German battleship Tirpitz

German battleship Tirpitz
A recognition drawing of Tirpitz prepared by the US Navy
Career (Nazi Germany)
Namesake: Alfred von Tirpitz
Builder: Kriegsmarinewerft, Wilhelmshaven
Laid down: 2 November 1936
Launched: 1 April 1939
Commissioned: 25 February 1941
Fate: Sunk by Royal Air Force bombers on 12 November 1944
General characteristics
Type: Battleship
Displacement: 42,900 t (42,200 long tons; 47,300 short tons) standard
52,600 t (51,800 long tons; 58,000 short tons) full load
Length: 241.6 m (792 ft 8 in) waterline
251 m (823 ft 6 in) overall
Beam: 36 m (118 ft 1 in)
Draft: 9.3 m (30 ft 6 in) standard[Note 1]
Installed power: 163,026 shp (121,568 kW)
Propulsion: 12 Wagner superheated boilers;
3 geared steam turbines;
3 three-blade propellers
Speed: 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph)[1]
Range: 8,870 nmi (16,430 km; 10,210 mi) at 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph)
Complement: 103 officers
1,962 enlisted men[Note 2]
Sensors and
processing systems:
FuMO 23
Armament: 8 × 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 (4 × 2)
12 × 15 cm (5.9 in) (6 × 2)
16 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/33 (8 × 2)
16 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 (8 × 2)
12 × 2 cm (0.79 in) FlaK 30 (12 × 1)
Armour: Belt: 320 mm (13 in)
Turrets: 360 mm (14 in)
Main deck: 100 to 120 mm (3.9 to 4.7 in)
Aircraft carried: 4 × Arado Ar 196 floatplanes
Aviation facilities: 1 double-ended catapult
Service record
Awards: 3 references in the Wehrmachtbericht

Tirpitz was the second of two Bismarck-class battleships built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial Navy, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and launched two and a half years later in April 1939. Work was completed in February 1941, when she was commissioned into the German fleet. Like her sistership Bismarck, Tirpitz was armed with a main battery of eight 38-centimeter (15 in) guns in four twin turrets. As a result of a series of wartime modifications she was some 2,000 metric tons (2,000 long tons; 2,200 short tons) heavier than Bismarck.

After completing sea trials in early 1941, Tirpitz briefly served as the centerpiece of the Baltic Fleet, which was intended to prevent a possible breakout attempt by the Soviet Baltic Fleet. In early 1942, the ship sailed to Norway to act as a deterrent against an Allied invasion. While stationed in Norway, Tirpitz could also be used to intercept Allied convoys to the Soviet Union; two such missions were attempted in 1942, but both failed. Despite her inability to attack the convoys directly, Tirpitz acted as a fleet in being, forcing the British Royal Navy to retain significant naval forces in the area to contain the battleship.

In September 1943, Tirpitz, along with the battleship Scharnhorst, bombarded Allied positions on the island of Spitzbergen, the first time the ship used her main battery in anger. Shortly thereafter, the ship was damaged in an attack by British mini-submarines and subsequently subjected to a series of large-scale air raids. On 12 November 1944, British Lancaster bombers equipped with 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg) "Tallboy" bombs destroyed the ship; two direct hits and a near miss caused the ship to capsize rapidly. A deck fire spread to the ammunition magazine for one of the main battery turrets, which caused a large explosion. Figures for the number of men killed in the attack range from 950 to 1,204. The wreck was broken up by a joint Norwegian and German salvage operation after the war, with work lasting from 1948 until 1957.


Construction and characteristics

Tirpitz was ordered as Ersatz Schleswig-Holstein as a replacement for the old pre-dreadnought Schleswig-Holstein, under the contract name "G".[1] The Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven was awarded the contract, where the keel was laid on 20 October 1936.[3] The hull was launched on 1 April 1939; during the elaborate ceremonies, the ship was christened by the daughter of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the ship's namesake.[4] Adolf von Trotha, a former admiral in the Imperial Navy, spoke at the ship's launching, which was also attended by Adolf Hitler[5] Fitting-out out work followed her launch, and was completed by February 1941.[4] British bombers repeatedly attacked the harbor in which the ship was being built; no bombs struck Tirpitz, but the attacks did slow construction work.[6] Tirpitz was commissioned into the fleet on 25 February for sea trials,[2] which were conducted in the Baltic.[4]

