The small town of Namsos was the base for Anglo-French forces in central Norway. The buildings in the town were mostly wooden built and it immediately became a target for German air attack, “without consideration of the civil population”:
Main command of the Wehrmacht
WFA Nr. 827/40g. Kdos. Abt. L
The Fuhrer and supreme commander of the Wehrmacht has ordered the Luftwaffe to destroy locations (villages, cities) outside those coastal areas occupied by us, which are either occupied by the English or declared by British announcements as British occupied, without consideration of the civil population.
So far this has been ordered by the Fuhrer for Namsos and Andalsnes. For these areas, also railways and streets as close as possible to these locations shall be destroyed.
The head of the main command of the Wehrmacht.
There was only one British ship in Namsos at the time of the first attack on 20th April, the Anti-Submarine Trawler HMS Rutlandshire. On board was the Norwegian pilot Yngvar Ottesen:
The Rutlandshire had four machine guns and a big anti-aircraft gun on the foredeck. We now zigzagged out the fiord at full speed. Above us firstly three planes appeared, then six and then nine – at last there were fourteen German bombers diving towards us, dropping their bombs and firing their machine guns. The bombs exploded nearer and nearer the ship. At last we received a hit in the waterline on our starboard side. The water poured into the engine room and the main steam pipe was broken. There was a loud bang in the engine, which immediately stopped. It was the crankpin that had been broken.
We were now mid-fiord off Brannøya and Andsnes, about three nautical miles from Namsos. The rudder was intact, so with our remaining speed we managed to steer the ship towards Andsneset. Wind and current pulled it more and more in a westerly direction, so that we ran aground just beside the spar buoy at Andsnesgrunnrn. The stern of the ship was now below water, and it was decided to put out the lifeboats and leave the sinking ship. It turned out, however, that both the lifeboats were riddled with bullet holes, and therefore we had to swim towards land – a distance of 300 meters.
We put on lifebelts and jumped into the water. We had the planes continually just above us, firing their machine guns at us while we were in the water. Two of the crew were hit, but not killed. Everyone, therefore, got solid ground under their feet at last. About half an hour later there was an explosion on board the ship. A tidal wave swept over me where I was standing on the beach, and I was thrown into the water again. At long last I managed to crawl ashore again, but I had problems standing upright. I found that my shirt and my trousers had been filled with not a few kilos of sand! After the explosion, only the top of the foremast of the Rutlandshire was sticking above surface.
The full account and much more about the loss of the Rutlandshire can be read at Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. More pictures of the destruction of Namsos, and of the subsequent German occupation, can be seem at the Norwegian site Festningsverk.