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Wolfgang Zenker Erich Koellner Erich Giese

HMS Hardy HMS Hunter HMS Havock







HMS Hardy

Georg Thiele Bernd von Arnim

The First Battle of Narvik, 0430-0645 Hours, April 10 1940

night of April 9-10 sheltering near Ballangen, 15 miles west of Narvik. With hell raging in the port, they received orders to make haste for Germany. But as they sailed into Ofotfjord, they sighted the five British destroyers racing west. They engaged. It was now five against five.

What followed was a confused and confusing action, lost in a swirl of smoke, snow squalls, clouds of cordite. Hardy, in the vanguard, was hit at least twice, one shell killing or incapacitating everyone on her bridge. Her gunners fought back, struggling to keep their footing in the snow on deck. The destroyer heeled out of line with the attention of two German destroyers focused on her. Only momentum carried her forward now – there was no steam from Hardy’s wrecked boilers. She came

to rest on rocks at Vidrek, about nine miles from Narvik. Suffering terrible head wounds, Bernard Warburton-Lee briefly rallied and stood up, pointing to the shore. “Swim lads, swim!” he urged as his comrades carefully carried him off his flagship and on to a raft, but he died before he reached dry land. His battle cry still flew from

Hardy’s halyards: Keep on engaging the enemy.

Warburton-Lee’s men had perhaps

● Survivors from HMS Hunter are fi shed out of Ofotfjord by the Erich Koellner

the shore and lay there, exhausted, with fellow survivors. “A

100 yards to swim, then another 200 to wade before reaching safety. “It was so cold that a moment after we got into the water, there was no feeling in our hands or feet,” one survivor recalled. “And all the time we were under fire. German shells were dropping around us.” AB Stanley Robinson found himself “swimming for my life”. He reached

Norwegian civilian picked me up and carried me to his house,” he recalled. He remained there until German troops began scouring the area. There followed a 15-mile trek through the snow “with virtually no clothes on” to the small mining community of Ballangen. By day, the sailors hid in the phosphate mines; by night, they emerged for sustenance – the local populace provided bread, milk and fish.

Around 80 Hardy survivors took shelter in the home of a Norwegian housewife, Mrs Christiansen, and her daughter. LS F A Mason struggled ashore minus his boots and walked into the Christiansen’s home. “The house was crammed full of Hardy survivors in all sorts of stages of undress being thawed out before a


great roaring fire.” The mistress of the house handed out cups of hot coffee.

Hardy’s torpedo officer, Lt Heppel, returned to the blazing wreck of the destroyer. The steel chests in the captain’s cabin, containing confidential papers, were blown up before Heppel found Hardy’s badly- wounded navigator still aboard. He carried him ashore.


Out in Ofotfjord, the new leader HMS Havock was trying to lead the rest of the flotilla to safety. The two antagonists – two German, four British destroyers – steamed westwards parallel at full speed. Havock ran down the British line to draw the enemy fire and find out what happened to Hardy, leaving Hunter to lead the line. The decision

When the battle moved on,

sealed Hunter’s fate. She suffered a succession of hits. Hotspur was hit. So too the Georg Thiele took hits to her boiler, her fire control room and her fire-fighting system. But the Thiele could still fight: she focused her secondary armament on the Hunter, then sent a torpedo into her side. The coup de grâce was delivered by her own side, however. In the smoke of battle, the damaged Hotspur collided with the Hunter. When she finally pulled away again, Hunter rolled to starboard. As she heeled over her siren shrieked above the noise of battle, the death rattle of more than 100 men – perhaps half of them stokers. They were trapped below when escape hatches buckled and jammed as a result of the battering the ship suffered. Around 45 Hunters were rescued from the fjord by the Germans.

● Capt Bernard Armitage Warburton Warburton-Lee, Commander 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. A man of action, he was fatally wounded by a German shell which hit the bridge of his fl agship, HMS Hardy

“We’ve picked up 16 men from the Hunter,” Erich Koellner’s executive officer Reitsch – brother of legendary German aviatrix Hanna Reitsch – told his captain, Alfred Schulze- Heinrichs. “Some of them have pretty much had it.” The Thiele and von Arnim now focused their attention on the battered Hotspur. Her surviving sisters, Hostile and Havock, had escaped the German clutches. Now they turned about and concentrated their fire on the two enemy destroyers. Their actions saved the Hotspur. Georg Thiele was badly damaged. Fires raged, the water mains failed, the ammunition lockers were threatened. The Germans broke off the battle, the battered remnants of 2nd Destroyer Flotilla sped west for

 Continued on page vi


Hermann Künne Hans Lüdemann Anton Schmitt

Diether von Roeder Wilhelm Heidkamp

● The upturned wreck of HMS Hardy in Ofotfjord


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