OF H.M.S. GURKHA
From: Commanding Officer, H.M.S. GURKHA
Date: 11th April 1940
To: Captain (D) Fourth Destroyer Flotilla
(copies to: Secretary
of the Admiralty
in Chief, Home Fleet
Admiral Commanding, Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron
Admiral (D), Home Fleet
Officer, H.M.S. AURORA)
When the air attacks on the cruiser and destroyers under
Vice Admiral Commanding Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron, started at about 1430 on 9th
April 1940, some thirty miles to the West of Kors
Fiord, H.M.S. GURKHA was in company with Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer
Flotilla, and H.M. Ships SIKH and MOHAWK, two miles on the starboard beam of
the cruiser squadron – course 025 degrees. Wind force 5 from the
Northward. Sea about 32.
2. The destroyers broke formation early in the attack and
became somewhat separated. GURKHA's courses were
adjusted as necessary to bring the guns to bear on enemy aircraft.
Control of fire and fighting of guns being very much facilitated
when steering down wind. Ground was first made to leeward and later
towards the rear of the cruiser squadron for which position Captain (D) Fourth
Destroyer was seen to be making.
3. At 1507 when about five miles on the quarter of the
cruiser squadron, steering 290 degrees, one of the several enemy aircraft then
in sight, a four engined bomber, was seen to be
approaching on a steady course from the starboard quarter, at about 10,000 feet.
Course was altered to bring the aircraft on the beam so that all guns could
bear, but after a few rounds were fired the angle of sight became too great for
the limited elevation of the 4.7 inch guns. (n.b.
this brings up a disputed fact. The only four engine bomber that Germany
possessed at that time was the Kondor FW 200, but
they were supposedly not in service in Norway for more than another week).
4. The target was, however, kept abeam so that the pom-poms
were able to bear in the event of the aircraft starting a dive
bombing attack. It was soon clear, however, that a high level bombing
attack was being made, and the rudder was then put to Hard a Starboard in an
attempt to take avoiding action. Speed had been reduced to 15 knots on going
into a head wind, so that avoiding action actually taken was small.
The policy of giving prior consideration to control of fire
Soon after the rudder had been put to 'Hard a Starboard' a
'stick' of six bombs fell on the starboard side abreast the gear room, from
about 150 yards to right alongside.
5. The gear room quickly filled followed shortly by the
engine room, and by the majority of the after compartments. The steering
compartment remained intact. What appeared to be an oil fuel fire started in or
under the after superstructure, and the ship listed to starboard bringing the
upper deck to within about two feet from the waterline amidships, and one foot
6. The wireless installation and large signal projectors
failed immediately after the explosion, and efforts were made to attract the
attention of the remaining destroyers and cruisers with the 6"
Aldis lamp, siren, flag signals, and 'Not under control'
balls, but without success. GURKHA was about five miles on their quarter and
they were busily engaged repelling aircraft.
7. During the subsequent five and a half hours that the ship
remained afloat the H.A. director, T.S. , foremost
guns, and supply parties remained in action in primary control and engaged
approaching enemy aircraft on about twelve separate occasions. This fire was
sufficient to deter them from making further attacks except one
which, like the first, carried out a high level bombing attack at about
10,000 feet. A 'stick' of about six bombers missed ahead by about 200 yards.
8. The remainder of the men were employed on placing the
collision mat, jettisoning all weighty articles and fittings on the starboard
side and high up in the ship, preparing boats and rafts for lowering, preparing
to tow forward, and baling out boiler room bilges.
Unfortunately, the torpedo tubes were jambed
fore and aft so that the torpedoes could not be placed overboard.
9. Attempts were made to deal with the fire after, but no
fire main pressure being available, and access being impossible, due to dense
fumes, the after compartments were battened down. The risk of
fire spreading to the after magazines were accepted, it being considered
undesirable to surrender further buoyancy by flooding them.
10. The technical details of action taken in the engine room
and boiler rooms were not available without further enquiry from the ratings
concerned. The Engineer Officer reported at the time that the engine room could
not be cleared by the main circulators and that the Downton
pump could not be usefully employed.
After discussion with the Engineer Officer, it was decided
to clear the foremost oil fuel tanks on the starboard side (Nos. 1 – 3)
and this was done.
