Amongst the many tales of self-sacrifice and mad courage in the face of overwhelming odds, one striking story is that of Lieutenant-Commander Gerard Roope. Roope was captain of the HMS Glowworm, a Royal Navy G-class destroyer operating off the coast of Norway during the early months of the Second World War.
Having completed an escort mission for the battlecruiser HMS Renown, the Glowworm was detached from the rest of the squadron to search for a man lost overboard. It was while on this search, in heavy weather, that she lost touch with the British detachment and came across two German destroyers, both part of a naval detachment escorting the German heavy cruiser, Admiral Hipper.
Glowwormengaged both these vessels and, after taking a hit, both disengaged and retreated north. Roope knew that they were trying to lure him within range of the massive guns of the Admiral Hipper. However, he also knew the British required vital intelligence on German naval movements in the area and on what vessels they had available, so he decided to shadow the enemy, hoping to learn more.
Soon after, the Hipper came in sight. She was a 10,000 ton cruiser who vastly outgunned the Glowworm. However, the worsening conditions made shadowing her impossible and the Glowworm emerged in full view, sealing her fate.
Roope made it his sole aim to inflict as much damage as possible before being sunk. As the Glowworm slowly approached, waiting to get into range, the Hipper fired constantly, pouring shells all around the Glowworm and inflicting heavy damage. Smoke was billowing out of her as fire engulfed one of her guns and short circuited the siren, which began blaring out.
Within range, the Glowworm fired 8 torpedoes but all missed. Roope decided the only thing to do was to ram the cruiser in an all-or-nothing showdown. As enemy shells continued to smash intoGlowworm, she set a course straight for the Hipper and rammed her starboard side. The collision broke off Glowworm’s bow but made several huge holes in the German vessel, and as Glowworm drew away, she opened fire with her last operational gun and scored a hit.
With that last act, Roope ordered everyone to abandon ship. The Hipper came alongside and, in a chivalrous act, began helping survivors out of the water. Roope was last seen aiding his men out of the water but drowned before he could be rescued.
The actions of the crew of the Glowworm, though suicidal, had not been in vain and the Hipper was delayed long enough for a message to get to the HMS Renown, allowing her and her squadron to move into position.
Roope was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that day. His award is unique in that it is the only award ever given on the recommendation of an enemy, the captain of the Admiral Hipper.