Death at Dawn

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  • Author:
    Alf R Jacobsen
    This is the story of how the German invasion of Norway came to be, with, as its climax, the 1st Battle of Narvik on 10th April 1940 in which Captain Warburton-Lee in HMS Hardy (he and she lost in the action, he posthumously awarded the first VC of the War), with four other H-class destroyers, in an extraordinary feat of seamanship, sank or crippled six larger and more powerful German equivalents and also took out six merchantmen in what was essentially an attack on the Scandinavian iron ore trade that was feeding the Nazi war machine. In recounting this the author has had access to, amongst many other resources, Warburton-Lee's private letters.

    The preceding political – for instance the pusillanimous refusal of the French to let us get on with the war - and strategic events, back to 1939 and covering the 'Phoney War', are well rehearsed as also is the German sinking of Norway's elderly and obsolete coast-defence battleships and the initial German invasion of Norway, including the Norwegian Government's somewhat muddled deliberations. The Norwegian perspective is important, and perhaps insufficiently stressed in most British accounts. Nobody senior ashore in any of the involved countries comes out of this very well; the order-counterorder-disorder sequence in Britain foretold the shambolic campaign in Norway that was to follow.

    The author is Norwegian and has published on a number of naval subjects relating to Norway in WW2, of which this, now, and his works on the eventual destruction of the Nazi warships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst are also available in English translation.

    The numerous photographs, found like his references from a wide variety of British, German and Norwegian official and personal sources, I found quite fascinating. There is the occasional terminological solecism but this will only be noticed by the naval reader. Otherwise the narrative of a quite complicated web of events is well constructed and easy to follow. The battle narratives are very well told with a good pace. The reader does need to step to the (excellent) track chart on p.115 to best follow the action.

    My only regret from a naval point of view is that the narrative does not continue to 2nd Narvik four days later, in which Warspite and other destroyers avenged the loss of Hardy and finally smashed the remaining German warships. Three U-boats were taken out in these two actions and previously Renown had scored a good hit, in heavy weather, on Gneisnau.

P2000 likes this.

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