Last Thursday (July 27) was Peter Deinboll’s birthday. Were he still alive today he would be 108. Deinboll was born in Orkanger, Norway in 1915 and graduated from college in 1939 with a degree in chemical engineering. He fought for Norway following Germany’s invasion in April 1940, and, when Norway capitulated, he chose to escape to Great Britain, where he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE). His escape route from Norway tells you a bit about his persistence: he traveled to Sweden, then the Soviet Union, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, India, South Africa, Trinidad, Canada, and finally, to England.
Of particular interest to the SOE during the war were Norway’s pyrite mines located at Løkken Verk, southwest of Trondheim. Pyrites are a raw material involved in many uses, including the production of sulfuric acid, a key chemical in many industrial processes. Each year the Løkken mines produced hundreds of tons of ore, which were then transported by special electric trains to the port of Thamshavn to be loaded onto cargo ships. Deinboll knew the mines well—his father had worked there since 1920 and was its chief engineer.
Deinboll’s first undertaking for the SOE—Operation Redshank—involved bombing the electrical transformer that powered the mine and the railway. With two accomplices Deinboll successfully destroyed the transformer on May 5, 1942, temporarily halting all pyrite transport. During the attack Deinboll was spotted, and pursued for seven hours before he was able to elude his pursuers. Ultimately, all three saboteurs escaped to Sweden and thence to England.
For his actions, Deinboll received the War Cross, Norway’s highest military award (an honor he would share with such other resistance luminaries I have previously written about as Gunnar Sønsteby, Joachim Rønneberg, Knut Haugland and Birger Eriksen). He also received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) from the British. At a subsequent meeting of the Anglo-Norwegian Collaborating Committee (ANCC) Operation Redshank was described as “almost a model operation.”
As production at the mine gradually returned to normal, a further attack was planned. Since security at the transformer station had been significantly strengthened, a new target was selected. This time Deinboll was ordered to destroy the loading tower at the jetty in Thamshavn, and, for good measure, to also sink a cargo ship at the loading dock, thereby rendering the port inoperable.
Deinboll’s mission was beset with problems from the outset. He and his two companions left England on December 6, 1942, and were launched from a British fishing boat, the Aksel, 20 miles off Norway’s coastline. Their small boat was heavily damaged in a storm, and ultimately sank, but fortunately not before they had salvaged all their gear. Just reaching the mainland took six days, and another fortnight was needed to reach the target. (Moreover, the Aksel and all its crew were lost at sea on its return voyage.)
The loading tower proved to be so heavily guarded that any thought of attacking it had to be abandoned. It also took a further two months for a suitable cargo ship to arrive. Incredibly, during the wait Deinboll’s father hid the sabotage party, and provided advice on their attack plans. Finally, in late February a 5,000-ton cargo ship, the Nordfahrt, arrived. On February 26, 1943 Deinboll and his party stole a dingy and were able to attach three limpet mines, which seriously damaged the ship, but did not sink her—she was run aground and later salvaged.
Deinboll’s troubles were far from over. He and his crew escaped on skis, heading for the Swedish border miles away. Separated from the rest of his party in a blizzard, Deinboll at one point fell 200 feet over a precipice, injuring his leg. He was forced to dig himself into the snow, and remain there for 30 hours before mustering enough strength to continue. Deinboll later holed up in a deserted mountain hut, drinking water from snow melted between his legs. Eventually he reached safety in Sweden. His father and the rest of his family were also forced to flee to Sweden at this time, as the Nazis had begun to question Deinboll pere’s allegiances.
Although this attack, known as Operation Granard, had little long-term effect on the operation of the pyrite mines, Deinboll nevertheless received a Military Cross (MC) from the British for his efforts.
Eight months later, Deinboll was at it again. He and six other Norwegian SOE operatives were parachuted into Norway, with a mandate to disrupt the mines—either by attacking the lift shaft, or else the locomotives which carried the ore from the mine to the port. Because these locomotives ran on a special track gauge unlike any other in Europe, they could not be easily replaced. Arriving at the mine on October 10, 1943, Deinboll concluded that the now even more heavily guarded mine was too difficult a target, and focused instead on the locomotives. On October 31 his crew split into three groups, and succeeded in destroying or disabling five locomotives.
Less than three weeks later (November 19, 1943), despite even more heightened security, the group disabled the sole remaining locomotive. One saboteur was killed due to a premature detonation, another captured, while the remaining five once again escaped successfully to Sweden. [Interestingly, where Deinboll’s story ends, Gunnar Sønsteby’s begins. One of the damaged locomotives was sent to Oslo for repair, and in August 1944 the repairs were nearing completion. Despite the best efforts of the workers in the repair shop to slow-walk the process, the Germans were pressing hard for the job to be done; a night shift was even ordered to speed up things. On the night of September 12, 1944, Sønsteby and two accomplices broke into the repair shop undetected, placed eight pounds of plastic explosives in the locomotive and another six pounds on the controls and set a fuse for two minutes. The operation was a complete success.]
For Deinboll’s actions, known as Operation Feather, Colonel John Wilson, head of the Scandinavian section of the SOE, recommended that he receive a second DSO. The British War Office, however, downgraded the recommendation to another MC instead. When the papers were submitted to King George VI for his approval, he remarked that, if the actions described in the citation were correct, a higher award was justified, and ordered that the recommendation be resubmitted. So Peter Deinboll received his second DSO after all—the only Norwegian to received two DSOs during World War II.
On November 8, 1944, an airplane carrying Deinboll back to Norway for yet another mission (his fourth) disappeared over the North Sea without a trace. His body was never recovered. Deinboll’s personal war against the Germans was over. He was 29.
In 2003, a bust of Peter Deinboll was erected in the center of Orkanger, his hometown, and close to the scene of his exploits. It is perched on a block of ore taken from the Løkken mine. A tablet on the monument bears a quote attributed to Deinboll:
“Bare den som har hatt døden til følgesvenn vet hva livet er verdt. Only he who has had death as a companion knows what life is worth.”