HMS Hunter, Sunk 1st Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 25

 

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.

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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.

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Winston Churchill addresses the crew of HMS Hardy after their return from Norway in April 1940.

 

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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)

[Images courtesy of History of War, Submerged, and Submerged.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 23

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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.

British destroyer HMS Hostile, underway on completion in October 1936. Her main armament is turned towards the camera. Since there is no bow wave the ship is presumably proceeding at “slow ahead”.

[Images courtesy of the UK Imperial War Museum, UK Imperial War Museum, and the UK Imperial War Museum.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 22

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Port side view of the destroyer HMS Hotspur (H01). She is painted in an unofficial camouflage scheme, the colours probably 507A, the darker grey, and 507C, the lighter. Her after torpedo tubes have been replaced by a 12 pounder AA gun. This is from later in the war after extensive repairs. (Naval Historical Collection)

Under the shock of the pounding HMS Hotspur was taking from the Georg Thiele, with the Bernd von Arnim joining in and assuming lead status, the ship was close to being sunk. After she went astern and untangled herself from HMS Hunter, the first few bulkheads in the forward part of the ship were crumpled. Fortunately, the 4th bulkhead was the collision bulkhead, stronger than any other bulkhead in the ship and designed to withstand collisions and keep the ship from sinking, hence the name.

(Had the RMS Titanic rammed the iceberg head-on, the ship probably would not have sunk since her collision bulkhead would have held – presumably. The bow is the strongest part of a ship and the standing orders of the White Star line were to ram bergs head-on if they could not be avoided. The deck officer tried to go around the berg, a huge mistake as we know. RMS stands for “Royal Mail Ship”. All the magnificent British cruise liners were built with a partial subsidy from the British Royal Mail since the ships all carried large amounts of mail.)

After being repaired, HMS Hotspur participated in a number of engagements including the last major fleet action fought by the Royal Navy battle in Battle of Cape Matapan in March of 1941. She survived the war, was sold to the Dominican Republic in 1948 and scrapped in 1972.

HMS Warspite seen in the distance in action with the Narvik shore batteries during the second British naval action off Narvik on 13 April 1940, smoke from her guns hanging above the battleship. One of the British destroyers is seen on the left. Photograph taken from an aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm. During this operation seven German destroyers were sunk or forced to beach themselves.

[Images courtesy of the Australian War Memorial and the UK Imperial War Museum.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 18

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Wreck of German Destroyer Anton Schmitt in Narvik Harbor. Seen from the starboard bridge wing towards the bridge.

These new German destroyers which the Third Reich began building in the mid-1930s never fulfilled their promise. One of their major problems plain and simple: bad design. This was confirmed to me in an interview conducted on 22 January 2013 with Timothy Mulligan, PhD, world authority on the Kriegsmarine and U-Bootwaffe.

Neither Sharks Nor Wolves: The Men of Nazi Germany’s U-Boat Arm, 1939-1945 is a five star must read for anyone with an interest in the German U-Bootwaffe. There are a lot of amateur historians out there who have written a lot of nonsense on this subject. You will be enlightened and surprised by this book by professional historian and government archivist Tim Mulligan. The book is meticulously researched with every fact coming from the official records of the German U-Bootwaffe and personal surveys of surviving U-Boat officers undertaken by Mulligan.

Lone Wolf: The Life and Death of U-Boat Ace Werner Henke has just been re-issued in paperback by the US Naval Institute Press, which has the odd habit of constantly letting its books go out of print. This is also a five star must read, both for the absolute meticulous nature of the research and for the fascinating figure of Werner Henke, the only German U-Boot Kommandant killed on American soil.

I had the true pleasure on Tuesday January 22nd of meeting and interviewing one of the two world authorities on the Kriegsmarine/U-Bootwaffe, Timothy P. Mulligan, PhD (the other being Jak P. Mallman-Showell). As a historian, Dr. Mulligan spent his career as an archivist with the US National Archives where he specialized in captured German naval records, German military records, as well as World War Two era US military and naval records. As a fluent German speaker, Dr. Mulligan read a huge volume of these records, including original copies of German war diaries.

