British naval vessels participating in the commemoration of Ofotfjorden.
According to NRK news network in Norway, over one thousand soldiers and sailors from Great Britain and Norway took part in the memorial service honoring the gallant Royal Navy officers and ratings who perished aboard HMS Hunter on 10 April 1940.
The First and Second Battles of Narvik were but the beginning of a long series of naval battles fought by the Royal Navy against the Germans and Italians. It was a very close run thing but in the end the Royal Navy prevailed. We owe them a lot.
This brief You-Tube video shows the battleship HMS Warspite along with her screening destroyers barreling down the Narvik fjord on 13 June and sinking the remaining German destroyers.
One of a series of nine pictures of the battle at Narvik on 13 April 1940, taken from the Swordfish attached to the British flagship, HMS Warspite. The original caption reads: With the entire force of seven German destroyers wiped out, the Warspite and destroyer screen steam out through the narrow exit of Ofot Fiord.
All the other the other remaining German destroyers, were sunk on 13 April 1940 during the Second Battle of Narvik. The Kriegsmarine lost a total of ten of their modern destroyers at Narvik and they only had twenty in the fleet. Three were sunk in the first battle and seven were sunk in the second battle. In a curious way, I think the sinking of these ten German destroyers was another nail in the coffin of the German invasion of Great Britain. Without a way to move elite detachments of troops across the English Channel, which the German destroyers could have done, the Germans never could have gotten a foothold for an invasion of the UK.
Winston Churchill addresses the crew of HMS Hardy after their return from Norway in April 1940.
Pair of anti-aircraft guns from the Georg Thiele. This is in about forty feet of water. The Germans ran the ship aground so it is in shallow water. (photo F. Bang)
HMS Hunter found. She had been assigned to 2nd Destroyer Flotilla commanded by Captain (D) Warburton-Lee, RN, VC and sunk at First Narvik.
Uniform of Captain Warburton-Lee, RN, VC, killed leading the attack during the First Battle of Narvik.
Warburton-Lee (Wash-Lee to friends) was an officer of bravery and boldness in the mold of Lord Nelson of Trafalgar. The first battle of Narvik showed the Royal Navy at its best: bold, courageous, disciplined all combined with impeccable seamanship. Following the custom and tradition of the Royal Navy to attack the enemy anywhere and everywhere he could be found, Warburton-Lee steamed through a heavy snowstorm into battle with little information on the enemy save that German warships were in Narvik.
Fortes fortuna adjuvat: Fortune favors the bold and it certainly smiled on Warburton-Lee at the opening of the first battle of Narvik. Yet for their victory that day which set the stage for the annihilation several days later of ten of Germany’s newest destroyers, the Royal Navy paid a heavy price.
For reasons never fully explained, Admiral Whitworth, Flag officer commanding Royal Navy forces in the waters off Narvik, could have reinforced the Second Destroyer flotilla had he chosen to do so. This would have given additional firepower to Warburton-Lee if he had, say, encountered ten German destroyers which is what happened, instead of handful he was expecting.
Whitworth did order several destroyers to reinforce 2nd Flotilla but then cancelled the order for reasons unknown. At the same time, it should be said that confusion reigned best described by the military maxim “order, counter-order, dis-order.” The Admiralty in London was dealing directly with Warburton-Lee, going over the head of Sir John Tovey, Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet, who was at sea, and also over the head of Whitworth as well. This was somewhat irregular to put it mildly since Warburton-Lee was under Whitworth’s command and Whitworth was under Sir John Tovey of Home Fleet.
Their orders often countermanded the orders of the ranking officers on the scene. Further, the Admirals afloat believed the Admiralty must have information they did not have — although the Admiralty did not. Worse, given how close the Royal Navy ships were to the magnetic influence of the North Pole, radio messages were constantly garbled and some messages were received by one ship but not others.
Warburton-Lee, while thought something of a martinet by his men, was one of the golden boys of the Royal Navy and would have gone far in the terrible years of war to come. The Royal Navy keenly felt the shortage of officers like him. Had the Admiralty collected their wits and waited until they had air reconnaissance from Narvik on the 10th, then a much heavier force would have gone in which is what happened in the Second Battle of Narvik.
HMS Hardy, flagship of the Second Destroyer Flotilla. After all the watch officers including Captain (D) Warburton-Lee had been killed in just one German salvo. Paymaster-Lt. Stanning beached the ship and saved the crew. Later HMS Hardy rolled over.
Stanning was both a friend of Warburton-Lee and his secretary. His brief was dealing with all administrative matters of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, commanded by Warburton-Lee. After making his final decision to attack at dawn high-water, Warburton-Lee agonized over the decision he had made and discussed it privately with Lt. Stanning. Although he lost his lower left foot from the German shell which hit the bridge of HMS Hardy and killed or knocked unconscious all of the men on the bridge, Stanning hopped down on one foot to the wheel house below the bridge, found the helmsmen and coxswain dead and wheel partially destroyed.
He turned the ship toward the small beach and was responsible for the correct decision to beach the ship which saved the lives of the ship’s company. He, too, was a brave man who kept his wits in a terrifying situation. The Navigator, or ‘Pilot’ in the slang of the Royal Navy, was completely disabled and unconscious, his body heaving and rolling back and forth in what Stanning thought were his last moments. Incredibly, he survived.
One of the famous Tribal class fleet destroyers, HMS Eskimo (F75), had her bow blown off by a torpedo during the Second Battle of Narvik. Fortunately, her collision bulkhead held and the ship did not sink. After shoring up the bulkhead, the ship proceeded slowly to England and an entire new fore section was built on. May 1940
With water spraying in a huge V shape from her damaged bow, sort of like the rooster tail a water skier makes but on each side of the bow and much bigger, HMS Hotspur made all possible speed with the Bernd von Arnim and other German destroyers banging away at her and the aft batteries of the Hotspur, under local control, keep up a steady fire on the Germans.
However, as Hotspur came out of the smoke and fog and built up speed, her flotilla mates, HMS Havoc and HMS Hostile saw the damaged ship, turned around and went at full speed toward her to cover her retreat.
The German destroyer Z2 Georg Thiele beached in the inner part of the Rombaks Fjord off Sildvika after the 2nd Naval Battle of Narvik on 13 April 1940. Georg Thiele’s Kommandant used the last bit of power he had left in his engines to beach his ship which allowed his crew to escape. After the crew abandoned ship, they set the ship afire and it blew up.
Georg Thiele herself, was on fire and had been hit as many as seven times by the British destroyers and was about to run out of fuel so pursuing Hotspur was out of the question. The other German destroyers, also low on fuel and ammunition halted the chase, allowing HMS Havoc and HMS Hostile to shepherd HMS Hotspur to safety.