Friday, December 26, 2008

Fullbore Friday

Time to revisit the first Battle of Narvik. The reason is that I think we need to look at some of the lessons we can glean from the HNoMS Norge and HNoMS Eidsvold. We learned some good things that you must and can do, even with old equipment, from the Norwegians at the Battle of Oslo - but further north at Narvik, the other side of the coin is sadly obvious - to not to try to learn from their mistakes is to ignore their sacrifice.
The destroyers, moving closer to Narvik, were spotted by Norwegian vessels, which promptly reported the sighting and alerted the old coastal defence ships HNoMS Eidsvold and HNoMS Norge. Both Norwegian ships prepared for combat: the guns were loaded and life preservers issued to the crew. Around 04:15am, the Germans spotted Eidsvold, and Eidsvold immediately signalled the leading German destroyer with an aldis lamp. When the Germans failed to respond to the signal, a warning shot was fired across their bow while the Eidsvold flew a two flag signal, ordering the destroyer to halt.

The Germans had orders to occupy Norway peacefully if at all possible, so the German flagship Wilhelm Heidkamp stopped and signalled that it would send an officer to negotiate. From a distance of about 200 metres, a small launch ferried Korvettenkapitän (lieutenant commander) Gerlach over to Eidsvold. Gerlach and a signalman were taken to the bridge to speak to Captain Willoch. At the same time, the gun crews of both the 21 cm guns and the 15 cm guns aboard Eidsvold kept the German destroyer in their sights, at point-blank range.

Gerlach tried to convince Willoch that the Germans had arrived as friends and that Willoch should surrender peacefully. Willoch pointed out that he was bound by duty to resist, but asked for a ten-minute break to consider the matter. He used this time to contact his superiors, including the captain of Norge, further inside the fjord, informing them of his intent to engage the German forces. In the meantime, a second German destroyer crossed behind Eidsvold and took up a position 700 metres from the vessel, ready to fire her torpedoes.

Gerlach tried once again to convince Willoch to surrender, but Willoch refused. As Gerlach left Eidsvold, he fired a red flare, indicating that the Norwegians intended to fight. At this point, Captain Willoch shouted: "På plass ved kanonene. Nå skal vi slåss, gutter!" ("Man the guns. We're going to fight, boys!").[3] Eidsvold turned towards the closest destroyer and accelerated, while the battery commander ordered the port battery (three 15 cm guns) to open fire.

The Germans, afraid that Eidsvold might ram the destroyer, fired two or four torpedoes from Wilhelm Heidkamp at the old ship. Two or three of the torpedoes hit before the port guns could fire, according to Norwegian sources: one under the rear turret, one midship and one in the bow. It is likely that the torpedoes ignited one of the magazines aboard, because Eidsvold was blown in two and sank in seconds around 04:37am, propellers still turning. Only six of the crew were rescued by the Germans, 175 died in the freezing water.

Deeper inside the fjord, the explosions were heard aboard Norge, but nothing could be seen until two German destroyers suddenly appeared out of the darkness and Captain Per Askim of Norge gave orders to open fire at 04:45am. Four rounds were fired from the 21 cm guns (one from the fore gun and three from the aft) as well as seven or eight rounds from the starboard 15 cm guns, against the German destroyer Bernd von Arnim, at a range of about 800 metres. Due to the difficult weather conditions, the guns' optical sights were ineffective: the first salvo fell short of the target and the next ones overshot it.

The German destroyers waited until they were alongside the pier before returning fire. Bernd von Armin opened fire with her 12.7 cm (5 inch) guns as well as with machine guns, but the weather gave the Germans problems as well. The destroyer also fired three salvos of two torpedoes each. The first two salvos missed, but the last struck Norge midships and she sank in less than one minute. 90 of the crew were rescued, but 101 perished in the battle which had lasted less than 20 minutes. The destruction of Norge signaled the end of Norwegian resistance in the port.
What are your ROE? Are you ready to make the call a warfighter is paid to make? You? Do you demand perfect information to defend your nation?

Are your Sailors as trained on their weapons as they need to be? Damage control? Combat readiness? Balls?

To learn and see more, there are good pics of some of the ships from the various Battles of Narvik can be found here, and other of my posts on Narvik here.

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