Operation Creek (also known as “Operation Longshanks”) was a military operation undertaken by the British in World War Two on 9 March 1943. It involved a covert attack by members of the Calcutta Light Horse against a German merchant ship, which had been transmitting information to U-boats from Mormugão Harbour in neutral Portugal’s territory of Goa. The mission remained secret until 1978 due to the fact that the British had infringed Portuguese neutrality, when its story was told in the book, Boarding Party, by James Leasor. It was dramatised in the film The Sea Wolves (1980) starring Gregory Peck, Roger Moore and David Niven.
The Germans had a secret transmitter on one of their ships, the EHRENFELS, a freighter that had sought refuge with two other German vessels, the BRAUNFELS and the DRACHENFELS, in the neutral harbour of Goa on the outbreak of WW2. Its purpose was to guide the U-boats against Allied shipping in the Indian Ocean. There seemed no way for the British to infringe Goa’s Portuguese neutrality by force. But the transmitter had to be silenced. Special Operations Executive was tasked with dealing with the problem, but how? Then it was remembered that 1,400 miles away in Calcutta was a source of possible help. A group of civilian bankers, merchants and solicitors were the remains of an old territorial unit called The Calcutta Light Horse. They were either in reserved jobs or considered too old to join up. Because the mission was supposedly unofficial, the 14 members of the assault team received no official recognition of their part in the war effort. They didn’t even receive the most basic war medals.
In the forward to Boarding Party, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma wrote:
“This book tells how fourteen of them, with four colleagues from the Calcutta Scottish, another Auxiliary Force unit, volunteered for a hazardous task which, for reasons the author makes plain, no-one else was able to undertake. This happened shortly before my arrival in India in 1943, as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia, and immediately saw how valuable were the results of this secret operation. I am pleased that at last credit may be given to those who planned and carried it out.”
The effect of the mission is borne out by the facts. During the first 11 days of March 1943 three German U-¬boats, U-160, U-182 and U-506, accounted for 12 British, American, Norwegian and Dutch ships, a total of roughly 80,000 tons. Of these, U-160 alone sank 10. But without the radio messages to give precise details of speed, destination, cargo and other material factors, U-boat commanders now had to rely only on luck or chance for their kill. During the rest of March, the 13 German U-boats operating in the Indian Ocean only sank one ship, the Panamanian Nortun of 3,663 tons. Throughout the following month of April, their total was only three.
‘One of the most decisive actions in World War II was fought by fourteen out-of-conditions middle-aged men sailing in a steam barge…’ Daily Mirror
‘A gem of World War II history.’ New York Times Book Review
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