battles of WWII took place between the British destroyer H.M.S. Glowworm, of 1,345 tons, and the 10,000-ton German cruiser Hipper.
On 5 April Glowworm was part of the escort of the battlecruiser Renown, along with her sisters Greyhound, Hero, and Hyperion. The ships covered the minelaying operation in Norwegian waters, Operation Wilfred. In her efforts to find a man who had been washed overboard in heavy seas the destroyer lost touch with the main British force. Her gyro-compass failed, and she had to steer by magnetic compass. At daybreak on April 8, 1940, she was trying to rendezvous with another British force, when she sighted an unidentified destroyer.
“We immediately challenged her”, Lieutenant Robert Ramsay later recounted, “and she replied that she was Swedish – then she opened fire”. A few moments later another destroyer was sighted, and the Glowworm began her gallant fight – against odds from the start.
The battle developed into a slamming match, with the destroyers manoeuvring at full speed and firing with all guns. “Very soon our Director Control Tower was flooded out by heavy seas”, continued Lieut. Ramsay. “The ship was being thrown about and rolling very heavily. We lost two men overboard and several were injured by the roll of the ship, but we scored a hit on the leading enemy destroyer. They didn't hit us. Shortly afterwards they broke off the action and were obviously trying to lead us on to something more powerful.”
A few minutes later, the Hipper hove in sight and from then on the Glowworm knew her fate was sealed. From then on the sole purpose of Lieut.-Cmdr. Roope was to inflict as much damage as possible on the enemy before being sunk. Long before the Glowworm's guns were within range, the Hipper was pouring 8-in. shells at the destroyer and hitting her mercilessly. “We made smoke”, said Lieut. Ramsay, “and began to close the enemy cruiser. When we got within range, I fired our torpedoes.”
Meanwhile, the Glowworm was rapidly becoming a blazing inferno. One of her four guns was out of action. Her range-finder was hit. The upper yard of her mast collapsed across the siren wires and her sirens were screeching unheeded in the blaze of battle and stink of cordite and black smoke. Then it was that Lieut-Cmdr. Roope decided to ram the Hipper. Going in under a storm of fire from 8-in., 4-in. and machine-gun fire, he steered for the enemy's starboard side.
There was a grinding crunch as the destroyer's bows crumpled against the cruiser's armoured plating. Men fell to the deck in a welter of blood and sea water, fire and smoke. Those who could, picked themselves up again.
“As we drew away we opened fire once more”, Lieut. Ramsay said. “We scored one hit at 400 yards. Our bows were badly stove in. A shell had passed through the wheelhouse. Another had burst in the Transmitting Station, killing most of the crew and all the staff of the Wireless Office. A third entered the ship under the after-torpedo-tubes, crossed the ship and burst against the forward bulkhead of the Captain's cabin. The cabin was being used as a first aid station and the explosion turned it into a shambles. This shell also made a huge hole in the ship's side abreast the engine-room, and another completely wrecked the after superstructure.”
“The Captain was so far unhurt, and as the ship heeled over to starboard he gave the order to abandon ship. He sent me down from the bridge, and I tried to get as much timber and other floating material over the side as possible. There seemed to be very few unwounded, but all that could be done was done to put lifebelts on the injured men in the hope that they would float.”
“The Captain, who was the only other survivor on the bridge besides myself, then came down. E. R. A. Gregg reported he had gone down to the boiler room and let off steam to avoid an explosion as the ship sank. Then shortly afterwards – about 10 o'clock – the Glowworm capsized. After floating bottom-up for a few moments, she sank.”
“The Hipper stopped and picked up survivors. Our Captain was not among them, though he was seen in the watter. I was taken before the Hipper's Captain, who told me our torpedoes had missed his ship by only a few yards. The ramming had damaged one set of her torpedo tubes, flooded two compartments, and put her fresh water system out of action.”
The attack on the Admiral Hipper by HMS Glowworm by Ivan Berryman.
HMS Glowworm, burning severely after receiving hits from the mighty Admiral Hipper, is depicted turning to begin her heroic sacrifice off the Norwegian coast on 8th April 1940. Hugely out-gunned and already crippled, Glowworms captain, Lieutenant-Commander Roope rammed his destroyer into the side of the Admiral Hipper, inflicting a 40 metre rip in its armour belt before drifting away and exploding. 38 British sailors were rescued from the sea and Roope was awarded a posthumous VC for his bravery, the first earned by the Royal Navy in WWII.