CIA Director, William Colby, Got His Start Blowing Up Stuff in Nazi-Occupied Europe
CIA Director, William Colby, Got His Start Blowing Up Stuff in Nazi-Occupied Europe

CIA Director, William Colby, Got His Start Blowing Up Stuff in Nazi-Occupied Europe

Khalid Elhassan - October 6, 2018

CIA Director, William Colby, Got His Start Blowing Up Stuff in Nazi-Occupied Europe
NORSOG in the UK – about half of those in the photo would not return alive from Operation RYPE. 99th Infantry Battalion

Operation RYPE

William Colby parachuted with three companions into Norway on March 24th, 1945, and made contact with the local resistance. However, out of the expected 31 OSS operatives of the NORSOG who were supposed to rendezvous with him, only 12 showed up. Three B-24s had been unable to locate the drop point and returned to Scotland, while another made an even greater hash of things, and mistakenly dropped its load of 5 men into neighboring Sweden.

A few days later, four B-24s returned, but a heavy mist prevented them from locating the drop zone. Three made it back to base, but one crashed en route, killing 13 men. A final attempt to reinforce Colby was made on April, but poor weather conditions again prevented the B-24s from locating the drop zone, and yet another one crashed, this time a few miles from the drop zone, killing another 12 men. Colby’s superiors informed him that there would no more attempts to reinforce him.

Without Colby’s whole team, attacking his target, the well protected Grana Bridge, would have been foolhardy. So he decided to attack and destroy another bridge: the smaller, but unguarded, one at Tangen. On April 9th, Colby led his men on a 100 mile journey on skis to their target. The men, carrying a 60 pound load of ammunition and rations, took turns dragging a sled with 180 pounds of explosives. They made their way through tough terrain, skiing through a sleet storm en route, until they reached the Tangen Bridge on April 14th. After cutting nearby telegraph wires, they blew up their target.

With the bridge destroyed, Colby and his men sped east towards safety across the border into Sweden. The Germans sent up a spotter plane to find them, and before long, 50 German mountain troops were hot on their tail. Bluntly warned that “if you can’t outski the Germans, you will not return“, Colby and his men skied for their lives. After 56 grueling hours, they managed to lose their pursuers by making their way up a steep hill, which they nicknamed “Benzedrine Hill” after the tablets they took to keep them awake and going. On April 18th, the NORSOGs crossed into the safety of Sweden, where they were reunited with their five teammates who had been mistakenly parachuted there. Reinforced and resupplied, Colby’s men returned to Norway, and blew up a half mile stretch of the Nordland Railway on April 23rd.

CIA Director, William Colby, Got His Start Blowing Up Stuff in Nazi-Occupied Europe
William Colby (oak leaves on cap) with OSS operatives and Norwegian resistance in Norway. Special Operations

After another harrowing chase, they once again shook off their pursuers by climbing Benzedrine Hill. While waiting for new orders, Colby’s men found and buried the remains of their comrades who had crashed near their initial drop zone. A few days later, they stumbled across a squad of Germans and wiped them out in a shootout, and a few days after that, Germany surrendered. As commander of the nearest Allied unit on the ground, Colby accepted the surrender of the local German garrison. After a triumphant tour during which they were lionized by the locals, the NORSOGs made it to the Norwegian capital of Oslo, and were repatriated from there to the US in June of 1945.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

99th Infantry Battalion – Operation RYPE/ NORSO

Central Intelligence Agency – A Look Back… The Office of Strategic Services: Operation RYPE

Heimark, Bruce, University of Nebraska – OSS Operation RYPE: Cutting the Nordland Rail Line in Norway at Two Points in the North Tondelag Area, April, 1945 (1990)

History Net – Surprise, Kill, Vanish: Operatives Take on Nazi Forces in Norway

Special Operations – OSS Dons Chutes and Skis For a Dangerous Norway Mission

Wikipedia – William Colby

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