-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
Memories of Operation "Primrose"
Updated 06-May-2014

This article, the author of which is not indicated, is held within the archives of the H.M.S. Hood Association. It describes Operation "Primrose" as view by one of the men who took part in it.

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A Low Tech Naval Landing Party
In these days of High Technology readers may be interested to hear of rather a Low Tech naval landing party in 1940.

The German invasion of Norway took place in April 1940 at which time my ship the HOOD was refitting and giving leave in Plymouth. It was learnt on a Saturday afternoon that the ship was required immediately to provide a landing party of Royal Marines and seamen, organised chaos resulted whilst a party of about 250 was got together from the limited numbers on board. The jetty alongside was rapidly filled with a hotch potch of stores and ammunition. Pride of place was taken by the ship’s howitzer, an ancient piece of ordnance which few knew existed.

The exhausted contingent finally departed from the dockyard station in a special train at midnight bound it was learnt for Rosyth. Whilst travelling north it was possible to take stock of the situation. The Royals made up about two thirds of the party under Major Lumley and Lieutenant E.D. Stroud and possessed such automatic weapons, ie, Lewis guns as was available. They gave the impression of knowing what they were about and regarded the seamen with some tolerance bordering on condescension. It must however be said that the seamen contingent hardly inspired confidence as a military force. The officer compliment consisted of Lieutenant Commander Charles Awdry, a modest and quite unflappable officer who had suffered under the Geddes axe and been brought back for the war. The Sub of the gun room Sub-lieutenant D.C. Sailer, and the writer of this article - a very junior Midshipman. Very few of the sailors had ever fired a rifle or ever handled ammunition. Nor I fear, were the officers particularly familiar with the .45 revolver. It was discovered on the train that not all the sailors had boots, a fact that they had somehow managed to conceal under their green gaiters. However it was understood that the Gunners Mate knew something about howitzers which as it turned out was just as well.

On arrival at Rosyth late the following day HOOD'S contingent together with, I think, somewhat smaller parties from Nelson and Barham embarked in three or four sloops which were waiting alongside.

Most of the party was in Black Swan, the leader (Captain A.L.Poland). It still remains a mystery how these small ships absorbed so many extra people. Their decks were stacked with stores and ammunition. The ships sailed shortly after dark. The weather was so unpleasant that it was necessary to seek shelter off Invergordon for a few hours.

We now learnt that HOOD'S landing party had been given the code name

Primrose. This caused a number of somewhat ribald comments. It was understood that the destination was Norway, but no information was yet available as to where exactly the landing was to take place. In those days small ships had no cypher machines and all important cyphers had to be handled by an officer, usually the ship’s doctor. Priority signals were pouring into the small wardroom where all available officers were helping the doctor in feverishly subtracting numbers in four figure groups and juggling with cypher books.

After various false alarms a signal was finally received and deciphered inviting the Primrose force to land at Aandaisnes with the cheering information that it was not known if the enemy was in occupation or if an alongside berth was possible. However the implication was that a landing should be attempted. The first Lieutenant W. Donald described in his book "Standby For Action". How at the time he thought it would be nice to know if the ship was to be greeted by cheers and kisses from Norwegian blondes or with a hail of gunfire from invisible Germans. This he thought would make a considerable difference not only to his peace of mind but also to the arrangements for putting the landing party ashore! Many pondered on the problems of an opposed landing using the ship’s whaler; considered a somewhat daunting task.

Aandalnes was then a small fishing port in a cul-de -sac at the top end of Romsdal Fiord about seventy miles from the open sea, south of Trondheim Fiord and north of Bergen. It was dusk when the ships arrived at the entrance, and with a full moon the snow-capped scenery was dramatic as they steamed up the narrow fiord. Tension grew as Black Swan arrived off the port shortly before midnight but fortunately there was a good deep water jetty and friendly Norwegian soldiers to take the wires. It started snowing.

After the Primrose party had landed Black Swan remained as the A. A. guard ship whilst the other sloops made off to land there remaining landing parties elsewhere. The Norwegian army had found temporary billets for everyone and after seeing the sailors installed the Sub-Lieutenant and myself retired to a room in the otherwise empty village Inn. Shortly, we were joined by our Senior officers with the not so welcome Information that one of us would be needed in a few hours time to take charge of the howitzer crew, and to entrain with the Royals at 0630 that morning for Dombas junction about 80 miles up the line. The task was to assist the Norwegian army in dealing with some recently landed enemy paratroops. In the absence of our Senior officer we held a short debate, assisted by a nip or two from our flasks. The Sub-Lieutenant gave it as his opinion that this would be very suitable for broadening the midshipman's experience, especially as he understood he was a volunteer for the landing party. The Midshipman submitted that this seemed a responsible job requiring the more senior of the two. However, it was decreed by higher authority that the Sub-lieutenant was the man for the job and this was very much born out by future results.

After the departure of the Howitzer crew and the Royal Marines it was learnt that the remainder of the seamen were to be billeted in huts in a Norwegian army camp about a mile from the port. Our duties would be to assist in the berthing and unloading of the expected army reinforcements and generally to make ourselves useful about port.

The sailors happily settled in to their new environment despite the cold and the snow. Morale was further raised when a Leading Seaman found an empty cookhouse and having appointed himself Chief Cook appeared resplendent in a white chef’s outfit complete with hat. From then on hot tea and food were available at all times. A limited amount of warm clothing including some heavy army issue arctic coats was found in the stores landed by the ships and boots somehow appeared to equip those without them. A start was made on small arms practice. The sailors in fact quickly demonstrated that remarkable ability of naval ratings to adapt to strange and untoward circumstances. The more uncomfortable and potentially dangerous things appeared to be the more cheerfully and enthusiastically they were faced. On the lighter side they spent some of their off duty time in devising a cresta run cum ski slope on which extraordinary feats were performed with even more remarkable equipment much to the amazement of the Norwegian army friends.

The first army landing occurred about 24 hours after our initial landing and during the next six days there were I think two further reinforcements. These were all carried in H. M. Ships, Cruisers and Destroyers, as it would have been quite impracticable for troop transports to negotiate the Fiord safely in view of the enemy air activity. The ships generally arrived after dark and were away by 0200 in order to clear the Fiord by daylight. I believe about 5000 lightly armed troops were landed with no casualties ships or men. It was subsequently learnt that it was intended that these troops would be used in a pincer attack on Trondheim with other forces operating from Namsos in the north.

From the beginning the enemy airforce bombed and dive bombed the little port daily. In the absence of any fighter protection or land based AA guns, protection was provided either by a sloop, in which our old friend Black Swan played a major part or by AA cruisers Curacoa and Carlisle. Only the AA cruisers had radar in a primitive early form but this could not have been very effective owing to the high hills surrounding the end of the Fiord. The ships had very little room to manoeuvre and because of the hills visual sighting was only possible at the last moment. It was a gruesomely spectacular sight to watch from the relative safety of the hills the daily confrontation between the guardship and the bombers. As Captain Roskill points out in 'The War at Sea' this use of ships as floating substitutes for properly organised base defence was lacking. In the event I think most of the guardships were hit at some time and had casualties but fortunately none were sunk.