Colin Gubbins, a Scottish soldier who took part in both World Wars played a decisive role in the liberation of both Europe and Norway through his expertly network of secret agents who fought from the beaches of Normandy to the cold shores of Arctic Norway.
The young Colin McVeans Gubbins was the son of John Harington Gubbins, a Scottish diplomat who was stationed in Japan as an consulate secretary when his son was born. After a few years growing up in a still very pre-modernized Tokyo, Collin and his familly moved back to Scotland where Colin, his brother Hugh and his three sisters went to live with their grandfather Cllin McVeans in the estate of Kilfinichen in the peninsula of Mull in South-Western Scotland. Once he grew old enough, Collin was sent to England to undergo basic education and later military training.
In 1914, the then barely 18 years old Colin Gubbins was commissioned to serve under the banner of the British Empire in the conflict that would later be known as World War One. Soon promoted for his courage, the artillery soldier saw action in the bloody battles of the Somme and Arras and was wounded multiple times, including one case where he suffered the horrific effects of German mustard gas. Collins nevertheless survived the war and went on to serve in Civil-War ravaged Russia as well as in secessionist Ireland before leaving the field to join the military administration where he developed further interest for the theory of irregular warfare.
As Germany invaded Poland on a fateful day in September 1939, Colin Gubbins was tasked to establish the Independent companies, using volunteer recruits from the army reserve in order to fight the German troops which were advancing in Norway. These companies were especially tasked to stop the advance of the German Wehrmacht which was attempting to reach the besieged town of Narvik through the cities of Mosjøen, Mo I Rana and Bodø. Fight in the mountainous landscape was fierce and the German mountain battalion proved to be a formidable enemy during the whole month of May. Despite fighting bravely in far-from-optimal conditions, Gubbins’ forces, together with other allied from Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom had to evacuate the country due to the rapid progression made by the German army in France.
Shortly thereafter, the United Kingdom established the SOE (Special Operations Executive), a shadowy agency focusing on furthering the work of resistance fighters, saboteurs and other combatants and informants working behind the enemy lines. One of the first notable action of this newly-established organization was Operation Claymore which targeted German-occupied Lofoten in Arctic Norway. The raid, which destroyed a glycerin (a substance used in the manufacturing of explosive) factory and resulted in the capture of more than 200 enemies was deemed a success and lead to the widening of the organization’s operations. In early 1943, the famed destruction of the Norwegian heavy-water plant (Tungtvassaksjonen) lead to increase exposure of the SOE. Gubbins, who until then had only been tasked to coordinate the sabotage actions in occupied Europe became the commandant of the whole organization and under his tenure, the organization continued to multiply sabotage actions. Its most notable one under Gubbins’ leadership being without the shadow of a doubt Operation Jedburgh. This critical action consisted of the coordinating of a massive wave of sabotage of German infrastructure and troops which were headed to the Normandy frontline. Most likely than not, Colin Gubbins’ extensive knowledge of guerrilla warfare helped the allies greatly in conserving a foothold in Northern France from which they liberated most of German-occupied Europe.
After the liberation of Western Europe, Gubbins left the army for good, after more than 30 years of service and returned to civilian life in the UK. Establishing himself back to his beloved Scotland in the Hebridean island of Lewis and Harris, he started a textile business and married a Norwegian woman Elise «Tulla» Jensen, from the Arctic capital of Tromsø.This remarkable hero, whose adventurous life crossed path with Arctic Norway many times lived to the venerable age of 79 and left behind him a legacy of resistance, perseverance and courage.
- (1) A childhood album of Collin Gubbins from McVean family photographs on kosmoid.net.
- (2) Norge under andre verdenskrig, article in the Norwegian Online Encyclopedia.
- (3) Kompani Linje, article in the Norwegian Online Encyclopedia.
- (4) Training SOE Saboteurs in World War Two, BBc article from 2011..
- (5) D-Day remembered: The Scot whose forces set Europe ablaze and helped ensure success of landings, Article of the Daily Record from 2014..
- (I) Loch Scridain in Scotland taken by a familly member of Colin Gubbins. Early 20th Century. © Colin Houston.
- (II) Collin Gubbins in the army during the 1940s. Wikimedia commons.
- (III) Colin Gubbins during his tenure in SOE.
- (IV) Bodø under the German bombs in 1940. © Norsk Luftfartsmuseum..