Commander J A J Dennis DSC RN
The Liberation of Norway: Operation Conan May1945
Alec Dennis is mainly remembered today as the young lieutenant on HMS Griffin who captured the secret papers from the German Q Ship Polares (disguised as a Dutch trawler) off the coast of Norway in April 1940 which helped crack the Enigma code.
John Alexander Jeffreys Dennis was born at Caversham, Reading, on the 18 February 1918, the son of a
doctor, and went to Dartmouth as a cadet in 1931. He served on
battleships and cruisers during
the 1930s and on destroyers throughout the war. He joined HMS Griffin in January
1939 and took part in the Norwegian campaign and evacuations from the
Netherlands and St Nazaire. In the Mediterranean Griffin escorted convoys
to Malta and took part in the Battle of Matapan and the evacuations from Greece and
Crete, where he won his DSC, and after Japan entered the war in the
Indian Ocean. He became First Lieutenant on HMS Savage
in February 1943, escorted Arctic Convoys to Russia and was Mentioned
in Despatches (MID) in March 1944 for his part in the sinking of the Scharnhorst at the
Battle of North Cape. In June 1944 HMS Savage supported the Normandy landings.
In December he was given command of the V&W Class destroyer, HMS Valorous, escorting East Coast convoys from Rosyth on the Firth of Forth to Sheerness on the Thames estuary.
He married in January 1945, was promoted to Lt Cdr on the 1 May and MID
for the third time on the 8 May for fighting off E-Boats attacking a convoy on the 21 February 1945. After the surrender of the German forces at Oslo on the 9 May HMS Valorous was one of eight destroyers selected to go to "entry ports" on the west coast of Normay as part of Operation Conan. HMS Valorous and HMS Venomous, were sent to Kristiansand South.
wartime service is well documented in his unpublished memoir at the
Imperial War Museum and on six reels of recorded interviews at the IWM
made in 1988. He emigrated to Canada after the war, became a
businessman in Montreal for ten years but turned down the offer of a
seat on the board to retrain as a teacher and move to Vancouver. He was
91 when he died in 2008 leaving a son and daughter.
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Operation Conan was the Royal Navy's contribution to Operation Apostle, the occupation of Norway after the formal surrender of German forces at Oslo on the 9 May:
"On the 13 May, the Royal Navy initiated Operation Conan,
sending two destroyers to each of the intended ports of entry, Oslo,
Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromso and numbers of
MTBs from Lerwick to smaller towns along the coast. The destroyers
carried with them the naval officers in command (NOIC) of the various
ports, naval disarmament parties and small elements of air and military
staffs from Britain". British Policy and Strategy towards Norway; Christopher Mann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), page 209.
The events at Kristiansand were described by Dennis in his memoir and
are reproduced here by permission of his son and daughter.
"Then word went around that the
Rosyth Escort Force was to 'liberate' Norway, and there was much
speculation about which ships would go. Being in Ruck-Keene's good
books, I was lucky (so was Tom Boyd). On May 12th we embarked two or
three tons of stores, some solders equipped with walkie-talkies and,
eventually, Captain Lord Teynham, RN, who was to be the Senior Naval
Officer, Kristiansand (South). Next morning, Valorous and Venomous
(Guyon Prideaux) embarked a German naval pilot with charts of the
minefields off the Norwegian coast, and off we set at 20 knots for
Kristiansand. Early next morning. May 14th, we rendezvoused with some
German minesweepers at the entrance to the swept channel and felt our
way along the coast. We were, of course, at action stations, prepared
for a nasty reception in case the local command wanted to go out in a
blaze of glory. On the approach we could see some very large coast
defence guns, reputed to have been taken from the Scharnhorst's sister ship the Gneisenau,
which had been written off after mine and bomb damage. But everything
went quietly as we entered Kristiansand fiord at 1800 to find a group
of quite large camouflaged merchant ships at anchor, and a large number
of U-boats, minesweepers and small craft at Marviken, around the
corner. Hoisting a large Norwegian flag as well as our White Ensign at
the fore and a Commodore's Broad pennant at the yardarm, I found a
convenient anchorage not far from the jetty.
