The 1940 Norway Campaign

History: Key Aspects
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The sinking of Pembroke Coast
The sinking of Pembroke Coast
Rear Admiral John Adams

These journal entries were made by John Adams when serving as Sub Lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Walker during the Norwegian campaign of 1940. It will be understood, and Admiral Adams would like to stress, that his diary is that of a young man in the midst of events, rumours and instant impressions yet to be fully considered.

HMS Walker At Sea, Clyde

Sat 13 April, 1940

Well things have been happening! After a couple of days in Gladstone Dock we sailed at six in the morning to the Clyde to escort the new cruiser Fijion her travels. We were in company with Wanderer. The same day Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Terrific sea and air battles and the Germans lose the Gneisenau

Wed 24 April, 1940

Still at sea! We had a couple of days in harbour and left at 9am on Wednesday 17 to rendezvous with Glorious (Aircraft Carrier) off the NW of Ireland. This we did and got her into the Clyde by 7pm on 18. We then started coming home but we stopped to stand over a buoyed contact for 24 hours. We couldn't find anything there however. Then we were sent off to the north of the Isle of Man to chase a submarine which had been sighted. This also we never saw. Eventually returned to the oiler in the Mersey at 10pm Saturday night. We got into the lock on Sunday morning to enter Gladstone, when we were told to escort an ammunition ship to Scapa Flow. We arrived there on the morning of the 23rd - Tuesday.

I have never seen so many warships there - literally hundreds! Including French, British, Pole and Norwegians - our new Allies!

April 1940

On shore there are so many anti-aircraft batteries etc that I lost count. Truly a reassuring sight. An air raid warning was in force while we were there. What wasn’t so good was the Suffolk (10,000 ton cruiser) on the mud. The Germans had bombed her off Narvik and had got a direct hit, exploding in the after engine room; she was bombed for eight hours before she was hit. 28 were killed and her side blown open. It's a miracle she can get back to port. We oiled there and then having anchored for about half an hour, sailed for Sullom Voe in the Shetlands to escort a liner back to the Clyde.

Evacuation - skies over the fleet
Evacuation - skies over the fleet
Evacuation - disembarking at Bødo
Evacuation - disembarking at Bødo

29 April

Fierce fighting. I hope and I think we ought to drive the Germans out of Norway pretty quickly.

On 28th Warspite came in from Narvik where she had beaten up and sunk 7 German destroyers. Hardy's survivors were also landed. At 1800 we left in panic for Scapa Flow with Wanderer, Westcott, Antelope and Ardent after our sailing orders had been altered twice.

We arrived on 29th and sailed an hour afterwards with Galatea and Arethusa, Westcott and Wanderer for the Norwegian coast.

30 April, 1940Tuesday

We met Sheffield, Southampton, 3 Tribals and a passenger ship at 15.00 on a lovely fine day and entered Romsdals Fjord at 19.00 at action stations to evacuate troops from Andalsnes expecting German planes to blow us sky high at any moment. We don't seem to be doing so well in Norway!

We went in amongst the high mountains (one was 5,700 feet) all covered in snow and several fishermen and their wives watching us from the shore. It wasn't dark till 23.00, but we saw no German planes. Two trawlers were aground in various places, Andalsnes itself was in indescribable ruins. Not a wall standing and fires everywhere. The German Air Force certainly knew their stuff.

Galatea went alongside a ruined jetty and we went outside of her and 578 troops were pushed into us. They were in a completely demoralised state and had been machine gunned and bombed the whole day by 3 Heinkels who had come all the way from Hamburg! They hadn't seen many German troops, but lots of parachutists, with light tanks, bicycles and field artillery in pieces! We took these men to the Southampton and then went back again for more, but there were hardly any left. There were only 120 men from 1200 of the Sherwood Foresters, and they had only been ashore a week!

