Battle in the Snow
The heroic but disastrous Norway expedition, upon which the 1st/5th battalion embarked in April 1940, typified the futile and ill-thought out operations of the early part of the Second World War. When, without warning, Nazi Germany invaded Norway, Britain set out to send a force to bolster the resistance of the Norwegian army. However, the speed with which the Wehrmacht advanced, and the paucity of British military resources, meant that two understrength bridgades became effectively tasked with liberating an occupied country.
The advanced party of the 1st/5th battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Guy German landed at Andalsnes on 18 April 1940. Upon arrival he was informed by the local Norwegian commanders that they would surrender if they did not receive immediate assistance. There was little choice but to comply and so the battalion headed south by train to meet the German advance from Oslo. On the way their train was bombed and machine gunned by enemy aircraft. Transferring to lorries, they continued their journey, until on 21 April they made contact with the enemy near Lake Mjosa. A sharp action followed, with several men of the Leicesters killed.
At length they reached Tretten, where alongside the River Laagen the battered remains of the expeditionary force were to make a stand. It was to be an unequal struggle. The men of the Leicesters, poorly armed and without food or sleep for 36 hours, faced tanks and artillery as the Germans attempted to force their way through. PSM John Sheppard was in command of a small force on the right flank. Across the river he noticed a force of enemy tanks approaching. Taking a Boyes Anti-Tank Rifle (which he had never before fired) he took up a position and fired three rounds at each, destroying two. These were to be the first enemy tanks destroyed by British forces in the Second World War. The situation overall however was bleak. The Leicesters were clearly outnumbered and although some stragglers managed to escape from Norway, the majority were captured.