OPERATION TUNGSTEN was a Second World War
The British decision to strike Kaafjord was motivated by fears that the battleship, upon re-entering service, would attack strategically important convoys carrying supplies to the Soviet Union. Removing the threat posed by Tirpitz would also allow the Allies to redeploy the capital ships which had to be held in the North Sea to counter her. After four months of training and preparations, the British Home Fleet sailed on 30 March 1944 and aircraft launched from five aircraft carriers struck Kaafjord on 3 April. The raid achieved surprise, and the British aircraft met little opposition. Fifteen bombs hit the battleship, and strafing by fighter aircraft inflicted heavy casualties on her gun crews. Four British aircraft and nine airmen were lost during the operation.
The damage inflicted during the attack was not sufficient to sink or
disable Tirpitz, but she suffered considerable damage to her
superstructure and unarmored areas, with 122 members of her crew
killed and 316 were wounded. The German
Kriegsmarine decided to repair
the battleship, and works were completed by mid-July. The British
conducted further carrier raids against Tirpitz between April and
August 1944 in the hope of prolonging the period she was out of
service, but none was successful. Tirpitz was eventually disabled and
then sunk by
Royal Air Force
* 1 Background * 2 Preparations * 3 Opposing forces * 4 Attack * 5 Aftermath * 6 References
The threat Tirpitz had an important influence on British naval strategy during the Second World War. She was commissioned in February 1941 and completed her crew training late that year. At about the same time the German high command decided to station the battleship in Norway; this deployment was intended to deter a feared Allied invasion of Norway and threaten the convoys which regularly sailed through the Arctic Sea to the Soviet Union. These convoys carried large quantities of war material from ports in the UK and Iceland, and were frequently attacked by the German air and naval units stationed in Norway. Tirpitz arrived in Norway in January 1942 and operated from anchorages located in fjords. While she was operational the Allies had to keep a powerful force of warships with the British Home Fleet to guard against the possibility of a sortie against the Arctic convoys, and capital ships accompanied most convoys part of the way to the Soviet Union. Kaafjord The location of Kaafjord in northern Norway
The British attacked Tirpitz several times during 1942 and 1943 .
When the battleship sortied to intercept
Repairs to Tirpitz were carried out using improvised facilities at
Kaafjord as it was considered too risky to attempt to move the damaged
warship to Germany. Instead, equipment and work crews were shipped to
the fjord from German ports. On the night of 10/11 February 1944, 15
Soviet aircraft attacked the battleship, but did not cause any damage.
By 17 March, the repairs to Tirpitz's armament, machinery and hull
were complete, but several minor repair tasks were outstanding.
During the period the ship was under repair, Scharnhorst , the only
remaining operational German battleship, was sunk on 26 December
Battle of the North Cape . Following this engagement the
The British Government and
Despite Allied concerns, Tirpitz posed only a limited danger to Allied shipping. From late 1943 the battleship was unable to put to sea for crew training due to the threat of Allied attack and fuel shortages. These shortages also meant the Germans were unable to move the battleship between anchorages to make her more difficult to locate and attack.
A British aerial reconnaissance photograph of Tirpitz moored at Kaafjord. The artificial smoke generators on the shores of the fjord have not yet obscured her.
The options for attacking Tirpitz at Kaafjord were limited. Another submarine-borne raid was considered impractical as intelligence gathered from intercepted radio transmissions and field agents indicated that the battleship's underwater defences had been improved and more aerial reconnaissance patrols of the region were being flown. The commander of the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command , Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris , also refused to attempt a heavy bomber raid on Tirpitz on the grounds that the Kaafjord area was beyond the effective range of these aircraft and the battleship's guns would cause heavy casualties. After these two options were ruled out, the task was assigned to the Home Fleet's aircraft carriers. At this time the large fleet carriers HMS Furious and Victorious and four smaller escort carriers were ready.
Planning for the raid on Kaafjord began in December 1943. Vice
Admiral Bruce Fraser , the commander of the Home Fleet, was not
optimistic about the prospects for success, and had to be persuaded to
undertake the operation by First Sea Lord Sir Andrew Cunningham .
Fraser gave his second in command, Vice Admiral Sir Henry Moore ,
responsibility for planning and leading the raid. The operation was
initially designated "Operational Thrustful", but was later renamed
"Operation Tungsten". The attack was originally scheduled for
mid-March 1944, shortly before the time Allied intelligence believed
Tirpitz would become operational. However, it was delayed by two
weeks while Victorious was fitted with new radars. The British
The plans for the raid were centred on two dive-bombing attacks by
Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm units selected for
While these preparations were under way, the Allies continued to
monitor Tirpitz. In late February the escort carrier HMS Chaser
transported photo analysts and the ground crews for a Royal Air Force
photo reconnaissance detachment to
Vaenga airfield in northern Russia.
These personnel were joined by three Supermarine Spitfires fitted for
photo reconnaissance work and a single
Consolidated PBY Catalina
The final decision to undertake
Grumman Hellcats on the escort carrier HMS Emperor, with other
ships of the British force in the background See also: Allied order
of battle for
The large number of warships assigned to the operation were initially
split into two groups. Force One was personally commanded by Fraser on
board the battleship HMS Duke of York , and also included Victorious,
the battleship HMS Anson (with Moore and his staff on board), a light
cruiser and five destroyers . Force Two was commanded by Rear Admiral
Arthur La Touche Bisset and comprised Furious, the four escort
carriers, five destroyers and two tankers . It was planned that Force
One would initially provide support for
Tirpitz's anchorage at Kaafjord was protected by anti-aircraft batteries and fighter aircraft. At the time of Operation Tungsten, four batteries of heavy anti-aircraft guns and seven batteries of light guns were located on the shore near the battleship. Several anti-aircraft vessels and destroyers were also usually moored near Tirpitz. The battleship herself was fitted with 68 anti-aircraft guns. Equipment capable of generating an artificial smokescreen to hide Tirpitz from aircraft had also been installed around Kaafjord. The German Air Force ( Luftwaffe ) had only a small number of fighters stationed at bases near Kaafjord, and their operations were constrained by a lack of fuel. British intelligence believed that the German fighter force in the area could be rapidly expanded in the event of an emergency. The Luftwaffe typically conducted three reconnaissance flights into the Arctic Sea each day.
Force One departed the Home Fleet's base at
Owing to a combination of favourable factors, Fraser decided on 1
April to bring the raid on Kaafjord forward by 24 hours. Decrypted
German signals indicated that Tirpitz's trials had been delayed until
3 April, and Fraser hoped that an attack on this date would catch the
battleship away from her usual well-protected mooring. Moreover, as JW
58's escorts were performing well and there was no indication that
Tirpitz would sortie into the open sea, Fraser judged that Force One
no longer needed to provide support for the transports. Weather
conditions were also unusually good for the Norwegian Sea in early
Spring and were well suited to flying operations. After the
decision to attack was made both tankers and two escorting destroyers
detached from Force Two and proceeded to a point 300 miles (480 km)
north-west of Kaafjord where they remained to supply any destroyers
that ran low on fuel. The rest of Force Two altered course to
rendezvous with Force One, and this was achieved at 4:20 pm on 2
April. After the two forces met Duke of York, with Fraser on board,
and two destroyers sailed to the north-west and took up a position
where they would be able to intercept Tirpitz in the event that she
had sailed from Kaafjord without being detected. The remainder of the
The attack was launched during the early hours of 3 April. All the airmen were woken shortly after midnight, and attended a final briefing from 1:15 am. The aircraft to be used in the strike were armed at this time, with all of the bombs being marked with messages for Tirpitz in chalk. The aircrew began boarding their aircraft at 4:00 am and flying-off operations started 15 minutes later; at this time the warships were 120 miles (190 km) from Kaafjord. Ten Corsairs drawn from 1834 and 1836 Naval Air Squadrons were the first aircraft to be launched and were followed by the 21 Barracudas of 8 Wing; 827 Squadron was launched from Victorious and 830 Squadron departed from Furious. Seven of the Barracudas were armed with a 1,600-pound bomb, and the remainder carried multiple 500 or 600-pound weapons. Once the Barracudas were airborne the remaining escort fighters – 30 Wildcats and Hellcats from 800 , 881 and 882 Naval Air Squadrons – were launched. All the aircraft of the first wave were dispatched successfully, and the force completed forming up at 4:37 am. Flying conditions remained perfect, and German forces had not detected the British fleet during its approach. Barracudas flying over a fjord shortly before attacking Tirpitz
The first wave headed for Norway at low altitude, flying just 50 feet (15 m) above the sea to avoid detection by German radar. The aircraft began to climb to a higher altitude when they reached a point 20 miles (32 km) from the coast, and had reached 7,000 feet (2,100 m) by the time they made landfall at 5:08 am. The force approached Altenfjord from the west, passing over the western end of Langfjord before turning south, then looping to the north and attacking the battleship over the hills on the southern shore of Kaafjord shortly before 5:30 am.
The arrival of the British force caught Tirpitz by surprise. While the aircraft had first been picked up by a German radar station shortly after they crossed the Norwegian coastline, the battleship was not immediately warned. At the time of the attack Tirpitz was preparing to sail for her high-speed trials, and her crew were busy unmooring the vessel. Her five protective destroyers had already departed for the trials area in Stjern Sound . The warning from the radar station arrived shortly before the British aircraft appeared over Kaafjord, and the battleship's crew were still in the process of moving to their battle stations when the attack commenced; at this time not all of the watertight doors were closed and some damage-control stations were not fully manned.
As planned, the British raid began with Hellcat and Wildcat fighters strafing Tirpitz's anti-aircraft guns and batteries located on the shore; this attack inflicted heavy casualties on the battleship's gunners, disabled her main anti-aircraft control centre and damaged several guns. The fighters also strafed several anti-aircraft ships in Kaafjord. The 21 Barracudas began their attack shortly afterwards, and hit Tirpitz with a general purpose bomb, three 500-pound semi-armour-piercing bombs and three 1,600-pound bombs within 60 seconds. Overall, ten bombs struck the battleship during the first attack. Most of these bombs did not penetrate the ship's armoured deck as they had been dropped from too low an altitude. Hundreds of members of the ship's crew died or were wounded; her commanding officer, Captain Hans Meyer, was among the wounded and another officer assumed command. The battleship also drifted into the western shore of Kaafjord and ran aground, but was quickly refloated. One of 830 Squadron's Barracudas crashed following the attack with the loss of all three members of its crew. The surviving aircraft of the first wave began landing on the carriers at 6:19 am, and all were recovered by 6:42. Bombs exploding around Tirpitz during the first attack on the battleship
The first aircraft of the second wave took to the air at 5:25 am. One
of 829 Squadron's Barracudas crashed shortly after take-off, resulting
in the deaths of its crew of three, and another aircraft from this
squadron was not launched due to engine problems. Only two of the
Barracudas in this wave were armed with 1,600-pound bombs. As with
the first strike, 40 fighters accompanied the torpedo bombers; these
comprised 10 Corsairs from 1834 and 1836 Naval Air Squadrons, all of
the 20 Wildcats assigned to 896 and 898 Naval Air Squadrons and 10
804 Naval Air Squadron
The second attack on Tirpitz was similar to the first. It began with Hellcat fighters strafing the anti-aircraft batteries while Wildcats attacked the battleship. The fighters also attacked German ships in Kaafjord and a radio or radio direction finding station. The Barracudas executed their dive bombing attack at 6:36 am and struck Tirpitz with a 1,600-pound bomb and four 500-pound bombs within a minute. The German defences at Kaafjord received little warning of the incoming raid, and the smokescreen hid the British aircraft from sight. As a result, the gunners had to fire blindly and only shot down one of the Barracudas; all three airmen died. The second wave landed on the carriers between 7:20 and 7:58 am. A damaged Hellcat had to ditch near the Canadian destroyer HMCS Algonquin and one of the Corsairs suffered heavy damage as a result of a landing accident; both pilots survived.
