Here we have another of Paul Hannah’s particular way of looking at history, in this case it is the story of 15 incredibly brave Norwegians in a tiny boat, who happened to bump into a large part of the invasion fleet of the Germans on their way to invade Norway, and attacked it!

Read on, this is an amazing story!

There are two versions of the story of the death of Captain Leif
Welding-Olsen of the Royal Norwegian Navy, I am going to tell you the
one that Winston Churchill relates in his book, The Gathering Storm.
The official version differs only in one small detail.

Captain Welding-Olsen

When war seemed likely the Norwegian Navy commandeered a whale boat,
put a small gun aboard and two machine guns then renamed it Poll III

Poll III

.Captain Welding-Olsen took over the vessel and he and his crew of 14
were given the task of patrolling the maritime gateway to the capital,
Oslo Fjord.

There was no reason to expect that the evening of April 8, 1940 was
going to be much different from any others. The good captain said
goodbye to his wife Mary as he had done many times in the past, but
this time it was to be different, he would never set foot upon land or
kiss Mary again.

The Nazis were coming.

Hitler had no respect for Norway’s neutrality, he needed free access
to Sweden’s iron ore and both Norway and Denmark could threaten that.
Consequently the invasion of these little countries – Operation
Weserübung, was approved by Hitler. and due to begin on April 9.
Hitler had every reason to think that this invasion would go smoothly.
He was very wrong. The day before, the Polish submarine Orzel spotted
and sank the troop carrier, Rio De Janeiro on her way to the invasion
and late that evening the flotilla the Nazis named Kamfgruppe V (War
Group Five) was spotted by the lookout of the the little Poll III.

History is full of stories of David and Goliath type battles, but few
compare to this engagement. Kamfgruppe V consisted of the heavy
cruiser Blücher, heavy cruiser Lützow, light cruiser Emden, three
torpedo boats, eight minesweepers and 2,000 troops. Against this
armada was just one little boat and fifteen brave men. Few people
would blame Welding-Olsen for radioing a report and beating a hasty
retreat, but he didn’t. He ordered “Full steam ahead!” and steered a
course for the centre of the task force – he went straight for the
forty guns of the Blucher setting off flares to alert the coastal
batteries and preparing to fire as soon as the big ship was in range.

Kreuzer “Blücher”

Captain Woldag of the Blücher watched this tiny vessel challenging his
mighty ship and rather than engage it directly, he sent one of his
torpedo boats to deal with this little nuisance. In the first salvo,
Poll III was extensively damaged and fires broke out in several
places. Captain Welding-Olsen was mortally wounded in the legs and
unable to continue, so he handed over command, told his crew to keep
fighting and rolled himself into the icy waters of the fjord, never to
be seen again.

Eventually the little boat was so badly damaged, her crew was forced
to abandon ship and they were rescued while clinging to the side of an
upturned lifeboat.

If the story ended there, you might be forgiven for thinking that this
hero’s sacrifice was a pointless gesture. But it didn’t.

The flares that Welding-Olsen fired alerted the coastal fortress at
Oscarsborg and her guns and torpedoes were ordered to be made ready by
her commander Oberst Birger Eriksen. As the Nazi flotilla approached,
the fortress fired her 28 cm (11 inch) guns and her underwater
torpedoes. The Blücher was hit and set afire by the guns and two
torpedoes struck her side, her ammunition magazine exploded and she
went to the bottom of the fjord, where she remains to this day.
Kampfgruppe V had lost it’s biggest ship and was driven out of the
fjord and away from Oslo allowing the Norwegian government to safely
evacuate the King and the Norwegian government to London.

(c) Paul Hannah 2018

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