Naval History Homepage and Site Search
 
 

BRITISH ADMIRALTY REPORTS of WORLD WAR 2

 

HMS GURKHA - BOMBING ATTACK OF 9 APRIL 1940 AND REPORTS ON SINKING

 

Transcribed by Don Kindell

HMS Gurkha (Photo Ships, click to enlarge)

back to Admiralty War Diaries

 

(for more ship information,  go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search)

 

Norwegian Campaign Operations April to June 1940

 

 

Area of Operations

 


 

 

SECRET

 

Subject: SINKING OF H.M.S. GURKHA

  

From: Commanding Officer, H.M.S. GURKHA

 

Date: 11th April 1940

 

To: Captain (D) Fourth Destroyer Flotilla

 

(copies to:             Secretary of the Admiralty

                                    Commander in Chief, Home Fleet

                                    Vice Admiral Commanding, Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron

                                    Rear Admiral (D), Home Fleet

                                    Commanding Officer, H.M.S. AURORA)

 

When the air attacks on the cruiser and destroyers under Vice Admiral Commanding Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron, started at about 1430 on 9th April 1940, some thirty miles to the West of Kors Fiord, H.M.S. GURKHA was in company with Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, and H.M. Ships SIKH and MOHAWK, two miles on the starboard beam of the cruiser squadron course 025 degrees. Wind force 5 from the Northward. Sea about 32.

 

2. The destroyers broke formation early in the attack and became somewhat separated. GURKHA's courses were adjusted as necessary to bring the guns to bear on enemy aircraft. Control of fire and fighting of guns being very much facilitated when steering down wind. Ground was first made to leeward and later towards the rear of the cruiser squadron for which position Captain (D) Fourth Destroyer was seen to be making.

 

3. At 1507 when about five miles on the quarter of the cruiser squadron, steering 290 degrees, one of the several enemy aircraft then in sight, a four engined bomber, was seen to be approaching on a steady course from the starboard quarter, at about 10,000 feet. Course was altered to bring the aircraft on the beam so that all guns could bear, but after a few rounds were fired the angle of sight became too great for the limited elevation of the 4.7 inch guns. (n.b. this brings up a disputed fact. The only four engine bomber that Germany possessed at that time was the Kondor FW 200, but they were supposedly not in service in Norway for more than another week).

 

4. The target was, however, kept abeam so that the pom-poms were able to bear in the event of the aircraft starting a dive bombing attack. It was soon clear, however, that a high level bombing attack was being made, and the rudder was then put to 'Hard a Starboard' in an attempt to take avoiding action. Speed had been reduced to 15 knots on going into a head wind, so that avoiding action actually taken was small.

 

The policy of giving prior consideration to control of fire was deliberate.

 

Soon after the rudder had been put to 'Hard a Starboard' a 'stick' of six bombs fell on the starboard side abreast the gear room, from about 150 yards to right alongside.

 

5. The gear room quickly filled followed shortly by the engine room, and by the majority of the after compartments. The steering compartment remained intact. What appeared to be an oil fuel fire started in or under the after superstructure, and the ship listed to starboard bringing the upper deck to within about two feet from the waterline amidships, and one foot aft.

 

6. The wireless installation and large signal projectors failed immediately after the explosion, and efforts were made to attract the attention of the remaining destroyers and cruisers with the 6" Aldis lamp, siren, flag signals, and 'Not under control' balls, but without success. GURKHA was about five miles on their quarter and they were busily engaged repelling aircraft.

 

7. During the subsequent five and a half hours that the ship remained afloat the H.A. director, T.S. , foremost guns, and supply parties remained in action in primary control and engaged approaching enemy aircraft on about twelve separate occasions. This fire was sufficient to deter them from making further attacks except one which, like the first, carried out a high level bombing attack at about 10,000 feet. A 'stick' of about six bombers missed ahead by about 200 yards.

 

8. The remainder of the men were employed on placing the collision mat, jettisoning all weighty articles and fittings on the starboard side and high up in the ship, preparing boats and rafts for lowering, preparing to tow forward, and baling out boiler room bilges.

