Sunday, 30 May 2010

Whatever Happened to Midshipman Joe Brooks, RN?

Click this link for an excellent article from the edition of LIFE Magazine, August 11, 1941.

Wonderful water colours painted by Joe Brooks in recollection of the Bismarck Action from his point of view in HMS Dorsetshire, along with articles by Joe Brooks and Lt. Cdr. Geoffrey Carver, RN, the Torpedo Officer in HMS Dorsetshire.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Truth about Benjamin Martin, RN.

HMS Dorsetshire was a gorgeous ship. A County Class, three-stack heavy cruiser. She was fast, very fast, and packed a wallop. She could lift her ten tons to clip at 32.5 knots if so inclined, but she had no ASW equipment, or anti-submarine warfare. As you might imagine, this would play heavily on the mind of anyone charged with the responsibility of commanding her.

In late May 1941, the Dorsetshire was one of the ships which engaged the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic. On 27 May, the Dorsetshire was ordered to torpedo the Bismarck, which had by that point been crippled by repeated aircraft and naval attacks. The Dorsetshire torpedoed the Bismarck, which then sank rapidly, either from the damage she had received from the British, or from the Bismarck's crew working to scuttle her. The Dorsetshire was able to recover only 110 of the Bismarck's crew from the ocean, before being forced to leave to evade a suspected U-boat.

So goes the official line.

Let's now take a closer look.

As with the Bismarck, it is important to develop a sense of the man who commanded this mighty British warship. His name was Benjamin Charles Stanley Martin, born July 18th, 1891.

Benjamin Martin was no stranger to the sea. He joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor in 1907. He rose through the ranks of the lower deck, eventually rising to the rank of Warrant Officer, the highest non-commissioned rate in the Royal Navy. He saw action in the notorious Battle of Jutland during the first World War when serving in HMS Malaya. By the end of this infamous engagement, when Admirals Jellicoe and Sheer had their only direct head-to-head engagement, 24 ships would be on the bottom. 6000 British and 2500 German sailors would be dead.

Benjamin Martin knew a very great deal about battle at sea. He was there.

Much has been said about HMS Dorsetshire's failure to pick up more than the scant few of some 800 of Bismarck's survivors in the water after her sinking. I, too, for many years, found it unfathomable that he failed to do so. I believed he was a brutal man, so embittered by the sinking of HMS Hood that he used the pretext of a proximate submarine to abandon those men and boys, many still clinging to the ship's side. He steamed away and left them to die, one by one, in their hundreds.

Time plays tricks on the truth though. History merges with legend. Legend becomes myth, and in no time at all, the truth becomes obscured by the bullshit of opinion and diluted fact. I am as guilty as anyone in this regard and I now hold an entirely variant view of Captain Martin. I sincerely believe him to be a distinguished and highly experienced officer and warship commander who did the only feasible thing available to him at the time.

I have recently had the privilege of meeting a member of HMS Dorsetshire's ship's company. I cannot mention who, not because I think he would object to being mentioned here, but simply because I have not obtained his permission. To name him here without it would be quite improper, but suffice it to say, this sailor worked intimately with Captain Martin and knew him better than any other person onboard the ship.

Captain Martin was held in immensely high regard by the lower deck in HMS Dorsetshire. He was known, with tremendous affection, as "PINCHER" Martin and many of the survivors of her ultimate sinking would go on to offer the view that their ship would never have been sunk at all if "PINCHER" was still in command off Ceylon that Easter Sunday of 1942, rather than the show pony Augustus Agar, VC.

Martin was "stern when needed" and a "good humoured man" with a "strong sense of duty". According to my wonderful witness, Captain Martin was never further than shouting distance from his bridge when underway.

As to reports of brutality and suicides, it must be remembered that HMS Dorsetshire was based in Plymouth. As such she was, at that time, a Guz ship, in naval slang. 'Guz', or Plymouth, was repeatedly bombed during the war and suffered terrible destruction. There was rarely any news from home. No knowledge of whether loved ones, their children, were alive or dead. This played ferociously on the minds of all on board, but for two it became too much to bear. By May of 1941, HMS Dorsetshire had been away from home port for three years. She visited GUZ only once in all that time and then for only a month, permitting 2 weeks leave for each watch. Apart from this, there was no family contact, no mail, no news. The strain of it lead to two suicides under the Captain Martin's Command. One, a leading torpedoman, hanged himself and a junior gunnery officer shot himself. Both from abject despair at separation from those they loved.