During the period in which the air strikes were conducted, a force of 25 Wildcat and Supermarine Seafire fighters from 801 , 842 and 880 Naval Air Squadrons provided air defence for the Home Fleet. Nine Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers, which were also operated by 842 Naval Air Squadron, conducted anti-submarine patrols. No threat to the fleet developed, and Corsairs took over air defence duties at the conclusion of the two attacks.
During the early afternoon of 3 April, Moore considered conducting a
further raid on Kaafjord the next day. He decided against doing so as
the preliminary assessment of photos taken during the attack had
concluded that Tirpitz was badly damaged. Moore was also aware that
his aircrew were fatigued, and was reluctant to expose them to what
would now be alert defences. Accordingly, he ordered that the fleet
return to base, and it arrived at
A Barracuda landing on HMS Victorious during
The two attacks on Tirpitz largely went to plan. The airmen found the defences and geography at Kaafjord to be very similar to the Loch Eriboll training range, and one of the post-attack reports stated that the operation had been "almost an exercise which they had frequently carried out before". The official historian of the Royal Navy's role in the Second World War, Stephen Roskill , also judged that the strikes were "beautifully co-ordinated and fearlessly executed". The most important discrepancy between the plans for the operation and its execution was that many pilots dropped their bombs below the specified minimum altitude of 3,000 feet (910 m) in an attempt to improve their chances of hitting Tirpitz. The shorter than optimum flight times may have meant that some of the bombs which struck the battleship lacked the necessary velocity to penetrate her deck armour. Nine Royal Navy airmen died during the raid.
While two bombs that exploded in the water near Tirpitz opened holes in her hull and caused flooding, none of the 15 bombs that struck the battleship penetrated her main deck armour belt. As a result, her guns, magazines, and machinery did not suffer serious damage. Most of the damage to the battleship was inflicted on her superstructure and between her armoured decks. The starboard aircraft catapult and crane were destroyed, as were both Tirpitz's Arado floatplanes. The number two starboard 150-millimetre (5.9 in) gun turret was knocked out, and the number three port 150 mm turret incurred significant damage. The officers' mess and several galleys were wrecked, and the ship was filled with smoke. Tirpitz's funnel was also struck by bomb fragments that badly damaged all of the boiler intakes. While the starboard turbine was knocked out by shock damage and two of the boilers were disabled after being contaminated by salt water used for firefighting, the battleship was still capable of steaming within Kaafjord. Tirpitz's crew suffered heavy casualties in the attack. Overall, 122 sailors died and 316 were wounded; these casualties represented 15 percent of the battleship's crew. Many of the casualties were anti-aircraft gunners who were killed or wounded by machine-gun fire from the British fighters.
The British fighters also damaged four patrol craft and a large repair ship; the captain of an armed trawler died and 13 other sailors on board these vessels suffered wounds. Torstein Raaby of the Allied Secret Intelligence Service group in Alta reported a few hours after the raid, that no civilian casualties had resulted from the attack, and that the local population was "... extremely impressed by the bombing." A further report six days after the operation relayed that the Germans estimated that it would take months to repair the damage inflicted on Tirpitz.
