Final attack on Tirpitz and then some

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Just Schmidt, Jul 4, 2015.

  1. Just Schmidt

    Just Schmidt Member

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    I started working on this thread a while ago, while the discussion on the He 177 strayed into Norwegian waters, but it’s not supposed to take sides in that discussion. In any event lack of time and troubles uploading took a long time. It's principally based on Asmussen, John and Åkra, Kjetil: "Tirpitz: Hitlers sidte slagskip", Midt-Troms Museum 2006, but also on personal experience from living 9 years on Tromsøya. The book is well researched, though it sometimes fail in details about subtypes of aircraft, and sometimes on the very big picture. T subtext to all the hundreds of pictures and illustrations are all in both english and Norwegian. The main text is, however, only in Norwegian, and unfortunately not always clear and precise. In any case it's definitely a picture book for grown ups.



    Tirpitz recieved a lot of attention from bombers the time she spent in Norway. After moving around some, she stayed in Kåfjorden in the northernmost part of Norway for 18 months. The RAF's first attempts with 'heavy' bombers (such as the Hampden, Whitley and Wellington), all failed to score a single hit, and temporarily RAF gave up on that method. Anyway, the base of Tirpitz (and other capital ships as eventually Scharnhorst) in kåfjorden lay outside practical range from the British Isles.



    One of the relatively rare occasions where Tirpitz ventured out on the open seas (while she was still based on Fættenfjorden near Trondheim), operation Sportspalast 5th to 9th of march 1942, saw unsuccessful attempts by Albacores to torpedo her. One of the 3 onboard Arado 196's wounded the observer on one of the Albacores, for the main wave 2 Arados were launched. Two of the Albacores were reported shot down. It is reported that at least the first of the 196's continued to land in Bodø. (I have sometimes speculated if Bismarck could have interfered decisively with the fateful Swordfish attack that sealed her fate by sending up her seaplanes, and if it could be problems about slowing down to eventually retrieve them that mitigated against the attempt being made)?



    The main Russian attempt at hitting Tirpitz 10th. of february, by 14 Il-4's, achieved nothing. Indeed only 2 of the aircraft attempted bombing the primary target. However, the Russians carried out many reconnaisanse missions from september 42 to oktober 44, and even one on Tirpitz at Tromsø by an A-20. The Pe3(?) pictured (for its rarity value) was one aircraft used, but also British pr spitfires flying from Russian bases, some were shot down, I have no information about the causes. It is in general remarkable how rarely air activity against Tirpitz met with any interference from Luftwaffe. Other sources on information about Tirpitz were agents (either British or Russian sponsored) and of course Ultra. Some disagreement is present whether ultra or agents on occasions gave the vital information, at least about the departure of Scharnhorst on her last fateful journey. Photo reconnaisance could of course not be always up to date, but gave the bigger picture about general lay out of the base(s). Only Norwegians on spot could measure the density of the water under the keel of Tirpitz.



    The last was important for the till then most successful attempt at Tirpitz were made by mini subs on 22d. of september 1943. As aircraft were not directly involved, I'll only mention that 4 mines were placed under Tirpitz, and that she was towed so 2 didn't explode right under her. She was damaged enough to take her out of action for months.



    The Royal Navy attemted attacks from carriers in 44. The first was by far the most successful. In operation Tungsten 3rd of april, a first wave of 21 Barracudas, 10 Corsairs, 20 Wildcats and 10 Hellcats were followed by another of 19 Barracudas, 10 Corsairs, 19 Wildcats and 10 Hellcats. The fighters strafed the air defenses, while the Barracudas let go of their bombs in less than 1000 meters height. 2 Barracudas were shot down, and one Hellcat made an emergency landing in the sea. Alltogether 9 flyers lost their lives. In addition to material damage, Tirpitz suffered 122 fatalities plus 316 wounded, the captain amongst them. Though not fatally hit, Tirpitz was in for a new round of repairs. Again Luftwaffe didn't show up, which was fortunate (however much we would have liked corsairs and hellcats to slug it out with Bf 109's and Fockewulfs). Tirpitz had been just about to leave when the attack started. It came as enough of a surprise that screening by smoke started too late in the attack. Later carrier launched attacks had less success, as then the Germans had established warning posts in the surrounding mountains, and the earlier warning allowed for a better smoke screen, though a few hits were scored.



