Operation Zitronella

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Coordinates: 78°54′N 18°01′E / 78.900°N 18.017°E / 78.900; 18.017

Operation Zitronella
Part of World War II
Map of Svalbard with Spitsbergen in the west emphasised
Date 8 September 1943[1]
Location Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway
Result German victory[2]
Severe damage to Kapp Linné, Kapp Heer, Barentsburg, Finneset and Longyearbyen[2]
 Nazi Germany Norway Free Norway
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Friedrich Hüffmeier Norway Morten Bredsdorff (POW)[2]
Norway Trond Astrup Vigtel [2]
2 battleships
9 destroyers
600 soldiers[1]
152 soldiers
coastal artillery
AA guns[1]
Casualties and losses
9 killed
49 wounded
3 destroyers damaged[1]
11 killed
74 captured[1]

Operation Zitronella, also known as Operation Sizilien (which translates to Sicily), was an eight-hour German raid on Spitzbergen on 8 September 1943.[2]


During the Second World War, the Svalbard archipelago was the scene of a number of military operations. In August 1941, British, Canadian, and Free Norwegian Forces landed on Spitzbergen during Operation Gauntlet. This was aimed to destroy the islands' rich coal mines together with associated equipment and stores, it was correctly assumed the Germans intended to use. No attempt was made to establish a garrison, and the civilian population was evacuated.

In April 1942, a Norwegian force landed at Barentsburg in Operation Fritham, intended to establish a permanent presence in the islands. The operation met considerable difficulties, but by the summer of 1943, the Norwegians were well established.

Meanwhile, Nazi Germany had set up a number of manned meteorological stations in the Arctic to improve weather forecasts vital for the warfare against Allied convoys from the UK to the USSR. One of the first manned stations, "Knospe", was established in late 1941 in the inner part of Krossfjorden in the main island, commanded by H.R. Knoespel, following the evacuation of the Norwegian and Russian civilians that September.[citation needed]

The Kriegsmarine decided to evacuate the "Knospe" weather station during the summer of 1942, since the ice-free season made it vulnerable to Allied attack. The submarine U-435, under Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Strelow, was ordered to recover the six-man detachment, which it did on 23 August 1942 without Allied interference.


In September 1943, the German Naval Command decided to destroy the Allied weather facilities in the islands. The assigned task force included the battleships Tirpitz (in her only offensive action) and Scharnhorst, plus nine destroyers (the Narvik class destroyers: Z27, Z29, Z30, Z31, Z33, and the Erich Steinbrinck, Karl Galster, Theodor Riedel, Hans Lody).

On 8 September, the ships landed a battalion of German troops, supported by naval gunfire, who seized the installations at Barentsburg. The rest of the Norwegians fled into the hinterland. After destroying the coal depots and other facilities, the German forces withdrew. Norwegian Captain Morten Bredsdorff and 30 others were sent to Oflag XXI-C in Schildberg in the German-annexed Reichsgau Wartheland, joining 1,089 Norwegian officers already interned there.[3]


Under cover of the attack, the Luftwaffe installed a weather station on Hope Island. Isolated for months by Nazi Germany's surrender in May 1945, the airmen on Hope Island gave themselves up in September 1945 to the captain of a Norwegian fishing boat.[4]

Despite its success, Operation Zitronella/Sizilien was only a qualified success. It brought no lasting benefit, since the Allies quickly returned to Spitzbergen and re-established the weather station. On 19 October, the cruiser USS Tuscaloosa arrived at Barentsburg with relief and reinforcements for the Norwegian garrison.[5]


Samuel Eliot Morison dismisses Operation Zitronella as a political move on the part of the Kriegsmarine, aimed at showing Hitler that the German surface fleet had some value. Morison evaluates the effort as disproportionate to the results, suggesting that the same ends could have been achieved more simply.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Torkildsen 1998, p. 221
  2. ^ a b c d e Torkildsen 1998, pp. 221-222
  3. ^ Schiøtz 2007, pp. 202, 330
  4. ^ Umbreit, Andreas (2009).Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, & Jan Meyen. Bradt Travel Guides, p. 37. ISBN 1-84162-240-0
  5. ^ Roskill
  6. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (2002) [1956]. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II Series. 10: The Atlantic Battle Won, May 1943-May 1945. University of Illinois Press. p. 231. ISBN 9780252070617. Retrieved 2012-12-19. [...] Doenitz decided to justify the existence of this surface navy and give it a little exercise by wiping out the Allied installations at Spitsbergen. [...] One destroyer could easily have done the job. 


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