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.

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.]

German Battleship Scharnhorst

I have written in greater depth about the German Battleship Scharnhorst.

Scharnhorst then went on to participate in Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway. In April 1940 in the North Sea, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau faced off against the British battlecruiser HMS Renown. Scharnhorst suffered from malfunctions while Gneisenau took two direct hits and both ships used their superior speed to escape back to Kiel for repairs. In June, the two ships returned to the North Sea to disrupt British supply lines to Norway. The sister ships faced off against and sank the British carrier HMS Glorious and her two destroyer escorts. This action is notable since Scharnhorst achieved one of the longest range naval gunfire hits in history at a range of ~25,000 meters. Scharnhorst was damaged enough during the encounter to need temporary repairs prior to returning to Germany and survived numerous attacks from the RAF over the two weeks it took her to return to Kiel where her repairs required six months dock time. Collected below are photographs of the Scharnhorst during the Norwegian campaign.

Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) View on board, looking forward, while the ship was at sea in 1940. Probably taken during the Norwegian campaign, in April or June 1940. Note air identification marking on her fore deck. The ship is cleared for action, with deck edge stanchions and lifelines taken down.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) in the left middle distance with battleship Gneisenau at left and heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper in right center. The warships are in a Norwegian port, probably Trondheim, in June 1940.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) firing her forward 283mm guns, during the engagement with the British aircraft carrier Glorious and her escorts, 8 June 1940. Photographed from the battleship Gneisenau.

[Images courtesy of the Department of the Navy – Naval History & Heritage Command.]

German Battleship Scharnhorst

I have written in greater depth about the German Battleship Scharnhorst.

Scharnhorst‘s first operation was a sortie into the North Atlantic between Iceland and the Faroe Islands where she sank the British axillary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi. (You can read my account of this battle here.) This mission was intended to take British pressure off of the Admiral Graf Spee operating in the South Atlantic and was conducted prior to major training.

After her return to Wilhelmshaven for minor repairs from splinter damage resulting from her first mission, Scharnhorst spent the winter of 1939-40 in the Baltic Sea for gunnery training. This proved to be a longer training session than normal since heavy ice kept Scharnhorst trapped in the Baltic until February 1940. Collected below are photographs of the Scharnhorst crew and ship during the winter of 1939/40 during their early winter port stay in Wilhelmshaven and their late winter stay in Kiel.

Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) Sailors standing on the ship’s after deck with a Christmas tree, circa December 1939. The ship was then under repair at Wilhelmshaven.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) View looking northeast from within the Hipperhafen, with the Seydlitz pier at right, the Gazelle pier at left and the Kaiser Wilhelm bridge in the distance, circa winter 1939-40. Photographed from the battleship Scharnhorst. Her sister ship, Gneisenau, is ahead with a large floating crane alongside.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) The ship’s forward control tower, with a 10.5-meter rangefinder at its top, seen from abreast the funnel looking forward. Photographed at Kiel or Wilhelmshaven during the winter of 1939-40.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) View of the mainmast, looking up from the platform below. Probably photographed in 1939-40, possibly during early 1940.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) In the ice in Kiel harbor, Germany, during the winter of 1939-40, probably in late January 1940 when the ship was working up after refit.

[Images courtesy of the Department of the Navy – Naval History & Heritage Command.]

Follow-up on the HMS Rawalpindi

Tad discovered a useful site that transcribes old newspapers from Liverpool and Merseyside in the UK. While some of the facts in the articles are now known to be false (ie HMS Rawalpindi was sunk by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and not by the German pocket battleship Deutschland), the articles themselves are quite helpful in showing us the vibe of the time and giving us insight into the information available to the common British citizens during this time. I have reproduced the articles as transcribed below:

