The Great Vaagso Raid
Book and Magazine review
The Vaagso Raid by Joseph H. Devins, Jr.
After the Battle, Issue 109, The Raid on Vaagso.
By D. M Knights IPMS/USA 17656, IPMS/Canada C6091
The time is December 1941. Britain has survived the blitz. It is making pinprick bombing raids over Europe. Its forces in North Africa are hard pressed. Germany rules the continent and stands at the gates of Moscow. Churchill searches for a way to strike back at the Germans. But how?
Britain was weak in 1941. Where could she strike? She was locked in a death struggle in North Africa, but she had no additional troops to spare. In addition, the war in the Pacific had broken out and was not going well. The British had just formed the Commandos in 1941 and they were anxious to strike back at Germany. But how?
The most vulnerable point in the Third Reich in 1941 was Norway. It had a long, hard to defend coastline. The British had command of the sea. The British were anxious to do something to redeem themselves for their poor performance in Norway in 1940. It turns out that fish oil is vital for producing vitamin B for submarine crews as well as nitroglycerin for explosives. The Norwegian fish oil plants were producing fish oil which was being used for these purposes. Thus, the British had a target.
Vaagso Island is one of the many islands along the coast of Norway. It had two main towns, South Vaagso and North Vaagso. South Vaagso was the major town, and had several fish oil plants which made tempting, easy targets for a British commando raid.
In the 1970s, when I was a young kid, I loved the Bantam war series of books. They were just the thing for a young boy interested in WWII. The book on the Grand Vaagso raid was first published in 1968 and the Bantam edition was published in 1983. It told the story of this raid from the viewpoint of the British commandos who took part in this first raid on Fortress Europe. These books were written in a way to fire the imagination of the readers. It certainly did this for me.
It is a great story. It is the first full-fledged raid by the new and untested British commando units. The raid was planned to attack the vulnerable point on the Norwegian coast and make a dent in the larger German war effort. The book is great and is very interesting. The British committed their newly formed commandos. They succeeded in their objectives. However, the German units stationed in South Vaagso and the adjacent island of Malloy were very successful in resisting the raid. They put up a spirited defense that caused the British to withdraw, even though they had achieved all of their major objectives.
Interestingly, even though the raid was a success and showed the vulnerability of the Germans on the Norwegian coast, few subsequent raids were laid on. The Norwegian government-in-exile was worried that the civilians in Norway would suffer reprisals from the Germans after such raids. A number of citizens fled with the withdrawing British forces to escape occupation or to join up with the free Norwegian forces. As a result, the Germans reoccupied Vaagso in force and beefed up their forces all over Norway. In fact, during WWII, the Germans maintained over 450,000 troops in Norway. Ironic given that the Germans didn’t want to occupy Norway in the first place.
The book is an easy read. I recommend that if you read the book you also get the After the Battle magazine, issue 109, which covers the raid. The British sent cameramen on the raid and the After the Battle issue has many photos of the raid. Read together, the book and magazine give a great understanding of the British raid and the German reaction. I will say that I enjoyed reading the book and magazine. I highly recommend this little known battle in WWII to the MMCL members. I’d love to see some dioramas based on the raid. It would be cool. It is fascinating story.