HMS Glowworm (H92)

HMS Glowworm was a G-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1930s. During the Spanish Civil War the ship spent part of 1936 and 1937 in Spanish waters, enforcing the arms blockade imposed by Britain and France on both sides of the conflict. Glowworm was transferred from the Mediterranean Fleet shortly after the beginning of World War II to the British Isles, to escort shipping in local waters. In March 1940, she was transferred to the Home Fleet, just in time to participate in the opening stages of the Norwegian Campaign. On 8 April 1940 Glowworm encountered German destroyers transporting troops to invade Norway in Operation Weserübung. The German destroyers attempted to disengage while calling for help from the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. Glowworm was heavily damaged by Admiral Hipper, but still attempted to torpedo the German ship. In chaos of the battle, the heavily damaged Glowworm ended up ramming Admiral Hipper, which broke the bow off Glowworm, and she sank shortly afterwards.

HMS Glowworm (H92).jpg
Broadside view of Glowworm
United Kingdom
Ordered5 March 1934
BuilderJohn I. Thornycroft & Company, Woolston, Hampshire
Laid down15 August 1934
Launched22 July 1935
Commissioned22 January 1936
Identificationpennant number: H92
MottoEx tenebris lux : 'Out of darkness light'.
FateSunk by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper, 8 April 1940
BadgeOn a Field Blue, a lantern Black with rays issuing Silver
General characteristics as built
Class and typeG-class destroyer
Length323 ft (98.5 m)
Beam33 ft (10.1 m)
Draught12 ft 5 in (3.8 m)
Installed power
Propulsion2 shafts, 2 geared steam turbines
Speed36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph)
Range5,530 nmi (10,240 km; 6,360 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement137 (peacetime), 146 (wartime)


Glowworm displaced 1,350 long tons (1,370 t) at standard load and 1,883 long tons (1,913 t) at deep load. The ship had an overall length of 323 feet (98.5 m), a beam of 33 feet (10.1 m) and a draught of 12 feet 5 inches (3.8 m). She was powered by Parsons geared steam turbines, driving two shafts, which developed a total of 34,000 shaft horsepower (25,000 kW) and gave a maximum speed of 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph). Steam for the turbines was provided by three Admiralty 3-drum water-tube boilers. Glowworm carried a maximum of 470 long tons (480 t) of fuel oil that gave her a range of 5,530 nautical miles (10,240 km; 6,360 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph). The ship's complement was 137 officers and men in peacetime.[1]

The ship mounted four 45-calibre 4.7-inch (120 mm) Mark IX guns in single mounts. For anti-aircraft defence Glowworm had two quadruple Mark I mounts for the 0.5 inch Vickers Mark III machine gun.[1] She was the test ship for the new quintuple torpedo tube mounts for 21-inch (533 mm) torpedoes. One depth charge rail and two throwers were fitted; 20 depth charges were originally carried, but this increased to 35 shortly after the war began.[2]

Operational historyEdit

Early careerEdit

Badge of HMS Glow-worm

Glowworm was ordered from the yards of John I. Thornycroft and Company, at Woolston, Hampshire on 5 March 1934 under the 1933 Construction Programme. She was laid down on 15 August 1934 and launched on 22 July 1935. She was completed on 22 January 1936 at a total cost of £248,785, excluding government-furnished equipment like the armament.[3][Note 1] Upon commissioning she was assigned to the 1st Destroyer Flotilla of the Mediterranean Fleet. Glowworm patrolled Spanish waters during the Spanish Civil War enforcing the edicts of the Non-Intervention Committee until she had a refit at Portsmouth between 27 May and 8 June 1937. The ship returned to the 1st Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean after her brief refit. Glowworm returned to Portsmouth for a longer overhaul between 7 June and 25 July 1938 and escorted the ocean liner SS Strathnaver between Malta and Alexandria during the Munich Crisis in September 1938. She then escorted the light cruiser Arethusa on her voyage to Aden later that month.[4] During night exercises on 16 May 1939, Glowworm collided with her sister, Grenade, and was forced to put into Alexandria for temporary repairs. She received permanent repairs in Malta between 23 May and 24 June.[5]

Glowworm was in Alexandria when World War II began in September 1939. In October the flotilla was transferred to the Western Approaches Command and Glowworm sailed for the UK on 19 October with her sisters Gallant, Grafton, and Greyhound. They arrived at Plymouth on 22 October and were deployed in the South Western Approaches. Glowworm carried out convoy escort duties and anti-submarine patrols until 12 November when she was transferred to the 22nd Destroyer Flotilla, based at Harwich, for North Sea patrol and escort duties. On 22 February 1940 she was hit by the Swedish ship Rex in fog whilst at anchor off Outer Dowsing. Glowworm suffered significant structural damage and was under repair at a commercial dockyard in Hull until late March. On completion of the repairs, she was transferred back to the 1st Destroyer Flotilla of the Home Fleet, rejoining the flotilla at its base at Scapa Flow on 20 March.[6]

