The History

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The Construction and Sea Trials
Photo: The birthday of Tirpitz 2 November 1936.

The building contract was placed on 14 June 1936 with the Kriegsmarine Werft, Wilhelmshaven, as New Construction "G" later named Tirpitz. Two dates have been given for the keel-laying, 24 October and 2 November 1936. Both are documented in the German photographic and military archives. Probably the earlier date was the day on which the building work actually began and the later the official keel-laying attested to in photographs.

Photo: The launching ceremony on 1 April 1939.

She spent 29 months on the ways before she was launched on 1 April 1939 by Frau von Hassel, the daughter of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial German Fleet which had encouraged Kaiser Wilhelm II in his ambitions for a worldwide Empire to the extent that he believed that he could challenge the naval might of the British Empire. Tirpitz had given Germany a big ship navy to fight on the oceans - it was ironic that the ship named for him should spend its life lurking in coastal waters. The Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine, Erich Raeder, was promoted Grossadmiral (equivalent to a Field Marshal) on the occasion of Tirpitz's launching, which was a major political event, attended by Hitler and the National Socialist hierarchy.

Photo: Wilhelmshaven, 25 February 1941. The day Tirpitz was commisioned.

The Tirpitz was commissioned 23 months later on 25 February 1941 and placed under the command of Kapitän zur See (Captain) Friedrich Karl Topp.

Machinery trials were carried out in the fitting-out basin as early as April 1940, but she was not completed and ready for sea trials until 25 February 1941.

Early March 1941 the Tirpitz left Wilhelmshaven and went to Kiel via the Kaiser Wilhelm Kanal to prepare trials in the Baltic Sea.

Photo: The Tirpitz is shown firing her forward 380-mm guns in May 1941. The heavy clouds to the stern are from an ealier salvo.

Gunnery trials off Rügen Island in June 1941 showed up defects which kept her in harbour throughout July and August; not until 20 September 1941 did she carry out the final successful shoots, after which, she was ready for operations.

Photo: September 1941 in the Baltic, with units of the so-called "Baltic Fleet" on the move: (left to right) the battleship Tirpitz, in her wake the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer, the light cruisers Köln and Nürnberg and the destroyers Z-27 and Z-26. The photograph was taken from the destroyer Z-25.

26 - 29 September 1941 Tirpitz was a member of the so-called "Baltic Fleet" related to the German invasion of the Sovietunion, Operation "Barbarossa". While still on trials, Tirpitz joined a powerful assembly of German warships off the Aaland Islands to deter the Soviet fleet from venturing out of Kronstadt. The "Baltic Fleet" consisted of Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Emden, Leipzig, Köln and Nürnberg, together with numerous destroyers, torpedo boats and mine sweepers.

The loss of Bismarck forced the Germans to think carefully about Tirpitz. Concerned about the amount of fuel required and the fate of Bismarck, Grand Admiral Erich Räder advised against entering the Atlantic, opting instead to send the battleship to Norway.

By placing Tirpitz in Norway, the battleship would tie down a signifficantly amount of British warships in the Atlantic, which could have been used in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Tirpitz, together with other German naval forces, would be a threat to the Arctic convoys between North-America, Great Britain and Russia, and the convoys would need to be more protected by British warships.

Grand Admiral Räder was fully aware of the strategic implications of the "fleet-in-being" and had recommended the concentration of German naval forces in northern Norway. Hitler agreed not for strategic reasons but on "insight". In December 1941 he convinced himself on the strength of intelligence reports that the British were planning an invasion of northern Norway and stated: "The fate of the war will be decided in Norway".

The decission was confirmed on 29 December 1941. Tirpitz was going to Trondheim, roughly half-way between the Skagerrak and the northern port of Narvik.

Berths of Tirpitz in Norway

6 January 1942, Grand Admiral Erich Räder inspected Tirpitz prior to her sortie to Norway.

10 January 1942, Tirpitz' captain, Friedrich Karl Topp, declared her fully operational.

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