How 5 ships full of vital war resources and Allied POWs were stolen from under the nose of the Germans

Elisabeth Bakke the ship Andrew stole

Celebrating Little Known WWII Hero Andrew Henry 

One of the first stages of British involvement in World War 2 was the failed Norwegian Campaign. Both Germany and the Allies placed a high value on Norway due to its position on the North Sea. The Germans also relied on vast quantities of iron ore for the smooth running of its war machine. The Norwegian port of Narvik was an important shipping hub for iron ore, making Norway a key target for occupation for the Germans as the war got underway.

Andrew Henry was a former Merchant Navy Captain who had retired when World War 2 broke out. He came out of retirement to help with the war effort, Andrew was in his 60s when he played a vital role in securing ships, men and cargo for the British war effort.

An overlooked result of the failed campaign was that a large number of British and Norwegian sailors had been captured by the Germans. Amongst these sailors was Andrew Henry, he had been captured after his ship was sunk in Narvik during the Norwegian campaign.

The Germans forced Andrew and his fellow sailors to march 26 miles through a Scandinavian blizzard to Sweeden. In his memoirs, Andrew notes that he only took “his essentials” including his Bible and his wife’s hat box.

With the assistance of MI6, Andrew and other captains decided to escape to freedom by stealing ships from Gothenburg. They decided to steal 5 Norwegian ships containing 18,600 tonnes of material that were of crucial value to the British war effort. The ships were stranded in Gothernburg after the successful German invasion of Norway. After the Germans had successfully occupied Norway, they had set up effective blockades across the North Sea to disrupt Allied merchant shipping routes in an effort to cripple the British Isles.

Most of the sailors were young, inexperienced and understandably nervous. Andrew was chosen to captain one of the ships named Elisabeth Bakke and gave an important speech to the younger captains who were scared of the dangers presented by their mission. He told them it was their duty to take the mission and the best chance for them to get back home for Christmas.

The operation started at night on the 23rd of January 1941 while the winter blizzard raged. The brave sailors cut communication lines, preventing the Germans from being alerted too soon. Capturing the ships was only the beginning of the adventure for these brave men.

The Luftwaffe was sent out with orders to destroy the ships, Ranja was attacked but carried on with one casualty. A large escort of British warships was dispatched to escort the merchant ships to the UK.

Altogether, the stolen ships carried 18,600 metric tonnes of vital cargo, the haul included ball bearings, tools, iron, ingots and a lot of steel. At a time when Britain was about to enter a period of mass production to keep up with the demands WW2 placed on the country - this was an unparalleled triumph for the company.

There are many untold stories of heroism and personal triumph from every war and conflict the UK has been involved with. Unfortunately, with war, comes destruction and many of our heroes end up suffering both mentally and physically.

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