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- Royal Navy
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- 21 July 2005
The following story appears courtesy of and with thanks to the HMS Cossack Association. This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
On the 13th April 1940 H.M.S. COSSACK (Cdr. R. St V. Sherbrooke), in company with the other destroyers BEDOUIN, ESKIMO, FORESTER, FOXHOUND, HERO, ICARUS, KIMBERLEY, and PUNJABI entered Ofotfjord in Norway, escorting the battleship H.M.S. WARSPITE.
They were on their way to Narvik which lay further up the fjord to destroy the 8 German destroyers and any other shipping left after the first Battle of Narvik, on the 10th April, when both sides had lost ships and suffered heavy casualties in that brutal encounter. The destroyers sped down this long, wide fjord leaving WARSPITE behind, and as they turned the corner into Narvik harbour, spotted the Germans' destroyers and 6 merchant ships. The British destroyers immediately opened fire and at such short range scored many direct hits. The Germans, caught unawares, rapidly manned their guns and replied, hitting the intruders.
It then became a running battle, carried out at point blank range, with the ships constantly altering courses and speeds in order to confuse the other's aim. All the guns were firing and considerable damage was done, with the Germans getting the worst of it. The surprise attack so soon after the previous engagement had put them at a severe disadvantage. They also suffered from a shortage of ammunition - the first battle 5 days before having depleted their stocks. Torpedoes were fired by the Germans from fixed torpedo tubes ashore, as the opportunities permitted, but the British ships managed to evade them at this time, although at least a couple ran deep under their hulls. Later the ESKIMO was to lose the whole of her bows to one that did not miss, although she and PUNJABI, seriously damaged earlier on, both made it back to England.
While this mayhem created by the destroyers, was taking place, the WARSPITE was lobbing her 15" shells ('bricks' in naval parlance), over their heads onto the German gun emplacements ashore.
The German destroyer DIETER VAN ROEDER, which had suffered heavy damage, was alongside the jetty and saw COSSACK when she first rounded the corner into the harbour. Both ships opened up with all guns that would bear. Hits were scored by both, with the result that the DIETER VAN ROEDER ceased fire. The COSSACK, hit 7 times, including two 8" ones from the batteries onshore, suffered a fractured steam pipe in her No.2 boiler room, putting her steering gear out of action. She quickly drifted ashore at Hankins Point, where efforts were made to repair the damage to her engines and make her mess decks habitable again. Meanwhile COSSACK was still firing and managed to silence a field gun that was firing from behind Narvik. Mortar and sniper fire was a constant hazard while she was attempting to patch up the damage inflicted. The KIMBERLEY returned and tried to tow her off, but was unable to move her.
A short while after the grounding, two young Norwegian cousins, Torsten and Lief Hansen from a small village over the mountain, Hard Fens, skied down to the COSSACK bringing the welcome news that the Germans had retreated into the hills. This pair had rowed out to an abandoned German ship and removed her ensign, which they then presented to the COSSACK. It now hangs in the Imperial War Museum, London. This pair had already helped the Pilot get the Navigator out of one of the British planes that had crashed the day before.
Temporary repairs were effected and with the high tide during the night, COSSACK managed to free herself from the rocks. She could only go astern owing to the shell damage. This meant that progress was very slow. She limped to Skelfjord in the Lofoten Islands, where naval and Norwegian engineers utilising old ship's plate that was lying near by, worked on more permanent repairs to enable her to return to the UK. It took practically three weeks to get the ship seaworthy and able to make her own way home. To thank the Norwegians for their assistance a children's party was given to all the local youngsters.
All the shipping in Narvik harbour was destroyed but sadly, during the battle COSSACK lost 9 men killed and 21 wounded. The dead were committed to the deep in Skelfjord in the traditional way.
COSSACK was not the only ship to be patched up in the fjord; there were two cruisers and at least 5 others. Those who were there knew it as 'Cripple Creek'. All were able to return home in the end.
The DIETER VAN ROEDER was abandoned when her ammunition ran out and she subsequently blew herself up.
During this short but intensive action both the British and the Germans had battered each other unmercifully, but such was their respect for each other that the NARVIK ASSOCIATION was formed, with survivors from both sides. In Kiel there is a museum where the whole action is depicted.
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