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Director General attends ceremony to mark 70th anniversary of Operation Freshman

15 November 2012

For Remembrance Sunday Alan Pateman-Jones, the Director General of the CWGC, visited  Stavanger in Norway. During a tour of the southern and western coasts in July, and having met both the local British Consul and Ion Drew, a British academic living in Stavanger, Alan gathered that the local community made the November commemoration an important date in the diary.  Alan decided that this, the 70th anniversary of the Freshman operation, was an ideal time to join NATO staff and local Norwegians at both Eiganes and Sola churchyards on 11 November.    

Operation Freshman was the codename given to a British airborne operation conducted in November 1942. It was the first British airborne operation conducted using gliders and its target was the Vemork chemical plant, run by Norsk Hydro.  It produced heavy water that the Germans wanted to use in their atomic weapons programme. The British decided to launch a raid to destroy the plant, so a small airborne force composed of Royal Engineers was tasked with landing by glider a short distance from the plant. Their aim was to demolish it with explosives and then escape over the border into Sweden.

The airborne force took off in two aircraft-glider combinations on the night of 19 November 1942. Both managed to reach the Norwegian coast, but neither reached its objective. The first pair suffered from navigational difficulties and severe weather, which resulted in the tow rope snapping and the first glider crash-landing, with its towing aircraft returning to base; eight airborne troops were killed outright, four were severely injured and five unhurt, with the survivors captured shortly after the crash. The second pair fared even worse, with both aircraft and glider crashing into a mountain for unknown reasons; the aircrew and a number of airborne troops were killed outright, and those who survived were taken prisoner.   Survivors did not live for long.  Adolf Hitler's Commando Order instructed that all commando were to be executed upon capture.

The ceremonies at both Eiganes and Sola churchyardss were very well attended, with family members of the casualties visiting from both the UK and Australia.  Local and national TV stations covered the event at Eiganes, emphasising the significance of Operation Freshman to Norwegians and typical of the wonderful support the Commission receives in its work in Norway.

Click here to see the clip from Norwegian national TV. The item starts at 13 min 40 seconds.