On this day in 1944, 32 British Lancaster bombers attack and sink the mighty German battleship Tirpitz.
In January 1942, Hitler ordered the Germany navy to base the Tirpitz in Norway, in order to attack Soviet convoys transporting supplies from Iceland to the USSR. The Tirpitz also prevented British naval forces from making their way to the Pacific. Winston Churchill summed up the situation this way: “The destruction or even crippling of this ship is the greatest event at the present time… The whole strategy of the war turns at this period on this ship…”
Attacks had already been made against the Tirpitz. RAF raids were made against it in January 1942, but they failed to damage it. Another raid was made in March; dozens of RAF bombers sought out the Tirpitz, which was now reinforced with cruisers, pocket battleships, and destroyers. All of the British bombers, once again, missed their target.
Sporadic attacks continued to be made against the German battleship, including an attempt in October 1942 to literally drive a two-man craft up to the ship and plant explosives on the Tirpitz‘s hull. This too failed because of brutal water conditions and an alert German defense. But in September 1943, six midget British subs set out to take the Tirpitz down for good. The midgets had to be towed to Norway by conventional subs. Only three of the six midgets made it to their target. This time, they were successful in attaching explosives to the Tirpitz‘s keel and doing enough damage to put it out of action for six months. Two British commanders and four crewmen were taken captive by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as POWs.
But it wasn’t until November 1944 that the Tirpitz was undone permanently. As the battleship lay at anchor in Norway’s Tromso Fjord, 32 British Lancaster bombers, taking off from Scotland, attacked. Each bomber dropped a 12,000-pound Tallboy bomb and two hit their target, causing the Tirpitz to capsize, and killing almost 1,000 crewmen.
Ironically, the mighty Tirpitz fired its guns only once in aggression during the entire extent of the war-against a British coaling station on the island of Spitsbergen.