The Second Battle of Narvik

Following the [permalink id=4679 text=’first battle on the 10th April’] the Germans reinforced their forces in Narvik with three further destroyers but found themselves short on fuel and ammunition. They were at a disadvantage when the British attacked again on the 13th April with a force led by the old battleship HMS Warspite, launched in 1913.

HMS Warspite, led the British forces on 13th April

The launch of the Warspite’s Swordfish aircraft gave the the British a further advantage. From the Ministry of Information account of the action:

On the morning of 13th April, 1940, the Warspite, wearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir W. J. Whitworth, K.C.B., D.S.O., and screened by nine destroyers, passed through the entrance to Ofot Fiord, leading to Narvik, which lay some 30 miles ahead. At 11.52, when five miles west of Baroy Island, the Warspite catapulted her aircraft with orders to reconnoitre ahead of the Force as it advanced up the fiord, and to bomb any suitable targets. The observer was Lieutenant-Commander W. L. M. Brown, R.N., the pilot, Petty Officer F. G. Rice, with Leading Airman M. G. Pacey as the air-gunner.

Low clouds formed a ceiling between the steep cliffs, and as the Swordfish proceeded up the fiord it was like flying in a tunnel. The first ship to be sighted was a German destroyer steering to the westward. The British destroyers in the van opened fire and she retired at long range. Meanwhile Petty Officer Rice observed a submarine at anchor 50 yards from the jetty at Bjerkvik. The Swordfish dived to 300 feet to release its bombs The first hit the bows of the submarine. Owing to the explosion the second bomb’s exact point of impact was difficult to observe, but it was either a hit or a near miss. The air-gunner raked the conning tower with a burst from the rear gun. The submarine sank within half a minute, but had had time to open fire, and damaged the tail plane of the Swordfish, making it sluggish on the controls so that the pilot had to manoeuvre gently during the rest of the flight.

Conventional Fairey Swordfish with Torpedo - HMS Warspite's Swordfish was a floatplane armed with bombs.

At 12.40 Lieutenant-Commander Brown reported that an enemy destroyer was hiding in a bay five miles ahead of the screen (presumably hoping to remain unseen against the rocky background) in a position to fire torpedoes at the advancing Force. The leading destroyers turned their guns and torpedo armament on the starboard bow, and before the enemy could fire more than one salvo he was heavily engaged. One torpedo from the Bedouin and another from the Eskimo struck her, and in three minutes she was on fire fore and aft. Salvoes from the Warspite’s guns completed her destruction.

HMS Warspite on 13th April 1940 as seen by her Swordfish bomber

Shortly alter this action Lieutenant-Commander Brown sighted five torpedo tracks approaching the Force and gave timely warning. They passed clear and exploded against the cliffs of the fiord. Narvik lies near the entrance to Rombaks Fiord, into which three enemy destroyers were seen to retire under the cover of smoke screens. Five of the British destroyers pursued them, while others entered Narvik harbour and attacked another German destroyer, which caught fire under the combined attack and blew up later. All resistance in the harbour then ceased.

The Swordfish proceeded to reconnoitre the position in Rombaks Fiord. The Warspite was engaging the enemy, and the smoke from her exploding shells, combined with the low clouds and the steepness of ftie cliffs on either side of the narrow fiord, made observation and visual signalling very difficult. At 3 p.m., however, the Swordfish reported two enemy destroyers at the head of the fiord. The Eskimo engaged them, closely followed by the Forester and the Hero. The enemy replied with gunfire and torpedoes, and the Eskimo had her bow blown away. Then one of the German destroyers ran aground.

The Swordfish dropped its remaining bombs on her and she was finished off by gunfire. The other destroyer retired under the cover of smoke to the top of the fiord.

At 3.30 the Bedouin signalled that both she and the Hero had almost exhausted their ammunition and that the remaining three enemy destroyers were lurking round a corner of the inner fiord, out of sight, and in a position of great advantage if they still had torpedoes.

HMS Bedouin, one of the tribal class destroyers at Narvik

Vice-Admiral Whitworth replied :

” The torpedo menace must be accepted. Enemy must be destroyed without delay. Take Kimberley, Forester, Hero and Punjabi under your orders and organize attack, sending most serviceable destroyer first. Ram or board if necessary.”

When the destroyers proceeded up the fiord, however, there was no reply to their fire. The enemy had abandoned the three vessels. One had been scuttled, another was sinking, and the third was sent to the bottom by a torpedo from the Hero. This ended the main action, and the Swordfish returned to the Warspite, having been four hours in the air.

The Bernd von Arnim, one of the German destroyers scuttled during the battle

During that time it had passed back vital information about the position of the enemy ships, besides reporting torpedo tracks, taking photographs, bombing a destroyer and sinking a submarine. The total German naval forces present had been sunk without the loss of a British ship, for both the Eskimo and the Cossack (which had drifted on to a submerged wreck in Narvik Bay) were able to return with the Force.

” The cumulative effect of the roar of Warspite’s 15inch guns reverberating down and around the high mountains of the fiord, the bursts and splashes of these great shells, the sight of their ships sinking and burning around them, must have been terrifying to the enemy,”

wrote the Vice-Admiral in his official despatch.

” The enemy reports made by Warspite’s aircraft were invaluable,” he added. ” I doubt if ever a ship-borne aircraft has been used to such good purpose as it was in this operation.”

Film of the action, released as Newsreel on 25th April 1941: