The Battle of Narvik

On April 9, 1940, there were 23 cargo ships in Narvik harbour. The German tanker Jan Wellem had also arrived with bunker oil. The Norwegian navy had its battleships Norge and Eidsvold in the harbor and three surveillance boats Kelt, Michael Sars and Senja in the fjord. The commander of the Ofoten detachment (Commander Askim of the battleship Norway) received an alert from Southern Norway about fighting. He sent messengers to prepare the ships for battle and sent Eidsvold further into the harbor as an outer defence.
03.10 Nine German destroyers entered the Ofotfjorden at 30 knots. The tenth, Erich Giese, was delayed due to the weather. Kelt and Michael Sars warned Narvik about the hunters. Norway and Eidsvold prepared for battle. Shortly afterwards, Eidsvold saw two German fighters emerge from the heavy snowstorm. A warning shot was quickly fired and the German destroyer Wilhelm Heidkamp stopped, sent a boat over and demanded that the Norwegians surrender without a fight. This was not accepted. Just as Eidsvold prepared to open fire, the ship was hit by three torpedoes from Wilhelm Heidkamp. The ship with 175 crew sank within 15 seconds.

At the same time, Norway noticed two other destroyers in the harbor and opened fire on the destroyer Bernd von Arnim, who responded by launching torpedoes at Norway. The torpedoes found their target and Norway with its 101 crew members followed Eidsvold into the depths.

When Eidsvold and Norway were sunk, the Germans took over the port. All merchant ships were arrested. Out in the fjord, Senja was attacked by the German destroyer Anton Schmitt. Kelt and Michael Sars were attacked by Diether von Roeder and all 3 were pushed back into Narvik harbour.
The Norwegian submarines B1 and B3 managed to escape and were able to escape to safety. The German destroyers had problems with only one tanker having arrived and it could only refuel 2 destroyers at a time. At the same time, the German naval commander knew that the British were patrolling in the Vestfjorden. The fighters did not have enough fuel oil to return home without refueling and their departure had to be delayed until at least the evening of 10 April.

On 10 April the Germans worked hard to refuel the destroyers, at the same time 5 British destroyers approached Narvik harbour. In the blizzard, the destroyer Hardy led the convoy. The attack came as a surprise to the Germans. At the same time as the alarm was raised, a torpedo hit the destroyer Wilhelm Heidkamp and blew off the stern section of the ship, killing the German naval commander and 80 crewmen. Wilhelm Heidkamp stayed afloat for 24 hours with the bow above the surface, tied to the Swedish cargo ship Oxelösund. Seconds later, Anton Schmitt was hit amidships and went down immediately.

The British fired at anything afloat in the harbor before withdrawing to reload. After reloading torpedoes, they re-entered the harbor and fired their torpedoes. Merchant ships were burning all over the harbor. Soon most ships were either sunk or damaged.
The British retreated out of the fjord after a great success but luck was about to turn. Six undamaged and battle-ready destroyers came out from all corners of the fjord and attacked the British.
Georg Thiele and Bernd von Armin concentrated their fire on HMS Hardy which was quickly damaged and had to run aground to avoid sinking. HMS Hunter was hit and lost speed, HMS Hotspur following Hunter had no time to stop and ran into Hunter. Both ships were targeted by a heavy cannon bombardment from Georg Thiele and Bernd von Armin, but despite this the British managed to save Hotspur. Hunter went to the bottom of the ocean with his 111 crew members.

Both destroyer forces withdrew to lick their wounds but the British destroyers leaving the Ofotfjord managed to score a hit on the German cargo ship Rauenfels which was carrying ammunition, clothing, food and other necessary war materials. In doing so, the British denied the Germans a very important cargo. The other cargo ships never reached the Ofotfjord, the Alster was hijacked in the Vestfjord while the Bährenfels and Kattegatt sank further south.

The German Destroyer Group had suffered heavy losses. After the battle, two destroyers were sunk and five were damaged beyond seaworthiness. The remaining three fighters were low on ammunition. On both April 11 and 12, the harbor was bombed by aircraft from the carrier HMS Furious. During these attacks the Senja was sunk and the Michael Sars was damaged so that it later sank.

13 April 1940, the Germans were preparing for a British attack and the German commander Bey spread out the fighters to be able to surround any attackers. All fighters were now ready for battle. In the morning, British Force B entered the Ofotfjorden and headed for Narvik. The force consisted of the battleship HMS Warspite and nine destroyers supported by the aircraft carrier HMS Furious. The German destroyer Erich Koellner, which was the first to engage in combat, was soon spotted by a British reconnaissance plane. At 12.15 the destroyer was sunk after being fired upon by HMS Warspite’s guns. The aircraft also found the German submarine U64 off Bjerkvik and U64 became the first German submarine to be sunk by an aircraft during World War II.

Although the British force was larger, the five German destroyers went out to meet the British on the open sea. The battle lasted over an hour with no casualties on either side. None of the German ships were damaged but on the British side HMS Punjabi sustained some damage. The Germans now ran out of ammunition and fell back in the Herjangenfjorden and the Rombaksfjorden. Hermann Künne entered the Herjangenfjord where the destroyer was driven ashore and blown up. While the other destroyers withdrew, the destroyer Erich Giese came out of Narvik harbor to help but suddenly found herself alone against six British destroyers. Erich Giese was soon injured and sank. The British force was split in half and HMS Warspite with three destroyers entered Narvik harbour. The destroyer Dieter von Roeder was still in port and although the target of heavy bombardment, the ship continued to fight until her ammunition ran out. When a British destroyer came up alongside the ship it was scuttled by its own crew.

In the Rombaksfjord there were only four German destroyers left. Bernd von Arnim and Wolfgang Zenker ran out of ammunition and ran ashore and were blown up by their own crews. Georg Thiele and Hans Lüdemann stopped and waited for the British destroyers. After a short battle, Hans Lüdemann also ran out of ammunition and was driven ashore by the crew. While the crews of the 3 destroyers in the Rombaksfjord tried to get themselves ashore, Georg Thiele tried to keep the five British destroyers out in the fjord. Heavily damaged Georg Thiele fired her penultimate torpedo (History says their last but this is incorrect) and hit HMS Eskimo which had her bow torn off. As the last destroyer, Georg Thiele was also driven ashore at 3 p.m. Hans Lüdemann was still afloat and was torpedoed by HMS Hero. The remaining merchant ships were either torpedoed or had their bottom valves open. Only a few ships were left afloat, among them the German tanker Jan Wellem which went behind another ship and was not sunk until the Germans occupied Narvik on 28 April.

In the battles of April 10th and 13th, the Germans lost all 10 of their destroyers and one submarine. The British lost two fighters and had 3 badly damaged. Narvik harbor had become a large ship graveyard with masts sticking out of the water everywhere. The harbor was completely blocked by sunken ships.