Tirpitz sliding down the slipway at her launch

Tirpitz displaced 42,900 t (42,200 long tons) as built and 52,600 t (51,800 long tons) fully loaded, with a length of 251 m (823 ft 6 in), a beam of 36 m (118 ft 1 in) and a maximum draft of 10.6 m (34 ft 9 in).[Note 3] She was powered by three Brown, Boveri & Cie geared steam turbines, which developed a total of 163,026 shaft horsepower (121,568 kW) and yielded a maximum speed of 30.8 kn (57.0 km/h; 35.4 mph) on speed trials.[1] Her standard crew numbered 103 officers and 1,962 enlisted men, though during the war this was increased to 108 officers and 2,500 men.[2] As built, Tirpitz was equipped with FuMO 23 radars mounted on the forward, foretop, and rear rangefinders. These were later replaced with FuMO 27 radars, which were in turn replaced with the FuMO 26 model, which had a larger antenna array. A FuMO 30, known as the Hohentwiel, was mounted in 1944 in her topmast, and a FuMO 213 Würzburg radar was added on her stern 10.5 cm (4.1 in) Flak rangefinders.[8]

She was armed with eight 38 cm (15 in) L/52 guns arranged in four twin gun turrets: two superfiring turrets forward—Anton and Bruno—and two aft—Caesar and Dora. Her secondary armament consisted of twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) L/55 guns, sixteen 10.5 cm L/65 and sixteen 3.7 cm (1.5 in) L/83, and initially twelve 2 cm (0.79 in) antiaircraft guns. The number of 2 cm guns was eventually increased to 58. After 1942, eight 53.3 cm (21.0 in) above-water torpedo tubes were installed.[2] The ship's main belt was 320 mm (13 in) thick and was covered by a pair of upper and main armoured decks that were 50 mm (2.0 in) and 100 to 120 mm (3.9 to 4.7 in) thick, respectively. The 38 cm turrets were protected by 360 mm (14 in) thick faces and 220 mm (8.7 in) thick sides.[1]

Service history

After her commissioning and completion of trials, Tirpitz was stationed in Kiel and performed intensive training in the Baltic. While the ship was in Kiel, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. A temporary Baltic Fleet was created to prevent the possible breakout of the Soviet fleet based in Leningrad. Tirpitz was briefly made the flagship of the squadron, which consisted of the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer, the light cruisers Köln, Nürnberg, Leipzig, and Emden, several destroyers, and two flotillas of minesweepers.[6] The Baltic Fleet, under the command of Admiral Otto Ciliax,[5] patrolled off the Aaland Islands from 23 to 26 September 1941, after which the unit disbanded and Tirpitz resumed training.[9] During the training period, Tirpitz tested its primary and secondary guns on the old pre-dreadnought battleship Hessen,[10] which had been converted into a radio-controlled target ship.[11] The British Royal Air Force continued to launch bombing raids on the ship while she was stationed in Kiel, though these too were unsuccessful.[12]

Deployment to Norway

Tirpitz camouflaged in the Fættenfjord

Admiral Erich Raeder, the commander of the Kriegsmarine, proposed on 13 November that Tirpitz be deployed to Norway. The ship would be able to attack convoys bound for the Soviet Union, as well as act as a fleet in being to tie down British naval assets and deter an Allied invasion of Norway. Hitler, who had forbidden an Atlantic sortie after the loss of Bismarck, agreed to the proposal. The ship was taken into dock for modifications for the deployment. The ship's antiaircraft battery was strengthened and the 10.5 cm guns on the superstructure next to the catapult were moved outboard to increase their field of fire. The two quadruple 53.3 cm torpedo tube mounts were also installed during this refit.[13] The ship's commander, Kapitän zur See Karl Topp,[14] pronounced the ship ready for combat operations on 10 January.[12] The following day, Tirpitz left for Wilhelmshaven, a move designed to conceal her actual destination.[13]

