Operation Carhampton

This was a British and Norwegian special forces undertaking by the Special Operations Executive to intercept and capture shipping off the west coast of German-occupied Norway (January/1 March 1943).

The origins of the undertaking lay with Odd Kjell Starheim, who was a Norwegian resistance fighter and SOE agent. When the Germans began their ‘Weserübung’ invasion of Norway in April 1940, Starheim joined the Norwegian army, but was soon captured. He later escaped to Sweden and planned to make his way to the UK, but could not find a way to do so. He returned to Norway, and after slowly accumulating enough fuel, made his way to the UK with two other men on the boat Viking from Rauna, near Farsund. The three men set off on 11 August 1940, but were forced back on the next day by bad weather. On 13 August Viking set off again, and reached Aberdeen on 17 August despite encountering another storm during the voyage across the North Sea.

Starheim was among the first members of the SOE’s 1st Norwegian Independent Company (NOR.I.C.1), hand-picked by Captain Martin Linge, went on three missions to Norway, and was instrumental in the organisation of an intelligence network in southern Norway. Starheim led the SOE’s ‘Cheese I’ intelligence operation, together with the double agent and radio operator Gunvald Tomstad. For ‘Cheese I’, Starheim was landed by submarine on the Norwegian coast near Farsund in December 1940, making his way ashore by kayak and carrying his radio set 25 miles (40 km) inland despite suffering from flu. The object of the undertaking was to establish what had happened to three men (two of them the pair with whom Starheim had originally escaped from Norway and who had already been returned to Norway on another mission). The men had in fact been captured and executed. During the mission Starheim became the first SOE agent to establish radio contact between occupied Europe and the UK, on 25 February 1941. During his mission he radioed a report to the UK on the first sighting of the German battleship Bismarck as she left for her ‘Rheinübung’ sortie into the Atlantic.

Starheim remained in Norway until June 1941, organising the resistance and remaining in radio contact with UK. Then appreciating that he was in imminent danger of capture, Starheim escaped to Sweden and thence to the UK. On 2 January 1942 he and a fellow agent, Andreas Fasting, became the first SOE operatives to parachute into German-occupied Norway. On this occasion Starheim planned to re-establish radio contact between the Norwegian resistance and the UK, the radio operator left behind after his previous mission having stopped transmitting.

In Oslo Starheim was captured by the Gestapo, but during his interrogation he managed to snatch back his identity papers and jump from a second storey window to make his escape. He signalled to the UK that he needed to be extracted, but the resulting attempt to take him off in a fishing boat failed. Not wishing to risk an escape to Sweden for a third time, Starheim hatched a daring plan to hijack the coastal steamer Galtesund in the Flekkefjord. Starheim achieved this on 15 March 1942, and then brought the vessel over to the UK, together with a small group of people including Einar Skinnarland, who had in his possession important information on the heavy water plant at Vemork.

The capture of Galtesund was aided by a secret radio transmitter in Norway which radioed London, requesting air support for the vessel. The air support arrived on 16 March and the ship made it safely to Aberdeen. Starheim had not received permission from his superiors in the UK to capture Galtesund, and carried out the operation entirely on his own initiative.

This was this effort which led directly to ‘Carhampton’, which was an attempt to seize an entire German coastal shipping convoy and approved largely as a result of the success of the Galtesund operation.

The party was made up of 41 men, and attempts to depart in November were unsuccessful as a result of adverse weather, and then delayed until ‘Cabaret’ had been completed. Starheim and 40 Norwegian soldiers were finally landed near Abelsnes in Vest-Agder by the Norwegian patrol vessel Bodø. Some 30 of Starheim’s men were from NOR.I.C.1, and the other 10 from the Norwegian navy. The men’s first attempt to capture a five-ship convoy on 10 January failed when the various groups lost co-ordination. A second attempt on 17 January ended in a gunfight between the commandos and German guards. With their cover blown, the Norwegians were hunted by substantial German forces, but were aided by local resistance personnel.

After an aborted attempt at attacking the strategically significant molybdenum mines at Knaben, the whole operation was called off.

The leadership in London had not supported the plan to attack Knaben, instead approving the ‘Carhampton’ party’s allocation to the ‘Yorker’ attack on the titanium mine in Sokndal (in the event cancelled because of adverse weather) and the capture of a 10,000 ton ship in the Jøssingfjord. Starheim and 12 other members of the ‘Carhampton’ party then hijacked the Norwegian coastal passenger/cargo steamship Tromøsund on 28 February in an attempt to bring the ship over to Scotland, but the vessel was sunk by German aircraft. All those on board, including the 13 commandos, the 26 crew, two passengers and three German prisoners of war, lost their lives when Tromøsund sank. Those of Starheim and the ship’s captain were the only bodies recovered after they were washed ashore on Tjörn near Bohuslän.

Of the members of the ‘Carhampton’ party who did not sail on Tromøsund, 16 managed to make their way to West Hartlepool in north-eastern England by fishing boat, four were given new missions in Norway, and the rest made their way to neutral Sweden.