The fate of the free world was at stake when 24-year-old Lance Corporal Alexander Campbell, of the 261st (Airborne) Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, joined his comrades on a mission to destroy Adolf Hitler’s “heavy water” plant at the Norsk Hydro industrial complex near Vemork, in Norway.
A specially trained demolition sapper, young Alexander was one the team who took off in a Halifax Bomber – which was towing a Horsa glider – from RAF Skitten, near Wick, on the evening of November 19, 1942.
Known as Operation Freshman, the mission sadly ended in tragedy.
Dr Bruce Tocher, an oil industry professional and geologist, has dedicated a number of years to finding out everything he can about those involved – including Lance Corporal Campbell – so their heroism can be fully recognised.
Dr Tocher said: “Tragically, due to failures in the navigation and guidance systems, and extreme weather, the aircraft failed to identify the landing zones and were forced to turn back.
“During the return, extreme icing of the tow cables resulted in both gliders becoming detached from their tow-planes and they crashed in the mountains of South East Norway.
“In addition, one of the Halifax bombers also crashed, instantly killing all seven crew members onboard.”
Of the 48 men who left RAF Skitten, 41 lost their lives, with only the seven-man crew of one of the four aircraft involved returning safely to Scotland
Of the 34 men in the gliders, some were killed on impact while the rest were executed by the Gestapo.
Among those murdered by the Nazis was Lance Corporal Campbell, the son of Grangemouth couple Alexander and Catherine Elizabeth Campbell.
Fortunately for the sake of civilisation as we know it, Hitler never did manage to develop the atomic bomb.
Where Operation Freshman had failed, Operation Gunnerside was a great success – often called the greatest commando raid in the history of warfare – and it was thanks in part to the lessons learned on the previous mission.
Unfortunately Dr Tocher’s appeal – which appeared in The Falkirk Herald at the start of 2020 – did not lead to relatives of Lance Corporal Campbell coming forward.
He now hopes a renewed appeal will bring someone forward before the 80th anniversary of Operation Freshman.
Dr Tocher said: “In just under 6 weeks' time more than 50 relatives of British soldiers and allied aircrew who took part in Operation Freshman will be travelling to Norway on a private visit to mark the 80th anniversary of this action.
“I have contacted relatives of some of the men and their family members will be coming to Norway in September to mark the 80th Anniversary of the raid. During the memorial week they will visit the sites where three of the aircraft crashed, the places where some of the men were executed, and the Commonwealth Graves where they are buried.”
If you are a relative of Lance Corporal Campbell or know where his family members can be contacted get in touch with The Falkirk Herald and we will pass the details on to Dr Tocher.