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Shortly afterwards the RAF learned that the Lufwaffe had moved a Staffel of Fw190 fighters to the Airfield at Bardufoss, 40 miles from Tromso. If any further attacks were to succeed it was paramount that the attacking force retain an element of surprise for as long as possible. The Germans had a continual radar chain along the Coast of Norway positioned to give warning of any aircraft approaching the coast at altitudes of 5,000 ft or above. If the raiding force remained at 1,500 ft or below there was a chink through which the planes might pass unseen. Any future attack the bombers would fly through the hole in the radar cover at 1,500 ft and continue heading east and climb over the mountains into neutral Sweden. The planes were to then head north-east keeping the mountain barrier between themselves and the German radar stations until they began the climb to enter their bombing runs. This then was the route taken by a force of twenty-nine Lancaster's from Lossiemouth on 12/11/44. In November it should be remembered that being so far north in Norway they experienced twenty-two hours of darkness. They took off at 3:00 am, although the weather was clear icing up caused W/C Jim Bazin, CO of IX squadron did not get airborne. Bazin radioed his deputy S/L Bill Williams to inform him that he was in command of IX squadron.
Some of the aircraft were detected crossing the coast and Tirpitz was alerted to expect an attack. What the RAF planners did not know was that the fighters at Bardufoss posed no threat to the force as the unit had recently exchanged its Bf109's for Fw190's and its pilots, many inexperienced having come straight from training were undergoing conversion to the new type. The remit of the Staffel Commander Oberleutnant Werner Gayko was in an emergency he was responsible for the defence of the airfield and the surrounding area. So far as Gayko was concerned no emergency existed, for he had received no request to go to the assistance of the Battleship.
Passing over the distinctive shape of Lake Tornetrask a stretch of water 1,125 ft high in northern Sweden, the bombers moved into attack formation and their pilots pushed on full throttle to commence the climb to attack altitude.
At 9:05 am the formation of bombers hove into view of the lookouts on Tirpitz. At this she was fully closed up for action, her watertight doors shut, weapons loaded and pointing skywards. As the Lancaster's came within the range of the large guns, 13 miles, they hurled their 1 ton shells in the direction of the force. The deafening crashes of the guns echoed and re-echoed from the mountain walls of the Fjord, and then the barrels began lowering to the horizontal for re-loading. Four large clouds of black smoke appeared near the bombers but were not near enough to cause any harm. As the range closed the battleships 10.5 cms guns joined in the action, followed by 3.7 cm weapons strings of red and green tracers.
Taits' tactics were as in the previous twp attacks, planes attacking in closely spaced waves stepped up in altitude, but on this occasion there was neither cloud nor Smokescreen to hinder the force. The first wave of five aircraft led by Tait followed by Castagnola released their weapons, falling slowly at first but rapidly gathering speed the salvo reigned down on their target. Seven seconds later the second wave bombed followed by the third and fourth wave.
Three tallboys had scored direct hits on the ship, one failing to cause serious damage as it ricocheted off the deck breaking up and spilling its burning charge it skidded away. The nose of the weapon was later found on the mud bank 200 yards from the impact. The catastrophic damage was caused by the other two weapons, which smashed into the ship within 20 yards of one another on the port side. These penetrated the hull of the ship whereupon they detonated and in combination with one or two near misses at about the same time, the explosions a 200 ft hole in the port side.
As hundreds of tons of water flooded into the battleship, counter flooding failed to correct a list to port, which reached 20 degrees before steadying as one bilge keel jammed hard against a bank of mud on the sea bed. Fires raged below decks one of which reached a magazine which exploded lifting the "C" turret off its mounting and hurling it over the side. Meanwhile the list continued until the ship ended up with her superstructure embedded in the mud on the bottom of the fjord and part of her hull showing above the surface. It had taken barely ten minutes from the beginning of the attack until the ship came to rest. The defences only damaged one aircraft that of F/O Coster of IX Squadron, who made a forced landing in Sweden.
According to W/C Richardson the Armament Officer of No. 5 group, IX squadrons plotting indicated large random aiming errors. Bombing by 617 was very concentrated but four bombs dropped at the end of IX squadron's attack, fell between 200 yard and 1 mile from the target. Richardson concluded that only the first 50% of the aircraft to attack would have a clear or reasonable aiming point, as smoke from explosives would make subsequent aiming difficult.
Of the 1,500 sailors on board at the time half had been killed. Thus ended the life of Tirpitz just four years and two days after her completion. Throughout her career she had neither sunk nor damaged an allied ship but had pinned down vital naval forces at crucial stages in the war. Following her demise British Naval forces could be deployed in the Pacific theatre of war in the war against Japan.
The Overturned Hull of Tirpitz Laying Close To Shore