Operation Crofter

This was the British delivery of a token force of Free Norwegian troops to fight alongside the Soviet forces in the northern part of the USSR (6 November 1944/8 May 1945).

On 25 October 1944 a Free Norwegian force departed British waters in the heavy cruiser Berwick bound for Murmansk, whence it was to join the Soviet forces currently entering northern Norway after crossing northern Finland. Commanded by Colonel Arne D. Dahl, this Force 138 included a military mission for liaison with the Soviets and to set up a civil administration, Major S. Rongstad’s 233-man Bergkompani 2, an 11-man naval area command, and the 12-man Area Command ‘Finnmark’.

Force 138 reached Murmansk on 6 November and trans-shipped to a Soviet vessel for movement to Liinhammari in Finland, where they boarded trucks for the final leg of their journey to reach Norwegian soil on 10 November. General Leytenant Vladimir I. Shcherbakov, commanding the Soviet 14th Army, made it clear that he wanted Bergkompani 2 to enter the front line as soon as possible, and volunteers from the local population were quickly formed into ‘guard companies’ armed with Soviet weapons pending the arrival of more troops from either Sweden or the UK.

The first reinforcement convoy arrived from the UK on 7 December, and included two Norwegian corvettes and three minesweepers.

It was soon clear that reconnaissance patrols had to probe the German positions and whether or not the local population had been evacuated. The patrols that probed to the west soon reported that the Germans were in the process of pulling back from Porsanger but were laying mines and booby traps along the way, that there were only a few civilians still in the area, and that many of the town’s buildings had been destroyed by fire. This was the situation at the start of 1945 as the Norwegian forces started slowly to retake Norway’s northernmost province, in the process aiding the local population suffering in the bitter Arctic winter and dealing with occasional German air, land and sea raids.

There was also the ever-present problem of booby traps and mines. Reinforcements arrived from the Norwegian Rikspoliti (police troops) based in Sweden as well as convoys from Britain, and 1,442 troops and 1,225 tons of supplies were flown into Finnmark from Kallax in northern Sweden by Douglas Dakota transport aircraft. By April the strength of the Norwegian force had passed 3,000 men, and on 26 April the Norwegian government-in-exile could announce that Finnmark had been wholly liberated.

The Norwegian advance continued, and by the time of Germany’s surrender on 8 May Kompani 1 of the ‘Varanger’ Battalion had reached the border between the counties of Finnmark and Troms west of Alta.