Operation Rubble

This was an Allied break-out by five Norwegian merchant vessels (four freighters and one empty tanker manned by British, Norwegian and Swedish sailors) from neutral Sweden to the UK (23/25 January 1941).

Carrying cargoes of special steels, the 5,450-ton Elizabeth Bakke, 4,718-ton John Bakke, 6,962-ton Tai Shan, 4,767-ton Taurus and 6,355-ton tanker Ranja were lying in Gothenburg and, supported by the British Admiralty and aided by operatives of the Special Operations Executive, decided to make a run for the UK via the Skagerrak.

The vessels departed during the afternoon of 23 January and passed through the Skagerrak without interception on 23/24 January, thereafter meeting with the light anti-aircraft cruisers Aurora and Naiad and a destroyer force despatched by Admiral Sir John Tovey, commanding the Home Fleet. Escorted from 24 January by the light cruisers Birmingham and Edinburgh, and destroyers Echo and Electra, all the ships reached Scapa Flow and Kirkwall in the Orkney islands group safely with their cargo of 25,000 tons of ball bearings, steel tubing and other materials bought in Sweden during October 1939.

Heinkel He 115 floatplanes of the Küstenfliegergruppe 706 and Junkers Ju 88 bombers of elements of General Hans Geisler’s X Fliegerkorps had launched heavy air attacks on the escapers, and the combined force narrowly missed an accidental interception by the German battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as these German warships headed north in preparation for their ‘Berlin’ (i) foray into the North Atlantic.