The Norwegian MTB Flotilla in Shetland
The Lerwick based Norwegian MTB flotilla's operations on the Norwegian coast is an important part of the Norwegian and British naval history during World War II.
From the day the operations started, they were a nuisance for the Germans - they never knew where the next attack came from. They were forced to strengthen their coastal forts to meet the new threat, and that kept many extra men, who otherwise could have been transferred to the war in other parts of Europe.
During the last weeks of 1942, the people in Lerwick got used to a new sight; eight dangerous looking boats - the Norwegian 30th MTB flotilla.
On the 10th of November 1942 the MTBs 618, 619, 620, 623, 625 and 631 arrived. Some days later 626 and 627 joined them.
The history behind the Norwegian flotilla :
In 1938, The Norwegian Royal Navy decided to order a new MTB from Britain, at a cost of Nkr.750 000, and in 1939 seven more MTBs were ordered at a total cost of Nkr. 5.500.000. All MTBs were ordered at VOSPER, Portsmouth, but before they were delivered, WWII started. Britain requestioned six of the vessels, the last two became the start of the Norwegian 30th flotilla in May 1940, in the early days of the German occupation of Norway. They had the numbers 5 and 6 and were stationed in Portsmouth.
In 1941, the Norwegian Navy got six new MTBs, also stationed in Portsmouth, where they operated in the English Channel, they were numbered 50, 51, 52, 54, 56 and 71.
In October that year MTB 56 with Lt. Per Danielsen in command, had her first mission on the Norwegian coast. The old destroyer Draug towed her across the North sea, she hid during the day, and in the evening she torpedoed and sank the 3000 ton German freighter Borgny south of Sotra. Afterwards MTB 56 was safely towed back to Shetland.
After that successful mission, the Norwegian Navy wanted to concentrate their MTB operations in Norwegian waters, but they realized that the MTBs they had at that time, could not stand the heavy weather in the North Sea, and they could not carry with them enough fuel.
The chance came when they got eight new Class "D" Fairmile MTBs. They had a double hull, were 115 foot long and had four 1250hps Packard engines which gave them a top speed of 30 knots. They normally had a crew of 26, and were armed with; 2 torpedo tubes, double Oerlikon 20mm anti aircraft guns, double Colt 12.5 mm machine guns, 7.6mm machine guns, Vickers "Pom - poms", and six pound cannons. They also had depth charges mounted in brackets on the rear deck, where they were just rolled of the deck when needed. The fuel capacity was 22,500 litres of high octane gasoline, which could carry them 600 nautical miles at a speed of 18 knots.
On most of the missions they carried with them extra gasoline in two-gallon cans on deck. The extra fuel was of course necessary on longer trips, but they also used it to top up the fuel tanks, to reduce the amount of the volatile high explosive gases in the tanks.
When the MTB flotilla arrived in Lerwick, Lt. Rangvald Tamber was the commander of 619, he was made Commander in Chief of the flotilla, C. O. Herlofesen became the commander of the 619. The other commanders were :Lt. Alf H. Andresen on 618, Lt. Prebensen on 620, Lt. Haavik on 623, Lt Hjellestad on 625, Lt. Bøgeberg on 626, Lt. Henriksen on 627 and Lt. Matland on 631.
The new MTBs soon became a common sight in Lerwick Harbour. They had the south part of the Fish Market for storage of torpedoes, ammunition and supplies, and a special crane was put up there which could also lift out the huge Packard engines when service was needed. They had a workshop at Malakoff Ltd., the mines were stored at Lunna, and the fuel storage was at Bressay. There, at Heogan, they also had a floating dry dock, where the boats could be repaired. There was also a small slipway there, (remains can still be seen). Offices, accommodation, and canteen for the crews were at the Anglo-Scottish Quay at North Ness, where the boats were moored.
