Operation Fritham

'Fritham' was a British operation to secure the coal mines on Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago and deny their use to the Germans (30 April 1942/2 July 1943).

Under the command of a Free Norwegian officer, Lieutenant Colonel Einar Sverdrup, a party of 82 men provided by the Norwegian Brigade in Scotland sailed from Greenock for Spitsbergen, but after reaching the Svalbard archipelago, the small vessels in which they were being transported, the 172-ton seal catcher Selis and 437-ton coaster Isbjørn, were spotted, attacked and sunk by bombs from four Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long-range maritime reconnaissance bombers on 14 May. Some 12 men including Sverdrup were killed, and 15 wounded, one of whom died later.

The survivors managed to get to Barentsburg with their wounded. Here they managed to find some tinned food and blankets, forgotten during the area’s earlier evacuation. Then one of the party remembered that the Soviet miners had slaughtered all their livestock before evacuating, and after digging in the snow, the Norwegians found the frozen and therefore perfectly carcasses of pigs. Finally, a radio transmitter was discovered, and with this the survivors were able to contact the UK. Aircraft began to arrive overhead an paradrop food. By the end of June the ice had melted, and a flying boat was therefore able to land near the shore to pick up the wounded.

The Germans, having discovered that there appeared to be people on the islands, supplied by air, reported that 150 men had landed and were building fortifications. The Norwegians, supplied by air and on occasion by sea, received some pieces of light artillery and anti-aircraft guns and then launched a hunt for the Germans on the island. As a result, on 23 August 1942 the party of German meteorologists was evacuated by U-boat.

The Norwegians remained on their own and under sporadic German air attack. On 24 March 1943 the survivors were spotted by an Allied aeroplane, and on 2 July reinforcements of men arrived in 'Gearbox II' together with much-needed supplies.