Norwegian WWII warship and war grave looted by divers
HNoMS Norge was a coastal defense ship in the Royal Norwegian Navy that was torpedoed and sunk by German destroyers in Narvik Harbor during the attack on Norway on 9 April 1940. Today, the sunken warship, which is considered part of the Norway’s cultural heritage, is being subjected to plundering.
The Eidsvold class was a class of coastal defense ships, two of which were built for the Royal Norwegian Navy in 1899. The class consisted of two ships, HNoMS Eidsvold and HNoMS Norge. Locally, they were referred to as panserskip. The Eidsvold class was armored to withstand battle with ships of a similar class, but the underwater armor and internal partitioning were not designed to withstand torpedo hits, which caused both ships' demise.
The remains of Norge rest at a depth of about 20m (66ft), in the middle of Narvik Harbor. Partly salvaged in situ, it is considered a war memorial and diving on or near the wreck was banned between 1999 and 2014. Shortly after the ban was lifted in order to attract more divers, artifacts started disappearing from the wreck, the NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) reported in August.
Officials from Nordland county told NRK that among other artifacts the engine order telegraph and speaking tube has been removed from the wreck. In consultation with the Tromsø Museum, which is the administrative authority for the wreck, Narvik Municipality and Riksantikvaren (Norway’s Directorate for Cultural Heritage), the county will now meet to discuss how they can prevent further looting and destruction of shipwreck.
Sinking of the Norge
The German attack on Norway came as a surprise, and the forces in Narvik were quite unprepared for the attack. In the morning mist, the armored warship Eidsvold—the sister-ship to Norge, which was anchored outside Framnesodden—discovered that foreign naval vessels were on their way in to Narvik’s harbor. Even being a 40-year-old warship at the time, the armament of the Eidsvold was a big threat to the much smaller German destroyer, Wilhelm Heidkamp, which stopped a few ship’s lengths away.
Asked to surrender
It must have seemed very strange for the commander of the Eidsvold to be requested to surrender to a German destroyer deep into a Norwegian fjord. As the Eidsvold prepared to open fire, the Wilhelm Heidkamp fired torpedoes, which sank the Eidsvold in just a few seconds. The German ships could, thereafter, sail into the harbor basin, partly hidden in a strong blizzard. On board the Norge, it was clear that something was amiss. The ship then slipped its moorings. When the foreign warships were discovered in the harbor, the Norge immediately opened fire. Again, it went terribly wrong for the pride of the Norwegian navy. Norge was hit by a torpedo from the German destroyer Anton Schmitt, and capsized and sank in just two minutes.
Out of respect for those who rest in the wreck and for the families who lost a member in Narvik Harbor, these wrecks must be left in peace.
Ulf Erik Torgersen, Narviksenter Museum
Out in the harbor basin, all was total chaos. The merchant ships launched lifeboats into the water, and thereby rescued a number of survivors from Eidsvold and Norge. The captain of the German iron-ore cargo ship Bockenheim thought that it was British forces that were attacking, as three torpedoes hit the ship. He therefore ordered the ship to be beached and blown up. In the space of just a short time, Narvik Harbor was under German control. All the merchant ships that weren’t German were immediately put under German command, and the guns on the British cargo ships were demounted, to be used as land-based guns. ■