Operation Source was a series of attacks to neutralise the heavy
German warships – Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lützow – based in
northern Norway, using X-class midget submarines.
The attacks took place in September 1943 and succeeded in keeping
Tirpitz out of action for at least six months.
The attack was masterminded and directed from HMS Varbel, located in
Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute. Varbel (named after Commanders
Varley and Bell, designers of the X-Craft prototype) was the on-shore
headquarters for the 12th Submarine Flotilla (midget submarines). It
had been a luxury 88-bedroom hotel (the Kyles Hydropathic Hotel)
requisitioned by the Admiralty to serve as the Flotilla’s
headquarters. All X-craft training, and preparation for X-craft
attacks (including that on Tirpitz), was co-ordinated from Varbel.
Intelligence contributing to the attack on Tirpitz was collected and
sent to the RN by the Norwegian resistance, especially brothers
Torbjørn Johansen and Einar Johansen.
2 X-craft and crews
3 In popular culture
4 See also
Six X-craft were used. X5, X6 and X7 were allocated the battleship
Tirpitz, in Kåfjord. X9 and X10 were to attack the battleship
Scharnhorst, also in Kåfjord. X8 was to attack the heavy cruiser
Lützow in Langfjord. The craft were towed to the area by conventional
submarines (HMS Truculent (X6) Syrtis (X9), Sea Nymph (X8),
Thrasher (X5), Stubborn (X7), and Sceptre (X10)) and manned
by passage crews on the way. Close to the target, the operation crews
would take over. X9, while commanded by S-Lt E Kearon of the passage
crew and probably trimmed heavily by the bow in the heavy sea for
the tow, was lost with all hands on the passage when her tow parted
and she suffered an abrupt plunge due to her bow-down trim. X8
(passage crew commanded by Lt. Jack Smart) developed serious leaks in
her side-mounted demolition charges, which had to be jettisoned; these
exploded, leaving her so damaged she had to be scuttled. The
remaining X-craft began their run in on 20 September and the attacks
took place on 22 September 1943.
Scharnhorst was engaged in exercises at the time, and hence was not at
her normal mooring, X10's attack was abandoned, although this was due
to mechanical and navigation problems, and the submarine returned to
rendezvous with her 'tug' submarine and was taken back to Scotland.
Lt Henty-Creer and the crew of X5
X5, commanded by
Lieutenant Henty Henty-Creer, disappeared with her
crew during Source. She is believed to have been sunk by a direct hit
from one of Tirpitz's four-inch guns before the crew had a chance to
place her charges. In 2004, a saddle charge identical to those used by
the X-class was found on the bottom of Kåfjord, a short distance from
the site of the attack. Although it has not been positively
identified, it is believed to be from X5.[citation
needed][contradictory] An expedition jointly run by the late Carl
Spencer (Britannic 2003) and Bill Smith (Bluebird Project) and the
Royal Navy using the mine hunters HMS Quorn and HMS Blyth in
2006 mapped the north and south anchorages used by Tirpitz and was
able to prove without doubt that this charge was well inside the net
enclosure of the north anchorage and was therefore most likely to have
come from X6. In June 2011 this device was detonated by the Royal
X6 and X7 managed to drop their charges underneath Tirpitz, but were
unable to make good their escape as they were observed and attacked.
Both craft were abandoned and six crew survived to be captured.
Tirpitz was heavily damaged. While not in danger of sinking, she took
on over 1,400 tons of water and suffered significant mechanical
damage. The first mine exploded abreast of turret Caesar, and the
second mine detonated 45 to 55 m (148 to 180 ft) off the
port bow. A fuel oil tank was ruptured, shell
plating was torn, a large indentation was made in the bottom of the
ship, and bulkheads in the double bottom buckled. Some 1,430 t
(1,410 long tons) of water flooded the ship in fuel tanks and void
spaces in the double bottom of the port side, which caused a list of
one to two degrees, which was balanced by counter-flooding on the
starboard side. The flooding damaged all of the turbo-generators in
generator room No. 2, and all apart from one generator in generator
room No. 1 were disabled by broken steam lines or severed power
cables. Turret Dora was thrown from its bearings and could not be
rotated; this was particularly significant, as there were no
heavy-lift cranes in
Norway powerful enough to lift the turret and
place it back on its bearings. The ship's two
Arado Ar 196
Arado Ar 196 floatplanes were thrown by the explosive concussion and
completely destroyed. Repairs were conducted by the repair ship
Neumark; historians William Garzke and Robert Dulin remarked that the
successful repair effort was "one of the most notable feats of naval
engineering during the Second World War." Repairs
lasted until 2 April 1944; full speed trials were scheduled for the
following day in Altafjord.