Dr. Mulligan confirmed that the German destroyers were badly designed in a number of ways, one of the most egregious flaws being the destroyers were terrible “sea boats.” They took green water over their bows even in moderate weather which would cover the decks and seep below. And when I say ‘cover the decks’ I mean cover the open decks with water as far back as the stern, where men working on the depth charge racks could be up to their waists in swirling water from time to time. (A problem on the Graf Spee and her sister ships as well.) The Kriegsmarine had hoped to use these destroyers in the Atlantic but their inability to proceed in heavy weather made this impossible. (This is especially relevant in the Scharnhorst disaster when her destroyer screen could not steam at even moderate speed in the heavy seas and Scharnhorst just left them behind.)

Senior Kriegsmarine officers were so concerned about this flaw they had the destroyers dry-docked and their bows rebuilt to a new design they called the “Atlantic bow.” This did little to solve the problem according to Dr. Mulligan.

[Image courtesy of Z 22 Anton Schmitt.]

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.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 16

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Kriegsmarine Zerstörer Z-21 Wilhelm Heidkamp at speed in the late 1930s.

There is something slightly deceptive about the photograph above. The German Navy painted false bow waves on their ships to confuse the enemy as to the speed of the ship. Given there is almost no smoke coming from the stacks, which there would be if the ship were going at a high speed, makes me wonder if the front portion of the bow wave is actually painted on the ship and she really isn’t going very fast.

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Wreck of the German destroyer and Flotilla Leader, Z-21 Wilhelm Heidkamp, in Narvik harbor. The ship was hit in the aft powder magazine by a torpedo fired from HMS Hardy. This blew the Heidkamp in half.

The strategic reasons for the British to contest the German occupation of Norway were sound but the execution was amateurish and exposed the shocking deterioration in the capabilities of the British, French, and Norwegian armies. The Royal Navy acquitted themselves with great courage and did significant damage to the German fleet. Yet to look at these photographs of the sunken German destroyers in Narvik harbour can induce a certain melancholy.

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Another photo of the wreck of the German destroyer and Flotilla Leader, Z-21 Wilhelm Heidkamp, in Narvik harbor. Over eighty German crewman and several officers including the Flotilla commander, who was asleep, died when a torpedo from HMS Hardy hit the aft magazine and blew the ship in half.

Large sums of money were spent to build up the destroyer force of the Kriegsmarine under Adolf Hitler in order to help Nazi Germany dominate the world. Immense numbers of workers had to be recruited for the abandoned shipyards to be revived to construct the ships — and those workers had to be trained in the complexities of shipbuilding. These workers had to be paid, housed, fed.

The Kriegsmarine had to recruit thousands of crewmen and officers and then train them. All the while the German admirals knew they could never hope to defeat the Royal Navy much less the RN and the USN.

Today, the remnants of ten German destroyers commissioned in the 1930s by the “master race,” now lie on the bottom of the Narvik fjord, the wrecks nothing but a curiosity and tourist attraction for scuba divers.

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A propeller from the German destroyer Erich Koellner sunk at Narvik.

[Images courtesy of Bismarck Class, Taucher.net, Filefront.com, and Filefront.com.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 13

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Kriegsmarine Zerstörer Z-2 Georg Thiele. Her pennant number was 13, while the Z-2 means she was the second destroyer of the new series of German Zerstörers built. It’s confusing.

Judging from her bow wave and prop wash the ship looks to be proceeding about twenty knots. Her design speed was thirty-six knots but in an emergency I’m sure they could make thirty-eight or a bit more depending on various factors such as the last time the ship was dry-docked and the bottom of the hull scraped. Marine growth on the hull could reduce the speed of a warship in the World War Two era by two or four knots or more and increase fuel consumption.

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YOKOSUKA, Japan (Oct. 19, 2009) The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is in dry dock at Fleet Activities Yokosuka during a scheduled dry-dock selective restricted availability. John S. McCain is one of seven ships assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and is permanently forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bryan Reckard/Released) John McCain was a highly successful US Navy carrier task force commander in World War Two. He was the father of US Senator John McCain. I am not related to them. Curiously, his widow and the mother of US Senator McCain, lives a block from me because we vote in the same precinct.

Obviously, dry-docks in World War Two were used extensively for the repair of enemy damage done to warships and merchant ships. Ships which were hit by torpedoes but did not sink had pretty big holes in them and had to be dry-docked to be repair. Additionally, a torpedo would often blow the bow section off a ship forward of the collision bulkhead and while the ship looked like it had been cut by a knife 1/3 the way from the bow, the ship would often be towed to a dry dock and a new bow section constructed. While this was time consuming, it did not take nearly as long as building a ship.

[Source: Narvik: Battles in the Fjords by Peter Dickens. Images courtesy of NRK and the US Navy Website.]