HMS Valorous, pennant number L00 ("Lucky Loo"), moored in the harbour with White Ensign and Norwegian flag at the mast-head A Norwegian trawler crowded with visitors is coming alongside Courtesy of Alan Dennis
Almost at once a stream of Norwegians appeared in small boats, giving
us a pretty good welcome in rather a restrained Scandinavian way. I
went ashore with Teynham, to get in touch with the powers that were -
Norwegian, German or British. The latter consisted of a few hundred
Special Air Service men, commanded by Brigadier Mike Calvert, long
known as 'Mad Mike, with a distinguished record in the war in Burma.
The SAS had been flown in about four days earlier and had already got a
fair grip of the situation, though vastly outnumbered. It turned out
that there was a division of German soldiers - some 15,000 men, a
Lieutenant General, a Vice-Admiral with 26 U-boats, and no less that
40,000 Russian prisoners of war in a camp near by. The Norwegians were
already rounding up the Quislings
for summary justice, and cropping the hair of such ladies as had been
over-friendly with the Germans. There were quite a lot of these and at
one stage we received a rather presumptuous invitation from the U- boat
base to meet some of them. No reply.
I didn't like to be away from the ship too long, so I returned on
board, leaving Teynham ashore to make his contacts. In due course he
returned in a Norwegian boat manned (among others) by some nice-looking
blond girls. He asked them down to my cabin for a drink, together with
some civic dignitaries.
Lord Teynham, fourth from left, goes ashore to "get in touch with the powers that be" Courtesy of Alan Dennis
Almost as an afterthought he told me that he had arranged for a German
surrender delegation to repair on board in half-an-hour's time. This
didn't give us much time to set up a suitable venue for such
high-priced visitors, ex-enemy or no. Teynham thought they'd never make
it on time, anyhow. But, being German, they were on the dot and I had
to keep them kicking their heels on the quarterdeck while we cleared
away the Norwegians, the girls, the drinks and the tables.
of the Kriegsmarine are piped aboard (left) and kept waiting on the
quarter deck (right) while the wardroom is cleared for the surrender
ceremony The officer in the greatcoat
on the left in the group picture appears to be in charge and may be Captain
Heinz Kiderlen, the naval commander for Kristiansand Courtesy of Alan Dennis
It was quite a moment. The Germans were, as always, punctilious,
correct, straight-backed, and poker-faced though clearly crest-fallen
(mixed though the metaphor may be). There was no question of resistance
and they were going to co-operate. Later we found that the Navy, at any
rate, were half-expecting to join us against the Russians.
In general, as had already been arranged by Mike Calvert, the Germans
were to ' keep their arms, take care of their own discipline while they
evacuated the town and started on the road trip to Oslo and thence back
to prisoner of war status in Germany. So off they went in their trucks
and lorries. The SAS being clever people, set up a road block several
miles out of town, and stripped them of all forms of "loot" — liquor,
fur coats, binoculars, cameras and so forth. We lived for several days
on champagne and liquor from all over Europe.
Next day we had a similar surrender meeting for the U-boat flotilla.
There were 26 in all. I still have some numbers: U 281, 299,369,
712,1163 (TypeVII C): U 2321,2325,2334,2335,2337,2350,2353,
2354,2361,2363 (Type XXIII): and U 2529 (Type XXI). The Type XXIII and
XXI were the very latest, streamlined and very fast underwater. We were
indeed lucky that they had hardly been in service long enough to affect
the war at sea."
Lord Teynham, NOIC Kristiansand, listed seventeen U-Boats in his report to CiC Rosyth on the 16 May 1945 U-2529 was a 1,600 ton Type XXI diesel electric U-Boat which transferred to the Soviet Union and remained in service until 1972
Lord Teynham's report has not been located and this brief entry is from the Admiralty War Diary (ADM 199/2318, 15/5 - 31/5 1945)
Lt J.A.J. Dennis and Lt Cdr A.G.A. Prideux were mistaken in believing there was a U-Boat base at Kristiansand but there were
seventeen U-Boats moored at Marviken across the bay from Kristiansand. Captain Heinz Kiderlen had been
appointed naval commander for Kristiansand South on the 6 January and
may have been the senior officer at both surrender ceremonies. The surrender ceremony for the U-Boats took place aboard HMS Venomous
on the 15 May. Lord Teynham, Lt J.A.J. Dennis RN and the Norwegian
commander Landgraff attended. Lt Cdr A. Guyon Prideaux RNVR, described events and the ceremony in his unpublished memoir in the Royal Navy Museum (Ref. 1997.55 ).