11. Meanwhile, Telegraphist rigged
jury aerials, provided spare batteries from the fore store, repaired fuses,
etc., and about 1600 were able to transmit on 366 kc/S
(low power) a message stating that GURKHA was in danger of sinking from bombs,
giving her position 60-29 degrees North, 3-20 degrees East (Based on Vice
Admiral Commanding Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron's reference position at 1300).
No reply was received for some time, but after altering
settings and length of aerials, at 1715, AURORA answered saying 'coming to your
12. A signal
was then made stating GURKHA's position would be indicated
by firing H.E. bursts. This was done at about 1830, and the burst
were apparently observed by AURORA who was thus able to make contact. She
was sighted at about 1855.
13. It was, at first, decided to continue preparations for
towing forward, while disembarkation of personnel proceeded with
AURORA's boats, but as the fire aft developed into a blaze,
and the ship was clearly sinking, these preparations were discontinued.
14. Boatwork was slow and
difficult in the prevailing wind and sea, and only about half the ship's
company had been taken off when the ship sank at 2045. The remainder jumped
from the forecastle and nearly all were able to swim or paddle in rafts to
AURORA who was brought close abreast of them to windward. The accurate placing
of AURORA in this position at the correct moment was responsible for the large
number of men able to reach her.
15. When AURORA was lying to windward of GURKHA while
operating boats, GURKHA swung round so that the wind was brought from port to
starboard, causing her to right and then list over to port. When finally
foundering she listed right over on her port side and then went down stern
first, bows vertically in.
It is feared that some officers and men remained on the
forecastle a few seconds too long and were probably sucked under.
16. Ships of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla appeared just
after the ship had sunk and assisting in searching for survivors in the failing
light. H.M.S. MASHONA picked up six.
17. Of the 215 officers and men originally on board 199 were
picked up alive; five officers and ten ratings are missing. One rating was
picked up dead.
The three ratings injured in the original explosion were
18. Confidential and secret books were taken below and
stowed at the bottom of the ship before sinking.
19. The behavior of officers and men as a whole was
excellent. I wish to commend Lieutenant Commander (E) I.C. Howden,
Royal Navy, unfortunately among the missing, for the untiring efforts made by
him in endeavouring to save the ship, and Acting
Petty Officer Telegraphist Rainer for the
determination and resource shown by him in successfully repairing the damaged
wireless installation without which assistance would not have been forthcoming
in time to save life.
(sgd) A.W. Buzzard
stamped Commander in Chief, Home Fleet, 18 April 1940)
LOSS OF H.M.S. GURKHA
letter dated 11th April 1940)
No. 819/H.F. 490
(copies to: The
Rear Admiral (D), Home Fleet
Captain (D) 4th Destroyer Flotilla
Forwarded for information
2. At 1100 on 9th April 1940, the Battlefleet was in position lat. 60-05 degrees N., long.
02-57 degrees E. steering 180 degrees at 20 knots. The
First, Eighteenth, and Second Cruiser Squadrons were spread in pairs 7 miles
ahead to form an A.K. line.
3. At 1100 the Vice Admiral Commanding the Eighteenth
Cruiser Squadron received my 1045/9 ordering the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron in
company (the MANCHESTER, SOUTHAMPTON, GLASGOW, and SHEFFIELD), and the Fourth
and Sixth Destroyer Flotillas (consisting of Captain (D) IV in the AFRIDI, the
MOHAWK, SIKH, and GURKHA, Captain (D) VI in the SOMALI, the MATABELE and
MASHONA) to proceed and attack Bergen when ordered. This force was ordered to
proceed at 1125 and the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron and destroyers altered
course at 025 degrees, speed 20 knots, at 1140. This speed was subsequently
reduced to 16 knots as destroyers could not keep up on
account of weather.
4. At noon the course of the Battlefleet
was altered to 360 degrees, speed of advance 16 knots. The weather at this time
was wind N.N.W. force 5, sea 33. Sky, b.c., visibility very good.
5. At 1410, the Vice Admiral Commanding Eighteenth Cruiser
Squadron, received Admiralty message 1347/9 canceling the operation against
Bergen and altered course to rejoin the Battlefleet
whose position at 1410 was lat 60-20 degrees N., long. 02-53 degrees E., course
360 degrees, speed of advance 16 knots.