 

Unfortunately, the torpedo tubes were jambed fore and aft so that the torpedoes could not be placed overboard.

 

9. Attempts were made to deal with the fire after, but no fire main pressure being available, and access being impossible, due to dense fumes, the after compartments were battened down. The risk of fire spreading to the after magazines were accepted, it being considered undesirable to surrender further buoyancy by flooding them.

 

10. The technical details of action taken in the engine room and boiler rooms were not available without further enquiry from the ratings concerned. The Engineer Officer reported at the time that the engine room could not be cleared by the main circulators and that the Downton pump could not be usefully employed.

 

After discussion with the Engineer Officer, it was decided to clear the foremost oil fuel tanks on the starboard side (Nos. 1 3) and this was done.

 

11. Meanwhile, Telegraphist rigged jury aerials, provided spare batteries from the fore store, repaired fuses, etc., and about 1600 were able to transmit on 366 kc/S (low power) a message stating that GURKHA was in danger of sinking from bombs, giving her position 60-29 degrees North, 3-20 degrees East (Based on Vice Admiral Commanding Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron's reference position at 1300).

 

No reply was received for some time, but after altering settings and length of aerials, at 1715, AURORA answered saying 'coming to your assistance.'

 

12.  A signal was then made stating GURKHA's position would be indicated by firing H.E. bursts. This was done at about 1830, and the burst were apparently observed by AURORA who was thus able to make contact. She was sighted at about 1855.

 

13. It was, at first, decided to continue preparations for towing forward, while disembarkation of personnel proceeded with AURORA's boats, but as the fire aft developed into a blaze, and the ship was clearly sinking, these preparations were discontinued.

 

14. Boatwork was slow and difficult in the prevailing wind and sea, and only about half the ship's company had been taken off when the ship sank at 2045. The remainder jumped from the forecastle and nearly all were able to swim or paddle in rafts to AURORA who was brought close abreast of them to windward. The accurate placing of AURORA in this position at the correct moment was responsible for the large number of men able to reach her.

 

15. When AURORA was lying to windward of GURKHA while operating boats, GURKHA swung round so that the wind was brought from port to starboard, causing her to right and then list over to port. When finally foundering she listed right over on her port side and then went down stern first, bows vertically in.

 

It is feared that some officers and men remained on the forecastle a few seconds too long and were probably sucked under.

 

16. Ships of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla appeared just after the ship had sunk and assisting in searching for survivors in the failing light. H.M.S. MASHONA picked up six.

 

17. Of the 215 officers and men originally on board 199 were picked up alive; five officers and ten ratings are missing. One rating was picked up dead.

 

The three ratings injured in the original explosion were successfully rescued.

 

18. Confidential and secret books were taken below and stowed at the bottom of the ship before sinking.

 

19. The behavior of officers and men as a whole was excellent. I wish to commend Lieutenant Commander (E) I.C. Howden, Royal Navy, unfortunately among the missing, for the untiring efforts made by him in endeavouring to save the ship, and Acting Petty Officer Telegraphist Rainer for the determination and resource shown by him in successfully repairing the damaged wireless installation without which assistance would not have been forthcoming in time to save life.

 

                                                                                                                              (sgd) A.W. Buzzard

                                                                                                                              Commander

 

(date stamped Commander in Chief, Home Fleet, 18 April 1940)

 


 

  

SECRET

 

LOSS OF H.M.S. GURKHA

 

(H.M.S. GURKHA's letter dated 11th April 1940)

 

No. 819/H.F. 490

 

ADMIRALTY

 

(copies to:  The Rear Admiral (D), Home Fleet

                 The Captain (D) 4th Destroyer Flotilla

 

Forwarded for information

 

2. At 1100 on 9th April 1940, the Battlefleet was in position lat. 60-05 degrees N., long. 02-57 degrees E. steering 180 degrees at 20 knots. The First, Eighteenth, and Second Cruiser Squadrons were spread in pairs 7 miles ahead to form an A.K. line.