The first operations : October 1942 – July 1943
The flotilla was soon fully operational, already on the 22nd of November, 619, 626 and 631 were on their way to the Norwegian coast, destination Stord and Bømlo. Nothing important was found, and when they were spotted by the Germans in Bømmelfjorden, they thought it best to return to Shetland. But they had proved that Norway was easily accessible with no problems.
Only four days later 620 and 623 crossed the North sea. They went to Askvoll, south of Florø, and this time they were successful. 620 torpedoed and sunk the German ship Harvestehude, and 623 sunk the Hertha, both ships being surprised while at anchor.
These were the first of 161 missions to the Norwegian coast and fjords which the MTBs made during the next two and a half years. Some were successful, others were failures, with the loss of many men.
On every mission, the crew had to face the danger of being spotted by the Germans, and there was also the danger of the extreme weather in the North Sea.
Sometimes they lay camouflaged for several days, patiently waiting for a target. They kept a close watch on the Germans, there were times when they lay very near German troops, spying on them through binoculars all day. Other times they went directly in to some place on the coast, to land or pick up agents, they also brought back refugees, mostly people that were working for the Norwegian resistance organisation, and who feared that they could be arrested by the "Gestapo". The MTB flotilla worked closely with the the Shetland Bus operations and the "Commandos". It was MTB 626 that in April 1943, picked up Leif Larsen and his crew after the loss of Brattholm.
They also took part in large operations that involved many commandos, like operation "Cartoon".
- The December weather had been extremely bad. On the 27th, 619 and two other MTBs encountered a severe storm, they had to return to Shetland without fulfilling their mission, but all arrived safely.
Some weeks later, in the early hours of the 23rd of January 1943, they set out on one of their most successful and important operations - "Operation Cartoon".
The target was the German pyrite mines at Litlabø on the island of Stord. Two Norwegian, former refugee boats, Gullborg and Sjølivet, had for some time blended with the local fishing boats in the area, and gathered information about the German activity.
The flotilla were soon spotted by German airplanes, Lt. Tamber ordered a more southerly course to mislead the Germans. The plan was to land most of the men in the little harbour of Sagvåg, on the southwest side of Stord, not far from the pyrite mine. MTB 626 and MTB 627 were to attack the harbour and land the Commandos, the other boats would take care of any kind of German interruption. 618 and 623 were to cover the northern flank, while 620, 625 and 631 covered the south and east areas.
626 and 627 fired torpedoes into the harbour and blew up the pier and a cannon, and then followed up the attack with fire from all their weapons. At midnight 626 landed their commandos on what was left of the pier, while 627 found a small pier on the other side of the harbour to land theirs. The Germans had of course returned the fire, so they were under constant fire during the landing, one commando was hit and killed. The two MTBs used all their firearms to give covering fire. Then they just had to wait.
Meanwhile, the other boats did all they could to confuse the Germans, to make them believe that something else was the main target. They attracted a lot of German attention, and were fired at from the coastal forts.620 and 631 went into the harbour of Leirvik, while 625 laid mines around the east side of the island. 620 also fired on the German ship "Ilse M. Russ", the ship caught fire and grounded.
On land, the commandos had done their job; the mine was destroyed, and did not become operational again for more than a year, many Germans were killed, three Germans were taken prisoner, and the harbour defences were destroyed. But the victory had taken it's toll, one commando killed and two wounded, on the MTB 626, seven of the crew were wounded. 618 and 623, which were going northward before the attack on the pyrite mine, came under fire from a German coastal battery on Store Karlsøy, both boats were damaged, and three of the crew were wounded.
On the return, 625 was attacked by a German Junkers JU88, but they returned the fire, and the plane went down in flames.
Finally all MTBs made it safely back to Lerwick.
- 619 and 631lay camouflaged for eight days at the end of February, without seeing any suitable target, they laid mines and returned.
