I am very grateful to Ron Cope for providing me with his Father’s story and all the wonderful pictures of Cyril Cope and the Norwegian people that helped him and the rest of the Hardy Survivors. This story, typed up by Ron Cope from his father’s recollections, remain his property, and should not be reproduced without his permission. I am also grateful to Rosemary Barnes for the photo of her father, Paymaster Lt. Stanning. Cyril Cope’s Story My name is Cyril Cope, and this is the story of my experiences in the battles of Narvik on the 10th and 13th April 1940. One evening in the first week of April 1940, my ship H.M.S. Hardy, in company with Hotspur, Hunter, and Havelock, left the Shetland Isles to escort some ‘E class’ destroyers which had been converted to minelayers. Our Captain informed us that we were on our way to the Norwegian coast, where the mines would be laid, and we would patrol for 24 hours to warn neutral shipping of the newly laid minefield. On arrival at our destination, a stretch of sea between the Norwegian coast and some small islands near the entrance of the Fjord which led to the iron ore port of Narvik, the mines were laid and we started our patrol.
That evening of the 8th April, we received a signal from a destroyer further to the south. She was H.M.S. Gloworm, and she was being attacked by the German heavy cruiser the Admiral Hipper. We set off for the position she had given, but due to rough seas and a very fierce snowstorm we couldn’t travel at full speed, and when we got there, there was no sign of either the Hipper or the Gloworm. We searched for survivors but only found debris, so we turned back towards Vestijord and were fortunate to meet up with the battle cruiser H.M.S. Renown. With her leading our flotilla and the minelayers, we stated to search for enemy ships, especially the Hipper. All hands had been at action stations from the moment we had set off to find the Gloworm, but had now reverted to normal watch keeping.
I had the middle watch (midnight to 0400), and my station was the forward torpedo tubes. It was a very cold position, even with all the extra clothing we had put on. At 0345 hours, our thoughts of warm hammocks were rudely disturbed by the sound of shells passing over head and falling into the sea on our portside. The action station alarm bells caused confusion to the waking sailors, who thought it was our usual stand to exercise. Here I must explain that in ships during wartime all hands would go to action stations at dusk and dawn to be ready for a sudden attack by the enemy. Since dawn was 0345 hours in this part of the world, you can see why everyone was confused. By this time, I and my companions on the torpedo tubes were moving out to starboard, where we could see two ships well down on the horizon.
We saw the flashes from their guns and almost immediately heard the fifteen inch guns of H.M.S. Renown fire in salvoes at the enemy ships. We saw some hits and wondered how soon it would be before the Admiral in Renown gave our Captain the order to make a torpedo attack. The Germans were heading on a parallel course to us, which was to the south. The sea was very rough and it was still snowing very hard. Although I had received an order on my headphones from the bridge to cut down the guard rails ready for firing the torpedoes, we could not make an attack because of the rough seas which had reduced our speed. The Admiral, realising we could not keep up with him or the enemy ships because of the bad weather, gave our Captain the order to give up the chase and return to the entrance of Vestifjord to watch for any enemy ships approaching the fjord with the intention of going up to Narvik. We complied with the order, but our Captain told the minelayers to return to the UK, leaving just our four ships to start the search.
On arrival at Vestfjord we were soon joined by H.M.S. Hostile, one of our flotilla. Her arrival coincided with a visit to the pilot station by Lt. Hepple and Paymaster Lt. Stanning (Hardy’s officers) to enquire if any German ships had passed up the fjord. They were told that at least six destroyers and one U- boat had gone up the night before. When they returned with this news, the Captain decided to enter the fjord at noon, get to Narvik as quickly as possible, attack the enemy ships, land a raiding party and capture the town. He thought surprise would win the day, but what he didn’t know was that ten German ships much larger than our own, and three thousand Alpine troops were already in and around Narvik. He was soon to find this out when he sent officers to the pilot station to ask if one of them would navigate them up the fjord. They said ‘no not at any price. Tell your Captain to go away and come back with more and much larger ships. The German destroyers are bigger than yours and have larger guns’.
Whilst this was going on, arrangements were being made for the twenty five men under the command of an officer from each ship to land. We were dressed in blue suits, webbing belt and gaiters, and had a pack on our backs with rations for three days. Bully beef, bread, ships biscuits, and any chocolates or sweets we could scrounge from the galley. We also had a blanket in our packs, and before the dash up the fjord commenced, we were given a mug of neat rum. We mustered at the galley for this and my mess mate Tony Hart drank his, and I drank mine. We were just in time, because the officer of the watch came into the galley and ordered the cook to stop serving rum, because the attack had been called off until midnight because of the information given by the pilots. We then headed off to sea and out of sight of land so that anybody watching would thing we had departed for good.
