On 9 April 1940, the Germans landed powerful forces in Norway. To the northern port of Narvik they sent 10 large destroyers, auxiliary vessels, and some 2,000 ground troops. A small Norwegian warship at Ofotjord notified Narvik of the German approach on the night of 8–9 April. Early on 9 April, the Norwegian coastal battleship Eidsvold intercepted the German warships and ordered them to turn back. The Germans refused, demanding that the Eidsvold surrender to them. When the Norwegian captain refused and prepared to ram the lead German destroyer, the Germans opened fire with torpedoes, sinking the Eidsvold, which lost all but 8 of her crew of 193. The Germans then also torpedoed and sank the coastal battleship Norge; she went down with 110 of her crew, and another 89 survived. No Germans were casualties in this battle.
That same day, British Captain B. A. W. Warburton-Lee, commanding the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla of five destroyers, was ordered to sink or capture German ships and transport near Narvik and recapture the town at his discretion. His flotilla consisted of the flagship Hardy, Havoc, Hotspur, Hostile, and Hunter. The British ships arrived undetected off Narvik early on the morning of 10 April, their approach concealed by a snowstorm. Warburton-Lee ordered his flotilla to attack German vessels in the harbor, and the British destroyers sank two German destroyers and several merchant ships and damaged three other destroyers. Five other German destroyers were concealed in fjords, and as the British withdrew they were attacked on the flanks with torpedoes. In the engagement that followed, the Hardy was hit several times and beached, the Hunter was sunk, and the Hotspur was damaged but managed to escape. The Germans then withdrew because of a shortage of fuel. On the way out of the Vestfjord to the sea, the Havoc and Hostile took under fire a German ammunition ship, which caught fire, exploded, and sank. Warburton-Lee was among the British dead; he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
The British were determined to sink the remaining German destroyers at Narvik, and on 13 April the Admiralty dispatched Rear Admiral W. J. Whitworth, who was in command of the battleship Warspite, and nine destroyers to the site. The battleship's reconnaissance plane engaged and sank the German submarine U-64 and warned of German destroyers lying in ambush positions in side fjords. A destroyer action commenced outside Narvik harbor in the early afternoon. Fire from the Warspite's guns caused the German destroyers to retire to the Rombaks and Herjangs fjords, to where they were pursued and where they were destroyed. In the engagement on 13 April, the British ships sank eight German destroyers and only incurred serious damage to two destroyers. Whitworth was also ordered to land forces at the harbor at his discretion. Aircraft from the British carrier Furious struck the harbor ahead of the Warspite's arrival. Whitworth declined to send his marines and sailors into action against approximately 2,000 German soldiers there, but he recommended that a military force be dispatched forthwith to exploit the situation because the Germans had limited ammunition reserves and their motor transport had been captured at sea on 11 April. No force was sent until 28 May.
Combined with other losses sustained, the Germans paid a heavy price for their operations in Norway. However, Adolf Hitler considered the loss acceptable because it would protect his northern flank, secure continued access to vital Swedish iron ore, and provide bases for submarines and German surface raiders.
Britton W. MacDonald
Barnett, Correlli. Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991.; Roskill, S. W. The War at Sea, 1939–1945. Vol. 1, The Defensive. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1976.