- 12th of march , the same two boats went out again, Lt Herlofsen commanded 619, and Lt Matland commanded 631. The target was Florø harbour. The boats went to a place called Skorpen, where they had a good view to the traffic in and out of the harbour. In the evening of the 13th, they decided to attack the harbour, they went through a channel, so narrow that they nearly could touch the rock on both sides, and came unseen into the harbour. Two ships were torpedoed and sunk, and a third struck a mine which one of the MTBs had laid, and sank too.
They went out of the harbour at full speed, 619 first, suddenly 631 struck a skerry that was hidden by the waves of 619. There they were, high and dry, on a Norwegian skerry. It was impossible to drag her off, so all important papers were burned, the crew evacuated to 619, and they tried to set 631 on fire. This was just partly successful, later it was known that the Germans had rescued and repaired her, and used her under the number S 631.
619 had a hard trip back to Shetland, with double crew and also some commandos under the command of Lt. Rommetvedt, that had come with them in case there would be a chance of a land attack on the harbour. When they were off the coast, in very bad weather, they were spotted by a German destroyer, which followed them for hours, they had to run at top speed, with the threat of damaging the boat, but finally they arrived in Lerwick.
- April 15th 1943, two men, Adelsten Gangsø and Johannes Olaus Siglen were killed, and one man, Lars Hovden, wounded when a mine exploded on board 625 moored in Lerwick.
- April 29th, MTB 626, bringing with them Lt. Godwin in command of six commandos, towed an open boat with two kayaks on board across the North sea. South of Karmøy, the boat was boarded by the commandos, and they went on their mission in Norway, which was putting "Limpet" mines on German boats in Karmsund and Kopervik. They were meant to be picked up by an MTB on the 9th of May, but they were never found.
- June 5th , MTB 626 torpedoed and sank the German ship Altenfels. Then together with 620, they had to fight the German escort vessel, M468, they were also under fire from a coastal fort. Both Commanders, Lt Tamber on 626, and Lt Prebensen on 620, were wounded, and two men on 620, Kåre Andeassen and Johannes Mongstad, were killed.
There was one MTB that was different from the others in Lerwick, and deserves her own story, MTB 345. She arrived at Lerwick in May 1943. The boat was only 55 feet long, but she had two RY 12 Thorneycroft engines, with a total of 1320hp, which could bring her to a speed of 50 knots. She had two torpedo tubes, double .303 Lewis machine guns, and two depth charges. She only needed a crew of seven.
Lt Alf Andresen, commanded her, and on the 9th of June he went out along with MTB 653, which was meant to bring extra fuel supplies to 345.
The two boats lost track of each other in thick fog on their way to the Norwegian coast. 345 came into the coast early on the morning of the 10th, they camouflaged the boat, and started to wait - they had not enough fuel to go back to Shetland. In the meantime, Lt Matland with 653, had returned to Shetland after he had searched in vain for 345, and it was very dangerous to stay on the Norwegian coast in the bright summer days. Two days later, he came back, and finally found 345. Fuel was transferred, and for the next twelve days, she stayed on the coast, spying on the Germans, trying to find out as much as possible about their activities. She returned to Shetland the 23rd of June with a lot of useful information, and had proved that it was possible to hide in the Norwegian fjords for a long time.
On the 24th of July, 345 went back to Norway, this time along with 620 commanded by Lt Prebensen. As soon as they arrived in Norway, they started to transfer the extra fuel before any Germans found them. They knew that they had been spotted by a German airplane early in the morning, and before the transfer was finished, a Blohm & Voss seaplane appeared, and started firing at them. 620 returned the fire, and the plane disappeared with a tail of smoke. Lt Andresen ordered 620 to go back to Shetland. Halfway back they had a scheduled rendezvous with 618, and the two set course for Shetland together. The two boats were spotted by a patrolling German aircraft, and it is assumed that the pilot thought that he saw the same two boats that had been in the fight with the seaplane.
