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 6

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German heavy destroyer Georg Thiele

Attacking the Kriegsmarine ships in Narvik harbour was a very brave action, especially since Warburton-Lee had no firm idea how many German destroyers were in Narvik harbor nor what type they were. It transpired that the German destroyers were larger and more powerful than the British H class: 3,000 tons to 1,500 tons for the British ships; 5 inch guns to the British 4.7 inch guns.

With his ship HMS Hardy in the lead, followed by the other four (Havock, Hotspur, Hunter, and Hostile), Warburton-Lee entered the Narvik fjord long before dawn and carefully navigated down the fjord in a heavy driving snow which all but blinded his ships. None of the ships had radar so the senior navigator (known as the ‘Pilot’ in the Royal Navy) aboard HMS Hardy navigated by dead reckoning – a difficult task to say the least in a narrow fjord completely whited-out by a blizzard. All the ships had to stay closed-up on one another at very short distances to maintain contact. (Often no more than thirty feet between them.)

Come dawn they were off the actual port of Narvik itself. And they attacked, taking the Germans completely by surprise. HMS Hardy fired torpedoes at the first German destroyer she saw which was the Flotilla leader, Wilhelm Heidkamp, which was at anchor. One of the Hardy’s torpedoes struck the German ship and ignited its after powder magazine which blew the ship in half, killing the German Flotilla Commodore and eighty of his men.

The British destroyers circled through the harbor three times firing at the Germans with everything they had. At the end of the battle, the British attack had sunk two German destroyers and seriously damaged three more. In the ensuing high speed withdrawal down the fjord toward the open sea and the protection of several British capital ships, HMS Hardy and the others ran into five German destroyers who had been anchored in nearby leads off the main fjord and had come steaming down on hearing the sound of battle.

Narvik Harbor 9 April 1940. The closest destroyer is the Diether von Roeder, the one further back is Wolfgang Zenker. These destroyers were larger and better armed than their British opponents.

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