Operation Fritham

This 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, where they 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 and a small number of anti-aircraft guns.