The ship left Wilhelmshaven at 23:00 on 14 January and made for Trondheim.[13] British military intelligence, which was capable of decrypting the Enigma messages sent by the German navy, detected the departure of the vessel, though poor weather in Britain prevented action from the RAF.[15] Admiral John Tovey, the commander in chief of the Home Fleet, was not made aware of Tirpitz's activities until 17 January, well after the ship had arrived in Norway.[16] On 16 January, British aerial reconnaissance located the ship in Trondheim. Tirpitz then moved to the Fættenfjord, just north of Trondheim.[17] The movement was codenamed Operation Polarnacht; the battleship was escorted by the destroyers Richard Beitzen, Paul Jacobi, Bruno Heinemann and Z-29 for the voyage.[18] She was moored next to a cliff, which protected the ship from air attacks from the southwest. The ship's crew cut down trees and placed them aboard Tirpitz to camouflage her.[17] Additional antiaircraft batteries were installed around the fjord, as were anti-torpedo nets and heavy booms in the entrance to the anchorage.[19] Life for the crew of Tirpitz was very monotonous during the deployment to Norway. Frequent fuel shortages curtailed training and kept the battleship and her escorts moored behind their protective netting. The crew was primarily occupied with maintaining the ship and continuously manning antiaircraft defenses. Sports activities were organized to keep the crew occupied and physically fit.[20]

Operations against Allied convoys

Several factors served to restrain Tirpitz's freedom of operation in Norway. The most pressing were shortages of fuel and the withdrawal of the German destroyer forces to support Operation Cerberus, the movement of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen up through the English Channel. These caused a planned attack against the outbound convoy PQ 8 at the end of January to be abandoned.[21] A planned British air attack at the end of January by four-engined heavy bombers was disrupted by poor weather over the target, which prevented the aircraft from finding the ship.[22] In early February, Tirpitz took part in the deceptions that distracted the British in the run-up to Operation Cerberus. These included steaming out of the fjord and activities that indicated preparations for a sortie into the North Sea.[23] Later that month, the ship was reinforced by the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Prinz Eugen and several destroyers. Prinz Eugen had been torpedoed by a British submarine at the entrance to the Fættenfjord, and was therefore temporarily out of action.[24]

Tirpitz underway, probably in 1941

Tirpitz and Admiral Scheer, along with the destroyers Friedrich Ihn, Paul Jacobi, Hermann Schoemann and Z-25 and a pair of torpedo boats,[18] were intended to attack the homebound convoy QP 8 and the outbound PQ 12 in March 1942 as part of Operation Sportpalast.[21][25] Admiral Scheer,[21] with a design speed of 26 kn (48 km/h; 30 mph),[26] was too slow to operate with Tirpitz, and was left in port,[21] as was the destroyer Paul Jacobi. The two torpedo boats were also released from the operation.[18] On 5 March, Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft spotted PQ 12 near Jan Mayen Island; the reconnaissance failed to note the battleship Duke of York or the battlecruiser Renown, both of which escorted the convoy, along with four destroyers. Unknown to the Germans, Admiral Tovey provided distant support to the convoys with the battleship King George V, the aircraft carrier Victorious, the heavy cruiser Berwick, and six destroyers. Enigma intercepts again forewarned the British of Tirpitz's attack, which allowed them to reroute the convoys. Admiral Tovey attempted to pursue Tirpitz on 9 March,[21] but Admiral Otto Ciliax, the commander of the German squadron, had decided to return to port the previous evening. An air attack was launched early on the 9th; twelve Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers attacked the ship in three groups, though Tirpitz successfully evaded the torpedoes. Only three men were wounded in the attack.[27] After the conclusion of the attack, Tirpitz made for Vestfjord, from which she proceeded to Trondheim, arriving on the evening of 13 March.[28]

The actions of Tirpitz and her escorting destroyers in March used up some 8,230 metric tons (8,100 long tons; 9,070 short tons) of fuel oil, which greatly reduced the available fuel supply. It took the Germans three months to replenish the fuel spent in the attempt to intercept the two Allied convoys. Convoy PQ 17, which left Iceland on 27 June bound for the Soviet Union, was the next convoy Tirpitz and the rest of the German fleet stationed in Norway was able to attack,[28] during Operation Rösselsprung.[29] Escorting the convoy were the battleships Duke of York and USS Washington and the carrier Victorious.[28] Tirpitz, Admiral Hipper, and six destroyers sortied from Trondheim, while a second task force consisting of Lützow, Admiral Scheer, and six destroyers operated out of Narvik.[30] Lützow and three of the destroyers struck uncharted rocks while en route to the rendezvous and had to return to port. Shortly after Tirpitz left Norway, the Soviet submarine K-21 fired a pair of torpedoes at the ship, both of which missed. Swedish intelligence had meanwhile reported the German departures to the British Admiralty, which ordered the convoy to disperse. Aware that they had been detected, the Germans aborted the operation and turned over the attack to U-boats and the Luftwaffe. The scattered vessels could no longer be protected by the convoy escorts, and the Germans sank 21 of the 34 isolated transports. Tirpitz returned to Altafjord via the Lofoten Islands.[31]