On 5 April Glowworm was part of the escort of the battlecruiser Renown, along with her sisters Greyhound, Hero, and Hyperion. The ships covered the minelaying operation in Norwegian waters, Operation Wilfred. On 7 April, Glowworm was detached from the task force to search for a man lost overboard.[7]

Final battleEdit

A photograph of Glowworm taken from Admiral Hipper, 8 April 1940. Glowworm is making smoke
Glowworm on fire

On the morning of 8 April 1940 Glowworm was on her way to rejoin Renown when she encountered the German destroyers Z11 Bernd von Arnim and Z18 Hans Lüdemann in the heavy fog before 8:00 a.m. The destroyers were part of a German naval detachment, led by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, on its way to land troops at Trondheim as part of the German invasion of Norway (Operation Weserübung). Glowworm opened fire and the German destroyers attempted to disengage, signalling for help. The request was soon answered by Admiral Hipper which spotted Glowworm at 09:50. Hipper initially had difficulty in distinguishing Glowworm from von Arnim, but opened fire eight minutes later at a range of 8,400 metres (9,200 yd) with her 20.3-centimetre (8.0 in) main guns. Glowworm was hit by Hipper's fourth salvo and she started making smoke. She turned into her own smoke in an attempt to break visual contact with Hipper, but the cruiser's radar-directed guns were not affected by the smoke. When the destroyer emerged from her smoke the range was now short enough that the cruiser's 10.5-centimetre (4.1 in) guns could fire. Glowworm's radio room, bridge, and forward 4.7-inch gun were all destroyed, and she received additional hits in the engine room, the captain's day cabin, and finally the mast. As this crashed down, it caused a short circuit of the wiring, causing the ship's siren to start a banshee wail.

Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope, awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross

At 10:10, Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope fired five torpedoes from one mounting at a range of 800 metres (870 yd), but all missed because Captain Hellmuth Heye had kept Hipper's bow pointed at Glowworm throughout the battle to minimize his risk from torpedoes. The destroyer fell back through her smoke screen to buy time to get her second torpedo mount working, but Heye followed Glowworm through the smoke to finish her off before she could fire the rest of her torpedoes. The two ships were very close when Hipper emerged from the smoke and Roope ordered a hard turn to starboard to ram the cruiser. Hipper was slow to answer her helm and Glowworm struck the cruiser just abaft the anchor. The collision broke off Glowworm's bow and the rest of the ship scraped along Hipper's side, gouging open several holes in the latter's hull and destroying her forward starboard torpedo mounting. One German sailor was knocked overboard by the collision. Hipper took on some 500 tonnes (490 long tons) of water before the leaks could be isolated, but was not seriously damaged. Glowworm was on fire when she drifted clear and her boilers exploded at 10:24, taking 109 of her crew with her.[8]

Admiral Hipper hove to in order to rescue her man overboard and Glowworm's survivors. The German sailor was not found, but 40 British sailors were recovered, although at least six later died of their wounds. Lieutenant Ramsay, the senior surviving officer, told his rescuers that neither the helm nor the emergency steering was manned when the ships collided. German accounts only mention four torpedoes fired by Glowworm, but British accounts say all ten were fired. This was confirmed by photographic evidence taken after the collision showing all of her torpedo tubes empty.[9]

Roope, who drowned when he could no longer hang on to a rope whilst being pulled up the side of the cruiser, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, thus becoming the first VC recipient of the Second World War.[10] The award was justified, in part, by the recommendation of Heye, who wrote to the British authorities via the Red Cross, giving a statement of the valiant courage Roope had shown when engaging a much superior ship in close battle. Ramsay was also awarded the DSO. Both awards were made after the end of the war.[10][11]


  1. ^ Adjusted for inflation to 2021 pounds, £17,792,260.


  1. ^ a b Whitley, pp. 107–08
  2. ^ English, p. 141
  3. ^ English, pp. 89–90
  4. ^ English, p. 95
  5. ^ English, p. 96
  6. ^ English, pp. 96–97
  7. ^ Haarr, pp. 65–66
  8. ^ Haar, pp. 91–95
  9. ^ Haar, pp. 94–95, 431
  10. ^ a b Haarr, p. 96
  11. ^ London Gazette


  • English, John (1993). Amazon to Ivanhoe: British Standard Destroyers of the 1930s. Kendal, England: World Ship Society. ISBN 0-905617-64-9.
  • Haarr, Geirr H. (2009). The German Invasion of Norway, April 1940. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-310-9.
  • Rohwer, Jürgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945: The Naval History of World War Two (3rd rev. ed.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-119-2.
  • Whitley, M. J. (1988). Destroyers of World War Two: An International Encyclopaedia. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-326-1.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 64°27′N 6°28′E / 64.450°N 6.467°E / 64.450; 6.467