Bye, Bye, Blücher, Bye, Bye
Some 80 years ago today the pride of the German Kriegsmarine, the Hipper-class heavy cruiser Blücher, met an unlikely end. Built to raid British shipping and help screen Hiter’s new grand blue water navy, the massive 16,000-ton super cruiser with her eight 203mm guns and up to 3-inches of armor never saw it coming on the morning of 9 April 1940, when she sailed quietly and darked out into neutral Norwegian waters.
Without a declaration of war, Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway had begun with a series of sea and air penetrations of the Scandinavian county, one of which Blucher was leading.
As the flag of K.ADM Oskar Kummetz, she was packed with an 800-man contingent of the 163rd Infantry Division who would be landed in the nation’s capital of Oslo and quickly seize the government.
The German task force was spotted in the dark that morning by the Norwegian Coast Guard at Færder lighthouse and subsequently at Bolærne Fort in the narrow Oslofjord. They flashed a signal of the approaching foreign warships to Oscarsborg Fortress, strategically located at the narrowest point of the fjord. As the ships entered the Drøbak Sound, the commander at Oscarsborg, Col. Birger Eriksen, gave the order to open fire.
Two of the ancient 28cm Krupp (!) guns– nicknamed “Moses” and “Aron”– at Oscarsborg Fortress opened fire on the German cruiser at point-blank range, damaging the ship severely and setting it alight.
Then, a from the adjacent island of Northern Kaholmen, a hidden and unknown battery (although it had been installed in 1901!) of shore-based torpedo tubes with 30-year old Whitehead torpedoes made in Austria-Hungary engaged the ship.
Though they had small warheads, the good Austrian tin fish held true and holed Blucher at 04:34.
Between 1887 and 1913, Norway ordered no less than 377 torpedoes of various marks from Whitehead Di Fiume S.A., with the largest buy (of 100 fish) in 1912. The battery contained nine Whitehead Mk Vd torpedoes on that fateful morning of April 1940, each with a 220-pound warhead.
Blücher rolled over and sank by 0730 in 210 feet, with heavy loss of life. This kept the Norwegian King and government from being taken a prisoner, enabling them to escape to the north and eventually Britain. In all, the Blucher had only been in service for six months and 18 days.
A clip from the Norwegian movie “The King’s Choice” showing the interaction between Oscarsborg Fortress and Blücher in stark detail. English subtitles can be turned on for this clip.
The guns, torpedo tubes– and the Blücher for that matter– are still in their respective places as on that fateful morning 80 years ago today. That’s a lesson to never underestimate old but simple gear, especially if you drag your brand new cruisers right in front of it.
As for the Norwegians, they kept Oscarborg in service until 1993, with the torpedo battery the last thing taken offline.