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April - May 1940

HMS Ivanhoe, destroyer (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

on to June 1940


Invasion of Norway



APRIL 1940


German Raiders - “Orion” sailed for the Pacific and Indian Oceans around South America's Cape Horn. She was out for 16 months before returning to France.

10th - “U-50” on patrol off the Shetlands in support of the Norwegian invasion, was sunk by destroyer “Hero”.

Faeroe Islands - On the 13th April, following the German invasion of Norway, an advance guard of Royal Marines landed on the Faeroe Islands, northwest of the Shetland Islands with the eventual agreement of the Danish Governor.

Monthly Loss Summary: 4 British, Allied and neutral ships of 25,000 tons from all causes; 1 German U-boat.


Atomic Bomb - Just as the “phoney war” ended in Europe (it never existed at sea) the end of the war was foreshadowed when the British government established the Maud Committee to oversee nuclear research. Similar steps had already been taken in the United States, all of which eventually led to an operational atomic bomb.

German Codes - The Bletchley Park Ultra programme was now decoding some Luftwaffe low-level Enigma codes, partly because of poor German security procedures. There is little evidence the hard-won information influenced the war over the next two violent months.

Norwegian Invasion & Campaign
(see map above)

3rd - The first German troop transports sailed for Norway. 7th - German covering and troop-carrying warships headed for Norway. 8th - Operation 'Wilfred': Royal Navy destroyers laid minefields, simulated and real at three points off the Norwegian coast, including near Bodo. Battlecruiser Renown and other destroyers provided cover. One of the screen, GLOWWORM (Lt-Cdr Roope) was detached to search for a man overboard just as 8in-gunned cruiser “Admiral Hipper” headed into Trondheim. They met to the northwest of the port and the destroyer was soon sunk, but not before she rammed and damaged “Hipper”. + Lt-Cdr Gerard Roope RN was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

7th-8th - In response to reported German movements, units of the Home Fleet including Rodney, Valiant, Repulse, four cruisers and 14 destroyers sailed from Scapa Flow and Rosyth. Accompanying them was a French cruiser and two destroyers. Two more British cruisers and nine destroyers left other duties and headed for Norwegian waters. Next day, on the 8th, they were joined by the four troop-carrying cruisers of Operation 'R4', but after the soldiers had been disembarked back in Britain. More than 20 submarines, including three French and one Polish took up positions.

9th, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway (Operation 'Weserubung'): Copenhagen was soon occupied and DENMARK surrendered. In Norway, seaborne troops landed at Oslo, Kristiansand, Egersund and Bergen in the south, Trondheim in the centre and Narvik in the north. The southern forces and those from Trondheim pushed inland and joined up by the end of the month. They then moved north to relieve Narvik, which was isolated by the Allies soon after the first German landings. German Navy forces included a pocket battleship, six cruisers, 14 destroyers, torpedo boats and minesweepers for the landings at the six Norwegian ports, with battlecruisers “Scharnhorst” and “Gneisenau” covering the two most northerly landings. Thirty U-boats patrolled off Norway and British bases, but throughout the campaign suffered from major torpedo defects. Early in the morning of the 9th, battlecruiser Renown was in action with the two German battlecruisers to the west of Vestfiord. “Gneisenau” was damaged and “Renown” slightly. The Germans withdrew. As “Renown” was in action, German occupation forces heading for Oslo came under heavy fire from Norwegian coastal defences. Shore-sited guns and torpedoes in Oslo Fiord sank heavy cruiser “BLUCHER”. A Home Fleet cruiser force was detached to attack the German warships in Bergen, but ordered to withdraw. They came under continuous air attack and destroyer GURKHA was bombed and sunk southwest of Bergen. That evening, German cruiser “KARLSRUHE” left Kristiansand and was torpedoed by submarine “Truant”. She was scuttled next day.

10th, First Battle of Narvik - The 2nd Destroyer Flotilla (Capt. Warburton-Lee) with “Hardy”, “Havock”, “Hostile”, “Hotspur” and “Hunter”, entered Ofotfiord to attack the German ships assigned to the occupation of Narvik. These included 10 large destroyers. Several transports were sunk together with destroyers “ANTON SCHMITT” (AS) and “WILHELM HEIDKAMP” (WH) in Narvik Bay. Other German destroyers were damaged, but as the British 2nd Flotilla retired, HARDY was beached, HUNTER sunk by the remaining German ships and “Hotspur” badly damaged. + Capt Bernard Warburton-Lee RN was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

By the 10th, the British Home Fleet was reinforced by battleship Warspite and carrier Furious. On the same day submarine THISTLE on patrol off Utsira failed in an attack on “U-4”. Shortly after she was sunk by the same U-boat. Fleet Air Arm Skua dive-bomber’s of 800 and 803 Squadrons flying from the Orkney Islands sank German cruiser "KOENIGSBERG" at her moorings in Bergen, the first major warship sunk by air attack. She was damaged earlier by shore batteries in the landings. .

