Daily Event for April 8

April 8, 1940 HMS Glowworm, a G Class destroyer of 1,854 tons, was operating with the 1st Destroyer Force along with HMS Renown and a cruiser off Norway. They had departed on the 5th to search for the German invasion force which was en route to invade Norway. While laying mines off Norway a man fell overboard and Glowworm made a desperate attempt to find him.

While the other ship's steamed ahead the Glowworm searched for her missing man but, to no avail. The search was called off and she headed out to rejoin her group but, was unable to locate them because she was now hopelessly astern of them. The problem was further exasperated by the fact that her gyro-compass had malfunctioned leaving only a magnetic compass to steer by. Early on the morning of the 8th the Glowworm found the Destroyer force but, it was the German destroyer force in company of the Admiral Hipper, a 14,000 ton German Heavy Cruiser.

The captain of the Glowworm, Lt. Cdr. Gerard B. Roope, had found the invasion force and was determined to signal their position to the rest of the British ships. Roope fired on the first ship sighted, the Bernd von Arnim, and scored a hit. A second destroyer, Paul Jakobi soon appeared but both ships were filled with troops for the invasion of Norway so they turned away and found cover in a rain squall.

Roope followed the destroyers into the squall and emerged on the other side staring down the barrels of Admiral Hipper's 8" guns. Roope surely knew his ship was no match for the German cruiser but, he opened fire with his 4.7" guns and launched all 10 torpedoes at the Admiral Hipper, all the torpedoes missed. The Hipper opened fire scoring a hit on the Glowworm below the water line causing her to begin to sink. Hipper continued to fire scoring several hits with the smaller guns and at least one other 8' shell.

Roope now ordered the crew to prepare to ram the Hipper and he started his run at the ship. Hipper, under the command of Helmuth Heye, opened up with everything they had in attempt to stop the Glowworm. Hipper's guns could not be trained on the Glowworm because she was too close and Roope and the Glowworm and she struck the Hipper on the starboard side leaving a large gash in her. Glowworm, not only sinking from several shell hits now had a damaged bow and Roope ordered the gallant ship to be abandoned. Roope himself went below to open the sea cocks to scuttle the ship which turned out not to be necessary as the inertia of the Admiral Hipper caused the Glowworm to capsize.

Only 31 of the 149 crewmen survived the battle, sinking and the freezing water to be picked up by the Hipper. Ignoring the fact that Glowworm had sent signals warning of the German ships and giving their positions, Heye moved the Hipper into a position which allowed the survivors to be carried to the Hipper by the tide in a rescue mission which took over an hour. Putting his ship in danger of being caught, stopped, by the other British ships. A bold and brave move which should have earned Heye a medal from the British!

Sadly many men, exhausted, cold and wounded did not have the strength left to climb the ropes and ladders to safety. They sank beneath the waves to a sailor's grave, Lt. Cdr. Roope was one of them. He died in the water along side the Admiral Hipper with his crew.

Kapitän zur See Heye was so impressed with the gallant fight of the captain and crew of the much smaller ship that he informed the survivors that he felt their captain was a brave man. In a move seldom repeated in the second world war or any other war, Helmuth Heye, the captain of the Admiral Hipper, sent a message to the Admiralty, through the Red Cross, recommending Lt. Cdr. Roope for the Victoria Cross, which he was awarded, posthumously.

While Roope and the brave crew of the Glowworm did not sink the Admiral Hipper, she was so badly damaged that she missed the Norwegian landings having to return for repairs to her hull. This story would be repeated exactly two months later on June 8 when two destroyers, HMS Ardent and HMS Acasta would sacrifice themselves protecting an aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, from two German battleships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Once again the small, outgunned British ships faced down much superior ships in a brave attempt to save hundreds of other sailors.

HMS Glowworm should be remembered with the names of other gallant ships like Ardent, Acasta, Jervis Bay and Rawalpindi as a ship and crew which, when facing overwhelming odds, did not shrink but rose to the challenge and gave all.

© 2006 Michael W. Pocock

HMS Glowworm under attack by Admiral Hipper.