Several of the cruisers took troops - but not many. We had the biggest load, and then all retired. In the meanwhile Wanderer had gone aground and a tribal just managed to tow her off. Westcott and ourselves stayed behind to pick up 150 Royal Marines who were waiting on a lonely beach to be embarked. This we had to do in boats which was a long task and just got them off by 03.00 / 1st May when it was just daylight. The German planes were due any moment now!

The Marines had been told to embark at 04.00 but there would have been no-one there at that time if we hadn't found them. Apparently the Germans were having it all their own way. The RMs were fed up at the RAF and told us the following true tale. Glorious flew off 18 Gladiator pilots for patrol round Andalsnes and they landed on a frozen lake.

Next morning over came the Germans and bombed the lake and planes to hell. 7 were left while the RAF men ran for cover and didn't move the planes. They had let their engines freeze up. Next day two crashed taking off so 5 were left. These RMs had to guard, and actually burnt them the same day we picked the troops up. There was no-one to fly them.

Well, we left in a hurry down the fjord - 36 miles to open sea and broad daylight!

We were all standing on the bridge wondering why the Luftwaffe hadn't turned up and the First Lieutenant remarked, "nasty black things, these Heinkels" when rat tat tat came the machine gun fire and we looked aft over the mainmast and there was a German diving at us. One could see the tracer bullets coming at the bridge but the range was too far and they fell into the sea astern.

1 May 1940

Others came in much closer however.

I rushed down to 'B' gun as officer of the quarters there but we never got a round off as it wouldn't elevate enough. How we cursed! The first salvo of bombs fell near Westcott and then our helm jammed. We circled round to port, Wescott just missing our stern and rang down, "Full ahead". Black smoke came out of the funnels and this accounted for Lord Haw Haw's (the German radio propaganda merchant) remark that a destroyer was hit while retiring out of the fjord. The channel was luckily broad at this point, but Westcott got ahead and it was some minutes before we could straighten out and make for the sea. The second lot of bombs fell close astern and then our (?) and X and Y guns did a very creditable shoot which made him sheer away.

Near the entrance another one attacked from ahead and I could see the bombs coming the whole way. At first I thought it was going to be a hit, but they landed abrest the bridge about half the ships length away (40 yards)

They didn't molest us after this and we were soon in the open sea. The cruisers were being attacked and we could see their shells bursting up in the sky, though it was too far away to see the planes or ships.

We joined the cruisers about noon and made for Scapa then a signal came through that Southampton, Westcott and ourselves were to go to Sullom Voe where we arrived at 2000 and transferred all the troops to Westcott. She then sailed for Scapa, while we sailed off for another Andalsnes party, the Southampton already having gone on ahead. However, the final embarkation of the same night was successful and at 05.00 on 2nd May (Thursday) we were told we weren't wanted on Thursday night and so we returned to Scapa by 20.00

Embarking Irish Guards at Harstad
Embarking Irish Guards at Harstad
HMS Walker disembarking Irish Guards at Bødo
HMS Walker disembarking Irish Guards at Bødo

Thursday 16 May

I had a very good leave and was very annoyed when the time came to drive back on Friday evening.

On my return I found the 1st Lieutenant had left and S/L Graham arrived in his place. We now have a Sub Lieut! The same day Chamberlain resigned and Churchill became Prime Minister with a united national cabinet. We sailed at 0800 on Saturday morning with a new motorboat and a cut down main mast. Arrived at Greenock at 8pm and found lots of transports etc, besides two aircraft carriers and the funnels of the French destroyer just showing above the water, where she had sunk after one of her warheads had gone up. We spent the night here.

The sinking of Jersey City: The only one we couldn't take.
The sinking of Jersey City: The only one we couldn't take.
Norway May / June 1940. Racing through the Narrows, always a bad place to meet bombers.
Norway May / June 1940. Racing through the Narrows, always a bad place to meet bombers.

Sunday 12 May

We sailed at 0800 with about 10 ships for Narvik, full of lorries, ammunition and guns. Since then we have been seaming steadily northwards and we are now (16th) almost in the Arctic Circle. We expect to arrive tomorrow night.

