Operation RYPE

Book review

operation rypeTerje Birkedal
Laguna Hills, Calif.

The story told in this newly published book by the Norwegian author Frode Lindgjerdet would have made an exciting action movie. If the movie had been made in the 1950s, when I was a kid, I could imagine Kirk Douglas playing the part of the brave Norwegian resistance leader, Herbert Helgesen, and Gregory Peck playing the part of the clever on-the-ground leader of Operation RYPE, Maj. William Colby of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Perhaps the modern Norwegian film industry will one day put this World War II story on the silver screen as they have recently and successfully done with Max Manus, Narvik, and War Sailor.

Late in World II, the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, became interested in slowing the number of German troops that were streaming out of Norway and were being sent to Germany and then to the frontlines to fight the oncoming American and British armies. After the Soviet Army expelled 150,000 crack German ski and mountain troops out of Finland, there were over 300,000 German soldiers in Norway (estimates vary between 300,000 and 400,000). The German high command wanted many of these Norway-based troops rapidly redeployed to mainland Europe where they could help stop the Allied armies. The main artery in Norway for moving experienced troops out of northern Norway and on to Germany was the Nordland Railway.

Operation RYPE was planned and implemented to help slow the flow of German troops on the Nordland Railway. The execution of this operation was assigned to the Norwegian Special Operations Group (NORSO), a special missions unit of the OSS. The men who were recruited for NORSO were mostly first-generation Norwegian immigrants or Norwegian sailors, who for whatever reason, had ended up on American shores in the course of World War II. Many of the recruits for NORSO came from the 99th Battalion, famously known as the “Viking Battalion.” With a rare exception or two, all the members of NORSO were selected for their fluency in Norwegian, physical fitness, and skiing abilities.

The leadership of Operation RYPE (grouse in Norwegian) was assigned to Major William E. Colby, who was not of Norwegian descent but had grown up in Minnesota and was a skilled cross-country skier. Also, Colby (later director of the CIA) had been active in the OSS since 1941 and had experience parachuting behind enemy lines and organizing local resistance fighters, as did several other members of the RYPE operation. Despite his rank and experience, Colby was only 25 years old when he was assigned to lead RYPE. In fact, most of the participants of Operation RYPE were in their 20s and only a few were older than 30, and then only barely so.

In England the RYPE group was assigned Lieutenant Herbert Helgesen to serve as their liaison with the Norwegian resistance forces. Helgesen was a well-experienced leader in the Norwegian resistance at the time.

On March 24, 1945, 35 men loaded up eight B-24 Liberators with their gear and supplies and headed for distant north Trøndelag in Norway, northeast of Trondheim. Out of the eight B-24s, only three made it to the drop zone above Lake Gjevsjø. A fourth plane was able to drop five additional men and their equipment, but they were mistakenly dropped over the border in Sweden and they were not able meet up with the 16 successful parachute jumpers for a number of days. An isolated farm named Gjefsjø Farm near the Swedish border would serve as headquarters for the RYPE operation.

After arriving at Gjefsø Farm, things continued to go wrong for the RYPE team. Attempts to deliver the rest of the men from England failed and one B-24 crashed on a mountain above the farm with all on board killed. With a reduced force, Maj. Colby and his surviving men had to alter their plans on the spot and improvise. Rather than blow up the large Nordland Railway bridge at Grana, they successfully targeted a smaller railroad bridge at Tangen. They then managed to destroy 5.6 miles of rail line between Steinskjer and Grong. These successful sabotage operations made the Germans mad as hornets and their ski troops were soon on the hunt all through northeastern Trøndelag for the RYPE team. The members of RYPE were able to elude them by means of their skiing skills, endurance, and ability to cover up to 31 miles over rugged valleys and mountains in less than a day. At one point, a patrol of Germans arrived at their base at the Gjefsjø Farm and a firefight ensued that left all the Germans dead in the snow.

The RYPE team remained hidden in Norway at Gjefsjø Farm until World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945. They were then assigned to round up and disarm German troops in the nearby village of Snåsa and then in the more distant town of Namsos. On May 17, 1945, all the men in NORSO, including the men of RYPE, marched with some of their Norwegian compatriots in the 17th of May parade in Trondheim. They then marched again in Trondheim on June 10 as the honor guard for Prince Olav during his official visit there. NORSO was disbanded with the rest of the OSS on Oct. 1, 1945.

Did Operation RYPE result in a significant disruption in the transport of German troops on the Nordland Railway?  In its post-operation assessment, OSS calculated that the transport of German soldiers after RYPE’s sabotage operations dropped from one battalion a day to two battalions per month. Similarly SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) saw RYPE as a success. It concluded that the operation had reduced the number of German troops moved out of Norway near the end of the war from four divisions a month to one division a month. However, the author of Operation RYPE, Frode Lindgjerdet, attributes this overall reduction in German troop movement to the combined effect of RYPE plus three earlier British-Norwegian sabotage operations:  Coton, Waxwing, and Woodlark.

This book, published by Casemate Publishers, is exciting in its detail and well-illustrated with historic photographs. It has welcome mini-biographies of many of the participants of RYPE at the end of the book. If you like your World WAR II stories told in depth and with context, you will like Operation RYPE: A World War II OSS Railway Sabotage Mission in Norway.

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Terje Birkedal

Terje G. Birkedal was born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1946. He immigrated to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Colorado. After earning a Ph.D. in Anthropology he served as an archeologist with the National Park Service for 36 years. He has conducted fieldwork in Alaska, the American South and Southwest, Canada, the Great Plains, Guam, and Norway. He served five years as President of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, Alaska, and he has always been passionate about Norwegian prehistory, history, and culture.