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My name is Bob Pearson, a high school teacher from Ipswich and for some time I have been researching how one of the greatest gold snatches in history was carried out. It is a tale of intrigue, immense bravery and leadership…and a little good fortune. But the story is far from complete and I am hoping someone out there will be able to shed light on HMS Devonshire’s role…and did she carry gold or valuables from Tromso or is purely rumour?
The night of April 8th/9th 1940 was a very traumatic period in the history of Norway: Hitler’s Third Reich had launched a completely unprovoked attack on neutral Norway sweeping up its Scandinavian neutral partner Denmark in the process.
Simultaneous invasion landings took place along the south and west coast of Norway as the might of the German armed forces swung into action, but the Germans had grossly miscalculated the defiance of a small coastal battery, Oscarsborg Fort, that defended the Narrows in Oslofjord leading directly to the much prized capital, Oslo – home to the Norwegian Royal Family, the government and the nation’s gold bullion.
The fort, commanded by Colonel Eriksen ordered his guns into action and as the lead German ship, the mighty cruiser Blucher, came into view, Eriksen gave the order to fire and two enormous shells ripped into the pride of the German force and set her ablaze. As the crippled ship inched forward two torpedoes fired from the battery slammed into the side of the Blucher ensuring a watery grave for the ship and a great loss of many Germans in the icy waters of Oslofjord – the invasion had been stalled had been stalled for a crucial few hours.
The Norwegians, surprised by the unprovoked attack, but taking advantage of the sinking of the Blucher immediately took steps to get the Royal Family, its government and the gold bullion to safety and an urgent cry for help was sent to Britain.
Using any form of transport they could lay their hands on the Royal Family and the government made good their escape.
Hotly pursued by the Germans the Norwegian Royal party were bombed and strafed at every opportunity, but fortune was on their side and after a series of lucky escapes they found themselves at the west coast port of Molde, but even here the relentless bombing continued and the party hid in the woods in their bid to escape certain death.
Meanwhile, the Bank of Norway, with the help of some of its employees and a handful of soldiers had managed to secure road and rail transport to move the bullion away from the desperate, grabbing hands of the Germans.
Dodging the enemy bombers and parachute troops the Norwegian soldiers and bank officials managed to get the bullion away to safety of the then unoccupied west coasts ports of Åndalsnes, Molde and Tromso…and into the safe hands of the Royal Navy.
Three Royal Navy cruisers – HMS Enterprise, HMS Galatea, and HMS Glasgow rescued the gold under appalling conditions…attacked in port and then constantly chased, harassed and bombed by the Luftwaffe as they made their way back to the UK. However, all three cruisers safely made it to their designated ports: Enterprise docked at Devonport, whilst Galatea and Glasgow off-loaded their precious cargo on the Clyde.
HMS Glasgow’s role was slightly different to the others as she not only liberated 23 tons of bullion from the pursuing Germans, but was further tasked with rescuing King Haakon, his son Crown Prince Olav, and members of the Norwegian Government.
King Haakon did not want to forsake his people and asked Captain Pegram if he could be taken to North Norway where he could carry on the fight. Captain Pegram obliged the King and HMS Glasgow sailed north. A short time later and having executed their duty to the King, Glasgow returned to Greenock to off-load her precious cargo of bullion.
In June 1940, and with the Germans over-running Norway, King Haakon and his son, Crown Prince Olav were eventually evacuated to London on HMS Devonshire to lead their people in exile.
However, rumours at that time, and they still abound today, say that Devonshire may have carried a small amount of gold back to the UK. These rumours may have come from sailors on Devonshire or from the local populace. However, the ship’s records state that they left port without any bullion, although it is possible that a small amount of gold coin accompanied King Haakon thereby fueling the rumours.
There have also been rumours that the gold destined for Devonshire was buried and to date has never been recovered…no, I don’t know where exactly!
I am always interested to hear stories from veterans, relatives or people with a sincere interest in the events in Norway during 1940, especially anyone with connections to HMS Devonshire, Glasgow, Galatea and Enterprise.
I am also interested in any information, no matter how small, on two Britons, Sir Charles Hambro and Captain Frank Foley – both men may have played significant roles with the gold transport. All contributions are welcome and are treated with the utmost respect and formally acknowledged.
By Robby G:
It was at this time (transfer of Norwegian Royalty & Government) that the aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious with two of her escorts were lost. It was rumoured that “Devonshire” ignored the signal from “Glorious” that she was under attack and did not go to her aid but increased speed to 30 knots toward Scotland., leaving “Glorious” and escorts to their peril.
From HMS Glorious and her two escort destroyers HMS Ardent & HMS Acasta, 1,115 men lost their lives. Only 41 survived the icy waters.
The reason for these terrible losses has been kept secret, and to this day is still shrouded in mystery. There is no doubt though, that “Devonshire’s” prime roll was to get her precious cargo of Royalty and no doubt GOLD, to the UK without deviating in any way whatsover.
Nothing, regarding the true actions of this event can be found in the National Archives. I suspect this has a 100 year release stipulation!
See this interesting link HMS Glorious