

The background for Lark (and the Skylark B operation), was Churchill’s special interest in Norway. In January 1942, he had written to his Chief of Staff, General Ismay: “The presence of Tirpitz at Trondheim has now been known for three days. The destruction or even the crippling of this ship is the greatest event at sea at the present time.”[28] On May 1, he wrote to Ismay again about ‘Operation Jupiter,’ his plan for a second front in Norway. He was still hoping for ‘Jupiter’ at the beginning of July but neither his own military advisors nor his new allies in America supported him.

In Norway, however, the Anglo/Norwegian attacks on Lofoten and Måløy had been perceived by the Norwegians as preludes to a full invasion of Norway. Odd Sørli and Arthur Pevik set about activating the somewhat depressed resistance in Trondheim. Both had brothers, Oivind Sørli and Johnny Pevik, who were similarly enthusiastic patriots. SOE man Herluf Nygaard, who had already made contacts for Bøckman in Åndalsnes, Ålesund, Molde, Kristiansund, Namsos and Hegra, completed an effective troika. These three had the advantage that they could wander around Trondheim freely at all times whereas Odd Sørli and Arthur Pevik were known locally to have been in England and they could only venture outside after dark.

Radios and Weapons

Lark’s biggest problem at this time was the lack of radio contact with England; in fact, they had no radio. Nygaard, always eager for action, volunteered to make the trip to England via Stockholm. Odd Sørli agreed and on March 7 1942, Nygaard and Arthur Pevik left for Stockholm. It was a short visit – they left Stockholm by ‘plane to London three weeks later. Malcolm Munthe met them in London. Munthe had experienced the opening phases of the German occupation in Norway, he had worked for the British in Stockholm and was currently the liaison officer between SOE and the Linge Company men. Nygaard met with other SOE leaders and trained at the Linge Company facility in Scotland. After a hazardous North Sea crossing on the cutter ‘Jack’, Nygaard was back in Trondheim on April 24. He had with him a radio transmitter and a fellow Linge-man and radio operator, Evald Hansen. Shortly afterwards two other Linge-men, Olav Sættem and Arne Christiansen landed at Dyrøy from the Shetlands with a supply of explosives and weapons that had to be hidden locally.

Sættem and Christiansen made their way to Trondheim. They were the new weapons instructors   for Lark and they each took one set of instructions and weapons with them. Odd Sørli had a third set. This was hardly enough to prepare for an invasion so they had to fetch more from the weapon depot at Dyrøy. Fish was the most common commodity in that part of Norway and fish was usually transported in crates. In an elaborate scheme, involving many contacts, the Lark men packed weapons in specially made crates, covered with peat, heather, thick paper and finally a layer of fish. The German inspectors at the harbour could see the fish through the slats at the top. All went well and the two instructors began a period of training recruits from all parts of Trøndelag. These newlytrained men returned to their districts to organise and train new groups – especially near military installations, railways, and highways.[29]

Sættem and Christiansen were recalled to Stockolm on July 20. Radio-operator Evald Hansen, who had had a hectic three months in a nerve-racking and vulnerable position, went with them. He had arranged for another radio-operator, Olaf Gjølme, to take his place. Gjølme could only operate the stationpart time’ so communications suffered. Early in September, Odd Sørli was also recalled to Stockholm and Herluf Nygaard took over as Lark’s leader. He kept Major Bøckmann up to date on his activities but Bøckmann could only reach Nygaard via a third party. Close associates Knut Brodtkorp Dannielsen, Øivind Sørli, Herbert Helgesen, and Rolf Trøite separated Nygaard from the various local groups in the growing organisation. Helgesen was especially important because of his many contacts in Trondheim – including police and Nazi circles.[30]

Because of the poor radio connections with London at this time, most of the instructions and information travelled by rail to Oslo and then relayed to Stockholm. The German never discovered the identity of the contact at the railway station in Trondheim. His opposite number at the East station in Oslo was the stationmaster himself.[31] The Lark group concentrated on local matters: organising medical services, training couriers, and securing supplies – including the all-important ration cards for food and fuel. Lark was still hoping for more arms and ammunition from England and had begun to plan for possible airdrops.

Sabotage, Reprisals, Persecution

October 7 1941

Addresseavisen Trondheim

Announcement from the Supreme SS and Police Commander, North.

In connection with the conditions of the State of Emergency…

the following Norwegian citzens were executed at 6 pm on October 6, 1942….

  1. Advocat Otto Skirstad, Trondheim
  2. Theater manager Henry Gleditsch, Trondheim
  3. Editor Harald Langhelle, Trondheim
  4. Businessman Hirsch Kommissar (Jew), Trondheim
  5. Engineer Hans Konrad Ekornes, Trondheim
  6. Bank manager Birch, Trondheim
  7. Ship broker Per T. Lykke, Trondheim
  8. Advocat Bull Askrans, Røros
  9. Construction manager Peder Eggen, Orkanger og
  10. Captain Finn Berg, Trondheim.

The entire fortunes of the executed have been confiscated.

Signed Rediess SS-Oberruppenfuhrer und General der Deutschen Polizei.

Other events effected Lark’s situation in Trøndelag. The Linge Company’s attack on the transformer station at Bårdshaug in May had resulted in closer control of ships-traffic by the Gestapo and the end of supplies by sea from England. In Vefsnadalen, Capt. Sjøberg had been operating undisturbed since autumn 1941 but in September 1942, the Gestapo became suspicious. Following a shooting incident at Majavatn a large contingent of German troops and police fine-combed the district. The Linge leaders escaped, but the Gestapo imprisoned many local inhabitants. On September 6th another Linge group had led a successful attack on a power station at Glomfjord. This was too much for the Germans. On October 6th the German Chief of Police in Northern Norway, Wilhelm Rediess, declared a state of emergency in Trondheim, parts of South-Trøndelag, the entire North-Trøndelag and part of Nordland. In the same declaration, he announced that in reprisal, 10 leading Trondheim citizens would be executed. Another 23 of those captured after the Majavatn episode were also sentenced to death. These events had a further depressing effect on the resistance organisations in Trøndelag.[32]

Another disturbing development was the intense persecution of the Jewish population that began in Trondheim before spreading to the rest of the country. The confiscation of the Trondheim synagogue in April 1941 was the first sign of Nazi intentions. In the autumn of that year, Ernst Flesch, a ruthless anti-Semite, had become commander of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD – Security Service) for Trondheim, Trøndelag, and Møre and Romsdal. By the summer of 1942 he had ‘taken over’ almost all the businesses owned by Jews in these areas – and arrested the owners. He arrested four other Jews and executed them for listening to and spreading Norwegian news from London.[33] The mass-arrests of Trondheim Jews in October 1942 were the first in the country – but not the last.

Rinnan Gang

The traitor Henry Oliver Rinnan is said to have been responsible for 80% of all arrests in Trøndelag during the war. It has also been claimed that more books and articles have been written about Rinnan than about any other Norwegian involved in the war.

Rinnan was born on May 14 1915 in Levanger. He started his nefarious career in the summer of 1941 when the Gestapo ‘employed’ him as an agent – or informer – in central Norway. His nickname was ‘Lola’, and his group became known by this name. He transferred his ‘services’ to the German Security Police in March 1942. Commander Flesch ordered Rinnan to find suitable recruits as ‘V-men’ – i.e. trusted men who would knowingly work for the Security Police by gathering information and infiltrating resistance groups. By the end of 1942, Rinnan had selected 20-30 men and women (‘positive contacts’) who became the nucleus of his ‘Lola gang’. Rinnan and his gang worked closely with Flesch and the leader of Section IV, Gemmecke, both of whom were extremely capable and efficient officers.

However, the ‘success’ of Rinnan’s operation was mostly due to a system that he claimed to have developed himself: gang members, posing as patriots, approached resistance groups and individual members either with offers of help or with requests to become involved. To build up credibility Rinnan’s men could provide arms, cigarettes, ‘illegal’ newspapers and other ‘imported’ goods. Rinnan went to great lengths to convince his ‘negative contacts’ that they were actually working for the resistance. On one occasion he arranged to ‘assist’ an ‘arrested’ resistance worker, to escape to Sweden. Two of his most devastating actions were in the Majavatn and the Vikna episodes. According to Rinnan’s testimony at his trial, his ‘negative contacts’ numbered 150 – 250 ‘good Norwegians.’[34]


Radio-operator Evald Hansen returned from Stockholm at the beginning of October 1942 with a new pseudonym – Egil Halvorsen – and in high spirits after his two months in Stockholm. Throughout the summer the British had been trying, unsuccessfully, to put the Tirpitz out of action by air. In September it looked as though a new, more ambitious plan – attack by mini-submarines, or X-craft – would succeed. The Lark team, again in daily contact with London, felt encouraged to be part of such an important operation. They were in good spirits too because they knew that Rinnan had tried, but failed, to infiltrate the organisation – Lark remained intact.[36]

Unfortunately, the mini-submarine attack, Operation Title, failed, leaving a sense of anti-climax among Lark operatives. With no major actions and no supplies by either sea or air, they concentrated on the organisation. New groups were established in Oppdal, Heimdal, Tydalen, Klæbu, Skogn and Værdalen. A new leader Leif Wiger, strengthened the group at the Norwegian Institute of Technology. This expansion may have accounted for the rumour that a radio – detection unit had been seen in Trondheim. Rumour or not, Nygaard decided to move the radio station to a safer location in Jørundsgate, and to find different lodgings for himself.

Internationally, the war situation was changing: German advances in Russia and North Africa stalled, the Americans landed in Morocco and Algeria, bombing raids on German cities increased and so did optimism in the Allied camp. But had Norway been forgotten?[37]

Arrests, torture, death.

It seemed that way until December 15, 1942 when Evald Hansen brought some good news from his daily report: London anticipated a weapon drop on December 17th. The final decision would be made on the 16th – could Lark be ready? The answer confirming this was to be sent at 1300. Nygaard ordered two men to be ready to be at the drop-zone on the and arranged to meet Hansen at the bus-station at 1330. Hansen didn’t show up on time and after waiting almost an hour Nygaard decided he had to find out what was happening. Jørundsgate was quiet, few people, no cars, and not a German in sight. As he opened the door however, he was dragged inside by a civilian-clad German who asked where he was going. Nygaard knew that the radio was on the second floor and that an NTH student lived on the same floor so he said he was visiting the student to get some books. The student wasn’t home, so Nygaard’s guard pushed him towards Hansen’s room. As the German moved to open the door, Nygaard punched him– but not hard enough to knock him down. Nygaard started down the stairs. His long winter coat trailed behind, his pursuer trod on the coat, pulled Nygaard backwards, and jumped over him. Other Germans joined the fray, hoisted Nygaard up, and into the radio-room where Hansen sat at the transmitter surrounded by uniformed Gestapo agents.

Nygaard and Hansen claimed that they didn’t know each other but the Germans didn’t believe them. They bundled Nygaard down the stairs again and headed towards a waiting car. At that moment, Olav Reiersen, one of Nygaard’s men, who was on his way to visit Hansen, quickly but unobtrusively, changed his course and continued his stroll along the street. This chance meeting was a great comfort to Nygaard because he knew that Reiersen would warn the other Lark operatives of his arrest – and, if necessary, they would go into hiding. [38]

The Germans forced Hansen to continue transmitting messages to London in the hope that they would get more information about the resistance in Trondheim. But in each transmission, he included a hidden code that told the receiver that the sender was working under enemy pressure.