At 2300 hours we made our way to the entrance of Vestfjord, entering at near midnight. It was very cold, snowing hard, and we were closed up at action stations with only the engines running. All of the other machinery had been stopped. We could not move about to keep warm, and were only allowed to speak in whispers. The only light visible was a blue one on the after mast to guide the following ships. We in Hardy had no light to follow, but relied solely on our navigating officer, Lt. Commander Smith to guide us and the rest of our four ships up the fjord to Narvik harbour. This was a feat hard enough in daylight, but in darkness it seemed impossible. However, despite some near misses with the cliffs on the port side of the fjord, which we had to keep close to in order to avoid U-boat 51, which was submerged at the entrance to the fjord, but on the starboard side. Apparently, this U-boat had reported seeing us head out to sea earlier in the day and the Captain had made a signal to Kommodore Bonte (senior officer, German destroyers) on the Wilhelm Heidkamp. So Bonte did not expect the attack which was about to take place, because the U-boat was unaware that we had re-entered the fjord. Luck was with us.
At 0345 hours we arrived at the entrance to Narvik harbour. It was still snowing and dawn was about to break. The German sailors, except for the sentries on watch would be asleep. Our Captain detailed two destroyers to check another fjord close by. The other two stayed outside of the harbour on guard as we went in alone. On our portside was a large British iron ore ship the Blythmoor which had been captured by the enemy the previous night. Two German sailors were on guard on the upper deck, but when guns were pointed at them, they scampered down a hatch without giving any alarm. We were laid almost alongside the ship with only a few feet between us. Our engines were just turning over slowly, and away on our starboard side, not very far away, I could see through the swirling snow and mist several ships, mostly transports or iron ore ships. But there were also five German destroyers, two of which were tied up to an oil tanker, which we later found out was the Jan Wellem. The pipes were still in position to provide the oil and except for the two sentries, the Germans had no idea that we were in the harbour. They soon found out because the order to fire torpedoes came down from the bridge. Because our tubes were already trained on the starboard side, the four torpedoes from them, were the first shots fired in the First Battle of Narvik.
The first one hit and sank the Wilhelm Heidkamp. Kommodore Bonte, the senior officer in command of all the German destroyers was asleep in his sea cabin, and he and most of the ships company were killed or wounded. The second and third torpedoes hit the Anton Schmitt in the magazine. When this ship blew up, the explosion severely damaged the destroyer Herman Kunne, and the fourth torpedo hit a large transport. We then trained our tubes fore and aft and went to the assistance of the after tubes crew who were having difficulties training their tubes to starboard. Here I will explain. When a destroyer is in an area where it is likely to meet the enemy, one set of torpedo tubes are trained to port and one set to starboard, because which side the attack may take place is unknown, and getting the tubes to bear as quickly as possible is essential if you want to get the first shot in. On this occasion my tubes were ready on the correct side, the after set were not, and it was very hard to rectify this because of the ice packed around the traversing gear.We had almost reached the position where a large steel bolt would engage in a hole in the iron deck to lock the tubes into position, when the officer on the bridge electrically fired the first torpedo. The tubes swung violently, but luckily for us, in the direction of the locking position. Numbers two and three torpedoes fired, one of them hitting the iron ore jetty, but the delay in getting into position prevented number four from being fired.
By this time the Captain had ordered full steam ahead and we turned to starboard, towards the entrance of the harbour, and on our way out he signalled the other ships to go in and attack with torpedoes only. This they did, except for Hostile, who for some unknown reason did not fire any. The four ships followed us down the fjord, but not very far, because on my headphones I heard the Captain say “we have done a good job, but we must go back and do some more”. We turned back on our course into the harbour moving very fast, and we began firing all our guns, doing much damage to destroyers and enemy transports, as well as the iron ore ships taken over by the Germans. We did not stop, but made our way out of the harbour with the other ships following us after they had fired their guns. Down the fjord we sped to what we thought would be the open sea and maybe home. It was not to be. Once again I heard the Captain say “we did a lot more damage, but now we must go back, and this time we will be staying. All men selected for the landing party get ready”. Here I must explain what had happened during our previous attacks. In the first one, because we had not fired our guns, the Germans had thought it was an air attack. So when we went in for the second time they were firing anti aircraft guns into the sky. We could see the puffs, like cotton wool as they exploded in the sky. In both attacks we were not fired on, so there was no damage to any of our ships.