 

3. At 1100 the Vice Admiral Commanding the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron received my 1045/9 ordering the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron in company (the MANCHESTER, SOUTHAMPTON, GLASGOW, and SHEFFIELD), and the Fourth and Sixth Destroyer Flotillas (consisting of Captain (D) IV in the AFRIDI, the MOHAWK, SIKH, and GURKHA, Captain (D) VI in the SOMALI, the MATABELE and MASHONA) to proceed and attack Bergen when ordered. This force was ordered to proceed at 1125 and the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron and destroyers altered course at 025 degrees, speed 20 knots, at 1140. This speed was subsequently reduced to 16 knots as destroyers could not keep up on account of weather.

 

4. At noon the course of the Battlefleet was altered to 360 degrees, speed of advance 16 knots. The weather at this time was wind N.N.W. force 5, sea 33. Sky, b.c., visibility very good.

 

5. At 1410, the Vice Admiral Commanding Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron, received Admiralty message 1347/9 canceling the operation against Bergen and altered course to rejoin the Battlefleet whose position at 1410 was lat 60-20 degrees N., long. 02-53 degrees E., course 360 degrees, speed of advance 16 knots.

 

6. At 1425, heavy air attacks on the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron and destroyers in company developed and air attacks on the Battlefleet were also made. The 4th and 6th Destroyer Flotillas had dropped astern of the Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron during the attempt to make high speed towards Bergen and were further scattered by their alterations of course during the air attacks.

 

7. When GURKHA was damaged by bombs at 1507, she was about five miles on the quarter of the cruisers and in the heat of the action the fact that she was damaged was not observed by the cruisers or destroyers.

 

8. Captain (D) IV in paragraph 1 of minute II has generously accepted the responsibility for allowing GURKHA to become detached, but his minute was written on the 22nd April by which time all or most of us had realised that to remain concentrated was the best defence against air attack, whereas on the 9th April, when the attack took place this was not generally realised. Destroyers escorting Norwegian convoys when under air attack had often been out of supporting distance from each other and no harm had come to them. I knew this and had issued no instructions on the matter. I do not, therefore, consider that Captain (D) IV, is any more to blame than I am, except for the omission to notice that the GURKHA had detached herself completely as opposed to taking independent avoiding action.

 

The Commanding Officer of the GURKHA was unwise in his decision to steer down wind in order to facilitate gunfire and thus become totally detached from his Captain (D). Unless definite orders to scatter had been given he should only have taken individual avoiding action whilst remaining in company.

 

9. I concur in the remarks of paragraph 3 of minute II and consider that AURORA did extremely well to pick up the GURKHA's W/T signal, find her, and rescue nearly all her crew.

 

10. I do not consider either a Board of Enquiry or a Court Martial is necessary.

 

                                                                                                                              (sgd) C.M. Forbes,  Admiral of the Fleet

H.M.S. RODNEY

 

15th May 1940

 


 

 

SECRET

 

SINKING OF H.M.S. GURKHA

 

(Commanding Officer, GURKHA's report dated 11th April 1940)

 

II

 

No. 73/169

 

Rear Admiral (D) Home Fleet

 

GURKHA was in the hands of an inexperienced Commanding Officer and became detached; he should not have been allowed to have become detached; the responsibility for failure to call him in is wholly mine; I have not, I regret to report, any explanation worth recording to account for this omission.

 

2. I endorse the commendations contained in the final paragraph of Commander Buzzard's report, and have noted the name of Petty Officer Telegraphist Rainer for further action.

 

3. The discipline and steadiness in adversity of the ship's company of GURKHA reported by the Commanding Officer, H.M.S. AURORA, in his letter 00291 of 10th April 1940, reflects credit on Commander Buzzard, and provides a pleasant feature in an incident which was otherwise regrettable.