As to the abandonment of those German men and boys in their hundreds.

An extract from 'Pursuit', by Ludovic Kennedy.

The Dorsetshire came round from the port side where she had fired her last torpedo, lay stopped in the sea a little way off; and survivors who had wondered if they were not escaping death by shellfire for death by drowning, felt a new surge of hope: even if it meant being taken prisoner, they were going to be rescued, they were going to live.

They struck out as well as they could towards the cruiser, though with the high seas and the oil from Bismarck's tanks and the wounds of many, it wasn't easy. Mullenheim-Rechberg, swimming along, passed a man who said, "I've no left leg any more". Staat remembered being told that when you died of cold, you first felt it in the testicles, but it was his feet and fingers that were getting numb. After more than an hour's swimming the first of them reached the Dorsetshire's side, where rafts, ropes, scrambling nets, fenders, lifelines of all kinds had been let down. Mullenheim-Rechberg noticed that many men, not seamen, didn't know how to grip a straight rope, urged them to get into ropes with bowlines. Staat's fingers were so frozen that he couldn't grip the rope at all, seized it with his teeth, was hauled on board that way. Mullenheim-Rechberg put his foot in a bowline rope, was pulled up by two sailors: when he reached deck level he tried to grab the guard-rail, was too exhausted and fell back into to sea. He got into the same rope again, was hauled up by the same two sailors, this time took no risks, said in immaculate English, "please help me on board", which they did. Midshipman Joe Brooks of the Dorsetshire went down one of the lifelines, tried to get a bowline round a German who had lost both arms and was gripping the lifeline with his teeth. The ship rolled heavily, they both went under. Brooks never saw him again.

The Dorsetshire had picked up some eighty men and the Maori some twenty, many more were in the process of being hauled up and hundreds more were waiting in the water when an unexpected thing happened. Dorsetshire's navigating officer, Lieutenant Commander Durant, sighted on the starboard bow two miles away a smoky discharge in the water. He pointed it out to Catpain Martin and others on the bridge. No one knew what it was but the most likely explanation was a U-boat. The Admiralty had sent a warning that U-boats were on the way and they were lucky not to have encountered any already. And if it was a U-boat, Dorsetshire, laying stopped in the water, was a sitting target. In the circumstances, Captain Martin had no choice but to ring down for full speed and in HMS Maori, Commander Armstrong did the same.

Bismarck survivors who were almost on board were bundled over the guard-rails on to the deck: those half-way up the ropes found themselves training astern, hung on as long as they could against the forward movement of the ship, dropped off one by one, others in the water clawed frantically at the paintwork as the side slipped by. In Dortsetshire they heard the thin cries of hundreds of Germans who had come within an inch of rescue, had believed that their long ordeal was at last over, cries that the British sailors, no less than survivors already on board, would always remember. From the water, Bismarck's men watched appalled as the cruiser's grey side swept past them, believed then that tales they'd heard about the British not caring much about survivors where true after all, presently found themselves alone in the sunshine on the empty, tossing sea. And during the day, as they floated about he Atlantic with only lifebelts between them and eternity, the cold came to their testicles and hands and feet and heads, and one by one they lost consciousness, and one by one they died.

My expert witness to these dreadful events, corroborates Kennedy's version of events. In fact it was he, my witness, who ran Captain Martin's order to the commander overseeing the rescue operation. Captain Martin further ordered denton rafts and anything that floated to be tossed overboard to provide whatever assistance he could. We should all remember that the principal responsibliity of ALL warship captains, is to his own ship and crew. A ten ton heavy cruiser, dead in the water, would have presented a tasty target indeed to a U-boat, none of whom knew the fate of Bismarck. They were racing to the scene to help her make Brest.

And now from the German point of view.

Baron Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg, refered to in the above extract from Ludovic Kennedy's book, was the senior ranking officer among the survivors of Bismarck, hauled aboard HMS Dorsetshire. I'm delighted to show you this.....

It is a note sent by Captain Martin to the German the day after his rescue.

von Müllenheim-Rechberg writes in his book 'Battleship Bismarck, a Survivor's Story'.....

