Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Tirpitz, Attacks on (1941–1944)

The German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship to the Bismarck, was named for Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930), father of the German High Seas Fleet. Built at Wilhelmshaven Navy Yard, she was commissioned on 25 February 1941. The Tirpitz displaced 52,600 tons fully loaded, mounted 8 x 15-inch guns, and had a crew of 2,340 men. Recognizing the threat posed by the Tirpitz, the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command flew 269 sorties in five separate attacks against Willhelmshaven in January 1941, the object being to destroy the German battleship. On 28 February, Bomber Command flew another 116 sorties with the same goal.

Like the Bismarck, the Tirpitz, which was based in Norway beginning in January 1942, posed a threat to Allied shipping and tied up many Allied ships in the Home Fleet that could better be deployed elsewhere. As a consequence, between 1942 and 1944, large numbers of Allied ships and aircraft (most of them British), assisted by the Norwegian Resistance, attacked the battleship in Norwegian waters.

On the nights of 30–31 March and 27 April 1942, the RAF struck the Tirpitz at Föttenfjord, near Trondheim. The latter strike involved RAF Lancaster bombers and achieved complete surprise, but no bombs struck the battleship. In July 1943, Allied ships, including the U.S. Navy battleship Alabama, seeking a diversion for the Sicily invasion, tried unsuccessfully to lure the Tirpitz from its hiding place in Norway's waters and into the North Atlantic.

On 6 September 1943, the Tirpitz saw her only real offensive action of the war when she sortied to shell Spitsbergen. On 22 September, the British midget submarines X-6 and X-7 slipped through German defenses at Kaa Ford, Norway, and their crews managed to plant mines on the battleship's hull. The explosions severely damaged the Tirpitz, but the Germans were able to effect repairs. Then, on 3 April 1944, 40 Barracuda aircraft flying from the Royal Navy carriers Victorious and Furious attacked. The Tirpitz took 14 hits. Though disabled, she remained afloat, and again, the Germans made repairs.

More powerful bombs were necessary, and the RAF turned to British inventor Sir Barnes Wallis, who had created the "skip-bombs" used in the Dam Buster raids. Wallis developed a 12,000-lb, armor-piercing bomb known as "tallboy." On 11 September 1944, 38 Lancaster bombers left Scotland for airfields in the northern Soviet Union, from which they planned to attack the Tirpitz. On 15 September, 27 bombers of RAF Squadrons 9 and 617, carrying 20 tallboys, took off from Yagodnik, near Archangel, for Kaa Fjord. With the mountains screening their approach, they caught the German defenders by surprise. One tallboy went through the Tirpitz's forecastle, exploding in her hull. Several other near misses severely damaged the ship's engines.

The Germans then decided not to repair the Tirpitz, and on 15 October, they moved her to Tromso to serve as a semistatic heavy artillery battery. On 29 October, the British, unaware of the extent of the damage inflicted on the ship, sent 37 Lancasters equipped with extra fuel tanks from Lossiemouth, Scotland, on a 2,250-mile mission against the Tirpitz, but none of their 32 tallboys hit home.

On 12 November 1944, with German fighters now stationed nearby, Wing Commander Willis Tait led his 32 Lancasters on a wide sweeping route over Sweden, which confused the German defenders. The British scored three direct hits. One tore a 100-foot hole in the Tirpitz's hull, detonating the magazines and capsizing the battleship. A total of 917 men in her crew died. After the war, a Norwegian salvage company bought the rights to the German battleship, and between 1948 and 1957, it salvaged most of the hulk for scrap.

William Head


Further Reading
Dulin, Robert O., and William H. Garzke. Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985.; Gray, Edwyn. Hitler's Battleships. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1992.; Ireland, Bernard. Jane's Battleships of the 20th Century. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.; Koop, Gerhard, and Klaus-Peter Schmolke. Battleships of the Bismarck Class: "Bismarck" and "Tirpitz." Trans. Geoffrey Brooks. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998.; Koop, Gerhard, and Klaus-Peter Schmolke. The Battleship "Tirpitz." Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998.; Peillard, Leonce. Sink the "Tirpitz." Trans. Robert Laffont. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1968.
 

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