Operation Tungsten

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Operation Tungsten
A crew member aboard HMS Furios writes a message to the addressee of a 1,600 pound bomb under a Fairey Barracuda
A crew member aboard HMS Furios writes a message to the recipient of a 1,600 pound bomb under a Fairey Barracuda
date April 3, 1944
place Kåfjord in Norway
output Damage to the Tirpitz
Parties to the conflict

United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom

German Reich NSGerman Reich (Nazi era) German Empire


Admiral Bruce Fraser
Vice Admiral Sir Henry Ruthven Moore

Sea captain Hans Karl Meyer

Troop strength
Units of the Royal Navy , u. a .:
6 aircraft carriers
2 battleships
40 dive bombers
80 fighters
1 battleship
anti- aircraft batteries
5 destroyers

4 planes
9 dead

15 bomb hits,
123 dead,
329 wounded

no civilians

Operation Tungsten was an air strike by the British Royal Navy against the German battleship Tirpitz during World War II . On April 3, 1944, 120 aircraft from six aircraft carriers in the North Sea attacked the ship in its base of operations in the Kåfjord in Norway . At the same time, a group of combat ships stood ready to prevent a possible outbreak of the Tirpitz . As a result, it was not possible to sink the ship despite several bomb hits. However, it was badly damaged and was not operational for months.


The very existence of the Tirpitz , one of two battleships of the Bismarck class , posed a significant threat to the Allies in World War II. In the naval war of 1944 , the Allies were in a significantly better overall situation and the German U. -Boots , but the German battleships with their massive armor and immense combat power also formed a significant potential for disruption. In the course of the last years of the war, the Allies had increasingly gained maritime sovereignty and forced the units of the German Navy into parts of the sea that could be protected by land. For many large units such as cruisers and battleships, these were Norwegian fjords , which, in addition to the security factor, also offered the possibility of carrying out disruptive actions against allied northern sea convoys and tying strong units on the other side to protect them. Coming from the USA and Great Britain , these convoys supplied the Soviet Union with material essential to the war effort.

In response to this threat, British aircraft tried to eliminate the German battleship during the construction period in Wilhelmshaven. Until 1942/43, however, there were no notable successes. The reasons for this were the excellent armor of the Tirpitz and the German air defense, which was still strong up to this time .

Subsequently, in 1942 the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared it the most important task of the Royal Navy to sink the Tirpitz . Since air strikes up to data had not yet brought the desired success, the British resorted to unconventional methods. At the end of 1942, for example, a seemingly harmless, sunken fishing trawler was salvaged from the entrance to the Trondheimfjord , which was then the entrance to the Tirpitz berth in the Fættenfjord . Upon closer inspection, it turned out that he had originally towed two torpedoes on outer lines. After these were lost due to bad weather, the crew, a British-Norwegian command, sank the cutter ( Operation Title ).

In September 1943, Operation Source failed again to sink the ship. The aim of this operation was this time to use miniature submarines to place timed mines weighing just under two tons each under the Tirpitz . As a result, the submarines were discovered, but the mines had already been placed and there was no longer enough time to get the Tirpitz out of the danger zone. The following detonation damaged the hull and internal structures as well as the engines. Mainly because the kinetic energy of the explosion shifted it onto its foundations, so that the Tirpitz was no longer operational until March 1944. To restore the battleship's full fighting power, more than 400 shipyard workers from German shipyards (mainly from Kiel) and several work ships were ordered to Norway, where they carried out the repair work under high pressure.

When the Normandy landing was imminent in 1944 and agents reported the imminent completion of the repair work on the Tirpitz , Churchill again demanded the destruction of the battleship. It was not to be given a chance to attack the invading fleet or tie up warships to protect the convoys that would be needed elsewhere.


Aerial view of the reconnaissance with the Tirpitz surrounded by artificial fog in the Kåfjord


The options for another attack on the Tirpitz were limited. As intercepted messages and agents on site made clear, the protective measures against an underwater attack were significantly improved after the first attempt in September 1943. The high command of the Royal Air Force bomber fleet under Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris also rejected the use of heavy long-range bombers , given that Kåfjord was beyond the effective range of its machines and the area's anti-aircraft armament would cost disproportionately many victims. After these two options were ruled out, the task was assigned to the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy.