Escorted by the first officer, Commander CW Byas, I went to see how our men were getting along. Everything was satisfactory; the ship's surgeon was taking care of the sick and injured, and they all felt they were being treated very well. They were getting five meals a day and eating the same excellent food as the crew. The smokers among them were being issued twenty cigarettes a day. I learned later that it was no different in the Maori, which picked up twenty-five men, bringing the number resuced by British ships to 110, about 5 per cent of the more than 2200 on board.

When Byas took me to the bridge, Captain Martin greeted me in a friendly enough manner and gave me a Scotch. The gesture was well meant but I was still too horrified at his leaving all those men in the water the day before to really appreciate it. "Why', I burst out, "did you suddently break off the rescue and leave hundreds of our men to drown?" Martin replied that a U-boat had been sighted, or at least reported, and he obviously could not endanger his ship by staying stopped any longer. The Bismarck's experiences on the night of 26 May and the morning of the 27th, I told him, indicated that there were no U-boats in the vicinity. Farther away, perhaps, but certianly not within firing range of the Dorsetshire. I added that in war one often sees what one expects to see. We argued the point back and forth until Martin said ubruptly: "Just leave that to me. I'm older than you are and have been at sea longer. I'm a better judge". What more could i say? He was the captain and was responsible for his ship.

Apparently, some floating object had been mistaken for a persiscope or a strip of foam on the water for the wake of a torpedo. No matter what it was, I am now convinced that, under the circumstances, Martin had to act as he did.

I would like to end by mentioinng Martin Smith, son of Allon Smith, observer on the Dorsetshire's Walrus. Martin has been a faithful correspondent here on this blog and has been equally faithful to the remembrances of his father. Martin Smith has written here that Allon Smith, Dorsetshire's observer aircrew member, thought of Captain Martin, "a proper bastard". I would like to wonder out loud that, if in the entire history of the fleet air arm, Mr. Smith is the only junior officer who though ill of his captain. For many, even today, it is de rigueur.

Finally, much has been written of Midshipman Brooks and his attempted rescue. My witness has reported that, whilst he was certainly reprimanded by Captain Martin, he was NOT confined to his cabin. I have, in my research, unearthed quite a bit of material about what became of Midshipman Brooks and will publish it in the days ahead.

In conclusion, I think Captain Martin has been inadequately remembered for his part in one of the great naval battles of history. His was an unenviable position on that late morning, sixty nine years ago today, but my research has revealed he was an honourable man, a brave and dutiful officer, first-rate warship captain, and a decent man possessed of a strong moral core and excellent qualities of leadership. His memory deserves to be dishonoured no longer.

Remembering the Battleship BISMARCK

Any discussion about the Bismarck should begin, and end, with this man. Captain Ernst Lindemann. From his early days as a young gunnery officer in the Battleships Elsass and Schleswig-Holstein during World War 1, Lindemann went on to be a lecturer at the Naval Gunnery School. From 1936 he was an advisor to, and later head of, the construction department of the Naval High Command. If you were to choose your very best man to command your very best ship, Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann was an ideal choice. Such key people were crucial in the war at sea during those dark days of the 1940's. From the German point of view, it was a case of so few against so many. The "many" they referred to was, of course, His Majesty's Royal Navy, then the greatest sea power ever known.

The strategy was as brilliant as it was simple.

Sink enemy merchant shipping, avoid enemy warships and on NO account, engage Battleships of the Royal Navy.

By 1941, three million tons of allied merchant ships had been sunk by German U-boats and the impact was very nearly catastrophic. Since Britain is an island, the best way to bring her to her knees, then as now, is to interdict her trade routes. If you sink the ships bringing provisions to Britain, you will very soon starve her. It was for this purpose that the greatest Battleships of the the Kriegsmarine were built.

None greater than this one. None greater than BISMARCK. In fact, so massive was Bismarck, Captain Lindemann decided his ship was to be known and referred to as, a 'he', rather than in the female as is customary when it came to ships. Not for Bismarck, though. Bismarck was a 'he'.

Three days earlier, Bismarck not only engaged battleships of the Royal Navy, but sunk the very pride of their fleet during the Battle of the Denmark Strait. This unleashed a force of fury and determination that would lead to sinking of Bismarck. But she very, VERY nearly got away with it.

