Operation Cabaret (i)

This was a British naval attempt to bring out from a Sweden two blockade-running vessels carrying vital war supplies such as ball bearings, rare metals etc (4/14 February 1943).

The UK’s need for ball bearings, steel and other materials which could be supplied by Swedish industry was such that it was not long after ‘Rubble’ and ‘Performance’ that a successor to the latter was being planned as ‘Cabaret’. This was to involve the despatch of three motor gun boats from the UK to meet the 14-kt Dicto and 10-kt Lionel, each of these Norwegian merchantmen still carrying its original cargo, at a designated meeting place, equip them with new armament, then act as escorts for a second breakout attempt.

The UK had hoped to undertake the operation in the autumn of 1942, but for various political reasons it was delayed.

The two Norwegian ships finally departed Gothenburg on 17 January 1943 and on the following day anchored in the Hakefjord to the north-west of Gothenburg and therefore close to the Swedish frontier with German-occupied Norway. The ships had enough oil to allow then to remain there for about 20 days while awaiting favourable conditions, and still have sufficient fuel for the passage to the UK.

The Germans learned of the plan and doubled the number of their patrol vessels and aircraft in the Kattegat and Skagerrak, and at the same time despatched three destroyers to Kristiansand in the event that the ships managed to get through the Kattegat and Skagerrak and start to enter the North Sea.

The operation was further delayed by adverse weather, but on 13 February, when it became known that the destroyers had left Kristiansand, P. Duff-Still’s force of three MGBs were allocated to ‘Cabaret’ from the Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces organisation and departed Aberdeen during the evening of the same day. On the next day, as the three MGBs were about 80 miles (130 km) from the Skagerrak, the Admiralty received the news that a German force, escorted by destroyers and aircraft, was southbound from the north of Norway. When the MGBs met strong winds, forcing them to slow and thereby reducing their chances of a high-speed escape, they were recalled and reached Berwick-upon-Tweed with a fair amount of superficial damage.

Two weeks later the operation was cancelled, and while it had been unsuccessful, it had served some purpose in that it had prevented some German ships and aircraft from use in other matters. Dicto and Lionel were kept on stand-by, should another opportunity arise, but in the event the task of ferrying small quantities of vital materials from Sweden to the UK was undertaken by civilianised motor gun boats in ‘Bridford’.