6. At 1425, heavy air attacks on the Eighteenth Cruiser
Squadron and destroyers in company developed and air attacks on the
Battlefleet were also made. The 4th and 6th
Destroyer Flotillas had dropped astern of the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron
during the attempt to make high speed towards Bergen and were further scattered
by their alterations of course during the air attacks.
7. When GURKHA was damaged by bombs at 1507, she was about five miles on the quarter of the
cruisers and in the heat of the action the fact that she was damaged was not
observed by the cruisers or destroyers.
8. Captain (D) IV in paragraph 1 of minute II has generously
accepted the responsibility for allowing GURKHA to become detached, but his
minute was written on the 22nd April by which time all or most of us
had realised that to remain concentrated was the best
defence against air attack, whereas on the 9th
April, when the attack took place this was not generally realised.
Destroyers escorting Norwegian convoys when under air attack had often been out
of supporting distance from each other and no harm had come to them. I knew
this and had issued no instructions on the matter. I do not, therefore,
consider that Captain (D) IV, is any more to blame
than I am, except for the omission to notice that the GURKHA had detached
herself completely as opposed to taking independent avoiding action.
The Commanding Officer of the GURKHA was unwise in his
decision to steer down wind in order to facilitate gunfire and thus become totally
detached from his Captain (D). Unless definite orders to scatter had been given
he should only have taken individual avoiding action whilst remaining in
9. I concur in the remarks of paragraph 3 of minute II and
consider that AURORA did extremely well to pick up the GURKHA's
W/T signal, find her, and rescue nearly all her crew.
10. I do not consider either a Board of Enquiry or a Court
Martial is necessary.
Forbes, Admiral of the Fleet
15th May 1940
SINKING OF H.M.S. GURKHA
GURKHA's report dated 11th April 1940)
Rear Admiral (D) Home Fleet
GURKHA was in the hands of an inexperienced Commanding
Officer and became detached; he should not have been allowed to
have become detached; the responsibility for failure to call
him in is wholly mine; I have not, I regret to report, any explanation worth
recording to account for this omission.
2. I endorse the commendations contained in the final
paragraph of Commander Buzzard's report, and have noted the name of Petty
Officer Telegraphist Rainer for further action.
3. The discipline and steadiness in adversity of the ship's
company of GURKHA reported by the Commanding Officer, H.M.S. AURORA, in his
letter 00291 of 10th April 1940, reflects credit on Commander
Buzzard, and provides a pleasant feature in an incident which
was otherwise regrettable.
(sgd) Philip Vian,
Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla
22nd April 1940
No. H.D. 00571A
Chief, Home Fleet
(Copy to Captain (D) IV)
Forwarded concurring in paragraph 3 of minute II
(Sgd) R.H.C. Hallifax, Rear
Admiral (D), Home Fleet
26th April 1940
stamped Commander in Chief Home Fleet 29 April 1940)
No. 00291 dated 10th April 1940
Loss of GURKHA – SIGNALS EXCHANGED
Position 60-29 degrees North, 3-20 degrees East
To: Scapa From:
Have been badly damaged by bomb my position 012 degs. TPTS 26, Danger of sinking. 1515
To: GURKHA From:
Am coming to your assistance. (No reply from GURKHA)
To: GURKHA From:
Make smoke. 1757
To: AURORA From:
Am about to open fire
To: AURORA From:
Can you D/F me.
To: GURKHA From:
Reply No. Fire two more rounds. 1844.
To: AURORA From:
C.in C. Home Fleet
Report reason your 1715 to GURKHA and present situation. 1959.
To: C.in C. H.F. From:
Your 1959. GURKHA sunk by bombs. Have saved most of crew. Details will be reported
later. Am in company with GLASGOW. 2224/9
Subject. LOSS OF H.M.S. GURKHA
From: The Commanding Officer H.M.S. AURORA
Date: 10th April 1940 No.
To: The Commander in Chief, Home Fleet
(copies to: The Vice Admiral
Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron.
Admiral (D) Home Fleet
(D) 4th Destroyer Flotilla
The following report is forwarded with reference to my
2. At 1705 on 9th April 1940, I intercepted a
signal from GURKHA to say that she had been bombed and was in danger of
sinking. I altered course for the position given, increasing to 29 knots, but
owing to discrepancies in navigational positions there was no sign of GURKHA in
position indicated. I swept in the direction shown on track chart and
endeavoured to D/F GURKHA but her low power W/T was so weak
that this was unsuccessful. I told GURKHA to make smoke and she fired a series
of smoke shell, one of which was sighed by Arthur Frederick Wilcocks,
Leading Seaman, P/JX 134465 in the D.C.T. I altered course towards this smoke
burst and came up to GURKHA some 18 miles away, visibility at that time being
extreme. I wish to emphasize that the survivors of GURKHA owe their lives to
the vigilance of Leading Seaman Wilcocks.
3. On arrival in the vicinity of GURKHA she had a heavy list
and was on fire aft. I decided that towing was quite out of the question and
proceeded to hoist out the cutter and lower two whalers which
were mainly responsible for the rescue of GURKHA's
4. Wind, Force 5 – 6, and sea (31 – Douglas
scale) made the process of transferring GURKHA's
Ship's Company a lengthy operation and I regret to report that GURKHA sank
before the completion of this operation, which act was largely responsible for
15 lives being lost. Some of these were actually lost alongside
AURORA which again draws attention to the fact that lines
thrown to men in the water must have a bowline already tied in them.
5. I should like to stat that the discipline and steadiness
of GURKHA's Ship's Company right up to the last when
the ship sank vertically by the stern, was in accordance with the best
traditions of the service and reflects great credit on the Captain, Officers,
and Men concerned.
Track Chart (to Commander in Chief, only)
Rear Admiral (D) Home Fleet 11 April 1940)
Received S.1 (Tele. 1735 hours –
To: C.in C. Mediterrean 927.
C.in C. East Indies 900
C.in C. China 849. C.in C. South Atlantic 933
C.in C. America and West Indies 668. F.O.C.
North Atlantic 716
R.A. South America Division 508. F.O.
Narvik, R.A. 3 601.
C.in C. Portsmouth 569. C.in C.
Nore 971. C.in C. Western Approaches 51.
C.in C. Rosyth 808. V.A. Dover 723. A.C.O.S. 147
Melbourne 767. N.O. Wellington 361. N.S. H.Q. Ottawa 950
C.in C. Home Fleet 769.
The following is a summary of the experience so far as it
can at present be ascertained, against aircraft during three weeks off the
Norwegian coast. Technical improvements are in hand, but there is wide
recognition of the imperative need to make the best use of the experience of
those who had had to conduct operations and meet strong and persistent air
attacks, for it is only by this means that our present equipment can be used to
the best advantage.
2. It has been necessary to operate ships within easy reach
of enemy shore based aircraft working from Stavanger, Oslo, and from Danish
aerodromes. Ships have been constantly bombed at sea,
also when approaching the Trondheim area with convoys and whilst in the fiords
where anti aircraft ships, destroyers and sloops have had to remain for A/A
protection of the bases. No base could be established for operating own shore
based aircraft in support.
3. It is difficult yet to estimate the scale of attack but
it appears that between 9th April and 3rd May well over
1400 shots were made at ships, many of which were sticks of bombs. It is
estimated by the Air Ministry that the enemy used 470 Long Range Bombers and 40
Dive Bombers of which approximately 300 long range
bombers and all the Dive bombers were used against the Fleet, convoys and ships
in the fiords. The initial landings in the Trondheim area were affected without
interference from the air and it has to be recalled that enemy did not usually
fly over the areas concerned before 0500 or after 2100, apparently because the
aerodromes available were unsuitable for night flying.
4. As a result of this air effort the Allied suffered the
four destroyers and one sloop, of which two destroyers were sunk whilst
escorting convoys returning from the evacuation. One of the destroyers was sunk
at Narvik. Ten trawlers were also lost, nearly all
beached as a result of near misses.
Damaged, two cruisers, three destroyers, two sloops, nearly all in inshore operations.
has been minor damage to RODNEY by a direct hit and to other ships by near
F.A.A. lost about 18 aircraft, but fortunately many of the crews are accounted for.
transports were appreciably damaged at sea or in the Norwegian bases.
5. During the same period the gunfire of the Fleet destroyed
at least 30 enemy aircraft at sea or near the bases whilst the F.A.A. show down
at least 9 aircraft and destroyed 8 on the ground.
