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Operation Performance - Page 1
See also this extensive wikipedia article as well as this page (those who died in imprisonment are in bold text - external links, Norwegian text).
Background Facts | The Breakout | Summing up (incl. Op. Cabaret/Op. Bridford)
When Norway was invaded on Apr. 9-1940 there were a number of Norwegian ships in Swedish ports. As a result of the establishment of The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission (Nortraship) that spring, a provisional decree requisitioning Norwegian ships over 500 gt was formulated and confirmed by a royal mandate on April 22, later to be replaced by a new provisional decree of May 18. The Norwegian captains on the requisitioned vessels (including the ones in Sweden that were covered by the decree) were asked to sign a loyalty declaration saying in essence that they would hold these ships on behalf of the Norwegian government and would abide by Nortraship's instructions. For a better understanding of the events of the spring of 1940, and for further information on the ships in Sweden, please go to my pages Nortraship and Ships in Sweden.
All parties involved (the Germans, British and exiled Norw. gov.) were, naturally, interested in getting control of the vessels in Sweden, some of which were valuable tankers, and use them in the war effort. Equally important was the steel, ball bearings and other goods that Swedish industry had to offer, of which Britain was in dire need at that time, and which could no longer be transported by the usual routes because of the blockade.
The Germans had exerted extreme pressure on the shipowners in occupied Norway, and had them send crews over to get the ships home; in fact, some of them did return to Norway during 1940. In order to get control of the remaining ships the Germans demanded, on behalf of the owners (some of whom were in jail, so it appears their signatures were obtained under threat), that the Swedish government should seize the ships, while the government stated that the question of control had to be determined by a court of law, and also announced that there was nothing that could legally prevent these vessels from leaving Sweden.
In Jan.-1941 5 ships, namely Elisabeth Bakke, John Bakke, Ranja, Tai Shan, and Taurus managed to get out and across to England (Operation Rubble - see text under Elisabeth Bakke), under the leadership of George Binney*. This was so successful that he started to plan another, similar operation. On July 1 that same year an agreement was made between the (exiled) Norwegian and British governments whereby 11 ships were "chartered" by the Ministry of War Transport, initially to be used for storage of the accumulated Swedish goods that Britain had ordered, then later for a voyage Sweden-U.K. to get those goods over to the U.K. By doing this they prevented the Germans, not only from getting their hands on the ships, but also the important industrial products that were now stored on the vessels. (The 11th ship included in this deal, Rapid II did not take part in the breakout itself). English captains came on board, while the original Norwegian captains stayed on as Nortraship's representatives, and more crews were hired.
The Germans, who soon realized what was going on, and who did not want a repeat of the January events, again turned to the Swedish government to request an intervention, but got the same reply as before: Only a court of law could put a "kvarstad" (kvarstad="stanna kvar"=stay put) on the ships, and only through a court of law could the Germans have any hope of keeping them from sailing. Neutral Sweden was put in a very difficult situation over this question, knowing full well that in order to keep Sweden free and independent, they had to stay on "friendly" terms with Germany. (Here are some excerpts of various documents related to Performance). Their biggest fear was that, if they did not agree to the German demands the Germans could stop the safe conduct traffic between Gothenburg and the West, which in turn would affect the import of vital goods to Sweden. (Note: German cargo vessels en route Norway-Germany were allowed in Swedish ports; vessels to other warring nations had the same right). The fact that German naval vessels were often seen outside Gothenburg did not go unnoticed, so there was a fear that this threat could become a reality through the use of violence.
The case went to court in Sept.-1941, and was not over until March 17-1942 with a ruling in favor of Britian/Norway (i.e. the exiled Norw. government). The case took on so many political twists and turns, appeals and protests from the 2 parties involved (everyone could see it was, in reality, a battle between Britain and Germany), it would be too much to go into in detail here; suffice it to say that it became a media favourite while it lasted, and was even referred to as "The Kvarstad Comedy" in some papers. While the case ran its course preparations for sailing continued on board the ships, all cargoes came on board, as did armament (smuggled on board, though not immediately installed due to the secrecy that had to be kept - this only consisted of some Lewis guns from WW I) and all necessary equipment, including explosives in case scuttling became necessary. Everything took place in the greatest possible secrecy.
Information from Denmark after the war shows that German armed trawlers and whale catchers had been in Danish ports all through the winter months of early 1942, ready to head out on short notice, with supplies and bunkers to last them for weeks. It was also obvious that March-'42 saw an increase in the German aircraft reconnaissance patrols. When the German vessel Ingrid Trabe came in and moored right across from Skytteren, Lind, Gudvang and B. P Newton, it seemed too much of a coincidence, especially since she had uniformed men on board who seemed to pay a lot of attention to the anti aircraft gun on the poop deck. In fact, it soon became clear that the intent of this vessel was to follow the Performance ships and report their positions to the German patrol vessels. But following a request from the British consulate, she was quickly ordered further into the harbour by Swedish authorities, who besides saw her plan as a breech of the country's neutrality. (Ingrid Trabe left Gothenburg 2 days after the Kvarstad ships had departed). All of this, coupled with the fact that during the last days of March, and especially on March 31 just about every Swedish naval vessel available on the west coast of Sweden was cruising back and forth along the coast, would have made it quite obivous to both friend and foe that something big was about to take place.
During the last week of March, no-one was allowed to leave the 10 chosen ships, all connection with shore was broken, and Swedish police and military guards made sure that no-one who had no business there came near the ships. Notices were posted in the messrooms, instructing those who had cameras and/or radioes to turn them in to the captain. Representatives for the Swedish customs authorities came on board, who together with the officers examined the ships for illegal cargo or passengers, lifeboats were readied and maneuvers held. Tension and excitement were rising; those who were on board had waited a long time, and now everyone knew something was about to happen, and soon.
Departure date was set to the evening of March 31-1942; the time was chosen because fog was expected to envelop the Swedish west coast later that night. (A meteorologist by the name of K. A. Clark had come over from England to advise on the best time to leave, based on weather forecasts from England via Gothenburg Radio). The last conference (aboard Dicto) was in the afternoon of March 31, Norwegian captains were not present at any of the preparatory meetings. (This seems rather odd, in that the plan was for the British captains to command the vessels only as far as the territorial line, where the Norwegian captains were to take over, so it would seem they ought to have been given more information considering the risks of the operation - but as it turned out, this plan was not completely followed anyway). The British captains received their sealed sailing orders, not to be opened until the pilots had disembarked.
See a copy of Sir George Binney's letter to all the ships taking part in the breakout.