Evald Hansen
Photo: The Linge Company Roll of Honour

The Gestapo, however, had another form of pressure – torture. Herluf Nygaard was the first to be interrogated – a kind word for brutal methods of breaking a man’s spirit. Nygaard managed to hold out, then pretended to co-operate and finally, en-route to another prison, escaped after a chase through the streets of Trondheim. He reached Sweden, then England and returned to Norway to continue resistance during the war and a distinguished military career afterwards. Sergeant Evald Hansen suffered the same kind of torture as Nygaard, again without disclosing anything of interest to his tormenters. In addition, he spent two months in solitary confinement at Gestapo headquarters and endured both water and heat torture. He died from the mistreatment on April 5 1943 at Innherred hospital. The St. Olav’s Medal with Oak-leaf was awarded posthumously to Hansen.[39] The arrest of Nygaard and Hansen signalled the effective end of another phase of Lark. Once again the Allies were without eyes and ears in Trondheim.

The ruthlessness and efficiency of SD boss Ernst Flesch and his second in command, Walter Gemmecke spread fear and loathing throughout north-central Norway. Local resistance groups, SIS radio stations, and imported Linge Co. groups such as Lark were constantly under pressure and scrutiny. The separate, and often more aggressive, Communist resistance groups Thingstad and Wærdahl, were almost obliterated by round-ups, imprisonment, and executions. There was little contact between the local resistance organizations in Trondheim and Oslo so the possibilities for developing an effective Milorg organization were limited. In addition, the Rinnan gang grew in size and effectiveness. 1942 was a bad year.

New year – New faces

Johnny Pevik, Nils Uhlin Hansen, Odd Sørli and Erik Gjems-Onstad (EGO) came to Trondeim in February 1943. The four Linge-men had trained together in Scotland and Sørli, who had been in Trondheim before, emphasised that they were joining an established organisation and that a new stage had begun for Lark Blue. By sending four men to Trondheim, it seemed obvious that SOE had high-hopes for positive results from the station. however, from the first meeting with Jens Beer, one of the key men in Trondheim’s Milorg, EGO recalled one sentence: “We will give you all the assistance you require but at sabotage, we pass.” This sounded depressingly negative but as he got to know Jens and his men better, EGO realised that their attitude reflected neither weakness nor apathy. The Martial Law in 1942, the arrests, the tortures and the executions had shocked everybody and were still intimidating factors.

Parkveien 28. During one period, 3 Linge-men lived here

By the beginning of summer 1943 the Milorg organisation in Trøndelag comprised 8-900 men: about 130 at NTH, 300 in Trondheim, and 20-30 in each of the other 3 areas. Many of these had received weapon training in 1942 after a supply of arms had been shipped from England in January[40], but there had been no centrally-led training in 1942. A great deal of information about German army and naval installations had been forwarded to the Allies and large dumps of arms and ammunition had been established throughout the region. Expectations of an Allied invasion were great – but so was the uncertainty – thanks to the activities of the ever-growing Rinnan-gang.

The civilian resistance in Trondehim remained active but separate from the above. In 1943 Reidar Jørgensen was ordered to Oslo where he met a Milorg representative from the ‘Central Leadership. (SL) This man told Jørgensen that SL had decided that the Resistance in Trondheim should establish a “withdrawn” Milorg leadership. This group should have no direct contact with any of the other groups in Trondheim, but make sure that it was intact when the end of the war came in sight – and only react on secure orders from Oslo. The three men chosen as the leader-team were, Professor Inge Lyse as Foreman, with fishmonger Krøtøy and Jørgensen himself as assistants. According to Jørgensen, nothing sensational happened during this period but in the autumn of 1944, Lyse and Krøtøy had to flee to Sweden. It was not until early 1945 that they were replaced by Professor Erling Gjone and Johan Karlsen. In the interim Jørgensen; “sat alone, without connections or contact with SL – probably because I was assumed to be under suspicion”[41]

Lark Blue

To begin with, EGO, the radio operator for Lark Blue, had difficulties in making contact with Home Station.[42] He had only managed to rig up an internal antenna and after many fruitless hours trying he realised that this was the problem. With the help of NTH student Svend B Svendsen he found another location where he could string out an antenna over a roof – and, finally, made contact. By summer, Lark Blue consisted of three radios, in three different locations that were in connect with London 4 times weekly. The volume of traffic was rather more than security allowed, but London refused to cut back; not even when a double-agent reported that the Gestapo claimed to have a bearing on a radio transmitter in Trondheim. However, to minimise the risk to EGO, London agreed to send “blind” – that is, Lark should not answer their call signal but only listen and receive messages. Lark’s own transmissions were restricted to short, urgent, messages.

This self-imposed radio silence meant the disruption of the radio connection with the British Legation in Stockholm.  The Meråker railway line provided a suitable alternative and the train personell became reliable couriers for Lark. On almost every journey messages were transported to and from Stockholm.

In London, the spectre of Tirpitz still haunted Allied thoughts and created tasks for Milorg, but the warship had left Trondheim and never came back. Sørli’s other activities with Milorg included the movement and hiding of weapon stores and the continuous recruitment of men and women for the organisation.

Assassination Attempts

Strengthening the organisation was one thing; protecting it against the Gestapo and informers was another. The Allied offensives in Europe and Africa meant that there would be no major attack on Norway for the foreseeable future so the emphasis must be to maintain Milorg’s strength for the final phase of the war. Odd Sørli went to Stockholm to discuss the situation and reached an agreement to defend the organisation by attacking the informers. The plan was to lure Henry Rinnan to a meeting close to the Swedish border, kidnap him, press him for information, and then liquidate him. Easier said than done but with anonymous letters and newspaper notices the attempt was made. Rinnan wouldn’t rise to the bait so they reverted to Plan B; Johnny Pevik, Brodtkorb-Danielsen, Frederick Brekke, and Ole Halvorsen left Stockholm with orders to liquidate Rinnan (Operation Wagtail). In the meantime, Rinnan responded to the first plan and four more men were sent from Stockholm in an attempt to make sure that one of the plans worked. Both groups, travelling separately overland, ran into serious snow storms but eventually arrived in Trondheim towards the end of September.

Both groups had had strict orders to avoid contact with other resistance groups in Trondheim, including Lark. On October 6 1943, Pevik, Danielsen and Halvorsen waited outside Rinnan’s home. Details of the events that followed are uncertain because of conflicting reports. What is certain is that one of Rinnan’s aides, Bjørn Dolmen was shot and wounded, that shots were fired at Pevik’s men wounding Halvorsen, and that Rinnan escaped unharmed. There has been speculation that Rinnan had been warned of the assassination attempt, possibly by Brekke, but this has not been proved. Pevik took the unjured man to a nearby ‘safe house’ not knowing that Lark’s transmitter was located there. A friendly doctor took care of Halvorsen’s wounds and after a few days they were able to get him on the train to Oslo and out of danger. Dolmen recovered after two weeks, Rinnan was unharmed and the assassination attempt had failed. Odd Sørli returned from Stockholm shortly afterwards. He was not happy with the news of the contact between Pevik and Lark – and even less happy when he heard that the radio station/safe house had been used as a hospital.

Johnny Pevik
Photo: The Linge Company, Roll of Honour

In the middle of October, Johnny Pevik and Danielsen headed for Namdal with false identity papers. Their orders were to lay low, obtain some kind of work and prepare for future drops of supplies and ammunition. At Harran they got work as woodcutters at the Hemanstad farm but the local Milorg men were not sure about the newcomers. Were they to be trusted? Or were they Rinnan’s men? Mistrust and uncertainty pervaded the atmosphere in Trøndelag at that time because of the effectiveness of Rinnan’s informer network. The local Milorg leader checked with his contact in Stockholm who replied that he knew of no British agents in their district. Pevik and Danielsen were thus branded as provocateurs and denounced to the Gestapo. Danielsen was away in the village when the Germans surrounded the cabin. He escaped to Sweden. Pevik was arrested. When the locals saw him paraded through the district in chains they realised that they had been the victims of a terrible misunderstanding.[43] Pevic was taken to Gestapo headquarters in Trondheim. How he managed to survive the horrors of Gestapo torture for over a year is impossible to imagine. On November 19, 1944 he was hanged in the cellars of the Mission Hotel. His torturers, including Rinnen and Grande, were unable to obtain any information from him.[44] King Haakon VII awarded Johnny Pevik the Norwegian War Medal posthumously for his “courage and resolution.”

In Sørli’s opinion, Ivar Grande, Rinnan’s second in command, was just as dangerous as his boss. Sørli and Gjems-Onstad made two separate assassination attempts on Ivar Grande but neither was successful. Rinnan always claimed that he led a “charmed life.” Certainly he survived the war and his network of negative contacts, co-operating with the Gestapo, infiltrated and destroyed several Milorg groups outside Trondheim. It seemed only a question of time before they reached the inner core of the ‘Lark’ organisation.

End of Lark Blue/Lark Green
In this tense situation, security at the radio station was strengthened, the name changed from Lark Blue to Lark Green, and a more sophisticated code system activated. London ordered Gjems-Onstad to find another radio operator so that he, EGO, could go to Kristiansund to assist in creating a military organisation there.

After only a short time in Trondheim, Odd Sørli was called to Stockholm to report on the situation. A few days later, Gjems-Onstad had a narrow escape when visiting friends. He rang the doorbell but instead of a friendly welcome, two uniformed policemen faced him. At the same time, he heard a voice cry out: “We are all arrested.” He spun around and raced down the street – luckily, without being chased or shot.

He reported this latest incident and two days later was ordered to close down the station and make his way to Sweden. He left Trondheim on October 29 1943. With Lark Green disbanded Leif Wiger and Jens Beer took over the Milorg organisation. In December, the Gestapo arrested Leif Wiger, Jens and Martin Beer and several other leaders. Other Milorg men escaped to Sweden and Trondheim was once again isolated.  But things had been happening in other parts of Trønderlag.