Meanwhile, MTB 345 had hidden in a narrow opening near Oldeøy, she didn't have enough fuel to carry out her mission in Norway and return to Shetland, but Lt Andresen knew about some fuel depots that had been left by earlier MTBs. He started to search for them, but could not find the one that was meant to be near Olderøy. He than set course for Aspøy, where he knew that there should be one. Andresen made contact with locals he knew, and one depot was found , but the gasoline didn't have the right octane number.
The boat was now hidden at Ospa in Solund.(Link to a picture of the boat, and it's last hiding place)
The day after was a fine day, a watchman was placed at a good view point; he suddenly saw three airplanes starting to circle the area. Then small navy boats surrounded the hiding place, and the men realized that their hiding place must have been discovered. The German started to fire from two directions, the seven crewmen returned the fire, but they were outnumbered by the Germans. When three men were wounded, one seriously, they were taken prisoner and brought to Bergen. A crew member had tried to set the boat on fire, but in vain, and the Germans captured the boat. This was on the 28th of July.
The first interrogation of the men took place the same day by a Lt Paul Fanger, it was ended 03.30 the next morning, and the report says that nothing of special value came out of it. Fanger also mentioned in his report that the men were ordinary naval crew, in uniforms. The men were at this time treated as prisoners of war.
Reichscommisar Terboven received the news about the prisoners and sent a telegram to Hitler, saying that seven commandos from a British MTB had been taken prisoner. He suggested to Hitler that they should not be treated as ordinary prisoners of war, but as saboteurs, and that this case should be handled by the Sicherheits Dienst (SD).
By wording the telegram in that way, Hitler would agree, as he had earlier sent out a directive which said that all commandos were really saboteurs, and that German soldiers should kill them wherever they found them, whether they came from the air, the sea or over land.
From the moment Terboven changed the men's status from prisoners of war to saboteurs, their destiny was sealed. Death was the only sentence for saboteurs.
The men were transferred to Ulven POW camp near Os, outside Bergen, where they arrived at 9.30 in the morning the 29th. The Gestapo, with Obersturmbannfurher Hans Wilhelm Blomberg in command started questioning and torturing them, but got no vital information.
At 04.00 in the morning on the 30th of July, one by one the MTB 345 crewmen were brought in front of a six man firing squad at Ulven POW camp, and shot.
Later the bodies were taken on a boat and sunk in deep water, south of the island of Skorpa in Korsfjorden.
These seven men were the only crew members from the 30th, (later 54th), Flotilla that were taken prisoners by the Germans.
Their names were :
Alf Haldor Andresen - Bernhard Kleppe - Jens Klipper - Agnar Ingolf Bigseth - Hans Thorvald Bærevahr Hansen - Kjell Øistein Hals - Rennie Hull.
A memorial has been erected on the place they were executed at Ulven.
There is also a Memorial plaque at Ospa, where they were taken prisoner. This memorial was unveiled in July 2007, 65 years after the tragedy. Link to article in Norwegian, with photo of the Memorial.
The Gestapo Commander in Bergen, Hans Wilhelm Blomberg, was arrested in 1945, brought in front of an allied court in Oslo in December, and sentenced to death. He was executed at Akershus on the 10th of January 1946. The main reason for the death sentence, was the treatment of the crew on MTB 345.
Further History – Late summer 1943 – Spring 1945
- August 1st 1943; The 30th Flotilla was renamed The 54th Flotilla.
- Later in August, the German ship Verma struck a mine and sank. The mine had been laid by MTB 623
- Two British MTBs, 686 and 699 joined the flotilla. Later two more arrived - 675 and 684
- In September,618 and 626 torpedoed the Anke. On that occasion they were towed a part of the way by the big whalers Risør and Horten. The same whalers towed three MTBs on the 17th of September, but the British 686 suffered an engine failure, and Risør had to tow her back.