The order was for each ship to sail through a number of given positions; A, B, K, L, M and N, with the captains to choose the course through Skagerak to point A, being 57 30N 07 00E, about 30 n. miles south of Lindesnes. From there they were to go west/southwest through a presumed opening in the German minefields, then to the other 5 points until they reached a meeting place in 56 00N 03 00E, approximately half way between Firth of Forth (from where the British escort was to sail) and Lindesnes. Course between each point was largely left up to the captains' own judgements, according to weather conditions. Once they had reached this meeting place they would have put about 400 n. miles of the 600 miles voyage behind them, and from that point they were to head straight west to Firth of Forth. They were told that they would be met by British aircraft at dawn on Apr. 1, but no position was given for this meeting (nor did this escort show up as planned)*. Other escorts consisted of 6 destroyers, 3 from the Rosyth Base and 3 from The Home Fleet. If the weather was foggy when they reached Vinga Light, the instructions were for B. P. Newton, Charente and Buccaneer to go south in the territorial waters for 40 minutes, as if they were going to Malmö, before heading out to sea. Dicto, Rigmor, and Storsten were to go north until they were straight across from Marstrand (about 20 n. miles), while Skytteren, Lionel, Lind and Gudvang's instructions were to continue north another 15 n. miles until they were across from Hållö Light, then leave the territorial waters.
As mentioned, in the course of the day Swedish naval vessels in great numbers had departed Gothenburg, with orders to force any ship that anchored up within Swedish territorial waters after departure out to sea, or alternatively to arrest and escort it/them back to Gothenburg. These vessels had all navigation lights on, to show any German "scouts" that the Swedish Fleet was on guard and ready to intervene if their neutrality was to come under threat.
The Germans had put 11, converted, armed Danish trawlers into the first line, ready to attack the ships. Even if they were successful in getting through this line, more danger awaited them once they had rounded Skagen, where a German Navy vessel was waiting. Should they succeed in breaking through both, they could continue westward unhampered for a few hours, but Luftwaffe's bases in the south of Norway were ready to send out large numbers of aircraft to Skagerrak, which in addition was blocked by 4 armed trawlers, 2 of which were patrolling north of Hanstholm and the other 2 near Kristiansand. Also, 2 escort vessels, namely Schiff 7 and Schiff 47 were heading west from the Skagen area as reinforcements. Should the Norwegian ships still manage to break through, 3 fast torpedo boats and 3 S-boats were ready to go out on short notice, and 3 U-boats were in position off the southwest coast of Norway, west of Skagerrak.
Since I don't have access to primary sources, I've had to use misc. books (listed at the bottom of this page) to compile this summary of events. I have to admit, that of ALL the pages I've compiled in connection with my ship lists, this one has given me the most headaches, and trying to make sense of the often wildly conflicting information has proven to be very difficult and confusing, but through constant comparing and cross checking all the information available to me, the following is what has finally emerged (I've endeavoured to mention all conflicting info, as I've done in my ship lists, because I feel it's important):
Number of people on board each ship (listed according to the order in which they sailed from Gothenburg. The ships did sail in this order, but departure times were somewhat moved):
The speed of each ship varies according to source.
I will try to find out what the exact amount of cargo was for each ship. Crew lists can be found on Page 2.
General Overview - The First Few Hours:
At the end of January the weather had turned extremely cold in Gothenburg, so cold that the harbour froze up, with the freezing temperatures lasting all through February and quite a ways into March. The ships sailed in the order given above, with Charente leaving at 20:00 as planned, but as there was still some ice in the harbor, a few of the ships were delayed, so that the last ship, B. P. Newton did not get going until 23:15. Small ice breakers were used part of the way, then took the harbor pilot on board and returned to Gothenburg with a last "good luck". The "sea pilots" disembarked at Vinga Light, then the 10 blacked out ships were on their own.
Dicto reached Vinga just before 23:30, to find Storsten anchored nearby repairing engine defects. As soon as the latter had stopped a Swedish vessel had shown up (I believe this was Göta Lejon), launched a boat and sent 5 men over who came on board and announced that if they did not head out at once, they would be taken back to Gotheburg and interned for the rest of the war. Storsten's men managed to fix the problem, then continued her voyage. Dicto, meanwhile, had headed west, still within Swedish waters.
Unfortunately, the fog did not arrive when expected, so the vessels cruised around at slow speed between Vinga and Strømstad for a while, heading north along the coast (the original instructions for 3 of them to sail south for 40 minutes had been given on condition that the weather was foggy). Dicto, being a faster ship soon caught up with Charente, Buccaneer and Lionel, sailing with at least 1 n. mile between them, escorted by Swedish naval vessels. According to "Kvarstadbåtene" Skytteren, Charente, Gudvang, Rigmor and Lind were 3 miles west of Måseskär, while Buccaneer, Storsten and Lionel were 2 miles southwest of Måseskär.
At 04:15 snow showers started to envelop the Kvarstad ships, and their hope for a succcessful breakout rose. For a few hours after midnight they had continued to cruise at half speed back and forth along the coast, helped by the lights from Paternoster and Måseskär. On Dicto, which had the meteorologist on board, Binney felt that the snow was not heavy enough to justify the risk of encountering the German vessels in Skagerrak in daylight, but the next weather forecast from the Admiralty was expected to come in between 7 and 8 that morning, so he decided to wait north of Hållö Light.
The captains on the other vessels had a more optimistic view with regard to the snow showers, and between 05:00 and 06:00, 5 of the ships headed out, with Rigmor and Lind following each other 2 miles apart, Storsten, Buccaneer and Lionel heading out at about the same time, a few miles further south. But 6 miles from the territorial line a German trawler appeared, ordering them to stop. Lionel and Buccaneer altered course, having decided to try to get back to Swedish waters, but the trawler fired, first at Lionel to get her to stop, then upon seeing that Buccaneer was proceeding at a slower speed, the trawler's attention turned to the latter, thereby enabling Lionel to escape. On her way she passed B. P. Newton heading west at full speed, and tried to warn her of the danger, but the warning was not heard (or was ignored) and B. P. Newton continued on her way. This ship, carrying 5000 tons ball bearings and steel had taken the plunge at 06:51 after she too had been ordered out to sea by a Swedish patrol vessel. She had continued the southerly course she was keeping at the time, but the Swedish vessel followed and repeated the order, leaving her no choice but to comply. Lind and Rigmor also turned around to get back to Swedish waters. Storsten, meanwhile stayed on her northwesterly course. She subsequently had very little contact with the other vessels.
Crew list can be found under M/T Buccaneer on Page 2.
Buccaneer was unable to get away, and the decision was made to scuttle. Her engines were stopped, causing her to turn to starboard. The German trawler, V-1609 according to a visitor to my website, who has access to some good primary sources, was behind her at this time, and to prevent the crew from being able to get in the lifeboats (and thereby scuttle), the trawler started to fire across her boat deck. The scuttling charges were activated anyway, followed by a tremendous explosion. The firing now stopped, and the men were allowed to get in the boats undisturbed, but while the motorboat was being launched it ended up hanging down by the after tackle, and 3rd mate Roar Holm Olsen, who had been in the boat was injured. They succeeded in freeing it, but when the English captain, G. D. Smail was to enter one of the lifeboats he lost his grip because of his thick rubber gloves (possibly part of a rubber suit, the Vaco Suit), causing him to fall backwards into the sea, hitting his head on the edge of the boat and breaking his neck. He was quickly pulled on board, but his life could not be saved (he died shortly after arrival Fredrikshavn and was buried there). Buccaneer was rapidly sinking so the lifeboats rowed away from the ship. She went down by the stern, with her bow high above the water, but after a while she stopped sinking and was boarded by the Germans who, among other items picked up a copy of George Binney's order of the day and a large picture of Churchill. She sank around noon after the Germans had sent 10-12 shells into her, and the trawler then headed for Fredrikshavn with the prisoners, including 2 women, arriving in the afternoon of Apr. 1.
