Operation Checkmate

This was a British special forces raid by seven men of No. 14 (Arctic) Commando against shipping in the port of Haugesund on the coast of German-occupied Norway (29 April 1943).

‘Checkmate’ was the last of 12 commando raids against targets on the coast of Norway. No. 14 (Arctic) Commando had come into existence late in 1942 specifically to undertake operations north of the Arctic circle, and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel E. A. M. Wedderburn. The commando had two troops: No. 1 (Boating) Troop with nine officers and 18 other ranks who specialised in small boat operations, and No. 2 Troop with six officers and 22 other ranks who specialised in cross-country skiing and mountain climbing.

The commando’s overall task was to plan and undertake attacks on the naval and air force bases which the Germans were using to launch sea and air attacks on the Allies’ Arctic convoys.

Led by Lieutenant John Godwin, ‘Checkmate’ was to attack shipping at Kopervik in the Haugesund, the raiders entering the harbour by canoe and attaching limpet mines to the hulls of any shipping their found. The commandos were delivered across the North Sea by motor torpedo boat and on arrival in Norwegian waters set up their patrol base on Karmřy. The commandos then used a small fishing boat and their pair of two-man canoes. The commandos’ plan was for the fishing boat to carry the canoes, under cover of darkness, to within striking distance of the intended their targets. The two canoes would then shove off on their own to approach their targets and attach limpet mines.

The raid sank several ships, including one minesweeper, but other than a German document quoting ‘a number of German steamers were sunk in Oslo and Kopervik, details are lacking. The two canoes then returned to the fishing boat. While waiting for the motor torpedo boat to return and transport them back to the UK, the raiders decided not to remain in one spot but instead to move along the coast in the fishing boat.

The raiders were captured on 15 May, and were held at first in the prison at Grini. After initial interrogation the prisoners were handed over to the Sicherheitsdienst and moved to Sachsenburg concentration camp in Germany. All seven men later died: six were murdered in accordance with Adolf Hitler’s infamous ‘Commando Order’, and the seventh died of typhus.