Operation Archery: The Commando Raid That Changed Nazi Plans for Norway

Peter Curry

4 mins

01 Nov 2018

Operation Archery was a raid by British commandos against German forces on the island of Vågsøy on 27 December 1941. By that time, Norway had been under German occupation since April 1940, and its coastline was an important part of the Atlantic Wall fortification system.

There were five main objectives to Operation Archery:

  • Secure the area north of the town of Måløy in South Vågsoy and engage any reinforcements
  • Secure the town of Måløy itself
  • Eliminate enemies on Måløy Island, critical for securing the town
  • Destroy a strongpoint at Holvik to the west of Måløy
  • Provide a floating reserve offshore

The British commando units had undergone rigorous training for operations of this nature, and the operation was initially devised out of a conversation between the British commander, John Durnford-Slater and Lord Mountbatten, after the success of a series of prior raids in Norway.

No. 114 Squadron RAF bombers attacking the German airfield at Herdla before the Operation Archery raid against German-occupied Norway. Several Luftwaffe planes are visible on the airfield, together with rising clouds of snow particles thrown up by shrapnel and machine-gun fire. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.

However, German forces in Måløy were much stronger than previous raids on the Lofotens and Spitzbergen. There were around 240 German troops in the town, with a tank and around 50 sailors.

The German garrison was strengthened by the presence of a Gebirgsjäger (mountain rangers) unit of troops who were then on leave from the eastern front.

These were soldiers experienced in sniping and street fighting, which change the nature of the operation.

There were also some Luftwaffe bases in the area, which the RAF could provide limited support against, but would require the operation to be swift, as RAF planes would be operating on the edge of their fuel allowance.

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The raid

The assault began with a naval barrage from the HMS Kenya, which bombarded the town until the commandos gave the signal that they had landed.

The commandos stormed into Måløy, but encountered bitter opposition immediately.

As these German forces proved more resistant than had been initially expected, Durnford-Slater utilised the floating reserve and called in troops raiding elsewhere on Vågsoy island.

A number of local citizens assisted the commandos by helping them move ammunition, grenades and explosives around as well as carrying the wounded to safety.

The fighting was fierce. Much of the commando leadership was killed or injured in attempting to breach one German strongpoint, the Ulvesund Hotel. The British attempted to storm the building several times, losing several of their officers in the process.

Captain Algy Forester was shot at the entrance, with a cocked grenade in hand, which exploded as he fell onto it.

Captain Martin Linge was also killed storming the Hotel. Linge was a Norwegian commando who had been a prominent actor before the war, appearing in notable classics such as Den nye lensmanden (1926) and Det drønner gjennom dalen (1938).

A wounded British officer, O’Flaherty, being helped to a dressing station. Credit: Imperial War Museum / Commons.

Ultimately the Commandos were able to breach the hotel with the aid of mortar that Captain Bill Bradley had resourcefully procured.

The commandos destroyed four factories, much of the stores of Norwegian fish-oil, several military installations with stocks of ammunition and fuel, and a telephone exchange.

The commandos lost 20 men with 53 more wounded, whilst the Germans lost 120 defenders and had 98 more men taken prisoner. Captain O’Flaherty lost an eye to sniper fire, and took to wearing an eye-patch later in the war.

Several Quislings, the Norwegian term for Nazi collaborator after the leader of Nazi Norway, Vidkun Quisling, were also captured. 70 Norwegians were also brought back to fight for the Free Norwegian forces.

Wounded being helped onto a landing craft during the raid. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.

The aftermath

Commandos would prove critical all the way through the war and on multiple fronts. The blow that this particular commando raid had inflicted on the Nazi war machine was not material, but psychological.

While the Germans had suffered negligible losses, Adolf Hitler was concerned that the British might attempt similar raids, and in particular that this raid was a preliminary attack in what might become a full-scale invasion.

Hitler also feared that attacks on Norway could exert pressure on Sweden and Finland, of which the former provided much of the iron ore for the Nazi war machine and Finland was a vital ally against Russia.

Finland and northern Norway provided bases to strike at the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel, which was the route of much of the Allied lend-lease aid to Russia.

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In response to the raid, the German Navy moved major units northwards, such as the super-battleship Tirpitz, and a series of other cruisers.

Generalfeldmarschall Siegmund List was sent to evaluate the defensive situation in Norway, and this saw significant reinforcements sent into Norway, despite the lack of British operational interest in the country.

Col. Gen. Rainer von Falkenhorst, who was in command of the defense of Norway, received 30,000 men and a flotilla of coastal guns.

By the time of D-day in 1944, the German garrison in Norway had swollen to an astonishing size: almost 400,000 men.

Main image credit: British commandos in action during the raid. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.