Position for Buccaneer's demise on Apr. 1-1942 is given as "6-7 m. off Kaeringöen" in most sources.
To M/T Buccaneer on my B-page.
Crew list can be found under Skytteren on Page 2.
Skytteren was 3 miles west of Måseskär. Lind and Rigmor, which had headed out an hour before, came back in at full speed with a German patrol boat in hot pursuit. As he passed Skytteren, Rigmor's captain advised them to get away because the Germans were nearby; the time was about 06:30. But it was too late, she was unable to maneuver properly, having had problems with the steering all along, and at this time she was stopped to see if it could be fixed (some sources claim this was a result of sabotage). When the German boat approached, signalling continuously for her to stop, it fired off a shot that went right underneath the bridge, straight through the boatswain's cabin. The captain decided to scuttle, and several detonations followed, lifting her up before she fell over, listing heavily to port. The explosions had come suddenly, with very little notification beforehand, resulting in Stoker Thorfinn Johannessen being killed on his job. He was found by Bill Hatchly, who had gone down to look for people in the engine and boiler room. Another stoker was badly burnt (Stoker Sørensen?). Captain Kristiansen stated at the maritime hearings after the war that the British captain had caused the explosives to go off too early (controlled from his cabin), before everyone had been notified that this would be done.
It looked as if Skytteren would sink, but she started to straighten up again. 4 boats were lowered, with some people already in them, others jumped overboard, while those who came up on deck last were taken on board with the help of lines hanging from the davits. Boat No. 1 stayed on the starboard side to rescue the latecomers, and because many had been injured it took a long time to get them all on board. 2 of the boats had started to row away (many of those on board had previously escaped from Norway, wanted by the Gestapo), while the boat containing the British captain was ordered to come alongside the trawler and was taken in tow.
By the time boat No. 1 was ready to go it was too late to get away, but it rowed north in an effort to lead the attention away from the 2 boats that were headed towards the edge of the ice. Although boat No. 1 was a motorboat, they had to row, because in the chaos and confusion nobody was on board who could handle it. After about 15 minutes they too were taken in tow by the Germans, who then headed towards the coast at full speed to reach the other 2 that had gotten away, and were at that time rowing along the ice, unable to penetrate it. It was obvious to them that they were both in Swedish waters, but their protests were ignored, and under threat of being shot they were forced to throw a line over to the trawler, which then returned towards Skytteren with all 4 boats in tow. En route the Swedish Göta Lejon was spotted coming towards them at full speed from the north, and the people in the lifeboats were quickly brought up on the trawler's deck. The Swedish vessel stopped about 50 meters away, an intense signalling ensued, but what was said is not clear, and a few minutes later Göta Lejon departed, whereupon the trawler headed out to sea. The seamen were terribly disappointed, having fully believed that the Swedish vessel would demand they be handed over, and being equally certain that Göta Lejon could not possibly have avoided seeing that the German ship had picked them up while within Swedish territorial waters (they estimated they had been about 1 mile from land).
Meanwhile, Skytteren was burning fiercley, with a heavy list to port. Another German trawler came to, later Skytteren drifted north along the coast, alight from bow to stern, and around noon on Apr. 1 she went to the bottom.
Some sources give the position for scuttling as simply "about 7 miles off Kaeringöen". An external site which I can no longer find, "Björn Gustavssons vraksida", a website about wrecks on the west coast of Sweden, said Skytteren rests with the starboard side up and with her bow towards the west, position given as 58 09,30N 11 11,40E.
The maritime inquiry was held in Tønsberg, Norway on Jan. 8-1946 with Captain Kristiansen, 2nd Engineer Ulseth and 6th engineer Mehlum appearing.
To D/S Skytteren on my S-page.
The situation at 07:00 on Apr. 1 was as follows:
A crew list can be found under M/S Dicto on Page 2.
As mentioned, Dicto had passed Storsten before she got to Vinga Light, and later she also passed Lionel, Charente and Buccaneer. After the pilot had left near Vinga Light just before midnight, Binney's intention was to continue along the coast as far as Marstrand and requested a pilot for this stretch, but this was denied. "The Blockade Busters" states she encountered thick, drifting ice off Marstrand, forcing her out towards sea, so that Binney's plan to stay along the coast for this part of the voyage could not be followed. According to "Kvarstadbåtene" she was between Måseskär and Hållö (more or less on the territorial line) right after midnight, when she saw 2 large "fishing vessels" nearby, but cross checking with other sources the time may have been closer to 02:00, and what she encountered may have been a single armed trawler (off Hållö Light). Suddenly a bright signal lamp was seen on the port side, followed by a shot, then another, and after Dicto had altered course 90° to starboard in order to return to the edge of the ice, another 2 shots were fired, though none of them hit and Dicto headed into the ice at full speed, closely followed by the trawler. Encountering the 2 ft thick ice, the trawler turned, but continued to shadow them. Dicto, meanwhile, attemped to proceed north, with the ice scraping against her sides; not long afterwards the carpenter reported that she was taking in water and some of the cargo was damaged, but with the trawler lurking outside the ice all she could do was reduce her speed and hope for a more favourable weather forecast which was expected to come in between 07:00 and 08:00. ("Kvarstadbåtene" says she anchored up near Mjölskär, placing the time to around 03:00, adding that she stayed there until 10:00 on Apr. 1).
By having made this decision, Binney, the leader of the whole operation had removed himself from the center of events and knew nothing about what was happening to the other ships. As it turned out, the forecast was so disappointing, indicating the fog in Skagerrak would be gone long before the ships had broken through, that George Binney decided to break the radio silence to warn the ships about the unfavourable weather - this took place at 08:11, too late for many of them. Later, it was also discovered that there was something wrong with Dicto's sender, so that they didn't even know if the signal had been transmitted. By the time weather forecasts were received and forewarded by Dicto at 08:11, Skytteren and Buccaneer had already been sunk.
Dicto took on board a pilot at Hallö, then headed back towards Gothenburg. At one point en route she was at anchor due to thick fog, following the pilot's written instructions, but still, the Swedish destroyer Psilander called over to her saying that if she did not come with them back to Gotheburg, weapons would be used. Towards midnight on Apr. 1 she was back in port in Gothenburg.
To M/S Dicto on my D-page.
