Operation Brick

This was the British two-part evacuation (‘Brick No. 1’ and ‘Brick No.2’ on successive days) from Molde, to the north-west of Åndalsnes on the southern part of Norway’s west coast, of the remaining British forces which had been landed in ‘Sickle’ (i) and later (1/2 May 1940).

On 28 April, even as Brigadier H. E. F. Smyth’s 15th Brigade was resisting the German advance up the Gudbrandsdalen toward Åndalsnes at Otto, Lieutenant General H. R. S. Massy, commanding the Allied forces in the whole of Norway except the Narvik front, informed Major General B. T. C. Paget, commanding on the Åndalsnes front, that an evacuation was to be effected. The required shipping would be available on the night of 30 April/1 May, maximum use was to be made of Molde in preference to Åndalsnes, and the evacuation from Molde might possibly be continued on the night of 1/2 May. Massy also instructed that the men were to be evacuated with no regard for loss of equipment.

Even though he believed that it was possible to hold the Dombås area for a time if further landings were planned and if air and artillery support could be provided as a priority, Paget appreciated that the decision which had reached him was final, but was very concerned about the reaction of the Norwegian forces as Major General Otto Ruge, commander-in-chief of the Norwegian forces, had frequently asked when more Allied forces would be arriving, and not when the current strength would be leaving.

The arrangement whereby Ruge had accepted overall command in the Gudbrandsdalen, imposed on Paget the unsaid obligation to start no measures for the evacuation of his own troops which would further jeopardise the Norwegian troops behind the British front. Paget broke the news to Ruge and his chief-of-staff at their headquarters, a remote farm to the south of Dombås, on the morning of 28 April. The interview was inevitably difficult for both parties, and Ruge initially refused to accept the decision.

Meanwhile preparations for the evacuation were being completed. The Åndalsnes area was now divided into three sectors under the commands of Lieutenant Colonel H. W. Simpson, Royal Marines, Brigadier H. de R. Morgan, and Brigadier A. H. Hopwood. But the rearguard action fought by Paget’s troops rendered any last stand unnecessary.

German air attacks on Åndalsnes continued, and were for the first time prolonged into the night with incendiary bombs landing among woods and buildings already burning. At the last moment messages were received from Massy to the effect that the evacuation had to be delayed by 24 hours. The light cruiser Glasgow did indeed put in at Molde, where the lack of craft for ferry purposes, which had been scared off or sunk by bombs, prevented any concentration of troops, but this was for the special purpose of evacuating King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav, members of the Norwegian government, and the Allied legations, along with bullion which had been brought overland from the Bank of Norway in Oslo.

The town was on fire and night raids were in progress when the cruiser arrived. She came alongside with fire-hoses playing, but her errand was successfully completed, the passengers being transferred to a Norwegian vessel at a point just south of Tromsø, which a cabinet vote taken on the voyage chose finally as their destination.

The situation at Åndalsnes was almost equally serious. No less than 340 troops were evacuated in the sloop Fleetwood, which sailed for the UK on the morning of 30 April as she was out of ammunition. But a large part of the 1,000 men whom it had been planned to evacuate that night remained ashore, dispersed in the woods outside the bombed area. Vice Admiral G. B. F. Edward-Collins arrived from Scapa Flow at 22.30 on 30 April with four cruisers, six destroyers, and a small transport.

The light cruisers Galatea and the Arethusa went in succession alongside the concrete quay which was the only proper embarkation place that had survived the air raids, and a small ship carried other troops to the light cruiser Sheffield, which had anchored off the town. Altogether these three cruisers embarked about 1,800 men. Other smaller parties were collected by the light cruiser Southampton and the smaller warships from positions just to the west and north of Åndalsnes, including a further small party from Molde, where Ruge and his staff alone were, at their own insistence, left behind. There was no German opposition until the ships were leaving the outer fjords at first light on the following day, when a few bombs were dropped near them without effect.