17 MAY 1940, Page 12



"C OLONEL SNODGRASS asked me to say that he will not be able to leave the War Office tonight." As I heard these words I remembered that ten years ago I used to play tennis with my chief's wife, so for old times' sake I took the telephone from his secretary. We both agreed that the war was very dull. It could scarcely be duller. As I put the receiver down the Colonel came into the room.

"I want you to fly to Norway with Peter at once," he said. "You must start in three hours' time. You're to find out if the Norwegians still hold Namsos, as we want to land there. You will have two officers as interpreters, and two signal sergeants with W.T. sets to communicate with the fleet. You'll get the full story if you join Peter at the General Staff confer- ence just starting."

All the afternoon we flew north, and slept that night at a small naval station in Scotland. On arrival we were told to expect an air raid and, ironically enough, as there were no beds left we slept on stretchers. At first light next morning we got into a flying-boat. We flew very low, at only about too ft., so that we could not get shot up from beneath. Our first excitement was when we passed over and circled round a British submarine. Suddenly, uncertain of our intentions, she crash dived. Soon afterwards we received a wireless message from the Navy that three enemy aircraft were about. The pilot said " O.K." and passed the message to his turret gunners. A little Cockney gunner with cauliflower ears grinned at me and started to chew gum.

From now on .we took even more care than before to make use of low clouds, for speed is the overriding factor in aerial combat, and flying-boats are comparatively slow. As I looked at the back of our pilot thought how odd it was for him to be going into battle in a fur coat and sitting in a chair.

A little later we saw an aeroplane flying low on our left, about half a mile away. Against a yellow streak in the sky, low down on the horizon, it looked inexpressibly black and sinister to me. The turret gunners were warned by telephone. A few seconds later we heard what Peter and I in our ignorance thought was our rear gunner firing. Later we learned that the crackle we had heard was the not dissimilar noise of our wireless transmitter. We sped on through the clouds. More than once I looked anxiously over the naviga- tor's shoulders to see where we had got to, and mentally calcu- lated how much longer it would take us to reach our destitu- tion. I hoped that they thought I was interested in the topo- graphy of the coast of Norway. Then we sighted the Navy, and for a quarter of an hour circled round the leading cruiser, reporting by helio to the fleet commander, and asking if there were any further instructions for us. Our orders were terse: "Land officers who will report by 15.30 hours whether Namsos is clear of enemy."

We flew low over the skerries and steep cliffs, and, rather to our surprise, found the country still entirely snow-covered.

We had to climb to look for our fjord. Then we recognised its outline, and far away below us saw the tiny port of Namsos.

We did not go too low at first as we did not know if it was in German hands. Round and round we flew, gradually losing height, and peering down through field-glasses. As there seemed to be no sign of the Boche, we landed in the fjord and, with our gunners at the alert, taxied towards the wharf.

We disembarked, our odd little party being the first British troops to land in Norway. We were greeted by a ragged cheer. Peter made a short speech. We had come from the All Highest, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, whose greet- ings we brought. With their assistance we should kill every German in the land, and once more there would be peace in Norway.

Our first action after wirelessing to the flagship was to blanket the town, stopping all communications so as to prevent the news of our arrival from reaching the enemy. We were told that everyone was on our side, the only Nazi sympathisers being in the gaol. For several hours we worked frantically, collecting information, selecting tactical features for the cover- ing force which would land that night, choosing a head- quarters, enquiring about rolling stock and road transport, buying up all the white cloth in the town for camouflage, arranging for billets and air raid warnings, and so on, and so on. Then, as Peter was busy, I went with a bevy of pilots to make our report to the naval commander in his warship as he steamed into the mouth of the fjord. I must confess it was with no little pride that I watched first the leading destroyer and then the leading cruiser heave to, for me to come on board and go up on to the bridge.

The commander of the whole force was to fly out in a sea- plane next day, and as Peter had not returned from a visit to the Norwegian H.Q. I had to go to meet him. The rendezvous was a destroyer in the mouth of the fjord. That morning they had tried to bomb her, and, as there were still some aeroplanes flying about when it was time for us to leave, the captain of the little coastal steamer said he was not pre- pared to sail. In exasperation I told him that he was yellow, and if he did not sail at once I would put him under arrest. Rather to my surprise the effect of this was instantaneous. When we were halfway down the fjord, and the destroyer was about three-quarters of a mile from us, planes started to bomb her again. I was watching this with such interest and trepida- tion that it was with somewhat of a shock that I heard the crack of bullets passing overhead, and realised that our little pilot ship was being machine-gunned. Five of us were stand- ing on the bridge, but so bad was the shooting that not even the ship was hit. Most of us fell flat on our faces, but that craven captain stood at the wheel like a rock. Immediately it was over he came up and shook hands with me, beaming all over. "You see, I was right," he said, "I have been at sea twenty years, and always know when it is dangerous." I have seldom seen a man more delighted.

We made haste to a convenient jetty, and tied up. The bomb attacks on the destroyer continued. While we were watching it from the shore an uncommonly pretty girl came up and asked my companion and me up to her house for coffee. With the whole family we sat on the balcony, making polite conversation while watching the bombing taking place, some- times half a mile, sometimes a mile from us in the fjord.

They dropped about 30 bombs that afternoon, making 61 for the whole day, all aimed at the one destroyer, and fortu- nately all were misses. That evening the officers spoke with enthusiasm of the officer who had been in executive command on the bridge for the whole of that six hours, whose coolness in manoeuvring the ship at full speed as he watched each bomb falling no doubt saved her. They thought they had shot down two planes in the morning, and I certainly saw two fly away badly hit that afternoon. Two of the attacks were dive-bomb- ing, the plane swooping down at terrific speed to within what I would judge to be about 500 feet of the ship, and it was an amazing sight seeing every gun blazing away as it climbed out of the dive. As I saw those two attacks I could not help admiring the courage of that pilot. The naval officers said that this was the first time they had seen a German bombing attack pressed home in the way that our pilots habitually do.

While the bombing was going on the commander of the force was sitting in the fjord in a seaplane, waiting to go on board the destroyer. They, too, were machine-gunned, and one of the staff officers was shot through the knee. The general is a famous character who has always been sent where the bullets are flying thickest, and all inside the plane remarked that he was quite undismayed by these attacks.

The experiences of those two days leave me with a feeling of admiration for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force which no words can express. As a soldier one can only welcome the arrival of the day which gives the Army also the chance to show what it can do.