However on our third approach to the harbour they did fire at us. Guns and torpedoes were fired, but because the firing pistols on their torpedoes were not designed for use in high latitudes, they passed under us without exploding. We could not get into the harbour as there was fire and oil on the water. Ships were on fire and some were sinking. We all fired our shells through the entrance at the enemy, and then we turned to get on our way down the fjord. As we cleared the entrance we could see three enemy destroyers bearing down on us from Herjangsfjord. They were firing at us from our starboard quarter, and we could only bring our after gun to bear in reply as we sped down the fjord with them in pursuit. The ships were Wolfgang Zenker, Erich Giese and the Erich Koellner. They had been unloading their complement of Alpine troops and equipment, and were anchored for the night prior to going into harbour to fill up with oil. A signal had been sent to them about our attack. They had got steam up and weighed anchor just in time to meet us leaving the harbour mouth. Our Captain had ordered a speed of thirty knots, which would have taken us well clear of these ships and out to sea. It was still very misty and snow was falling, but through this heavy mist two large ships were sighted passing across our bow. The Captain and others on the bridge thought they might have been two of our small cruisers coming to assist us, so he sent a signal “are you the Penelope and the Cleopatra”. They did not reply, but started to fire full salvoes at us. Hardy being the leader came in for a lot of heavy punishment.
We turned to port, and at this point the fjord opened out to what looked like a lake, which gave us a bit of room for manoeuvring. A full salvo hit our bridge killing or severely wounding all the personnel. A shell hit the wheel house, and the chief Coxswain, who was on the wheel was killed, which meant that the ship was momentarily out of control. His body was holding the wheel hard over to port, so we circled. The other ships followed in our wake partly covered by a smoke screen from our funnels. Lt. Stanning who had been wounded in the foot, managed to get down from the bridge to the wheel house and was able to take over the wheel. He then told a young Able Seaman to take over, and at that moment a salvo hit the starboard side below the wheel house.
One shell went through the canteen, and then into the TS (transmitting station) where the guns were controlled. On its way it hit my mate Bill Pimlett who was standing by the door leading into the TS , and then chopped off the legs of two of the TS operators, Able Seaman Werty and Leading Seaman Cocain. They were sitting on high stools at the console which contained the instruments. The two operators opposite were not wounded when the shell exploded. They each picked up a wounded mate and carried them on to the iron deck to sit them on their stumps against the forward funnel. There was nothing they could do for Bill Pimlett, because there was not much left of him.
Shells also hit our two forward guns, killing or wounding some of the guns crew. But the one that took the worst of the shelling was ‘C’ gun between the two funnels. It was completely wrecked and all the guns grew were killed. One shell of the salvo hit the main steam pipe in the boiler room. This cut off the steam to the engines and as the ship lost speed Lt. Stanning gave the order to steer towards the shore. This was approved by Lt. Hepple who had by then reached the bridge after checking that the after steering position was operational, when he had feared that the main steering was not functioning. This was when the Coxswain was killed and there was nobody on the wheel. The ship drifted to shore until it grounded.
The Germans were still firing at us. I had been in my action station on the tubes from midnight throughout the action in the harbour and the fjord, and up to ten minutes before the ship grounded. After all our torpedoes had fired, I had two other jobs to perform at action stations. Firstly I had to stay near the tubes with my headphones on, and if I had received an order from the bridge to make smoke, I would have to run onto the foc’sle or the quarterdeck to ignite a smoke float which emitted thick white sickly tasting smoke. This would then give ourselves and other ships, a screen behind which we or they could hide from the enemy. I was therefore in a good position to watch all the action taking place. The high speed manoeuvring of all the ships, the gun flashes and the torpedoes being fired at us by the enemy. I saw Hunter and Hotspur hit, and I knew we were being hit forward, but nothing would come inboard from the after funnel to the stern.
My mate Bill Pimlett, was with me to share the job of making smoke. We were making black smoke from both funnels, so the order that we were expecting did not come. Bill said “ I’m going for’d to make a cup of tea and I’ll bring you one”. I said “ with all that stuff coming inboard for’d you had better be careful – crawl on your belly along the iron deck until you reach the canteen flat”. He did so, but as he stood outside the canteen and TS, he was hit by the shell which went through his back and out of his stomach. I only learnt of this from one of the survivors of the TS, when we eventually reached the house, into which we all crowded after swimming ashore.