After sinking HMS Hood, Bismarck and Prince Eugen were relentlessly pursued by HMS Norfolk and Suffolk. In a brilliant tactic, the two German ships separated, causing the hounds to lose the scent, thus allowing their fox Bismarck to escape into the vastness of the Atlantic. It was only a long, rambling and completely unnecessary series of radio messages sent by Admiral Günther Lütjens that permitted the location of Bismarck to be triangulated by radio detection stations onshore in Britain.

HMS King George V was on her way at high speed though over 110 nautical miles away. HMS Rodney and Dorsetshire were to leave convoy duty for the hunt, and an attack force from Gibraltar, HMS Sheffield and the brand new carrier HMS Ark Royal was underway at high speed.

Flying his flag in HMS King George V, Admiral Jack Tovey ordered the aircraft from Ark Royal to find and attack Bismarck. She had to be slowed down somehow or they'd have no chance of catching her before she reached Brest and the safety of German air cover.

HMS Sheffield was between the Ark Royal and Bismarck and in their enthusiasm, the Swordfish torpedo bombers of HMS Ark Royal mistook HMS Sheffield for the Bismarck and launched a coordinated attack on their own ship! Fortunately for HMS Sheffield, a new type of contact detonator was being tried on the torpedoes and they were duds. No torpedo exploded and the Swordfish recovered to HMS Ark Royal for rearming with older, but effective detonators.

There was to be no mistake the second time and the subsequent attack disabled Bismarck's steering. It was only a matter of time now.

I think it useful to reflect upon the force gathered to hunt and sink the Bismarck. It required the collective efforts of a British fleet of five battleships, three battle cruisers, two aircraft carriers, four heavy and seven light cruisers, and twenty one destroyers to find an destroy her. In addition, more than fifty aircraft of the RAF's Coastal Command participated in her destruction. At ranges that diminished to 2,500 meters and brought a proportionalely high rate of hits, the following ordnance was fired at the Bismarck after the action off Iceland.

380 16 inch shells fired from HMS Rodney
716 6 inch shells fired from HMS Rodney
339 14 inch shells fired from from HMS KGV
660 5.25 inch shells fired from HMS KGV
527 8 inch shells fired from HMS Norfolk
254 8 inch shells fired from HMS Dorsetshire

In total, 2,876 shells fired at the Bismarck during a course of action that lasted ninety minutes.

Of the battle to sink the Bismarck, CINCHOME, Admiral Jack Tovey wrote:-
"The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds, worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy, and she went down with her colours flying".

The admiral had wanted to say this publicly but the Admiralty informed him: "For political reasons it is essential that nothing of the nature of the sentiments expressed by you should be given publicity, however much we admire a gallant fight".

A final word about Captain Lindemann. This brief extract from 'Battleship Bismarck, a survivors story' by Baron Burkard Von Müllenheim-Rechberg, the Bismarck's top-ranking survivor.

When swimmers close to the bow of the ship looked back, they saw Lindemann standing on the forecastle in front of turret Anton. His messenger, a seaman, was with him. Soon, both men went forward and began climbing a steadily increasing slope. Lindemann's gestures showed that he was urging his companion to go overboard and save himself. The man refused and stayed with his commanding officer until they reached the jackstaff. Then Lindemann walked out on the starboard side of the stem which, though rising ever higher, was becoming more level as the ship lay over. There he stopped and raised his hand to his white cap. The Bismarck now lay completely on her side. Then, slowly, slowly, she and the saluting Lindemann went down.

Later a machineist wrote,

"I always thought such things happened only in books, but I saw it with my own eyes."

The Battleship Bismarck, sunk on this day, May 27th, 1941. Sixty nine years ago today. She sank slowly by the stern and slipped beneath the waves at 1039 am. Of her ship's company of 2200, 1995 would die.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Remembering HMS Hood, sunk on this day 69 years ago.


Some ships are ledgendary. So much more than mere metal and gunpowder. Some of them, by their beauty and power, became the very embodiment of Empire. Everything that was great and good about British sea power. So it was with HMS Hood.