Thamshavn – Linge Co. and Milorg

Not far from Trondheim, the Thamshavn Railroad, was the first electric railway in Norway. It was built in 1908 to carry ore from the Orkla mines at Meldal in South Trøndelag to the harbour at Orkanger.  Pyrite ore was essential to the German munitions industry and disruption of the supply from Norway was a high priority for the Allies. The first attack, Operation Redshank, with SOE/Linge agents Petter Deinboll, Per Getz and Thorleif Grong, had destroyed the transformers at Bårdshaug in May 1942 and the men returned safely to England. The destruction seriously interrupted both mining and transportation for three months. [45]

In September Lt. Deinboll was back in Norway again together with Bjørn Pedersen and Olav Sættem. Their target this time was the loading facility at Thamshavn. Because of the longer than normal trip across the North Sea, and local organising difficulties it was January 1943 before they, and their equipment were ready. The first plan had been to destroy the pier but local experts advised against this. Instead they decided to sink a fully loaded German freighter just before it departed. On February 21 the five thousand ton Nordfahrt tied up and loading began. Soon after midnight on February 26 a small rowing boat slid out towards the freighter. Arc-lights lit up the ship and much of the harbour but the ship itself provided a tiny sliver of shadow. Expecting to be sighted at any minute, the men fixed the charges and silently rowed away. The Nordfahrt sank, the operation was a success and after an eventful, strenuous and near-fatal period in the winter-decked mountains, the three men returned safely to England. [46]

Though successful, the sinking of the Nordfahrt had no significant effect on the ore supply to Germany. Lt. Deinboll, by now a veteran, was given a new task: to destroy the machinery powering the lifts in the more important mine-shafts or, alternatively, attack the railroad again. Arne Hægstad, Pål Skjærpe, Torfinn Bjørnås, Aasmund Wisløf, Leif Brønn and Odd Nilsen, as second-in-command, comprised the Linge group that was dropped by parachute on October 10th. From their refuge in a primitive cabin, reconnaissance showed them that the Germans fully expected new attacks: extra barbed-wire, flood-lighting and anti-personnel mines revealed this clearly. Deinboll decided to go for the alternative – nine of the fourteen locomotives plying between the various stations. The complicated attack took place in the early hours of October 31 – with impressive results: 5 locomotives destroyed, 1 locomotive damaged so much that it had to be sent to Oslo for repairs, freight-cars and a bogey destroyed, and several buildings damaged. Deinboll was not satisfied; one important locomotive remained capable of maintaining the ore transport. He decided to attempt to destroy this and another locomotive at the same time. On November 17 an electric charge exploded as Odd Nilsen was fixing it to a rail – killing him instantly. Deinboll called off the action but Bjørnås, unaware of the accident, destroyed his target as planned. (Operation Feather)

The group had hoped to remain in the district to make a further attack. However, the intense German attempts to find them, and the capture of Pål Skjærpe ruled out this possibility and the four remaining saboteurs made their way back to England.[47]

After the Germans lost their supply of Sicilian ore in the summer of 1943, the importance of the supply from the Orkla mines increased. The October and November attacks reduced the flow – but not sufficiently. SOE assigned Linge men Arne Hægstad, Torfinn Bjørnås and Aasmund Wisløff to destroy the remaining locomotives. Code-named Feather II they arrived in Norway on April 21 1944 via Sweden.

New plans, new assignments

Meanwhile, Odd Sørli had been in London discussing future plans, Ingebrigt Gausland was sent from Stockholm to Trondheim to assess the situation there, and Erik Gjems-Onstad attended a course in Stockholm on ‘Psychological Warfare’ which he described as “Completely new and strange.” In January 1944 Sørli returned from London and was assigned to Stockholm as ‘district specialist for Trøndelag.’ Gjems-Onstad was posted to Trondheim to take over Lark, re-organize Milorg, and establish a new organization for psychological warfare – codenamed Durham. He left Stockholm on March 27 1944 together with Ingebrigt Gausland and Harald Larsen. He was ordered to return in two months if possible.

In Stockholm, Gjems-Onstad had been told that Ivar Faye Rode would be a good man to head and re-build Milorg in Trondheim. Rode was not unwilling, but because of his bad experiences with informers and provocateurs he refused to accept the weapons, hand-grenades, poison-pills, and even the propaganda material as positive proof that Gjems-Onstad’s was not a provocateur. As a last resort, EGO gave Rode a few details of a sabotage action that would occur within 14 days not far from Trondheim. “When this happens,” he said, “you will know that I am who I say I am – and that our first job together will be to get the three saboteurs safely away.” He was referring to the Feather II operation.

Orkla – Feather II

The Milorg group in Orkla, one of the strongest and most reliable in Trøndelag, made the necessary arrangements and provided information for the three men of Feather II. A local farmer built them a concealed hideaway in the woods close to the railroad at a point where they planned to destroy three locomotives and, if possible, a bridge.

On May 9 and June 1 1944, respectively, the trains were hi-jacked, the passengers dispersed and the locomotives destroyed. A third action, on June 10 back-fired – the train was heavily guarded and in the exchange of fire, two Germans were shot.[48]The shooting resulted in an intensive search for the saboteurs and the Germans offered a reward for their capture.

To create a red-herring, Gjems-Onstad called the police and said that he had seen three men who looked like the fugitives – at a location far away from railway. Naturally, he didn’t try to collect the reward. The first attempt to arrange a meeting with the Linge men failed, but they eventually managed to reach Trondheim. They were taken care of, rested, and on June 19 1944 they set off on the first leg of their journey by train, truck, and finally on foot to Sweden. The Thameshavn sabotage convinced Ivar Faye Rode of Gjems-Onstad’s identity and thus began another new phase for Milorg in Trondheim

On June 21, Gjems-Onstad visited North Trøndelag to contact agents, enlist new recruits, and evaluate Milorg’s strength. At Hegra he visited Rolf and Nils Trøite, old friends who had been steadfast Milorg supporters since 1941. On his return trip, he found that Rolf and Nils had been arrested the day after his visit – probably because the brothers had aided the Thameshavn saboteurs during their escape. After this inspection journey, Gjems-Onstad returned to Stockholm and reported on the situation in Trondheim.

Trondheim – new arrests

Gjems-Onstad, with newly-trained couriers Rolf Olsen and Egil Løkse, who was also a radio-operator, returned to Trondheim in August. Reports from ‘Durham’ and Milorg were positive but both complained of lack of material and supplies. The leaders agreed that couriers and parachute-drops must be increased if the organisations were to become effective.

Gjems-Onstad stayed with Herleif Halvorsen and after a few weeks, when a stranger began to ask for a meeting with ‘Leif Knudsen’ – EGO’s alias – they realized that their security was in danger. EGO and Halvorsen’s fiancé Eva Munthe, decided to leave for Stockholm immediately but Halvorsen chose to stay. That night the Gestapo came to his apartment. He heard them breaking in, ran up to the loft and dived into the river. His pursuers heard the splash, searchlights lit up the river, and they sent a boat over to the other side. But to no avail – Halvorsen escaped and found cover in a safe-house despite the fact that he had lost his pyjama trousers during his swim.

Egil Løkse was arrested next day when he went to visit Halvorsen. Løkse had no way of explaining his visit. His identity card was as false as his name – as he was a radio-operator the Germans thought they had captured Leif Knudsen. But EGO was safely in Stockholm where he received an urgent signal from London asking him to confirm that Løkse had been arrested and he devised a control question that London could send to Løkse. Løkse’s reply confirmed that he was sending under scrutiny. Løkse, knew none of the Milorg leaders in Trondheim but the Gestapo thought he did and ‘interrogated’ him brutally.

On September 24 the arrest of Ivar Faye Rode and Asbjørn Hørgaard indicated the beginning of another round-up of Milorg leaders. Herleif Halvorsen, Finn Krogstad, and Rolf Leer started off for Sweden with three others. On October 5 1944 they were caught unawares by a German patrol not far from the Swedish border, Halvorsen and Krogstad were shot. Krogstad died immediately, Halvorsen, crawled over the border where he died and was not found until the following year. Once again Milorg in Trondheim had been decimated but ‘Durham’ remained intact. A few weeks later a group of men arrived in Stockholm – the remnants of the once sturdy Milorg group in Levanger. Informers and infiltrators had won the day there also.

New Strategy

By October 1944, the focus of the Norwegian resistance had switched from sabotage to being prepared for the end of the war in mainland Europe. What would the more than 350,000 German soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Norway do when this happened? Would their leaders respect the orders of a defeated war-machine in Germany? Or would they continue to fight for the 3rd Reich? On October 30, Gjems-Onstad once again left Stockholm with instructions to check if it would be possible to rebuild the Milorg organisation in Trondheim, re-establish the Lark radio station, and begin to prepare for defences against German destruction in the event of a warlike finale.

Special troops who were to be deployed in any actual conflicts in Trøndelag were already being trained in Scotland – codenamed Crowfield and Polar Bear 2. EGO’s tasks were to find contacts, arrange drop-zones, provide accommodations, establish communications and, not the least important, collect information about German withdrawal plans. For the latter task, the intelligence expert, Ship-broker John Hansen, continued to operate securely in Trondheim. Particularly valuable to the Allies were the detailed information Lark sent concerning troop movements through Trondheim and ship dockings and convoy movements in the harbour.

Trondheim – more new faces

Otherwise in Trondheim, Anne Øverås, a teacher at the Cathedral School, had already made her mark as messenger and post-drop. Steinar Tønsberg, who worked in the police department, provided her with travel documents so she could roam the county gathering both information and contacts. One of her first contacts, Jenny Johansen, owned a bakery – she supplied bread of all kinds to the Milorg men during that last winter. As many men had been arrested or were in exile abroad, women became more and more active in Trondheim.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed: The British Government awarded the King’s Medal for Courage to Anne Øverås and Jenny Johansen after the war. The Norwegian Government fined Jenny Johansen for selling bread to people without ration cards.

On November 22 the following telegram arrived: “Give a short report on your opinion of ‘Lark’s’ situation.” Gjem-Onstad replied:
     Have contact with Heimdal and Orkdal. Orkdal now OK with new leader.
     No new arrests, some expansion Heimdal.
     No joint leadership.
     In Trondheim, ‘Durham’ could expand to include weapon-training
     New groups like Polar Bear – with specialists from UK highly desirable.
     Difficult to find suitable district leaders for Lark
     Suggest either ‘withdrawn’ district leaders take over, or that districts merge with home forces and Linge-men take charge.
He asked for a prompt, if temporary, reply.
Anne Øverås and two of her friends[49] approached EGO with the idea of starting a new illegal newspaper. They were willing work on this but felt that they had to have ‘official’ backing and a reliable source of news. At that time there was no regular ‘illegal’ news distribution in Trondheim so EGO felt justified in telling them to go ahead. He told Stockholm of the venture and shortly afterwards the first copies of “For Friheten” (For Freedom), were distributed.

In a report to Stockholm on November 28, EGO described the situation in Trøndelag and Trondheim with specific reference to couriers, ‘Durham’, and Milorg leadership. He also included the information about troop transports and railroads “to show that we have good contacts.” In an appendix to the report he analysed some of the background for his strong support of the illegal newspaper. He claimed that one of weaknesses in Trøndelag was the alienation between the fronts ‘at home’, and ‘abroad.’ Lack of reliable information was the most important reason for this. In the early stages of the war people were involved and interested. They got to know what was happening abroad, but as illegal’ news was stifled, and Gestapo control hardened, the man-in-the-street gradually became isolated. Rumours, rather than real news became the currency of communications and not even the official ‘orders of the day’ carried much weight. He gave several examples to support his views. He closed by anticipating the response “…We could, and should, have done more, but now it is too late,.” by claiming that fresh news and propaganda would have a good effect on morale and contribute to better post-war understanding and co-operation between those at home and those abroad.

There had been no “prompt reply” to EGO’s situation report of November 22 so on December 12 he wrote to Stockholm with an update. Because of suspected infiltration, the Heimdal group had almost ceased to exist and the only operational group now was at Orkdal. In Trondheim he had two new small groups for Lark –one of which would be integrated with Polar Bear. ‘Durham’ continued to operate independently and successfully, so much so, in fact, that things had become almost ‘routine’ and the men needed “new impulses and new ideas.” He complained that he too, had comparatively little to do, and had not taken much initiative in this respect because: “…in the past month I have received 4 reminders to be careful and to keep strictly within the limits of my operational order.” He asked for clarification regarding ‘Lark’, permission to involve himself with Durham and possible new tasks. At the same time, he reported the success of a new radio connection with Stockholm and requested a new radio and a new operator to reduce the risk of detection.

Odd Sørli replied on Jan 2nd that he had sent the report on to London and that he was thinking about sending a good operator even before the OK came back.

