Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, April 19, 2020


In April 1940 the Germans invaded Norway. A few days later the French and British also invaded Norway, until very quickly the Norwegians joined the Allies. However, the Germans were not having as much success as they first anticipated. First the cruiser Blücher got a spanking from a shore battery. A lot of the German's losses were due to the peculiar habit of using larger ships like cruisers as landing craft to deploy infantry into ports. Their thinking may have been influenced by the SMS Schleswig-Holstein, which was moored in Danzig on the opening of the war and was able to provide artillery support to the forces swarming into the city. Another reason for this was possibly down to the utter lack of transports and landing craft available to the Germans.
The Blücher on fire and sinking after being hit in its drive up the Fjords.
Either way, for this reason men of the 69th Infantry Division were crammed aboard a pair of Königsberg class cruisers, the Königsberg and the Köln, as well as a training ship, the Bremse, and several smaller ships. Their target was Bergen. On the morning of the 9th of April 1940, the Königsberg transferred some of the 600 infantry it was carrying to the other ships while they loitered off the Norwegian coast, and then the ships turned inshore for its coup de main landing into Bergen.
The entrance to Bergen was defended by Fort Kvarven, manned by around 300 men, with an average age of 40. The fort itself was constructed in the late 1800’s and was armed with a handful of 8.3in guns.
One of the gun positions at Fort Kvarven
In the early hours the first German ships passed under the fort’s guns, to no reaction. The ships had been mistaken for legitimate transports. As the second packet of Germans, including the Köln attempted to pass, the fort opened fire. However, Köln signalled by lamp to stop firing, to which the fort complied thinking that these were somehow friendly ships.

The training ship Bremse
Then the packet of ships with Königsberg started to pass under the guns. This time the Norwegians opened fire and kept shooting. Two hits were scored on the Bremse, and three hits were scored towards the front of the ship, these caused both fires and flooding in the boiler rooms, and power was lost. Adrift, the Königsberg dropped its anchors to avoid running aground. Then infantry landed by the first waves assaulted the fort and were supported by the firepower of the two cruisers. The Norwegians only had a few old bolt action rifles, and although they did their best the fort was quickly captured. The Königsberg was in need of repair but was unable to return to Germany. She was tied up in Bergen harbour, with her broadside facing the harbour entrance so that should British ships attack she was able to defend herself.

Königsberg before getting mauled by the Norwegians.
750 miles away, across the bitterly cold North Sea lay the Orkney Islands, and RNAS Hatston. Two naval squadrons, 900 and 803 were stationed there to provide fighter cover for Scapa Flow. At 2310 Lieutenant William Lucy was in the ops room when a report from a London flying boat came in confirming that there was a Königsberg class ship tied up in the harbour. Lt Lucy decided to sink it.
He roped in several officers on the base, including the other squadron commander. Lt Lucy proposed that both squadrons would get every available fighter and fly over to Bergen to attack the Königsberg. You might think this madness, what would a lightly armed fighter do to a German warship? However, these are RNAS versions of a fighter, and the RNAS had some very funny ideas on what would make a good fighter aircraft. Thus, the next morning sixteen Skua "fighters" lifted off from RNAS Hatston and set course for Bergen. The Skua was equipped with dive brakes and a bomb cradle that would swing out beyond the propeller disk, and so could be used as a dive bomber. In each bomb cradle there was a 500lb semi-armour piercing bomb.
Swordfish at RNAS Hatston
Both groups had set off roughly together however they seemed to have been separated in the two and half hour flight. Eleven aircraft from 803 Squadron arrived first, and Lt Lucy led them around the city, so they could attack from the rising sun. At 0721, from 8,000 ft, the planes from Blue, Green and Red sections rolled into the 60-degree dive, one after another. By sheer luck 800 Squadron's Yellow and White sections rolled in and lined up on the Königsberg at roughly the same time. The squadron leader in the first of 800's planes reported seeing the last of 803's planes pull out of the attack run as he passed 6,000 ft.
The Blackburn Skua. I've long said that prior to the Buccaneer Blackburn managed to produce the ugliest looking aircraft in the world. The Skua is one of the Lookers in Blackburns collection.
The crew of the Königsberg were taken completely by surprise. No guns were manned, and the crew were not at any state of readiness. Eight of the Skua's had released before the Germans could bring any AA guns into action. Here, as would happen the following month with the Bismark, the Germans electrically powered and controlled AA guns were utterly ineffective. On the Bismark the guns were unable to track slowly enough to keep the Swordfish in their sights, here the need for power to feed the gun was the downfall. Königsberg was still without power. Thus, only one single AA gun was able to fire. The electrically driven feed system had to be hand cranked, it was able to fire one shell every five or so seconds. Even with supporting fire from other ships it was not enough to save the Königsberg. Only one Skua was damaged, and even then, they released their bombs.
Königsberg under dive bomb attack.
Five bombs hit the water all within thirty yards of the stern. The explosions from this had actually raised the stern out of the water. Five more had hit the mole which the Königsberg was tied up too. These had lashed the decks with a rain of shrapnel that would have caused casualties to any crew outside. Two more had landed between the mole and the ship. There was barely a few feet of water here, so it is likely the massive concussion, trapped between the solid mole and the ship’s hull would likely have stove-in the side of the ship, but worse was to come. There were three direct hits, one between the funnels, one on the fore of the ship, and one right down through the A turret. The bombs sliced cleanly though the German ship’s armour, and soon the entire vessel was engulfed in flames, which reached the magazine. Just after 0800 the Königsberg capsized, wracked with internal explosions.

The Skua's all regrouped and began their two and half hour return flight. About ten minutes later, the damaged aircraft suddenly peeled over and made a full power dive straight into the water, the craft instantly vanished in a spray of water, and apart from a couple of pieces of wreckage had sunk without trace. There was nothing the rest of the Skua's could do but keep chugging for home. All other planes reached RNAS Hatston, each almost completely out of fuel. It is claimed that the Königsberg was the first large warship sunk by air attack of the Second World War.

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Image credits:
www.nortfort.ru and www.shipsnostalgia.com