- October 23rd; MTBs 553, 688, 686 and 699, (686 and 699 were British), torpedoed and sunk the German ship Kilstraum at Bessakerholmen, north of Trondheim. Afterwards, they were spotted and attacked by three German fighter aircraft. On 688 five men were wounded and one man, Gustav Nærland was killed in the first attack. The planes came back, and 699 caught fire. The crew had to leave the boat, but were picked up by 688. 686 and 653 had taken another course and were not attacked.
- November 22nd ; an explosion occurred on the British MTB 686 while it was moored at the Anglo – Scottish Quay, at North Ness. It is assumed that it was an accidentally fired Oerlikon gun that caused the explosion. Fuel and ammunition caught fire, and the fire spread to the Norwegian 626, which was moored alongside. Houses were evacuated in the nearby streets of Lerwick. It was impossible to take control of the fire, and other Navy vessels in the harbour had to fire at the two boats and sink them, to prevent the fire spreading to other vessels.
Seven British and one Norwegian crew members lost their lives. In addition to those who lost their lives, there were many seriously wounded on both boats.
The names of the dead crew members were :
From MTB 626 :
Oskar Bastian Grunnevold
From MTB 686 :
W. P. Allan – L. R. Clarke – J. M. Gray – J. R. McNeil – F. Sullivan – J. D. Shennan – S. G. Small.
A Memorial Plaque was put up on the site by the the Shetland-Norwegian Friendship Society and the Coastal Forces Veterans' Association and was unveiled on the 17th of May 2000.
You can read more about this accident at : MTB 686 - Clarke's Story
- During the winter, the MTB Flotilla carried out many operations on the Norwegian coast, many boats were damaged and crew members wounded.
In early February 1944, the Commander of 619, Christiansen, and two of his crew members were wounded, during a mission. 625 returned at the same time with such great damage to her hull that she had to be condemned.
- 12th of February. 627 and 653 were towed part of the way to Norway by the whaler Molde.
On the afternoon the 13th, 627 torpedoed and sunk BDS's D/S Irma, while 653 torpedoed and sunk the Henry in a German convoy at Hustadvika, south of Kristiansund.
In Norway there were discussions about the validity of sinking D/S Irma, because she was not only a cargo ship, but a passenger carrier too. She had more than 100 passengers, both German and Norwegian, many of them lost their lives.
- In March 1944, MTB 712 with Lt Herlofsen in command, and 609 with Lt Matland, were transferred to Larne in North Ireland for a while.
The rest of the 54th Flotilla, now consisting of the MTBs 618, 623, 627, 653, 688 and 715 were transferred to Great Yarmouth in the months before the D-Day landings. They mostly operated on the Dutch coast. 715 at one time had four wounded.
With total Allied control of the Channel, there were no further need of them in the area, and the whole 54th Flotilla was back at Lerwick in September. Lt Herlofsen became Chief in Command at this time.
During the late fall and winter of 1944 – 45 there were many encounters between Norwegian MTBs and the Germans on the Norwegian coast.
- Beginning of November 1944; 709 and 712 torpedoed and sank two German patrol vessels.
- Later same month ; MTB 717, sunk the German vessel Wilhelm at Askvoll.
- 27th of November ; MTB 623 had one man, Ole Joakim Andreassen, killed, and 715 had three men wounded at a surface action off Bjørnholmen.
MTB 723 was damaged and had three men wounded at a surface action off Hegdosen.
- 6th of December ; 653, with Lt Martinsen in command and 717 with Lt Olsen in command, attacked and sank the 3000t German ship Dietmar Koel in Korsfjorden. On their return, the 653 was leaking, and the crew worked desperately to bail her out and keep her floating. At last the engines stopped, and 717 had to take her in tow. Later the whaler Molde came out from Lerwick and helped to bring her back.
- From the end of December - 44 to the end of March- 45, nine more German ships were sunk by the MTBs.
- 26th of March; MTB 717 had one man wounded and one man, Arve Aleksander Paulsen killed during a surface action off Bjørnholmen.