    However, it was clear to the British that a final solution could not be achieved by carrier strikes. For operation Paravane the 15th of september the range of the Lancaster carrying Tall Boys was insufficient, so on the 10th 33 of 617'th and IX'th squadron took off for the Russian base at Yagodnik (by the white Sea). 6 made emergency landings on the tundra. Of the 27 participating in the attack launched , only 21 carried the bombs, the rest carried the unsuccessful Jhonny walker type II mines of 182 kilos. When the bombing started, most of Kåfjorden had been covered by smoke screen, but one direct hit was scored. Hitting about 15 meters aft of the stern, the bomb went right through deck and hull, exploding under the ship. The damage was impossible to repair without getting Tirpitz home to Germany, and eventually it was decided to use her as a floating battery in connection with Lyngen linjen, the defensive position where the Germans planned to make a stand against the feared Russian offensive through Finnmark and Northern Troms. (This never materialized. During late fall 44 and to the end of the war, most of Finnmark was a kind of no mans land, where Norwegian and Russian patrols occasionally clashed with German detachments. The civilian population suffered quite a wide range of tragedies, those not succeeding in fleeing to the mountains being forcibly evacuated. The ‘earth’ was thoroughly scorched).



    Anyway Tirpitz was no longer a seaborne threat to be reckoned with, but the British didn't let down. Apart from the means at hand being overwhelming in relation to worthwhile remaining targets, they understandably wished to close the case beyond all doubt (as the Norwegian agents reports about the severity of the damage of course couldn't be taken as absolute proof). Arriving at her final destination close to Tromsø, Tirpitz was spotted first by aircraft of FAA, but a mosquito was credited with the first sighting, as it radioed it directly to Britain. She was now in range of British bases, and the next attack with Tall Boys was launched 29th. october. Not all of the equipment for putting up smoke screen had arrived, and no smoke screen was put up. In any event, the less constrained area directly around Tirpitz new anchorage was less ideal for smoke screens. However, low dense clouds (what we call skodden) suddenly came to the assistance of Tirpitz, and in short time hid the target area completely. One near miss resulted in damage of the axle of one of the propellers.

    tp pe3.JPG t1.JPG tirpitz røyk1.JPG tirpitz røyk2.JPG tirpitz 3.4.44.JPG tirpitz kåfjord.JPG tirpitz tromsø.JPG tirpitz ruter.JPG tirpits træffbilder.JPG tirpitz tallboy.JPG hækøy.JPG tirpitz røyk og miner.JPG
     
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  2. Just Schmidt

    Just Schmidt Member

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    In operation Cathecism the 12th of november 32 Lancasters took off, all but one were from 617th and IXth squadron each carrying a Tall Boy bomb. The last Lancaster from 463th squadron was tasked to film the bombing. The weather stayed clear over the target, and still the equipment for making smoke was not operative. Though not taken by surprise the Tirpitz had only AA to rely on. The bombers flew through Sweden before the final approach to Tromsø, but not (as some would have it) directly above the German airfield at Bardufoss. Though they did pass some 50 kilometers east of it, Luftwaffe didn't manage to interfere with the raid, though Bardufoss was well stocked with both Bf 109G and Fw 190A. (The book specificly states that some of the 190's were F-8 models, adding that in Norway they were sometimes used as fighters. Others reportedly were A-8 and A-3's). The texts are confusing here, though the aircraft at Bardufoss was definitely a hodge podge of different types evacuated from Northern Finland and Finnmark). In any event they seem not all to have been using the same radiofrequencies. Though Tirpitz's own plentyfull ant air was supplanted by the aa of Thetis and Nymph, and some guns on land, the aa was described as inaccurate. To this day there is disagreement between the two bomber squadrons about how precise their respective bombing was, and exactly which aircrafts bombs were direct hits. On the German side, multiple errors were made. It seems like the communications between Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were severely lacking. A little abbreviated this is the time table laid out:



