-H.M.S. Hood Reference Materials-
ADM 202/422: Operation "Primrose" Operations in Norway, 1940 by Royal Marines
Updated 11-Mar-2007

This document is a modern transcription of Admiralty record ADM 202/422. It concernes a 1940 deployment of H.M.S. Hood Marines and Sailors to Norway to support ground operations against the Germans. The original file is held at the The National Archives at Kew, London. This Crown Copyrighted material is reproduced here by kind permission of The National Archives.

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Report upon operations carried out by force "Primrose" commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel H W Simpson, Royal Marines, during the period 13th to 30th April, 1940


The following report is compiled from notes made on and after first May. As will be seen, it became a necessary during the course of the operations to destroy all secret documents, and these included the rough notes for the War Diary kept dry the Adjutant, Captain P F Knight, R M. For this reason, therefore, there may occur inaccuracies as to the times and possibly as to the dates. These possible inaccuracies are, however, not considered important, and, if desired, a check can be obtained from other sources such as Admiralty records of cyphers etc, and from the personal reports of officers who took part in the operations.

On Saturday, 13th April I was given instructions to proceed to Rosyth, there to embark a force of Royal Marines and a Royal Naval personnel from H M ships "Hood", "Nelson" and "Barham" together with A/A detachment, Royal Marines under a major in G W Beasley, RM and certain other details. This force, to be known by the code name "Primrose", was to embark in three sloops for operations in Norway.

2. Before leaving the Admiralty I had considerable doubts as to the possibility of embarking on some a 700 men, together with guns and necessary stores, in three small ships, and are represented my views to Rear-Admiral W F Wake-Walker, O.B.E., who entirely disagreed with me. I pressed, however, that some additional transport be provided and on arriving at Rosyth a.m. 14th April I was informed that a slow cargo steamer had been earmarked to join the convoy. The C-in-C Rosyth at once foresaw the difficulties of making use of such a vessel and immediately ordered a fourth sloop to be used for the operation. It is particularly to be noted that even with the fourth ship Captain A.L. Poland, D.S.C. of H.M.S. "Black Swan", the S.N.O. of the convoy after having called for reports from the other ships, decided at about the 0300 hours on 15/4 that certain equipment and stores must be left behind, owing to the possibility of dangerously overloading the ships and taking into consideration the weather reports, which were most unfavourable.

3. Due to the hurried collection of the force, it was only possible to embark personnel and stores as they arrived. Sailing orders were originally given for 1800 hours on 14/4, and HMS "Auckland" actually got away about 1900 hours, but as some personnel and stores did not arrive at Rosyth until 2300 hours, the remaining three ships did not sail and to about 0400 hours on 15/4. The serious disadvantage of such hurried embarkation was that stores had to be embarked as they arrived, and it was not possible to embark than in any pre-arranged and useful order, i.e. the first required to be the last embarked, and, when it became apparent that stowage was not possible for everything, certain essential equipment such as searchlights and generators and some H.A. ammunition had to be left behind.

It is for consideration, therefore, whether, in similar circumstances, a delay of some hours in sailing is not justifiable in order to allow a reasonable loading plan.

4. I would like here to be permitted to stay at that the C-in-C's staff at Rosyth gave the greatest possible assistance during this very important phase of the operation. Also, that Captain Poland, by allowing the force to use a large part of the three-month supply of provisions carried in the four sloops, rather than to embark the whole of the month's supply of provisions sent for "Primrose", made available the maximum carrying capacity of he ships for the essential stores and equipment.

5. The instructions I had received in London included orders to proceeds to Aalesund to mount two 4 inch guns with which to control the Inner Lead. When, therefore, orders were received that at least one ship was to sail at 1800 hours on a 14/4, I sent for Captain G. S. Pitts R.M. whose detachment had arrived and was already embarked in HMS "Auckland", and gave him verbal orders to land his unit there if no opposition was encountered, and to make certain reconnaissances by the time I should arrive. The lack of maps and information of all kinds was serious, but I was much impressed by the bearing of Captain Pitts and by his immediate grasp of the difficult situation.

