Operation Eclipse was the name given to an Allied military operation in early May 1945. Operation Eclipse occurred very near to the end of World War Two in Europe as a result of creditable Swedish intelligence reports that stated that Stalin’s Red Army would go beyond the territorial terms agreed at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. In fact their target was Denmark to give the Soviet Navy greater freedom of access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Soviet Union’s Atlantic fleet primarily used Murmansk in northern Russia and this was ice-bound for many months in any given year. For the Soviet Union, occupation of Denmark would have brought huge military rewards – as long as the Allies were unwilling to challenge them. Operation Eclipse was specifically the challenge to this threat.
Operation Eclipse had three parts to it.
The first was the occupation of Denmark to act as a clear sign to the Soviet authorities that the Allies were there to stay – as agreed at Yalta.
The second part of Operation Eclipse was the taking of Kiel, a major base for the German Navy, and the securing of important scientific bases between the Danish border and Kiel.
The third part was the taking of Wismar, which the Red Army had the right to take as part of the Yalta Agreement.
The occupation of Denmark was relatively straight forward as the Germans stationed there were not in a mood to continue the fight. On May 4th, the German High Command signed the terms of unconditional surrender at Lüneberg Heath. German troops in Denmark acted in accordance with that surrender – even if a few SS units continued the fight. The power of the Allies was shown on May 4th when a flotilla of British naval ships commanded by Captain Andy Palmer, DSC, (two British cruisers, ‘HMS Dido’ and ‘HMS Birmingham’, accompanied by four ‘Z’ class destroyers) entered Copenhagen Harbour after protecting a number of mine sweepers that had cleared the waters around Denmark of mines. At the same time as these Royal Navy ships entered Copenhagen Harbour, a squadron of RAF Typhoons landed at a nearby air base that had been secured by paratroopers. Two days later another squadron of Typhoons landed. Any desire by the Germans to continue the fight would have been futile faced with such a force. On May 9th, Brigadier Lathbury landed at Copenhagen Airport to organise and oversee the surrender of German forces in Denmark.
The taking of Kiel was fraught with danger. The British created ‘T’ Force commanded by Major Tony Hibbert. He had at his command 500 men from the 5 King’s Regiment and 30 Assault Unit, Royal Navy. Hibbert also had to take with him 50 scientists who would examine Nazi scientific bases. The problem Hibbert faced was this: When the order to proceed with the taking of Kiel was given, May 1st, Kiel was 50 miles behind enemy lines as they stood on that day and there were still very many armed German soldiers in that area. Hibbert was told that there were about 50,000 German troops in the vicinity. In his favour was the sheer chaos in the area as tens of thousands of German refugees fled west from the advancing Red Army. While these refuges may well have hindered Hibbert’s advance, they also served to effectively camouflage his men as they moved east. What Hibbert and his men achieved was quite remarkable. With just 500 men, Hibbert took Kiel and all the required scientific bases between Denmark and the city. He then set about establishing his authority in the city. All German soldiers had to return to their barracks and hand in their rifles. All keys held by German military officials had to be handed in and no documents were allowed to be destroyed by them. What Hibbert found was that the German troops in Kiel had no wish to fight and that they feared the approaching Red Army far more than Hibbert’s men. Hibbert allowed German police to keep their pistols as many forced labourers were released and Hibbert needed law and order in the city if he was to achieve what he set out to do – not a city under mob rule as the former slave labourers tried to seek revenge against those who had abused them. Hibbert succeeded in all that he did. Kiel was in the hands of the Allies and a clear message was sent to Moscow.
His only problem came when he was arrested for disobeying an order – by the British! The corps commander in the area, General Barker, where Hibbert’s 500 men had gathered before leaving for Kiel had ordered that Hibbert could only move out at 08.00. Hibbert wanted to move under cover of darkness and left at 03.00. Hibbert was held in custody until May 9th when he had to have an interview with Barker. The interview ended with Barker telling Hibbert that he was “not a bloody commando” and then promptly recommended that he be Mentioned in Dispatches for what he had achieved.
The taking of Wismar was even more dangerous as the British there had to play a game of bluff. Wismar was a legitimate Soviet target as had been agreed at Yalta. However, the British wanted to send out a warning to the Red Army, which was effectively – “no further”. At the least it was hoped to buy enough time to secure Denmark’s borders. However, there was always a danger that fighting would break out between the Red Army and British forces in Wismar.
Wismar was taken by men from the 3rd Parachute Brigade commanded by Brigadier James Hill. Tanks from the Royal Scots Greys covered their advance.
Hill’s men reached Wismar on May 2nd – the same day that an advance guard from the Red Army’s 3rd Guards Tank Corps reached the city.
Hill’s men immediately built defences on the city’s eastern side that faced the advancing Red Army. Some Soviet tanks did breach this defensive wall as it was too thinly manned by British troops.
Lightly armed when compared to the Soviet tank corps facing them, the British and Canadian paratroopers in Wismar were asked by senior Red Army commanders to leave the city. Hill told his Soviet counterpart that he had at his full disposal the might of Allied bomber fleets and the firepower of the 6th Airborne Divisional Artillery that had been informed of the 3rd Guards Tank Corps positions. The threat worked and men and machines from the Red Army pulled back – the tanks that had breached the defensive wall were recalled. It gave the Allies sufficient time to ensure the safety of Denmark from an occupying Soviet force and it also ensured that the demarcation line in Europe as agreed at Yalta was kept. It was left to the highest ranks in the Allied command to sort out the issues raised at Wismar. Field Marshal Montgomery met senior Red Army General Rokossovki on May 8th in Wismar. However, by that time diplomacy was to count and not military action.
Operation Eclipse was a huge success, especially as the planning for it had only started in late March 1945. In recognition of the part he played in saving Kiel from Soviet occupation, Hibbert was awarded the Great Seal of Kiel in May 2010 – 65 years nearly to the day after Operation Eclipse.