No new operator arrived, but the courier route over Sul, well-worn by ‘Durham’s’ requirements, worked so effectively that radio contact became less important.

New orders – new reports

On November 18th Home Office advised that two Linge-men would soon be arriving in Trondheim but it was not until Christmas Eve that Torfinn Bjørnaas arrived. He had two letters for EGO from Stockholm. The first outlined new orders:
We are sending this message by N.3 (Bjørnaas) who will now be joining you as instructor.
Headquarters consider that you should yourself, as far as LARK is concerned, work outside the towns of Trondhjem and Strinda….
N.3 should begin his work in area 7 (Heimdal) as you yourself have suggested…No action of any kind should be taken except under orders from headquarters.
If N.3 is to do rat-work, he will receive special orders regarding this from headquarters.
Arms for instructional purposes for the use of N.3 will be sent in from here by the next available courier. … but obviously if the men trained by N.3 are to be effective, you will require arms on a large scale and we suggest that you try to arrange for a drop with headquarters.

The second letter thanked EGO for his useful suggestions regarding ‘Durham’ and for his thoughts about propaganda in general[50]. This letter from “Uncle” (Consul Tom Nielsen in Stockholm) inspired EGO to write detailed reports on two local events that effected people’s attitude to the occupation in different ways. The first was a summons to attend an NS meeting that was received by many families at the beginning of January. County commissioner Rogstad was to be the speaker and his theme was ‘Settling accounts with the Resistance.’ Rumour had it that he intended to ‘read an obituary’ over the organisation. Most people, remembering the arrests after a previous meeting, were afraid of reprisals if they did not attend. A campaign to keep folk from attending was not too effective but the new illegal newspaper ‘For Freedom’ made an impact. The meeting halls were full but Rogstad’s revelations impressed few and frightened fewer. On the contrary, he spread positive publicity for the Resistance movement and he sparked an interest for its work that previously had been totally absent.

His second report concerned the sabotage of the Jørstad Bridge on January 13th. Many rumours, mostly exaggerated, swirled around Trondheim but the facts soon became clear: A Linge group, ‘WoodLark’, had placed charges on the railway lines near Snåsa, a German military train was destroyed, 70 soldiers were killed, another 200 wounded, two Norwegian railway employees died, and the line remained closed for a week. This sabotage made a big impression on the people of Trøndelag and discussions on the ethics of sabotage raged throughout the county. EGO summed up by writing: “The action at Snåsa clearly shows that people are enthusiastic about sabotage and the more it harms the Germans the better it is. On the other hand, they themselves prefer to be spectators – and at such a distance as not to be involved.”

Polar Bear 2 arrives

The long-awaited Linge groups that were to protect installations and industries against German destruction arrived in the middle of January 1945. ‘Polar Bear 2’ comprising Leif Hauge and Trygve Renaae were billeted with county-representative Cappelen. His two daughters became assistants and messengers. From ‘Lark’ they got 10 men and later, from Durham, another 50 men. They used ‘Lark’s’ radio and courier connections. One of the first messages sent by Hauge was that Rinnan must be assassinated. ‘Polar Bear 2’ was designated to protect the harbour area, ‘Crowfield’, which didn’t arrive until the end of April, was to guard industrial installations. Most of the personnel from ‘Durham’ merged with ‘Crowfield’ in the final two months.

EGO and his men itched to join the sabotage actions that they knew were occurring to the north and south of Trondheim. But as they had only a small supply of explosives their sabotage actions were what might be called minor irritants On Christmas Eve came a message they had been hoping for: “…arrange for organisation and instruction of groups outside Trondheim and Strinda …Objectives: Preparation of sabotage against German communications upon orders from here, and preparation for prevention of enemy destruction of our communications…” Even more encouraging was the message received from Crown-Prince Olav: “A warm thank-you to all at home for the sacrifice and devotion to duty shown in the past year, and to the home-forces my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. I send you all my heartiest greetings in the hope and certainty that we shall soon meet on Norwegian soil.”


The Christmas Eve enthusiasm and joy were tempered by a new message that told them to restrict their activities to organising and training, and by the fact that they received no addition to their meagre supply of explosives. On February 4 they reported that the necessary groups and bases were in place but that they needed “…an additional 75 kg explosives.” A week later a dramatic message arrived: “Absolutely necessary to delay German transport by rail. Attack the railways soonest. Go for tracks and minor bridges…Use the explosives you have. We have asked Stockholm to send plastic.”

EGO wrote: “It was enough to make one weep. Finally, the order to get started had arrived and we still only had 5-6 kilo explosives – after weeks when supplies could have been delivered, by boat, air, or courier.” They calculated that every day they delayed a train one German battalion would be prevented from strengthening the defence of Germany. They calculated further that with their 6 kilos they could at best, delay transport for 48 hours. Two battalions delyed, not much, but worth doing!

They agreed that Bjørnaas and Wisløff should lead the Stjørdal group at Nyhus and EGO the group from Ler. The two former were among the most experienced Linge-men but EGO hadn’t set an explosive charge since his training days in Scotland – maybe he wanted to prove that he remembered his lessons. Their backpacks were heavy with explosives, fuses, and blasting caps as well as ammunition for the men they were to meet.

The men at Ler had received no advance warning but when EGO arrived, two men volunteered and within two hours they were on their way. At the tracks, one man stood guard while the other two laid the charges and lit the fuses. As they moved from one charge to the next the explosions began. Immediately shots rang out from a nearby German watch-post. But it was dark, the Nazis were firing blind, and the three saboteurs had no difficulty in disappearing into the forest. EGO had to wait two days before Bjørnaas and Wisloøff returned from Nyhus. They had completed their mission, but without the help of the Milorg group at Stjørdal.

On February 21 London advised that the Swedish authorities refused to allow transport of explosives, “pending negotiations.” The next day EGO sent disturbing news to London: State Railway informs us that the Germans have attached a ‘prison coach’ behind the locomotive of all passenger trains between Mo and Otta. Many previous home-front leaders used as hostage passengers – up to 20 men on each train. Shall we avoid de-railing or do current orders apply? Please reply soonest. The reply came promptly: “Train with hostages must not, repeat not, be de-railed.”


Throughout January and February, the lively radio exchanges between Trondheim and London continued. No radio contact could be made at night – probably because of frequency error or insufficient power – and the fact that London, after promising continuous, 24 hour listening, only tuned in at the old scheduled times. Promises of drops, requests for information about drop-zones and detailed procedure orders were other frequent exchanges, but no ‘special messages’ came on the BBC and no aircraft droned overhead. Towards the end of February, the liquidation of informers came back on the agenda. London had nothing against attempts to assassinate Rinnan and Rogstad. This message was addressed to ‘Polar Bear 2’ – but: “…you should not attempt to do this yourselves…. Can you delegate the job to a couple of reliable guys?”

It is not difficult to imagine why EGO lost his faith in London when he read this. He thought it inconceivable that they should ask ‘Polar Bear 2’ to find amateurs to do a job that had eluded some of the top Linge men in the country – especially when there were three trained Linge men, (Bjørnaas, Wisløff and himself), available in Trondheim who would jump at the chance to eliminate these criminals. Worse was to follow; Odd Sørli was replaced by Professor Lyse in the Stockholm office. He gave no reason for being replaced, and no information as to the where he was going, or when. EGO could not understand what had happened. Sørli had been his leader and friend right from the start and he knew ‘Lark’ and Trondheim better than most. On March 4th EGO suggested that he should take a trip to Stockholm. Two days later the OK arrived and on the 11th, EGO left Trondheim leaving Bjørnaas in charge of ‘Lark’. He was not allowed to return to Trondheim.

In Trondheim, with Bjørnaas in charge of ‘Lark’, operations continued along well-worn tracks. London continued to request intelligence, information about drop-zones and weather forecasts but no supplies, or men, arrived; except that two men were dropped without warning at one of the DZ’s. Were they Allies? Bjørnaas radioed for confirmation. “OK” came the reply, “Do not contact these men. They have nothing to do with our business.”

The Linge-groups ‘Polar Bear 2’ and ‘Crowfield’ integrated well with ‘Lark’ and ‘Durham’ though there were questions concerning command and rank. London was definite in a message to ‘Lark’: “In central Trøndelag the current leader of the organisation is Guttormsen (Magne Nordnes). You will work in collaboration with him. He ranks above operational leaders in district.”

From the viewpoint of the Lark operatives, these messages and decisions from London in the closing months of the war were difficult to understand. Gjems Onstad said that couldn’t help feeling that the change of leadership in London – from British to Norwegian – had been detrimental; from professionals to amateurs.

On May 7th Captain Reidar Kvaal, arrived in Trondheim. He had led the successful Operation Lapwing, for two winters in the mountains and was now in over-all command of operations in Trøndelag. Two days later, he met with the home front leaders, Erling Gjone, Reidar Jørgensen and Magne Nordnes, the police and military groups to plan the transition from war to peace.

On May 8, the German troops surrendered and the round-up of the Rinnan Gang and other Nazi-sympathisers began. The time for rejoicing had come.

Sources:  In addition to the footnote sources, some of the above if from the book ‘Lark – Milorg I Trøndelag’ by Erik Gjems-Onstad and interviews with EGO.

Naval Matters – Tirpitz – Arctic Convoys


After his escape from the Gestapo in Oslo, Lt. Bjørn A. Rørholt returned to London via Stockholm in October 1942. His future as an SIS agent didn’t look promising: “The Gestapo is after you my friend, to put together the pieces of the ‘Skylark’ puzzle in Trondheim” said his boss, Lt. Commander Eric Walsh. He added, “You have met far too many people… going back to Norway is out of the question.” After a few weeks kicking his heels in London, Rørholt found work with a group of Polish radio engineers and operators who had developed a less-bulky and more effective radio than the ones then in use. Rørholt managed to construct an even better radio – to the great surprise and delight of his Polish colleagues.

On January 14, 1942 the world’s mightiest battleship the ‘Tirpitz’, Hitler’s pride, and his hope of victory at sea, “disappeared” from its berth in Wilhelmshaven. The Allies had no idea where she was. On January 16 a Norwegian ship passed the Tripitz on its way to Trondheim and a day later the Theta SIS radio station in Bergen received information that the Tirpitz had anchored in an arm of the Åsenfjord 50 kilometers south of Trondheim.  However, because of poor conditions and a power-failure in Bergen the message was not fully deciphered and understood until January 20th. [51]

Reaction to the location of the Tirpitz was immediate. On the same day, January 20th, Rørholt and Walsh were summoned to the Admiralty. Rørholt thought the meeting would be about his new radio. But no, in spite of what Walsh had said earlier, would Rørholt consider returning to Trondheim to set up a new radio station for SIS? Of course, he would, and on February 8 he left Scotland on the fishing smack ‘Arthur.’


Rørholt knew his way around Trondheim. He had attended the Norwegian Technical Institute (NTH) there and during his first period as an SIS agent, under the pseudonym Rolf Christiansen, he had contact with director Birger Grønn, and XU-men Erik Storsveen and Knut Alming. His specific objective this time was to set up radio station Lark I, to moniter movements of Tirpitz and to return to London as quickly as possible. On February 12, Rørholt sent his first “Tirpitz” message confirming that the battleship was anchored, camouflaged, and girthed with triple-thickness submarine nets in the Fættenfjord, an arm of the Åsenfjord, which again, is an arm of the Trondheimsfjord.[52] The transfer of Tirpitz to Trondheim signalled the end of a clash of wills about the disposition of the fleet between Hitler and his naval advisers led by Admiral Raedar. The move confirmed the worst fears of the British, although Churchill thought that Hitler could have used his two, [Tirpitz and Bismarck] giant battleships “… more effectively … by keeping them both in full readiness in the Baltic.”[53] Another threat was the squadron at Brest, comprising the two battle cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, and the cruiser Prinz Eugen.

