HMS Hardy – Narvik Anniversary
Keep on Engaging the Enemy
HMS Hardy (H87) was the flotilla leader of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla of ‘H’ named ships. The H-class were part of the larger G&H (or sometimes G, H and I) class and represented the penultimate variant of the iterative Interwar Standard destroyers – ships which the British had lain down flotillas of annually from the A’s in 1928 to the I’s in 1936.
HMS Hardy pre-war with neutrality markings on 'B' gun shield. The basic form is similar to the WWI Scott and Shakespeare class 'leaders'
The Interwar Standard destroyers were based on experience with the V&W class of WWI and a pair of experimental designs in the 1920’s. They displaced about 1,350 tons standard, were capable of about 35kt on 32-34,000 SHP, armed with two quad torpedo tubes (with the exception of Glowworm and the I’s) and four single 4.7in guns in superfiring A-B-X-Y positions. Over the decade they were designed and built incremental improvements in guns, fittings, engines and directors were made, but the core design remained largely static.
During WWI the British had typically built some larger destroyers with a 5th gun mount as leaders. These ships would command flotillas of up to 8 ships, and had additional staff facilities to meet the requirements of the Captain (D) in charge and additional signalmen etc. With the Interwar Standards 5-gun leaders were also built to supplement their flotillas, though not for every flotilla, and Hardy was one of those ships.
Hardy was named for Captain, later Admiral Hardy who had been Nelson’s flag captain at Trafalgar. She was lain down in mid-1935 and completed in late 1936, at a cost of £540,000. Before the war Hardy and her flotilla largely served in the Mediterranean, including on non-Intervention patrols off Spain, during which HMS Hunter from her flotilla was mined but survived. After the outbreak of war Hardy, along with two other H’s took part in dreary Atlantic sweeps for the Admiral Graf Spee as part of Force X, alongside the carrier Hermes and two French cruisers. In March 1940 the flotilla transferred to the Home Fleet and in early April the situation in Norway deteriorated, with both the Allies (Operation Wilfred and R4) and Germans (Operation Weserübung) planning to violate Norwegian neutrality to put pressure on the other during the ‘Phony War’ period.
Having sailed from Wesermunde on 6 April 1940, and battled through atrocious weather en route the morning of 8 April saw the German Group I under Kommodore Friedreich Bonte entering the Norwegian Ofotfjord as part of the invasion. Group I comprised 10 destroyers, a single Type 1934, 4 Type 1934A and 5 Type 1936 class ships. These were all large destroyers of about 2,200t standard displacement, each armed with 5x 5in guns and 8x torpedoes. The local defenders were poorly informed and without firm orders and the ancient circa 1900 Norwegian ‘panserships’ or coastal defense ships Eidsvold and Norge were each sunk by torpedoes at close range from Bonte’s flagship Wilhelm Heidkamp and Bernd von Arnim respectively after challenging the intruders. After sweeping aside the defenders without loss the Germans destroyers disembarked the 139th Mountain Infantry Regiment into the town virtually unopposed.
Audacity and transit through abysmal weather conditions had allowed the German Group I to stage a coup de main attack at the strategically vital iron ore port practically unopposed, despite an over 1,000 mile journey. The Royal Navy, had been caught at the commencement of the German attack carrying out mining operations off Norway, misled by poor intelligence and worse interpretation, with Renown and other forces returning to cover the Vestfjord approach to Narvk belatedly responded to the German attack which had captured the capital Oslo and major coastal towns of Bergen and Trondheim.
Having delivered their cargo of seasick infantry the German destroyers found that only a single improvised tanker, the Jan Wellem was available to slowly refuel them. Far too slowly to allow the force to head back to Germany and safety any time soon.
Among the British force at sea off Narvik on 9 April were the destroyers of the 2nd flotilla comprising Hardy and sisters Hotspur, Havock, Hostile and Hunter (Hasty was under repair and Hero and Hyperion were detached supporting minelaying). The flotilla was commanded by Captain (D) Bernard Warburton-Lee, a well-regarded officer who had joined the Royal Navy in 1908 and had made a career largely in destroyers. Unclear on the composition of German forces in Narvik, the Admiralty issued a series of orders to attack the German force, though finally issuing a discretionary one on (incorrectly) determining that the Germans may have captured the Norge and Eidsvold. Local intelligence suggested the German force to be 6 destroyers and a submarine, the fjord was also thought to be mined.