Meanwhile in Europe, events have been happening so quickly that it is almost impossible to put them down on paper. The Germans invaded Holland and Belgium on Monday 13 (I think) and in two days lost 250 aeroplanes. By Wednesday 15th, Holland's army laid down their arms after having a quarter of their army (400,000) killed mostly by Goering's bombers. Parachute troops played an important part. Belgium is still holding out and French and English battle troops are engaged in a terrific battle which is still going on at the moment.

We have been evacuating troops from The Hook -all same Andalsnes! And several ships have been badly damaged by bombs. Valentine has been breached on the Dutch coast.

The Germans have lost 30 merchantmen in Dutch colonial hands and we have gained the Dutch and Belgian navies. Quite a big help.

But as I say, events are moving so rapidly that one can't keep apace with them. Italy is due to 'declare' war on us at any moment. Switzerland, Greece and Turkey, everyone is mobilising!

We got to Haarstad (about 20 miles across the fjord from Narvik) at 0700 on Sunday 19 May with half the convoy. It was very difficult to find anywhere to anchor, the fjord being so deep.

This took us an hour and a half and eventually anchored in 80f.

We oiled during the day and at 1930 went alongside to embark two companies of the South Wales Borderers to take them back to Bodø (150 miles away down the coast) while they were coming in, I went and cooked at Eskimo, a tribal class destroyer who had had her bars blown off by a torpedo. She was an ugly mess. 20 feet away was a British FAA plane which had been shot down by the Germans. An Irish Guards lieutenant, with whom I got talking, told me of the incredible inefficiency of the British organisation - no anything and nothing to do except get bombed day and night; everyone everywhere was crying out for fighter aircraft with which to compete with the Germans bombers.

Another Tribal was sunk by a bomb yesterday just off Haarstad. The Somali Effingham, a cruiser hit a rock at 20 knts and sank the same day just off Bodø. We're not winning this war at the moment and the news in France is bad - Germans coming through everywhere. The troops we took had already had two attempts to get Bodø. The first time their transport, a Polish liner, was bombed and sank. The Poles behaved very badly - rowed away in two lifeboats and left it to the Irish Guards to lower the others. Two days later they again went down in the Effingham and now they are trying the Firedrake.

That was the first day since the war in Norway that there wasn't an air raid in Haarstad!

map of sea patrols
Map of sea patrols

20 May, 1940

we got badly delayed by fog and managed to land the troops at 0600 / 20 May. As we were leaving the air raid sirens went and over came a Heinkel. He didn't bother us, however, and we didn’t pot at him though the temptation was strong. However the guns couldn't have elevated high enough!

Now we're on our way back to Haarstad with dispatches from the Colonel at Bodø.

Well, coming through the Narrows (very narrow fjord between Bodø and Haarstad) a huge Junkers flew over us at 10,000 feet and made a high level bombing attack at us. He dropped either 4 bombs in a cluster or one 1100 lbs one. It made a loud whistling noise and there was a terrific explosion about 100 yards on our starboard quarter. We couldn't shoot at him and we all flung ourselves on our faces as it hit the water. Splinters came in at the ship all around, but no-one was hurt. I tried to get to bed three times in the afternoon and evening and each time the alarm bells rang and German planes came over. We were by this time carrying out an A/S sweep at the entrance to the fjord.

During the evening 14 planes attacked Haarstad - we could see them - and made a direct hit on an oil fuel tank which went up in flames and made a huge pillar of smoke which went right across the sky. 2 ships, one was one of our convoy, were set on fire alongside the tanks. (12 planes were shot down)

21st May, 1940

We entered harbour from patrol at 0300 / 21st and secured alongside the oiler after 2 hours. She was moving herself from the proximity of the fire, in case the petrol tank blew up. Anchored one and a half hours later and so I got 3 hours sleep that night.

