This was the German landing at Narvik on the north-west coast of Norway within ‘Weserübung’ (9 April 1940).
During this difficult undertaking, Kommodore Friedrich Bonte’s Gruppe I (battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and 10 destroyers, each of the latter carrying 200 mountain troops) reached Narvik with 2,000 men the 139th Gebirgsjägerregiment of Generalleutnant Eduard Dietl’s 3rd Gebirgsdivision earmarked for the capture and occupation of Narvik. This was the Norwegian end of the rail line used to transport iron ore from the mines of northern Sweden.
The destroyers were Georg Thiele of Fregattenkapitän Fritz Berger’s 1st Zerstörer-Flottille, Wolfgang Zenker, Bernd von Arnim, Erich Giese and Erich Koellner of Fregattenkapitän Erich Bey’s 2nd Zerstörer-Flottille, and Diether von Roeder, Hans Lüdemann, Hermann Künne, Wilhelm Heidkamp (Gruppe I flag) and Anton Schmitt of Fregattenkapitän Hans-Joachim Gadow’s 3rd Zerstörer-Flottille, which had departed from Bremerhaven on 6 April.
Support equipment for the landed troops and warships was embarked in the 7,569-ton freighter Bärenfels loaded with army equipment, guns, and ammunition, but this ship was diverted to Bergen and later sunk by air attack; the 8,460-ton freighter Rauenfels loaded with army equipment, guns, and ammunition, but sunk by the British destroyers Havock and Hostile while entering the Ofotfjord; the 8,514-ton cargo liner Alster loaded with motor transport and military stores, but captured by British warships near Bodø; the 11,776-ton tanker Jan Wellem which reached Narvik; and the 6,031-ton tanker Kattegat which was scuttled by her crew after being stopped by the Norwegian patrol boat Nordkapp during the early morning of 9 April.
The Gruppe I destroyers passed the Vestfjord and reached the Ofotfjord, leading to Narvik, in conditions of fog and heavy snow. In the Ofotfjord they captured the Norwegian patrol boats Senja, Michael Sars and Kelt.
The destroyers Wolfgang Zenker, Erich Koellner and Hermann Kunne landed their embarked troops in the Herjangsfjord (part of the Ofotfjord) so that they could capture the Norwegian supply base in Elvegaardsmoen. Hans Lüdemann and Hermann Künne also landed their troops in order to engage what were believed to be nearby Norwegian forts, but which did not in fact exist. Diether von Roeder remained in the Ofotfjord in order to ensure German control of the sea, and Erich Giese was delayed by engine trouble and did not join the main force for some time.
Then moving closer to Narvik, the German destroyers were spotted by Norwegian vessels, which promptly reported the sighting and alerted the old coast-defence ships Eidsvold and Norge, which both prepared for action. At about 04.15 the Germans spotted Eidsvold, which immediately signalled the leading German destroyer by lamp. When the Germans failed to respond to the signal, a warning shot was fired across their bow while Eidsvold flew a two-flag signal ordering the destroyer to halt. The Germans had orders to occupy Norway peacefully if at all possible, so the German flag vessel, Wilhelm Heidkamp, stopped and signalled that she would send an officer to negotiate. From a distance of about 220 yards (200 m), a small launch ferried Korvettenkapitän Gerlach to Eidsvold. Gerlach and a signalman were taken to the bridge to speak to Captain Willoch. At the same time, the gun crews of both the 210- and 150-mm (8.27- and 5.91-in) guns of Eidsvold remained trained on the German destroyer at point-blank range. Gerlach tried to convince Willoch that the Germans had arrived as friends and that Willoch should surrender peacefully. Willoch pointed out that he was duty bound to resist, but asked for 10 minutes in which to consider the matter. He used this time to contact his superiors, including the captain of Norge, farther inside the fjord, informing them of his intent to engage the German forces.
In the meantime, a second German destroyer crossed behind Eidsvold and took position 765 yards (700 m) from the vessel, ready to fire her torpedoes. Gerlach tried once again to convince Willoch to surrender, but without success. As Gerlach left Eidsvold, he fired a red flare indicating that the Norwegians intended to fight. At this point Eidsvold turned toward the closer destroyer and increased speed, while the gunnery officer ordered the port battery of three 150-mm (5.91-in) guns to open fire. The Germans, afraid that Eidsvold might ram the destroyer, fired two or four torpedoes from Wilhelm Heidkamp at the old ship. Two or three of the torpedoes hit before the port guns could fire, according to Norwegian sources: one under the after main turret, one amidships and one in the bow. It is likely that the torpedoes ignited one of the magazines, because Eidsvold was blown in two and sank in seconds at about 04.37. Only six of the crew were rescued by the Germans, and 175 died in the freezing water.
Deeper inside the fjord, the explosions were heard by Norge's crew, but nothing could be seen until two German destroyers suddenly appeared out of the darkness and Captain Per Askim of Norge gave orders to open fire at 04.45. Four rounds were fired from the 210-mm (8.27-in) fore and aft guns, as well as seven or eight rounds from the starboard 150-mm (5.91-in) guns, against Bernd von Arnim at a range of about 880 yards (800 m). As a result of the difficult weather conditions, the Norwegian optical gun sights were ineffective: the first salvo fell short of the target and the next ones overshot it. The German destroyers waited until they were alongside the pier before returning fire. Bernd von Arnim opened fire with her 127-mm (5-in) main guns as well as her lighter weapons, but the weather also gave the Germans problems. The destroyer also fired three salvoes each of two torpedoes: the first two salvoes missed, but the last struck Norge amidships and the Norwegian ship sank in less than one minute: 90 of the crew were rescued, but 101 perished in the battle which had lasted less than 20 minutes.
The destruction of Norge signalled the end of Norwegian resistance in the port. The German destroyers were now short of fuel and had only one tanker in support, in the form of Jan Wellem, as Kattegat had been sunk in the Glomfjord during the evening of 9 April: the tanker had been stopped by the Norwegian fishery protection ship Nordkapp, which initially attempted to take the oiler as a prize. The large size of the German crew meant that Nordkapp could not control the oiler all the way to Bodø, however, and finally the Norwegian ship sank Kattegat with four 47-mm rounds fired into the vessel’s water line. Refuelling from just one tanker was difficult and slow, for only two destroyers could be refuelled simultaneously in a process lasting seven to eight hours.