After the first two days of the second World War in Norway, the harbor of Narvik were turned into a ship graveyard. But it wasn’t over yet. The war for the iron ore raged for another two months and half of Hitler’s destroyer fleet were lost in the campaign. Last weekend we dived some of the wrecks remaining in Narvik harbor.
“They came at night”
During the early morning of April 9th 1940, 10 German destroyers entered Ofotfjorden. They had traveled 2000 km through a blizzard and minefields, and prepared to occupy Narvik. The assault was coordinated in both Norway and Denmark. Operation Weserübung should commence at 04.15 and was the world’s first joint operation of land, sea and air forces.
The Swedish iron ore were shipped by train to Narvik for export on massive iron ore carriers. Hitler’s war industry was heavily dependent on a steady supply. The destroyers were filled with 2000 soldiers ready to invade the city.
Narvik was protected by the pride of the Norwegian navy. The battleships “Norge” and “Eidsvold” were dinosaurs compared to the modern German destroyers. The Norwegians refused to surrender and prepared their ships for battle. They were slaughtered. At 04.37, the German flagship «Wilhelm Heidkamp» launched a torpedo towards “Eidsvold». She sunk within seconds. 175 crewmembers were killed. “Norge” opened fire, but was soon hit by torpedoes from “Bernd von Arnim” and she sank within a minute. 101 crewmembers were killed.
German troops were landed in Narvik and the city had no option but to surrender.
“Intend attacking at dawn high water”
The following morning, April 10th, Five british destroyers made it all the way into Narvik harbor undetected. They released their torpedoes, sinking two German destroyers and damaging one. Several iron ore carriers were sunk during the surprise attack. The British destroyers tried to escape, but the German destroyers persecuted the attack force. A heavy battle was fought in Ofotfjorden. Two British destroyers were sunk and several German destroyers were damaged.
The remaining three British destroyers escaped and a heavily reduced German destroyer fleet would soon face its destiny. Outside Vestfjorden, the British navy gathered an armada for the final battle on April 13th.
Scuba diving in Narvik Harbor
We will tell you more about the final battle in a later blog post. Last weekend we visited Narvik to dive on some of the wrecks in the harbor.
The battleships “Norge” and “Eidsvold” were protected and scuba diving was prohibited for many years. From October 2014, divers were allowed to visit them, and WEDIVE.no was one of the first to dive “Norge” after the dive sites were opened up. You can see a video from the dive here:
While “Eidsvold” is said to just be pieces of metal scattered on the sea bed, the wreck of “Norge” is far more interesting. She rests on her starboard side with a maximum depth of 29 meters. Because she is located close to the iron ore export facilities, she is not allowed to be permanently marked with a buoy. The gigantic canons are lying face down in the mud, and the wooden deck is in remarkably good shape. The visibility is unfortunately often very bad due to tug boat operations.
Three destroyers in one dive
The three German destroyers «Wilhelm Heidkamp», «Dieter von Roeder» and «Anton Schmitt» were all sunk or heavily damaged during the surprise attack on April 10th. After the war, they were raised from the sea bed and moved just outside the harbor. Today you can visit the three destroyers in one dive. The maximum depth is 28 meters. The sharp bow of «Wilhelm Heidkamp» and the command bridge of «Anton Schmitt» are our personal favorite photo motives.
The iron ore carriers
Several iron ore carriers were removed from the harbor after the war, but four of them remain today. These are gigantic ships with enormous cargo holes. We dived the «Neuenfels» which is the longest with her 143 meters. She is a fantastic playground with a maximum depth of 24 meters. Most of her superstructure was removed in order not to interfere with the ship traffic.
We would like to thank Ole-Magnus Utnes and Kim Johansson from the local diving club for organizing the wreck-weekend. Great job guys!