6. At about 0400 hours on 15/4 the remaining three ships sailed. The weather, which had been bad, deteriorated, and HMS " Auckland", having had to reduce speed during the night to about nine knots, was met during the forenoon. The four ships eventually put into Invergordon to shelter for the night. This unexpected development had a good result of that in that it enabled me to meet all my officers in command of units and to outline to them the nature of the operation upon which we were engaged. I was able, also, to modify my plans, now that all ships were in company, and to explain them to all concerned.

7. At about 1000 hours on 16/4 the four ships sailed in company from Invergordon and during the day at 17/4 amended orders for a "Primrose" were received. The force was now to proceed to Aandalsnes, and to seize and occupy the town which formed a rail head to the railway running to Dombas, and thence north and south to Trondheim and Lilllehammer. Some two hours before landing, a further commitment, to land a force at Aalesund with 4 inch guns, was added.

The production of a reasonably sound plan to include both of these operations was not easy. The only information about Aandalsnes which would be reached by 2200 hours, was obtained from the "Norwegian Pilot", which said it was a holiday resort and the terminus of an "electric" railway. There were no maps are available.

For Aalesund three photographs had been provided, together with one or two general maps. The lack of information about terrain, weather, inhabitants, etc was, at first, a serious disadvantage, but at Aandalsnes, was largely overcome by the attachment to my staff of Lieutenant M Linge of the 11th Norwegian Regiment, Molde, whose loyalty, and high sense of duty, combined with tireless energy, alone made possible much of the early work ashore.

8. For the Aalesund operation I decided to use the R.N. and R.M. personnel from H.M.S. "Barham" embarked in H.M.S. "Auckland", putting Major H Lumley R.M. in command on account of his specialist gunnery knowledge. Various factors led me to take this decision, the most important of which were: a. I had been much impressed by Captain Pitts, Royal Marines, he had organised his detachment of R.N. and R.M. into one fighting unit, and I therefore felt that he would do well if sent on detached duty; b. one 4 inch gun was already in a H.M.S. "Auckland" and so re-loading would not be necessary.

9. An hour or so before arriving at Aandalsnes a signal from H.M.S. " Ashanti", which had been ordered to reconnoitre the area, was received. This stated that the town was unoccupied by Germans and that the civil authorities but had been visited and told of the imminent arrival of a naval force.

10. On arrival at Aandalsnes, Captain Poland put H.M.S. "Black Swan" alongside the jetty, and disembarkation of personnel and stores began immediately. I had made a quick plan, on hearing that the town was unoccupied by the enemy, of which the main points were to provide, as far as possible, naval personnel for the unloading of stores, and the Royal Marines to occupy what would appear to be important tactical localities. A further consideration was, that in view of the probability of air attack, both men and material must be distributed a thinly on the ground. The plan was adhered to , and required little subsequent alteration. Major Beasley, R.M. was ordered to land at once to make a reconnaissance for siting of the A/A guns, while I and my R.M. staff (Captain Knight and Second Lieutenant Bird) remained on board H.M.S. "Black Swan" in order to receive local personages and gain such information about the situation as was available.

11. Several important persons came on board. These included Mr Kenny, the temporary British Consul at Aandalsnes, who did everything possible to assist, and suggested that I should endeavour to get Lieutenant M. Linge attached to my staff. This I succeeded in doing, and by his help was able to do much which would otherwise have been quite impossible. He advised me as to billetting; commandeered motor lorries; saw local telephones were manned and others installed for my use; provided guides for my detachments; and arranged for local civil authorities to meet me; and in numerous ways proved himself invaluable.

12. Colonel Thue, commanding Norwegian forces in the area, was much less helpful. It was openly said that he was formerly a follower of Quisling but that he was now anti-German. The he appeared excitable, unreliable, and most difficult to approach. On this first occasion of our meeting he took about half an hour to explain to me that some hundred German parachute troops were holding a position between, Dombaas and Dovre, and that, in consequence, there was no possibility of gaining contact between his command, which stretched from Dombaas to Aandalsnes and contained about 2000 troops, and Norwegian G.H.Q, then near Lilllehammer. For four days the government and HM the King had been in the vicinity of Otta, waiting to travel north, and these few Germans had been allowed to hold up the line of communication, without, as far as could be gathered, any determined effort being made to mop them are up.