Channel Dash

Anticipating that the Brest squadron would be transferred to Norway the British began to plan their defences. In early February two fast minelayers laid about 1,000 mines off the French coast between Ushant and Boulogne, while Bomber Command’s mine-laying aircraft dropped 100 more between Terschelling and the mouth of the Elbe.[54] The Brest squadron had been under regular surveillence for almost a year so it came as a humiliating shock to the British when the ships slipped out unseen and unreported on February 12 1942. The shock was so great, in fact, that …all normal chains of command broke down.[55] Coastal Command aircraft came in for particularly hard criticism. The Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau were damaged by mines and Captain Giessler, navigating officer on the Scharnhorst, seems to support the critics when he told R.V.Jones after the war that their most miserable half-hour was when they had to hove-to, not very far beyond Dover after they had struck a mine. Fortunately, because of the low cloud …not a single British aircraft found them.[56] Subsequent British attacks damaged the Prinz Eugen but the flotilla reached the safety of Wilhelmshaven and the Elbe estuary, again, much to the detriment of British morale. The Prinz Eugen was repaired sufficiently to be sent toTrondheim together with the pocket battle-ship Scheer and three destroyers. Again, she was unlucky; the British submarine  HMS Trident attacked and damaged her as she approached Trondheim on February 23 1942.

Memorial to British Pilots near Fættenfjord

First attacks on Tirpitz
The British had been trying to destroy or damage the Tirpitz ever since she berthed in Trondheim. On the night of January 30-31, just over a week after she had been tucked away in the Fættenfjord, Bomber Command sent 16 Halifax and Stirling aircraft on the first of these attempts. To no vail; crafty camouflage, bad weather and poor visibility foiled the attack. The crew of the Tirpitz scarcely noticed it. Further attempts, on March 9 and March 30-31 proved similarly unsuccessful. Even the powerful 5-squadron attacks on April 27th and 29th, when mines and more powerful bombs were deployed, proved useless – and by this time the ship had an added protection – artificial fog.

Less direct means of neutralising the ship had to be found. One of these was the imaginative attack, Operation Chariot, on the harbour at St Nazaire which housed the only dry dock in Europe large enough to accommodate the Tirpitz should she ever need major repairs. The operation was a success but a costly one in terms of men and material for the British.[57]

Operation Title

Operation Title was another costly adventure in both time and money. Since 1940, the British had been re-examining the old idea of one- or two-man human torpedoes and mini-submarines. The Italians had used similar vessels against Allied ships in Alexandria in 1941 and characteristically, Churchill had asked: “If the Italians can do it, is there any reason why we should not be able to do the same.”[58] He was thinking specifically that battery-driven human torpedoes, X-craft or Chariots as they were called, would be ideal for operations in a tranquil fjord. Throughout the spring and summer of 1942 the British constructed prototypes, trained men, re-fitted the fishing-smack Arthur and made plans – even though the Tirpitz was safely out of range near Narvik. In October, Operation Title was ready to go and at the same time, Tirpitz returned to Trondheim. Arthur with the deadly cargo tethered to her sides, and 10 determined men on board, made a safe crossing to the Trondheimsfjord, but within sight of their target, the torpedoes broke loose in heavy seas. There was nothing to do but abort the mission, scuttle the ship, get ashore, and make tracks for Sweden. Detailed emergency escape plans had been made with the Lark organization and all but one man, who was wounded and later shot by the Germans, arrived safely in Stockholm. They had done their best but bad weather foiled them.

Tirpitz slips out

Meanwhile, in Trondheim, Rørholt had found a job, through friends, as an insurance agent. It was good cover for his meetings with resistance contacts. Some of the policies he “sold” were paid for by funds from England. On March 6th, 1942, the Tirpitz left her safe anchorage and headed towards the open sea with three destroyer escorts. For some reason, that has never been satisfactorily explained, Rørholt failed notice the ships’ departure but the ever-watchful Birger Grønn did. He tried to reach Rørholt but neither then, nor for several days did he succeed. He was extremely annoyed.[59] This episode convinced Grønn and the Admiralty that one man alone could not effectively keep watch on the Tirpitz.

Though Rørholt failed to see, at the mouth of the Trondheimsfjord, other eyes were watching. The Commander of the submarine HMS Seawolf, peering through his periscope, saw a major ship bearing north. The vessel was too far away for him to identify, but he realised the importance of his sighting. Because of daylight wireless silence he was unable to advise the Admiralty until darkness fell. In London the message fitted in with various other pieces of information to confirm to the Admiralty that the Tirpitz was out hunting for a North Atlantic convoy.

The hunt had started on March 5th when a German reconnaissance aircraft sighted Allied convoy PQ12 steaming south of Jan Mayen. On his Flagship the Tirpitz, Admiral Ciliax received the information that evening. Despite the poor weather forecast he decided to take the Tirpitz and a destroyer escort to intercept the convoy. As he sailed north, Ciliax did not know that his departure had been reported, and that a strong squadron of the Home Fleet, under Admiral John Tovey, was already heading towards the same destination.

Actually, there were two convoys: PQ12 heading towards Murmansk and QP 8 returning from Murmansk. Tovey’s three capital ships and the fleet carrier Victorious steered north-east to position themselves between the Germans and the convoys. On March 7th Ciliax detached his three destroyers to search for the convoys. Wind, high seas, snow, poor visibility, and possible ice-bergs made a dramatic backdrop for the ensuing highly dangerous game of hide and seek. At one time the Home Fleet, the two convoys, and the German destroyers and battleship were within about 80 miles of each other. Nevertheless, apart from the enemy sinking one Russian straggler from QP8, no contact took place, and late in the evening of the 8th Ciliax turned south again. A timely warning from London enabled Admiral Tovey to follow and at daybreak on the 9th, reconnaissance aircraft from HMS Victorious sighted the Tirpitz. Twelve torpedo-bombers attacked, but none of their missiles hit the mark. The attack had been a good opportunity for Admiral Tovey to repeat his feat of sinking the Bismarck, but it failed – and was never to recur. After its escape, the Tirpitz anchored for two days near Narvik, steamed south in heavy weather, evaded all the patrolling British submarines, and on March 13th anchored safely again in Trondheim.[60] The narrow escape of the Tirpitz had one important, restricting result for the Germans: Hitler gave strict orders that the ship should never again be put into action without his specific order – and then only if there were no opposing Allied aircraft carriers in the vicinity.

Build-up of German flotilla

Toward the end of March, the heavy cruiser “Admiral Hipper” with six destroyers and MTB’s re-joined the German flotilla in the Trondheimsfjord and local contacts reported over 30 German warships “the strongest naval force the world has ever seen.” [61] In spite of this naval display of power, and impending 24-hour summer daylight conditions that favoured the Germans, the Allies decided that trans-Atlantic convoys were too important to be discontinued. Why did the Allies rate the importance of these convoys, and the German threat, so high? Prime Minister Churchill gave the political answer: “…there is one dominant fear. Battles could be won or lost, operations could succeed or fail, territory could be taken or lost, but the one thing that allows us to continue the war, yes, even to keep us alive, is our control of our sea-lanes and unhindered access to our oceans…” Experience was another: “On one, two months, foray into the Atlantic in 1941 the battleships ‘Gneisenau’ and ‘Scharnhorst’ sank or captured 22 ships, while the heavy cruiser ‘Admiral Hipper’ attacked a convoy and sank 7 of 19 ships”[62]


After the Tirpitz had left Trondheim without being detected, Bjørn Rørholt and Birger Grønn discussed how they could improve the monitoring of German vessels in the Trondheimsfjord. They had agreed that one man could not cope so they devised a so-called ‘baby-sitter plan’ that called for five separate radio stations located around the fjords. The stations would not be on the air at the same time but would be activated by a signal from Sentralen, and send ‘blind’, that is, transmitting traffic but not receiving. They must also devise a new, simple code for everyday transmissions.

Rørholt suggested that one of the stations should be located at Agdenes Fortress. The Fortress comprised three separate strong-points at the entrance to the Trondheimsfjord. The Germans had rigorously upgraded the forts and had full security control both at the forts themselves and of the traffic in and out of the Trondheimsfjord. The chances of operating a radio station in such a stronghold seemed remote and the idea was temporarily shelved.

Grønn and Rørholt quickly recruited four candidates for the new network: Hugo Munthe-Kaas, Kristian Fougner, Arnfinn Grande and Kaare Nøstvold. They were sent to Scotland for training and each had an ‘alibi’ for his absence from work or study so that he could resume normal life on his return. After an unsuccessful attempt on March 31 the 4 men boarded the fishing smack Siglaus and headed for the Shetlands on April 7.

On April 15th, Grønn told Rørholt that he had found a man for the Agdenes station;

His name is Magne Hassel, he is a miller at Hasselvika. His brother, Kåre, works with me and is of one of my best friends…I know the family. They are first-class folk.” This was unexpected good news, Hasselvika, where the main fortress was located, got its name from the family. Rørholt decided that he would journey to Agdenes in his capacity as an insurance agent and try to obtain permission from the local commandant to visit ‘clients.’ He figured that he was safer there, where nobody knew him, than in Trondheim. Anyway, the location was too important for him to delegate responsibility.

Erik Storsveen and Rørholt tested the radio and worked out the details of the simplified code that Hassel had to learn and use. Kåre Hassel took the radio with him on his next visit home and fortunately his heavy suitcase aroused no suspicion. ‘Insurance-man’ Rørholt boarded the Coastal Steamer in Trondheim. Hassel met him at the Agdenes dock and they strolled casually past two German sentries and continued to the Hassel home. Once inside, the training began – Hassel was far from an expert in Morse, but only easy-to-learn numbers and number-codes were necessary in the new, simplified system. Rørholt went through the technical details and procedures and gave advice based on his own experiences. Before leaving he took out his insurance papers and explained why it was necessary to have a cover-story that they each could use if ever they were interrogated.

Rørholt left the house early next morning and while waiting for the Coastal Steamer a troop of German sailors appeared. A lieutenant asked who he was and what was he doing? With the reply that he was an insurance agent visiting clients, the officer asked him if he could get a life-insurance policy. Making a show of opening his briefcase and taking out some papers Rørholt hesitated and said: “No, German naval officers are too much of a risk.” This amused the officer so much that he offered Rørholt a ‘lift’ on their special boat to Trondheim which would be much quicker than the Coastal Steamer – and free!

The next day, April 30th, ‘Sentralen’ confirmed that it had contact with Agdenes – Lark II, potentially the most important station so far, was in operation. Shortly afterwards, when his landlady told him that she knew his real name, Rørholt realised that his time in Trondheim was over. He was satisfied that the groundwork for ‘baby-sitters’ had been made and that he had been able to send about fifty messages to London from within Trondheim’s city limits. The ‘baby-sitting’ plan wasn’t fully operative, but radio contact with London was regular. After an eventful journey by train and on foot Rørholt alias Christiansen crossed the Swedish border on May 1st 1942 and made his way to London.[63]

Of the five prospective “baby-sitters” sent to Scotland, Kristian Fougner[64] was a particularly adept student. After only 14 days training he was competent enough to be sent back to Norway where he landed on May 9th. Three days later he resumed his classes at NTH, and later the same day he made contact with ‘Sentralen’. His station, Leporis became the main SIS contact in Trondheim until April 1945.