Actually, she wasn't a Battleship in the strictest sense. HMS Hood was a battle cruiser. Battlecruisers were generally as large and costly as battleships of the same generation, often using the same large-calibre main armament, but they traded off armour or firepower for higher speed. The earliest battlecruisers carried significantly less armour than the equivalent battleship, meaning they were not intended to stand up against the guns they themselves carried. Thus ships of this type could inflict much more punishment than they could absorb.

The following is an extract from Ludovic Kennedy's excellent book 'Pursuit'. It describes the mighty HOOD so beautifully; and far better than I'm able.
She was an old lady now, one of the oldest in the Navy, laid down in 1916 in the Clydebank yards of John Brown, who later built the great Queens, named after a family who had given the Navy four famous admirals, Lord Hood who helped Rodney defeat the French in the West Indies in the eighteenth century, his brother Lord Bridport who was with Howe at the Glorious First of June, Sam Hood who helped Nelson win the battle of the Nile, Horace Hood killed at Jutland when his flagship Invincible blew up.

She was launched by his widow, Lady Hood, in August 1918, just three months before the Armistice, the biggest warship ever built, longer even that Bismarck (860 feet as compared to 828) though narrower in the beam, with - like Bismarck - eight fifteen inch guns mounted in pairs in four turrets. Her maximum speed of 32 knots made her the fastest warship of her size in the world, going flat out it took a ton of oil to drive her half a mile.

She was a beautiful ship, elegant and symmetrical like Bismarck, yet dignified and restrained, without the aggressive sweep of Bismarck's lines or the massiveness that spoke of held-back power. But she had one great defect, a lack of armour on her upper decks. Hood had been laid down before Jutland where three British battle cruisers were destroyed by German shells which, fired at long range, had plunged vertically through the lightly protected decks, exploding inside. All big ships built after Jutland had strengthened armour.

Hood's armour was strengthened on her sides but not on her decks: they were to be her Achilles heel.

More from Kennedy's 'Pursuit'...
Between the wars, when a quarter of the globe was still coloured red for Britain, the Hood showed the flag, as they used to say, to the Empire and the world. She went on cruises to Scandinavia and South America, to the Mediterranean and the Pacific, to the old world and the new. Her 1923-24 world tour, in company with HMS Repulse and five cruisers, was described as "the most successful cruise by a squadron of warships in the history of sea-power".

They visited South Africa, Zanzibar, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, San Francisco, the Panama Canal, Jamaica, Canada, Newfoundland. Their arrival anywhere caused huge crowds to gather, filled the pages of the local press. A girl in Melbourne noted: "Every road and pathway was thick, and many families were making a day of it, taking out all the children and hampers of food and bottles of beer. The Bay was dotted with sailing boats. The mist lifted to reveal Hood and her consorts coming in. It was a wonderful sight - something I shall never forget, everyone cheering and the kids running up and down and the sirens of all the ships in the harbour going off".

In Hood's eleven-month voyage millions of people saw her, hundreds of thousands came aboard. She was a unique blend of strength and beauty, the outward and visible manifestation of sea-power. Looking at her one understood what Rule Britannia meant. Her visitors fingered the brasswork and fondled the guns, walked the long decks and climbed the superstructure, took snapshots galore, stunned by the scale and wonder of it all. Her pulibc relations too were immaculate. Finding in Honolulu that a boy scout chosen to represent Hawaii at an assembly in Copenhagen had missed the steamer to the United States, Hood's Admiral gave him free passage on the boy's mess deck, and won a garland from the American press. When she arrived in San Francisco, the mayor, bowled over by her size and beauty, said: We surrender our city unto you. We capitulate".

Such was the nature, spirit and beauty of HMS Hood.

Kennedy again.....
But at least one shell of that broadside made no splash: it came plunging down like a rocket, hit the old ship fair and square between centre and stern, sliced its way through steel and wood, pierced the deck that should have been strengthened and never was, penetrated to the ship's vitals deep below the water line, exploded, touched off the 4 inch magazine which in turn touched off the after 15 inch magazine. Before the eyes of the horrified British and incredulous Germans a huge column of flame leapt up from Hood's centre.

The smoke was clearing to show Hood with a broken back, in two pieces, bow and stern pointing towards the sky. As he watched, he saw the two forward turrets of Hood suddenly spit out a final salvo: it was an accident, the circuits must have been closed at the moment she was struck, but to her enemies it seemed a last defiant and courageous gesture.

