HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 17

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The escort carrier HMS Hunter seen off the island of Santorini in the Aegean in the autumn of 1944. The carrier was part of a small British fleet conducting harassing operations in the Aegean as the Germans pulled out. Royal Navy escort carrier HMS Hunter was named in honor of the sunken destroyer. Although not a well known theater in World War Two a number of bitter and hard fought small unit actions took place in the Aegean. Remnants of the Royal Italian Navy, under British command, were active against their former German allies in this area.

In the article below, from the archives of the BBC, is an interview with one of the handful of British sailors to survive the sinking of the HMS Hunter.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

HMS Hunter: A survivor remembers

On the morning of 10 April 1940, 110 people on board HMS Hunter died when the Royal Navy ship was sunk by German forces during World War II’s first Battle of Narvik, in Norway.

John Hague, now 87, but then a 19-year-old able seaman, was one of just 35 survivors.

[A sailor fresh from a training depot such as Chatham, began as an Ordinary Seaman. Once he knew what in the hell was going on and had mastered the multifarious tasks required of an experienced sailor, he became an AB or “Able Bodied” seaman. The step up was Leading Hand.]

“It was early morning, around four-thirty or five o’clock and I was down, below deck, in the ammunition room feeding munitions from the shell room to the gun room,” he said.

He and the other men on duty felt “a jolt” and realised HMS Hunter had been hit, but they did not know the extent of that damage.

He recalled there was no evacuation siren, no orders to abandon ship. Climbing the steps to the outside world, the men were struck by the chilling winds of the blizzard and an eerie absence of people.

“The first we knew it was bad was when we started to tilt, we went up to the deck and saw that there was no-one around – those that could leave had gone,” said Mr Hague.

When asked what it was like, he retorted: “What’s it like being in a freezer? It was very icy and the blizzard was blowing and we knew we had no choice but to get off the ship.

“I don’t know how long I was in the water, I tried not to think about the cold and I tried to keep moving to keep warm and to stay afloat,” he said.

As the men trod water, a ship appeared and a rope ladder was thrown over its side. Shivering and drenched in a mix of seawater and oil, the men scaled the ladder and clambered aboard the vessel.

“As soon as we got on board, they scrubbed the oil off us and gave us what clothes they could find for us to wear,” Mr Hague said.

“They [the Germans] were alright and I didn’t have time to be frightened, it was all happening so quickly.”

They were taken to Narvik and transferred to a German ship where they signed an agreement promising that when they returned to Britain they would not fight the Germans.

“We had to sign a declaration saying we wouldn’t take up arms against them.

“That really upset me because of course I wanted to go back.”

Mr Hague and the other HMS Hunter prisoners spent two days in the hands of the Germans before they were handed over to the Swedish authorities and interned.

I encourage you to read the rest at the BBC.

German mountain troops in Norway wearing their distinctive head gear, although a number are wearing a white-wool over cap which also helps to camouflage the soldiers.

[Source: BBC. Images courtesy of History of War and Wikipedia.]

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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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