For this action, the commanders of the craft,
Cameron (X6) and
Lieutenant Basil Place (X7), were awarded the
Victoria Cross, whilst Robert Aitken, Richard Haddon Kendall, and John
Thornton Lorimer received the
Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Order and Edmund
Goddard the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. The commander of X8, John
Elliott Smart was appointed a Member of the Order of the British
X-craft and crews
The grave of
Lieutenant Lionel Barnett Whittam at the Commonwealth War
Graves section of Tromsø's main cemetery
X-5 — unofficially named Platypus, commanded by Henty-Creer,
crew S-Lt Nelson, Midshipman Malcolm, and ERA Mortiboys; passage crew
Lt Terry-Lloyd (commanding), LS Element, Stoker Garrity.
Henty-Creer, Nelson, Malcolm, and Mortiboys were killed in the attack,
though X-5's exact fate is unknown.
X-6 — named Piker II, commanded by Lt Donald Cameron, crew Lt J.
T. Lorimer, S-Lt. R. Kendall, and ERA Goddard; passage crew Lt Wilson
(commanding), LS McGregor, Stoker Oxley. Cameron earned a Victoria
Cross (VC), Lorimer and Kendall the
Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Order (DSO),
Conspicuous Gallantry Medal
Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM).
X-7 — unofficially named Pdinichthys, commanded by Lt Basil
Place, crew S-Lt Aitken, Lt Whittam, and ERA Whiteley; passage crew Lt
Philip (commanding), LS J. J. Magennis, Stoker Luck. (Place also
earned a VC, Aitken the DSO, while Philip was appointed a Member of
the Order of the British Empire (MBE); Whittam and Whiteley were
X-8 — commanded by Lt McFarlane Royal Australian Navy (Smart was
passage crew commander.)
X-9 — commanded by Lt Martin RN, commanded by S-Lt E Kearon
(passage crew) when it foundered on 16 September 1943
X-10 — unofficially named Excalibur, commanded by Lt Hudspeth
Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve
In popular culture
The operation was later portrayed in the 1955 war film Above Us the
Waves, featuring John Mills, which was based on both Operation
"Source" and the earlier "Chariot" human torpedo attacks on Tirpitz.
The 1969 war film
Submarine X-1 is loosely based on Operation
The Operation is featured in the 2003 video game Hidden &
Dangerous 2 as a campaign mission.
^ The CO of X5, Henty Henty-Creer was an Australian commissioned in
the RNVR and five members of the
Royal Australian Navy
Royal Australian Navy were among the
crew of the British midget submarines involved. Worledge, Ray. 2012
Australians in Midget Submarines. (Access date: 24 March 2012.)
^ Bute at War
^ Grove, Eric. Sea Battles in Close-up: World War 2, Volume 2
(Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan, 1993), pp.124.
^ a b c Grove, p.124.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Grove, p.127.
^ Grove, pp.124 & 127.
^ a b  Supplement to The London Gazette, p.996 of the article or
p.4 of PDF file
^ Her sprenges bomba som skulle senke «Tirpitz»
^ a b Grove, p.131.
^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 259.
^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 259–261.
^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 262.
^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 264.
^ "No. 36390".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 September 1943.
^ "No. 36295".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 December 1943.
^ Grove, pp.124 & 128.
^ Grove, pp.127 & 128.
^ Magennis later earned a VC in the midget submarine attack on Takao.
^ Grove, p.128.
Australian Commando raids of the Second World War
Battle of Timor
Battle of Timor (1942–43)
Operation Lancer (1942)
Operation Lizard (1942–43)
Operation Lagarto (1943)
Operation Cobra (1943)
Operation Adder (1944)
Operation Sunlag (1945)
Operation Sunable (1945)
Operation Suncob (1945)
Operation Suncharlie (April 1945)
Operation Sunbaker (May 1945)
Operation Sun Dog
Salamaua Raid (1942)
Heath's Farm Raid (1942)
Mubo Raid (1942)
Operation Oaktree (1942–44)
Operation Whiting (1943)
Operation Locust (1943)
Operation Copper (1945)
Operation Python 1 (1943)
Operation Python 2 (1944)
Operation Agas (1945)
Operation Semut (1945)
Operation Platypus (1945)
Operation Jaywick (1943)
Operation Rimau (1944–45)
Operation Sabre (1945)
Townsville raid (1943)
Operation Opossum (1945)
Operation Apple (1945)
Operation Pine Needle
Mission 204 (or "Tulip Force") (1942–43)
Operation Source (1943)
Operation Guidance (1944)
Operation Scorpion (1943)
Operation Hornbill (1944)
Operation Kingfisher (1944–45)
Netherlands East Indies
Operation Lion (1942)
Operation Walnut (1943)
Operation Prawn (1944)
Operation Apricot (1945)
Operation Firetree (1945)
Operation Poppy (1945)
Operation Tiger (Java)
Operation Parsnip (1945)
Operation Inco I (1945)
Dutch East Indies