    07:38 The first observation of Lancasters are made at Mosjøen in Nordland

    08:00 Reports of the sightings are sent to Division Flugmeldungszentrale (DFZ) at Bardufoss, and Commander of aa on Tirpitz Fassbender.

    08:15 More sightings of bombers south in Norway gives rise to suspicion that a repetition of the raid of 29th of October is underway. (Reports of sightings starts to multiply, and there seem to have been several 'ghost planes' over Northern Norway that day. On telephone Fassbender requests permanent readiness at Bardufoss, but (maybe because they assess the threat differently) hauptflugwache Tromsø doesn't communicate that to DFZ.

    08:51 Full air alarm is struck on Tirpitz. (Though there is variance about the time in different German reports).

    09:05 Enemy aircraft can be observed from Tirpitz's observation posts approximately 150 km out.

    09:14 Air alarm on Bardufoss. Enemy formation is to the east of it.

    09:18 Major Ehrler orders highest readiness for take off at Bardufoss.

    09:23 Major ehrler orders scramble and takes off in his 109. 9./JG 5 (Fw 190A) is hindered in following immidiately, as a Ju (88 or 52) attempts to land at exactly that moment. Ehrler, seing that he is not followed, and finding his radio inoperable, starts to search for the enemy planes on his own.

    09:30 6 more fighters manage to take off from Bardufoss, though confusion and failures in communication abounds. Except for 2 ghostplanes dissapearing into Swedish territory, no interceptions are attempted.

    09:34 Tirpitz starts shooting at the lancasters some 12 kilometers out.

    09:36 All operational fighters at Bardufoss are airborn.

    09:38 The bombs starts impacting around and on Tirpitz (according to the war diary of 617th the first bomb is released 09:41).

    09:50 tirpitz capzises.



    The text(s) around the happenings that fatefull day in november is not the best in the book, and not entirely consistent. I've tried to retain only what is reasonably clear. After the sinking major Ehrler was made a scape goat, but though court martialled, he ended the war ramming his 262 into an american bomber 4th of april 45. Apart from his malfunctioning radio, he was hampered by bad luck and the fact that nobody in Bardufass had precise information about the exact position of Tirpitz, but only knew she lay at Tromsø somewhere. Also he first proceeded to Balsfjorden, probably in attempt to find the bombers before they arrived at the target. He was only temporally in direct command of the fighters at bardufoss, having arriwed the 9th. Finding a lot of inexperienced pilots fresh from flying school, he had started a crash training programme, before he was supposed to leave again. Indeed the Lancasters did follow Balsfjorden, which led them straight to Tirpitz, which, I should add, wasn't anchored in a true fjord but tecnically a sound. Indeed she picked up the lancasters on her Wurzburg(?) 120 kilometers to the south east. Attempts to fill in the bottom with sand to make her capzise proof had only just begun.



    To understand the seeming organizational chaos, we probably should remember that the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe rarely cooperated satisfactorily at the best of times, and that this was after all the end of 44, in other words not the best of times. Also, Northern Norway is wast, still the contrast to finding bomber formations over Germany at night is remarkable. Though covering all of Norway in the same manner, would have been an enormous task.



    Final remarks (though I've probably forgotten and left out some things) is on the weather and landscape. Though it is not specific to all places on earth, up here we have very sudden changes of weather, and even today the possibility of predicting it with certainty is somewhat lacking. Skodden is by no means uncommon, and it happens very quickly supplying a thick layer of clouds going down to usually 600 to 200 meters above sea level. Ordering a mission that takes hours getting here, can never be certain of the weather. Also, the raid hit when it was just getting light. Though even the 21st of december has 4 hours of combined sunrise and sunset (just without the sun ever rising abowe the horizon), the hours of daylight are short at that time of year.
     
