Upon the Recommendation of an Enemy Commander, Lt. Commander Gerard Roope was Awarded the Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is awarded by the British to gallant men due to them doing their worst upon their enemy. It is quite remarkable then that the enemy would recommend a man for his nation’s highest military honor.

Such was the case for Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope off the coast of Norway. Commanding the destroyer HMS Glowworm in rough seas, Roope came across two German destroyers and decided to engage with them instantly. HMS Glowworm scored a direct hit against one, and the two enemy destroyers headed north with Roope giving chase. Realizing they were likely drawing him into a more significant battle, Roope knew the importance of relaying back the location of the German fleet and doing his worst upon it while he could. He then encountered the much more substantial German cruiser Admiral Hipper. Undaunted, Roope led his smaller craft on a mission to do his worst upon the enemy. The result ended with the sinking of the HMS Glowworm; a heavily damaged Admiral Hipper and a German commander so impressed with Roope’s gallantry that he wrote to the British to recommend the Victoria Cross for his fallen foe.

Gerard Broadmead Roope. HMS GLOWWORM, Norwegian Sea, 8 April 1940.
Gerard Broadmead Roope. HMS GLOWWORM, Norwegian Sea, 8 April 1940.

An Early Start to War and Gallantry

Gerard Broadmead Roope was born in 1905 Taunton, Somerset. Roope, as did most men his age, opted for service in the Royal Navy after school. Joining in 1927, he was commissioned an officer and began what seemed like an unremarkable naval service that ended as anything but unremarkable. By 1939, his country was at war, and he was at sea seeking to uphold the finest traditions of the Royal Navy.

In April 1940, Roope was commanding the HMS Glowworm off the coast of Norway. The Glowworm was part of a considerable force led by the HMS Renown. They were on a mission to place mines in Norwegian waters to slow and harass plans for a German invasion. On April 7, the HMS Glowworm lost a man overboard and detached from the main group to conduct a search. Unlikely to find him in heavy seas, the search placed Roope and the HMS Glowworm on a rendezvous with military history.

On April 8, the HMS Glowworm was heading back to the main group when it encountered two German destroyers which were part of a massive invasion force. Realizing the importance of the need to engage, the HMS Glowworm closed with its enemy. The salvos made contact with at least one German destroyer causing them both to break off and head north. While Roope knew they were likely heading towards a large force, he knew this contact needed to be relayed to the British fleet operating in the area.

HMS Glowworm deploying a smoke curtain in front of Admiral Hipper.
HMS Glowworm deploying a smoke curtain in front of Admiral Hipper.

Little Dog in a Big Fight

Pursuing the two destroyers, the HMS Glowworm sighted a much larger ship closing on their position. The German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper was in the area and ready to join the fight. The heavy seas and rough weather made escape an unlikely option for the HMS Glowworm. As a result, Roope decided to stay and try to do his worst upon the enemy. The German commander attempted to use the weather to his advantage and keep Roope ahead and directly in his sights. The HMS Glowworm released a salvo of 5 torpedos upon the Admiral Hipper.

Unfortunately, none hit their mark, and gunfire struck the HMS Glowworm from the Admiral Hipper. Several guns were destroyed, and the HMS Glowworm’s speed was drastically reduced. Another salvo of 5 torpedos from HMS Glowworm failed to find their mark in the rough weather, and the Admiral Hipper continued to close.

Roope gave the order to charge and ram the enemy cruiser. The Admiral Hipper attempted to turn away, but due to the weather, the controls failed to respond accordingly. Just 400 yards away, the HMS Glowworm unleashed a final salvo of fire into the side of the Admiral Hipper scoring a direct hit. It then proceeded to finish the ramming maneuver striking the German ship. Ripping off its anchor; tearing away over 130 feet of its armored belt and destroying the Admiral Hipper’s starboard torpedo tubes the HMS Glowworm had caused significant damage to the enemy.

A sailor from the HMS Glowworm, believed to be Bert Harris, is pulled off the water by a german sailor from heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper.
A sailor from the HMS Glowworm, believed to be Bert Harris, is pulled off the water by a german sailor from heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper.

A Gallant Last Stand

With their worst done, Roope then gave the order to abandon ship as it was going down fast. The Admiral Hipper, while nursing its wounds, spent the next hour picking up survivors from the HMS Glowworm. Lt. Cmdr Roope was not among them. The Admiral Hipper was forced to return to port for repairs but not before the Commander of the ship determined he had indeed witnessed an inexplicable act of gallantry by his enemy.

It was only later in 1945 that a full account of the encounter earned Roope his due honor. The Commander of the German ship wrote via the Red Cross to the British, recommending Roope for the nation’s highest military honor.

On July 6, 1945, Gerald Roope was gazetted, and his gallantry made known to the public. Remarkably, although his Victoria Cross was awarded late, it was the first action of the war to warrant the Victoria Cross. Even more remarkable, it came upon the recommendation of an enemy who could do nothing but respect the courage and leadership of his one-time foe.

Jeff Edwards

Jeff Edwards is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE