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Fleet Air Arm Attacks Tirpitz (1944 Footage)

Photo: A Royal Navy photograph showing the Tirpitz following the first attack.


This newsreel from British Pathé shows the April 1944 Fleet Air Arm raid on the German battleship Tirpitz, known as Operation Tungsten.

The Tirpitz, then based in the Kaafjord in northern Norway, was considered to be a major threat. Accordingly, the battleship was the target of a number of raids and an attack by the famous X-craft. Tungsten was an attack by a group of aircraft carriers which sailed on 30 March in two groups.

Group One contained the carrier Victorious and was escorted by a force including the battleships Duke of York and Anson, and the cruiser Belfast. Force Two contained the carrier Furious and the escort carriers Emperor, Fencer, Pursuer and Searcher. The Fleet Air Arm planned two attacks in quick succession, involving 21 Barracuda dive bombers while a close escort of more than 80 Corsairs, Wildcat, and Hellcat fighters covered the attacks and suppressed anti-aircraft defences. This strike force, including its close protection, was protected by a further escort of fighters.

Nine of the Barracudas were equipped with a new 1,600lb armour piercing bomb, while the others carried a mixture of smaller semi-armour piercing devices that, while unable to penetrate the battleship’s thick armour, could damage the superstructure. The first wave also carried general purpose bombs to knock out flak defences.

A Royal Navy photograph showing Hellcat pilots aboard HMS Emperor studying a model of the Kaafjord.

While it was expected the Luftwaffe could scramble a small force of fighters, the main threat was considered to be the numerous anti-aircraft batteries, flak vessels, and the battleship’s own AA guns. Additionally, smoke generators could quickly obscure the Tirpitz.

The first wave flew to Norway early on 3 April at 50ft, climbing to 7000ft before making landfall just after 5am. The force turned east, then south over Langfjord, before looping north to attack the Tirpitz from the south, arriving just before 5.30am. Taking advantage of surprise, the raiders met little opposition. Flak suppression runs had good effect, with Tirpitz‘s fire control knocked out. The Barracudas scored 10 hits – including three with the new bombs – in just 60 seconds. The second wave attacked at 6.37am, following the same pattern as the first raid. German defences were now alert, and the target was partially obscured by smoke, nevertheless the dive bombers scored another five hits.

A Royal Navy photograph showing Barracuda dive bombers en route to their target.

The damage was not severe enough to sink or cripple the battleship, but she was holed twice and the damage was enough to force her into repair and thus prevented her from sailing against the Arctic convoys for another two or three months. Four FAA aircraft were lost – one shot down, two crashed, and another crashed on landing. Nine airmen were killed. More than 120 Germans were killed in the raid, which damaged a total of six ships. German defences were toughened following Tungsten, and subsequent raids generated less success.

The Tirpitz was finally sunk on 12 November 1944 by Lancaster bombers dropping the Tallboy bomb.


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