Operation Anklet

This was a British special forces raid by some 300 men of Lieutenant Colonel S. S. Harrison’s No. 12 Commando, as well as a number of Free Norwegian troops, against German and other installations on the Lofoten islands group in the Vestfjord region of Norway (26/28 December 1941).

The raid was planned by Commodore the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters as the diversionary component of a two-pronged operation whose primary component was ‘Archery’ against the island of Vågsøy (Vaagsö) farther to the south, and was intended to capitalise on the growing strength and expertise of the commando forces during 1941, and at the same time capture Enigma-related ciphering machines and associated papers. The intention was that ‘Anklet’ should be mounted simultaneously with ‘Archery’, but in the event poor weather delayed the start of ‘Archery’ to 27 December.

Command of the operation was allocated to Rear Admiral L. H. K. Hamilton in the light cruiser Arethusa, which with the destroyers Ashanti, Bedouin, Eskimo and Somali, escort destroyers Lamerton, Wheatland and Polish Krakowiak and Kujawiak, Norwegian corvettes Acanthus and Eglantine, and minesweepers Halcyon, Harrier and Speedwell escorted the cross-Channel ferries Prins Albert and Prinses Josephine Charlotte, which had been adapted as assault transports. There were also the oilers Black Ranger and Grey Ranger, rescue ships Scott and Danish Gudrun Maersk, tug Jaunty and, for navigational support, submarine Sealion.

The operation got off to a problematical start as Prinses Josephine Charlotte had to return to Scapa Flow with engine trouble, escorted by Wheatland. This forced Hamilton to scale down the basic plan.

The commandos landed at 06.00 on 26 December, the planners having scheduled the raid in the expectation that the German garrison would be caught off guard after the previous day’s Christmas festivities. The landings were unopposed as the men entered two harbours on the westerly island of Moskenesøya and quickly occupied the small towns of Reine and Moskenes, in the process capturing a small number of Germans and Quislings, including the men manning the wireless station at Glåpen. A large supply of French chocolates and cigarettes was found and distributed to the Norwegian inhabitants of the area, who expressed their concern about reprisals and wished the British forces to remain.

Hamilton was tempted to consider a prolonged stay as there is no sun in these latitudes between 10 December and 3 January, thereby much reducing the risk of German air attack. A bomb dropped by a German seaplane on 27 December fell close to Arethusa, which had penetrated into the Vestfjord in company with Ashanti, Eskimo and Somali in search of German shipping, however, and in combination with intelligence reports of German fighter and bomber forces were moving north to deal with his force, which was operating beyond the range of fighter cover from the UK, this persuaded Hamilton to withdraw.

The force reached British waters again on 1 January 1942. Two German radio transmitters had been demolished, two German-manned Norwegian coasting vessels (1,125-ton Kong Harald and 745-ton Nordland) captured, the German patrol boat Geier sunk by Ashanti after Enigma-related papers had been removed, and a few Germans and Quislings taken prisoner. The raid had therefore served its purpose, largely in disrupting German inshore sea communications in the area, but was the last of its type undertaken without air support.