NAVY NEWS, NARVIK 70th ANNIVERSARY SUPPLEMENT APRIL 2010
NAVY NE WS, J ANUARY 2 010
The Second Battle of Narvik, 1330-1520 Hours, April 13 1940
U64 Hermann Künne
HMS Foxhound HMS Kimberley
railway overlooking Rombaksfjord with shells and bullets striking around them. “When a shell howls towards them, they throw themselves into the deep snow if there’s no rock nearby offering protection,” one of Thiele’s survivors recalled. “It’s the most wretched journey.”
The sacrifice of the Georg Thiele – 16 dead and 28 wounded – was not in vain. For while the ship was the focus of the Royal Navy’s attention, her three comrades were run aground at the fjord head, Rombaksbotn, where demolition teams placed charges. The Wolfgang Zenker heeled to
starboard and was half-submerged – but only just, and just in time. She stubbornly refused to die, despite the best efforts of her scuttling party, led by Erich Bey. It took three depth charges beneath her stern to finally send the Zenker on her way. As Bey and three comrades left the wreck in a cutter, British shells began to crash down.
The Bernd von Arnim died rather more willingly by her own hand. She rolled over, her upturned bow rising forlornly from the water. Not so the Hans Lüdemann.
destroyers; her sick bay was better equipped to cope with the number of casualties. At least 40 operations were performed by the battleship’s surgeons. Stokers had to step over the wounded on their way to the engine room. “You knew this was definitely for real,” recalled one, “especially when a young fellow asked me to cover his legs as they were cold.” The stoker agreed, even though the sailor’s legs had been blown away. Also transferred to the flagship was a handful of German prisoners. They didn’t, to AB Banks’ surprise, “have two heads, nor had they horns or cloven hooves”. They were, rather, “just seamen like ourselves”. To his shipmate
Her scuttling charges either failed to detonate properly or had been misplaced, for she did not sink. Boarding parties from HMS Hero and Icarus tentatively went aboard. They found the ashes of confidential paper on the bridge, the headless bodies of two radio operators in the wireless office, fires raging aft, and water filling the engine room. The White Ensign was hoisted, a fine haul of Nazi souvenirs collected, and the boarders withdrew. Briefly, the two British destroyers pondered salvaging their prize, but Admiral Whitworth had other ideas and ordered the ship destroyed. Hero obliged with one well-placed torpedo.
A SHIP GRAVEYARD
THE LAST ACT OF BATTLE
A MONSTER’S PLAYGROUND
After an eight-hour climb, two German sailors from the Erich Koellner reached the 4,000ft peak of Fagnernesfjeld, towering over the fjord. They were drenched in sweat but were soon chilled by the icy wind driving sleet against the mountain top.
By the time they reached the summit night had fallen and the guns were silent. So too the fjords. But Narvik was aflame in several places, and the wrecks of at least three ships were still on fire. The acrid smoke carried the smell of burning flesh and paint across the fjord. Indeed, the harbour was “a ship graveyard with wreckage wherever one looked”, mayor Theodor Broch recalled. Explosions had tossed parts of ship ashore amid the wreckage of the pier and the new refrigeration plant, destroyed by the two days of battle.
And then there were the remnants of Friedrich Bonte’s destroyer force. “It was the strangest sight I had ever witnessed,” wrote Broch. “I felt as though I were walking around the playground of a huge monster who had suddenly tired of his toys. The whole inside of a warship seemed strewn around.”
Now at anchor off Narvik, Warspite began to receive wounded from the
Diether von Roeder Georg Thiele
Bernd von Arnim Hans Lüdemann
HMS Hero HMS Icarus HMS Bedouin HMS Forester
After-action report Hit No. 1
Exploded on impact with port side between the upper and forecastle decks about 20ft forward of “A” gun mounting causing minor structural and splinter damage.
Hit No. 2
Donald Auffret, however, captured enemy lived up to every stereotype of a Nazi. “They thought this defeat at Narvik was only a temporary thing – Germany would win in the next six months, so they were not too bothered about being taken prisoner.”
Barents Sea on New Year’s Eve 1942. He received the Victoria Cross for his actions that day.
On the flag bridge, Admiral William Whitworth mulled over his course of action. In the fading light, he toyed with putting 200 sailors and Royal Marines ashore to occupy Narvik. He chose not to, for the men were exhausted after the exertions of the day, and landing weary and ill-equipped men in the face of hardened German mountain infantry “would be to court disaster”. At dusk, her job done, the great battleship slipped down Ofotfjord for the more open waters of Vestfjord.
As the force retired, HMS Ivanhoe manoeuvred alongside a pier at Ballangen, fifteen miles west of Narvik, as Saturday April 13 turned to Sunday April 14. The survivors of the Hardy climbed on board.
Germany calling. Germany calling.
The nasal voice of William Joyce – Lord Haw Haw – was laced with Schadenfreude as he addressed the British people on Berlin’s English- language propaganda station. “We said we would get the Cossack and we have,” he sneered. “She is lying a blazing wreck in Narvik harbour and her captain is dead.” He was wrong on both counts.