 

                                                                                                                                                (sgd) Philip Vian, Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla

AFRIDI

22nd April 1940

 

 


 

III

 

No. H.D. 00571A

Commander in Chief, Home Fleet

 

(Copy to Captain (D) IV)

 

Forwarded concurring in paragraph 3 of minute II

 

                                                                                                            (Sgd) R.H.C. Hallifax, Rear Admiral (D), Home Fleet

WOOLWICH

26th April 1940

 

(date stamped Commander in Chief Home Fleet 29 April 1940)

 

 

SECRET

 

Enclosure to AURORA's No. 00291 dated 10th April 1940

 

Loss of GURKHA SIGNALS EXCHANGED

 

S.O.S.                                                         From: GURKHA

 

Position 60-29 degrees North, 3-20 degrees East                   

T.O.R. 1700

 


 

To: Scapa                                                  From: GURKHA

 

IMMEDIATE

 

Have been badly damaged by bomb my position 012 degs. TPTS 26, Danger of sinking. 1515

                                                                                                                             

T.O.R. 1653

 


 

To: GURKHA                                           From: AURORA

 

Am coming to your assistance. (No reply from GURKHA)

 

                                                                        1715                                          

T.O.D. 1720

 


 

To: GURKHA                                           From: AURORA

 

IMMEDIATE

 

Make smoke. 1757                                                

T.O.D. 1800

 


 

To: AURORA                                           From: GURKHA

 

Am about to open fire                                                                                                 

T.O.R. 1802

 


 

To: AURORA                                           From: GURKHA

 

Can you D/F me.                                                                                                          

T.O.R. 1840

 


 

To: GURKHA                                           From: AURORA

 

Reply No. Fire two more rounds. 1844.                                          

T.O.D. 1848

 


 

To: AURORA                                           From: C.in C. Home Fleet

 

IMPORTANT

 

Report reason your 1715 to GURKHA and present situation. 1959.

 

T.O.R. 2155

 


 

To: C.in C. H.F.                                      From: AURORA

 

Your 1959. GURKHA sunk by bombs. Have saved most of crew. Details will be reported later. Am in company with GLASGOW. 2224/9                                                   

T.O.D. 2308

 

 


 

SECRET

 

Subject. LOSS OF H.M.S. GURKHA

 

From: The Commanding Officer H.M.S. AURORA

 

Date: 10th April 1940                                              No. 00291

 

To: The Commander in Chief, Home Fleet

 

(copies to: The Vice Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron.

                  Rear Admiral (D) Home Fleet

                  Captain (D) 4th Destroyer Flotilla

 

The following report is forwarded with reference to my 2224/9th April.

 

2. At 1705 on 9th April 1940, I intercepted a signal from GURKHA to say that she had been bombed and was in danger of sinking. I altered course for the position given, increasing to 29 knots, but owing to discrepancies in navigational positions there was no sign of GURKHA in position indicated. I swept in the direction shown on track chart and endeavoured to D/F GURKHA but her low power W/T was so weak that this was unsuccessful. I told GURKHA to make smoke and she fired a series of smoke shell, one of which was sighed by Arthur Frederick Wilcocks, Leading Seaman, P/JX 134465 in the D.C.T. I altered course towards this smoke burst and came up to GURKHA some 18 miles away, visibility at that time being extreme. I wish to emphasize that the survivors of GURKHA owe their lives to the vigilance of Leading Seaman Wilcocks.

 

3. On arrival in the vicinity of GURKHA she had a heavy list and was on fire aft. I decided that towing was quite out of the question and proceeded to hoist out the cutter and lower two whalers which were mainly responsible for the rescue of GURKHA's Ship's Company.

 

4. Wind, Force 5 6, and sea (31 Douglas scale) made the process of transferring GURKHA's Ship's Company a lengthy operation and I regret to report that GURKHA sank before the completion of this operation, which act was largely responsible for 15 lives being lost. Some of these were actually lost alongside AURORA which again draws attention to the fact that lines thrown to men in the water must have a bowline already tied in them.