Planning for the attack began in December 1943. Vice-Admiral Bruce Fraser , the commander of the Home Fleet responsible for the operation , was not particularly optimistic about the results of the project and had to be vehemently convinced, including by the Chief of Admiralty's Staff and First Sea Lord Sir Andrew Cunningham . Fraser then entrusted the planning and direction of the operation to his first deputy, Vice Admiral Sir Henry Ruthven Moore .

The original name of the operation was "Thrustful" (z. Dt. Approximately "Impact powerful" ) and the execution was announced for mid-March 1944, shortly before the repairs on the Tirpitz should have been completed. But since one of the carriers involved, the HMS Victorious , was still in the shipyard to be equipped with new radars , the operation was postponed by two weeks and renamed "Operation Tungsten" (currently Wolfram ).

In the center of the action, two attack waves with 21 Fairey Barracuda dive bombers each were planned. Accompanied by 40 fighter planes , consisting of fighters of the type Vought F4U Corsair as well as machines of the types Grumman F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat , in order to attack any German aircraft and the flak positions on the ground in low flight. Nine of the barracudas were armed with newly developed 1600 pound armor-piercing bombs. In the hope that these would penetrate the deck armor of the ship from a height of 1,100 m or more.

For the training of the mission it was decided to use the area around Loch Eriboll because of the comparable landscape and operated from the Hatston air force base . From February 1944 onwards, the aircraft crews, some of whom were still inexperienced, learned tactics for dealing with terrain and air defense positions.

The final decision to carry out the mission was made in mid-March 1944. On March 21, the British secret service warned the Admiralty that, due to the increasing success of the Red Army from the German side, the pressure on the northern sea convoys should be increased in order to reduce supplies. As a result, Bruce Fraser (who had meanwhile been promoted to admiral ) was instructed to protect the next convoy - JW 58 - with battleships. Decrypted radio messages from the Germans also implied that the Tirpitz should undertake the first test drives on April 1, once the repairs were completed. The execution of Operation Tungsten thus coincided with the passage of JW 58, and the British Admiralty could hope that any ships discovered by the Germans would only be attributed to its escort. April 4th has been set as the final execution date for the operation.

Forces involved

Hellcats on the HMS Emperor with other warships in the background, u. a. the HMS Jamaica

The Royal Navy forces were divided into two groups. Force 1 , commanded by Fraser, had the task of protecting convoy JW 58 and, in the event of an unexpected, premature departure of the Tirpitz , to go towards it. The group consisted of the battleships HMS Duke of York and HMS Anson , the carrier HMS Victorious , the cruiser HMS Belfast and six destroyers ( HMS Marne , HMS Matchless , HMS Meteor , HMS Milne , HMS Ursa and HMS Undaunted ).

Force 2, under the command of Vice Admiral Arthur La Touche Bisset, consisted of the carrier HMS Furious , the four companion carriers HMS Emperor , HMS Fencer , HMS Pursuer and HMS Searcher . Accompanied by the three cruisers HMS Royalist , HMS Jamaica and HMS Sheffield , as well as ten destroyers ( HMS Onslaught , HMS Wakeful , HMS Vigilant , HMS Verulam , HMS Virago , HMS Swift , HMS Javelin , HMCS Algonquin , HMCS Sioux , and ORP Piorun ) and two tankers ( Blue and Brown Ranger ).

Air forces were ready on the six carriers: 48 F4F Wildcat , 20 F6F Hellcat , 42 Barracuda , 28 F4U Corsair , 18 Seafire and 12 Swordfish .

The anchorage of the Tirpitz was secured by the Germans with flak batteries and hunters, although the latter suffered from a lack of fuel towards the end of the war. Under the flak positions there were four batteries of heavy flak and seven batteries of small-caliber guns. In addition, the ship was usually surrounded by smaller anti-aircraft boats and five destroyers. The battleship itself was equipped with 68 anti-aircraft guns and could be camouflaged by surrounding installations with artificial fog.


Convoy JW 58, which ran at the same time as Operation Tungsten, started on March 27, 1944 from Loch Ewe . Force 1 as its cover followed on March 30th from Scapa Flow near the Orkney Islands . Force 2 started on the evening of the same day. Also on March 30th, the German aerial reconnaissance discovered the slower, but still leading convoy and the submarines operating in the Norwegian Sea were immediately directed to an interception course. Since the reconnaissance planes did not carry out any more extensive exploration after the discovery of the cargo ships , the extensive other Royal Navy units remained hidden from the Germans. A total of 17 German submarines attacked JW 58 in the following days, four of which did not survive the attack. However, no significant successes were achieved and the convoy reached its destination on April 6, the Kola Bay near Murmansk .

