Saturday, April 10, 2010

First Battle of Narvik -- British Audacity on display

The First Battle of Narvik was fought 70 years ago today, although it's somewhat of a misnomer to call it the First Battle of Narvik, as the day before the Norwegians had fought a one-sided battle against the invading German force.

That said, the engagement on April 10 went down in history as the First Battle of Narvik.

Simply said, it involved a squadron of five British H-class destroyers that sailed up the long fjord that leads to Narvik and they attacked the 10 German destroyers in and around the port. They sank two of them and damaged several others and completely disrupted the German force so that the entire group was trapped in the fjord and eventually destroyed.

The odds were even more lopsided than they might appear at first glance, as all 10 German destroyers were considerably larger than the British ones and more heavily armed. The British DDs had 4 guns of just 4.7-inch size while the German DDs had five guns that were 5-inch in size.

But the ensuing action was a perfect illustration of the edge the Royal Navy has had over most of its opponents for several centuries. The British reaction to the German landing was to act quickly and decisively. The five British destroyers steamed into the teeth of the enemy and attacked! This audacious move was obviously unexpected by the Germans and they were caught out of position with two ships refueling and the others laying about here and there.

When it was all over two Germans destroyers were sunk and four were damaged badly enough to be unseaworthy. This cost the British two destroyers sunk and one damaged. The British could afford the loss of a couple of destroyers. Eventually all 10 German destroyers were lost, which represented about half of their entire destroyer fleet at the time. This led to a shortage of these key escorts for future operations.

Narvik would prove to be a harbinger of many similar episodes during the war where inferior British forces would face down superior enemy forces. Many times they would win the fight, but even their defeats would often leave their enemies intimidated and settling for less than they should have accomplished given the resources available.

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