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Battles of Narvik

Battles of Narvik

Military History

A decade ago, I completed the segment on the Norwegian campaign in William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany.” It reminded me of a favorite FbF from the early 2000s.

Let’s reflect on the first Battle of Narvik.

The lessons from the HNoMS Norge and HNoMS Eidsvold are crucial. We have learned valuable lessons from the Norwegians at the Battle of Oslo about what can be achieved even with outdated equipment. However, the events at Narvik show the critical importance of learning from past mistakes to honor those who sacrificed.

Eidsvold

As the destroyers approached Narvik, they were detected by Norwegian ships, which immediately reported the sighting, alerting the aging coastal defense ships HNoMS Eidsvold and HNoMS Norge.

Both ships readied for battle: guns were loaded, and crew members were issued life vests. At around 04:15am, the Germans identified Eidsvold, which then signaled the lead German destroyer with an aldis lamp. After the Germans ignored the signal, Eidsvold fired a warning shot across their bow and displayed a two-flag signal demanding the destroyer stop.

A 21 cm gun being fitted to the Norwegian ship Eidsvold at Armstrong Whitworth, Elswick. Used as illustration in an article on armour and guns in Page’s Magazine No. 4 from October 1902, page 370, stored at archive.org

The German flagship Wilhelm Heidkamp paused and signaled its intention to send an officer for negotiations.

From approximately 200 meters away, a small boat transported Korvettenkapitän (lieutenant commander) Gerlach to Eidsvold. Gerlach and a signalman were escorted to the bridge to meet with Captain Willoch, while the gun crews targeted the German destroyer at close range.

Gerlach attempted to persuade Willoch to surrender peacefully, asserting that the Germans came as friends. Willoch acknowledged his duty to resist but requested a ten-minute pause to deliberate. During this time, he communicated with his superiors, including the captain of Norge, deeper in the fjord, about his intention to engage the Germans. Meanwhile, a second German destroyer moved behind Eidsvold, positioning itself to launch torpedoes.

Gerlach made a final attempt to convince Willoch, who ultimately refused to surrender. As Gerlach departed, he launched a red flare, signaling the Norwegians’ readiness to combat. Captain Willoch then commanded, “Man the guns. We’re going to fight, boys!” Eidsvold targeted the nearest destroyer and sped up as the port battery opened fire.

Fearing a ramming attack, the Germans launched two or four torpedoes from Wilhelm Heidkamp at Eidsvold.

The torpedoes struck before the port guns could respond, hitting under the rear turret, midship, and the bow, likely detonating a magazine. Eidsvold was destroyed, splitting in two and sinking within seconds at around 04:37am, leaving only six crew members rescued by the Germans out of 175.

A map of the Ofotfjord. Government of the UK. – http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-NWE-Norway/maps/UK-NWE-Norway-2.jpg

Further into the fjord, the destruction was audible aboard Norge, but visibility was nil until two German destroyers emerged. Captain Per Askim of Norge ordered his crew to fire at 04:45am. Despite the challenging weather affecting their aim, they managed to fire several rounds from both the 21 cm and 15 cm guns at the German destroyer Bernd von Arnim, which was positioned about 800 meters away. The German destroyers withheld their fire until reaching the pier, then unleashed their weaponry, including torpedoes that ultimately struck Norge, sinking her in less than a minute. This quick, devastating engagement resulted in 101 fatalities among the crew, with 90 survivors, marking the end of Norwegian resistance at the port.

The wreck of the scuttled Bernd von Arnim in the Rombaksfjord.

What’s your rule of engagement? Are you prepared to make decisions crucial for a warfighter? Are you and your team sufficiently trained in weaponry, damage control, and combat readiness to take decisive action?

To explore more, there are compelling photos of the ships involved in the various Battles of Narvik available here.

Written by CDR SALAMANDER

Battles of Narvik