Lind, Rigmor, Lionel, Charente and Gudvang had gathered at Måseskär again, then sailed on south along the Swedish coast. Just after 08:00 (Apr. 1) the Swedish destroyers Psilander and Puke appeared, ordering them out to sea. The armoured vessel Mannligheten and some Swedish armed trawlers were also nearby, all carrying the same signal flags, LNL; meaning "head to sea" - pushing them towards the west. The weather by this time had cleared up, making them reluctant to risk sailing into Skagerrak. One of the trawlers fired 3 warning shots towards Lind, while at the same time hoisting the signal flag "Stop immediately". The Swedish NO L came alongside, demanding she head to sea immediately, warning her that if she ended up within the Swedish territorial line again she would lose the right to go out. Lind was right on the line at this time, but then proceeded in a southwesterly direction. The Swedish whale catcher B 1 attempted to push her into a more westerly direction by placing herself directly in Lind's course. Lind was now about 3-4 miles off Paternoster Light.
Crew list for this ship can be found under M/S Lionel on Page 2.
This original image from the National Archives of Norway shows her post war voyages (as well as some early 1940 voyages).
Psilander and Puke also called over to Lionel, as did an armed trawler, ordering her to go west, with this order repeated when Lionel asked permission to stay in Swedish territorial waters to wait for more suitable weather. When asking whether she had permission to return to Gothenburg, one reply was affirmative, "but if you do, you'll never get out again", while another replied she probably could go out again. As Lionel passed Bottö a warning shot was fired from land, and following Lionel's question of whether she could continue to Gothenburg, it took 16 minutes before the naval station replied with the flag signal C, meaning "yes". The time it took for the reply to be given (presumably because a higher authority had to be asked first), would indicate there was considerable uncertainty with regard to how to deal with these events, but it's very obvious that Sweden's primary interest was to get the ships either out to sea as quickly as possible, or back to Gothenburg, with no lingering whatsoever in Swedish territorial waters. The other 3 ships were likewise ordered out. The 5 maneuvered close to each other so that they could discuss what to do. At 08:45 Lionel 's captain made the decision to give up on the breakout attempt and return to Gothenburg, and by 09:00 the other 4 had agreed to follow suit. However, only Lionel went all the way, arriving in the morning of Apr. 2.
To M/S Lionel on my L-page.
Rigmor, Lind, Charente and Gudvang later made the decision to head west because the fog came in again around 10 o'clock (Apr. 1), with Rigmor and Lind going out together again, though they soon lost sight of each other because of Rigmor's greater speed. The last ship to head west again was Charente. The rest of the morning they advanced at a good speed in the fog without further incident, every now and again getting a glimpse of each other when the weather changed to rain and snow showers. After having passed Skagen (about 20 n. miles off) they steered as fast as possible towards meeting point A. Just after noon Rigmor and Lind both saw Gudvang, proceeding at great speed, but Charente was not seen by the 2 vessels.
A list of Charente's crew can be found under D/S Charente on Page 2.
Charente had a course for position A when around 13:30 a shot was heard and an armed trawler was seen coming towards her. Another trawler carrying the flag signal "Stop" was also fast approaching. In order to gain some time captain James Donald pretended not to understand the German signals, and asked that they be repeated, whereupon another warning shot was fired in front of her bow (as mentioned earlier, the plan was for the Norwegian captains to take over once the ships had gotten outside the Swedish territorial waters, but in Charente's case the British captain was still in command, as was also the case for Gudvang). Having no chance of escape, her engine was stopped and lifeboats launched. The trawler sent a boat over, manned with an officer and some able seamen. Charente's captain tried to activate the scuttling charges but nothing happened. Just after the German officer had boarded Captain Donald tried again, and this time Charente blew up. To Bjørn Eggen, who at the time was struggling to get rid of the Lewis gun before the Germans saw it, it felt as if so much explosives had been used that her whole bottom must have been blown to pieces, but when he went in search of Kaspar Eklund, who appeared to be missing, he found him sleeping in his bunk. A couple of men had been injured in this explosion, but not seriously. 2 of the lifeboats had been destroyed, so all on board went into the other 2, with the captain being so late that Eggen suspected he planned to go down with the ship. Her deck was almost level with the water when Eggen hauled him into the boat. The trawler headed for Fredrikshavn with the prisoners on board; their further fate is discussed under "Life in Imprisonment" on Page 3.
Position for Charente's demise on Apr. 1-1942 is given as "6-7 m. off Kaeringöen" in most sources.
To D/S Charente on my C-page.
See M/T Storsten on Page 2 for names of those on board. The 1st mate had his wife with him; she was expecting a child, and one of the able seamen also had his wife with him.
As mentioned earlier Storsten did not see much of the others once she had reached open waters, keeping a northwesterly course at full speed. At 10:00 (Apr. 1) 2 large and a small vessel were seen on her starboard side, at first assumed to be Skytteren, Rigmor and Lind, but when the smaller ship came towards her while at the same time opening fire it became apparent none of them was Norwegian (these could have been Schiff 7 and Schiff 47). She was not hit, and was subsequently able to hide in the incoming fog, continuing in a southwesterly direction. Around 13:00 she was an estimated 32 miles southeast of Kristiansand. The fog had also been to her benefit in another way, in that the German aircraft had been prevented from taking off, but just after 14:00 a JU 88 appeared, then Storsten was suddenly shaken by a tremendous explosion, believed to be a mine (dropped by the aircraft according to "Kvarstadbåtene"; "The Blockade Busters" refers to it as a "drifting mine"). The foreship was ripped open on the starboard side, a water tank exploded so that the water was pushed upwards over the bridge, the starboard lifeboat was destroyed and the steering mechanism damaged. The helmsman was thrown down to the boatdeck and the carpenter was injured when the concrete reinforcement on the bridge collapsed. (According to statements given by Radio Operator Tor Jorfald in London on Aug. 22-1942 it was Able Seaman Anton Andersen who was injured, not the carpenter - also, the radio operator's report gives the time of explosion as 14:56).
While all this was taking place both captains were on the bridge, and the 1st mate also came to, while Captain Reeve fired at the attacker with a Colt pistol. The Norwegian captain ordered the radio operator to send an SOS immediately after the explosion, and he attempted to do so, but the aircraft came down low, and with a line and hook the antenna was rendered useless so no SOS could be sent. An attempt was made to rig up the emergency antenna, but this proved impossible because the aircraft was continuously firing at them ("Nortraships flåte" states that at 14:13 GMT on Apr. 1 a British radio station picked up an SOS signal from Storsten, and the word "torpedoed" - it appears those on Lind had also heard their SOS, this according to Lind's 1st mate), at the same time the aircraft dropped a bomb which did not detonate but rolled overboard between the boatswain's legs. Storsten defended herself continuously with her Lewis, but to no avail (though the aircraft did receive damages before it flew off). A larger bomb landed in the water about 20 meters from the side of the ship. When a German trawler approached, opening fire, Storsten's crew, realizing their luck had run out got the port boat, the motorboat and the gig out before the ship was scuttled. The last men to leave the ship were the British captain and the radio operator. One source says the British captain stayed behind to activate the scuttling charges, while the radio operator stated at the inquiry later that it was, in fact, he who activated the charges from the radio station, having been told by the British captain to remain on board to do so. After he had "pushed the button" he swam to the lifeboat. The motorboat, with the Norwegian captain and the 2nd mate plus 15 others took the other 2 boats in tow and got away unnoticed, with Storsten between themselves and the trawler. The 1st mate took command of the lifeboat which held most of the others, and only a few were in the gig. When the boats had gotten a few miles away they saw German planes above the ship.