Warburton-Lee decided to attack, and took his flotilla into the Vestfjord and down the Ofotfjord on the evening of 9 April. The small British force passed unmolested by picket 3 U-boats in conditions of terrible visibility with snow reducing view range to under half a mile.
At dawn, the Hardy led the attack into the harbor with total surprise on her side, by sheer coincidence following the Dieter von Roeder in as she ended a patrol, 5 of the German destroyers were in the harbor in various states of stand-down, 2 alongside the tanker. Making a slow port turn the 2nd flotilla’s leader unleashed 7 of her 8 torpedoes and landed a hit on the German flagship, Wilhelm Heidkamp. Kommodore Bonte was killed in the opening moments of the fight as the aft magazines of his flagship exploded. Hunter followed the leader in, hitting Anton Schmitt with gunfire and a torpedo in the forward engine room, with Havock coming third adding a second torpedo hit to Anton Schmitt and disabling Hermann Künne with the shockwaves, while dealing 2 4.7in hits to Hans Lüdemann. The Hostile engaged Diether von Roeder scoring 5 hits and leaving her careering out of control. Further waves of attack added to the chaos, though impact reduced with smoke impairing visibility, at about 0450, the British attack ended.
From 'Attack at Dawn' - Map of the British attack on Narvik harbor. German destroyers are indicated with their initials in black
Of the 5 German destroyers in the harbor Wilhelm Heidkamp and Anton Schmitt were left sunk or in a sinking condition, with Hermann Künne disabled but not badly damaged, Hans Lüdemann moderately damaged and Diether von Roeder badly hit. The merchant ships in the harbor had been savaged by other torpedoes including 8 sunk and others damaged.
In return Hardy had used up a wealth of luck with torpedoes passing directly underneath her bridge, possibly thanks to her low fuel condition and local oceanographic conditions. The 2nd Destroyer Flotilla had expended most torpedoes and thought it may have disabled about 4 destroyers of an assumed 6. Considering job done the British force began to withdraw west back down the Ofotfjord, Hardy in the lead.
Unknown to the British the other 5 German destroyers had been dispersed in the larger area, with 3 destroyers up the Herjangsfjord to the north east of Narvik, and another 2 further west off Ballangen – which had been passed unnoticed by both sides as the Hardy and company made their approach on Narvik itself. As the British withdrew they were engaged in a fighting retreat from the 3 fresh German adversaries coming out of Herjangsfjord. As they retired at 30 knots the 2 destroyers out of Ballangen emerged and ‘crossed the T’ of the British formation, massing 10x 5in guns against the 4x 4.7in bow guns of Hardy and Havock. Hardy was caught looking the other way, singled out for particular attention by the Georg Thiele, and rapidly and repeatedly hit at close range - reducing quickly from about 4,000 to <1,000 yards. Hardy’s last signal at 0556 exhorted her sisters to “keep on engaging the enemy”. Hammer blows smashed the bridge and killed or badly wounded all there, except Lt. (Paymaster) Stanning and fatally wounding Captain Warburton-Lee, while others demolished ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘Q’ gun mounts, the fire control system, interrupted all steam pressure and knocked out electrical power. Lt. Stanning, effectively the Captain’s secretary rather than a ‘seaman officer’ decided to put the ship ashore and this decision was swiftly endorsed by the First Lieutenant, Hardy was run aground on the southern shore, her aft turrets still firing. Her 8th and final torpedo was fired, though without result. When the Y turret was hit and X (No. 4) turret, still shooting in local control ran out of ammunition, Hardy’s crew were ordered to abandon ship, swimming or going ashore in rafts while confidential books were destroyed as quickly as possible. The wounded captain whose last words were “I shall never forget No. 4 gun’s crew” died during transfer ashore in the frigid Arctic waters, but all but 18 of the other crew survived. Wounded and freezing men were helped by the local Norwegian population and evacuated to a local town for medical help.