AB Fred Mercer was sent in the ship's whaler to collect the "Vice Admiral", was complimented by him on his seamanship
and stayed behind in Kristiansand after Venomous left for Rosyth and returned on one of the U-Boats.The U-Boats were manned by
submarine crews sent from Britain and escorted by Royal Navy ships but with a German crew member aboard
to assist (except in the case of the Type XXIs e.g. U-2529 at
Kristiansand). Operation Pledge
planned their transfer from Norwegian ports to Loch Ryan in Scotland or
Lisahally near Londonderry where they were laid up and then either allocated to allies or scuttledin accordance with Operation Deadlock.
"I walked around some of them and was tremendously impressed with their
equipment, their cleanliness and the high morale of the officers and
men. This was indeed remarkable considering the appalling losses they
had suffered (something like four out of five of all U-Boat men). They
did have a superb rest camp set-up with nothing spared in the way of
comforts — far better than anything we ever saw — and were treated as
heroes, something that didn't seem to happen much at our end.
They wanted to join us to fight the Russians whom they regarded as
barbarians. I wonder whether they were aware of their own performance
in the concentration camps. Our own SAS troops certainly were, having
recently been through Belsen, which did not endear them to our present
Thus we had no compunction in playing a rather dirty trick on them a
few days later. Enough crews arrived from England to take the U-boats
away. On the pretext of some announcement or other, all the German
crews were got up on deck without warning. They were not allowed below
again, and the boats in due course went off to the U.K. with no danger
of being scuttled or destroyed, (c. f. Scapa Flow in 1919!). In fact,
one went to the Russians, one to the Norwegians, the Americans and the
British and the rest were eventually sunk in deep water off the
The Russian prisoners were another problem, fortunately not one for the
Navy. 40,000 were a lot to look after. I never discovered who fed them.
Many got hold of wood alcohol and drank themselves to death. German
guards shot a few when they tried to break out. We were told that many
had no desire to return to the USSR suspecting no doubt the fate, which
waited them. But in due course they were cowed by the Commissars who
wasted no time after being brought in, and I believe they were all
returned to Stalin's cold embraces.
The Norwegians were, naturally, pretty friendly. Once things settled
down a bit and it was clear there would be no trouble from Germans or
Russians we got little sleep. Norwegians only sleep in the winter, it
seems. In a way it was hard being a recently married man. I liberated a
monstrous BMW motorbike from the Germans and was able to get around the
countryside a bit at the price of a few white hairs and knuckles. To
tell the truth, running it on those curvy roads scared me rigid and I
never got it up to full throttle.
The days were busy as we got things sorted out. But there were many
parties in the evenings. One I particularly remember was a stag party
at the SAS mess, which had been established on the top floor of a block
of flats. There was a memorable gathering of wild men. Mike Calvert who
had been a Chindit in Burma, blowing things up. Colonels Paddy Mayne,
Esmond Baring and Miller-Mundy, all well known characters: and Roy
Farran, a major who had once been Montgomery's ADC and after the war
couldn't stop fighting and went to Israel (on whose side, I forget). I
believe he later farmed in Saskatchewan, which should have cooled him
down a bit. There was a lot of champagne and lobsters as usual. In some
juvenile horseplay, Calvert got a large black eye, which he had to take
to call on the General in Oslo the following day. I don't suppose
General Urquhart minded. This was followed by some rowdy attempts to
throw sandbags from the balcony onto a jeep far below. This turned out
to be the Brigadier's. At this stage some sentries below, sensing a
serious disturbance, fired a few shots. I retired to the inner sanctum.
It was about now that I got what was called a "Quasi-permanent" acting
half- stripe, which at last lifted me out of the humble rank of
Lieutenant. So many contemporaries in the other services were majors or
colonels or wing commanders that it had become rather galling,
especially as regards the pay, observing that many of us were in
command of fair sized ships. The Admiralty were slow to do anything
about it, reluctant, I am sure, to find themselves top-heavy after the
There were two other ceremonies of note during our stay. Norwegian
National Day on May 17th was a great celebration during which we
marched through the town with fixed bayonets and listened to long,
incomprehensible speeches followed by some splendid parties late into
The 4 inch twin barrels of "A" Gun point
menacingly at the peaceful crowd (left) and the White Ensign is held
aloft as the crew parade on Norway's National Day (right) Courtesy of Knut Męsel (left) and Alan Dennis (right)
General Urquhart and Lord Teynham, NOIC Kristiansand, inspect ratings on Norway's National Day From A picture book of Kristiansand: Southern Norway in War and Peace, 1940-45, edited by Erik Lauritzen (Prolibro, 1988).
Then there was the funeral of some German soldiers whose car had
overturned on a bend in the road. It was very well done by the
Norwegians at a little, simple chapel with a violinist playing some
haunting music from Grieg. That tune stays with me still. We all felt
sad for those fellows who had survived everything else. Otherwise one
hadn't much sympathy for the rest of them as one walked around the
various barracks and posts, littered with the debris of a defeated army
and smelling as always of stale cigar smoke. I picked up a Luger and a
radio as a bit of loot. The radio never worked very well and eventually
I threw away the Luger, which I could see no use for. It would fetch a
good price today.
On May 26th we left Kristiansand for Bergen, having embarked our
friends the 2nd SAS. Starting at 0300, the trip took all day and was
most enjoyable. The fiords were lovely although some of the channels
were tricky. Next day, it was back to Kristiansand. I was glad to be
back as I had made some good Norwegian friends there, especially
Asbjorn Asbjornsen, with whom sadly, I have lost touch."
Alec Dennis' memoir of his wartime service in
the Royal Navy in the library of
the Imperial War Museum in Londonwas published in November
Action with Destroyers 1939-1945:The Wartime Memoirs of Commander J A J Dennis DSC RN;
edited by Anthony Cumming (Pen & Sword Maritime, 2017). ISBN 1526718499
A young seaman, AB John Garforth, was lookout on the bridge when HMS Valorous entered the harbour at Kristiansand South on the 14 May 1945. Once moored he went
down on the "iron deck" (amidships) to look at the boats drawing alongside, their
passengers calling out greetings and asking for cigarettes, chocolates,
and other luxuries not seen for years.
As he leaned on the guard rail a launch drew alongside and a one
handed man with a gun at his waist leaped aboard and headed for the
wardroom. John chatted with his secretary, Kari, who was having a drink in the cabin and she explained that he was
a leader of Milorg, the Norwegian resistance, who went by the name of
Greggo Greggersen. I was told by Greggo's son that his father's real name
was Gunnar Arnfinn Gundersen (on left) but not even Milorg knew this. He had escaped to England, been trained by the
Kompani Linge and worked for the SIS. He had made about fifteen trips from Peterhead or Shetland to the West coast of Norway by fishing boat.
At the end of April he came from Stockholm by fishing boat and was
landed at Hovag near Kristiansand to organise a sabotage campaign code
named Polar Bear. Milorg had
given him eighty men and by the time the two British destroyers arrived
he had taken control of the harbour. When Greggo
returned to the launch John was invited to join them for a drink in the
cabin and encouraged to visit them ashore.
As soon as HMS Valorous
had berthed John Garforth and two ratings were sent to
man a telephone exchange at a communication centre abandoned by the
"Stappo" (state police) at 30 Festningsgaten to provide communication
for the military and civil authorities. They were joined by a soldier
from a Welsh regiment of Engineers who shared their
watches. Paddy Mayne,
a "huge bloke with a ginger beard", and the officers of the 1st SAS
(Special Air Service) Regiment occupied an upper floor and held wild
parties every night, dropping the empty bottles out of the window.
John organised a dance at the Soldatenheim,
the social centre for German troops, with music
provided by a gramophone found in the basement and records from Valorous. Greggo
was there with friend and Karli, his secretary, and John joined them
afterwards on his launch and they went up the fjords drinking. John was
proud to have also organised the first football match between a team from HMS Valorous (see below) and a team from Milorg, the Norwegian
Resistance, on the local sports ground known as "Idda"
(Idrettsplassen). The visitors won 3-2 in front of a crowd of 1,500.
John Garforth was in Kristiansand for three weeks before rejoining HMS Valorous
to return to Rosyth and in 1990 returned there with many other veterans
and met some of the many friends he made. On a later visit in 2006 he
met one of the members of the Milorg football team, Per Rosanda, and recalled
that "our captain, a bloke called Dalglish, presented their captain
with a bouquet of flowers, and I was surprised to be given orange juice
after the match.” He made many more visits to Kristiansand until his
death in 2010 aged 85.