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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Narvik Naval Battle

10 and 13 April 1940

Location: Port of Narvik, Norway
Players: Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee, Admiral William Whitworth
Outcome: Ten German destroyers and six merchant ships sunk. Of the German forces in Narvik, only U-51 survives by escaping out to sea. Warburton-Lee is killed and his flagship sunk.

Two naval battles were fought at Narvik in 1940. This Norwegian port was important to the Germans because it was used to ship out iron ore to supply Nazi Germany.

On 9 April the Germans arrived in ten destroyers and landed 2,000 troops there. The British had laid mines off the entrance to the port only the day before, but had not anticipated a German occupation.

The first battle of Narvik was initiated by the British Navy, who had orders to prevent the Germans landing. Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee commanded a British destroyer flotilla of five ships which arrived too late. Luckily, U-boats in the port failed to spot the flotilla.

The British depended now on stealth for a successful attack. Early on the morning of 10 April, with added advantage of heavy snow, the British entered the harbour and sunk two German destroyers and six merchant ships, damaging another destroyer.

Unbeknown to the British navy, a further five destroyers were at anchor in other fjords and these emerged to attack the British flotilla, killing Warburton-Lee, destroying his flagship, sinking another and damaging two more ships. But the Germans had to retreat and make repairs. They were stranded without fuel and a second battle began on 13 April.

The new British force consisted of the battleship HMS Warspite and eight destroyers under the command of Vice Admiral William Whitworth. The Germans had eight destroyers still in the fjord along with two U-boats.

The Koellner was torpedoed and sunk. Then Whitworth's force met the German destroyers Kuinne, Ludemann, Zenker and Armin - destroying all of them. The remaining German destroyers were pursued from fjord to fjord by HMS Eskimo, HMS Bedouin, HMS Forester, HMS Hero and HMS Icarus. The Eskimo was badly damaged by the Theile, which was run aground before capsizing. Of the German forces in Narvik, only U-51 survived by escaping out to sea.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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