- 26th of April; 623 and 717 attacked the German submarine U – 637 at Karmøy. The two MTBs had been waiting through the night, and at daylight they decided to go back to Shetland, when they saw the German submarine surfaced straight ahead. The MTBs fired their first torpedoes, and missed. The submarine returned the fire, but the MTBs tried to get closer to her and use their depth charges while they were firing with all their guns. Suddenly flames were seen around the submarine's tower at the same time as an explosion was heard from her inside. The MTBs got close to her and dropped four depth charges near her. They detonated between the tower and the stern. The submarine was now out of control and went down in flames with the stern first.
717 had one man, Jon Riis Sigurdson killed, and two men wounded during the battle.
- 3rd of May; A motor launch was spotted by an airplane north of Shetland. MTB 711 and one of the whalers went north to meet her. MTB 711came alongside the motor launch about 50 nautical miles off Muckle Flugga. The men on the launch were six or seven German 'Luftwaffe' men, from an airfield near Trondheim. They had decided to steal the motor launch and escape from the war, they understood that the war was near an end. 711 picked up the men and the whaler took the motor launch in tow. They returned to Lerwick, where the men were arrested as prisoners of war.
After the end of the War
On the 8th of May 1945, the war had come to an end. The 54th Flotilla celebrated the victory in Lerwick, but every man had just one thing on their mind – 'when can we go home to Norway?'
A few days later they set course for Norway to celebrate Norway's Constitution Day, on the 17th of May.
On the 19th, there was an explosion in the engine room of 715 while the MTBs were moored in Fosnavåg. Both 715 and 709, alongside her, were destroyed. The rest of the flotilla returned to Shetland, but on the 1st of June, the whole flotilla, now consisting of the MTBs 704, 711, 713, 716, 719, 722 and 723, left Lerwick for the last time. The people of Lerwick filled the Esplanade and the rest of the seafront to bid them farewell. The whole crew on all the boats were gathered on deck in military manner to salute their friends in Lerwick. Many strong bonds had been made through the years of war.
In 1954, the bell and wheel from MTB 618 was presented to the Lerwick Town Council during a visit of the First MTB Squadron of the Royal Norwegian Navy.
On the 15th of May 1967, a memorial plaque was received at a ceremony at Lerwick Town Hall, from the veterans of the 30th and 54th Flotillas, for appreciation of hospitality.
Pictures of the ceremony can be seen here: [], []
See also "Leda".
When the war ended, the 54th Flotilla consisted of 10 MTBs, (but 2 were lost in Norway just a few days later), and about 550 men. 21 "Farmile D" class MTBs had been under the command of the Norwegian navy, but never more than 11 at the same time. There had been losses and damages by enemy actions, fire, explosions and extreme weather, that meant the withdrawal of some boats, and replacements had had to be made.
There had been 161 missions to the Norwegian coast, from Trondheim in the north, to Kristiansand in the south. Most of them were in the area from Florø to Haugesund.
27 enemy vessels had been destoyed. 97 torpedoes had been fired, 67 of them hit their target.
20 crewmen lost their lives in enemy actions and accidents.
8 boats had been lost for various reasons.
The main result of the MTB flotilla's operations on the Norwegian coast, was not only the number of enemy losses. They brought many Norwegian refugees, fearing arrest, out of Norway, they also brought agents and commandos, and their supplies and weapons, in and out.
The strong activity of the MTBs, along with the Shetland Bus operations, possibly misled Hitler to believe that an allied invasion of Norway was a possibility.
The main source of this article have been :
- James W. Irvine's book "The Waves are Free",
- Royal Norwegian Navy casualties,
- MTB – våpenets historie,
- The Norwegian Navy in the Second World War.
Informations has also been checked in other books and Internet pages, but there can still be some mistakes, and they will hopefully be corrected. It also need some corrections in language and grammar.