 

5. I should like to stat that the discipline and steadiness of GURKHA's Ship's Company right up to the last when the ship sank vertically by the stern, was in accordance with the best traditions of the service and reflects great credit on the Captain, Officers, and Men concerned.

 

                                                                                                                              (sgd)

                                                                                                                              L.H.K. Hamilton

                                                                                                                              Captain

Enclosures:

Track Chart (to Commander in Chief, only)

Relevant signals.

 

(date stamp Rear Admiral (D) Home Fleet 11 April 1940)

 

 


 

SECRET

 

CYPHER MESSAGE

 

CONFIDENTIAL                                     Received S.1 (Tele. 1735 hours 8/5/40

 

To:        C.in C. Mediterrean 927. C.in C. East Indies 900

C.in C. China 849. C.in C. South Atlantic 933

C.in C. America and West Indies 668. F.O.C. North Atlantic 716

R.A. South America Division 508. F.O. Narvik, R.A. 3 601.

C.in C. Portsmouth 569. C.in C. Nore 971. C.in C. Western Approaches 51.

C.in C. Rosyth 808. V.A. Dover 723. A.C.O.S. 147

N.O. Melbourne 767. N.O. Wellington 361. N.S. H.Q. Ottawa 950

 

             Repeated C.in C. Home Fleet 769.

 

From: Admiralty

 

The following is a summary of the experience so far as it can at present be ascertained, against aircraft during three weeks off the Norwegian coast. Technical improvements are in hand, but there is wide recognition of the imperative need to make the best use of the experience of those who had had to conduct operations and meet strong and persistent air attacks, for it is only by this means that our present equipment can be used to the best advantage.

 

2. It has been necessary to operate ships within easy reach of enemy shore based aircraft working from Stavanger, Oslo, and from Danish aerodromes. Ships have been constantly bombed at sea, also when approaching the Trondheim area with convoys and whilst in the fiords where anti aircraft ships, destroyers and sloops have had to remain for A/A protection of the bases. No base could be established for operating own shore based aircraft in support.

 

3. It is difficult yet to estimate the scale of attack but it appears that between 9th April and 3rd May well over 1400 shots were made at ships, many of which were sticks of bombs. It is estimated by the Air Ministry that the enemy used 470 Long Range Bombers and 40 Dive Bombers of which approximately 300 long range bombers and all the Dive bombers were used against the Fleet, convoys and ships in the fiords. The initial landings in the Trondheim area were affected without interference from the air and it has to be recalled that enemy did not usually fly over the areas concerned before 0500 or after 2100, apparently because the aerodromes available were unsuitable for night flying.

 

4. As a result of this air effort the Allied suffered the following casualties:

 

(a). Sunk, four destroyers and one sloop, of which two destroyers were sunk whilst escorting convoys returning from the evacuation. One of the destroyers was sunk at Narvik. Ten trawlers were also lost, nearly all beached as a result of near misses.

 

(b). Damaged, two cruisers, three destroyers, two sloops, nearly all in inshore operations.

 

(c). There has been minor damage to RODNEY by a direct hit and to other ships by near misses.

 

(d). The F.A.A. lost about 18 aircraft, but fortunately many of the crews are accounted for.

 

(e). No transports were appreciably damaged at sea or in the Norwegian bases.

 

5. During the same period the gunfire of the Fleet destroyed at least 30 enemy aircraft at sea or near the bases whilst the F.A.A. show down at least 9 aircraft and destroyed 8 on the ground.

 

6. Generally speaking when an A/A ship or sloop was able to cover the base the enemy flew high, concentrated on the warship and the intensity of the attack on the base was reduced. The more serious damage to the bases was done in each case when no A/A ship was present.

 

At sea the enemy has shown marked preference to attack ships with the weaker A.A. armament.

 

7. As a result of attacks on ships at sea it appears that about 75% of the hits and near misses have been from dive bombers and that about 75% of these were unfired at mainly due to surprise gained by cloud or sun or to attention being directed to other aircraft.