New attacks on Tirpitz

During March and April, the British continued their attempts to disable the Tirpitz by air – to no avail. The German armada in the Trondheimsfjord remained formidable, but at this stage, passive. Had Hitler allowed Tirpitz, Hipper, Scheer, and Lűtzow to join the U-boat attacks on the Murmansk convoys, the result would have been a catastrophe for the Allies. As it was, Churchill was relieved – Hitler had missed his opportunity because of his fixation on the fear of an Allied invasion of Norway and the undue concern about his capital ships. In addition to these ships, Trondheim was home to eight destroyers, four MTB’s and twenty U-boats.[65]

Knight’s Move and PQ17

At the beginning of June 1942 a change of command in Trondheim put Admiral Schniewind on the Tirpitz as head of the German group. This was the first step in “Operation Rösselsprung – the German plan to destroy the next Allied convoy – PQ17.  Hitler’s insistence that he should have the final word on putting the plan into operation, and that his capital ships, especially the Tirpitz, should avoid confrontation, were major flaws in the plan The Scheer, Lϋtzow and six destroyers had already been sent from Trondheim to Narvik on May 10th. The British knew about these moves from aircraft reconnaissance and Enigma messages. On June 14 the British intercepted messages that the Tirpitz was preparing for action; from this date they were on full alert. On June 27th convoy PQ 17 left Iceland. It was the largest convoy to date, and the first large joint Anglo-American operation under British command. The 36 heavily laden vessels (two of them were disabled shortly after departure), were just the ripe plums Operation Rösselsprung had been waiting for.

On July 2 the Tirpitz slipped out of its berth and left the Trondheimsfjord accompanied by the Admiral Hipper, and six destroyers. Although there were at least two SIS radio stations in Trondheim at the time, ‘Sentralen’ in London heard nothing from them about the departure of the Tirpitz. On July 3 the Scheer/Lutzow-group left Narvik to meet up with the Tirpitz in Altafjord. For the Tirpitz, the journey north had not been trouble-free: three of her escorts ran aground. The Lutzow suffered a similar fate shortly after arriving at the rendezvous. But the force was still formidable and the Admiralty feared that an attack would take place in the early hours of July 5th. This perceived ‘overwhelming’ threat was enough for the First Sea Lord in London to send three signals to the convoy: “… the cruiser escorts to withdraw at high speed”, “…Owing to threat of surface ships convoy is to disperse…” and “…convoy is to scatter.”[66] The last signal was sent at 9.36 pm on July 4th.

The problem was that the signals were sent based on the information received prior to July 4th from Enigma. The British knew that the two groups were combined in the Altafjord and were ready to sail. However, they had no way of verifying that the ships remained there. The anchorage was outside the range of Allied reconnaissance aircraft and the German vessels could have left without sending any radio signals that might have been intercepted by Enigma.

While the German fleet waited for Hitler’s authorization to sail, the ships of PQ 17 steamed ever eastward. Early on July 4th the convoy had come within range of land-based German aircraft. Heinkels and Junkers attacked the freighters with bombs and torpedoes. Only two ships were lost from these air attacks and none from U-boats because reasonably calm seas and good visibility made them easily sighted by the convoy’s escorts. It was only after the ships were left undefended and widely scattered, that the mayhem started.

Churchill’s summing up tells the tale graphically: “The scattered, defenceless convoy now fell an easy prey to the marauding aircraft and U-boats. The dismal tale of each ship or little group of ships, some of them accompanied by one or more of the smaller escort vessels, became a saga in itself. Some took refuge along the frozen coast of Nova Zembla. Of the thirty-four ships which left Iceland twenty-three were sunk, and their crews perished in the icy sea or suffered incredible hardships and mutilation by frost-bite. Three British, six American, one Panamanian, and two Russian merchant ships reached Archangel, and delivered 70,000 tons of cargo out of the 200,000 tons which had originally been on board. Fourteen American ships in all were sunk. This was one of the most melancholy, naval episodes in the whole of the war.[67]

Other historians relate why the tragedy was unnecessary: “…the Tirpitz and her consorts actually only left Altafjord at 11 a.m. on the 5th – more  than 12 hours after the dispersal of the convoy; and that same evening they had abandoned their projected attack and reversed course to regain the shelter of the anchorage.[68] A guarded, cohesive convoy “…would undoubtedly have been as successful as its predecessor.”[69] After a few hours in Altafjord the Tirpitz and Admiral Hipper returned to Narvik. The Tirpitz remained in Narvik until October 23 1942 when she left for Trondheim. Maintenance work on the Tirpitz was carried out in Trondheim during the winter of 1942-43, but the Admiral Scheer transferred to Kiel for maintenance there.[70]

Suspension of Convoys

The winter of 1942-3 was particularly harsh in the North Atlantic. This was good because it made it more difficult for U-boats and bad because it reduced the speed of the heavily laden freighters. The final convoy of 1942 was especially interesting, not because of the material results but because of the repercussions in Germany. When Hitler heard that “…five British destroyers and two 6-inch cruisers had held off a pocket-battleship, an 8-inch cruiser and six far more powerful destroyers for four hours, and had finally forced them to withdraw, he flew into an ungovernable rage and so insulted Ræder that the Grand Admiral resigned.”[71] Admiral Dŏnitz thus became Commander in Chief of the German Navy. In January and February 1943, three Arctic convoys sailed successfully but these were the last under Admiral Tovey’s command. On May 8th he was succeeded by Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser.Because of the increased German U-boat activity in the Western Approaches, Churchill suspended the Arctic Convoys and “…neither the pleadings of President Roosevelt nor the recriminations of Stalin would move him from that decision.”[72]

Operation Sicilian

Apart from trials and drills, the Tirpitz had remained inactive in Trondheim until March 11 1943 when she sailed to Bogen near Narvik to join the Scharnhorst, Lϋtzow, her destroyers, and Z-boats. On March 22 this powerful fleet left Bogen and two days later were safely anchored in the fjords around Alta: Altafjord, Langfjord and Kåfjord. By this time, however, the Arctic Convoys had been suspended so the powerful fleet had no immediate targets; their very presence, however, tied up a substantial force of Allied vessels. During the enforced passivity of the summer months the ships and crews of the German fleet could only remain “shipshape” by training within the confines of the steep-sided fjords. The passivity ended on September 6th when the Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and 10 destroyers, as if on one of their training manoeuvres, left the Altafjord, unseen and unreported – destination Spitsbergen.

Tirpitz – photo U.S. Naval Historical Center.

One of the final Arctic convoys in 1942, PQ18, had included a special group that carried supplies and equipment to the British weather station at Spitsbergen. The news of this action strengthened Hitler’s conviction that the Allies were planning to invade Northern Norway and this was, perhaps, the background for Operation Sizilien (Sicilian), the Spitsbergen sortie. On Sept 7th 1943, as the German ships approached Svalbard, the radio station at Isfjord was able to send a message about the attack before being silenced by shells from the Scharnhorst.

The Scharnhorst continued to Longyearby and the Tirpitz to Barentsberg where landing parties made short work of the slight resistance – most of the British personnel withdrew to fight another day. The weather station and coal mines were destroyed and the landing parties were back on board by 9 pm. On the way back the Tirpitz fired 8 shells into the armament depot and oil tanks. “It is an interesting fact that this was the only occasion during her entire life that the Tirpitz’s big guns fired at what may be called an enemy target.”[73]

Operation Source

Although the Tirpitz was out of sight in the Norwegian fjords, she was definitely not out of mind in Britain. Early in 1943 a new, larger version of the X-craft had been tested and a special submarine group established in April 1943. Training and trials took place in Scotland during the spring and summer, and the operation, code-named Operation Source, was scheduled for September at the earliest.

Six of the new vessels were slated for the operation. Each vessel carried four men: the skipper, the navigator, the engineer, and the diver. The diver’s job was to leave the vessel through a sluice and cut through the U-boat nets. Once beside the target, he had to leave again and place the explosive charge under the ship’s keel and return. He had an oxygen tank good for maximum 6 hours. Conventional submarines were to tow the X-craft to the Norwegian coast.

When the plan was originally hatched the Tirpitz was anchored in the Trondheimsfjord where SIS agents kept ‘Sentralen’ informed of enemy activities. Trondheim was also within the range of reconnaissance flights which the British used to verify other information gleaned from Enigma.

The transfer of Tirpitz to Alta in March made the operation more difficult. Not only was Alta beyond the range of British aircraft but the first and only radio station north of Trondheim at that time was Upsilon, at Kvaløy, near Tromsø, where Skylark B-veteran Einar Johansen was back in business. One of the requests from ‘Sentralen’ asked about the type and quality of the nets surrounding the Tirpitz and Scharnhorst. Einar’s brother, Torbjørn, an engineering student, cycled the 250 kms. to the Altafjord and, remarkably, managed to gather the information which was then transmitted to London.

To overcome the problem of distance, the Allies made an agreement with the Russians to establish an air-base, albeit a primitive one, at Vænga. Meanwhile, SIS strived to establish radio stations at strategic locations in northern Norway. By the end of the year, 7 stations north of Trondheim were in contact with ‘Sentralen’, and it would have been difficult for the German fleet, or part of it, to leave the fjord without being seen.[74]

The six submarines each with an X-craft in tow left their Scottish base on the night of September 11-12, but only four of the X-craft survived the crossing. While the parent submarines waited at the offshore rendezvous, the four X-craft, carrying 16 men, set off on the 20th to penetrate one of the most strongly defended harbours ever constructed. Three of the vessels (X5, X6, and X7), were to attack the Tirpitz while the fourth, (X10), should take care of the Scharnhorst. After passing the first minefield obstacle they had to sail another 50 miles up the fjord to the anchorages. X-5 lost touch during the night and was never seen again, except for a few minutes on Wednesday morning after the explosion when she broke the surface outside the submarine net and was immediately sunk by artilary fire.[75] In the early hours of September 22nd, X6 and X7 were ready for their final approach. After various difficulties both reached their objective about 7 am but the enemy had been alerted when Lt. Cameron’s X6 accidentally broke the surface. Though the Tirpitz’s captain moved his ship on her cables away from the spot, Cameron groped his way beneath the target, released his charges, surfaced, scuttled his craft and was picked up and taken on board. In X7, Lt. Place surfaced involuntarily almost alongside the target, but he managed to submerge again and set his charges. He then tried to find his way back through the nets but was still entangled when his charges exploded and the shock-wave forced him to the surface. Lt. Place left the vessel first and had no sooner done so than the vessel began to sink with the three-man crew trapped inside. One of them was the diver Robert Aitken, who was able to hold his breath long enough for the pressure to equalise so he could swim to the surface. He was taken prisoner along with Lt. Place.[76] The explosion caused the Tirpitz to “heave several feet out of the water” and all three sets of main turbines were put out of action. Searching for the Scharnhorst, the X10, after a series of misfortunes that left her without periscope and compass, had to abort the operation and return to the parent submarine. We now know that the operation would have failed anyhow because the Scharnhorst had left her berth for trials in the outer fjord. Though the results of the operation were not completely successful, the main purpose – immobilisation of the Tirpitz – had been achieved.[77]

Operation Venus

The Tirpitz might be out of action, but the Scharnhorst was still a threat to Allied shipping. By now, the superior Radar and Asdic equipment of the Allies and the information received through Enigma, gave them a decided advantage over the German forces. SIS leaders in London however, continued to send agents with reliable radio sets to as many locations as possible along the Norwegian coast.

