Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines
Period/ Conflict: World War II
Date/s: 27th May 1940
Herbert George "Blondie" Hasler, of Cockelshell Heroes fame was a Landing Officer, RM Fortress Unit (Norway) [borne on Portsmouth Division, RM], landing in Narvic supporting the French Foreign Legion in the Norwegian campaign, for which duties he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), mentioned in despatches, and awarded the French Croix de guerre.
The Fortress Unit, whose normal functions are the landing, transport and installation of anti-aircraft and naval coastal defence gun, and the construction of hutment camps, water storage tanks, pipe-lines and anti-tank obstructions, and the unloading of ships. During the winter of 1939 the Fortress Unit had done invaluable work in the United Kingdom and on the 11th May, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel (Now Major-General) H.R. Lambert, D.S.C., it arrived in the neighbourhood of Narvik for the purpose of unloading coastal guns, ammunition, oil and stores in preparation for the capture of the town.
This as done, usually under heavy air bombardment, working in shifts all day and all night. On 23rd May a party of two officers and four marines, under Captain H.G. Hasler, was detached with two motor landing craft to transport French tanks for the final assault on Narvik; it was necessary to take them by sea because none of the local bridges or car-ferries could bear the weight.
The Narvik Peninsular was then entirely in the hands of the Germans, who were supplied mainly by seaplane and parachute. Against them were the French Foreign Legion, a battalion of Norwegian infantry and a force of Poles. All the British troops, with the exception of some artillery, had been withdrawn from the combat zone. Intercommunications was chiefly by Norwegian “puffers”, heavily built fishing boats, with a single-cylinder oil engine, which, as an officer remarked, is “simple and reliable but a most unpleasant shipmate in every way”.
The marines in the motor landing craft use the puffers as depot ships, eating and sleeping entirely on deck. On one occasion an officer took an armed party ashore with the intention of shooting a sheep to supplement the monotonous rations, but returned empty-handed. The scheme had already been worked to death by the French Legion, and all he found was one sheep (evidently the last in the area) closely guarded by its owner, who also had a gun. A squadron under the command of admiral of the Fleet Lord Cork and Orrery opened the bombardment of Narvik on 27th May.
The motor landing craft landed the tanks and the subsequent assault was successful, the enemy being forced out of the town into the mountains. By that time the remainder of the Royal Marine Fortress Unit had left for England, but Captain Hasler’s party remained to assist in the evacuation of Narvik, which became necessary owing to the increasing bombing attacks on shipping, and helped to embark the rearguard, using a trawler, H.M.S. Man-o’- War, as a depot ship.
She and two other trawlers were the last British ships to sail from Narvik, with the marines on board, and thus, as the detachments of the Sheffield and Glasgow had been first to land in Norway, Captain Hasler and his men were the last to leave.