Friday 3 June 2016

#Blogival: Why it's Important to Tell the Story of the Battle of Narvik

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Today I'm delighted to welcome author Ron Cope to TWG as my first offering for the Clink Street Publishing Summer Blogival.

Ron Cope is the author of Attack at Dawn, a fascinating novel about the First Battle of Narvik in World War Two, released to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle. Attack at Dawn focuses on the bravery of the young naval officers, including Ron's own father, who were behind this dramatic military campaign, telling their story through first-hand real-life experiences.

Why it is important to tell the story of the Battle of Narvik, especially the 75th Anniversary

There are a number of factors that inspired me to tell the story of the Battles of Narvik, 10th April 1940. Not just because my father Cyril Cope was then a twenty one year old Torpedoman on board the flotilla leader HMS Hardy; although it appears he had a photographic memory and being part of the torpedoes tube crew, this helped him to write a vivid account years later.

He also intended to write a book himself in the 1970s, but for a number of reasons did not get round to doing so. He even approached two well known film companies at the time, one of which was very interested once the book was published.

I followed my father in his footsteps and joined the Royal Navy in 1964, and interestingly this was only nineteen years after the war had finished. Other than new technology, little had changed by way of the sailor’s life and slang words, forms and traditions. There were still sailors around on board who had served in the war to tell us their tales. Hence after serving twenty three years in the navy, I was well versed to be able to describe life below decks and time served at sea. Whilst I was not involved in a major war, my experience allowed me to get close to understanding and picturing how war conditions and action would have been. I had a good tutor, my father, who sadly passed away in 2003, leaving me to take on the task.

Subsequent to the Battles of Narvik, there were many famous military confrontations both on land and sea, which seemed to leave the epic battles lost in the mist of time. However, at that time in early 1940 the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine had not fully tested each other in battle. So it was an important occasion for either to get an early success over the other. Both for their country and the morale of their armed forces, and on this occasion the men on board their warships.

It was also a crucial battle for maintaining the valuable iron ore, for both country's war effort. This natural resource came by train from northern Sweden to the Norwegian port of Narvik. The former a neutral country, and the latter hopeful it could be to.

As history shows, Adolf Hitler’s armies were advancing and taking over European countries in turn and the British naturally became concerned that Norway was to be next to be invaded by a German occupying force. To halt the tide the Royal Navy needed up to date intelligence of their foes' positions, unfortunately this was not immediately forthcoming. This resulted in the British being too late to know the Kriegsmarine had already reached Narvik with not only ten large and modern zerstorers (destroyers) but each ship had also disembarked 220 Alpine Troops.

Attack at Dawn by Ron Cope book cover

This was the situation in which the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla led by Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee was left with, and given the task to assess further the position. So it was at just gone midnight on the 10th April 1940, the Captain led his five smaller ‘H’ Class destroyers into the Oftofjord. The conditions were dreadful, not only darkness but also during a snow storm. Each ship following the blue stern light of the one for’d. Although of course the leader, HMS Hardy, had none to follow and had to rely on the experience of their navigating officer.

The scene is set for a confrontation that could best be described as of biblical proportions, ‘David and Goliath’. In the annals of the Royal Navy the First Battle was recorded as a great success, throughout the country, the Dominions and congratulations were sent by her allies:

BBC ‘World Service’.

Sunday 14th April at midnight.

“The British Navy’s entry into Narvik Fjord yesterday, and
the sinking of the seven German destroyers, was front-page
news in all the Paris newspapers today. French gratification
has been expressed in many ways, notably by M. Reynaud,
the French Prime Minister, who has sent a telegram to Mr
Chamberlain saying ‘The French nation shares Britain’s feelings
of admiration and gratitude for the Royal Navy, which
has added a page of glory to its records, and has inflicted on
the enemy a wound that will never heal’. 

As in all great battles, on land or sea, many brave fighters do not return home. Approximately 150 sailors lost their lives out of 850. Captain Warburton-Lee was posthumously awarded the first Victoria Cross of the Second World War. The whole country welcomed back the crews as ‘Heroes’ and there was a lot of celebrations throughout.

However, the ‘Kriegsmarine’ was not yet fully defeated but were trapped in the Narvik fjord, with depleted fuel and ammunition. It took a second battle three days later to finish the task.

Subsequent to seven years research, collecting many crewmen’s accounts of their experiences at Narvik, I had to take stock of how many words I had written. Due to the total at that point, it was obvious I had to write two books.

The first “Attack at Dawn” focused on the crew of HMS Hardy and how they fared when the ship was abandoned, leaving them stranded, with no dry clothes. Needing to leave their dead comrades buried in snow, to walk ten miles to the nearest town with a hospital.

The book at the beginning describes life on board their destroyer and life ashore in their home towns. I introduce many of the characters personal lives and the lead up to the out break of war and describe the effect of loved ones left at home.

The second book, once more with many accounts from crew members, is concentrated on HMS Hunter, both her participation in the Spanish Civil War and Narvik. Whilst in Malta describing life in dock and work up ready for war. Once more introducing the characters, their survival or not in the ice cold waters of the fjord. A more in depth accounts of the first and second battles, from opposing sides view points.

The crew's imprisonment and treatment and how the local populace lived under the German occupying forces. The circumstances of why the ‘Hunter’ crew had to endure another survival attempt, being forced marched over the mountains for internment in Sweden. Eye witness accounts from those in the Narvik community.

Finally, the astounding stories of the ‘Hunter’ crew’s survival and escapes from Sweden back to Britain. Although, unfortunately for eleven out of the forty three, they had another survival challenge, three years in German POW camp.

At the beginning of starting the book I managed to make contact with Captain Warburton-Lee’s grandson, John Warburton-Lee. He and his father over the years have received many copies of books broaching the subject of the Norwegian campaign, which he found to a degree banal and with political manoeuvres, warfare strategies and comparisons of weaponry, missing the human aspect. He was thankful that my book would be an attempt to bring back to life those times, allowing an opportunity for those participating in the battles to have their say.

We both believe the task has now been achieved

To conclude, “the story is important to tell” so that these remarkable accounts of brave sailors, average age of twenty three, enlisted volunteers, involved in an extraordinary sea battle are never again lost in the mist of time.


Attack at Dawn is available to buy now (paid link; commission earned).

The Blogival is running until the end of June, so look out for more posts about fantastic Clink Street authors and their books from participating bloggers over the next few weeks. Next up on TWG is Tracy Peppiatt's We Never Let Go on the 10th, so stay tuned!

Will you be reading Attack at Dawn? Are you following the Blogival? Let me know in the comments below!

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