Operation Sickle (i)

'Sickle' (i) was the British landing at Åndalsnes to the south of Trondheim in Norway in the aftermath of the German 'Weserübung' (18 April 1940).

The undertaking was the southern component of a plan, whose northern half was 'Maurice' (ii), to land sufficient forces on each side of Trondheim for the launch of a pincer attack for the recapture of the city, which had been taken on 9 April by the German 138th Gebirgsjägerregiment in 'Detmold' after delivery by the Germany navy’s Gruppe II (heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and destroyers Paul Jakobi, Theodor Riedel, Bruno Heinemann and Friedrich Eckoldt of Fregattenkapitän Rudolf von Pufendorf’s 2nd Zerstörer-Flottille) in 'Weserübung'.

Generaloberst Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s XXI Corps quickly began to reinforce the garrison in Trondheim into Generalleutnant Valentin Feurstein’s 2nd Gebirgsdivision and Generalmajor Kurt Woytasch’s 181st Division with a view to advances through the defences of Generalmajor Jacob Ager Laurantzon’s Norwegian 5th Division down the Østerdalen and Gudbrandsdalen toward Oslo and a junction with the north-westward advance of Generalmajor Richard Pellengahr’s 196th Division and Generalmajor Erwin Engelbrecht’s 163rd Division.

Under the command of Brigadier H. de R. Morgan, the leading elements of the British 148th Brigade, in the form of an initial 700 men, were landed at Åndalsnes from the sloops Auckland, Bittern, Black Swan and Flamingo, more sizeable elements then arriving in the light cruisers Arethusa and Galatea, the light anti-aircraft cruisers Carlisle and Curacao, and two destroyers under the command of Vice Admiral Sir George Edward-Collins. The rest of the brigade was landed later in two waves as 2,200 men from the light cruisers Galatea, Glasgow and Sheffield, and six destroyers, and 1,600 men from the heavy cruiser York, the light cruisers Birmingham and Manchester, and three destroyers.

Thus 4,800 British troops were available for a movement to the south-east in the direction of Dombås as the preliminary to an advance to the north up the line of the railway link to Trondheim. At this time the brigade was instructed to forget Trondheim temporarily and move to the support of Generalmajor Jacob Hviden Haug’s Norwegian 2nd Division in the Gudbrandsdalen against the 163rd Division.

To prevent the British from advancing inland, German airborne forces made a parachute drop on the village and rail road junction of Dombås on 14 April.

The British southern attack began on 19 April and reached Lillehammer two days later, but the 148th Brigade encountered major problems almost from the start. Morgan was unsure as to the commander to whom he was he was directly subordinated (the British military attaché in Norway or the War Office in London), or whether he was to continue as initially ordered. Choosing to obey his orders to support the Norwegians as much as he could, he divided his two battalions and moved them to support the Norwegians with his units stretched across the front. The 148th Brigade’s units were then moved to Lillehammer in order to face a German attack from Oslo.

This latter was catastrophic for the underprepared British who, undermanned, undertrained and under-equipped, faced a heavy mortar bombardment which forced the Norwegian local commander to order a retreat during which many men of the 148th Brigade were captured for lack of transport. The survivors who managed to escape the Germans regrouped at Faaberg, to the north of Lillehammer, on 22 April. They were then attacked again by the Germans who, making use of artillery support, outflanked and encircled many of the British positions until again, the 148th Brigade pulled back 10 miles (16 km) farther to the north toward Tretten. The last German attack came in the evening of 22 April when the Germans, supported by four tanks which the British could not check for lack of the appropriate weapons, pushed the 148th Brigade’s remnants back to Heidal, where the Germans then halted.

The 148th Brigade had been reduced to just nine officers and 300 men, Morgan and his headquarters group having been captured at Lillehammer.

It was as this stage that on 26 April local command was assumed by Major General B. C. T. Paget, under the overall control of Lieutenant General H. R. S. Massy, commanding all the British forces in Norway other than those in Narvik. Paget sought unsuccessfully to get his units air support until, in early May, after suffering the loss of about 1,900 men and lacking any control of the air, the British forces at Åndalsnes were withdrawn.

Meanwhile, at sea, on 21 April Kapitänleutnant Heinz Scheringer’s U-26 sank the 5,139-ton British transport Cedarbank, which was on passage to Åndalsnes with supplies and escorted by two destroyers.

Two days later, Edward-Collins’s light cruiser force (Galatea, Glasgow, Sheffield and six destroyers) landed the first part of Brigadier H. P. M Berney-Ficklin’s British 15th Brigade, followed by the remainder on 24 April on board the heavy cruiser York, the light cruisers Birmingham and Manchester, and three destroyers. Air escort was provided from Vice Admiral L. V. Wells’s carrier force (fleet carriers Ark Royal and Glorious, which flew in Gloster Gladiator fighters), and anti-aircraft cover off Åndalsnes and Molde was provided by the light anti-aircraft cruisers Carlisle and Curacoa as well as the sloops Black Swan, Flamingo, Bittern and Fleetwood. On 24 April Curacoa was damaged in a German air attack, and one day later the armed trawlers Bradman, Hammond and Larwood were lost to air attacks (later raised, they became the German patrol vessels Friese, Salier and Franke respectively), and the Norwegian torpedo boat Trygg was also lost. On the following day two attacks by Korvettenkapitän Viktor Schütze’s U-25 on the departing York failed because of torpedo failures. Three other armed trawlers sunk by air attack were Cape Siretoko on 28 April, and Jardine and Warwickshire both on 30 April: all were later raised and commissioned into German service as Gore, Cherusker and Alane respectively.

Once landed, the 15th Brigade started to move to the south in order to relieve the 148th Brigade. The British encountered the advancing German forces at Kvam, a municipality between Tretten and Dombås, and were pushed back to Kjorem, where they weathered further heavy assault.

By 28 April, with both their northern and southern groups checked by the Germans, the British decided to withdraw their forces from central Norway. With the aid of Major General Otto Ruge, the Norwegian commander-in-chief, 'Sickle' Force managed to return to Åndalsnes and be evacuated by sea before 02.00 on 2 May by the same force of cruisers and destroyers which had delivered them during the middle of April, only a few hours before the 196th Division captured the port.

At Namsos, 'Maurice' Force was evacuated on 3 May in 'Klaxon I' after the evacuation convoy had been delayed by thick fog, but two of the ships, the French destroyer Bison and the British destroyer Afridi, were sunk by Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers.