I `ve read a number of books about British commando operations in the Second World War over the past forty years and the December 1941 raid on Vaagso in Norway always figured prominently in various accounts. Five years ago, Osprey published Tim Moreman's volume in the Battle Order series on British Commandos, which also covered the Vaagso Raid. Now, Ken Ford has written Operation Archery on the Vaagso raid for the Raid series. It is an attractive volume, well-illustrated and the narrative flows well, so I'ld like to say that it's another great addition to the series and leave it at that, but it simply isn't true. The lack of original research put into this volume is astounding and much of it is a regurgitation of existing works, mostly written over forty years ago. Not one book listed in the bibliography was written after 1967 (before Engima was declassified). Consequently, there is a great deal of overlap with previous books on this subject, particularly Tim Moreman's earlier volume (similar map, same photos, similar text). However, the most egregious flaw is that author neither made any effort to research the German side of the raid or to update himself on more recent research on the raid, rendering this volume filled with obsolete and even erroneous information.
The volume begins with an introduction outlining Britain's strategic situation in late 1941 - Churchill's desire to strike back at Nazi-occupied Europe and assist the beleaguered Soviet Union, but with limited military means to accomplish this. The author discuses how Combined Operations' commandos were viewed as an immediate means to strike at Germany's coastal defenses, particularly in weakly defended areas such Norway. He then discusses how the fish oil plants at Vaagso were an important strategic economic target, although he fails to quantify what percent of Germany's explosives production depended on Vaagso; it couldn't have been too great, since German production of explosives doubled over the next year even after the loss of Vaagso's fish oil plants. The author also mentions that one of the secondary objectives of the raid was to rescue Norwegian civilians who wanted to go to England and to "deliver Christmas presents for the children of Vaagso. " The sections on training and planning for the raid were OK, but not as detailed as Moreman's. For example, it would have been useful for the author to inform readers that a commando troop had 64 men. The author also mentions that the capture of Enigma material was an objective of the raid, but fails to mention that a special Royal Navy snatch team was attached to the raiding force, or the role of Norwegian civilians in providing accurate information on the target. The author would have benefited from consulting Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's excellent Enigma: The Battle for the Code (2000), which has a good deal of new information about the Vaagso raid, none of which is incorporated in this volume. According to Sebag-Montefiore, the capture of Enigma materials was not a secondary task for the raiders, but actually the primary rationale.
The section on the raid per se is 38 pages long and has 1 BEV map, 1 2-D map (similar to Moreman's) and two battle scenes by Howard Gerrard. Indeed, the artwork is the best selling point of the volume. The author's narrative is decent, even as it parallels previous accounts of the raid. Several points about the raid are interesting: the use of white phosphorus bombs to provide smoke, naval gunfire, signal difficulties, fratricide incidents, etc. It was fortunate for the British that the landings were virtually unopposed since the coordination between air-ground-sea forces was imperfect. Only vague detail is provided on the German defenders. I found it interesting that both lead commando troop leaders were killed in Vaagso and that the troops then lost all momentum and just milled around for a time - this conflicts with the oft-told dogma about initiative training in the commandos. Some of the photos about commandos standing around doing nothing during the raid and two men helping a walking wounded spoke volumes about pre-raid training on `actions on the objective.' The author fails to mention that the commandos had a 4-1 advantage in Vaagso, with air and naval gunfire support, but still required nearly three hours to reduce a small German force in wood-frame houses. Other than a photo of a 3-inch mortar, there Is little or no mention about commando support weapons, but the British troop leaders were either dead or forgot to employ them. The author also mentions the naval actions in the fjord which resulted in eight German merchant ships eliminated, but if the author had consulted Sebag-Montefiore he would have seen that an Enigma machine and information on settings was recovered - probably the biggest success of the raid, which the author missed.
In the aftermath and analysis section, the author specifies British casualties but is vague about German losses. He seems to come down on the side of previous British accounts of the raid, which claim 120-150 Germans killed and 100+ captured. If the author had bothered to use the Internet for research, he could easily have found the German after action review of the raid on Axishistory.com, which breaks down German casualties by service and specifies 38 killed, 15 wounded and 107 missing. This means that the commandos suffered 70 casualties and inflicted 77 on the German ground troops in Vaagso, essentially a 1-1 exchange. It would have been nice to know something about the German POWs, too (which included a Kriesgmarine signals team). Even though he mentions that bringing Norwegians back to Britain was one of the secondary objectives of the raid, he fails to mention how many were actually brought back. Nor does he ever tell the reader if the children of Vaagso ever got those Christmas presents....