When Bill left me, I tried to get a response from the bridge. When I heard nothing (there was nobody alive up there to hear me) I decided to go to my next action station in the engine room. Here I had my bag of tools, and my job was to standby in case there was any electrical damage. I was with the Engineer Commander and the Warrant Engineer for five minutes when the engines packed up. We all looked at each other and the Commander said “this is it, we have had it.” He told me to go to the upper deck and find out what was happening. The ship was gliding towards the shore. I went up the ladder, and as I opened the hatch, the First Lieutenant was bending down to open it. I noticed that he had smoke coming from his pistol and I thought, good God he’s gone off his head and shot somebody. I was about to drop back down the ladder when he said, “Cope, tell the Engineer Commander its everyman for himself, abandon ship”. I went down the ladder fast, gave the message, and led the way back up the ladder with the officers and the engine staff following.
The Germans were still firing, but only one of our guns was replying. Their crew would just not give in. Our Chief Stoker, Styles, was helping to launch a small boat in which to take the Captain ashore. It was the only serviceable boat, we called it a skimming dish. A shell hit the boat and exploded, wounding the men trying to launch it. The Chief Stoker was severely wounded, but he and the Captain, as well as our other wounded men were towed ashore on the stretchers or life rafts. When I reached the upper deck I went to my abandon ship station which was a raft near the search light platform. Some of the men who should have been on that raft had been killed. I and four others lifted it up, and after cutting it free, we took it to the ships side and dropped it into the water. Unfortunately the man who was supposed to tie the rope that attached the raft to the stanchion had not done so, instead, he had thrown it into the raft, which then floated away into the fjord. By this time my Petty Officer, West, had joined me at the guardrails. He said “it looks like we will have to swim for it Cope“. I climbed over ready to drop into the water. I’d taken off my cap, overcoat, gloves, scarf and even my back pack which I had kept with my shoes ready for the landing. I looked for’d in time to see a whaler being lowered. It looked in good condition, the only boat to be so at this stage, or so we thought.
Unfortunately the men at one end were stokers, and as the boat started to move they let it go and the bows hit the water very hard. The Cox’n of the whaler and a couple of wounded men were in it and I thought they would surely be killed, or at least tossed into the water. However they were ok and as the boat moved away from the ships side I dropped into the water after saying to the PO “there is our ride ashore Mick”. As I swam to the whaler the Cox’n Jack Waters, one of my mess mates, saw me coming and pulled me into the boat. He then went to pull the PO in, but just then it turned over throwing us into the water, so that we ended up underneath the boat. There were seven or eight of us cursing and thrashing about trying to get out from under it. The boat then turned over again just as we had managed to lay across the keel to catch our breath. It did this a few times, and each time we managed to lie on top of the keel. One or two of the men swam ashore, and eventually there was only myself and Lt. Fullwood, our asdic officer left on the keel. He said “ I’m off Cope”, and away he went. I went under for the last time, and when I surfaced and got back onto the keel, I looked towards the shore. The shells from the German ships, which had been falling on the shore line, had stopped. I decided to slide of the boat and swim.
As I did, I heard a shout for help coming from the direction of the ship. I looked back to see a mess mate, Tony Hart in the water with a lifebuoy round his body. I knew he was a non swimmer and he was not even trying to paddle with his hands. I realised that he was going to be swept down the fjord and drown or freeze to death if he did not make it to the shore. I swam back to him, about twenty yards, and grabbed hold of a lanyard attached to the lifebuoy, and started to swim with my right arm pulling him to the shore. I could not use my legs, could not even feel them because of the coldness of the water. Slowly but surely we got nearer the shore. My Divisional Officer, Lt. Hepple, passed me twice towing non swimmers. He was a very strong swimmer and the second time he passed me he shouted “keep going Cope, you will soon be able to stand up and walk ashore”. Very soon I could, although my feet were so cold I didn’t feel them touch bottom. When we arrived on the snowy and icy beach I said to Hart, “right Tony, you are as good as I am now, you are on dry land, follow me to the top of that cliff”. I could see a trail of dirt , blood and discarded clothing like a pathway from the beach to the top. I soon realised why the clothing had been thrown away, the blue suits and boots were white, they were freezing. I got my belt and gaiters off with great difficulty. How I managed to undo the buckles or bootlaces with frozen fingers I will never know. Off came my boots, socks, suit, and a couple of jerseys, leaving only my singlet and underpants on.