13. Three other incidents throw some light upon this officer and may explain the difficulties of liaison between the British and Norwegian forces in this area:

a. I received a visit from a Norwegian staff Captain to say that I must immediately gave orders that our A/A guns were only to fire on the arcs shown on the map marked by Colonel Thue. These arcs were quite ridiculously small and only covered to about 80 per cent of fire degrees. The reason given was that it was dangerous to fire where there was a possibility of our own shell falling anywhere near ground occupied by either civilians or troops.

b. On one occasion I rang up Colonel Thue upon an important matter, and after a long delay he came to the telephone, only to say that he was tired and could not, therefore, speak English. Would I please talk to one of his staff? This officer proved so irritatingly incapable of speaking or understanding English that I had to send be an officer personally it to Colonel Thue's headquarters before I got the answer I required

c. I was informed by Lieutenant Colonel D. Clarke, War Office liaison officer, when he returned from Norwegian G.H.Q. on about the 23rd April, that General Rode had relieved Colonel Thue of his command, but he continued to command there until I left.

It will be seen, therefore, that there were many difficulties which should not have occurred if reasonable liaison and co-operation could have been obtained.

14. The most valuable information I gained on arrival, was that the town had been bombed on the previous day. The bombs fell into the fjord and were assumed to have been aimed at an ammunition ship moored about a couple of miles to the East.

German parachute troops were reported near Dovre and a few others near Lesja and a few others near Lesja to the Northwest of Dombaas.

15. When daylight broke on the morning of 18/4 the disembarkation was nearly completed; troops were disposed on the ground; A/A positions were located and work was proceedings in the formation of dispersed dumps for stores and ammunition. I established my H.Q. in the Grand Hotel, mainly because it had a telephone exchange, and because from its top floor a visual signal station could be established from which a reasonable area of the fjord could be seen. By 1000 hours H.M.S. " Auckland" and "Bittern" proceeded to Aalesund, and H.M.S. "Black Swan" and "Flamingo" remained as protective A/A ships.

I had also dispatched by train one a 3.7" Howitzer under the command of a sub Lieutenant D.C. Salter, R.N. to Dombaas in order to assist in clearing out the German parachute troops reported in that area.

Captain (?) Allen, R.N., Squadron leader Whitney-Straight and Mr Eric Smith, also left in this train to endeavour to join the General Rode, the Norwegian C-in-C. (This train I managed to contact near Lesjaswick in order to give squadron leader Whitney-Straight orders to reconnoitre frozen lakes in the Lesjaswick area for the purpose of establishing a landing ground for our aircraft.)

16. By about 0900 German a Recce plane was overhead and was presumably photographing the activities in the area, so that offensive air action was presumed to be imminent. The raids did not, however, commence on any scale until the next day. By chance, since the building was not marked, the first four bombs to fall on land fell within 20 to 50 yards of the hospital established by Surgeon Lieutenant Miller, and all the windows were blown in. As it was the only concrete building of a suitable size in the area, it was decided to retain it as a hospital, but to board up the basement, and with sandbags and earthworks, make it as immune from attack as possible. This precaution, which was undertaken and supervised by Dr Miller, undoubtedly saved the lives of the medical staff, and seven patients, who were in the hospital when it received a direct hit a day or two later.

17. At 2030 hours on 18/4 Brigadier Morgan arrived with most of his Brigade. I met him; arranged for the disembarkation of his troops and stores; billeted the force left for the night at Aandalsnes; arranged a train to take him and two companies forward to Dombaas. We had a conference in my H.Q. during which I explained the situation as I knew it, and I got through on the telephone to the Military Attache, Lieutenant Colonel King-Slater at G.H.Q., who said that the situation in front of Lilllehammer was critical and the unless reinforcements came within 24 hours a it was possible that a debacle would ensue.

