Military history


A German newspaper account of the “Brattholm” incident taken from “Deutsche Zeitung,” 8th June, 1943


British sabotage group rendered harmless on Norwegian Coast

IN THE twilight of a spring evening a large seaworthy fishing-boat steams slowly out of a little harbour in the Shetland Islands. In the light breeze which blows in from the sea, flutters the Norwegian military flag—it has only been hoisted as the ship left port. No security measures were to be neglected. Even before sailing, everything had been done to prevent unwanted people approaching the boat or her crew. After all, even in England it is not every day that a fishing-boat is made ready for a trip to Norway. No wonder the greatest pains were taken to get the enterprise off to a good start.

Twelve men comprise the crew of this boat as it sails towards the east. Anyone who overheard them would soon be able to establish that all the men were talking Norwegian. A certain Sigurd Eskesund is leader of the expedition. He was born on a mountain range in Norway, but his parents died prematurely when he was young, and so he left his native country and made his way, as so many did at that time, to the United States. For years in America he fought starvation, tried his luck here and there, until at last he found food and shelter and the necessities of life on a farm. When war broke out, unemployment threatened again. Then one day he was urged to go to England to join the Norwegian legion. For two days he thought the matter over. But time had helped him to make a decision. The spectre of being without food hung over him again, and moreover he was being accused again of being a foreigner. And so he reported himself to the recruiting centre. A little later, he arrived in England. There he underwent his military training, and also attended a sabotage school and was taught to be a paratrooper. Months passed, months that were used in London and in Scotland to forge plans—not for the daring invasion that was always being talked about, but merely plans to decide where and how and when the Norwegian sabotage troops could be utilised. And now at last such an enterprise was under way.

Four days passed. Three men stand on the upper deck of the Norwegian boat and look eastwards. To-day they are wearing—according to orders—civilian clothing. They are the three men of the sabotage party. The real crew are no longer allowed to show themselves. Once again, to the best of their knowledge, all precautionary measures have been taken. I hope, said one of the men, Harald, that behind this fog bank there lies our coast. For it was about time. Engine trouble yesterday had forced them to slow down.

They sail on to a small outlying island which is only inhabited by a few fisher folk. This really ought to be an ideal hide-out. They hope it will be, for none of them feel happy on their lame vessel any longer—especially since a German reconnaissance plane continually swoops over the boat. In the faces of these twelve men on the fishing boat Bariholm there is consternation: have we been recognised? It is true the Norwegian battle flag has now been hauled down, but there is still danger that the German is not quite satisfied.

For all three members of the sabotage party one thing is certain: as soon as they get ashore they will set up their radio and send this report to London—that the German air reconnaissance and coastal guard are very strong indeed. There is no way of slipping in unobserved. Not even a chance for a cleverly disguised fishing-boat—though God knows there are plenty of herring barrels on board to disguise her. All one has to do is to take them to bits, without any fear that salt water will pour over one’s sea-boots, or that twitching fish will wriggle and slither away. No, all that has to be done is to open these barrels and there are wonderful well-oiled machine-guns. And it is the same with the fish boxes, only they contain hand grenades.

Now the coast looms up out of the fog. A small bay is selected as it has high rocks to protect it. Here the boat will probably be well concealed. Somewhat reassured by this, but none the less anxious and nervous, the sabotage party paddles ashore in a dinghy. It is a fair distance they have to cover. So they are glad when at last they touch land and jump out on to the beach. After long years they have Norwegian soil under their feet again!

They set off in a direction where they can see smoke. An old woman comes towards them—the first Norwegian in their own homeland! What greeting and reception will they get on this farflung inlet? They begin to ask her questions. They ask for someone who understands engines and can help them to repair the engine of their boat. But the woman will not help them. Next they meet a boy. Yes, he says, he will fetch his father who is a fisherman. They seldom see foreigners there, he says. Harald looks at Sigurd. But Sigurd behaves as if he has not heard what the boy said. He tries to do business with the fisherman. No, says he, he can give them no advice. In their short talk he has already summed up these intruders. What is the meaning of it all, Sigurd wonders.

They go on and on, like spurned beggars in a foreign land. Again and again they are told with a shrug that no help can be given. So the three offer first money, and then food which had been specially issued to them for bribery. But even that is useless.

Their task unaccomplished, they can only go back, grumbling and tired, to the hideout of their boat. Damn it, what is to be done now? Over here the boat is no further use to them. They must bury its valuable cargo. A thousand kilograms of dynamite are stowed in the hold. Where to put it? First of all let’s get back, says Sigurd, to look at the maps on board and think it over! Little do they imagine what surprise awaits them.

Downcast by their cool reception in their one-time homeland, by the unsuccessful pleading and attempts at bribery, they push off again in their dinghy. Hardly have they come in sight of their boat when close by they see a German warship. They turn towards land again, there is yet one more chance—escape! But they hear the shout of “Halt!” The three of them row with all their might. A burst of machine-gun fire from the warship sweeps over the water. Onward! shouts Sigurd. A fresh wave of machine-gun bullets smashes the side of the boat. The water begins to rise in it. There is nothing for it but to swim for shore. And now they see that two boats have cast off from the German warship. They are trying to cut off their escape. It is a matter of life and death! The water is cold, it grips the heart.

When finally they get to land, a party of German soldiers and sailors is waiting to receive them. The long swim in the cold water, the strong current, and perhaps also their experience ashore, have taken more toll of their strength than they realised. Helpless, shivering with cold, with no will-power left, they drag themselves up the stone quay—and give themselves up as prisoners. Sabotage operation “M” is broken up. Norwegians, who once believed they were helping to free their country, have once again been cynically and uselessly sacrificed by England. When their countrymen who had taken part in the capture heard the Wehrmacht communiqué, they expressed their verdict in a single word: “Misled.”



Landfall off Senja: “the coast glittered with a blinding brilliance.”


No photograph was ever taken of Brattholm. Andholmen, shown here at anchor in the harbour of Scalloway, was almost a sister ship.


Toftefjord. Brattholm lay a little farther than this fishing boat. The crew landed on the beach on the right, and the agents at the far end of the fjord.


The snow gully up which Jan escaped at the head of Toftefjord: on the right, the beach where Jan landed on the mound which gave him cover.


Jan Baalsrud


The post office at Bjorneskar.


Bernhard Sörensen of Bjorneskar and his wife.


Kjosen: by the buildings on thre right, a party of German soldiers crossed the road.


The Lyngen Alps above Kjosen.




Jaeggevarre and the head of Lyngdalen. The avalanche fell down the ice-fall of the glacier in the middle distance.




Furuflaten: on the right is the school where the German garrison was billeted, and the steep bank of the river channel below it. Jan was carried across the road near the bridge on the left.




The hut at Revdal.


The bunk in the hut at Revdal. Daylight shows through the wall on the right, where Jan picked out the moss between the logs to make cigarettes.


The hole in the snow: Alvin Larsen at the spot above Revdal where Jan lay buried for a week.


The top pitch of the ascent of Revdal: a photograph taken when Jan and three of the men who hauled him up Revdal climbed it again ten years later.


Snowclouds over Mandal: the route to the plateau led up Kjerringdal, on the right.


Mandal from the head of Kjerringdal: the route used by the Mandal men to reach teh plateau.


South towards the frontier: the plateau at the head of Mandal.


Lapp sleges, on the Swedish side of the fontier.


Jan with the King of Norway at an inspection after his return.

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