I looked round to see if Tony was ready to follow me but he was still fully dressed. His clothes were freezing on him. He had the lifebuoy over his shoulder, so I stumbled back to him. I said “what are you doing with that lifebuoy, throw it back into the water”. He replied “I’m taking it home, my father will hang it over the bar of his Pub in Saltash as a souvenir”. I shouted “sod your father’s pub, we have to get to the top of that cliff, you won’t do it with that on your back”. I took it off him and told him to start taking his clothing off. He did this and we started to climb through the snow. When we reached the top we found a wire fence about four feet high. Normally, with my long legs I would have climbed over it easily, but I could not lift them. So I lay on the top wire and told Tony to push me over. He did so, and I went head first into the deep snow. I then helped him and a couple of other chaps over the fence. The trail of dirt, blood and more discarded clothing went on to the right for about two hundred yards, it then turned left along what would have been a garden path. At the top of the path was a house with snow up to its windows. We thought we could run to get back circulation into our legs, but we just fell onto our faces, so we just stumbled as best we could along the trail to the house.
There we found over one hundred survivors already crowded into two small rooms. As I entered, I saw that they had split up into their various groups. Torpedo men in one corner, stokers and seamen, in another. I joined my mess mates and we all snuggled down together to try and thaw out. Everyone like myself, had been forced to take off their clothing, even their underware, as they were solid with ice which was cutting into our bodies. I was then that I asked about my pal Bill Pimlett. I could not see him and thought he might be in another room. I was then told what had happened to him a short while after he had left me to go and make a cup of tea. Another mess mate missing was Alex Hurlier (?) an asdic rating. He had been hit by a shell when getting out of the water, having swum ashore. All the wounded had been put in a separate room, being tended to by the lady of the house, her seventeen year old daughter, and our ships doctor, Surgeon Lt. Waind. Chief Stoker Styles, having died, was put outside the back door on a bamboo stretcher. The bodies of the Captain, Andrew Werty (who had had his legs severed in the TS) and Alex Hurlier had been left on the beach. All those of the ships company who had been killed and were still on board Hardy, would be brought ashore by the Norwegians for later burial. Once we were thawed out and could move about, we went upstairs to look for clothing. Imagine, over a hundred sailors rummaging through boxes, suitcases, cupboards and drawers in search of something to cover our naked bodies. Alas all we could find were ladies and girls clothes, there was not a sign of any men’s clothing. The man of the house was a fisherman who had gone out in his boat for a few days and had taken his spare clothes with him. Everybody, except our canteen manager found something to wear in the end. I found a pair of girl’s knickers and a long ladies gown. The canteen manager was still searching but could find nothing so out of pity I gave him the gown.
I t had been 0630 hours when we had swum ashore. At 1030 hours we noticed somebody marching up and down the quarterdeck of our ship, which by this time was well ablaze with ammunition still exploding. We recognised him as Lt. Commander Smith the navigating officer. The Torpedo Officer Lt. Hepple and a number of ratings swam out to the ship to bring him ashore and while they were there, brought back the money from the ships safe, which was distributed to all of the survivors. Some got a one pound note and a two shilling piece, whilst others got a ten shilling note and a two shilling piece. A meeting was held by the officers to decide what we should all do. One favoured phoning from a house nearby to the Germans in Narvik, to ask them to come out with lorries to pick us up as prisoners. He was out voted and it was decided that we should leave in two’s and three’s and head down the road to the south. We new the Germans were in Narvik to the north, but we did not know if they were coming up from the south. We did not even know how far we would have to walk before reaching a village or a town. In fact it was fifteen miles to a village called Ballangen. So off we went along the ice covered road at 1300. On one side were the steep cliffs leading to the mountains and Sweden many miles away. On the other side a sheer drop to the fjord, and deep snow in both cases. Consequently there was not much chance of us getting off the road if the Germans approached. We had very little on to keep us warm and we had cut our lifebelts up to serve as shoes, although after a few miles they were torn up by the ice. So we walked most of the way bare footed, tired and very hungry. We had eaten nothing since our supper the evening before.
