The Allies Hit Back - And Hit Hard!
Written on the morning of April 11, when the struggle for Norway's possession was still raging furiously, this article gives an impression of what was known, reported, rumoured, or surmised, concerning what was already recognised as being the greatest sea and air battle of the war. In the afternoon of the same day Mr. Churchill declared "German ships in the Kattegat and Skagerrak will be sunk".
Hitler and his Nazis were reported to be in a mood of almost hysterical optimism. Had not their High Command just announced the military occupation of Denmark and the landing of German troops at a number of points on the Norwegian coast between Oslo and Narvik – an operation which they vaunted was without parallel in the history of naval warfare? On the night of Tuesday, April 9, the German people went to bed with happy hearts.
On the next day the tale of Nazi victory was told again and again by the Berlin wireless. There was a glowing account of an "annihilating defeat" inflicted on the British naval forces and transport ships; "practically all the enemy warships have suffered direct hits from bombs", and "the further occupation of Norway is proceeding rapidly and according to plan".
But as the day wore on it became more and more apparent that the Nazi expedition to Norway was a gamble – and a desperate one. First there came the report of a determined attack by British destroyers on a flotilla of German destroyers in Narvik fjord. The British Admiralty confirmed the fact that the Navy had lost two destroyers, the "Hunter" and "Hardy", but when the British forces withdrew they left behind them one German destroyer torpedoed and believed sunk, three hit and in flames, six cargo boats sent to the bottom, while as they emerged from the fjord they blew up the ammunition ship "Ravensfeld".
Shortly afterwards the Germans themselves admitted that two of their small force of cruisers had been sunk – the "Bluecher", which hit a barrier laid by the Norwegians in Oslo Fjord and struck several mines, and the "Karlsruhe", sunk by coastal batteries off Kristiansand. Ere long there came news of a vigorous stand by the Norwegian land forces to the north of Oslo, and there were accounts of air battles fought in the Norwegian skies. Then the names of Bergen (where the R.A.F. had bombed the German ships) and Trondheim came back into the news. The Germans, all the world knew, were occupying the ports, but what all the world, save perhaps the Germans, realized, too, was that moving steadily up the fjords were forces – large or small, no one could say – of the Allies.
The cables were loaded with stories of Allied attacks on those little pockets of Nazis dotted along the Norwegian coast. Something was happening, too, in Oslo, for there were reports from Sweden of British ships moving up the fjord supported by the still unsilenced Norwegian coastal batteries. Some of these rumours were disposed of by Mr. Churchill on April 11 when he stated that no Norwegian ports had then been re-occupied by the Allies, but the Faroe Islands were, in fact, occupied and the protection of Iceland was considered.
The newspapers had declared that naval operations in the Skagerrak would be impossible, but on the afternoon of April 10 Britain's Navy showed not for the first time that the world impossible was not in its vocabulary. There came stirring accounts of naval action in a storm-tossed Skagerrak; they heard of four – or was it six? – German cruisers sent to the bottom, of an intrepid attack by Allied destroyers on a convoy of Nazi troopships, of the Swedish shores littered with German dead, of houses in Denmark being shaken to their foundations by the roar of the guns. All through the night the battle went on, and with the coming of dawn the tale of Nazi disaster grew ever longer. The fog of war was still thick, while above the waters, in and above the battle, roared hundreds of warring 'planes.
The fog was slightly lifted by the First Lord of the Admiralty when he revealed that "Renown" was in action on April 9 with the German battleship "Scharnhorst" and a heavy cruiser of the "Hipper" class. He also disclosed the loss of two further destroyers "Glow-Worm" and "Gurkha" on April 8 and 9 respectively. More news was awaited, but it was clear that sea war was being waged at last on the heaviest scale.