HMS HOOD, pride of the Royal Navy, was struck by a fatal shell fired from the Bismarck at 0601 hours on the morning of today, May 24th, sixty nine years ago. She sank in three minutes.

Of her 1418 men and boys aboard, there were 3 survivors.

The Admirals

These three men are central to our story. 69 years ago, two of them had only days to live and with them, 4000 officers, men and boys would be lost in one of the greatest Battleship engagements of naval history. The fate of these men would materially effect the future of Battleships, for decades the capitol ship of all navies everywhere. It was, and still is, about power. Being able to project naval power. You could protect with a lesser ship, but in order to project, a Battleship was called for. But not for much longer.

Naval warfare was to change forever.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Cronyn Tovey, 1st Baron Tovey, GCB, KBE, DSO, DCL

Admiral Sir 'Jack' Tovey, Here is another of Jack Tovey, wearing the lace of a full Admiral, RN, when Commander in Chief Home Fleet (CINCHOME), and flying his flag in HMS King George V during the hunt for Bismarck.

Vice Admiral Lancelot Earnest Holland, flew his flag in HMS Hood

Admiral Günther Lütjens

In the 1960 film, Sink the Bismarck!, Lütjens is portrayed as egotistic, overconfident, and a Nazi enthusiast angered over Germany's humiliation and his own lack of recognition at the end of World War I. In reality, Lütjens, the grandson of a jew, was pessimistic of the chance of success of Bismarck's mission and did not agree with Nazi policies; he was one of the few officers who refused to give the Nazi salute when Hitler visited Bismarck before its first and final mission, deliberately using instead the traditional naval salute. Lütjens also wore by choice the dirk of the Kaiserliche Marine, rather than the more modern Kriegsmarine dirk which bore a swastika. The film also makes a mistake in the sequence of events aboard Bismarck, showing Lütjens ordering Captain Ernst Lindemann to open fire on Hood and Prince of Wales. In the event, Lütjens actually ordered Lindemann to avoid engaging Hood, but Lindemann disobeyed and ordered the ship's gun crews to open fire on Hood and Prince of Wales.

The Battle of Denmark Strait

In two days, we will celebrate the 69th anniversary of one of the great battles in naval history.

Here is the story in the hope in will whet your appetite as to what will follow in the days ahead.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Sinking of the Kreuzer "Blücher"

Today is May 17th, Norwegian Constitution Day, the National Day of Norway. In recognition of this auspicious date, here is a story of David versus Goliath from the pages of Naval History.

The Blücher was a German Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser. The Kriegsmarine's newest ship at the outbreak of World War II, having been in commission for just over six months, she was sunk by Norwegian shore defences at the Battle of Drøbak Sound on April 9, 1940, the first day of the invasion of Norway (Operation Weserübung).

Blücher was the flagship of the naval flotilla Marine Gruppen 5, with heavy cruiser Lützow (formerly Deutschland), light cruiser Emden, with three small torpedo boats and eight small minesweepers, commanded by Rear Admiral Oskar Kummetz, transporting troops to capture Oslo in the initial stages of the German invasion of Norway - Operation Weserübung ("Weser Exercise").

Blücher's sister ship, Hipper also took part in the invasion of Norway, landing troops at Trondheim (Norway's third largest city, roughly half way up Norway's west coast), despite being rammed and damaged by HMS Glowworm. The troops occupied the city in the early hours, flying the Nazi flag on the city's old Kristiansten Fortress and other municipal buildings before most of the inhabitants had even awoken.

The attack on the German fleet by the Norwegian guard vessel Pol III, just before midnight on April 8, 1940 had alerted the Norwegian defences. Blücher, carrying 1000 troops, led the line as the German flotilla approached the unlit Oscarsborg Fortress on South Kaholmen Island in the Drøbak narrows. The German squadron commander "kept his ship's main armament aligned fore and aft in a gesture of disdain for the Norwegian fortifications."

One of the two 28 cm guns in the main Oslo coastal fortress that took part in the sinking of Blücher
At 04.21 hours, (Norwegian time) the fortress' guns opened fire on the Blücher. The three German-made Krupp 280 mm (11 in) guns (only two were manned due to a lack of trained gunners) of the fortress, installed in 1893 (aptly named Moses, Aaron and Josva), were obsolete, so the defenders held fire until the warships were at point-blank range (most sources state that fire was opened at a range of 1,600 to 1,800 metres (about 1 mile). The first 28 cm shell hit the Blücher right in front of the aft mast, and created an inferno of flames and smoke in the midship area up to the fore mast.

