Legendary Norway raid remembered 80 years on

A Service of Remembrance will be held at the Board and Search training school, where modern day sailors are prepared for operations across the globe. The Board and Search school is part of 47 Commando Royal Marines.

In February 1940 a boarding party from HMS Cossack stormed the German tanker Altmark, which was hiding in a Norwegian fjord to release the prisoners.  The prisoners had been seized by the raider Graf Spree as it picked off Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

When Graf Spree was cornered off South America, the Altmark attempted to run the gauntlet of the British Blockade to reach Germany.  That’s until it was located in Jøssingfjord, near the southwestern tip of Norway.

Chief Petty Officer Gary ‘Jed’ Stones, one of the instructors at the school, said: “A party of three officers and thirty ratings armed with rifles and bayonets and one cutlass, boarded Altmark.  They secured the bridge and then began the search for prisoners.  A hold was opened and a call was made; “Are there any Englishmen down there?” Following a loud response, the prisoners were told; “Then come up.  The Navy’s here.”

Eight Germans were killed and five were wounded with bayonets in the brisk action that became known as the ‘Altmark Incident’.  ‘The Navy’s here’ then became a popular rallying cry throughout the war.”

Captain Anthony Swan, Royal Marines, is the Officer-in-Charge of the Board and Search School.   He said:  “We thought it fitting to hold a Service of Remembrance here at Raleigh.  It has helped improve and strengthen our relationship with the Cossack association and is a real privilege to be a part of.  Cossack today is a stone ship, mocked up to be a merchant vessel.  It has a bridge, an engine space, a hold and a Captain’s cabin.  We train ships’ boarding teams during a three-week course for deployments all over the world.  The course begins in Cossack building before moving on to more complicated boardings on board Brecon, a former minesweeper moored in the River Lynher, and then finally underway boardings at sea.”

We thought it fitting to hold a Service of Remembrance here at Raleigh. It has helped improve and strengthen our relationship with the Cossack association and is a real privilege to be a part of.

Captain Anthony Swan, Royal Marines

In recent years the Royal Navy has had a number of successful drugs busts.  Last year HMS Dragon achieved a record-breaking eight drug busts operating in the Middle East.  In total the ship seized more than £145 million pounds from criminals, intent on spreading harmful drugs around the world and funding terrorist organisations.  Earlier this month HMS Defender seized 2,500kg of hashish in the Indian Ocean; her second significant drugs bust following an operation in December when she seized and destroyed a record haul of crystal meth.  Days later RFA Mounts Bay operating with a specialist team from the US Coastguard seized 1.4 tonnes of illegal narcotics in the Caribbean. The ship has been operating on a combined UK – US – French operation since the beginning of the year.

As well as the service at HMS Raleigh, sailors from the destroyer HMS Dauntless will join veterans, representatives from the Norwegian Embassy in London, the Cossack Association and local council officials for the parade at Durrington Cemetery in Worthing. 

The cemetery is the final resting place of one of the heroes of the Altmark Incident, Warrant Officer J J F Smith.  He was the only British casualty of the night and was wounded by a booby trap.  Warrant Officer Smith was treated by Altmark’s surgeon.  He survived the war and served in the Royal Navy until the mid-50s.

A silver platter presented to HMS Cossack by the grateful prisoners is now on display at the Board and Search school.