Operation Checkmate (commando raid)

Operation Checkmate (commando raid)
Operation Checkmate
Date 28 April–15 May 1943
Location Haugesund, Norway
Result British victory
 United Kingdom Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Lieutenant John Godwin RNVR Unknown
seven men No. 14 (Arctic) Commando Unknown
Casualties and losses
all seven captured
six executed and
one died of Typhus
One minesweeper sunk

Operation Checkmate was the codename for a raid on shipping at Haugesund, Norway in April 1943 during the Second World War by British Commandos.

The raiding party consisted of seven men of No. 14 (Arctic) Commando who managed to sink several ships using limpet mines. While waiting in hiding for the transport back to the United Kingdom they were all captured on 15 May 1943 and eventually taken to Sachsenhausen and Belsen Concentration Camps where six of them were executed, victims of the Commando Order. The seventh died of typhus.[1]



Operation Checkmate was the last of 12 commando raids on the Norwegian coast during the Second World War.[2] The raiding party assembled for the operation was composed of one officer and six other ranks from No. 14 (Arctic) Commando.

The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando had been formed in late 1942, to conduct operations inside of the Arctic circle, following the request of the Chief of Combined Operations Headquarters Louis Mountbatten to meet the demand for further raids in Norway. No. 14 (Arctic) Commando was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel E.A.M Wedderburn, comprising two troops: No. 1 (Boating) Troop which had an establishment of nine officers and 18 other ranks who specialized in small boat operations and No. 2 Troop which had an establishment of six officers and 22 other ranks who specialized in cross-country skiing and mountain climbing.[3] They were especially to be used to attack German Navy and German Air Force bases in Norway, that the Germans were using to attack the Allied Arctic Convoys.[4]

For Operation Checkmate the men selected for the raid came from No. 1 (Boating) Troop. The raid commander was Lieutenant John Godwin, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, who was originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The rest of the raiding party comprised one British Army sergeant—Victor John Cox, on attachment from No. 12 Commando;[5] two Royal Navy petty officers—Alfred John Roe and Harold Hiscock;[6][7] and three Royal Navy able seaman—Neville Arthur Burgess, Keith Mayor and Andrew Anthony West.[8][9][10] Their mission was to attack shipping in Oslo and Kopervik in the Haugesund by entering the harbours by canoe and attaching Limpet mines to ships' hulls.[11]


two two man canoes at sea moving from left to right
The two man canoe as used in Operation Checkmate

The commandos of the raiding force were transported across the North Sea by Motor Torpedo Boat. On arrival in Norwegian waters they set up their patrol base on the island of Karmøy, before the Motor Torpedo Boat left them and returned to the United Kingdom. The raiding party were left with a small fishing coble and their canoes. It was always intended that the Motor Torpedo Boat would return at a later date and transport them back to the United Kingdom.[11][12]

The commandos had been issued with two canoes with which to carry out their mission. Lieutenant Godwin and Able Seaman Burgess were one crew and the other was crewed by Able Seamen Mayor and West. Their plan was for the coble, under the cover of darkness, to move within striking distance of their targets and then use the canoes to get in closer and plant their Limpet mines.[12] They did only manage to sink one german ship, a mine sweeper, M 5207.[13] A captured German document when translated quotes "a number of German steamers were sunk in Oslo and Kopervik."[11] This report covers both the ship sunk during this operation and the ones that that the Oslogjengen - the Oslo gang, sunk in Oslo. The two canoes then returned to the location where the coble had been. It had meanwhile been moved by the three remaining soldiers, with the assistance of norwegian civilians, to a safer location further inland. The two canoes then moved westward, towards the islands Urter, where they waited for their MTB pickup. The coble had been moved further inland in an attempt to get it fixed, but had to be left by its crew. This party was eventually captured on 14. May 1943, after an extensive search by the German Army and police with the assistance of Norwegian civilians. The day after the four men on Urter were also captured.[14] After capture they were initially held in the prison at Grini where they were interrogated, before they were handed over to the Sicherheitsdienst (better known as the SD) and transported to Sachsenburg concentration camp in Germany.[11]


Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp memorial plaque for British and Commonwealth forces

All involved in Operation Checkmate were captured in uniform and should have been treated as prisoners of war. However in 1942 Adolf Hitler had issued the Commando Order that stipulated that all captured commandos, no matter if they were in uniform or not, were to be executed shortly after interrogation.[15]

While at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, the men from Operation Checkmate were forced into breaking in German Army boots by marching 30 miles (48 km) a day over cobblestones. Five of the team excluding Mayor and Roe were executed at Sachsenhausen on 2 February 1945. Mayor and Roe were transferred to Belsen concentration camp, where Mayor was executed on 7 April 1945 and Roe died of Typhus.[11][16] Godwin was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches on 9 November 1945, "For great gallantry and inspiring example whilst a prisoner of war in German hands in Norway and afterwards at Sachsenhausen, near Oranienburg, Germany, 1942-1945",[17] he is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, one of the memorials for those of the naval service with no known grave.[18] Mayor was posthumously Mentioned on 22 April 1947 "for great fortitude and resolution while in the hands of the Germans, from; the time of his capture in 1943 to the time of his death at Belsen in April 1945", and is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.[19] Cox is commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial.[20] Roe is also commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial,[21] Hiscock on the Lowestoft Naval Memorial,[22] Burgess on the Chatham Naval Memorial,[23] and West also on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.[24]


  1. ^ "Operation Checkmate - Haugesund, Norway". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/. Retrieved 8 May 2010. 
  2. ^ Messenger, p.15
  3. ^ Moreman, p.24
  4. ^ Allied Special Forces Insignia 1939-1948, p.65
  5. ^ "Sgt Victor John Cox ( Jack )". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/Sgt+Victor+John+Cox+++_+Jack+_+++12+Commando++-+killed+whilst+a+POW.jpg.html. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  6. ^ "Petty Officer Alfred John Roe". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/Alfred+John+Roe+-+Operation+Checkmate.jpg.html. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  7. ^ "Petty Officer Harold Hiscock". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/Harold+Hiscock+-+Operation+Checkmate.jpg.html. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  8. ^ "Able Seaman Neville Burgess". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/Neville+Burgess+-Operation+Checkmate.jpg.html. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  9. ^ "Able Seaman Keith Mayor". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/Keith+Mayor+Operation+Checkmate.jpg.html. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  10. ^ "A In memory of Able Seaman Andrew Anthony West". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/Plymouth+Naval+Memorial.jpg.html. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d e "OperationCheckmate". Commando Veterans Association. http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/v/WW2/Operation+Checkmate/Extract_from_Capture_Letter_P1_1_.jpg.html?g2_imageViewsIndex=1. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  12. ^ a b Hampshire, p.20
  13. ^ Admiral Westküste, KTB, 3. May,1943
  14. ^ Report from Hafenkommandant Haugesund 16. May,1943, and interregation of Sublt. Godwin 15. May 1943.
  15. ^ Chappell, p.48
  16. ^ Russell, p.33
  17. ^

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  18. ^ Casualty Details—Godwin, John, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  19. ^ Casualty Details—Mayor, Keith, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  20. ^ Casualty Details—Cox, Victor John, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  21. ^ Casualty Details—Roe, Alfred John, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  22. ^ Casualty Details—Hiscock, Harold, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  23. ^ Casualty Details—Burgess, Neville Arthur, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  24. ^ Casualty Details—West, Andrew Anthony, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  • Chappell, Mike (1996). Army Commandos 1940–1945. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1855325799. 
  • Hampshire, Arthur Cecil (1981). Undercover sailors: secret operations of World War II. W. Kimber. ISBN 0718303687. 
  • Lord Russell of Liverpool (2008). The Scourge of the Swastika: A History of Nazi War Crimes During World War II. Skyhorse Publishing Inc. ISBN 1602392811. 
  • Messenger, Charles (2004). The D Day Atlas. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 500251231. 
  • Macksey, Kenneth (1987). Godwin's saga. Brassey's. ISBN 0080347428. 

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