To keep our spirits up there was a lot of larking about and light hearted banter. The Chief Bosun’s Mate (Tubby) Cock, a man who weighed twenty four stones really made us all laugh. He sat on a small chair which was on runners. It was only meant for a child to use as a sleigh, but some of the lads had pushed him up the slopes and he glided down the other side. He then had to wait for his helpers to catch up with him. He was the only member of the ships company who did not take off his clothes. He let them freeze and then thaw out because he knew with his huge size he would never get anything else to fit. However he did manage to get a ski cap in Ballangen. He had jumped of the ship from the foc’sle, the highest part. The lads had accused him of drowning half the swimmers in the fjord with the waves he had caused. He took it all in good part and was a tower of strength to all of us.
I arrived in Ballangen at 2100 that evening. It was still light and I was fortunate to reach the village hospital. However I could not climb up the stairs to go in. However someone, I do not know who, as I was too far gone to notice came out to help me walk inside. I was laid on a bed to have oils rubbed into my legs and arms by two ladies. I found out later that they were voluntary nurses, many of whom came to the hospital to help our wounded. When I was feeling better and able to walk, one of the youngest of these ladies, Mrs. Wanda Haugland, told her son to fetch a pair of rubber boots and an overcoat. They had already provided me with a singlet and underpants donated by the Red Cross. She then told her son to take me to her home where I was able to have a ‘good wash and shave’ whilst waiting for the lady to come home. The boy, who was thirteen years old, spoke enough English for us to understand each other. He and his five year old sister, with all their friends stood around me and were obviously very excited at meeting this sailor who had been ‘shipwrecked’.
When the lady returned she decided that I should have her husband’s suit, white shirt, shoes and tie. Dressed in these clothes nobody would have imagined that I had just walked fifteen miles. The lady then bought her sister in law to meet me. This lady had been in England with her husband for over a year and had just returned. She said “being an English sailor I know what you would like, a nice cup of English tea”. Off she went to make it, and I drank it with small pieces of Ryvita bread, fish and cheese. We then discussed the possibility of me making a run for it in case the Germans came to the village. The boy brought out his school atlas. The only way out of the village was over the mountains to Sweden, or down the road leading south to the port of Bodo. The latter meant going by ferry over three or four fjords. The former was out of the question as I could not ski. However the boy said he could teach me if I was staying long enough. He did try to, but time was against me, so it had to be a dash down the road to the south, if I had to leave. They tried to contact a friend, Lud, to provide transport, but he was not at home. Lud, his brother and their father owned a small taxi firm in the village. They had gone out to Mrs. Christiansen’s home, which was the house were we had originally gone after swimming ashore from the Hardy. They had gone there to bring back our wounded to the hospital. It had meant a few journeys undertaken slowly because of the bad road and their injuries. They had also taken part, with others, in bringing ashore our ship mates, who had been left on board the ship. They were to be buried in Ballangen or Hakvik cemeteries.
The father in law of one of the Lud brother’s had a small motor boat. He took four of our most severely wounded men,across and down the fjord to land them on the Lofoten Islands at a place called Harstad, where there was a more up to date, and better equipped hospital. On the way back he was stopped by a German patrol ship. He had been out after curfew in a boat in the fjord against regulations, and the Germans in charge said they could shoot him for it. He replied, “If that is all you have to do with your guns, to shoot an old man, then go ahead”. Happily they decided to let him carry on his way. At midnight, I decided to go into the village to find out what my ship mates were doing. I was worried in case they had to make a run for it, leaving me behind. I found them in the village hall drinking coffee and eating whatever little food the villagers could spare from their meagre stocks. No fishing boats had been allowed to return to or leave the village once the Germans had took control of the fjord. There had been no food arriving from Narvik, so there was a shortage at that early stage of the invasion. Their basic food was bread, fish and cheese with coffee and tea. The Mayor of the village had decided that all the survivors, except the officers, would sleep in one large classroom in the school at the top of the slope leading to the cliffs overlooking the fjord. The officers would be in private accommodation. A system warning us if the Germans approached the village, was arranged by the Mayor, whereby boy scouts with trumpets would keep watch. If the warning came then we would take off in the opposite direction to where the Germans were coming from. It could happen by day or night. We did have a few false alarms, and each time it happened, we were at the school. Out we came at the double, down the snow covered slope into the main road and through the village, well away to Bodo before being called back.