At 0800 hours there seemed a danger of the burning ships drifting down on the town so we were ordered to sink them by gunfire using practice projectiles. These made no impression! Then we thought we'd try and take a wire to them and tow them off but, as usual in the Navy, everyone got panicky and countermanded everyone else's orders. Then they broke loose and went down on the town. 2 trawlers got hold of them and pulled them off and then we had a shot at towing but of course the tow parted. Eventually Aurora sank her with an 8" H.E. shell, and then sank the other one outside. At 1200 we went alongside the jetty and embarked more Irish Guards for Bodø and landed the there at 0030 / 22nd May after dense fog. They told us that the German plane which sank the Polish liner had British markings and the correct two star recognition signal!

On the way back, a German seaplane had a good look at us, but we were too tired to bother about him.

5 Gladiator (fighters) have now arrived but 200,000 gallons of their petrol went up yesterday in one of the ships!

Arrived at 1430, oiled, and left in a panic as another German came over. He was, however, pursued by 2 Gladiators. The ships company's nerves are in a terrible state.

We are now on A/S patrol at the entrance to the fjord again. At 2000 returned to convoy some ships out. A Heinkel attacked us and dropped a bomb at the ship ahead. My guns were quite taken by surprise, these being low lying clouds and didn't fire a shot. We got the ships to sea and returned at 1130 / 23rd May.

Norway May / June 1940: After a raid on Harstad.
Norway May / June 1940: After a raid on Harstad.
Norway May / June 1940: Narvik on and under fire.
Norway May / June 1940: Narvik on and under fire.

23rd May, 1940

Were ordered to Narvik to relieve Fame she was being bombed as we came up to her. Firedrake was just missed by a German shore battery at Narvik at Narvik and is full of splinter holes.

Patrol is up and down off Narvik and we spent most of our time being bombed. One landed in the water about 10 feet off, abrest the funnel and almost lifted the ship out of the water. It blew all the lighting off the dynamos and I later found my ship's office in terrible chaos. About 5 others were dropped at us, and two at Firedrake. The near miss was a dive bombing attack out of the sun. I heard him but couldn't see him till too late.

There were German planes around us the whole time we were at Narvik.

Where are our fighters?!

The Germans have captured Boulogne and raided Yorkshire and Kent. Lots of Fascists have been arrested. The Government have made a bill turning everyone's property over to the state.

Graham and I were on Watch and we were Completely speechless Shook us both

 
 

We went down to Bahoy at 2300 / 23rd and relieved Delight who relieved Firedrake at Narvik.
Planes were coming over all the middle (I should state here that it is daylight for 24 hours out of 24, the sun sets at 23.00 and rises before 01.00!) and at 03.00 / 24 a Heinkel came very low and close apparently in difficulties and we think she crashed just over the hills. For some time she was coming straight at us, only some 40 feet up.

At 06.00 while I was asleep, 4 Junkers bombed us and I was awoken by the crash of the explosion.

map of sea convoy
Map of sea convoy

24 May, 1940

All we can do is go full ahead and zigzag frantically. Our guns are no use. The forenoon and the afternoon were reasonably quiet, while from 18.00 till 20.00 we were attacked continuously, low clouds at first making it very difficult to spot them.

9 bombs were dropped at us, a salvo of three straddled us. One about 10 feet on port beam, abrest B gun - where I was! and failed to explode otherwise I wouldn't be here to tell the tale. In two cases, including the latter, I could see the plane release the bombs and follow them the whole way down. It's a most ghastly sensation! The salvo of 3 looked like a hit the whole way down, while others one could tell were a miss straightaway. All these attacks were high level bombing.

I must say I would rather be on land for a raid than in a ship with practically no AA defence. One feels so naked and exposed on the upper deck and unable to dodge, and also one knows that the plane is attacking you which you don’t get on land. One or two planes over during the night.

