Book Review: Death at Dawn: Captain Warburton-Lee VC and the Battle of Narvik, April 1940


by Alf R. Jacobsen

Stroud, Eng.: The History Press / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2016. Pp. 240. Illus., maps, append., notes, index. $37.95 paper. ISBN: 0750965371

Heroic Action in the First Battle of Narvik

Norwegian journalist Jacobsen offers a well written, comprehensive treatment of the opening rounds of the Norwegian campaign of 1940, as well as a life of Captain Bernard Armitage Warburton Warburton-Lee, who received the first Victoria Cross awarded in World War II.

Following a short prologue, Jacobsen opens with four chapters on the background of the campaign, which developed out of Allied – primarily British – desires to interrupt the supply of Swedish iron ore to Germany and Hitler’s need to secure that supply and open a window on the Atlantic, so that, in effect, both sides were planning to invade Norway at the same time. He follows with three chapters on the preparations and preliminary developments, including Norwegian planning, a matter often overlooked in books about the campaign in their country. Jacobsen then gives us two chapters on the movements of the respective forces into Norwegian waters, the initial German landings and the Allied intervention, with a mix of British, French, and Polish forces.

It is with his final two chapters that Jacobsen comes to the naval operations at Narvik from April 9th through the 11th. He covers the German approach to the port, and their sinking of two Norwegian coast defense ships in violation of a truce. Then Jacobsen gives us an account of Warburton-Lee’s daring dawn raid against superior forces that resulted in heavy losses to the Germans, including the sinking two of ten destroyers and seven auxiliaries or merchantmen, and damage to other ships, at the loss of two of his five destroyers, during which he was killed, as was his German counter-part, Kapitan-zu-see Friedrich Bonte, who was awarded a posthumous Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. This action, in the finest traditions of the Royal Navy, set the stage for the destruction of the remaining German destroyers on April 13th; the loss of the ten destroyers would hamper Kriegsmarine operations for the rest of the war.

Often critical of British naval leadership, right up to First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill, Jacobsen has written an excellent account of the opening rounds of the first land-sea-air campaign of World War II, which, despite this early success for the Allies, would ultimately prove a disaster.

Death at Dawn, which is Jacobsen’s third book on this campaign, though the only one yet available in English, is a valuable read for anyone with an interest in naval operations or the war in Europe.

Note: Death at Dawn is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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