Each of us had been told to choose a partner, nobody could go alone. I had chosen a mess mate called Balman from Plymouth, and we two were well to the fore in our dash for freedom. On the Thursday night it snowed very heavily and on Friday morning the road through the village was blocked as far as vehicles were concerned. The trumpet sounded, we ran like hell from the school, and I strayed from the path that had been cleared and went head first into deep snow. Before we could reach the main road we were told that it was a false alarm. It was Germans, but wounded ones, coming to the hospital. A long convoy of them in horse drawn carts, motor cars, prams, wheelbarrows and sledges. Some had legs missing and some had arms missing. All had been severely wounded during our attack on Narvik. The Mayor asked the senior officer if we sailors could help to clear the snow from the main road so that the convoy could get through to the hospital. He agreed, so out came the brooms and shovels, spades and rakes, and soon we cleared the road and the convoy was able to pass. Those Germans never realised that the men lining the route leaning on their brooms and shovels were British sailors, for by this time we were all in the local dress of ski clothing given to us by the villagers, or from the local store.
The evening before, I had met Mr. Karl Haugland for the first time. He was in the house when I went in for a cup of coffee. His wife introduced me and he said “while you are here you can visit our home, but if the Germans enter the village, then you must go”. I replied “if the Germans come I will leave the village in the opposite direction, I have no wish to get you into trouble with them”. I then asked them if they could find some old ski clothes for me instead of the clothes I was wearing. As I felt guilty taking such good clothes away with me. They and the sister in law found me a full ski outfit between them. These clothes were much better for travelling, in the kind of weather we were experiencing. On Saturday morning, all the survivors except the officer’s, were in the school. We were due to go down to the village hall to see if there was any coffee available. We had just started to leave in our little groups when we heard a shell passing overhead. We thought the Germans had heard that we were using the school and were attacking us. Our Gunnery Petty Officer said “don’t worry, the Germans have no guns big enough to fire shells as big as those; it must be one of our battleships.
By this time we had reached the top of the cliffs overlooking the fjord. Away to our left we saw a wonderful sight, it was H.M.S.Warspite with nine destroyers coming up the fjord. The Swordfish plane coming from Warspite was approaching us. This was very fortunate, because down below us lying across the mouth of the inlet leading to Ballangen harbour was the German destroyer Erich Koellner, with both sets of torpedo tubes trained to port. These were facing the fjord ready to fire at our ships as they drew level with her. She could not be seen by our ships because of a bend in the shoreline, but the observer and pilot in the Swordfish had spotted her and had flashed a signal to their ship. The Admiral sent two destroyers, Eskimo and Bedouin to attack her, and soon the enemy ship was sinking. But a hundred survivors got ashore in a motor launch. More about that launch later.
We started to clap and cheer and waved to the occupants of the plane, but if they saw us, they would only have thought we were Norwegians cheering them on. Their plane flew in the direction of Narvik to spot for Warspite’s guns and to send signals back of the positions of the enemy ships. Coming from the direction of Narvik we saw five enemy destroyers. They were ready to attack our ships, but as soon as they saw how many they had to take on, especially the Warspite, they soon turned around and scampered back up the fjord, firing their guns to no avail. Our ships persued them at full speed, all guns firing. Whilst they had passed our view we could hear the noise of guns and explosions as the enemy ships were hit. We could hear the big fifteen inch guns of Warspite as she poured one ton shells either into the enemy ship, or into the town of Narvik. The German ships in the second battle were Hemann Kunne, which was sunk by Eskimo in Herjangsfjord. Wolfgang Zenker, Georg Thiele, Bernd von Arnim, and Hans Ludemann, all sunk or beached in Rombaksfjord. The Erich Giese was sunk outside Narvik harbour, and the Dieter von Roeder was sunk by a torpedo from H.M.S. Foxhound in the harbour where it had been since being severely damaged by H.M.S. Hardy in the first battle. The Georg Thiele, which had done most of the damage to Hardy, is the only German destroyer visible today. Its bows are embedded in the shore where it lies as a reminder of that battle of 13th April 1940.