Even before the launch of Operation Source, on September 5th 1943, the Norwegian submarine Ula landed 10 transmitters and all related equipment at an isolated spot just south of Tromsø – Operation Venus had begun. The Venus network, with up to six transmitters on the air at the same time in widely dispersed locations, far outmatched the tracking efforts of the Gestapo. Alta, the town closest to the Tirpitz and Scharnhorst anchorages, was one of the most important outposts. Here, Torstein Raaby established a radio station code-named Ida. He was hired by Karl Rasmussen, accountant for the Alta county road authority. Posing as a road worker he could take trips to Kåfjord and Langford where his contacts, Harry Pettersen and Jens B. Digre helped him keep an eye on the German ships’ positions and routines. Pettersen drove a truck for the department and was able to make made friends with some of the crew aboard the Tirpitz.

Raaby lived in a house beside that of a high-ranking German officer. His transmitter, hidden under the floorboards, was connected to the officer’s antenna. On November 11 he made his first contact with ‘Sentralen’, and thereafter sent messages daily. The detailed maps and information collected by Raaby and his network were essential supplements to the information sent by the Allied reconnaissance flights from Vænga.[78]The information became increasingly important when, in the autumn of 1943, the Admiralty and the new Commander in Chief Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, decided to resume the Russian convoys. The first two convoys, in November and December, completed their voyages safely but nobody thought that the peaceful state of affairs would be allowed to continue. Certainly not German Admiral Dönitz who had obtained Hitler’s approval for the use of the Scharnhorst against the next convoy to be located, provided the chances of success seemed reasonable. On December 19th, Dönitz told Hitler that Scharnhorst would attack the next east-bound convoy.[79]  Confirmation that a convoy was under way was all the Germans needed.

The Battle of North Cape

On December 20th convoy JW55B, comprising 19 ships, sailed east-bound from Iceland and two days later the corresponding west-bound convoy of 22 ships left Kola Inlet. In spite of low visibility, an enemy reconnaissance aircraft spotted the outward convoy on its radar and reported the information to the commander in Bardufoss. The persistent presence of these reconnaissance planes convinced Admiral Fraser that an attack by the Scharnhorst was imminent. Admiral Fraser, in his flagship, the Duke of York had left Iceland on December 23rd accompanied by the cruiser Jamaica, 3 Allied destroyers, and the Norwegian destroyer, Stord. On the same day, Vice-Admiral R. L. Burnett left Kola with the cruisers Belfast, Sheffield, and Norfolk.[80]

Gruesome Coincidence

In his book “Fra Narvik til Normandie” Patrick Dalzel-Job, who had met a young girl named Bjørg during his visits to Norway before the war wrote, “About this time, (I knew nothing about it until after the war), Bjørg was walking down the street outside the Gestapo headquarters in her hometown, Tromsø. She heard the sound of splintering glass above her. The body of a man fell, arms outstretched, on the pavement in front of her. In the instant before she ran away, she recognised him as a young man who had been at school with her, his name was Karl Rasmusen”.

Christmas Eve, 1943 – Harry Pettersen at Kåfjord, answers his telephone and talks to Jens B. Digre at Langfjord; the usual Christmas greetings, the weather, “… and the family” Harry asks,” is all well with the family?” “Yes,” replied Jens, “everything is fine and Grandma has just left for a Christmas holiday.”  An innocent, Christmas exchange – except that ‘Grandma’ was code for ‘Scharnhorst’ – and the message told Pettersen that the battleship had left her anchorage and was heading out to sea.[81]  Normally Harry cycled to Alta to deliver whatever information he had to ‘IDA’ but the departure of the ‘Scharnhorst’ demanded quicker action. He telephoned to Alta and Raaby immediately transmitted the news to London. Harry had had his suspicions that something was brewing when, a few days earlier, he had seen large numbers of sailors from the Tirpitz being driven away in trucks – towards Langfjord[82]. Now we know that these men were replacements for the Scharnhorst’s crew members who had been given Christmas leave. As soon as Raaby had sent the message to London he packed his equipment and left for Sweden. His ‘employer’ Karl Rasmuusen was not so lucky; the Gestapo arrested him and he could only escape their clutches, and their torture, by diving to his death out of a top floor window at Gestapo headquarters in Tromsø. Harry Pettersen was also arrested, tortured and sentenced to death, but somehow managed to survive the war in Oslo’s Møllergaten prison.

On Christmas day, in the dark of winter, a full storm raged over the polar seas. The German commander in chief, Rear-Admiral Bey on the Scharnhorst, with his 5 destroyer-escorts, was aware of the convoys’ positions and of the protective warships but he had no inkling that the Duke of York was on the scene. Although the Scharnhorst could out-run Fraser’s flagship, she could not out-gun her. At 0740 Bey directed his destroyers to search for the convoys but they found nothing. In the heavy seas they lost touch with their flagship and were ordered back to port.

Meanwhile, the west-bound convoy had reached the point where it was out of danger from land-based aircraft. Admiral Fraser ordered Burnett’s destroyer escort to leave the convoy to seek out the Scharnhorst. Shortly before 9 am the Belfast made radar contact with Scharnhorst and her sister-ship Norfolk opened fire, probably making a hit. Following Hitler’s orders, Bey did not engage but broke away to the south. Instead of shadowing the enemy ship, Burnett, turned to the north-west guessing that the Scharnhorst would return to the attack.

Aboard the Duke of York, Admiral Fraser watched and waited in suspense. Would the Scharnhorst continue to Alta and safety, or return to the attack once more? Burnett had guessed correctly; in spite of Hitler’s orders Admiral Bey turned the Scharnhorst north again. Fraser, with his superior radar and more detailed information, could accurately calculate when and where they could intercept the German ship when it tried to return to Alta. Meanwhile, the eastbound convoy changed course to put its escorts between it and the Scharnhorst.

By mid-day the Belfast, Norfolk and Sheffield, were again exchanging fire with the Scharnhorst. The Norfolk was badly damaged but more importantly, the escorts’ salvoes had torn away one of the Scharnhorst’s radio masts.  Without radio contact, but attempting to use her superior speed, the Scharnhorst steered south again, this time constantly followed by the destroyers in radar contact. Just after 4 pm the Duke of York made radar contact with the Scharnhorst and Fraser[83] dispatched his 4 destroyers and ordered all ships to be ready with their torpedoes. A star-shell from the Belfast lit up the stormy scene and illuminated the Scharnhorst ­– she was obviously caught unawares. With the Duke of York and Jamaica on one side, Fraser’s destroyers and Burnett’s flotilla on the other, she was soon taking heavy punishment. Shortly after Bey had signalled to Germany “…am surrounded by heavy units,” the British destroyers and cruisers attacked with torpedoes from both flanks and at 7.45 the Scharnhorst sank[84]. Of her almost 2000-man crew, only 36 were rescued.[85]

In the tourist facility at North Cape the following, concise description of the Battle of North Cape, written, in Norwegian by Milorg and XU operative Erling Storussten is displayed. Here is a translation:

The Battle of North Cape 1943

The War Situation – December 1943


The Russians needed more weapons for their Western Front offensive. At sea, German submarines had lost the battle of the Atlantic because of the allied Radar and Asdic superiority. The offensive German Air Force in Northern Norway had been sent to the Eastern Front, but the reconnaissance aircraft remained – and they were effective in all kinds of weather. Hitler kept large military forces in Norway. He was convinced that the allied invasion of Western Europe would begin there.

The importance of the Murmansk convoys

The Red Army suffered enormous losses in 1941/42. The winter offensive in 1943 needed much new equipment but getting help from the West was difficult. The only solution was by sea over the Atlantic to Murmansk and Archangel. The route was fraught with dangers from swarms of German submarines, warships and aircraft in Northern Norway.

A total of 40 convoys sailed with 782 cargo ships carrying four million tons of weapons, ammunition and other supplies. Seven and a half percent of this was lost.

A Convoy

A normal convoy comprised about 30 cargo ships carrying 350 aircraft, 3000 medium sized tanks, 1000 heavy tanks, ammunition and aircraft fuel. Convoy JW55 was split into two in order to reduce possible losses. The speed of the cargo ships in a storm was about 10 knots – one third the speed of the Scharnhorst. The accompanying cruisers could help but they lacked radar and air support – and the Scharnhorst was much more powerful and faster.


The German warships in Altafjord were a constant threat to the crucial Murmansk convoys. In Låfjord, an arm of the Altafjord, lurked the pride of the German Navy, Tirpitz. But the “beast”, as Churchill called her, was temporarily out of action after a British mini-submarine attack. In Langfjord, another arm of the Altafjord,

lay the Scharnhorst, shielded by a thick torpedo net. The Scharnhorst, and her 1900-man crew, was an impressive battleship with nine 28 cm and twelve 15 cm guns, anti-aircraft artillery and torpedoes. She could cruise up to 32 knots and thus could out-run the British battleship, The Duke of York – but she could not out-gun her!  Norwegian SIS agents with radios watched over the German ships in Altafjord.


In Alta, SIS Agent and radio operator Torstein Råby, posed as an assistant in the road administration’s office of cashier Karl Rasmussen. The agent i Kåfjord was Harry Pettersen who was in contact with Jens P Digre in Langfjorden. On Christmas day Digre telephoned to Pettersen who then rang Rasmussen. In an innocent conversation he included a coded message: “Grandma is away on her Christmas holiday” Råby immediately telegraphed to England and then packed his bags and left to escape the inevitable German response. Karl Rasmussen was arrested later and committed suicide rather than disclose his contacts under German torture.


The biggest threat against the all-important supplies from America was the German submarines. The submarines had won the Battle of the Atlantic in 1940-1942 but the Allies turned the tables in 1943 with their new Radar and Asdic technologies. The Germans situated 8 submarines along the route of JW55B but bad weather foiled their plans. Only one submarine fired a torpedo – and missed – but it advised the Scharnhorst of the convoy’s position.

Conditions at Sea

Daylight lasts for 6 months at Bjørnøya but in the middle of winter it is coal-black except for a two-hour ‘twilight’ around midday. (Scharnhorst planned to attack between 1000-1200.) The minus degree temperature caused icing on decks and armaments. Convoy JW55B sailed in full storm and snow with visibility almost zero. Radar was essential. Cruisers and smaller ships were tossed around in the towering waves. It was worst for the crews of torpedoed ships; they were blasted into the ice-cold water or burned alive in flaming oil.

The grave of 6000 sailors

The battles of the Murmansk convoys 1941-1945 resulted in heavy losses for both sides. Sixty-two loaded and twenty-eight empty cargo ships plus nineteen Allied escort ships were sunk. Approximately 2700 allied civil and military seamen lost their lives. German losses from the Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and at least 15 submarines, totaled 3700 men.

A Sea of Peace

More than 6000 lost lives are meaningless and unacceptable. The sea around North Cape must never again become a theater of war. It shall be a sea of peace, eternally.

