Following the Battle of the River Plate (originally referred to as the Battle off the River Plate, see 13th December 1939 ) the British knew that the merchant crews taken prisoner by the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic had been transferred to a support ship, the Altmark. The Altmark eventually sought to return to Germany by travelling through Norwegian territorial waters, to escape British attention. The ship was stopped and superficially searched by the Norwegians on three occasions. When the British finally located the ship they insisted that the Norwegians take it into port for a thorough search or allow them to board the ship themselves. There was a stand off with the Norwegian authorities whilst Captain Vian on HMS Cossack sought instructions on how to proceed whilst dealing with an enemy ship in neutral waters whilst being opposed by the neutral Norwegian navy. The matter was referred to Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, because of the political implications:
In the early hours of the morning they received the following from Captain Vian:
The Boarding party had tackled the German guard with Bayonets fixed and there were four German dead. They searched the ship shouting “Any Englishmen here?”, when they got a positive response from the prisoners in the hold they replied “The Navy’s here”. The phrase became so well known in the ensuing publicity about the intrepid Royal Navy that it was turned into a popular song.
See also HMS Cossack Association