25 May 1940

It is now 1000 / Saturday 25 May. Planes started coming over at 11.30 and at 12.30 the first salvo came down. In the next 3/4 of an hour 33 bombs were dropped on us. I was on watch frantically altering course every 30 seconds and doing 22 knots. They were all high level attacks and we could do absolutely nothing against it. There was no-one else to help us - that is, to have a pot at them and by the time 1600 came I was completely exhausted. Clean blue sky and dazzling sun made it so difficult to see them that several times the first thing we knew was the rising whistle of the bombs as they came down. Several were unpleasantly close and splinters came on the bridge.

We were relieved at 1700 by Whirlwind and dashed back to fuel. Just as we had secured an air raid warning went and we had to push off again. 40 minutes later we secured again, again an air raid warning went just as we left the oiler, out of the sun came a diving Heinkel, straight at one of our store ships, which had already hit this morning and was aground. Everyone opened fire, but he came roaring down. I could see it wasn't at us, and for the first time took a real interest in the attack! The bombs fell just to the left of the ship and the plane had got away unhurt. However, two were brought down this morning by the Gladiator.

We secured the third time without incident and got 12 bags of mail on board, ammunition and meat.

Norway: Unloading (at least transferring troops baggage onto Lancastria
Norway: Unloading (at least transferring troops baggage onto Lancastria
Sinking of the Jersey City
Sinking of the Jersey City

Sunday 26 May, 1940

At 0130 / 26 May we pushed off on B Patrol. During the afternoon a heavy raid took place of Haarstad and the first thing we knew were bombs raining down ahead of us. Again the dazzling blue sky!

Heavy AA gun fire all evening.

Were attacked 20/30 again when a Heinkel came out of the newly formed clouds, machine gunned us and dropped 10 bombs on port side.

Returned to Haarstad at 0600, found our last oiler sinking as a result of bombing, went alongside another which had none left. We had to leave the third in a hurry because of an air raid and returned in half an hours time.

Left at 0915 with flag officer. Narvik's SOO took orders to various ships and dropped SOO off. French territory at Narvik. Attack on Narvik starts tonight. Picked up SOO again and put him in Cairo off Baroy.

At 2300 we had all assembled off Narvik and started bombarding. French 75s were firing over our heads and the scream and zip as they went over were most 'exhilerating'!

28 May 1940

Knocked down entrances to railway tunnels and various other length. German paratroops on train in tunnel with UK merchant - men gun on track. Troops landed in ALC and MLC in front of us. Intense machine gun fire. Carried on bombarding until about 1400/ 28th Tuesday. Hurricanes and Gladiators overhead to keep off the bombers.

At 0410 I was wondering where the bombers were and looking overhead saw a Heinkel about to dive bomb the Southampton. I must have been the first to see him - surprise was complete. He missed Southamptonand then they came over in threes and twos for two hours - absolute pandemonium. 8 ships zigzagging like fury, everyone blazing into the sky and almost impossible to see planes. We had 52 bombs dropped on ourselves alone - we were again singled out from the others! Or so it appeared. "where were the fighters?" everyone was wailing - God knows where they got to.

Wed. 29 May, 1940

At 0700 we left and proceeded half way up various awaiting further events. French tanks got bogged on landing!

1000 Still waiting up Narrows. Attack so far seems fairly successful but short of ammunition and Germans holding up well. At 2400 (10 hours ago) 5 seaplanes reported nearby. Probably laying magnetic mines around the corner!

At noon we left for Haarstad. Found Cairo had been hit at Narvik, 40 injured and had left for Scapa. No sooner had we finished oiling then there was an air raid and a salvo of bombs landed between Coventryand Havelock as they were steaming out of the southern entrance to Haarstad.

All small puffers have to be examined for German troops. At 2200 / 1st returning to Haarstad. Firedrake relieves us.

Sunday 2 June 1940

Fine day spent in Haarstad waiting for air raid! At 1400 Firedrake and Narvik got hell! Fighters overhead at Haarstad all afternoon - except at 1430 when we had an air raid and had to rush out of the harbour. Of course, then the fighters were nowhere to be seen!

How we curse these RAF men for their uncanny knack of being in the wrong place at the right moment!