Tirpitz – the end

Early in January 1944 the British learned, through Enigma, that the damage caused by the X-craft attack on the Tirpitz would be repaired by March 15th. Even at this stage in the war, during the build up to D-day, a seaworthy Tirpitz was unacceptable to the Allies and planning for her final destruction started. Carrier-based aircraft – in large numbers – were to be the executioners this time and once again Admiral Fraser, in his flagship The Duke of York set sail at the head of two groups including the aircraft carriers Victorious, Furious and four escort carriers. Forty-two Barracuda bombers and a number of Corsair fighters were housed on each of the carriers. The attack was to take part in two waves and in unusually fine weather, on April 3, at 4 am the first strike-force and its fighter escort were winging their way towards their target. The second wave followed shortly afterwards to become part of what was, up to that time, the largest number of Royal Navy aircraft to set out on a single operation.

The attack was a complete surprise. Within a minute, smoke and flames could be seen pouring from the injured ship. We now know that she received no less than nine hits – one or two of them with 1600-pound armour-piercing bombs. The second wave arrived an hour later and in spite of the more prepared enemy defences, five bombs hit their mark. Chaos reigned aboard the Tirpitz – which, in fact, had been preparing for departure – and 400 crew members were injured. [86] Once again, the Tirpitz immobilized – but, again, she did not sink. An early warning and unfavourable weather conditions foiled two further carrier-based attempts in July and August.

Operations Paravane, Obviate and Catechism

Bomber Command now took over the task of eliminating the Tirpitz. On September 15, RAF squadrons 617 and 9, based in Russia, headed for Norway. Coming as it did, from a totally unexpected direction, operation Paravane completely surprised the German defences. Although only one of the ‘Tallboy’ bombs made a direct hit, it was enough to render the ship unseaworthy – and the Germans decided that she could not be repaired.

The repeated attempts to sink the Tirpitz, and the increasing Allied naval successes in northern waters strengthened Hitler’s fear of an invasion in the North. His paranoia on this score was possibly one of the reasons that the Tirpitz was towed the 220 miles (350kms) south to Håkøya, just outside Tromsø. The idea was to use her as a ‘fort’ to protect Tromsø when the Allies invaded. The British, unaware that the Tirpitz had been irreparably damaged, continued to plan for her demise.

Tromsø was within range of British-based aircraft and squadrons 617 and 9, now based at Lossiemouth in Scotland were again given the task of ending the imagined threat from the Tirpitz. Operation Obviate, at the end of October, failed because of bad weather, but on November 12th, the thirty-two Lancasters of operation Catechism found clear weather, and an unprepared enemy – ideal bombing conditions.  Three hits, with 12,000-pound, ‘Tallboy’, bombs, sealed the fate of the Tirpitz; the battleship capsized with nearly 1000 of her crew trapped inside.[87] The actual number of deaths was 916. Of the survivors, 87 were saved by rescue workers who cut their way through the ship’s side.

Tirpitz, Tromsø fjord – 1945-03-22 Australian War Memorial photo.

The leader of the last three Bomber Command attacks was the legendary Wing-Commander James Brian Tait, familiarly known as ‘Willie’. Tait was a highly decorated RAF officer. In fact, he was unique in being the only RAF officer to receive three bars to his D.S.O. His squadron 617 – ‘The Dambusters,’ specialized in precision bombing – as depicted in Paul Brickhill’s popular novel by the same name. One of Tait’s earlier war experiences was in a Whitley bomber night air attack on Oslo airport in 1940[88]      (On the night of 18/19th April.)[89]

Thus Hitler’s maritime pride and joy, the ship that Churchill called “the beast” lay in shallow water, near Tromsø with its bottom to the sky, like a stranded whale. In 2005, a Tirpitz Museum was opened at Kåfjord near Alta. Naturally enough it contains the world’s largest collection of Tirpitz memorabilia. Worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood.




In the foregoing, much has ben written about the Atlantic Convoys, also known as The Suicide Run.

But imagining, and then trying to write about the fear, the frigid cold, and the stormy seas endured by WWII military and merchant seamen in these convoys is, well, beyond imagination. The nearest I ever came to being able to feel what these men suffered was when, many years ago, I read ‘H.M.S. Ulysses’, the first of Alistair MacLean’s excellent books. The author served in the Navy. The events surrounding the ill-fated PQ17 convoy inspired much of his book.

Read naval books (including Capt S.W. Roskill’s excellent account, The Navy at War) and war histories for facts and figures but read H.M.S. Ulysses to understand, and feel the freezing conditions, fear and heroism of the sailors.

After writing the above a friend of mine gave me a book that shed new light on the ill-fated PQ17. Celebrated British Journalist Godfrey Winn, almost accidentally, became a civilian observer on one of the escorts for the convoy. The book, PQ17 is the result of his journey. His ship, an anti-aircraft cruiser, Pozarica, was one of those which took refuge in Novaya Zemlya after the order to scatter had been received. Official records tell us much about the ships, their captains, their armaments and their locations, but little about the feelings of the men on board. What did the men on the escorting destroyers and cruisers feel when they got the order – Convoy is to scatter – to abandon the defenceless freighters to their fate?  Godfrey Winn tells us:

This book is not intended to feed that controversy (on the wisdom of scattering the convoy) but it is simply meant to serve as an epitaph, however inadequate, for those who never now will be able to write their own version of the story. If that is badly expressed, it is because I feel too deeply to seek to deck out my meaning, and  at least, that meaning should be clear to all who may chance upon this book in future years. While for my own part I am very concious that however long I may live, and however dimmed my own memory may become by the mercy of Time, I shall never quite be rid of the weight of bitter frustration that settled upon the whole ship’s company later that evening.[90]



[1] Ainas Dagbok, Aina Thiis Leirdal, Strindheim Forlag  1990
[2] Unpublished manuscript by Headmaster Reidar Jørgensen.
[3] Gleditsch was one of the 10 hostages shot in October 1942
[4] ’Good’ was used to identify those in opposition to the Nazis.
[5] Berit Nøkleby. Pass Godt PÅ Tirpitz! Gyldendal, Oslo 1988
[6] Bjørn A. Rørholt. Amatørspionen Lerken P77
[7] Bjørn A. Rørholt /Bjarne W. Thorsen Usynlig Soldater p 54
[8] ’Royal Victorian Patriotic School’ – where all foreigners entering the British Isles were interviewed and screened.
[9] ’Sentralen’ = SIS station in London. ’Home Station’ = SOE station in London
[10] Haakon Sørbye. Unpublished document.
[11] Usynlige Soldater p. 62
[12] Bjørn A. Rørholt, Usynlige Soldater, P 70
[13] Bjørn A. Rørholt, Amatørspionen Lerken P 84
[14] R V Jones, Most Secret War P 206
[15] Ibid P. 65
[16] W.S. Churchill. The Hinge of Fate P 350
[17] Ibid P 112
[18] Kompani Linge Volume II P 54
[19] Bjørn Rørholt, Usynlige Soldater P71
[20] Lecture by Haakon Sørbye, 21-23 sept 2001. Natzweiler Group meeting.
[21] Ibid
[22] Ibid
[23] Olav Njolstad, Professor Tronstads Krig. P.36

[25] Bjørn Rørholt, Usynliige soldater P72.
[26] Unpublished manuscript by Headmaster Reidar Jørgensen.
[27] Erik Gjems-Onstad. Lark, Milorg i Trondheim P 10
[28] W. S. Churchill. The Hinge of Fate. P 112
[29] Komapni Linge Vol. II P 56
[30] Herluf Nygaard. Tortur, Flukt og Gisler – Til Tross. P 48
[31] Gunnar Sønsteby. Report from #24. Barricade Books. P 67
[32] Erik Gjems-Onstad Lark Milorg I Trøndelag. P 18
[33] Oskar Mendelsohn, Jødene i Norge, Historien om en minoritet. P 83
[34] Krigens Dagbok Nord i Trøndelag, Sør i Helgeland.P 105-7
[35] A more detailed account of the Tirpitz appears in the next section under Naval Matters.
[36] Herluf Nygaard, Tortur, Flukt og Gisler – Til Tross. P 58
[37] Ibid P 64.
[38] Ibid P 69
[39] Erik Gjems-Onstad, Lark Milorg i Trøndelag P 24.
[40] Ian Herrington. P. 340
[41] Unpublished manuscript by Rektor Reidar Jørgensen. P41
[42] Home Station – name of SOE London station.
[43] Kompani Linge. Volume II P 70
[44] HS 2 – 212 Wagtail Reports
[45] Kompani Linge Bind I P 137
[46] Ibid P 139
[47] Ibid P 143
[48] Ibid P 149
[49] See Durham
[50] For details, see ’Durham
[51] Theta Theta. Kristian Ottoson p.40 Universitetsforlag 1983
[52] Usynlige soldater. Bjørn Rørholt with Bjarne W. Thorsen. Aschehoug 1990
[53] The Second World War;The Grand Alliance P 122 Winston Churchill
[54] The Navy at War. Capt. S.W. Roskill. R.N. Collins, 1960 P 198
[55] Most Secret War.  RV. Jones. Penguin Books 2009 P. 235
[56] Ibid
[57] Tirpitz. M. Tamelander and N. Zetterling Spartaus, 2007. P.90
[58]Tirpitz. M. Tamelander and N. Zetterling Spartacus, 2007 P.63
[59] Radioagentene i Trøndelag, Magne Lein. P.80
[60] The Navy at War Capt. S.W. Roskill. R.N. Collins, 1960
[61] Amatørspion Lerken Bjørn Rørholt P.120
[62] Pass Godt på Tirpitz! Berit Nøkleby. P.73
[63] Amatørspion Lerken. Bjørn Rørholt
[64] See “Our Stories: Kristian Fougner” www.wwIInorge.com
[65] Pass på Tirpitz. Berit Nøkleby P.74
[66] The Navy at War. Capt S. W. Roskill R.N. P. 207
[67] The Hinge of Fate. W. S. Churchill P. 265
[68] The Navy at War, P.208
[69] Ibid P. 209
[70] Tirpitz. M. Tamelander and N. Zetterling  Spartaus, 2007 P. 200
[71] The Navy at War, P. 269
[72] The Navy at War, P. 272
[73] The Navy at War, P.317
[74] Pass Godt på Tirpitz! P.101
[75] Fra Narvik til Normandie by Patrick Dalzal-Job P 87
[76] Article by Bjørne Kvernmo in Altaposten, August 21, 2002.
[77] The Navy at War. P.317-8
[78] Pass Godt på Tirpitz!  P.217
[79] The Navy at War, P.320
[80] The Navy at War P. 321
[81] From Norwegian text describing the battle on display in North Cape Hall, North Cape.
[82] Article by Norunn Bergesen, Finnmark Dagblad, October 7 2000.
[83] Admiral Fraser was raised to the peerage in 1946 when he became Baron Fraser of North Cape.
[84] In September 2000, the wreck of the Scharnhorst was located on the sea-bed north of North Cape.
[85] The Navy at War, P.321-3
[86] Ibid P. 359-61
[87] Ibid P.402-3
[88] Daily Telegraph obituary.
[89] 58 Squadron Bomber Command website
[90] PQ 17 by Godfrey Winn. P 90 Hutchinson & Co. 1948



Geoffrey K Ward
Asker, Norway
January 2016