photo courtesy Warrant Officer Anthony Royle, who is the Grandson of Cyril Cope
H.M.S.Hardy was completed in 1936. She was 337 feet long, 34 feet in the beam, with a draft of nearly nine feet. She was powered by two shaft geared turbines linked to three boilers, and could reach speeds in excess of thirty knots. For armament she carried five 4.7 inch Mk1X quick firing guns in single mountings, eight 0.5 inch anti aircraft guns in twin mountings, and eight Mark 1X torpedoes in quad mountings. Her complement was supposed to be 175 officers and men, but at the time of the battle she was probably carrying more than that.
On the morning of April 8th 1940, the British mounted Operation Wilfred, who’s main purpose was to lay mines of the southern side of Vestfjord, together with a dummy minefield off Bud. Besides the Battleships Renown and Warspite, and the Carrier Courageous, the minelayers were to be escorted by the Second Destroyer Flotilla under the command of Captain (D) Bernard A.W. Warburton-Lee, in H.M.S.Hardy. Whilst the British were mounting ‘Wilfred’, the Germans had started Operation Weserbung, with the intention of occupying Norway. Thus, unknowingly, both Fleets were due to be in the same bit of sea at the same time. In howling gales and snowstorms, elements of both sides spotted each other and briefly engaged, only to loose contact in the atrocious weather.
Neither side really knew what was going on, especially the British, but the brief encounter caused a flurry of signals back to the Admiralty. They knew nothing about the events that were about to happen in Narvik, but had already had reports about German warships approaching Oslo, Trodheim, Bergan and Stavanger. The Admiralty immediately issued orders for the task Force to keep watch on Narvik and report any developments. At 1200 hours on April 9th Captain Warbuton -Lee was in the Vestfjord when he received a signal from the Admiralty telling him that some troops had landed at Narvik, and ordered him to seizee or sink their transport ships, and if he thought prudent, recapture the Town.
Warburton-Lee, or ‘Wash’, as he was known to his crew, was a bit of a ‘press on’ character, and relished this new challenge. He decided to sail for Narvik with five Destroyers, Hardy, Havelock, Hostile, Hunter and Hotspur. But before he fully committed himself he wanted to find out a bit more about what was going on. So at 1600 hours he stopped at Tranoy and sent two officers ashore to the Pilot Station to ask around. Even though there were some difficulties with the language, it transpired that at least six warships and a U-boat had passed the Station on their way to Narvik. ‘Wash’ passed all this information to the Admiralty and informed them of his intention to attack the next day at high tide.
On April 10th 1940, at 4-30 in the morning, Hardy, Hunter, and Havelock steamed into the harbour at Narvik leaving Hostile and Hotspur to guard the back door. Arriving inside the harbour, Warburton-Lee immediately torpedoed the Wilhelm Heidkamp, the flagship of Kommodore Bonte, Senior Officer Narvik Destroyer Force. The stern was blown into the air, killing Bonte and eighty of his men. Next to go was the Anton Schmitt, which was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of sixty three men. In the ensuing battle the Dieter Von Roeder launched eight torpedoes, none of which scored a hit, but she sustained many hits herself, and later caught fire, as did the Hans Luderman. Whilst all this was going on the Hotspur, which had been guarding the harbour entrance, came alone into the harbour and torpedoed two merchant ships.
Since no German warships had been seen outside the harbour, Warburton-Lee thought he had all the Germans in the bag, (he didn’t realise that there were another five Destroyers nearby) so he turned his vessels at high speed and came back into the harbour to have another go at the merchant ships, blazing away with his guns, sinking and damaging six vessels. Up to now he had been incredibly lucky with only Hotspur suffering any hits, but as Warburton-Lee gathered his forces to depart his luck started to change for the worse.
The British Destroyers laid down a thick smoke screen to hide their departure, but as they headed out across the Fjord they ran into the five other German Destroyers as they charged into the Ofotfjord. The Georg Thiele and Bernard Von Armin came from Ballanger, and the Erich Giese, Erick Koellner and the Wolfgan Zenker sailed in from the Herjangfjord, surrounding the British Force in a pincer movement. In a fierce battle the five German Destroyers fought the five British Derstroyers with sustained and rapid gunfire. Most of the German gunfire targeted the British Flagship Hardy, which came under fire from two ships, most notably the George Thiele. The Hardy sustained several direct hits and soon burst into flames. When the bridge took a direct hit, Warburton-Lee was severely injured, but before he collapsed he ordered his Flotilla to ‘keep on engaging the enemy’.
HMS HARDY’S MEN IN LONDON
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Other than Warburton-Lee, nearly everbody on the bridge had been killed except for Paymaster Lt. Geoffrey Standing, the Captain’s Secertary. He awoke from the fearful blast to find his foot wounded, the ship out of control and heading for the shore at thirty knots. Since the wheel house was below him and nobody was answering his increasingly desperate orders to put the wheel over, he managed to hop down a ladder to the wheel house and alter course, enough to stop hitting the shore. When he regained the bridge helped by some seamen, he saw that they were now heading for two German destroyers. Since he could not slow down he decided to ram one of them. Luckily for all those left alive on board, whilst he was deciding which one to have a go at, one of the boilers was hit and the engines ground to a halt.
All the front guns on the Hardy were by now inoperable, but one of the stern guns was still banging away at the Germans who naturally returned fire into the burning wreck. Luckily the Hardy still had some ‘way’ on her which allowed Stanning to manoeuvre her into Vidrek where she ran aground. As she glided ashore still blazing furiously Stanning gave the order to abandon ship. One hundred and forty men plunged into the icy water, and in between the shell bursts from the German Destroyers, managed to clamber to safety on the shore. Warburton-Lee was still just alive when they got him ashore but died an hour later. The wreck of the Hardy lay burning until it lifted of the shore at high tide and drifted over to Skjomes where the vessel finally capsized.
Photo Rosemary Barnes, his daughter
Warburton-Lee was later awarded the Victoria Cross, the first posthumous V.C. to be awarded in the Second World War.
Probably the most famous of the British Destroyers in the battles of Narvik, Hardy is now just a huge debris field right close into shore. It is not really a dive, more a rummage, and you could do with a lot more time than the half hour allotted to us. Still, found a porthole, a gas mask, and many small cartidge cases.The wreck’s history gives the place a certain aura, and I for one, was glad to visit her last resting place.
Visit H.M.S Hardy’s last resting place
On the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Narvik, author Ron Cope shines a spotlight onto the brave young sailors behind this dramatic military campaign, including his father.
Attack at Dawn: Reliving the First Battle of Narvik in World War Two by Ron Cope (published by Clink Street Publishing RRP £11.99 paperback, RRP £7.99 ebook) is available from 10 April 2015 online from retailers including amazon.co.uk and to order from all good bookstores.RRP £11.99… ISBN:978-1-909477-97-1 Ebook : 978-1-909477-98-8.