11th - Returning from the Oslo landings, German pocket battleship “Lutzow” was torpedoed and badly damaged by submarine “Spearfish” in the Skagerrak. Cruiser “Penelope” on her way into Narvik was damaged running aground in Vestfiord.

13th, Second Battle of Narvik - Battleship Warspite and nine destroyers were sent into the Narvik fiords to finish off the remaining German ships. Submarine “U-64” was surprised and sunk by “Warspite's” Swordfish catapult aircraft as it scouted ahead. The eight surviving German destroyers – “BERND VON ARNIM” (BA), “DIETHER VON ROEDER” (DR), “ERICH GIESE” (EG), “ERICH KOELNNER” (EK), “GEORG THIELE” (GT), “HANS LUDEMANN” (HL), “HERMANN KUNNE” (HK) and “WOLFGANG ZENKER” (WZ) were all destroyed or scuttled. The British “Eskimo” and “Cossack” were damaged. By the 13th, the first British troop convoys had left the Scottish Clyde for Narvik, but some ships were diverted to Namsos. German forces were well-established in the south and centre of Norway and had control of the air.

14th - Submarine TARPON on patrol off southern Norway was sunk by German minesweeper “M-6”. German gunnery training ship “BRUMMER” was torpedoed and sunk by submarine “Sterlet” .

14th-16th - The first Allied landings took place between the 14th and 16th. In the north, British troops occupied Harstad in preparation for an attack on Narvik. They were reinforced by French and Polish units through into May. Royal Marines led British and French troops into Namsos ready for an attack south towards Trondheim. The British went ashore in the Andalsnes area to try to hold central Norway with the Norwegian Army. Neither of these operations proved possible and on the 27th April the decision was taken to pull out of central Norway.

15th - As the Harstad-bound troopships approached their destination, escorting destroyers “Brazen” and “Fearless” located and sank “U-49”. Southwest of Stavanger, “U-1” went to the bottom after striking a mine.

17th - Heavy cruiser Suffolk (right - NavyPhotos) bombarded installations at Stavanger, but on her return was badly damaged by Ju-88 bombers and barely made Scapa Flow with her stern awash.

18th - Four days after sinking the “Brummer”, submarine STERLET was presumed sunk in the Skagerrak by German anti-submarine trawlers.

24th - After four days continuous AA duty off Andalsnes, cruiser Curacoa was badly damaged by bombs. Carrier Glorious flew off obsolescent Gladiator biplanes for shore operations.

27th - Allied plans to attack towards Trondheim and hold central Norway proved impossible. The decision was taken to pull out of central Norway, and the evacuation of Andalsnes and Namsos got under way.

30th - Sloop “BITTERN” was sunk by Ju-87 dive-bombers off Namsos.

29th - Submarine UNITY was lost in collision with a Norwegian merchantman off the northeast coast of England.

Air War - The first mines were laid by RAF Bomber Command off the German and Danish coasts.

Monthly Loss Summary: 54 British, Allied and neutral ships of 134,000 tons from all causes.


MAY 1940


German Raiders - “Widder” headed for central Atlantic operations before returning to France six months later. On her way into the Indian Ocean, “Atlantis” laid mines off South Africa.

Iceland & Dutch West Indies - On the 10th as Germany attacked France and the Low Countries, British Royal Marines landed from two cruisers at Reykjavik, Iceland then part of the Danish Crown. More troops followed to set up air and sea bases that became vital to Britain's defence of the Atlantic supply routes. To avoid any possibility of confusion, Winston Churchill always insisted on differentiating between Iceland (C) and Ireland (R). Shortly after Germany invaded Holland, Allied troops landed on the Dutch West lndies islands of Aruba and Curacoa to protect oil installations.

Battle of the Atlantic - U-boats started returning to the Western Approaches and as they did, one of the first ‘Flower’ class corvettes “Arabis” made a depth-charge attack in defence of a Gibraltar/UK convoy. With the closure of the Mediterranean to Allied shipping, the trade routes around Africa and the ports en route took on a new importance. Particularly vital was the West African base at Freetown, Sierra Leone

Monthly Loss Summary: 10 British, Allied and neutral ships of 55,000 tons from all causes.


Norwegian Campaign - continued

2nd/3rd - In three days and nights the last 10,000 British and French troops had been evacuated from Namsos and around Andalsnes following the failure to attack towards Trondheim and hold central Norway. Other troops were later landed further north, including at Bodo in an attempt to block the German advance from Trondheim towards Narvik. The Allies continued to build up forces for the attack on Narvik. + Lt-Cdr Richard Stannard RNR, commanding officer of HM trawler Arab of the 15th Anti-Submarine Striking Force, was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry under air attack during operations off Namsos.

3rd - Retiring northwest from Namsos, destroyers AFRIDI and the French “BISON” were sunk by Ju-87 Stuka dive-bombers.

4th - As preparations continued in northern Norway for the attack on Narvik, Polish destroyer “GROM” was bombed and sunk.

