Route to Sweden

The following is an account of Operation Musketoon published in the London Gazette on the 7th January 1943. It is a fascinating first hand account and concentrates on the withdrawal from the scene of the attack and subsequent attempt to reach home. By deduction we can assume it was written by Corporal John Fairclough:

“We left our home port on 11th September 1942 and disembarked four days later. After the operation, which took place successfully on the night of 20th September, we climbed up to the huts behind Glomfjord power station. Captain Black then told the rest of us to climb the hill as best we could and get away. We divided into two parties, Smith O’Brian (1), Christiansen (2), Fairclough and Trigg going up to the right and the others to the left. However Captain Black called Smith back to administer morphia to a man who had been wounded. (3)

The four of us carried on for four hours up the mountain till 0600 hours 21st September when we reached the south side of a valley leading to Storglomvatnet Lake. We had abandoned our haversacks and everything but two Colts and our energy rations. We had two compasses apart from the small compasses in the aid boxes. Christiansen (3) had a large scale map.

The river was deep and rapid and we were on the wrong side of it as the Storglomvatnet lake blocked our way east. Christiansen managed to cross with difficulty but shouted to us not to follow him. He was in much stronger form than we were, he was an agile as a goat and was going strong when last we saw him. He still had the map. We now had a compass between three of us, Christiansen having taken one with him. We were very tired and hungry and ate all our emergency rations in twenty minutes.

We went on down the south side of a valley and during the afternoon had to lie low because four Messerschmitts and a Heinkel came to look for us. In the evening we were able to cross the river wher eit reaches the lake and skirted round the north of the lake.

We walked all night and by Tuesday morning 22nd September we reached a road going north and south just to the south of South Bjelica Lake. It was an appalling journey through snow and blizzard 5,000 ft. up. On the road O’Brian approached a farm house and came out again with a parcel of food, bread, butter, cheese. After eating this we waded across the stream and up into the woods. O’Brian thought he saw four Germans and we hid in some rocks for an hour. We then marched up the hill (385417 GSGS 4090 K.14) and Sgt O’Brian lost the remaining compass. We continued, but the following evening we found we had gone round in a circle and dropped with exhaustion. We made a big fire and slept there all that night. O’Brian went down to a valley thinking he was going east. We followed him the next day 23rd September but never saw him again. We went to a second farm house at 1200 hours, where they fed us and gave us sandwiches for the journey. They pointed at the valley down which we had come as being the  way to Sweden. We had, in fact, come down the valley we had previously gone up. We set off again up the same valley and climbed all that night. At the top we passed a woodman’s hut. We climbed over to the other side of the mountain, but we were so exhausted that we went back to the hut which we reached at dawn 24th September. We found some stale cheese, coffee and flour in it. Trigg made some doughnuts, fried the cheese and made some coffee. We slept until midday.

Despairing of getting to Sweden without help, we returned once more to the road intending to go to the farm again but got lost. We decided to follow  the road north and came to another farm near South Bjeliaa lake. The man who opened the door spoke English but was very frightened and said there was a German patrol on the road to the south. We carried on north along the road and after a few minutes the farmer followed us on a bicycle and told us to go to this parent’s house which he pointed out east of the road. We went there and though they could not understand us, they fed us well and gave us some socks. Then the son arrived and said he would find a guide for next morning. He gave us a haversack each full of food and a bottle of milk. He took us a mile further up to another farm from where bedding, pillow and blankets were provided for us in a loft.

At 0500 hours 25th September he took us to the top of a hill, gave us a small compass on  top of a pen and told us to march east. He drew a rough map showing us the route to the north of a lake where we should see some telegraph poles. We were told to follow the line of these, but not too closely, as there was a hut nearby where there was thought to be a Quisling. When we got near the poles, we saw in the snow some  tracks of commando boots which we followed but these came to an end and we never picked them up again.  

When we got to the Mo-Bod road we had some trouble crossing the river. A motor cyclist passed by on the road, we ducked and were not seen. We eventually found a boat and crossed the river. We made a fire on top of the hill that night. It was very cold indeed with snow about six inches deep. We went to sleep but kept waking up with cold and making the fire up. The following dawn 26th September we again set out climbing a very high peak about 5,000 feet. It was sheer rock and we were scared, sometimes snow up to our chests. We eventually got down into a valley intending to keep to valleys in the future. We followed this valley down to the Junkerdal-Craddis road. There we found a farm and they gave us food. It was at this farm that we met a man who was to guide us over the frontier. He took us to a friend’s house a mile along the stream. There we had another feed and went to bed at 1500 hours. The gide went out to make arrangements to get us across that night.

He woke us up at 1800 hours giving us another meal and sandwiches. We left at 0900* and went up to his sister’s house at Skiati. We had more food there at 2200 hours, and left at 2300 hours. The guide and his brother-in-law then accompanied us over the frontier and left us three hundred yard the other side.”

London Gazette 7.1.43

Note: this is a word for word copy of the transcript, erros and all, eg*

(1) Richard O’Brien

(2) Sverre Granlund

(3) Erling Djupdraet

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