Konigsberg Visiting Gdynia, Poland, circa 1935. Note the offset arrangement of her after 15cm triple gun turrets. (US Navy History and Heritage Command).
The Königsberg on fire and sinking.
[Images courtesy of the US Navy History and Heritage Command]
9 April 1940, during the German invasion of Norway, Norwegian coastal artillery located on the approaches to Bergen fired effectively on Konigsberg and caused major damage to the ship which almost sank. On 10 April 1940, Royal Navy dive bombers of the Fleet Air Arm sank the ship.
Artwork by Adolf Bock, 1941, published in a book on the German Navy published by Erich Klinghammer, Berlin, during World War II. It depicts the light cruisers Köln and Königsberg landing troops at Bergen, Norway, on 9 April 1940. (USNA)
German damage control crews labored through the night, but the damage from the guns of the Norwegian fort had been grievous. Nonetheless, the ship was afloat–but not for long.
Approximately 0700 on 10 April 1940, sixteen Skua dive bombers of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm located Konigsberg in Bergen Harbor. German AA crews were exhausted and thought the British planes were German. The first British bomb hit knocked out electric power to the AA guns. Thus, before the Germans were fully alert a half dozen or more 500-pound armour piercing bombs had hit the Konigsberg.
With fires spreading out of control and water pouring into the ship from holes opened in the sides, the Kommandant ordered the crew to abandon ship, and the Konigsberg rolled over and sank. This was the first sinking of a major warship by aerial attack to occur. Many more would come. (Source: The German Invasion of Norway April 1940 by Geirr H Haarr)
While the British and French had long been urged by then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to block Swedish iron ore shipments to Nazi Germany through Norwegian territorial waters, hand-wringing on behalf of the French and the British delayed this action. (The French Minister of War refused to speak to the Prime Minister who would avoid being in the same room with him if possible. Their respective mistresses also hated each other. This ill feeling caused delays in decision making as you might imagine).
+Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken while the ship was transiting the Kiel Canal, about 1935.
Moored in a German harbor, circa 1936. Note the ship’s crest on her bow, and what appear to be old torpedo boats tied up in the right distance.
When British ships were finally ordered out to lay mines in the sea lanes used to transport the ore and to capture the ice free port of Narvik, they ran into German forces who were staging a surprise invasion of Norway including the occupation of Narvik. Germans got to Narvik before the British by taking incredible chances in terrible sea conditions and managing to find the fjord which led to Narvik. Ten German destroyers carrying troops navigated in pitch dark down the Narvik fjord and put the troops ashore.
Early that morning, while the exhausted German sailors were sleeping and their guard-ship not very alert, British destroyers under the Command of Captain B.A.W. Washburton-Lee, VC, skipped in and sank three destroyers and damaged more.
Their commander was killed in the action and posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in Great Britain. Several days later the battleship HMS Warspite went down the fjord with numerous destroyers protecting her and her big guns hit the remaining German destroyers and blew them out of the water.
King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav seeking shelter on the outskirts of Molde during a German bombing raid on the city in April 1940.
While the invasion of Norway by the Germans was success, they failed in to accomplish one of their key objectives which was capturing the King. The Germans were looking everywhere for the King and Crown Prince (the Queen had died in 1938) and had been bombing any town or village they were rumored to be in.
On 1 May 1940, a British cruiser took them and leaders of Parliament from the small coastal town of Molde to a temporary capitol in Tromsø. King Haakon VII and the crown prince took refuge in a small cabin in the nearby woods.By the end of May, the Germans had attacked France and both France and Great Britain began to withdraw their forces. On 7 June 1940, the Royal Family and government ministers boarded HMS Devonshire and were spirited away to England. The King had been a Danish Prince elected King of Norway. He was an uncle to England’s King George VI.
Königsberg on her visit to Britain in 1934; she is flying the British White Ensign and firing a salute. (US Navy History and Heritage Command)
+Vertical aerial photograph, probably taken while the ship was under attack by British aircraft at Bergen, Norway, on 9 April 1940. Note the prominent swastika identification markings on her deck, fore, and aft. This was used in most German Navy ships to prevent them from being attacked by their own airforce.