The commander of the
Kriegsmarine , Grand Admiral
Karl Dönitz ,
directed that the damage caused to Tirpitz during Operation Tungsten
be repaired. Although the battleship was no longer capable of
operating against Allied convoys for lack of air support, it was
considered desirable to retain her in service in order to tie down
Allied naval resources. Repair work began in early May after a
destroyer transported equipment and workmen to Kaafjord from Germany,
and Tirpitz was able to steam under her own power by 2 June. She was
capable of undertaking gunnery practice by the end of June, and all
repairs were completed in mid-July. During this period the
battleship's anti-aircraft armament was augmented by fitting her with
additional 20-millimetre (0.79 in) cannons, modifying the 150 mm guns
so they could be used to attack aircraft and supplying anti-aircraft
shells for her 380-millimetre (15 in) main guns. The defences of
Kaafjord were also improved during this period. Additional radar
stations and observation posts were established, and the number of
smoke generators located around Tirpitz was increased. Five of
the British airmen who died during
Following Operation Tungsten, British intelligence assessed that
Tirpitz would be repaired within six months. Accordingly, Cunningham
directed Fraser on 13 April to launch another attack on the
battleship. While Cunningham did not believe that Barracudas could
carry weapons capable of sinking Tirpitz, he hoped that further air
strikes would increase the period the battleship was out of service
and harm her crew's morale. Fraser initially resisted Cunningham's
order, arguing that the prospects for a successful raid were poor as
the Germans would have reinforced the defences around Tirpitz and
weather conditions were likely to be worse than those encountered
during Operation Tungsten. He eventually relented, and Moore sailed
In late August it was decided that further Fleet Air Arm attacks should not be attempted as the Germans were now able to cover Tirpitz in smoke before Barracudas could reach the battleship, and these aircraft could not carry bombs large enough to inflict heavy damage. As it was still seen as desirable to destroy Tirpitz, the task was assigned to Bomber Command. On 15 September a force of heavy bombers attacked Kaafjord after refuelling at bases in northern Russia and inflicted irreparable damage on the battleship. Following this, Tirpitz sailed to an anchorage near Tromsø to be used as an immobile coastal defence battery. Another heavy bomber attack on 29 October caused only minor damage, and a third raid was mounted on 12 November in which Tirpitz was struck by several Tallboy bombs and capsized with heavy loss of life among her crew.
* ^ Bennett (2012), p. 10
* ^ Dear and Foot (2005), p. 35
* ^ Bennett (2012), pp. 10–11
* ^ Bennett (2012), p. 9
* ^ Faulkner and Wilkinson (2012), p. 109
* ^ A B Bennett (2012), p. 11
* ^ Bishop (2012), pp. 78–83
* ^ Woodman (2004), p. 340
* ^ Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 251
* ^ Bishop (2012), p. 295
* ^ A B C Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 265
* ^ Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 264
* ^ Hinsley et al. (1984), p. 269
* ^ Dear and Foot (2005), p. 38
* ^ Bishop (2012), pp. 291–293
* ^ A B Bishop (2012), p. 294
* ^ Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), pp. 266–267
* ^ A B Bennett (2012), p. 14
* ^ A B C D E Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 267
* ^ Bishop (2012), pp. 296–297
* ^ A B C Bishop (2012), p. 297
* ^ A B C Bishop (2012), p. 299
* ^ Hinsley et al. (1984), p. 271
* ^ Bishop (2012), pp. 295–296, 298
* ^ A B C Bishop (2012), p. 300
* ^ A B Hinsley et al. (1984), pp. 273–274
* ^ A B Bishop (2012), p. 298
* ^ Roskill (1960), p. 274
* ^ Rohwer (2005), p. 311
* ^ Hinsley et al. (1984), p. 273
* ^ Barnett (2000), p. 744
* ^ A B C D Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 268
* ^ Brown (1977), p. 33
* ^ Rørholt and Thorsen (1990), p. 254
* ^ Army News (Darwin, NT), Wednesday 7 June 1944
* ^ "
Wikimedia Commons has media related to OPERATION TUNGSTEN .
* Barnett, Correlli (2000). Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal
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* Dear, I. C. B. ; Foot, M. R. D. , eds. (2005). "Arctic convoys".
The Oxford Companion to World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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* Faulkner, Marcus; Wilkinson, Peter (2012). War at Sea: A Naval
Atlas, 1939–1945. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN
* Garzke, William H.; Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and
Neutral Battleships in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval
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* Levy, James P. (2003). The Royal Navy's
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