I recently read an article about the first naval battle of Narvik, which took place in April 1940 between British and German ships in Ofotfjord (also called Narvik Fjord) in Norway. I won’t give a detailed blow-by-blow of the battle, but I’ll give you a summary. I also found a map in the public domain, and it even shows some of the shipwrecks.
At the time, Norway was officially neutral, and Narvik was a vital stop on the route Sweden’s iron ore took on its way to Germany. Naturally, the British wanted to deny Germany access to this resource, and Germany wanted to secure it. Germany also wanted to prevent a British blockade similar to what had happened during WWI.
Despite Norway’s official neutrality, the Royal Navy was laying mines in Norwegian waters, and Germany sent a portion of their fleet into Ofotfjord, sunk two of Norway’s warships, landed troops on the ground, and invaded Narvik.
Wary of the Royal Navy, the German Navy planned a quick trip back to more friendly waters, but the Norwegians had managed to sink one of their two tankers, so the refueling took twice as long. While five German destroyers stayed in Narvik harbor, five others hid in other areas of the fjord.
Meanwhile, five Royal Navy destroyers entered Ofotfjord in a snowstorm. They were H-class, thus their names: Hardy, Hunter, Havock, Hotspur, and Hostile. (I love the names, but I also found it easy to be confused by them–I wonder if their opponents had the same problem?) They attacked the German destroyers refueling at Narvik and sunk or damaged several of them.
Here’s where we get into the interesting names, first with the British destroyers, then with the Havock’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander Rafe E. Courage. I wonder if having a skipper with a name like Courage was an automatic boost to morale. (I’m sure sinking a German destroyer also helped in the morale department.)
The British destroyers regrouped and went back for another run at the German ships. But they didn’t know that the there were five additional German destroyers in Ofotfjord, and they were soon caught in a trap.
Though it wasn’t commanded by someone with the last name of Courage, I was impressed with what happened next aboard the Hardy. On the Hardy was Captain Warburton-Lee, the flotilla’s leader. The last orders he gave were to “Keep on engaging the enemy.” Then a German shell struck Hardy’s bridge and killed Warburton-Lee and everyone else on the bridge, with the exception of Lieutenant Geoffrey Stanning. Despite his broken leg, Stanning climbed down a ladder (ouch!) and used the damaged wheel to steer the ship. He was going to ram one of the German destroyers, but when the Hardy took another hit, he decided to beach the ship instead, and was thus able to save most of the crew. Stanning is a hero in my book.
The battle continued on for a while, and in the end, the British had lost two destroyers and one other ship, and the Germans had lost two destroyers and six other ships. There was another naval battle of Narvik a few days later, but that’s a story for another blog post. In the end, Germany occupied Norway for the remainder of the war. In fact, I read recently that as late as May 1945—after Hitler’s death—a few Nazi generals (Keitel and Jodl) had plans to flee to Norway and continue the fight there. Fortunately, they didn’t make it.
Keeping with the interesting names theme, I have a character with the last name of Weiss who appears in Espionage and in Sworn Enemy. It means “white,” but if you pronounce it in German, it sounds like “vice,” as in something bad. Or as in something that could be used to torture someone. Both fit the character. In Sworn Enemy, he’s promoted to Rottenführer Weiss. I couldn’t resist giving him a rank that looked like “rotten.”
Names can be interesting: five British destroyers starting with the letter “H,” Commander Courage, and the fictional Rottenführer Weiss. Do you have any examples of names that are almost perfect? Or that are too perfect?
On an unrelated tangent, the finalists for the 2012 Whitney Awards were announced this week, and Espionage is one of the historical fiction finalists. You can find the others at the Whitney Awards website. If you’re looking for a good fiction read, the Whitney lists are a good place to start—find your favorite genre and read away!