6. Generally speaking when an A/A ship or sloop was able to
cover the base the enemy flew high, concentrated on the warship and the
intensity of the attack on the base was reduced. The more serious damage to the
bases was done in each case when no A/A ship was present.
At sea the enemy has shown marked preference to attack ships
with the weaker A.A. armament.
7. As a result of attacks on ships at sea it appears that
about 75% of the hits and near misses have been from dive
bombers and that about 75% of these were unfired at mainly due to
surprise gained by cloud or sun or to attention being directed to other
8. Before 3rd May when returning from the
evacuation dive bombing was generally shallow and at about 35 degrees and the
enemy rarely attempted to synchronize attacks, usually attacking independently
using clouds and sun to screen approach. On 3rd May steep dive
bombing at 65 degrees by about 30 JU 87 (b) was experienced. AFRIDI and BISON
were damaged by these attacks which seem to have
developed as soon as Trondheim aerodrome became available for these shorter
range aircraft after damage done by the F.A.A. attacks which delayed its use
during a vital period. On this day the attacks were greater in strength and
consequently appeared more concerted.
9. It appears that enemy aircraft wait about overhead where
they are impossible targets for destroyers and difficult for any ship. Steps
are being taken to strengthen the short range armament
of destroyers who have to operate within the range of dive bombers. It is to be
recalled however that except for special aircraft for steep dive bombing and
level bombing from considerable heights enemy aircraft must come within the
envelope of a 40 degree gun when approaching for an
10. In High Level attacks enemy generally turn away when
fired at and may repeat this procedure 10 or 20 times, apparently hoping to gain
an unfired at approach. This results in great expenditure of A/A ammunition an
the only answer is to place the first salvo so close to him that he dare not
repeat the procedure. Experience indicates that if this result can be obtained
the enemy takes an early chance to complete his bombing run, or unloads his
bombers harmlessly at once, or sheers off to attack a less menacing target. There
is general agreement that our material and training can produce such a result,
and that it can only be ensured by frequently testing height finders and
practicing control personnel against aircraft; careful attention to the
ballistic adjustment for wear of guns and other factors being also essential. Accuracy
of fire has often been greatly improved by occasional flank marking reports.
11. A four cornered ship like VALIANT, RENOWN, or ARK ROYAL
is particularly disliked because of her ability to watch simultaneously the
more dangerous directions of approach and the consequent rapidity with which
the enemy can be engaged by weapons whose shell burst he can see.
12. Against Dive Bombers, it is essential, with our present
equipment, to fire immediately even if only with approximate accuracy, because
the enemy is inclined to pull out early and thus reduce his accuracy. When cloud
and sun conditions favour dive bombing it is
therefore of first importance, that in addition to using short range weapons to
the best advantage all ships should try to emulate the four cornered ship and
develop the ability to fire rounds bursting ahead of the enemy within, say 5
degrees or 10 degrees, immediately he appears in the dive. Enemy aircraft
except the JU 87 (b) have generally tried to attack within about 30 degrees of
the fore and aft line in a dive of about 30 degrees.
The above remarks also apply to low level bombing (2 to 3000
feet) in conditions where surprise can be effected.
13. Experience confirms that where practicable the course
and speed should be shaped to favour development of
gunfire and so that the related wind is high and if possible across the
probable direction of the dive. It follows that if a ship is stopped she is a
more favourable target for dive
14. It is a frequent experience that on the first occasion
of being bombed, particularly if a heavy attack, excitement causes a loss of
accuracy, reduction of fire discipline and wastage of ammunition. If this
likely result is widely known its effect may well be reduced.
15. Although some attacks have been well pressed home this
has not so far been the case generally, neither have they usually been
synchronized. To prevent such development by the enemy particular attention is
necessary to the points referred to in paragraphs 10 to 14.
16. R/DF which has already given valuable warning at sea
should go far to militate against surprise when fitted generally, and other
developments should contribute much to effective long and short range A/A fire.
Meanwhile it has to be recalled that on the Norwegian coast ships have been
working at great disadvantage, in most arduous conditions where fatigue has
been a serious factor and after a period when it has been particularly
difficult to afford facilities for practices.
D. of Plans
D.D. Plans Ops
F.O. 6 Sigs
F.O. 7 (Action) A.I.1
F.O. 2.b (3)