Old Mersey Times

Rawalpindi ex P and O Steam Navigation Fleet

Daily Post, Nov 27th 1939



The Admiralty last night announced another serious naval loss, the sinking of the Rawalpindi, ex Pand O Mailship Co’s 16,697 ton liner. It is feared all the officers and ship’s company have been lost except the following: Sub Lieut A. H. B. ANDERSON, RNR; Reginald BYGRAVE, Leading seaman RNR; Septimus PITT, AB, RNR; Frederick SKELLY, AB, RFR; Francis SAUNDERS, AB, RNR; Jeffe G. CHELTER, AB, RNR; Arthur CHANDLER, CPO; Joseph BRIGGS, Steward; Roy LEADBETTER, Steward; Percy HARRIS, PO; Frank SIMPSON, Plumber; Robert REID, Cook; Richard STONE, Cook; John DEMPSEY, Steward; John PEERS, AB; Henry FLEMING, Steward; Frederick RUSSELL, AB.

The Rawalpindi had on board the normal compliment of an armed merchant cruiser of her class, about 300 officers and men. Until she became a merchant cruiser she was in the P and O Steam Navigation Fleet. She was a 16,697 ton twin-screw, oil-burning liner, built by Harland and Wolff Ltd at Greenock in 1925. On the outbreak of war she was requisitioned by the Admiralty and after many weeks in the dockyard many of her luxury fittings were taken out and she was fitted on her broadside with guns, she sailed again painted grey and flew the white ensign. As an armed merchant cruiser she was a warship and an integral part of the Royal Navy, and took no part in commercial activities.

She was a different kind of vessel to the defensively armed merchant ships which continue to carry allied trade in spite of German submarine and mining activity. The latter have no broadside or bow guns only stern guns, and an anti-aircraft gun, which comprise of a purely defensive armament for a merchant ship in strict accordance with international law.

Survivors of the Rawalpindi in London

Daily Post, Nov 30th 1939




Survivors of the Rawalpindi sunk by the pocket battleship Deutschland off Iceland, arrived in London yesterday. They were immediately driven to the Admiralty. Soon they marched into the Horse Guards Parade, people noticed the quiet, little procession and ran towards it shouting, “Well done boys!” Admiral Sir Charles LITTLE greeted them and praised the way they had, “Worthily upheld the traditions of the Navy.”

Graphic stories were told, one man, an old RNR who saw service on HMS Malaya at the Battle of Jutland, was called up at the outbreak of the war and joined the Rawalpindi as an AB Seaman gunner and was No 2 on the aft starboard six-inch gun. “It was just before 4pm that the warning was given that an enemy ship had been sighted,” he said, “In the fading light we could see the enemy ship on the horizon 10,000 yds away.”

“She began to bombard us, with our six-inch guns we could see we would be outranged. We got nearer however and shells began to hit us. We were given the order to fire and got three rounds off. Other guns around me were also firing. We might have hit the enemy, but, shell after shell hit us and before long the Rawalpindi caught fire.”

“Another enemy craft fired at us and a shell fell near my gun, I think several of my mates were hurt. The gun-layer was hit in the knee and laid out. I do not know what became of him when the order to abandon ship was given. With another mate I jumped into the sea, the ship was ablaze burning like a piece of paper. A boat empty but water-logged came near and about 50 of us jumped from the ship’s side, only about 10 reached the boat. How we clung on I do not know, it was getting darker every minute, it seemed a long time before we were picked up.”

Another survivor a 1st class Petty Officer RNR, said, “After one hit the lights in the magazine went out, a fire had broken amidships, it was an inferno. I was in charge, there was nothing else to do but flood the magazines to prevent the ammunition exploding. I called eight men to come up with me to B deck, live shells and cordite were in the path of sparks and flames shooting from the fire amidships.”

“Our guns were still firing, About 30 or 40 of us went over the side, we saw a water-logged boat floating past. It was a 1000 to 1 chance of reaching it. Some of us did. The only thing we could find in the boat was a white handkerchief with which to attract attention. We tied it to the end of a boat hook and hung it up, we tried to fix up a jury-rigged sail with oilskins hoping to make land. We thought we might make the Hebrides, but luckily we were picked up by the Chitral, I should think the action lasted 40mins.”

[Images courtesy of the Old Mersey Times.]