They agreed to try to reach the place where they were supposed to meet the British escorts. With increasing winds and seas the boats had to be bailed continuously, they were cold and wet and utterly miserable. Not long after 18:00 a British aircraft was seen. This was, in fact an RAF Beaufighter. 2 Blenheim crews from the Coastal Command at Dyce had originally been told that the first Kvarstad ship with departure time 20:00 on March 31 was expected to be out of Skagerrak at dawn on Apr. 1, and were ordered to be over the area at 05:30 that morning, but during the night the Admiralty had received information that the ships had been delayed, and therefore the aircraft did not take off when planned. Although the exact departure times were not known, 14 aircraft, operating in pairs from Dyce had been up all that afternoon without seeing anything, until 18:27 when 2 Beaufighter crews spotted Storsten, listing heavily to starboard and with a damaged raft alongside, but no sign of life. Shortly afterwards, one of the aircraft reported having seen 3 large boats, with an estimated 100 men on board (this number was, of course, not at all correct). To the great joy of the shipwrecked men the aircraft came down low, and they waved and held up Norwegian flags. The pilots had also noticed that 2 of the boats were being towed by a third, but did not seem to have taken note of which direction they were going.
Towards evening the motor stopped, and because of the weather a sea anchor had to be used, with the boats keeping together with the help of a line. Early on Apr. 2 they had to let go of the gig after the 3 who were in it had been transferred to the lifeboat which took the motorboat in tow. Sail was set, heading in a westerly direction. Mrs. Olsen (see crew list on next page) became hysterical, thinking that those in her boat were trying to kill her; her husband was also showing signs of the stress and attempted to jump overboard several times after he and his wife had both been moved to the lifeboat. They had to heave to for the night because of the strong winds, but sails were set again the following morning (Apr. 3 - Good Friday) and towing was resumed, this time with a more southwesterly course, because the wind had changed direction. However, as the wind got stronger and stronger they had to lower the sails. Most of those who were in the motorboat wanted to continue westwards (though they were 270 n. miles away from the nearest point on the Scottish coast), and at 11:00, after 2 people from each boat had changed places, the motorboat rowed away in a westerly direction (Trimmer Arne Borge, who was in the lifeboat, was 1 of the 2 who wanted to continue to the meeting point and swapped places with Gustaf Nordstrøm, and by this simple act their fate was sealed). The position was estimated to be about 30 n. miles soutwest of Flekkefjord, the weather was sunny and clear and land was in sight. The remaining 32 planned to land in groups at different places in Jøssingfjord after dark, then sink the lifeboat.
They were not able to get into the fjord, but reached land on the east side of the inlet to Rekefjord near Sogndal at dawn on Apr. 4. They met 2 small fishing vessels, which took off again without answering their questions. Just before they landed 3 men were seen up on the hill, heading towards a German battery, which resulted in 23 of the 32 in the boat being taken prisoners within a short time. 9 got away, 8 of whom managed to get to Sweden (there's some disagreement over this number in the various sources, with some saying 8, some 7, others 6). Mary Bie, the wife of the 1st Mate, was admitted to a hospital where she had her baby - her husband Finn was 1 of the 9 who managed to escape capture, and was able to get to Sweden. He returned to his wife in Trondheim in 1945 (his granddaughter has told me Mary Bie went to the U.S. with her 2 children, and Finn Bie remarried in 1949 - see text under Storsten on Page 2. His 2nd wife, Nelly is still alive, as are her 3 children).
One of the escapees was the carpenter, who together with 2 others from the lifeboat sought refuge at a farm in Åna Sira, after having attempted to cross a bridge which was found to be guarded by Germans. The farmer gave them clothes and food and a place to sleep. Exhausted that they were they slept till the farmer came to wake them to inform them that the Germans were looking for them. At about the same time 3 others from the crew came to the farm, and quickly all 6 were hidden in a wardrobe on the second floor of the farmhouse, while the farmer went down to greet the Germans. He kept talking and gave them butter and meat to get them on their way, and fortunately they finally departed without having examined the second floor. Equipped with skis, money and food the refugees embarked on a trip across the mountain to get to Oslo, but bad weather conditions forced the carpenter and his two friends back to the coast, and in Lyngdal they hiked a ride with a truck to a place near Kristiansand. That night they got a lift towards town on a bus, but just a couple of hundred meters from town the bus was stopped by a German control post. As the door was opened the carpenter simply walked right past the Germans and up to a house near the road, from where he was able to see that the passengers were being checked. As the bus departed, his 2 pals were left standing on the side of the road with the Germans (presumably because they didn't have the necessary papers). He then went down to the road again, walked passed the Germans and their prisoners and kept walking. Before long they caught up with him and passed him, whereupon he followed them all the way into town where he saw them disappear into a building.
The carpenter then boarded a bus again, this time for Arendal, and having no place to go he was just wandering the streets there when he was stopped by a German guard who shone a light in his face, asking what he was doing out at that time of night. The carpenter replied that he had just paid off a ship, and was unable to get a hotel room. The guard was kind enough to take him to the Seamen's Hotel and saw to it that he got a room. Since he had no papers on him, the hotel keeper sent him to the police station the next day, where the carpenter explained that he had paid off a ship, spent the night with a friend in Kristiansand and had forgotten his papers there (a story he had also told the hotel keeper). He asked for a temporary pass to Oslo, and permission was issued in his name, then he was told to report to the police in Oslo. Once there he served the same old story, and could he please have a border pass to travel to Rendal, his home place. When the police officer seemed hesitant, the carpenter suggested he call the police in Rendal (whom the carpenter knew), which he did, whereupon the pass was issued and before long the carpenter was back in Sweden.
There's no mention of what happened further to his 2 friends whom he had seen going into a building with the Germans, but this event might explain why there's such disagreement on the number of escapees to Sweden. I've also been unable to find out what happened to Mrs Bie and her new baby immediately after it was born. Those who escaped to Sweden were later flown to the U.K. where they joined the Norwegian forces. (See Page 2).
