Sailors past and present will march through West Sussex next month to remember one of the few naval highlights of the ‘Phoney War’.
In February 1940, boarding parties from HMS Cossack stormed the German tanker Altmark which was hiding in a Norwegian fjord and released 299 prisoners. The incident – a breach of Norway’s wartime neutrality – prompted widespread celebrations in the British media, while the words used by the boarding teams (“The Navy’s here!”) became a popular rallying cry.
The prisoners aboard ‘Hitler’s hell ship’ – as the press dubbed the tanker – had been seized by the raider Graf Spee as it picked off Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
When the pocket battleship was cornered off South America, the Altmark attempted to run the gauntlet of the British blockade to reach Germany – until it was located in Jøssingfjord, near the southwestern tip of Norway and Cossack was sent in to free the captive sailors. Eight Germans were killed in the ensuing action which served as the spark to the Scandinavian powder keg, prompting Hitler to invade Norway two months later.
Eighty years later and sailors from destroyer HMS Dauntless will join veterans, representatives from the Norwegian Embassy in London, the Cossack Association and local council officials will parade at Durrington Cemetery in Worthing at 11am on Monday February 17 to pay tribute to all those involved in what became known as the ‘Altmark incident’.
There will be a 30-minute long service and parade, including wreath laying at the war memorial. The event is being organised by Falklands veteran Commander Neil ‘Nobby’ Hall, currently serving with NATO in Belgium, who is at the heart of Armed Forces Day and Remembrance events in Worthing.
According to Commander Hall: “One of the heroes of that night in 1940 was gunner Warrant Officer J J F Smith – he won the Distinguished Service Cross and was the only British casualty, wounded by a booby trap.”
Smith – who was ‘on loan’ to Cossack from cruiser HMS Aurora – was treated by the Altmark’s surgeon, survived the war and served in the Navy into the mid-50s. He is buried at Durrington, prompting local veterans to suggest the cemetery as a fitting venue for the 80th anniversary parade.
Words and images copyright MOD Navy, with a few extra captions from TMT.