Going to evacuate all Narvik forces starting tomorrow night. I told Mr Short on 10 May that I could only give Narvik another month to hold out!

Evening in harbour, waiting. Clouding over again.

Monday 3 June

took over E Patrol. Fighter shot down 13 planes over Narvik yesterday without loss. Clouding over nicely.

At 2200 went alongside jetty at Haarstad and embarked 500 troops in first stage of evacuation of Narvik: several destroyers doing it. We took our lot out to sea and round the corner and alongside the Lancastria in a heavy swell, knocked the forecastle in a bit and smashed up the starboard wing bridge. Then at 0400 / 4th we then shot back again and got another load at 0800 landing them on the Lancastria by 1300. We got quite a nice manilla from her in exchange for a bottle of rum. Saw our friend the Guards officer!

He then esented the transports out to sea - Lancastria, Monarch of Bermuda and Georgia.

Norway, towing the Pembroke Coast.
Norway, towing the Pembroke Coast.
The sinking of the Jersey City: Transferring the crew from Gloucester City to Walker.
The sinking of the Jersey City: Transferring the crew from Gloucester City to Walker.

Wed 5 June

Came back and carried out A S patrol in Andfjorden to cover Batory, Sobieski and Georgia, embarking troops. Sky still covered in clouds

Fighters appeared about 10 mins later. We are now 160 rounds of SAP short. Oil fuel tanks leaking, rudder out of alignment action - result of recent bombing. We then went on B patrol all Wednesday night and Thursday.

Returned to oil at 0200 / 31st Friday and then left for Rombats fjord, where we'll probably get bombed to blazes.

Mines were laid on Tuesday night and we have to be preceded by a trawler when going through the Narrows. Bodø has been razed to the ground by bombs and the other destroyers are busy evacuating it and bringing what remains of the soldiers back again. What a mess! The last two days have been misty and probably kept the planes away, but now its fine again, worst luck!

Big German plane down near Haarstad, Whirlwind brought in the prisoners last night.

3 destroyers sunk off Dunkerque which is being evacuated by Allies.

Average for the last week of 70 German planes brought down a day by RAF alone. We lose about 20 a day.

Arrived Rombaks about 1300 / 31st Friday and stayed around with Echo who left us at 2100.

At 1700 began a big air raid on Narvik by about 20 planes coming over in threes. We tried to keep out of the way and luckily weren't molested. This went on for about 2 1/2 hours but no fighters appeared! Huge fire started.

French might want us to bombard positions of Germans down east end of Rombaks.

Low mist all Saturday/ 1st June which gave us grand rest from aircraft. Had a talk with naval liaison officer. Machine gun fire now and then from the shore. Norwegians evacuating Narvik now it is in friendly hands again.

Germans have almost reached Boray and Tys fjord German radio says they know we are evacuating but that we will have a hot time on the way back! Went back at midnight to oil at Haarstad.

Thursday 6 June

Left oiler at 0430 and went to rendezvous D2 to pick up RAF and about 300 Alpines Chasseurs, crack French troops, who looked very tough, were very nice and much cleaner than our own troops. Still very cloudy, stops German aircraft, but plenty of Ark Royal's and Glorious' stukas flying around. Hurricanes and Gladiators carrying out patrols over Narvik until Friday midnight.

Put troops on Vindictive (old cadet training ship, converted cruiser, now destroyer store ship) at 1100 then took convoy to sea.

2200 brought back Royal Ulsterman and Monarch, Ormonde and Orousay to rendezvous for more troops. About 10 destroyers employed A/S patrols filling ships up. Carried out A/S patrol and then took ships to sea. Friday morning, convoy all day, Germans winning hands down in France. Armed merchant cruiser 'Carinthia' torpedoed off NW Ireland. Came in to oil at 2100 after trouble with smoke caused by water in our fuel tanks. German planes bombing ships and Narvik all day.

Saturday

Left oiler at 0300/8th