The motor boat with the 17 on board had set a course for England, but never got there. It had been observed in the morning of Apr. 4 by a Lockheed Hudson, Captain Stork, who reported over his radio that he had seen a motor lifeboat with 9 or 10 people, giving the position as 57 45N 04 26E., about 90 n. miles off Lindesnes, adding that the course was 330°. It circled them for about 20 minutes, then disappeared. At 09:40 that same morning Group No. 18 at Pitreavis Castle (near Edinburgh, Scotland) gave the Hudson crew orders to return to the boat and escort it until they could be replaced by another escort. It took them 45 minutes to fly back to the given position, but could not find the boat, and Captain Stork returned to base at 11:10. The group's headquarters reacted quickly upon hearing about the boat and a Sunderland airboat from Invergordon was ordered to the given position to rescue the shipwrecked people, if at all possible to go down. The Sunderland was to go by Dyce (this is in Aberdeen) to pick up a Beaufighter escort consisting of 4 aircraft. The escort was met at 12:36, and they headed out in increasingly bad weather, which eventually resulted in them losing sight of the Beaufighters and the search was abandoned. The weather conditions on the Scottish coast the following day were also unsuitable, and the assumption is that the boat got lost during the storm on Apr. 4. According to the radio operator's later statements in London, the motor boat did not have a mast and sail, and none of the lifeboats had a radio transmitter.
Later that same year, on Aug. 3 a lifeboat containing some personal belongings of one of Storsten's missing engineers (Erling Bakke) was found near Agger, on the west coast of Denmark. But the lifeboat itself was not from Storsten, it had at one time belonged to Olsen & Ugelstad's Tindefjell which had been seized by the Kriegsmarine in Apr.-1941. However, according to German authorities this lifeboat had been lost BEFORE Tindefjell was taken into use by the Kriegsmarine. A letter dated July 3-1943, signed by Haukefjell's 1st Mate J. G. Ugstad, Captain A. Stenersen and 2nd Engineer E. Jarle Johannesen, all previously of Tindefjell, states that when Tindefjell was taken in "Anspruch" in Hamburg in Apr.-1941 the boat was located on top of No. 4 Hold, and this is where it was when the crew left to go home to Norway. The markings on the boat, coupled with a description of the motor left no doubt that it was indeed the lifeboat from Tindefjell. It has been suggested that E. Bakke may have come across Tindefjell's boat after Storsten's boat was lost, or that the men from Storsten's boat had been picked up by the German ship that had Tindefjell's boat, with Bakke saving himself in the mystery lifeboat when that ship was sunk - all speculations. (Tindefjell/Sperrbrecher 174 struck a mine on May 28-1942 and sank west of Buoy 11W, west of Dunkirk).
My Guestbook has a message from the nephew of Storsten's 2nd mate.
To M/T Storsten on my S-page.
A crew list can be found under D/S Gudvang on Page 2.
Gudvang's captain had, after asking around among the crew for their opinion, also decided to head for sea, steering north at first, then straight westwards. The weather was favourable most of the day, and she made good speed, with her engines being pushed to maximum capacity. Around 17:00 Lind was observed 5 miles ahead of her, but they soon lost sight of her. Just after 20:00, 2 vessels were seen coming towards Gudvang and she immediately altered course. These turned out to be German armed trawlers, signalling for her to stop, and when she ignored the signal the trawlers sent up flashes, getting ready to fire. Gudvang's engine was stopped, and her crew was called up on deck and ordered to the starboard boat (out of the trawlers' view). Just as the captain gave this order, 3-4 series of shots followed, hitting and destroying the after hatch and the motorboat located on top of it. In the darkness, complete chaos ensued, made even worse by the continuous "screaming" of the steam whistle which had somehow gotten jammed. The starboard boat was launched, but was very overcrowded and the few men remaining on board managed, with great difficulty to launch the port boat, 3 men following the boat down while the other 5 had to jump overboard. The captain had also made sure that the scuttling charges went off, and the 2 boats rowed away from the wreck with the intent of trying to reach Norway, but the Germans caught up with them and ordered them on board the trawler. Course was set for Kristiansand, later altered for Fredrikshavn. Gudvang's crew arrived at Lager Hindenburg late in the evening of Apr. 2, and found the crews from Skytteren, Buccaneer and Charente already there. Additional details on the further fate of these crews can be found under Life in Imprisonment on Page 3.
In my Guestbook there's a message from a later neighbour of the Norwegian captain of Gudvang.
To D/S Gudvang on my G-page.
The situation for the Kvarstad ships as per the morning of Apr. 2 was as follows:
Crew list for this ship can be found under B. P. Newton on Page 2 (also lists awards received by various crew members).
B. P. Newton, on her maiden voyage, sailed undisturbed until after 13:00 (in other words, around the time Storsten hit the mine) at which time 3-4 vessels appeared through the fog on the port side, heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly a column of water was seen about 150 on the port side, then another column of water on the starboard side as well. As it turned out it was a German convoy, with the guard vessels firing away. Several shots were fired, but B. P. Newton's speed was such that she was able to get away. (Note: "The Blockade Busters" does not mention a convoy, but a single, armed trawler; "Nortraships flåte" agrees, giving the position 57 43N 08 32E, adding that the trawler opened fire at 13:15). However, around 14:00, when she was about 35 n. miles off Kristiansand, 2 trawlers appeared a couple of hundred meters away, signalling for her to stop, then proceeding to fire. In the next half hour 15-20 7,5 cm shells came screaming towards her, and she was also hit by projectiles from the canons, but no-one was hurt. She sent out SOS signals through both these attacks, with the position given as "60 n. miles east of Point A" in the last SOS. This signal was picked up by Rigmor, which took note of the position, and also by George Binney, who was in the radio room on Dicto (see also * below).
When faced with this type of danger the duty of the captains was to scuttle the ship and they ordered full stop in order to do so, but 2nd Mate Gunnar Album quickly took matters into his own hands and ordered full steam ahead (this was confirmed by the helmsman Arne Sørbye before he died in 1995, and by the lookout Sverre Solbakk). I would assume this would have been considered a serious, punishable act under normal circumstances, but as it was the 2nd mate actually saved the ship, and was in fact placed on record on Oct. 31-1942 as commended for brave conduct by the British King's order.
Nothing further happened until just after 16:00, when a JU 88 appeared and before long it was firing at them. Because of its special value this ship had been given 3 Lewis guns (as opposed to 1 on the other ships), and the gunners, under the leadership of Brian Reynolds** quickly drove it off before it had dropped any bombs, though they realized this would probably not be the last attack from the air, and they were right - 3 more attacks took place. The second aircraft came from behind and dropped 2 bombs, 1 of which fell 30 meters from the ship with a detonation so powerful she was literally lifted out of the water. ("Nortraships flåte" places one attack at 16:41, with the time 17:45 for this later attack, adding that a British radio station picked up an SOS from the ship saying she was out of control). The captain thought she had been damaged and ordered engines stopped, but only a minor reparation was needed before she could again continue at full speed. Another 2 bombs were dropped, but further away.
