Royal Norwegian Navy
coastal defense cruiser
Deplacement: 4,233 tons (fully equipped)
Speed: 17 knots
Laid down: Armstrong Shipyards, Newcastle, England, 1899
Armament: 2 x 21 cm, 6 x 15 cm, 8 x 76 mm, 6 x 47 mm. 2 submerged broadside torpedo tubes
In the years before the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905, Norway did a massive build-up of military force. It was commonly thought that the Swedes would not let Norway leave the union without a fight. No hostilities of any kind took place however, and Norway became the sovereign nation it is today on June 7, 1905.
A large and expensive part of the build-up was the order placed for four coastal defence cruisers, each with a deplacement of around 4200 tons. The last ship delivered was PS Eidsvold in 1900. Out of the four ships built at the Armstrong Shipyards, only PS Eidsvold and PS Norge ever became fully equipped for battle. PS Tordenskjold and PS Harald Haarfagre were used as training ships for the sailors that would do their service on PS Eidsvold and PS Norge. Two more cruisers were ordered in 1912 but were embargoed by the British when World War I broke out. They became known as HMS Glatton and HMS Gorgon when the Royal Navy used them in World War I.
When World War II broke out Norway was neutral just as she had been during The Great War. In order to guard the neutrality, PS Eidsvold and PS Norge were ordered to sail to Narvik, an important port for shipping out iron ore from the vast Swedish iron ore mines in Kiirunavaara and Luossavaara. On board PS Eidsvold was its captain, Kommandørkaptein (Commander) Odd Isachsen Willoch with a crew of 190 men. The two cruisers had impressive firepower, but their manoeuverability and speed left a lot to be desired. They had been - in short - showing their age for many years.
In the early morning hours of April 9, 1940, winter still reigned. The snow was coming down wet and heavy from above and daylight was still a few hours away. The clock showed 0415. That morning, Kriegsschiffgruppe 1 of the German Kriegsmarine arrived at its final destination; Narvik. Leading the group from the Kriegsmarine was Fregattenkapitän Bonte on board his flagship, the destroyer Z21 Wilhelm Heidkamp. Eidsvold was moored outside Narvik harbour, and upon seeing the German naval group, fired a warning shot after unsuccessfully having tried signalling Wilhelm Heidkamp with a signalling lamp and flags. The parties agreed to negotiate, and Bonte sent his XO Korvettenkapitän Gerlach over to Eidsvold as a parliamentary. The distance between Eidsvold and Wilhelm Heidkamp was at this time two hundred metres.
Gerlach demanded Eidsvold's surrender to the German battle group, something Willoch flatly denied. Gerlach had no option but to return to Wilhelm Heidkamp.
Willoch immediately radioed Commander Askim, his superior which was on board PS Norge, to tell him about the demands that had been set forth. Commander Askim simply replied "Open Fire!". Willoch called Gerlach back to Eidsvold and told him this, whereupon Gerlach repeated the demands for surrender. Commander Willoch denied again and ran to the bridge shouting "Man the guns! It's time to fight, boys!" once Gerlach had left Eidsvold for the last time. Well in his motorboat, Gerlach fired a red flare to warn Commander Bonte aboard Wilhelm Heidkamp about the impending battle.
All the while this had taken place, Wilhelm Heidkamp had manoeuvered about seven hundred metres to the port bow of Eidsvold so as to have a better position in case of a battle. Commander Willoch ordered full speed ahead and his 21 cm and 15 cm guns to fire. The distance between Eidsvold and Wilhelm Heidkamp was now 300 metres. Before Eidsvold's guns could fire, it was hit by three torpedoes from Wilhelm Heidkamp.
Eidsvold's magazines took a direct hit. The ship broke in two, and fifteen seconds later the once proud ship was gone from the surface of the Ofoten fjord together with 175 sailors and officers.
The clock was now 0437 and the Nazi occupation of Norway was only minutes into what eventually became five long years.
PS Eidsvold was removed from its shallow watery grave after the war, and little is left of it.
Norwegian Defense Museum, Oslo <http://www.fmu.mil.no>
Vrakdykking i Midt- og Nord-Norge, Dag-Jostein Andresen <http://www.vrakdykking.com>