Brigadier Morgan then decided himself to go forward to Dombaas to clear up the situation there, and to return to do Aandalsnes as soon as possible to make his final plan. He left at about 0100 hours on a 19/4 and was back again by about 0900 hours the same morning, having given orders for the mopping up of the German parachutists. (This was totally achieved the same day, and sub Lieutenant Salter and his Howitzer crew took part in the operation).

18. On arrival back at Aandalsnes Brigadier Morgan had a further conference at which he gave orders for the movement of the whole of his force, less four Bofors guns which he temporarily placed under my command, right forward through Dombaas to Norwegian H.Q. He relied upon me to hold the Aandalsnes area with its vital rail head and landing place.

When he was actually in the train I received a cypher order from the Admiralty to the effects of that I might be required to proceeds to Vinge with my command. I was able to stop the train; to show Brigadier Morgan my order; and to be ordered by him (although I was not under his command at the time) on no account to leave him unsupported. I therefore sent a cipher message to "Black Swan" asking for it to be transmitted to the Admiralty saying that the proposed movement was not practicable, but that if troops were required at Vinge consideration might be given to using my detachment at Aalesund

The urgency of the requirement for troops at Vinge I am in no position to discuss, but the inadvisability and danger of moving the only British troops from such a vital area as a rail head at an Aandalsnes was obvious, and it is difficult to understand how such a movement could be considered without any reference to the commanders on the spot.

19. The German parachute troops in the Dovre area having been captured on the 19/4, a train from Otta arrived at Aandalsnes bringing amongst others several members of the Norwegian government, whom I met on their arrival, and it was arranged that on the next day a meeting should take place at my H.Q. to discuss various matters of importance. This meeting and eventually took place at about 1700 hours on the 20/4, when arrangements were made whereby I should be responsible for informing the Secretary to the Treasury when it would be possible to transfer the Norwegian gold reserve, then in railway trucks at Aandalsnes, to England in H.M. Ships. Also, that I should be responsible for acquainting the Director of Shipping when he could take passage to the United Kingdom in one of H.M. Ships.

Notes of this meeting were forwarded to the Admiralty with "Primrose" situation report No.2.

On this day, possibly because it was known that members of the government were in Aandalsnes, the town was repeatedly bombed, and it became obvious that if bombing continued on such a scale the whole town would, on account of the lack of fire fighting equipment, and the number of wooden buildings, soon be completely destroyed. This eventually occurred. There were only one or two scattered houses in the suburbs left standing by 29/4. All the others were either blown or burnt down.

20. On the following morning, the 21/4, therefore, when my H.Q. had been narrowly missed by a bomb, and most of the windows were broken, I decided to move my H.Q. about a mile inland. By this time, telephone communication was almost non-existent, except the line to Molde where S.N.O. Captain Denny, R.N. had his H.Q. My portable W/T set was working well, but no contact was ever made with the W/T set with our forward troops and Lilllehammer. Only occasionally, and on average, not more than twice a day, could contact be made by telephone with a Brigadier Morgan or the Norwegian G.H.Q. and already I had been warned that telephonic conversations were most unsafe on account of German espionage. Communications were, therefore, most difficult. The road and rail were both subject to bombing, and as yet I had no D.Rs with whom to establish contact between the advance to troops and rail head.

21. On the 23/4 Brigadier Smythe arrived and that night and the next day his Brigade moved up through Dombaas, still leaving "Primrose" to hold rail head.

22. On the 25th April, General Paget landed, and was met by myself and Brigadier Morgan, who had come back from the line to report. That same night another cipher message arrived at Molde but did not reach me until 0900 next morning, ordering me to move 200 Marines that night into a position some 40 miles to the north. S.N.O. Molde, who was ordered to provide water transport, replied without consulting me, as no communications were then in existence, that from a naval point of view the move was not possible. General Paget told me that there were some orders for me to move but that I was to ignore them, and keep my force at Aandalsnes.

Once again therefore, I was placed in the position of receiving orders from naval authorities at home, and of being ordered to disregard them at by the army commander on the spot, and it was increasingly difficult to understand how such orders could be given without any reference to the local situation or the local commanders.