Early in the morning of Apr. 2, at 06:40 the lookout spotted 3 vessels off the port bow, and they must have held their breath until they discovered they were British, namely the WW I veterans, destroyers HMS Wallace, HMS Valorous and HMS Vanity, which had left Methil at 21:25 the night before. HMS Valorous now escorted them towards the U.K., while a Beaufighter circled above, and at 16:45 land could be seen, then the next day she was in port in Methil (the other 2 destroyers continued east).
In addition to Wallace, Valorous and Vanity, which had departed Methil at 21:25 on Apr. 1, 3 other destroyers were also sent out to meet the Kvarstad ships, namely HMS Faulknor, HMS Eskimo and HMS Escapade, departing Rosyth 2 hours later. The entire force was under the command of A. K. Scott Moncrieff on Faulknor.
Crew list can be found under M/T Lind on Page 2.
Lind had set a west/northwesterly course 20 miles off Skagen and out Skagerrak at full speed. During the day she saw Gudvang and Rigmor as well as an unidentified aircraft (*see Note below). She was able to avoid the German patrol boats all through the night by altering course each time one of them was spotted, and passed Point A at 02:00, Apr. 2. (According to "The Blockade Busters" the morning was spent getting through the opening in the mine fields). At around 11:30, in clear sunny weather, a torpedo aricraft appeared, identified as a Heinkel III by those on board Lind. She engaged her own gun, mounted on the roof of the galley, and manned at this time by Captain Nicol himself, and between them, with Captain Trovik on the bridge skillfully maneuvering to avoid the torpedoes and at the same time get in a suitable position for Captain Nicol to get a good aim, they were able to hold their own against the attacker. About half an hour later a Beaufighter showed up, and while the 2 aircraft enganged in battle, Lind continued on her westerly way, but shortly after the Beaufighter had left for base (having reached its operational range) the Heinkel returned, dropping 2 torpedoes at close range from the port side, though Lind was not hit (time was approx. 12:25). Nicol (according to "The Blockade Busters") sent several shots into the intruder, which then disappeared. Continuous SOS was sent, acknowledged by an English coastal station.
By the morning of Apr. 3 Lind was 5 miles west of Point N, the last position in the sailing order, but still no escort was to be seen. As they continued cruising around near the meeting place they were starting to believe they had been completely forgotten; fortunately it appeared as though the German aircraft had forgotten them too. (B. P. Newton had already reached port by this time). What Lind's crew did not know was that Hudson aircraft from Wick and Kinloss, as well as Beaufighters from Dyce had been out looking for her all morning, but not until just before 13:00 did a Hudson from Kinloss observe a small tanker ("Kvarstadbåtene" says a British aircraft appeared at 11:00), then that evening a destroyer arrived to guide her through the minefield(?). Lind arrived Methil around noon the following day, Apr. 4, having spent 80 hours at sea.
Information on her subsequent voyages is available on my page about M/T Lind.
To M/T Lind on my L-page.
A crew list for this ship can be found under M/T Rigmor on Page 2.
Rigmor had continued west until just after 18:00 when a German bomber appeared on the port side, dropping 2 incendiary bombs and firing with its machine gun. One of the bombs landed in the sea close to the starboard side, while the other hit one of the hatches, tearing it off and causing some damages on the deck around it, but fortunately the tank was used for ballast and was full of water. (A couple of my sources say the English captain had both his legs injured by bullets in this attack, while "The Blockade Busters" says this occurred in an attack taking place the following day. The captain later recovered). Several more attacks with machine guns followed with Rigmor's Lewis gun in frequent use. The bomber circled around until it started to get dark, then headed towards Norway.
The following morning, Apr. 2, not long before 9 o'clock (in other words, about 2 hours after B. P. Newton had spotted the British destroyers) another aircraft was seen, but this time it was British. In fact, it's likely there were 2 aircraft above them at this time, namely 2 Beaufighters from Dyce, which stayed for about 15 minutes, then took off. At 09:20, 2 Blenheims had spotted the destroyers Faulknor, Eskimo, Escapade, Wallace and Vanity, which together with Valorous had departed Britian the previous evening. Valorous was escorting B. P. Newton the rest of the way to Scotland, while the remaining 5 destroyers were heading east at full speed, though had by this time not had any news of Rigmor and Lind. 50 minutes later the Blenheims found Rigmor, and while one of the aircraft stayed with her, the other flew back to the destroyers to give them her position. The Blenheim flew so low its crew could read the ship's name. At 11:30 they observed a German aircraft, heading northeast. By 12:07 the British aircraft was approaching its limit for range of operation, and was reluctantly forced back to base. At this time, Rigmor was about 180 n. miles from the Scottish coast, the destroyers were still 50 miles away, no British replacement aircraft were to be seen. However, Luftwaffe had been notified and her position, course and speed were known to them.
At 12:30 (this was 5 minutes after Lind had been torpedoed) Rigmor spotted an aircraft, unsure at first whether it was friend or foe, but soon found out when the aircraft started to fire across her deck, then dropped 2 bombs, both of which landed in the sea on the port side without doing much damage. Rigmor sent an SOS, which was picked up by the destroyers, but position had been given incorrectly. Meanwhile, another 2 German bombers started circling above her, firing with machine guns and dropping bombs, 1 of them blowing a large hole in her starboard side, while another 2 bombs landed in the sea very close to her stern. She developed a heavy list to starboard, and the detonations had broken an axel, rendering her unable to maneuver. 3 of the bombers subsequently attacked again with machine guns, hitting the bridge and radio room. (This is when Captain Gilling was injured, according to "The Blockade Busters"). Rigmor's Lewis gun had been used in her defense but it had been disabled in one of the attacks. At 13:15 another SOS was sent, this time with the correct position, and Scott Moncrieff on Faulknor (the destroyer force was under his command) ordered the destroyers to increase their speed to 24 knots.
As it looked like Rigmor would sink, Captain Monsen ordered the crew to abandon ship. The firing stopped while the boats were being launched. However, shortly afterwards 2 German seaplanes equipped with torpedoes appeared from the east. At the same time the destroyers came in from the west, visible from the aircraft, but not from the lifeboats. The seaplanes dropped 3 torpedoes, one of which hit Rigmor amidships, but she did not sink. All 5 German aircraft still circled the ship, but now the destroyers were near enough to attack, though too late for Rigmor. Her crew was picked up by HMS Eskimo, but Captain Monsen did not want to give up on Rigmor and her valuable cargo. Eskimo's commanding officer agreed to make an effort to take her in tow, whereupon Norwegian and British volunteers manned a boat and rowed over to her, but due to her heavy list and high seas, reboarding proved impossible. Before they were all safely back on board Eskimo, the line to the lifeboat was cut as she was being attacked. 2nd Mate Wessel Berg, who had previously escaped from Norway to Sweden was still in the boat and did not hold much hope for his future at that point, but as soon as the attack was over half an hour later, Eskimo returned to pick him up. AT 17:00 Apr. 2 Rigmor was shelled and sunk by Faulknor in 57 30N 02 24E, before the destroyers headed west. On Apr. 4 at 10:00 her crew was landed in England.
