Ive just watched a fascinating programme on BBC iplayer, about a daring midget submarine raid on the Tirpitz in 1943.
The sister ship of the Bismarck, the Tirpitz spent much of the war lurking in Norwegian fjords, threatening the vital Arctic convoys to Russia. All the time she was there, the Royal Navy had to maintain a strong Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. If the Tirpitz had broken out into the North Sea or the Atlantic, we might have seen a desparate hunt like the one that sank the Bismarck in 1941.
British Forces launched a wide range of daring raids to try and neutralise the Tirpitz. One of the most famous, the raid on St Nazaire, was even hundreds of miles away from the ship. St Nazaire was home to the only dry dock big enough to take the Tirpitz – after this was destroyed, the German Navy would not be able to repair the giant ship.
Although the monster Battleship was eventually sunk by Lancasters of the RAF, the first raid that damaged the Tirpitz was carried out by three X Craft – midget submarines with a crew of four men. Towed across the North Sea by conventional Submarines, they were cast off on the Norwegian Coast. After breaching tight defences, including their divers cutting through anti-torpedo netting, the submarines dropped saddle charges under the battleship, before attempting to escape. Two of the submarine Commanders won the Victoria Cross, and many of the crew members were also decorated.
Yet what happened to the other Submarine has always remained a mystery – as it was not certain what part they had played in the raid. Did they manage to drop their charges? Did the Commander deserve a Victoria Cross, like his counterparts?