As audiences get ready to see the World War II spy movie "Allied" starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard this holiday weekend, it is worth remembering the tale of a real-life American spy, whose feats in Nazi-occupied Norway helped forge a partnership between the U.S. and Norway that endures.
Army Maj. William Colby, with the Office of the Strategic Services, parachuted into Norway in March 1945 to lead the Norwegian Special Operations Group. Their job was to prevent 150,000 German troops from returning home to fight the Allies.
"At about this time, the Battle of the Bulge had been liquidated, but there was fear on our side that another last gasp by the great beast was in the making," William Colby, who later became director of the CIA, wrote in a memoir of the mission that is now available on the CIA's website.
More than 70 years later, Arthur Colby was able to retrace his grandfather's steps after training in Norway with the Marines.
Arthur Colby, then a Marine second lieutenant, views a memorial to those killed in 1945 when an Allied plane crashed in Norway while bringing more operatives for the Norwegian Special Operations Group.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Arthur Colby.
Arthur Colby was a Marine intelligence officer taking part in Exercise Cold Response 16 this February and March when he came upon maps and photos of his grandfather's team in a Norwegian building.
"I knew the history, obviously, of my grandfather being there, and then I saw that and I was like: 'Oh my God; they recognize this. This is important to them as well,"" said Arthur Colby, who was promoted to captain after leaving active-duty in March, in a recent interview.
William Colby's main task in Norway was to prevent German troops from returning to the Third Reich via the Norland railway. "Like Carthage, this had to be destroyed," he wrote in his memoir.
During one mission to destroy a railroad bridge north of Tangen, William Colby and his team worked closely with Lt. Herbert Helgeson of the Norwegian Resistance Army.
Army Maj. William Colby (second from the left) in Norway after the Nazi surrender in May 1945.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Carl Colby.
As soon as the team set off explosives that destroyed the bridge, they had to ski 30 miles to their base while being chased by Germans, William Colby wrote.
"Overhead, German spotters were looking for us, and I promised the men we would lie low, keep out of sight, and sleep," William Colby wrote. "But Helgeson was waiting for us. He was excited. 'Nazis,' he blurted. 'Fifty following you. We must leave.'"
Even though they were exhausted, the members of the team quietly buckled their skis back on and plowed through territory heavily patrolled by the Germans, William Colby wrote.
"There were Germans behind us, more overhead," William Colby wrote. "Our destination was Sweden, 40 miles ahead. We made it without stop, shaking off the enemy 56 hours later at 'Benzedrine Hill,' where the terrain and land mines broke both the legs and the spirits of the pursuers."
From left to right: Norwegian Maj. Gard Ommedal, Norwegian Col. Ebbe Deraas and Arthur Colby at William Colby's grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 19.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Norwegian embassy.
For Arthur Colby, actually being able to see where his grandfather fought and evaded the enemy this March was an unforgettable experience.
"It was incredible," he said. "It was also incredible of the Norwegians to recognize that and to make the effort and spend the time to go out there. It was an extraordinary moment in my life."
It was one thing to read about his grandfather's experiences or look at maps where he operated, but seeing the actual terrain he and the team had to navigate was eye-opening, especially considering they were in Norway during an especially brutal winter, Arthur Colby said.
"You got a sense of the scale, just how vast the area was that they were operating – and then, obviously, throwing in the crack mountain troops that the Nazis had and total control over the area," Arthur Colby said.
World War II ended in 1945, but the U.S. and Norway remain close allies. This year's Cold Response was the largest military exercise in Norway since the end of the Cold War.
A total 15,000 troops from 14 countries took part in the main exercise for Cold Response 16 this March, said 1st Lt. Kathleen O'Brien, who served as spokeswoman for the Marines' ground combat element during the exercise.
"It was force-on-force: Simulated enemy and allied forces," O'Brien said. "They had simulated attacks against each other to see who was tactically more sound in the cold weather environment."
About 330 Marines from the 2nd Marine Division and 2nd Marine Logistics Group, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, are expected to arrive in Norway in January for a six-month rotation there.
The Norwegians take pride from fighting the Nazis alongside the Americans, said Arthur Colby, who added that his grandfather admired the Norwegian resistance fighters whom he worked with.
"I think the thing that he was really proud of was working with the Norwegians and the idea that it was truly a grass-roots resistance in terms of how robust it was and that partnership, that working together, is something that definitely is a lasting idea – and a powerful one at that," Arthur Colby said.