Being attacked by your own planes was a constant problem particularly in the European theater. Pilots saw what they wanted to see. No matter what recognition devices ships employed their own planes attacked them.
Escorting convoys to Russia was a brutal task given the terrible weather and constant attacks by German aircraft and U-boats out of Norway. Home Fleet provided “distant cover” since fleet carriers like HMS Victorious and battleships such as KGV were too valuable to risk anywhere close to German air attack. Home FLeet distant cover was laid on in the event the Tirpitz came out.
The Royal Navy named all of its bases as if they were ships. Hence, HMS Spurwing was a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm base providing cover for convoys forming up off Freetown, Sierra Leone, a major convoy destination point where escorts changed.
The Royal Navy did most of its accounting by ship so it was easier to keep track of everything if all bases were treated as ships. For instance, unassigned officers were carried on the books of HMS Victory although they were obviously not on the ship itself although it did have accommodation for a small number of officers in transit.
If you wrote someone in the Royal Navy in World War Two, you addressed the letter to that person followed by name of ship followed by GPO, London.
The two photographs above are unusual because they show planes both landing and taking off from the Royal Navy fleet carrier HMS Victorious while the carrier is at anchor in the Royal Navy Home Fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow.
Because of aerodynamic reasons, carriers in World War Two typically had to turn into the wind which gave added lift to planes taking off. As an aircraft carrier neared its anchorage, the planes based on the carrier took off while the carrier was still at sea and could turn into the wind and flew to a Fleet Air Arm base on land.
They usually practiced landing on a carrier deck by landing on runways on land marked with the length of a carrier deck. Aircraft carrier pilots then and to this day often describe landing on a carrier as a “controlled crash.” It isn’t and wasn’t for the faint of heart.
In the last few years, the US Navy has started to fly drones from aircraft carriers which calls in question our naval strategy based around massive aircraft carrier battle groups. This is according to defense writer and expert Thomas Ricks, not me.
RNVR means Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. Officers wore wavy stripes on their coat sleeves instead of regular stripes worn by professional “regular service” officers. Hence known as “wavy navy.” Nonetheless, RNVR officers came to vastly outnumber the regular service officers of whom there were only about 5,000 when the war began.
RNVR officers who were pilots assigned to the Fleet Air Arm wore a small insignia denoting this. The men claimed the small insignia was meant to inform all other RN personnel that they knew absolutely nothing about the navy.
Hvalfjord was a treacherous anchorage because it was exposed to vicious winds. Ships at anchor normally dropped both bow and stern anchors which they usually didn’t do in more protected anchorages as well as keep steam on since they often had to make revolutions for two or three knots simply to stay where they were and not drag their anchors if a storm came up.
Featured image shows: Fairey Albacores, the torpedo carrying plane of the Fleet Air Arm landing on the deck of HMS VICTORIOUS while the ship was en route to Hvalfjord, Iceland from Scapa Flow. The automatic Bat can be seen in the right of the picture, as can the arrestor wires running across the flight deck.
Swordfish only entered active service in 1936 and Served Royal Navy Throughout the WORLD War Two.
A Swordfish taking off from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, with another passing by astern, circa 1939. (Photo courtesy of US History and Heritage Command).
Although the Swordfish bi-plane looks like a relic from World War One, it only entered active service in 1936. The Fairey Aviation Company came up with the plans for the Swordfish. The plane was made of heavy canvas stretched over a wooden frame.
While originally built as a prototype for the Greek Navy, they turned it down in the mid-30s and Fairey Brothers Aircraft offered it the Royal Navy primarily for use on aircraft carriers. After design changes the plane went into production as the famous Royal Navy Swordfish which served multiple roles: patrol and reconnaissance, torpedo bomber, tactical bomber to support infantry and U-boat hunter/killer. The plane was oddly effective in all of these roles and was used operationally for the entire war.
(Shortly before D-Day, all Allied aircraft with the exception of heavy bombers had three black stripes painted on each wing to help Allied troops ientify them as friendly aircraft. Allied soldiers had a tendency to fire on any aircraft and this continued despite the three black stripes)