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15 October 2014
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From Lofoten to Italy - Part 1

by BBC Learning Centre Gloucester

Contributed by 
BBC Learning Centre Gloucester
People in story: 
Robert Gilbert Meadows
Location of story: 
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 December 2005

Princess Beatrix landing in the Lofoten Islands, off Norway, 4th March 1941

This account has been transcribed from a diary kept during the Second World War by Chief Petty Officer Robert Gilbert Meadows R.N. and contributed to the People’s War by the BBC Learning Centre on behalf of Valerie Harvey, his daughter, with her permission.

Robert Gilbert Meadows joined the Royal Navy in 1916, and served therein until 1945. He was awarded the Mentioned in Despatches medal for his work as Chief Radio Officer on board HMS Princess Beatrix during its service in the Mediterranean campaign.

From Lofoten to Italy - Part 1

In charge of combined operations - Admiral Sir Roger
Commandoes - Numbers 3 & 4 units.

The object of the raid was (1) Destroy all oil installations
(2) Sink any enemy shipping in harbours
and (3) Bring back prisoners and volunteers for Norwegian Navy.

Code word for operation (CLAYMORE).

The values to the German forces - 50% of Norway's Herring & Cod oils produced. Oil made into Glycerine for explosives and vitamins A & D for use in the
German army etc.

The Lofoten Islands are situated well within the Arctic circle and about 850 miles from Scapa Flow from which we sailed to carry out the raid.

No. 3 Commando unit was allocated to Princess Beatrix under the command of Joe Brunton and No. 4 Unit to Queen Emma under the command of Comdr. Kershaw (Famous
Rugby Union international).

No. 3 Unit detailed to take on the ports of STAMSUND and HENNINGSVAER &

No. 4 Unit to the ports of SVOLVAER & BRETTNES.

The covering force of the operation was H.M.S Nelson & H.M.S King George V, two cruisers and five Destroyers. Submarine H.M.S Sunfish detailed to go ahead of force to act as a navigational beacon.

Date of sailing: 1st March 1941.
Officer i/c No. 3 Unit Brigadier Dunford Slater. He told our skipper (Joe Brunton) he was very seasick on our first day at sea. Joe told him to drink a bottle
of beer each morning plus cheese and pickled onions which proved very effective!

We rolling heavily during the first part of our journey north but after passing into the Arctic Circle it was quite warm for the time of year. We arrived at STAMSUND at 4 a.m. March 4th and passed a number of
fishing boats leaving harbour. When they realised we were British they gave us a cheer of welcome and hoisted Norwegian flags on their boats.

Destroyer 'Somali' sighted an armed German trawler which she promptly sunk by gunfire. When the commandoes landed ashore they found no German soldiers in the town but some Gestapo and German Businessmen.
Several of the former were rounded up and sent back to the ship as prisoners. A Sub.Lieut went into the local post office and despatched the following telegram to
Hitler - "You said in your last speech that German troops would meet the English wherever they landed (Stop) where are your troops?"
The result of this first raid on enemy occupied territory was highly
successful, 18 factories being destroyed, 20 thousand tons of shipping destroyed and nearly 1 million tons of oil and petrol went up in smoke. In addition, 216
prisoners plus 60 Quislings were taken. Also maps, code systems and valuable documents seized. Before we left on our return trip home some 300 loyal Norwegians volunteered to leave with us to carry on their country's fight against the common enemy.

The journey back to Scapa Flow was uneventful except that shortly after leaving the Islands an enemy reconnaissance plane passed overhead but no attack
developed. Eventually we reached Gourock in the Firth of Clyde safely. On our arrival Sir Roger Keyes greeted both ships and expressed his delight with the whole successful operation, after which the Commandos left the ship together with the Norwegian volunteers and prisoners.

A sequel to this was that a day after
we returned to Gourock I went ashore with a shipmate to have a look around the town. Shortly after we landed we were approached by a reporter from the local press who asked us if we could give him our views
about the raid.

When we agreed he offered to take us to have a drink but then suddenly remembered that the pubs would be closed. However, he then suggested instead that we went with him to a restaurant which we agreed to do. On arrival there we found the placed
crowded so he had a few words with one of the waitresses who took us to an upstairs room which was unoccupied.

After settling down at a table he said 'I'm sorry I can't offer you beer but I suggest as a substitute I order two tumblers to be filled with tea without milk. Then whilst you are drinking I would like to take your photographs to compensate for this deception he afterwards bought us both a proper tea.

A couple of days or so later my photograph appeared in a couple of the local papers with this caption underneath 'And here's tae us - a sailor having a welcome drink after returning from the successful Lofoten operation'!

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