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  3. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    #3 Juha, Jul 6, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2015
    Hello JS,
    thanks for the interesting messages. A few corrections, the attacks made against Tirpitz in Trondheim area during the spring 1942 were made by Halifaxes and Lancasters see: Raids on Tirpitz Spring 1942
    The hit by the Lancs on the Tirpitz at Kåfjord was about 15 meters aft of the stem not stern.
    In one of Air Enthusiasts there is an article on the Soviet Spitfire PR IVs and their use, one of which was the keeping track on Tirpitz.

    Regards
    Juha

    Addition, the three 1000lb AP hits on Tirpitz during the FAA attack on 3 Apr 44 should be 1600lb APs
     
  4. muskeg13

    muskeg13 Member

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    Hei Just Schmidt:
    Mange takk for your very detailed posts. Have you read any of Geir Haar's books on the war in and around Norway? I just ordered his second and third books after reading his "The German Invasion of Norway." Off topic: When will the sun begin to set again there?

    Muskeg13
     
  5. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Darn you Muskeg13...that's another 3 books added to my wish list!
     
  6. muskeg13

    muskeg13 Member

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    I apologize for hijacking the post a bit, but I look forward to reading Haar's account of the effort to sink the Tirpitz. I know this is a WW2 aviation website, and Haar's first book, The German Invasion of Norway also includes the air operations portion of the initial phases of Operation Weserübung. This book is acclaimed to be one of the best written on the invasion. Plus, the front cover has a great illustration of JU-88s attacking shipping.

    I visit my wife's family in Oslo every Christmas, and take several books to read while at the family hytte (cabin) overlooking Oslofjord/Drøbak Narrows where the flagship Blücher was engaged and sunk by courageous and determined coastal batteries. I try to include something related to the war in Norway in the reading material, and one year while looking in the English section of the Ark bookstore, I was lucky to find Haar's book. Now, I want to read the follow-on books.
     
  7. Just Schmidt

    Just Schmidt Member

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    Thank you Juha and muskeg.

    @ Juha: The stem/stern at least is a mistake stemming from my translation, so I can't blame that one on the authors. Thanks for your corrections.

    @ muskeg: The only comprehensible book I read on the actual invasion and the fighting in spring 40 is Tameleander and Zetterlings "nionde april". Like other of their works it's detailed but might have benefitted from a better composition. Othervise I've mostly delved into the North Norwegian aspects of 40 to 45. I might look into Haar, as I'm starting in a phd position in the autumn I'll have funds to actually buy books. On the other hand I'll have less time to read outside of period, which in this case is 800 to 1200.

    When the sun starts to set again is no simple matter. Most official day for Tromsø is 21st of july, but probably relates to the sun being seen at midnight from a particular spot on the island itself, that's certainly the case for the meassuring of dates in the winter. It will still be above the (imagined) horizon for some days. It has me pussled that the period (operating with a true horizon) when the sun is above the horizon in summer is longer than the corresponding period when it is below horizon in winter. I've recieved no good explanation on this phenomenom, which I observed from the periods where you see, or don't see the sun being entirely symmetrical at 21st of november-21st of january and 21st of may-21st of july respectively. Again most common official dates.
     
  8. muskeg13

    muskeg13 Member

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    For the 11 months a year I live in Alaska at 61° 36′ 30″ N, I've noticed this too...that we seem to have much more daylight in summer than darkness in winter. Maybe it's also because we want it to be that way. We long for any signs of spring to appear in the midst of a dark winter, and when we finally have our wonderful northern summer, we are loathe to let it begin slipping away so soon. Good luck with your new position.
     
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