Doomed Destroyer by Ron Cope #BookReview #BlogTour

On March 1st 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered Operation Weserubung: the invasion of Norway. Having swept across Europe, the Nazi assault on Scandinavia was designed to secure the valuable iron ore being delivered by rail from Sweden to the Norwegian port of Narvik. To complete the task, Hitler sent ten large destroyers, with 220 Alpine Troops on each. Five smaller British H Class destroyers were sent up the fjord in retaliation, with little knowledge of what to expect. On April 10th , the first British battle of Narvik began in earnest. Royal Naval Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee led his flotilla at midnight into the fjord; undetected, under darkness and in driving snow storms. The harbour erupted into a torpedo attack; back into the fjord, the destroyers Hardy, Hunter, Hotspur, Havock and Hostile were confronted by five German destroyers. A ferocious sea battle ensued and Hardy and Hunter were lost. In his first account of The Battle of Narvik, Attack at Dawn, Ron Cope focussed on the experience and the survival of the crew of HMS Hardy. After nine long years of research, he now reveals for the first time the untold story of HMS Hunter and her crew. Just forty-eight of the 159 servicemen on board survived in the cold waters of the fjord; picked up by German destroyers, they were eventually forced to march in freezing conditions over the mountains into internment in Sweden. Before the handover to the Swedish authorities, a German Army officer made the British servicemen sign a form: “On my being sent into Sweden I will not take up arms against Germany… Should I do so, and in the event of again being taken prisoner I shall be subject to such conditions as are provided under the Death Penalty Act”. Doomed Destroyer follows the astounding stories of the Hunter sailors, who would spend the next five years plotting and attempting to escape their captivity. Cope provides an extensive account of the viciously fought events at sea and in the fjords, examining the Norwegian price paid at Narvik and the early impact of war on the local community’s simple way of life. A remarkable account delivered with care and respect for those lost and left behind, Doomed Destroyer shines a light on this important but previously little known event in British history. “Without dedicated men like Ron Cope, the testimony and the stories of the men who were there – whether they were lost, wounded, or survived – what became of them, their families, might otherwise be lost to future generations.” Percy C. Danby, Lieutenant (E), C.D. RCN Retired. Ottawa. March 2017, survivor on HMS Hotspur.

I'm closing the blog tour for Doomed Destroyer by Ron Cope today. Many thanks to the author and Authoright for inviting me and for my copy of the book.
The sheer amount of information presented in Doomed Destroyer is incredible, there are detailed ship diagrams, photographs, diary entries, newspaper reports, radio transcripts, letters, the testimonies of survivors and the families, and far more. The book is mostly focused on the aftermath of The Battle of Narvik in which the destroyer, HMS Hunter was lost with the loss of most of the crew but the account actually opens with the ship's involvement in the Spanish Civil War when it was badly damaged in an explosion in 1937. Following this it was towed to Gibraltar then sailed to Malta. Here the author details the day to day running of the ship, including such titbits as the daily rum rations, weekly pay rates and how the men amused themselves in Malta. There's something rather poignant about reading of their exploits knowing that war is imminent and many of them will perish in the freezing water off the coast of Norway.
The battle itself, and the loss of HMS Hunter and HMS Hardy is described through eyewitness accounts, official communications and using subsequent research and inquiries. Ron Cope then writes in some detail about what happened to some of the forty-eight servicemen who survived. He describes their initial capture by the Germans, their long and arduous march to an internment camp in Sweden and their later movements as far as he has been possibly able. Some escaped and eventually managed to find their way back to England, others became prisoners of war, and again the author has included a number of facts about life in the camps. He also incorporates accounts from those who were on other ships, including men who were on The March towards the end of the war when  thousands of POWs were forced to undertake a vast trek from east to west, many dying en route due to the bitter cold or exhaustion.
I must admit to finding such a heavily detailed book a little daunting and if I wasn't reading it for this blog tour I think I would have preferred to dip in and out of it rather than read it in one go. I feel it could have benefited from some further editing and reorganisation of some passages to improve the flow of the book. However, this is clearly a real labour of love and the result of many years of painstaking research. Ron Cope's father was a survivor of The Battle of Narvik and the author himself served in the Royal navy. Therefore, I can appreciate just how important it was to him to write a thorough account of this little known event in order to honour both the men lost and those who survived. He has certainly achieved that and I'm sure Doomed Destroyer will be a valuable resource to anybody researching naval history, particularly those interested in World War II.

Doomed Destroyer is published by Clink Street Publishing and can be purchased here.

Details of the other stops on the blog tour, which included other reviews, guest posts and extracts can be found in this poster.

About the Author
 Born in Salford, Ron Cope followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Royal Navy in 1964, working in electronics. After leaving the forces in 1986, he spent over twenty years working in the probation service, specifically with young offenders. Now a proud father and  grandfather, Cope is retired and living with his wife Alison in Telford, Shropshire. His first naval history book Attack at Dawn: Reliving the First Battle of Narvik in World War Two.