5th - Submarine SEAL successfully laid mines in the southern Kattegat on the 4th before being damaged by a German mine. Trying to make for neutral Sweden on the surface, she was attacked and captured off The Skaw by German air and sea patrols.

17th - Cruiser EFFINGHAM ran aground on an uncharted rock in Vestfiord carrying troops to Bodo to help block the German advance on Narvik. She was later torpedoed and abandoned.

23rd - By now carriers Furious and Glorious had flown ashore the first modern RAF fighters.

24th - The Allies decided to pull out of Norway altogether, but not before Narvik had been captured and the port installations destroyed.

26th - During the attack on Narvik, AA cruiser CURLEW was bombed and sunk in nearby Lavang Fjord.

28th - Two days after the loss of sister ship “Curlew”, Cairo was badly damaged off the town of Narvik just as French and Polish troops completed its capture. The Norwegian Campaign shortly drew to a close

Britain - Following a 10th May House of Commons debate on the Norwegian campaign, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill assumed leadership. Albert V Alexander succeeded him as First Lord of the Admiralty. The planned attack on Narvik was still to go ahead, but that same day the German Blitzkrieg was launched on Holland, Belgium and France .

Western Front

10th, Germany invades Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg (Operation 'Gelb') - British and French troops crossed the border into Belgium and took up forward positions, but the main German thrust was a planned encircling movement further south through the forests and mountains of the Belgium Ardennes.

13th - The Germans entered France at Sedan. After breaking through, German armour headed west for the Channel to trap the Allied armies now in Belgium and northern France. British Admiralty plans had already been made to withdraw shipping from the Low Countries, block main ports, demolish installations and remove gold and diamonds. Most of these duties were carried out with the aid of Royal Navy destroyers which suffered heavy losses over the next few weeks. Still on the 13th, Holland’s Queen Wilhelmina and her Government were now on their way to Britain aboard a Royal Navy destroyer to continue Holland's fight.

14th - The centre of Rotterdam was blitzed by the Luftwaffe.

15th - Destroyers continued to support Allied land forces off the Dutch and Belgian coasts. Under heavy air attack, two were bombed and beached over the next few days, starting with VALENTINE in the Scheldt Estuary. The DUTCH Army surrendered to the Germans. On the same day, Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet, anticipating the Battle for Britain decided not to send any more RAF fighters to France. The strategic bombing of Germany was also ordered and raids made on the Ruhr.

17th - As the Allies retreated from Belgium, German forces entered Brussels.

19th - The second destroyer supporting Allied land forces, WHITLEY was beached near Nieuport on the Belgian coast with bomb damage.

20th - German tanks reached the English Channel near Abbeville, shortly turning right and advancing north on the ports of Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. Destroyers carried Allied troops to Boulogne and Calais and remained in support. Over the next four days, five Allied destroyers were lost and others damaged in the area. 21st - French destroyer “L’ADROIT” bombed and sunk off Dunkirk. 23rd - French destroyer “ORAGE” bombed off Boulogne and “JAGUAR” torpedoed and sunk by German E-boats “S-21” and “S-23” off Dunkirk. 24th - A fourth French destroyer, “CHACAL” was bombed off Boulogne. The British WESSEX was also bombed and sunk supporting the defenders of Calais.

26th - Both Boulogne and Calais fell to the Germans. The British Expeditionary Force and French Army fell back on Dunkirk.

26th May-4th June, Dunkirk Evacuation (Operation 'Dynamo') - Initial plans were to lift off 45,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force over a two-day period under the direction of Vice-Adm B. H. Ramsey. In the next five days, 8,000 men on the 27th May, 18,000 on the 28th, 47,000 on the 29th, 54,000 on the 30th and 68,000 on the 31st were carried to Britain - a total of 195,000, both British and French. Every phase of the operation was subject to heavy air, sea and land attack. Forty British, six French and a Polish destroyer took part, together with 800 other vessels, large and small. Losses were considerable. The Dunkirk evacuation continued into June.

28th - The BELGIUM Army surrendered on the northern flank, seriously endangering the Allied evacuation from Dunkirk.

29th - Apart from those damaged, three Royal Navy destroyers were sunk in the English Channel off the Dunkirk beaches on this day - GRAFTON torpedoed by submarine “U-62”, GRENADE by bombing, and WAKEFUL by a torpedo from E-boat “S-30”.

30th - French destroyers also continued to suffer losses. “BOURRASQUE” was mined off the Belgium port of Nieuport and sunk by shore batteries. 31st - “Bourrasque’s” sister ship “SIROCCO” was torpedoed and sunk by German E-boats “S-23” and “S-26”.

31st - German “U-13” was believed sunk by sloop “Weston” off the English East Coast fishing port of Lowestoft.

Air War - Minelaying continued along the south and east coasts of Britain as well as the waters of Holland, Belgium and northern France during the German Blitzkrieg.

Monthly Loss Summary: 90 British, Allied and neutral ships of 231,000 tons from all causes.


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