Admiral Fraser decided on April 1st to bring the attack on Tirpitz forward by 24 hours. Decoded German radio messages had suggested that the battleship's test drives would be delayed until April 3, and Fraser hoped to find the Tirpitz outside of her protected anchorage. In addition, the weather was unusually good for the time of year and Force 1 was no longer required to protect the convoy after defending the submarines.

The two tankers and two accompanying destroyers were immediately positioned as supply posts 480 km northwest of Kåfjord. The rest of Force 2 changed course to merge with Force 1 . After this had happened around 4:20 p.m. on April 2, the HMS Duke of York with Fraser on board, accompanied by two destroyers, set off to the northwest, in order to be able to intercept the outgoing Tirpitz if necessary . The rest of the fleet moved to the starting point of the air operation.

The flight crews were awakened on April 3, 1944 at 1:15 a.m. and went through a final briefing . The aircraft were manned around 4:00 a.m. and a quarter of an hour later, the take-offs began under ideal weather conditions. At 4:37 a.m. the first wave was in the air and another 25 Wildcat and Seafire machines took off to patrol the carriers in case of a German counterattack. Likewise, the nine Swordfish torpedo bombers they were carrying rose up and looked for any German submarines. At this point in time the fleet was about 190 km from Kåfjord and had so far escaped detection by the enemy. The aircraft made the route to the Norwegian coast at low altitude so as not to be detected by the German radar. Only 32 km before the target did the attackers then climb to an altitude of 2100 m. At around 5:08 a.m., the first wave flew over the coastline. Although the aircraft were at altitude at this point and thus also appeared on the radar screens of the German air surveillance, the Tirpitz was not warned. At the time of the first wave attack, the battleship was in the process of preparing for the test drives and the crew was busy unloading. The five destroyers that normally accompanied the ship had even set sail in the direction of Stjernsundet.

As planned, the light and wildcat aircraft attacked the anti-aircraft guns at low altitude and caused serious damage to people and material. The ship's anti-aircraft fire control center was also put out of action and the Tirpitz's captain - Hans Karl Meyer - wounded. Shortly after the low-flying aircraft, the barracudas followed with their bombing raid. Three 500-pound and three armor-piercing 1600-pound bombs hit the ship in quick succession but failed to penetrate the armor. In total, at least ten bomb hits were made on the ship with the first wave and the attackers made their way back. The planes of the first wave returned to the carriers at 6:19 a.m. and the last machine of the wave landed at 6:42 a.m.

The planes of the second wave took off at 5:25 a.m., with one of the barracudas crashing shortly after take-off, killing the three crew members. Another aircraft had to stop taking off because of an engine problem. At 5:37 am, the remaining planes were all airborne and heading towards Tirpitz .

The second wave reached the Tirpitz around 6:00 a.m. and proceeded analogously to the first. Only now the flak crews were warned and in position. The smoke cannons were also now running and tried, with limited success, to disguise the ship, but at the same time took away the view of the British aircraft from their own side. With the loss of some targets for the low-flying aircraft due to the fog, they began to attack other ships in the fjord and a nearby radio station . Of the barracudas bombs from the second wave, four 500-pound bombs and one of the 1600-pounders hit before they too started their way back. The surviving machines of the second wave reached their starting point at 7:20 a.m. and at 7:58 a.m. the last plane landed. A damaged Hellcat had to ditch next to the Canadian destroyer HMCS Algonquin and one of the Corsair fighters had an accident while landing. Both pilots survived.


A returning Barracuda on approach for landing on HMS Victorious

As a result, four aircraft were lost on the Allied side and nine crew members died. On the German side, 123 deaths were recorded and 329 men were wounded. The Tirpitz and five other units (four patrol boats and a repair ship) were damaged. Most of the victims were part of the flak crew and quantitatively represented almost 15% of the total crew.

Two bomb hits near the ship caused flooding. However, none of the 15 bombs hit succeeded in penetrating the armor, so the main armament, magazines and machinery remained without serious damage. Most of the damage was done to the superstructure. The aircraft catapult and recovery crane on the starboard side were destroyed, as were the ship's two seaplanes and tower no. 2 of the 150 mm medium artillery . On the opposite side, the 150 mm tower No. 3 was badly damaged. The officers' mess , the main kitchen and one of the turbines were also damaged. The chimney and the chimneys were badly hit by shrapnel . Overall, the Tirpitz was not sunk, but as a German report found six days after the attack, it should take months before the damage was repaired and the ship was ready for use again.

