In the gardens along Marine Parade there are a number of memorials, one of which commemorates the service of Norwegian forces who served in Dover during World War II. Initiated by Cllr. Bill Newman and four members of the Norwegian War Veterans Association it was unveiled on Saturday 23 May 1998. The four veterans were Commodore Oivind Schou, Commander Hakon Lunde, Lt-Commander Per Danielsen and Lt-Commander Finn-Christian Stumoen.
The story goes back to when German forces invaded Norway on 9 April 1940 and appointing Vidkom Quisling (1887-1945) as the Head of Government. One of the first things he did was to order all ships back to Norway. At the time the Nation had the largest whaling fleet in the world, the largest tanker fleet and the third largest dry cargo fleet. Initially the German navy proved inadequate against the combined forces of the Norwegian and British navies but the German troops having gained a foothold in Southern Norway and pushed rapidly north. On 11 April R.A.F. bombers began operations to help the beleaguered country but the Germans soon had the advantage of occupying all of Norway’s aerodromes. This prevented the Allies from using fighter planes.
Allied troops were despatched but came under heavy artillery fire when trying to land. The Germans also bombed coastal Norwegian towns and totally devastated the base of the Allied High Command – Namsos, at the head of the Namsen Fjord, north of Trondheim. Nonetheless, the Norwegian and Allied forces were able to launch an offensive that became the Battle of Narvik but by the end of May and the Evacuation of Dunkirk the situation was proving hopeless. On 10 June 1940, Norway surrendered.
King Haakon VII (1905-1957) and those in the former Norwegian government loyal to the King managed to escape. Many Norwegians joined the Allied forces, including 500 men from the Royal Norwegian Navy.
Lt-Commander Finn-Christian Stumoen was a cadet radio operator at the Horton [Oslo Fjord] training school when the commandant sent all the cadets home until the situation stabilized. Finn escaped by travelling, often on skis, through Northern Norway into Sweden. Then aided by a Swedish resistance group on to Stockholm. From there he went by train into Russia and down the rivers Dnieper and Dvina to Istanbul. Through the Middle East to Egypt. From there he worked his passage to Canada and then he was routed to Liverpool travelling on a British destroyer to England that also carried Prince Philip.
The captains of the vast Norwegian Merchant Navy fleet were ordered by the Quisling Government to return to Norway. A few obeyed, but many taking the lead from King Haakon went to Allied countries. One such ship was the Vigis, where the captain, after taking a straw poll of the crews views, aimed for Liverpool. On arrival the captain and crew were immediately conscripted and 3days later arrived at the Navy’s Weymouth establishment. From there, many of the Royal Norwegian Navy Service (RNnS), including Olav Martin Stromsoy, were sent to Dover in July 1942 as part of the British Navy No52 ML flotilla.
In 1941, Lt-Commander Finn-Christian Stumoen along with men, mainly from the Norwegian Merchant Service – two who had escaped from Norway by rowing across the North Sea to Scotland in an open boat – took command of eight motor launches as part of No52 ML flotilla. This included four converted minelayers that had been fitted with Dumbflow silencers to enable them to operate close to the enemy-held coast. The fleet became part of the Light Coast Defence, the headquarters of which was HMS WASP – now Lord Warden House.
Together with the Royal Navy’s 50-ML flotilla, the Norwegians operated on moonless nights, laying mines in German convoy routes and blocking enemy port entrances between Zeebrugge and Boulogne. Laying 4,000 to 5,000 mines in 170 operations, their tally was 53 ships sunk, 34 ships damaged and 2 minesweepers destroyed at a cost of 2 Norwegian and 2 British MLs. The Norwegians also took an active part in many wartime operations including landing commandos on the French coast.
One story, recounted by Lt-Commander Finn-Christian Stumoen occurred on the night of 2-3 November 1943. They had left the harbour on a fully loaded ML125 and ML 213. On the ML 125, all the pins were removed from the mines and they were placed at the rear of the little ship ready for mine laying. Suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion – the little ship had struck a German mine. The bow had been blown off but the stern, where the mines were, remained intact. The mines were immediately thrown overboard.
The crew of the ML 125 launched a rescue boat under Sub. Lieutenant Rolf Berntzen and went to pick up the four men in the sea. However as they hauled the men aboard the boat overturned, throwing all the occupants into the sea. British mine-laying ship ML210 came to the rescue, picking up all those who could swim. At the same time, their cook, Olav Stromsoy* and AB Thomas – British translator with the Norwegians – helped Sub. Lieutenant Rolf Berntzen to tie secure lines around the injured men. The three men pulled the wounded soldiers through the sea to the side of the ML125 and then with all the strength they could muster hauled men, weighed down by their saturated clothes, onto the boat. The ML125 was towed back to Dover harbour where ambulances and doctors were standing on the jetty. A number of the Norwegians on the ML125 were killed or badly injured that night.
The plot that surrounds the Norwegian memorial on the Seafront is planted to represent the Norwegian flag and there is also a memorial garden, recently extended, at the junction of Maison Dieu Road and Pencester Road. This contains a Christmas tree, the gift of Lt-Commander Finn-Christian Stumoen from his own forest at Skarnes about 80 miles north of Oslo. Finn-Christian for many years donated the Christmas tree for the Market Square until he became too old to travel. The Norwegian flag is flown on the flagstaff in the garden on the country’s national day – 17 May and the citation reads: Presented to the people of Dover by the 52nd (Norwegian) Mine laying flotilla to commemorate their service out of the port from 1942 to 1945 and their lost comrades.
Left to right: John Moir – Chief Executive, Dover District Council, Lt-Commander Finn-Christian Stumoen, Lt-Commander Per Danielsen, Commodore Oivind Schou, Mayor of Dover Cllr. Bill Newman and Commander Hakon Lunde
*Of note, the cook, Olav Stromsoy, settled in Dover, married and is buried in Charlton cemetery. His son, Colin, lives at Braddon on the Western Heights.
- Dover Mercury 24 May 2012