The destroyer was stranded until high tide in the small hours of April 14. She made her way to the sheltered waters of Skjelfjord – dubbed Norway’s Scapa Flow by Churchill – near the western tip of the Lofoten Islands, where she joined Eskimo and two covering destroyers. Locals helped the ship’s company patch Cossack up. In gratitude, the sailors threw a tea party for them. The destroyer eventually limped to Portsmouth – but only thanks to her crew continuously baling out flooding on the way. As for her ‘dead’ captain, Robert
St Vincent Sherbrooke would be the scourge of the Nazis once more, confounding the Kriegsmarine in the
Eskimo too was repaired – slowly. She spent six weeks in Norway, first in Skjelfjord, then at Harstad. It was late May before she was towed for England and early June before she arrived in Barrow, where shipwrights found the cadavers of her sailors still trapped in her mangled forecastle. Yet by August, Eskimo was back at sea. Within a month, she had rejoined the Home Fleet.
THE DEAD HONOURED
And so the Second Battle of Narvik ended. It ended like the first – in a British victory. An overwhelming British victory. It is a classic destroyer action, perhaps the classic destroyer action. For two vessels lost, four damaged and 188 dead, the Royal Navy scythed Germany’s destroyer fleet in two. It would be a negligible factor when Britain and Germany squared up to each other across the Channel in the high summer of 1940. News of the massacre at Narvik reached Berlin that evening where the mood, the Kriegsmarine’s Chief- of-Staff Admiral Otto Schniewind observed, was “serious and depressed”. He continued his diary:
Ten of our modern destroyers – half our powerful and urgently-needed destroyer force – are shot-up, damaged of destroyed. For
forces, Narvik has been a mousetrap.
work ashore “heroic”. Pessimism quickly crept in. “Everything we’re doing here’s a waste of time,” they complained. “Things will go belly-up very quickly.”
Nearly 300 Norwegians went down with the aged coastal defence ships, Eidsvold and Norge. Six days after the ships’ destruction, the bodies which had been recovered from the harbour were laid to rest with full military honours.
As the Norwegian dead were buried, one of Bonte’s staff officers, Heinrich Gerlach, was describing for the Kriegsmarine’s leaders how the late commodore’s fleet had fought “to the last shell and to the last
report “fills the Naval Staff with pride”, wrote Otto Schniewind. Myth would envelop the fateful struggle of the German destroyers at Narvik, ideally suited with the Nazi ideal of heroic death on the battlefield. The Narvikkämpfer – Narvik warrior – would, in time, receive the Narvikschild – Narvik shield (pictured, left). It was one of the few decorations for a specific battle issued by a regime otherwise besotted with awards.
Flotilla commander, Friedrich Bonte, posthumously earned Germany’s highest decoration, the Ritterkreuz – Knight’s Cross.
The 2,500-plus surviving crew of the destroyers joined their mountain infantry comrades on land and fought alongside them for the next two months. They gave Eduard Dietl and his hard-pressed soldiers invaluable service. Some helped hold the iron ore rail line for which Narvik had been seized. Others performed guard duties or maintained equipment. Nazi propaganda proclaimed their Continued on page viii
Despite his uninspiring leadership Erich Bey too received the Knight’s Cross for Narvik – perhaps it was a Nazi smokescreen to cover up his failings. He would rise to command the Scharnhorst – and he would go down with her at the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943.
After their victory in Norway, the Nazis erected a plaque in
Jøssingfjord: Here, on February 16 1940, the Altmark was attacked by an English pirate.
It is no longer there.
No foe would sink HMS torpedo”. His
Exploded on impact with port side between lower and upper decks about 25 ft. forward of ‘A’ gun mounting causing minor structural and splinter damage.
Hit No. 3
Entered port side just below lower deck level about 20 ft. forward of ‘A’ gun mounting and passed out through starboard side just forward of ‘A’ gun mounting without detonating. The exit hole was below the waterline causing fl ooding which put the ASDIC out of action.
Hit No. 4
Stuck the port side about 6” below the upper deck level abreast No. 2 boiler room. Minor structural and splinter damage was caused and, due to perforated steam pipes, the steam supply to No. 1 boiler was cut. No. 2 boiler room was fi lled with superheated steam and was put out of action while No. 3 boiler room was immobilised because of steam entering through splinter holes. The splinters also put out of action the steam dynamos, steering telemotor gear and port engine room telegraphs.
Exploded on impact with the edge of forecastle deck slightly forward of ‘B” gun mounting causing slight structural and splinter damage.
Hit No. 6
Exploded on impact with port side between upper and forecastle deck causing minor structural and splinter damage. The transmitting station was hit by splinters and No. 1 magazine was fl ooded deliberately as a fi re precaution.
Hit No. 7
Exploded on impact with port side of forward superstructure just forward of ‘B’ mounting causing minor structural and splinter damage.
Hit No. 8
Exploded on impact with port aft backstay of forward funnel causing splinter damage.
Exploded on impact with water on the starboard side abreast ‘B’ gun mounting causing splinter damage that led to minor fl ooding.
Fighting Effi ciency
Nine killed and 23 ship’s company wounded. Two later died of wounds – one on the 13th and one on the 14th. One shell exploded in forward structure (Petty Offi cers Mess) killing all of the ammunition supply party for “A” gun. Other hits in Boiler Rooms subsequent loss of power causing the ship to go aground on the south shore opposite the harbour where she remained for the next 12 hours.
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