 

8. Before 3rd May when returning from the evacuation dive bombing was generally shallow and at about 35 degrees and the enemy rarely attempted to synchronize attacks, usually attacking independently using clouds and sun to screen approach. On 3rd May steep dive bombing at 65 degrees by about 30 JU 87 (b) was experienced. AFRIDI and BISON were damaged by these attacks which seem to have developed as soon as Trondheim aerodrome became available for these shorter range aircraft after damage done by the F.A.A. attacks which delayed its use during a vital period. On this day the attacks were greater in strength and consequently appeared more concerted.

 

9. It appears that enemy aircraft wait about overhead where they are impossible targets for destroyers and difficult for any ship. Steps are being taken to strengthen the short range armament of destroyers who have to operate within the range of dive bombers. It is to be recalled however that except for special aircraft for steep dive bombing and level bombing from considerable heights enemy aircraft must come within the envelope of a 40 degree gun when approaching for an attack.

 

10. In High Level attacks enemy generally turn away when fired at and may repeat this procedure 10 or 20 times, apparently hoping to gain an unfired at approach. This results in great expenditure of A/A ammunition an the only answer is to place the first salvo so close to him that he dare not repeat the procedure. Experience indicates that if this result can be obtained the enemy takes an early chance to complete his bombing run, or unloads his bombers harmlessly at once, or sheers off to attack a less menacing target. There is general agreement that our material and training can produce such a result, and that it can only be ensured by frequently testing height finders and practicing control personnel against aircraft; careful attention to the ballistic adjustment for wear of guns and other factors being also essential. Accuracy of fire has often been greatly improved by occasional flank marking reports.

 

11. A four cornered ship like VALIANT, RENOWN, or ARK ROYAL is particularly disliked because of her ability to watch simultaneously the more dangerous directions of approach and the consequent rapidity with which the enemy can be engaged by weapons whose shell burst he can see.

 

12. Against Dive Bombers, it is essential, with our present equipment, to fire immediately even if only with approximate accuracy, because the enemy is inclined to pull out early and thus reduce his accuracy. When cloud and sun conditions favour dive bombing it is therefore of first importance, that in addition to using short range weapons to the best advantage all ships should try to emulate the four cornered ship and develop the ability to fire rounds bursting ahead of the enemy within, say 5 degrees or 10 degrees, immediately he appears in the dive. Enemy aircraft except the JU 87 (b) have generally tried to attack within about 30 degrees of the fore and aft line in a dive of about 30 degrees.

 

The above remarks also apply to low level bombing (2 to 3000 feet) in conditions where surprise can be effected.

 

13. Experience confirms that where practicable the course and speed should be shaped to favour development of gunfire and so that the related wind is high and if possible across the probable direction of the dive. It follows that if a ship is stopped she is a more favourable target for dive bombers.

 

14. It is a frequent experience that on the first occasion of being bombed, particularly if a heavy attack, excitement causes a loss of accuracy, reduction of fire discipline and wastage of ammunition. If this likely result is widely known its effect may well be reduced.

 

15. Although some attacks have been well pressed home this has not so far been the case generally, neither have they usually been synchronized. To prevent such development by the enemy particular attention is necessary to the points referred to in paragraphs 10 to 14.

 

16. R/DF which has already given valuable warning at sea should go far to militate against surprise when fitted generally, and other developments should contribute much to effective long and short range A/A fire. Meanwhile it has to be recalled that on the Norwegian coast ships have been working at great disadvantage, in most arduous conditions where fatigue has been a serious factor and after a period when it has been particularly difficult to afford facilities for practices.

 

Copies to:

C.A.S.

V.C.A.S.

D.C.A.S.

A.C.A.S. (G)

A.C.O.

D. of Plans

D.H.O.

D.N.O.

D.D. Plans Ops

D.M.C.

D.D.W.O.

F.O. 6                                                                                                    Sigs1.a.(S/L Weston)

F.O. 7 (Action)                                                                                        A.I.1(W)

F.O. 2.b (3)

 

back to Admiralty War Diaries

revised 14/7/11