Tuesday, August 14, 2007

HNoMS Tordenskjold

Named after a famous Norwegian naval hero, the Tordenskjold was a 3,858-ton coast defense battleship built in England for the Norwegian Navy. Part of the two-ship Tordenskjold class (consisting of the Tordenskjold and the Harald Haarfagre), the Tordenskjold was commissioned in March 1898. The Tordenskjold class, along with the two slightly newer and larger ships of the Eidsvold class, served as the backbone of the Norwegian Navy for almost 40 years.

Coast defense battleships were a unique type of warship built from around 1860 to 1920. Their primary mission was coastal defense and not operations in the open ocean. Although called “battleships,” they were usually cruiser-sized warships that sacrificed range and speed for guns and armor. They were usually built for nations that could not afford real battleships and were designed to operate in shallow coastal waters. Several were built for use in Scandinavian waters, which were not only relatively shallow, but also filled with fjords and small islands. Some even steamed in large rivers, providing enormous firepower against land targets. Coast defense battleships differed from monitors in that they had a higher freeboard, were faster and were much more heavily armed. They were also more heavily armed and armored than light cruisers or gunboats and were faster and more powerful than any monitor, which made them useful warships for smaller countries with long coastlines.

For its size, the Tordenskjold was heavily armed with two 8.2-inch guns, six 4.7-inch guns and six 3-inch guns. She was 92.66 meters long, had a beam of 14.78 meters, and a top speed of 16.9 knots. The Tordenskjold had two turrets (one fore and one aft), each holding one 8.2-inch gun, and a 7-inch armor belt around the ship as well as 8 inches of armor on the turrets. With a crew of 245, the Tordenskjold and her sister ship provided the Norwegian Navy with a credible defense for its long coast.

The Tordenskjold class and the Eidsvold class coast defense battleships managed to maintain Norway’s neutrality during World War I (1914-1918), even though they were grossly outnumbered by both the German and British navies. After World War I Tordenskjold and her sister ship were converted into training ships and they served in that capacity until the 1940, when Norway was invaded by Germany. During the Battle for Narvik in 1940, the Eidsvold class coast defense battleships (the Eidsvoldand the Norge), which were larger and more heavily armed than the Tordenskjold class, were sunk with heavy loss of life by German destroyers. Although the Eidsvold and the Norge were bigger and more powerful than the German destroyers, they were also old, slow and the crews of the two Norwegian ships were not adequately trained to fight faster and more modern warships. The German destroyers sank the ships using torpedoes that proved to be devastating against the coast defense battleships (since the Norwegian ships were armored against other surface ships and not torpedoes).

But the Tordenskjold and her sister ship Harald Haarfagre were captured by the Germans and were converted into floating flak batteries. Although the ships were more than 40 years old, the Germans thought they were worth keeping, albeit in a different capacity. Armed with a large number of anti-aircraft guns, the Tordenskjold was renamed Nymphe by the German Navy and she served as a floating flak battery until May 1945, when she was bombed by Allied aircraft and was forced to be beached to prevent her from sinking. After the war the Tordenskjold was returned to the Royal Norwegian Navy and temporarily served as a floating barracks before she was sold for scrapping in 1948.

In their day, the Tordenskjold and the other coast defense battleships were useful for protecting coastal waters. Although they proved effective in World War I, by World War II they were no match for more modern warships. The Tordenskjold also showed that a warship could still have a very active and useful career even after it has been captured by another country. The Tordenskjold was a prize of war, a tradition that goes back centuries, and the Germans made the most of it.


Figure 1 (Top): Norwegian Coast Defense Battleship Tordenskjold. Photographed by A. Renard, Kiel, Germany, 1900. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): German Anti-Aircraft Ship Nymphe (formerly the Norwegian Tordenskjold) in 1940. The ship is surrounded by torpedo defense nets in a Norwegian harbor during World War II. Note her camouflage. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for lager image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): German Anti-Aircraft Ship Nymphe (formerly the Norwegian Tordenskjold) in 1940. Anchored in a Norwegian harbor during World War II, note her 105mm A.A. guns with camouflaged barrels and crewmen standing in formation on deck. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): Models of the HNoMS Tordenskjold (foreground) and HNoMS Eidsvold (rear). Picture taken at the Armed Forces Museum in Oslo, Norway. Click on photograph for larger image.