HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 14

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The battleship Gneisenau in dry dock at Brest. On 6 April 1941, a Coastal Command Beaufort plane (Lieutenant Kenneth Campbell) of the 22º Squadron scored a torpedo hit on Gneisenau‘s stern. The British aircraft was shot down by the anti-aircraft batteries, but the ship was damaged and had to enter dry dock for repairs. Just a few days later, during the night of 10/11 April, the Gneisenau was hit again. This time by four bombs dropped by the RAF, and this forced to lengthen the repair work for months during 1941.

Ships in dry-dock were quite vulnerable to enemy air attack since, of course, they could not move. In the case of the Gneisenau, the short distance from British airfields to the Channel port of Brest, meant constant attacks on the ship by Royal Air Bomber Command and Royal Air Force Coastal Command (under the tactical control of the Royal Navy). These attacks were so frequent that the Kriegsmarine circled the ship along with their other warships in Brest with a forest of anti-aircraft batteries.

An incredibly brave attack by Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell of RAF Coastal Command damaged the Gneisenau and forced her into dry-dock.

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Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber of the type flown by Flying Officer Campbell, VC of RAF Coastal Command.

There were four British air crew aboard the RAF Coastal Command torpedo-bomber which came in very low and dropped the torpedo which did significant damage to the stern of the Gneisenau. After dropping the torpedo, the plane was shot down and crashed in the water. All four of the air crew men were killed. Because of the extensive damage done by the torpedo strike, the Gneisenau was forced to enter the dry-dock shown in the photograph above for extensive repairs. Once in dry-dock, she was completely immobile. Several days later she was hit by four bombs by RAF Bomber Command.

To their credit, the Germans recovered the four bodies from the water and brought them aboard the Gneisenau. From Fiasco: The Break-out of the German Battleships by John Deane Potter:

Their bodies were draped in flags and placed on the quarterdeck, where a guard of honor was mounted as a mark of respect.

This was also confirmed to me by a source in the Deutsche Marine.

Lest We Forget
In memorium to the four RAF air crewmen who were killed in action:
Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, VC (Victoria Cross)
Sergeant J P Scott RCAF
Sergeant W C Mulliss RAF
Sergeant R W Hillman RAF

[Source: Fiasco: The Break-out of the German Battleships by John Deane Potter. Images courtesy of The Battleship Bismarck and World War II Today.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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