In the annals of history, there is no doubt that to perform a feat of such bravery to be nominated for a Victoria Cross, putting your life and limb on the line is part and parcel of the action. As unpleasant as it is, in all war, there is a chance that you might not make it home.
But some people take it a step further, and when faced with a difficult decision stare death in the face. This is not suicidal, because action in a suicidal manner is reckless. This is a calculated, balanced judgement, to take on the enemy when you’re heavily outgunned. A judgement that Second World War Destroyer Lieutenant-Commander Gerard Roope made.
On the 8th April, 1940, H.M.S. Glowworm was proceeding alone in heavy weather towards a rendezvous in West Fjord, when she met and engaged two enemy destroyers, scoring at least one hit on them. The enemy broke off the action and headed North. The Commanding Officer at once gave chase. The German heavy cruiser, Admiral Hipper, was sighted closing the Glowworm at high speed. Because of the heavy sea, the Glowworm could not shadow the enemy and the Commanding Officer therefore decided to attack with torpedoes and then to close in order to inflict as much damage as possible. Five torpedoes were fired and later the remaining five, but without success. The Glowworm was badly hit; one gun was out of action and her speed was much reduced, but with the other three guns still firing she closed and rammed the Admiral’ Hipper. As the Glowworm drew away, she opened fire again and scored one hit at a range of 400 yards. The Glowworm, badly stove in forward and riddled with enemy fire, heeled over to starboard, and the Commanding Officer gave the order to abandon her. Shortly afterwards she capsized and sank. The Admiral Hipper hove to for at least an hour picking up survivors but the loss of life was heavy, only 31 out of the Glowworm’s complement of 149 being saved. The VICTORIA CROSS is bestowed in recognition of the great valour of the Commanding Officer who, after fighting off a superior force of destroyers, sought out and reported a powerful enemy unit, and then fought his ship to the end against overwhelming odds, finally ramming the enemy with supreme coolness and skill.
Gerard Roope as last seen holding onto a rope dropped by the Admiral Hipper, but could not hold on and presumably drowned. The Captain of the Admiral Hipper was so impressed by the valour shown by HMS Glowworm that he ensured the British authorities were informed, via the Red Cross. Full details only emerged after the war, however, and Roope’s widow and son were presented with his Victoria Cross in 1946.
To this day Royal Navy Commanders are taught that one day, they may have to make the same sacrifice as Roope. During the Falklands War in 1982, Commander Christopher Craig, was ordered to take HMS Alacrity through Falkland Sound, attack anything in the way, and zig zag around the entrance of Falkland Sound to check it if was mined. Hitting a mine would have spelt disaster for the small frigate. Craig could have expected very high praise indeed if Alacrity had been sunk, but as she was not, almost nothing is remembered of her story.