23. With General Paget, there arrived naval and military staffs and I was therefore relieved of most of my administrative duties at the base. For seven days I had, with my Adjutant, Captain Knight , R.M. and my intelligence officer, second Lieutenant Bird, R.M., been almost continuously on duty at my H.Q. Both of these officers worked ceaselessly for and untiringly during this very trying period. Captain Knight relieved me of much routine administrative work, and Lieutenant Bird with his knowledge of Norwegian, kept an almost continuous telephone watch day and night. We sadly lacked a trained staff. No one in the H.Q. Platoon I had withdrawn from H.M.S. "Hood’s" detachment could type and it was some days before I could get a typewriter. This meant a slowing down of our daily output as all writing had to be done by ourselves.

Our duties were numerous: - ciphering and deciphering; the arranging for unloading of Transports and H.M. Ships; requisitioning of the lorries, train arrangements; biletting; liaison with Norwegian troops; A.R.P. arrangements in the town; liaison with consular and Foreign Office officials; communications generally; security work; arrangements for interviewing of prisoners, etc as well as the issue of orders to the various protective detachments and A/A battery.

24. All this had meant that it had been quite impossible for me to supervise my actual force dispositions. I had, however, ordered Major Beasley to visit most of the posts, and he made a reassuring report to me on the morning before he was wounded. I was now able to go myself to this is all posts, with the exception of the one at the frozen lake near Lesjaswick, and to satisfy myself that my intentions were both are understood and being carried out.

The disposition of these posts are not given as I have no map to which to refer all. Briefly and they were six platoon posts, with one in reserve, covering important tactical positions such as road bridges; the electrical power station at Verma, about 28 miles inland; and possible lines of the enemy approach, as well as the aerodrome at Lesjaswick about 40 miles inland. Some positions were changed as the situation altered but the functions of the detachments remained the same.

25. On the 23rd April occurred a most regrettable and disturbing incident.

At about 1100 hours I had met the Air Staff Officers at a conference and had been informed that no British planes could be expected for 48 hours. Some little while afterwards I received a signal from H.M.S. "Curacoa" saying "Battle flight expected 1600". I discussed this with my Adjutant, and ask for a check from my own signal station. Lieutenant Colonel Clarke, the War Office liaison officer, who was also at my H.Q. also saw the signal which was interpreted to mean that we were being warned a of enemy action at about 1600. At about 1605 three planes appeared, and one, if not two, were shot down by either ships or shore A/A guns. (As I did not see the actual shooting had my evidence is a only hearsay, but the navigator and wireless operator of one of the planes, who escaped by parachute, were interviewed by me and they both said that ships’ guns opened fire upon them for a short while, and this was confirmed later from H.M.S. "Curacoa").

At about 1615 I received a visual signal from H.M.S. "Curacoa" saying that the planes were friendly. I thereupon signalled to H.M.S. "Curacoa" saying that the only signal I had received was the one quoted above, and that I had been given no warning of the expected arrival of friendly machines.

It then transpired, through further signals, that two signals had been made from U.K. stating that a Hudson Battle flight was leaving a Wick and would arrive about 1530. H.M.S. "Curacoa" informed me that the shortened signal "Battle flight expected 1600" was sent to me in that form "to save time". I afterwards learned that aircraft recognition signals were in existence, but these had never been transmitted to "Primrose", nor was I able to discover whether H.M.S. "Curacoa" knew of these.

The danger of sending a friendly flight into a battle area where no British machines had yet been seen, without the most careful co-ordination and planning, could not have been more fatally illustrated, particularly when, seen in the distance, the planes sent when not noticeably dissimilar from those used by the enemy.

26. By the 28th situation reports from the line were such that a Brigadier Hogg, now in command of the base troops, was forced with the possibility of having to consider plans for a withdrawal, and conferences called, at which I was always present. The throughout that day, and the day following, there were almost continuous conferences, when the final decision to withdraw had been made known. It was decided to divide the base area into three sectors. Sector 1, on the right, was the Setnesmoen aerodrome area, and was to be commanded by myself. Sector two "the left" Park Hotel area, was to be commanded by Brigadier Morgan, and sector three, the rearward area, was to be commanded by Brigadier Hopwood, the whole operation of being under the orders of Brigadier Hogg.

