Obituary - David Clarabut, Dive Bombed the Tirpitz in 1944

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  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/4691121/David-Clarabut.html

    Conditions in the Norwegian Sea, between snow storms, were ideal for flying when, at dawn on April 3 1944, Clarabut took off from the deck of the fleet carrier Furious on Operation Tungsten. Carrying a 1,600lb bomb, he was flying one of 21 Barracuda dive-bomber aircraft of the first strike of 827 and 830 Naval Air Squadrons, launched against the German battleship Tirpitz, which lurked some 120 miles eastwards in Kaafjord.

    The giant Tirpitz had just completed repairs after Operation Source, the attack several months earlier by midget submarines, and was weighing anchor before going to sea for trials.

    Surprise was complete when, at 0529, the first Wildcats and Hellcats screamed in over the mountains to spray German flak positions with machine-gun fire. While circling Corsairs gave air cover, the Barracudas took station in line ahead and dived through the clear skies from 10,000 ft. Aged 21, Temporary Acting Sub-Lieutenant Clarabut RNVR (A) was third in line.

    The mountains had hidden Tirpitz from view until a few seconds before the dive, and the battleship put up two dense box barrages, one at 8,000 ft and the other at 3,000 ft, where bombs were meant to be released. The aircraft of 830 Squadron were led lower, and Clarabut dived lowest of all until, at 1,200 ft and at a 45 degree angle, he dropped his deadly cargo. A dense column of smoke rose higher than his aircraft, and Clarabut could only fly through this and hope to pull out of his dive before hitting the mountainside. As he emerged, there was the bright flash of an explosion between Tirpitz's bridge and B turret.

    In all, the Barracudas claimed six direct hits and three probable hits, which caused floods and fires, and left the battleship's upper deck a shambles. Those killed included Tirpitz's captain and she drifted out of control until she ran aground. One Barracuda was shot down and its crew of three lost during the attack, which had lasted barely a minute.

    The Prime Minister Winston Churchill signalled: "Pray congratulate the pilots and aircrews concerned on this most brilliant feat of arms so serviceable to the Royal Navy and to the whole world cause." Clarabut, with several other aircrew, was awarded the DSC for his bravery, leadership, skill and devotion to duty.

    David Stewart Clarabut was born on September 12 1923 at Murree, a hill station close to the Afghanistan border, the son of Major-General RB Clarabut CB, Indian Army.

    He was brought up from the age of six as a child of empire at English prep schools and educated at Cheltenham College, where his interests were sport and "mischief". He failed Dartmouth because of his poor eyesight, but was accepted for the Fleet Air Arm.

    After initial training at HMS St Vincent, Clarabut was sent in a converted cattle ship and by train to Grosse Isle, Michigan, where he flew solo after just eight hours. He then went to Kingston, Ontario, to complete his training, flying in Harvards.

    There, while taxiing at night, he ran down and killed a classmate. Wartime training allowed no time to mourn or mope, but the accident still gave him nightmares 60 years on. He also flew under the Thousand Islands bridge, and almost at the end of his training he was practising close formation flying when his wingman ran into him.

    Clarabut's aircraft entered an uncontrollable spin and he struggled to open the canopy, bailing out so late that hardly had his parachute deployed than he struck the hard ice of the frozen Lake Ontario.

    His wingman saw the hole where Clarabut's aircraft had broken through into the lake and reported him missing. Thus no rescue party was sent out. Clarabut, who had lost his gloves and boots in the descent, hobbled ashore in the sub-zero temperatures until he met a woodsman and his son on a sleigh who took him in.

    After Operation Tungsten, Clarabut became a flying instructor in 714, 736 and 708 squadrons: he wanted to stay in the Navy after the war but was released in 1946 because of the problems with his eyesight, something which he felt was unfair considering that only a few months beforehand his sight was good enough to find Tirpitz.

    In 1946 Clarabut joined the family firm of the London and Rochester Trading Company, where his training included a period as deckhand in one of the firm's tugs. By 1949 he had become manager of the tug and lighterage department and in 1955 he took over all the firm's commercial activities.

    In 1969, three years after the London and Rochester was acquired by Hay's Wharf, Clarabut became the group commercial director and chairman, and in 1980 he became chief executive of the reconstituted Hay's Group before retiring in 1983.

    Whatever Clarabut did he rose to positions of leadership. He assumed many directorships, but his great passion was sailing: he joined the Medway Yacht Club in 1948 and was Commodore in 1959. In 1957 he came 2nd in the Dragon Class Edinburgh Cup and represented Britain against Denmark, when the Dragons were ferried to Copenhagen in the Royal Yacht Britannia during the Queen's state visit. In one year, 1967, he won the Queen's Cup at Cowes, the Ramsgate Gold Cup, and was first overall in the East Coast Offshore Racing Association.

    Clarabut had always been a sportsman, starting at Chestnuts prep school when he won his first race, a 70-yard sprint. He received, and proudly kept, what he thought must be the smallest silver plated cup ever produced, about ¾ inch high.

    He had a firm hand shake, stood tall and looked you in the eye.

    David Clarabut, who died on January 6, married, in 1950, Deirdre ("Marzie") Coleman, who survives him with their five children.
     
  2. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    Jolly good show! :salute:

    Althougth the Barracuda is usually listed as a torpedo bomber, it was quite effective as a dive bomber. {as this article shows} 8)
     
  3. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    v2 Well-Known Member

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