The second Main Battery round shortly thereafter hit the base of the fore 20.3 cm gun turret, throwing large parts of it into the fjord and igniting further fires on board. There was only time for the Main Battery to fire these two rounds, due to their slow reload time with only 30 untrained recruits manning them at the time. There was not time to reload; there was not even time to fire a third gun, Josva (Joshua), which was loaded, but unmanned.

The return fire from Blücher was ineffective, with the light artillery mostly pointing too high and the main batteries, 20.3 cm guns, could not fire due the damage caused by the second 28 cm round from Oscarsborg's Main Battery.

While fire was raging aboard Blücher, the secondary Norwegian coastal batteries pelted her with guns ranging in calibre from the small 57 millimetre pieces at Husvik on the mainland, designed to protect the fortress' minefields (not laid at the time of the invasion), to the 15 cm guns of the Kopås battery on the eastern side of the fjord. The larger guns wrought havoc on board the cruiser while the 57 mm guns concentrated on the cruiser's superstructure and anti-aircraft weapons, and were partially successful in suppressing the fire from her light artillery as the Blücher slowly sailed past the fortress.

The Husvik Battery had to be abandoned when Blücher passed in front of it and fired her light AA guns directly down into the positions. One of the 15 cm rounds from Kopås disabled the Blücher's steering system and forced the cruiser's crew to steer her using the engines and propeller to avoid running aground.

The Germans were unaware of a torpedo battery near Oscarsborg's main gun battery at North Kaholmen Island. Built in 1901, it was equipped with three shore-mounted dual elevators firing the torpedoes via underwater tunnels. The torpedoes were Austro-Hungarian-built Whitehead torpedoes (in the torpedo factory of Fiume, Hungarian Kingdom, now Rijeka, Croatia) of the same turn-of-the-century vintage. These torpedoes had been practice-launched well over 200 times before being fired in anger, and no-one was certain if they would function or not. They did.

Blücher received two direct hits, one near her forward turret Anton and the second in the engine room, leaving her drifting out of control in the narrow fjord. The torpedoes sealed her fate. The rest of the flotilla, seeing the torpedo explosions, mistakently believed that the Blücher had hit mines. As a result, the flotilla reversed out of the narrows, thus ensuring that Oslo would not be invaded at dawn as intended. Before the remaining ships of the invasion force could withdraw, the Lützow was hit three times by the Kopaas battery and her Anton and Bruno turrets were disabled. The damaged Lützow steamed at full-speed astern, into mist and out of the Norwegian shore batteries' zone of fire.

Attempts were made to run Blücher aground on the Nesodden peninsula, but they failed. At 06.00 hours, the damaged and now sinking Blücher dropped anchor at Askholmen. The purpose was to let wind and current swing the stern closer to Askholmene to rescue more of the crew and soldiers onboard. Askholmene is 6 nautical miles (11 km) south of Oslo and out of the arc of fire from the Norwegian shore batteries. Her torpedoes were fired into the sides of the fjord to prevent them from exploding aboard the ship. At 06.23 the fires reached the 10.5 cm ammunition magazine which detonated, dooming the ship.

By 7.00 with no hope of containing the fires, the order to abandon ship was given. At 7.22 hours, the Blücher capsized and sank. Of the 2,202 crew and troops on board, some 830 died (at least 320 of them crewmen). Most either drowned or burnt to death in the flaming oil slick surrounding the wreck. The survivors came ashore on either side of the fjord. The Blücher's sailors were ordered to give up their life jackets (all sailors are expected to be able to swim) to the troops on board, thus saving the lives of a significant number of soldiers. Her Commanding Officer, Kapitan zur See Heinrich Woldag, survived the sinking, but was killed in a plane crash eight days later.

One of the Blücher's anchors at Aker Brygge.

The delay caused to the landings in Oslo allowed the Norwegian royal family, parliament and cabinet to escape.
Norway's gold reserves were also moved out of reach of the invaders and ultimately shipped abroad for Norway's use during the war.