From an organizational point of view, the operation was a success, as Stephen Roskill - the official historian of the Royal Navy for the Second World War - subsequently stated: "[...] beautifully co-ordinated and fearlessly executed". (Translated: “Beautifully coordinated and fearlessly executed”.) Only the performance of the armor-piercing bombs was rated as inadequate. Partly because the pilots only released them below the specified height of 1100 m in order to increase accuracy, but robbed the bombs of the kinetic energy to penetrate the armor.

Five of the British aircrews who died during the attack are lying in
Tromsø's main cemetery

On the German side, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz , who was in command of the German Navy at the time , ordered the Tirpitz to be repaired. Even if the battleship was no longer able to take action against the Allied convoys due to the general war situation and the lack of air sovereignty, the threat should remain and with it the tie-up of forces of the Royal Navy in the North Sea. So the repair work began in May 1944 and the Tirpitz was again under the steam of her own engines from June 2nd. The work was completed by mid-July. At the same time, the anti-aircraft armament on and around the ship was improved and additional radar stations and smoke launchers were set up.

The Royal Navy was planning a new attack on Tirpitz (Operation Planet) for April 24, but this failed due to the bad weather. Two further attempted attacks on May 15 and 28, 1944 (Operation Brawn and Operation Tiger Claw) met the same fate, and it was not until Operation Mascot that another attack on the battleship took place on July 17. In this one, however, no hits were obtained due to a massive smoke screen. After the attacks on August 22nd and 29th ( Operation Goodwood ) were unsuccessful, the task of destroying the Tirpitz was ultimately handed over to the command of the Royal Air Force's bomber fleet . The latter then succeeded in destroying the ship with attacks on September 15, October 29 and November 12, 1944 as well as using newly developed superheavy bombs of the Tallboy type .

Web links

Commons : Operation Tungsten  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Literature / individual references

  1. a b Bjørn Rørholt and Bjarne Thorsen: Usynlige soldater: nordmenn i Secret Service forteller, p. 254ff . Oslo: Aschehoug, 1990, ISBN 82-03-16046-8 , urn : nbn: no-nb_digibok_2007110500050 .
  2. ^ A b c G. H. Bennett: Hunting Tirpitz: Naval Operations Against Bismarck's Sister Ship, pp. 9-25 . Plymouth, United Kingdom: University of Plymouth Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-84102-310-6 .
  3. ^ Richard Woodman: The Arctic Convoys: 1941–1945, pp. 340 and 390ff . London: John Murray, 2004, ISBN 0-7195-6617-7 .
  4. ^ Tirpitz - The History - Operation "Source". Retrieved November 28, 2011 .
  5. ^ Co-op / Schmolke: The battleships of the Bismarck class . 1990, p. 16
  6. a b c d e f g h i j k l Patrick Bishop: Target Tirpitz, pp. 291–308 . London: Harper Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-00-743119-9 .
  7. a b c d e f g h Niklas Zetterling and Michael Tamelander: Tirpitz: The Life and Death of Germany's Last Super Battleship, pp. 264–286 . Philadelphia: Casemate, 2009, ISBN 978-1-935149-18-7 .
  8. ^ FH Hinsley: British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations. Volume Three, Part I, pp. 269-275 . London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1984, ISBN 0-11-630935-0 .
  9. ^ A b Correlli Barnett: Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War, pp. 275 and 744 . London: Penguin Books, 2000, ISBN 0-14-139008-5 .
  10. a b c d e f David Brown: Tirpitz: The Floating Fortress, pp. 33-40 . London: Arms and Armor Press, 1977, ISBN 0-85368-341-7 .
  11. ^ Clay Blair: Hitler's U-boat War: The Hunted, 1942-1945, pp. 516f . New York: Modern Library, 2000, ISBN 0-679-64033-9 .
  12. a b c S.W. Roskill: The War at Sea 1939-1945. Volume III: The Offensive Part I, pp. 274ff . London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1960, OCLC 58588186 ( worldcat.org ).
  13. a b James P. Levi: The Royal Navy's Home Fleet in World War II, pp. 144f . Houndmills, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan., 2003, ISBN 1-4039-1773-6 .
  14. ^ A b c William H. Garzke and Robert O. Dulin: Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II, pp. 266f . Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1985, ISBN 978-0-87021-101-0 .