There were eight platoons of Royal Marines, including my H.Q. Platoon, available for the defence of these final positions, together with about 40 of Brigadier Morgan's Brigade who were at Park Hotel, and about 80 L of C troops, who had that day been issued with rifles, but many of whom had had no rifle training.

Four Platoons of Marines, I kept in my sector; two I attached to number 2 sector, and one and the H.Q. Platoon I attached to No. 3 sector. Of my personal staff, Captain Knight, R.M. I ordered to report to Brigadier Hopwood, and a second Lieutenant Bird, the to Brigadier Morgan. Surgeon lieutenant Miller and Paymaster Lieutenant Reed I took with me to number one sector.

Brigadier Morgan and I did a combined reconnaissance at about 1800 hours on a 29/4, and the plan and was for us to hold on to our positions as long as was possible in order to allow the last man to embark by a 0400 and hours on 1/5.

I carried out a further reconnaissance at about 1930 hours on 29/4 with Captain McCahon, R.M. and explained to him and my plans in detail.

27. At the final conference on a 29/4 Brigadier Hogg gave orders for the destruction of all secret codes, cyphers, documents and money, and this, for "Primrose" force, was carried out on my orders by my staff. The numbers of the notes destroyed by Paymaster Lieutenant Reed, in the presence of my staff, were noted and a document signed by all witnesses to the destruction. This document I instructed Lieutenant Reed to render to his ship, whence most of the money had been issued.

I gave orders that no papers about to be carried which could in any way compromise the force if captured by the enemy, and that any equipment, such as light guns or A/A guns which had to be abandoned must be made and unserviceable before they were left.

28. On the night of a 29/30 it had been decided to evacuate up to 1200 of the non-fighting units from Aandalsnes. On account of transport difficulties and possibly because of continuous bombing and incendiary raids, and only about 300 men were in fact evacuated that night.

29. At 0300 on a 30/4 I left my H.Q. at Aandalsnes and proceeded to Setnesmoen aerodrome. Here I visited Captain McCahon, who had had orders from me to take up his final dispositions by that hour, and satisfied myself that my order was understood.

I then endeavoured to get into telephonic communication with H.Q. at Aandalsnes, but found the wires cut, and while I was in the telephone hut, a bomb hit the next hut to it. I decided, therefore, to abandon the idea of telephonic communication and to rely upon my 3 D/Rs, attached to me from the army.

Intermittent bombing of the aerodrome and the Norwegian camp took place all the morning but from about 1030 until 1400 hours a continuous and heavy bombardment took place. The whole camp, which consisted of a large white wooden huts, was soon on fire and our food and ammunition dumps in an area, as well as almost all our personal effects, were destroyed.

30. At about 1100 on a 30/4 I was hit by either a piece of bomb or else and a M.G. bullet from Heinkel bomber, and became a casualty. I immediately sent word to Captain McCahon to tell him to take command of my sector and to carry out my orders as already detailed. At about 1530 I was moved by Surgeon Lieutenant Miller down to the beach at Verblungsnes in a small car he had commandeered. On the way he himself was wounded but behaved with the same spirit which she had shown throughout the operation, and refused any attention until he had got me to the beach. There we were subjected to two hours a very low flying M.G. attack, but we are fortunate to escape further casualties.

That night I signalled to a destroyer which had come up the fjord and was eventually taken off by a whaler to H.M.S. "Mashona", together with Surgeons Lieutenant Miller, Paymaster Lieutenant Reid, my attendant, Marine Harding and Lieutenant Linge of the 11th Regiment, Molde, about whom a separate report as already been made to the Adjutant General, Royal Marines.

Eventually, after a bombing attack on the ship at about 0330 hours on a 1/5 I was transferred at about 1130 hours to H.M.S. "Sikh" about 90 miles out from the main land and taken to Scapa Flow. Thence I travelled to Thurso and eventually to London, when I reported by telephone to the Royal Marine office at about 2000 hours on a 3/5.