Bismarck & Tirpitz

The History

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Operation Catechism

Early in the morning of 12 November the Lancasters took off again for their third and final raid against Tirpitz, Operation "Catechism". Whatever the outcome of this attack there would be little chance of a fourth attempt since by 27 November the sun would be below the horizon even at mid-day and there would not be sufficient light to see the target.

There was a heavy frost at the airfield and 7 of 9 Squadron's Lancasters were so severely iced up that they could not take off in their overweight state; in all 32 aircraft took to the air at about 0300.

They reached the rendezvous about 0935 low over Tornea Trask, a lake a 160 kilometer (100 miles) south-east of Tromsø, took up formation and then they flew towards north-west, climbing to 4,267 meter (14,000 feet) to clear the mountains and gain height for the bombs. Radar picked them up as they gained height and the race was on, a race made even more tense than formerly by the knowledge that a German fighter squadron had recently been posted to Bardufoss.

As the Lancasters came over the last mountain range they were met with intense anti-aircraft fire from Tirpitz, the other ships and shore batteries, but the battleship herself lay clearly visible. There was no cloud and no smoke-screen. Tirpitz indeed was trying to conceal herself by smoke which rose in the still air but the smoke pots brought down from Kåfjord although in position were not primed.

Photo: As the Tirpitz is devastated by fire, another bomb explodes well wide of the target.

At 0941 the attack started and one of the aircraft let go the first of the "Tallboys", to hit Tirpitz for the second time. At Bardufoss, despite frantic calls for air cover, not one single fighter seems to have taken off. They sent a message to Tirpitz that there were British fighters over the airfield, but this was totally mistaken. The Germans should have had a killing amongst the Lancasters, stripped as they were of their mid-upper turrets, but the bombers remained unmolested except for ack-ack fire. In the 8 minutes after 0941 29 bombs were dropped with great precision from between 3,810 meter (12,500 feet) and 4,877 meter (16,000 feet).

The Final Attack off Håkøya

2 direct hits were achieved on the port side, one level with the bridge and the other alongside "C" turret which seems to have started a fire. Tirpitz listed about 20° to port after the first hit and then further over after the second, aggravated by a number of near misses along the port side, until she was listing to almost 70°. At about 0950, just after the last bomb had fallen, there was a violent explosion and "C" turret blew out completely. it was found some 12 meter (40 feet) from where it would have been expected and appears to have been the result of an internal explosion, not a hit by a bomb. Tirpitz rolled over to port and capsized.

Photo: The Tirpitz capsizes.

Although the order had been given to abandon ship Tirpitz capsized so suddenly that there was no time for the men on the lower decks to get clear and in the armoured conning tower, damaged on the starboard side in Operation "Tungsten", the port door jammed as the ship heeled. of the 1,700 men on board about 1,000 were drowned: 87 were rescued by cutting holes in the ship's bottom to compartments where they had climbed. The bombers suffered no losses. The battle to sink the Tirpitz was finished.

Photo: Work starts on breaking Tirpitz up.

Between 1949 and 1957, the wreck of the Tirpitz was broken down and sold as scrap by the Norwegian company Einar Høvding Skippsuphugging which bought the wreck from the Norwegian government. Einar Høvding Skippsuphugging paid 100,000 Norwegian kroner for the ship which was a bargain.

© John Asmussen, 2000 - 2014. All rights reserved.