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
* 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
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 (
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 Home Fleet proceeded to the strike's launching point.
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 Hellcats from 804 Naval Air Squadron . All aircraft were launched by 5:37 am, and the force had an uneventful flight to the Kaafjord area. While the German defences were now alert, the artificial smoke screen being generated around Kaafjord was not yet sufficient to hide Tirpitz from view.
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
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
The commander of the
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
* ^ 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
* ^ "