Raid on Norway


An interview with Eugene Dance 

 

With the departure of Darby’s Rangers to North Africa, it was determined that a Ranger Unit was still needed in England to conduct raids on Europe. In September 1942 a directive from European Theater of Operations HQ authorized the formation of the 29th Provisional Ranger Battalion. Volunteers from the 29th Division and a handful of men from Darby’s Rangers(who did not make it to North Africa) formed the training cadre. In December 1942, the unit was formed at Tidworth Barracks and shortly thereafter was moved to the Commando Training Depot in Scotland. During the following months several members of the unit participated with British Commandos on a few minor raids on occupied Europe. After less than 10 months of activation, the little known unit was disbanded in October 1943 since HQ felt the 29th was no longer needed with the pending arrival of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions. The following oral history is from Eugene Dance, a member of the 29th Rangers and one of only a handful of men that went on raids with No. 4 Commando to Norway.

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                                    Ranger Officers of the 29th Ranger Battalion
Back Row:  Davidson, Heffner,Callahan, Grass, Kordiyak, Farrell, Clemmer
Front Row: McNabb, Capt. Hille, MAJ Millholland, Capt Marr, Capt Ernst, Eugene Dance

When I joined the battalion at Tidworth Barracks (England), we only had two companies at the time -- A and B companies. I was a first lieutenant. This is all there was initially. We went to Achnacarry for Commando Training. After that we came back to London and had something like 48 hours of leave. After the leave I was instructed to report to Major Millholland (commander of the 29th Rangers). Millholland called me in and said: "take two corporals and two privates and join No. 10 Commando in the Shetlands for however long it would take." It took about 2 months.

We (a small group of 29th Rangers led by Lt. Dance that accompanied No. 4 Commando) went to Norway five times during March and April 1943. We observed the shipping but made physical contact with the Germans only one time. The objective of our missions was to observe German coastal shipping to get an idea of the numbers and where they were. There were constant plans for the commando and torpedo boats to interdict the shipping but while I was there they didn’t excise this option. During the war, the principle source of basic iron ore for German industry was from Sweden but most of the ore was shipped through the port of Narvik in Northern Norway. The Germans had air support in various places in Norway and during the day ore ships would move down the Norwegian coast under air cover. Because of the British fleet, the Germans were restricted from freely moving up and down the coast and at night they would hide the ships in fjords that made up the Norwegian coast.

The raids consisted from anything from ten to thirty or forty commandos and we would use anything from one to three MTB’s (the British version of a PT boat) and cross the North Sea at night to hit the coast just before daylight. The boats would be dead quiet when we were about to make landfall, coming in at 1 to 3 knots an hour. It was about 90 miles across to Norway and took about four hours to cross. The people running the boats were all Royal Navy people. The commanders on the boats were almost always former Norwegian fishermen who were intimately familiar with the coast. When they made landfall they could, almost immediately, within 100 yards, know where they were because they were so familiar with the area. The terrain was extremely rough and the coast goes up abruptly. The fjords cut into the coastline. There was almost no place to land except inside the Fjords themselves that vary in width and depth. There are lots of little rocky outcrops and islands that, at that time, were completely uninhabited, not even sheep. We could go ashore and set up camouflage nets and whatnot and we would sit up there and watch whatever was around us for 10 or 15 miles.

 

A brief firefight

We had only one mission that involved a firefight – it was a very brief, maybe only ten or twelve rounds were fired. I’ll start from the beginning. We had three boats, maybe 15 people on each boat. I don’t know the name of the place where this mission took place. For this mission it was only myself and Private Smith, the only Americans on the raid. We made the landfall and pulled right up to a stone pier dock where we tied the boat. We started walking toward a little village we were instructed to go to. I was not in the first group; there was a group of men ahead of me, maybe 75 … 100 yards. There was no moonlight – starlight only, making it pretty dark.

There was a little bridge that lead into the town. One of the lead elements (commandos) which included our commander, who was a British Captain, ran across a sentury guarding the bridge. This was completely unexpected. The leading commando shot him and the German sentury fell off the bridge and into the water below. We almost immediately started receiving fire from the houses in the village; somebody stuck a Schmeisser out of one of the doors in the village and was firing at us. At this time the Captain (whose name I can’t recall) elected to withdraw and walked back to the boats and went home.

Describe another raid…

This particular raid that I’m thinking about involved only one boat. We went across at night and got in at daylight. The boat pulled up to the eastside of a large rock that couldn’t have been more than a half acre wide. We got the boat right up against the side of a vertical cliff and hung a camouflage net over the boat. We climbed right above the side of the rock that was a cliff a little less than 100 feet high. It was just bare rock. When we finally made it to the top, we laid out camouflage nets, got under them, and set up an operation post. We were there for about 48 hours and we counted ore ships as they went by. My best recollection was that there were about six or eight very small Ore ships that were 100 to 150 feet long and that seemed to me to be pretty old. I didn’t see any German aircraft overhead during this time. Another time during a raid we were strafed by a JU-88 near the Shetland Islands.

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MG L. Gerow, of 5th Corps, is inspecting A Company, 29th Rangers,
at the Commando Depot at Achnacarry, Scottland 1943.

What were you armed with and did you wear British uniforms?

I was armed with a 45 and an M1. I was wearing jump boots that were issued in Scotland, GI issued O D trousers and shirt and cotton long underwear. I also wore a leather Jerkin that was sleeveless and went down to my hips and the knit cap that everyone else was wearing.

The commandos were wearing regular British armed services uniforms – something that almost looked like it was made out of a GI blanket. Everybody wore the soft knit caps, as far as I know nobody wore steel helmets even though they probably had them. The British wore their usual canvas webbing and whatnot. Some of the men were armed with the British Enfield rifle, some with Sten sub-machine guns, and others carried the Thompson sub-machine guns.

Sources:

Interview by Pat O'Donnell with Eugene Dance
Photos through Bill Callahan, 29th Rangers