Diagram of the First Battle of Narvik from Geirr H. Haar's 'The German Attack on Norway'
The rest of the flotilla suffered too. The second ship in line, Hunter was badly hit by both guns and a torpedo, probably from Georg Thiele, lost steering control, collided with Hotspur and sank with heavy loss of life. The damaged Hotspur with 16 men killed, fire control and a boiler out of action was saved by the ferocious intervention of her sisters Hostile and Havock which plunged back into action with the German ships hitting the Bernd von Anim and Hardy’s particular tormentor, Georg Thiele badly in return. The German destroyer force, very short on fuel made a halfhearted pursuit but the raid was largely over. The parting shots were not destroyer on destroyer but rather the British running into the German supply ship Rauenfels as they ran westward and sinking her – depriving the German destroyers of replenishment, and the landed infantry of supplies.
On 13 April, the British sent in a second wave of far heavier forces to finish the job 2nd Destroyer Flotilla and Hardy had started so well. The Hardy survivors, still succored by the local Norwegians had the chance to see the battleship Warspite and 9 fresh destroyers advance up the fjords, en route to finish off the German force, and were rescued later in the day by Kimberly and Ivanhoe.
Captain Warburton-Lee was posthumously awarded the first British Victoria Cross of WWII, though the events that would win Lt. Commander Roope of the Glowworm the award had happened a few days earlier. His counterpart Kommodore Bonte was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.
Captain Warburton-Lee (then a Lt. Commander) Left, and Kommodore Bonte, Right - images from 'The German Attack on Norway'
Hardy’s grounded wreck was lifted off at high tide and drifted eastward to run ashore again before she eventually sank. Her name was revived in one of the V- class War Emergency Program ships – HMS Hardy (R08) which had a brief 6-month career before being sunk by a U-boat in the Arctic in 1944.
The Impact of Narvik
The First Battle of Narvik as Hardy’s first and final battle would be known was materially somewhere between a British victory and a draw. The British and Germans had lost 2 destroyers apiece. The British were ahead on damaged ships with Hotspur badly damaged, while of the German ships 4 were moderately or badly damaged and incapable of any high-speed escape. Merchant ship losses were at this point irrelevant with the ultimate fate of all the merchants to be decided by later combat. The 2nd Flotilla’s parting shot of sinking Rauenfels did usefully deny the Germans much needed resources.
The combat had seriously depleted the German destroyer magazines which according to Navweaps were approximately 120 rounds per gun (British destroyers carried approximately 200). It had also battered the force, killed the excellent Kommodore Bonte and disrupted fueling. Any German breakout to the south, already delayed by logistics was now certainly impossible. When the overwhelming British force descended on Narvik 3 days later to wipe out Group I their job was made much easier by 2nd Flotilla’s sacrifice, engaging a force low on ammunition, fuel and with some ships crippled and immobile.
Warburton-Lee’s decision to attack, despite information of at least a more powerful German force, and potentially a very much more powerful force – and minefields – was almost inevitable for someone of his background, training and courage. The tragedy for Warburton-Lee, Hardy, Hunter and the 140 men killed in the Flotilla was that the opportunity to supplement the H’s with 4 Tribal class destroyers and the light cruiser Penelope was not taken, a combined force of which could have inflicted a more powerful blow with far greater mutual support.
A fanciful propaganda image of Hardy's crew rowing ashore in boats armed to the teeth - the reality was smashed boats, swimming and rafts at best and a desperate effort to survive the frigid temperatures
In World of Warships?
Why not? Hardy would be a relatively easy addition to the game, being effectively a slightly larger Gallant with a 5th gun mount between the funnels. She would be relatively easy to fit in at T6 with perhaps a downgrade to torpedoes in exchange for the better firepower, or stealth and handling.
Geirr H. Haar - The German Invasion of Norway
Cyril Cope - Attack at Dawn
Norman Friedman - British Destroyers, The Early Days to the Second World War
Gerhard Koop and Klaus-Peter Schmolke - German Destroyers of World War II