To M/T Rigmor on my R-page.
Again, the available information is rather conflicting, with "Nortraships flåte" saying that out of the 471 people involved 19 died, 160 were taken prisoners. "Skip og menn" says 226 male and 7 female prisoners were taken, while another source agrees with the 160 prisoners, and yet another gives 166, including 8 women and children.
I did a quick calculation of my own, using the crew lists given in "Kvarstadbåtene" and here's what I came up with:
234 prisoners were taken out of a total of 471 taking part.
Breaking it down further I found there were 99 British, 2 Dutch, 1 Swedish(?) and 1 Polish crew / passengers upon departure Sweden.
B. P. Newton had a total of 71, while Lind had 13, and Rigmor had 40, which means that 124 made it to England, 11 of whom were British, 5 on B. P. Newton, 2 on Lind and 4 on Rigmor, as well as 1 Swedish on the latter. All the rest were Norwegian.
Most sources agree that 19 died as a direct result of the breakout (the 17 who disappared in Storsten's lifeboat, the British captain of Buccaneer, and the stoker on Skytteren), and that 43 died in imprisonment. Checking "Kvarstadbåtene"'s crew lists again I find that 32 of those died at Sonnenburg, 1 at Kiel, 1 in Stettin, 5 in Sachsenhausen, 2 in Wolfenbüttel and 2 in Bergen-Belsen. Many were executed (names are given in the individual crew lists on Page 2). By the end of 1947, 19 of those who died in Germany had been taken home to Norway, 1 during the war and 18 with the Norwegian destroyer Stord just before Christmas of 1947.
The initial plan was to attempt another breakout with Dicto and Lionel, the former within 2 weeks, the latter the following winter, since she was slower and in need of more favourable conditions to succeed. Some of Dicto's British crew declared themselves unwilling to try again, so part of Lionel's Norwegian crew was transferred to Dicto. But further events put a temporary stop to the plans. These events involved George Binney and Brian Reynolds (see text under B. P. Newton) as well as the British captains of Dicto and Lionel. Binney and Reynolds left the country in April, while the captains were taken to court, where they were found guilty of weapon smuggling (having been involved in bringing weapons onto the vessels) but got away with fines, no jail time.
Britain's need for ball bearings, steel and other materials supplied by Swedish industry was such that it didn't take long before a new operation was being planned, code named "Operation Cabaret" and involving 3 gunboats which were to sail from England to meet Dicto and Lionel (which still had their original cargoes on board) at a designated meeting place, equip them with new armament, then act as escorts for a second breakout. Britain had hoped to get the operation going that fall, but for various political reasons it was delayed. The 2 Norwegian ships finally departed Gothenburg on Jan. 17-1943 and anchored up in Hakefjord the next day, carrying enough oil to enable them to stay there for about 20 days while waiting for favourable conditions, and still have enough left over for a crossing to Britain. The Germans got wind of the plans and doubled the amount of patrol vessels and aircraft in Kattegat and Skagerrak, while at the same time sending 3 destroyers to Kristiansand in the event the ships should get through. This, and unfavourable weather conditions put the project on ice for a while, but on Febr. 13, when it became known that the destroyers had left Kristiansand, the 3 gunboats that had been handed over for this operation from the Navy's coastal forces (under the command of P. Duff-Still) were given the go-ahead, and departed Aberdeen that evening, with George Binney on board one of them. However, the following day, as the group was 70 n. miles from Skagerrak, the Admiralty received the news that a German force, escorted by destroyers and aircraft was southward bound from the north of Norway. When the British gunboats encountered strong winds, forcing them to slow down (thereby reducing their chances of a speedy get-away), they were all recalled, arriving Berwick-upon-Tweed with quite a few damages. 2 weeks later the operation was cancelled altogether, but although it had been unsuccessful, it had served some purpose in that portions of the German fleet and aircraft had been tied up for a while. Dicto and Lionel were still kept on stand-by, should another opportunity arise, but George Binney came to the rescue with an alternative solution.
In March the department for aircraft productions announced that even as little as 100 tons of ball bearings would be sufficient to cover 75 percent of what was needed for 1200 Lancaster aircraft and 60 percent of what was needed for 1600 Mosquito aircraft. Some ball bearings were already being transported by aircraft from Stockholm, but it was far from enough to meet Britain's requirements. Besides, 40 aircraft were needed to transport the amount that 1 small ship could carry in just one trip. Binney proposed using fast, diesel run motor gunboats for the purpose, and in April the Admiralty gave him the use of 5 such boats, 1 of which was already in service, the other 4 were being built in Gosport (originally among 8 such vessels ordered by the Turkish Navy in 1938-39). All 5 were converted, then manned by volunteer merchant mariners. Binney was the head of the operation, code named "Bridford" and the next in command was Brian Reynolds, disguised as a bearded Brian Bingham for this job (he couldn't return to Sweden as Reynolds because of his involvement with smuggling guns to the Performance ships). George Binney chose the names Nonsuch, Hopewell, Gay Viking, Gay Corsair and Master Standfast for the vessels, based in Immingham. More materials were ordered from the Swedish factories, partly to cover Britain's own need, partly to keep the Germans from being able to purchase them. Dicto and Lionel were moved to Brofjord (near Lysekil) on Sept. 7, to be used as base for loading and unloading.
Although the 5 gunboats had considerable technical problems, especially with the engines, and many delays and mishaps, they made several successful blockade breaking runs, the first starting on Sept 26-1943, the last in March-1944, with Binney himself taking part in several voyages. Unfortunately, Master Standfast (Captain George Holdsworth) was intercepted by an armed trawler on one such voyage and her 19 crew taken prisoners. Several men had been injured when the German vessel fired on them, and the captain later died of his wounds. The gunboat was taken in tow to Fredrikshavn. (Some of the Norwegians from Lionel went back to England on the gunboats, as did some refugees).
Operation Bridford had contributed greatly to meeting Britain's need for ball bearings and machinery, and also provided an essential portion of the equipment needed for the new factory being built in England, enabling the country to produce her own ball bearings. There was no longer any need to risk another breakout attempt with Dicto and Lionel.
Sources for the text on this page: "Kvarstadbåtene" by Alf Pahlow and Helge Stray Johansen (1948); both took part in the breakout on board Skytteren. Also, I've used "Nortraships flåte", Vol. 1, J. R. Hegland, "Skip og Menn", Birger Dannevig, "Sjøforklaringer fra 2. verdenskrig", Norwegian Maritime Museum, Volume II, "The Blockade Busters", Ralph Barker (1976). The latter has very detailed information, not only on Operation Performance and all the preparations leading up to the breakout, but also other blockade running efforts. It should be fairly easy to find through one of the Internet bookstores. For instance, abebooks.com had several copies of it for sale last time I ckecked. (It has also been translated to Norwegian under the title "Blokkadebryterne").