Battles at Narvik
Pirate methods in the neutral fjords of Norway
The previous page was: "Before Commandos"
Battles at Narvik: Narvik was a boom town; iron ore had been the catalyst for its growth. The Swedish mines at Kiruna, needed an ice-free port to ship their ore. Sweden had none. Instead the mine owners decided to create one. They chose the ancient fishing village of Narvik. And now the northern port was going to be in the eye of the storm.
On April 13th 1940 the Battleship H.M.S. Warspite and her escort entered Norwegian's waters; other ships in the Fjords were the main part of the German fleet. They were a potential menace to the evacuation of the Norwegian Royal family and the removal of the country's gold reserves to a safe haven.
At the time the waters of Norway were neutral and the Germans who were at war with Britain believed they were safe from attack by the Royal Navy. They were wrong.
It was to be the biggest confrontation of naval strength since the Battle of Jutland. The attack was swift and furious the Warspite and her escort slautered the Germans who were stunned by the ferosity of the surprise assault; they claimed the attack was an act of piracy.
20 warships fired shells at short range and torpedoes zigzagged through the ice cold waters of the Fjords. When the shelling stopped the smoke of battle clung to the surface of the water; avalanches came crashing down disturbed by the tremendous viberations of the explosions. It was a scene that will never be
forgotten by those who were there to witness it.
Adolf Hitler was not amused
Eight German destroyers were sunk or put beyound further use; while the British had no casualties or any damage to report.
Adolf Hitler was not amused to say the least; he ordered his chief military adviser, Alfred Jodl, for an explanation. "These comrades of ours met their deaths at the hands of British murderers using pirate methods," he said.
"No resistance, no English losses." Hitler raged. "I want you to accelerate plans for the occupation of Norway and Denmark."
The fuse on the Scandinavian powder keg had been lit. Within four months, Adolf Hitler commanded a domain stretching from
the North Cape to the Pyrenees. But in doing so he would sacrifice his Navy. Half of it lies in the deep icy waters of the fjords around the Norwegian town of Narvik.
Before Germany and Britain went to war on 3rd September 1939 Hitler and his Naval Commander-in-Chief, Erich Raeder had a petty disagreement which neither Hitler or Raeder backed down. Not once as he finalised his plans for the invasion of Poland
did Adolf Hitler seek the council of his most senior naval officer.
Raeder knew better than any man in Germany that "war with England would mean the finish of Germany!" And now there was war with England - Germans never referred to their mortal enemy as Great Britain, it was always England.
Numerically the Royal Navy was far superior
Erich Raeder's, strategic position worried him in World War I when Germany had the second most mighty navy on the seven seas they had found themselves bottled up in their North Sea bases.
While the Royal Navy commanded the gateways to the atlantic
with the Strait of Dover or the Norwegian Sea, they had the freedom to go wherever they wanted.
For World War II he possessed five battleships, one heavy and six light cruisers, plus twenty-two destroyers, also some smaller craft and a number of submarines.
The Royal Navy possessed fifteen capital ships, more than six aircraft carriers, and in excess of sixty cruisers and an endless array of other ships, corvettes destroyers, frigates, submarines etc.
His fleet he lamented, "can do no more than show that they know how to die gallantly."
The slower supply ships travelled independently
The Altmark was the tanker used for refueling the pocket battleship The Admiral Graf Spee. She had taken aboard 299 British sailors; victims of the pocket battleship's actions
until she was snared off the River Plate.
When he Royal Navy searching for the Altmark found her; Heinrich Dau sought shelter in Jessingfjord. It was no sanctuary. After dark the British flagship H.M.S. Cossack entered the narrow waters with orders to board and seize the German tanker and free
Heinrich Dau gave orders for the boats to be swung out and the Altmark to be scuttled, but subsequently had second thoughts and decided to to try and break out of the fjord. Then he tried to manoeuvre his tanker so he could drive Cossack onto the shore. He failed. Instead a boarding party stormed the Altmark.
For a few minutes there was wild shooting and Germans fell, a handful of Altmark's crew tried to flee across the ice. Cossack's searchlights fell upon them, as did the bullets. Some Germans fell throught the ice others made it to the shore.
The ship was in the hands of the boarding part on opening the hatch a voice shouted: "Are there any Englishmen down there?" "Yes - We're all English," came the responce. "Well the Navy's here!" The Prisoners all cheered.
Doubts about a rumour of occupation
A report that a German expedition was being prepared, appeared to the Admiralty to be somewhat septical. It placed little value on intelligence. Hitler was reported to have ordered unostentatious movement of one division and ten ships to travel by night and land at Narvik. Hitler it was believed was simply racheting up his war of nerves. Those reports were spot-on.
The Germans were racing northwards, carrying the mountainmen of 3rd Gebirgs Division, most of whom had never seen the sea before. The destroyers sped through the North Sea in long lines of ships. The fast-moving destroyers had below their decks the mountain infantrymen in their sturdy Kraxlhuber outdoor clothing.
A German destroyer was sighted by H.M.S. Glowworm's Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr Gerard Broadmean Roope. He hoisted the battle ensign and engaged, the shots fell short and the destroyer vanished into a mist of smoke.
Roope gave chase and when he emerged from the smoke he found a great German ship in front of him; far bigger than the destroyer he was chasing; it was the Admiral Hipper. The British ship was hit by the first salvo, The glowworm struck back firing five torpedoes but they all missed, she tried again, all of the time
she was suffering damage, again the torpedoes all missed.
Gerard Roope played his last card. "Stand by to ram," he ordered. Glowworm turned sharply and as she smashed into Hipper's starboard side she struck amidships, tearing away a hundred feet of armour-plating, wrecking the the starboard torpedoe tubes and puncturing two fresh water tanks.
Her bow shattered Glowworm drew withering fire, the guns ceased firing when it was clear the Glowworm was crippled and sinking.
Gerard Roope earned the posthumous VC for his verve that day - but not until the end of the war. The recommendation for that decoration for bravery came from his former adverary, Hellmuth Heye.
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Norwegian obstacles to overcome first
Before landing at Narvik the Germans faced one problem; the two coastal defence ships the Norge and the Eidsvold.
The Eidsvold was the most potent warship in the Norwegian arsenal. It took a salvo only a few seconds to cover 330 yards to their target. Three torpedoes struck the Eidsvold. One struck the ammunition hold, tearing the ship apart, she sank in 15 seconds. With that 'Obstacle' out of the way the occupation of Narvk could begin.
The crash of guns reverberated around the fjord, it was Eidsvold's sister ship. She too received a clutch of torpedoes. She lasted barely any longer than her sister, capsizing in under a minute. Her propellers were still turning as she went under, condemming more than a hundred men to a watery grave.
The destruction of the two coastal vessels brought resistance on the water to an end. On land, the infantrymen faced no resistance - the occupation of Narvik caught civilians and Norwegian soldiers by surprise. The Germans quickly occupied the rest of Narvik. The barracks at Elvegaardsmoen surrendered without a shot. The hospital was also occupied.
A truck carrying the first Norwegian dead from the Eidsfjord and the Norge arrived. Hospital staff could only flash their eyes angrily at the Germans in their midst. As for the rest of Narvik's residents, they wandered around their town in stunned
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