Our ships suffered some damage and many men were killed and wounded especially in the Eskimo which was hit in the bows by a torpedo from the Georg Thiele. When she passed down the fjord she was being towed stern first. I could see that from the bows to the bridge was missing. The Punjabi and Cossack also had casualties. Both ships had been very heavily hit. During the battle, and out of sight of us, planes from H.M.S. Furious had made attacks on the enemy ships but were not very successful. Two of them were lost. However the Swordfish from Warspite had made the first kill, sinking the U-boat 64. When all the German ships had been sunk our ships came down the fjord passing us at approximately 1600 hours. We could see some had been damaged, but it was with dismay and despondency that we saw our own ships go out of sight with no sign of one of them stopping to pick us up. They did not know at that moment that we were ashore, waiting to be rescued. I mentioned earlier the motor launch used by the survivors from the Erich Keller. When they reached the jetty our torpedo officer Lt. Hepple and Capt. Evans (who had been in command of the iron ore ship North Cornwall in Narvik harbour when it was captured by the Germans) took the survivors as prisoners, then handed them over to the Norwegians to be locked up in a garage.
It was not till our ships were returning down the fjord that these two officers decided to go out in the launch and contact one of our ships. They just managed to catch up with the last destroyer and were able to tell the Captain about the survivors from Hardy and that a number of merchant sailors in Ballangen needed to be rescued. This was signalled to Admiral Whitworth in Warspite, who sent two destroyers Ivanhoe and Kimberly back up the fjord to pick us up at midnight. Most of us came home to Scapa Flow in Ivanhoe, and from there we travelled by train to London to be met and welcomed by Winston Churchill on Horse Guards Parade. We then returned to our home port of Plymouth, and the barracks at H.M.S. Drake.
Once Hardy had been put out of action, we survivors lost all contact with our other ships and had no idea of what happened to them or the enemy ships. But later we were to learn that Hunter had been severely hit after taking over as leading ship. She was set on fire and disabled. She had also been in collision with Hotspur, the next in line of the flotilla when the steering gear of Hotspur had been put out of action. Hunter was stopped and Hotspur, heading towards her at full speed was unable to take any avoiding action due to her inoperable steering. The bows of Hotspur drove into the hull of Hunter and she sank very quickly into the middle of the fjord. From a ships company of one hundred and fifty, only forty eight survived. These were picked up by the German ships after they had returned from chasing our remaining ships down the fjord. Many men had frozen to death in the icy water. It had been too far from the shore to have any chance of swimming, and like Hardy, all of her boats had been wrecked in the action.
When Hotspur went out of control with no steering and locked into Hunter, she took a terrible pounding from the enemy ships. In the meantime Havock and Hostile steered clear of their two stricken sister ships and continued firing at the enemy, whist turning back to help Hotspur and Hunter. However Havock had both for’d guns out of action, so until they were repaired, it laid a smoke screen to shield the two ships. Then with guns repaired Havock and Hostile steamed towards the superior enemy force, but they having no stomach to continue the fight, headed off in the direction of Narvik. The three German ships which had come from Herjangsfjord had little fuel left to chase after our ships. The other two, the Georg Thiele and the Bernd von Armin had both been severely damaged, hence their hasty retreat, which was a godsend to our ships as they proceeded down the fjord. Havelock was towing Hotspur, and Hostile was on guard against further attack.
They met a large German ammunition ship on its way to Narvik. The Captain must have been unaware of the battle which had just taken place. Perhaps he had been keeping radio silence. However, there it was, a good prize for our ships. It was ordered to stop, the crew abandoned ship, and were picked up by Havelock. Then an armed boarding party was sent on board to examine her. She was named Rauenfels, a supply ship full of the stores and ammunition required by the German army at Narvik. Two rounds of high explosive were put into her by Havelock and there was a huge explosion which sent bits of the ship miles into the air. Fortunately, Havelock, although nearby, escaped any damage. Our ships then proceeded to the mouth of the fjord were they met up with other British ships. They gave their report of the battle to the Senior Officer, and then went to Skjelfjord to undergo repairs. So ended the battles of Narvik.
Foot note. The ten German destroyers sunk, were the most recently built at the time, and by losing them, the German Navy lost a quarter of its destroyer fleet. If those ten ships had not been disabled, they would have returned to Germany and could have been let loose in the English Channel at the time of Dunkirk. If they had been, there might not have been a successful evacuation of all those men from the beaches of France. The loss of the destroyers also prevented large units of the German Navy from putting to sea in groups, because there were not enough escorts for them. All this was recognised on the 50th anniversary of the battles of Narvik (28 may 1990) when the then Defence Secretary Tom King, at a memorial service and wreath laying ceremony in Narvik Cemetery at the graves of Hunter and Hardy, gave a speech in which he acknowledged the fact that there might not have been an evacuation of Dunkirk if those ten destroyers had not been sunk on 10th and 13th of April 1940.