Battleships

HMS Glowworm – The Destroyer That Rammed The Admiral Hipper

In the early days of April 1940, amidst the tumult of the Norwegian Campaign in World War II, HMS Glowworm, a G-class destroyer of the Royal Navy, found itself embroiled in a harrowing naval encounter.

Commanded by Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope, Glowworm faced overwhelming odds against German naval forces.

What ensued was a courageous and audacious engagement, culminating in the tragic sinking of HMS Glowworm.

Contents

Background Of HMS Glowworm

HMS Glowworm was a G-class destroyer, a type of vessel that represented the Royal Navy’s response to the evolving demands of naval warfare in the interwar period. Designed and built in the mid-1930s, these ships were envisioned as fast and versatile, capable of performing a variety of roles including anti-submarine warfare, fleet escort, and reconnaissance. The G-class, including Glowworm, was equipped with cutting-edge technology for the time, featuring powerful engines capable of high speeds, and armed with torpedoes and guns designed for both surface and anti-air engagements.

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Upon its commissioning in 1936, HMS Glowworm served primarily in home waters, participating in routine patrols and exercises. These early years were crucial for testing and refining the vessel’s capabilities and the crew’s proficiency. As tensions in Europe escalated in the late 1930s, the role of the Royal Navy and its destroyers like the Glowworm became increasingly significant. The Royal Navy was expanding and modernizing its fleet, anticipating potential conflicts, particularly with the rising naval powers of Germany and Italy.

The destroyer HMS Glowworm anchored in 1937.
The destroyer HMS Glowworm anchored in 1937.

In the immediate pre-war years, the strategic focus of the Royal Navy, and by extension HMS Glowworm, shifted towards preparing for a potential European conflict. This period saw intensified training exercises and a reorganization of naval forces. The Royal Navy’s destroyers were seen as essential for protecting Britain’s maritime interests, especially in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, areas that were expected to be crucial in any future war with Germany.

With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, HMS Glowworm, like the rest of the Royal Navy, was thrust into active duty. Initially, Glowworm’s assignments involved patrolling and escort duties, which were vital in the early stages of the war. The Royal Navy was primarily concerned with countering the threat posed by German U-boats and surface raiders, which targeted merchant shipping vital for Britain’s war effort and survival. During these operations, the skills and resolve of the crew were tested as they faced the realities of war, including the harsh conditions of the North Atlantic and the ever-present threat of enemy action.

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In the months leading up to April 1940, HMS Glowworm continued to operate in the North Atlantic, becoming an integral part of the Royal Navy’s efforts to maintain control of the sea lanes and provide support to Allied operations. The ship’s role in these operations laid the groundwork for its involvement in the Norwegian Campaign, a crucial early battle in the naval war and the setting for Glowworm’s most famous and tragic engagement.

The Deadly Encounter

In early April 1940, HMS Glowworm, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope, was part of a flotilla assigned to lay mines off the Norwegian coast as part of the broader Allied effort to counter the German invasion of Norway. However, Glowworm faced mechanical issues and had to be detached from the flotilla temporarily. During this period, the ship’s crew engaged in the search for a man overboard, a task that delayed its reunion with the flotilla.

On the morning of April 8, 1940, while still detached from its flotilla, Glowworm encountered the German destroyer Z11 Bernd von Arnim. This encounter marked the beginning of a dramatic sequence of events that would ultimately lead to the sinking of HMS Glowworm.

Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, Glowworm engaged the German destroyer in a fierce battle. The crew, well-trained and resolute, fought with determination. The clash between the two destroyers, though intense, was a prelude to an even more significant development.

The situation escalated when the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, commanded by Captain Hellmuth Heye, arrived on the scene. The Admiral Hipper was a significantly larger and more powerful vessel than both Glowworm and the German destroyer it was initially engaged with.

Admiral Hipper pictured in Norway.
The German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper in Norwegian waters, 1942.

Facing overwhelming odds, Glowworm continued to fight valiantly. Lieutenant Commander Roope, recognizing the dire situation, made a critical decision to attempt a torpedo attack on the formidable Admiral Hipper. This daring maneuver showcased not only the courage of the crew but also their commitment to engaging the enemy, even in the face of almost certain destruction.

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The torpedo attack, while unsuccessful, led to a desperate move by Glowworm. In a final act of bravery, Lieutenant Commander Roope decided to ram the much larger Admiral Hipper. This unexpected and audacious move caught the German crew off guard and resulted in significant damage to the Admiral Hipper.

However, the impact proved fatal for HMS Glowworm. The force of the collision, combined with the damage sustained during the intense battle, led to the eventual breaking apart and sinking of the British destroyer. The crew faced the harsh reality of abandoning ship in the icy waters of the Norwegian Sea.

The Aftermath

The sinking of HMS Glowworm resulted in a tragic loss of lives. Of the 149 crew members on board, only 40 survived the ordeal. The majority of the crew perished in the icy waters of the Norwegian Sea, succumbing to the harsh conditions following the sinking of their ship. The survivors, now prisoners of war, faced an uncertain future in enemy hands.

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One of the remarkable aspects of the aftermath was the recognition of the bravery displayed by Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope and the crew of Glowworm by the enemy. Captain Hellmuth Heye of the German cruiser Admiral Hipper, the very ship that Glowworm had engaged in battle, was so impressed by the audacious actions of Roope and his crew that he recommended Roope for a gallantry award.

The wreck of HMS Glowworm burning.
Glowworm in flames, pictured from the Admiral Hipper.

This recommendation, while unusual in the context of wartime hostilities, underscored the chivalry that could emerge even in the midst of conflict. Lieutenant Commander Roope, who had lost his life in the sinking, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valor in the British and Commonwealth forces. This made Roope the first VC recipient of the Second World War.