Wreck diving in Narvik, Norway


Norway - a strategic location

In the early stages of the Second World War, Norway was still neutral and its strategic importance was unique. With Great Britain located in the west, a British occupation would effectively control the marine routes from Germany to the North Sea and into the North Atlantic.

Scandinavia was also located at the northern flank of Germany's European operations, and a British foothold in Norway would make it easy to monitor Sweden and get access to the Baltic Sea and the German coast.

To make the picture complete, Norway also controlled Narvik and the north-west transport route to the Swedish iron ore.

Operation 'Weserübung'

In 1939 Germany imported 9 million tons of iron ore from Sweden, of which 80% was shipped from Narvik. This supply of iron ore was vital to the German war industry, and it became strategically important to keep control over Narvik and the Norwegian territorial waters.

At this time Hitler had plans for a decisive offensive in the West, and had no intention to weaken them by mounting a diversion in Scandinavia. He wanted to trust that Norway would remain neutral and dissuade the British from any potential actions to stop the transport of iron ore along the coast.

However, this was all to be changed when the British destroyer HMS Cossack boarded the German prisoner-ship Altmark, in the Jossingfjord south of Stavanger, on 16 February 1940. This showed that the Norwegian government was no longer capable of enforcing its neutrality, and Hitler speeded up the planning of the intervention in Norway.

Hitler signed the directive for carrying out Operation 'Weserübung' on 1 March, and made General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst commander of the operations.

9 April - the German invasion of Norway

Early morning on 9 April 1940, a total of 58 ships and 8,850 men attacked Norway at six key locations. One of these was Narvik, led by Captain Friedrich Bonte onboard the destroyer Wilhelm Heidkamp.

Ten German destroyers were involved in the operations around Narvik, and at 04:15 one of the squadrons came across the Norwegian ironclad PS Eidsvold at the entrance to Narvik harbour. An officer from Wilhelm Heidkamp was sent by boat to persuade the Norwegian Captain to surrender in peace, but the attempt was refused. Wilhelm Heidkamp opened fire as soon as the German officer had left the Norwegian ship, and PS Eidsvold sunk after a few seconds, killing 175 men.

Eidsvold's sister ship, the ironclad PS Norge, met the same fate just a few minutes later when she was torpedoed by the German destroyer Bernd von Arnim, killing 101 men. The Germans went ashore without any resistance from the Norwegian garrison, and quickly occupied several strategic positions in Narvik.

10 April - the first battle

When the news of the German landings in Norway reached London and Paris on the morning of 9 April, the War Cabinet in London decided to mount an immediate operation to recapture Narvik.

Early morning on 10 April the British 2nd Destroyer Flotilla commanded by Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee entered the Ofotfjord. Thanks to bad weather and heavy snowfall, the five destroyers led by HMS Hardy managed to reach Narvik unnoticed. The Germans were not expecting the sudden attack, and two of the five German destroyers anchored in the harbour were torpedoed and sunk, whilst the three others were heavily damaged. The British also sunk six merchant ships in the crowded harbour.

On the way back toward the mouth of the fjord, the British fleet met the five German destroyers that had been placed in the neighbouring fjords during the night. Two of the British destroyers were lost and Warburton-Lee died during the battle. He received the Victoria Cross posthumously.

British losses:

HMS Hardy
HMS Hunter
HMS Hotspur (damaged)

German losses:

Anton Schmitt
Wilhelm Heidkamp
Dieter von Roeder (damaged)
Bernd von Arnim (damaged)
Hans Lüdeman (damaged)
Georg Thiele (damaged)
Herman Künne (damaged)

Merchant ships sunk in Narvik harbour:

Romanby (GB)
Blythmoor (GB)
Neuenfels (DE)
Martha Hendrik Fisse (DE)
Saphir (NO)
Cate B (NO)

13 April - the second battle

The Second Battle of Narvik started noon on the 13 April, preceded by an air strike from the carrier HMS Furious the day before. The British fleet consisted of nine destroyers and the battleship HMS Warspite, under command of Vice Admiral Whitworth.

The German destroyer Erich Koellner was torpedoed by HMS Bedouin and HMS Eskimo while trying to hide in Djupvik. In Narvik harbour Erich Giese got torpedoed whilst Dieter von Roeder got scuttled by the crew after heavy attacks.

HMS Eskimo and three other destroyers followed the remaining German destroyers into the Rombaksfjord. Empty of ammunition, the Germans scuttled all the ships and the crew escaped ashore to later join the German forces in Narvik.

Admiral Whitworth and the British Navy now had full control over the Norwegian fjords, but evaluated the risk of an on-land operation in Narvik too high. Several German submarines were expected to be in the area, and about a dozen German airplanes had been spotted. They decided to withdraw from Narvik the next day.

British losses:

2 Swordfish bombers

German losses:

Erich Giese (Narvik harbour)
Dieter von Roeder (Narvik harbour)
Erich Koellner (the Ofotfjord)
Herman Künne (the Herjangfjord)
Bernd von Arnim (the Rombaksfjord)
Hans Lüdeman (the Rombaksfjord)
Georg Thiele (the Rombaksfjord)
Wolfgang Zenker (the Rombaksfjord)
U-64 (submarine)

Merchant ships sunk in Narvik harbour:

Apart from the German supply ship Jan Wellem, all the remaining merchant ships in the harbour were torpedoed.

28 May - Hitler's first defeat

The German losses during the battles in Narvik made reinforcement and supplies difficult. The British Navy controlled the sea, whilst French, Polish, British and Norwegian troops started to move towards Narvik in early May.

On 28 May French troops reached the centre of Narvik, and Hitler had met his first defeat during WW2. Unfortunately, the Allies suffered heavy losses in France and orders to evacuate all troops in Norway were given. Norway eventually surrendered on 10 June, leading the country into a five year German occupation.

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Diving in Narvik

The battle of Narvik

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