Tirpitz, escorted by several destroyers, steaming in the Bogenfjord in October 1942

Following Operation Rösselsprung, the Germans moved Tirpitz to Bogenfjord near Narvik. By this time, the ship needed a major overhaul. Hitler had forbidden the ship to make the dangerous return to Germany, and so the overhaul was conducted in Trondheim. On 23 October, the ship left Bogenfjord and returned to Fættenfjord outside Trondheim. The defenses of the anchorage were further strengthened; additional antiaircraft guns were installed and double anti-torpedo nets were erected around the vessel. The repairs were conducted in limited phases, such that Tirpitz would remain partially operational for the majority of the overhaul. A caisson was built around the stern to allow the replacement of the ship's rudders.[31] During the repair process, the British attempted to attack the battleship with two Chariot human torpedoes, though rough seas incapacitated the boat carrying torpedoes. By 28 December, the overhaul had been completed, and Tirpitz began sea trials. She conducted gunnery trials on 4 January 1943 in the Trondheimfjord.[32] On 21 February, Topp was promoted to Rear Admiral and was replaced by Captain Hans Meyer; five days later the battleship Scharnhorst was ordered to reinforce the fleet in Norway. Vice Admiral Oskar Kummetz was given command of the warships stationed in Norway.[33]

By the time Scharnhorst arrived in Norway in March 1943, Allied convoys to the Soviet Union had temporarily ceased. Admiral Karl Dönitz, who had replaced Raeder in the aftermath of the Battle of the Barents Sea on 31 December 1942, decided the ships needed an opportunity to work together. He therefore ordered an attack on the island of Spitzbergen, which housed a British weather station and refuelling base.[32] Several settlements and outposts on Spitzbergen were defended by a garrison of 152 men from the exiled Free Norwegian Forces.[34] The two battleships, escorted by ten destroyers, left port on 6 September; in a ruse de guerre, Tirpitz flew a white flag on the approach to the island the following day.[35] During the bombardment, Tirpitz fired 52 main-battery shells and 82 rounds from her 15 cm secondaries.[36] This was the first and only time the ship fired her main battery at an enemy target.[32] The force landed an assault force that destroyed shore installations and captured 74 prisoners.[34][37] By 11:00, the battleships had destroyed their targets and began the return to their Norwegian ports.[32]

British attacks on Tirpitz

Operation Source
Tirpitz in the Altafjord

The British were determined to neutralize Tirpitz and remove the threat it posed to Allied lines of communication in the Arctic. Following the repeated, ineffectual bombing attacks and the failed Chariot attack in October 1942, the British turned to the newly designed X Craft midget submarines.[32] The planned attack, Operation Source, included attacks on Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Lützow.[38] The X Craft were towed by large submarines to their destinations, where they could slip under anti-torpedo nets to attach a powerful mine to the bottom of the target. Ten vessels were assigned to the operation, scheduled for 20–25 September 1943. Only eight of the vessels reached Norway for the attack, which began early on 22 September.[32] Three of the vessels, X5, X6, and X7, successfully breached Tirpitz's defences, two of which—X6 and X7—managed to lay their mines. X5 was detected some 200 m (660 ft) from the nets and sunk by a combination of gunfire and depth charges.[39]

The mines caused extensive damage to the ship; the first exploded abreast of turret Caesar and the second detonated 45 to 55 m (148 to 180 ft) off the port bow.[40] A fuel oil tank was ruptured, shell plating was torn, a large indentation was formed in the bottom of the ship and bulkheads in the double bottom buckled. Some 1,430 t (1,410 long tons; 1,580 short tons) of water flooded the ship in fuel tanks and void spaces in the double bottom of the port side, which caused a list of one to two degrees, though this was balanced by counter-flooding on the starboard side. The flooding damaged all of the turbo-generators in generator room No. 2, and all save one generator in generator room No. 1 were disabled by broken steam lines or severed power cables. Turret Dora was thrown from its bearings and could not be trained; this was particularly significant, as there were no heavy-lift cranes in Norway powerful enough to lift the turret and place it back on its bearings.[41] The ship's two Arado Ar 196 floatplanes were thrown by the explosive concussion and completely destroyed. Repairs were conducted by the repair ship

Tirpitz under attack by British carrier aircraft on 3 April 1944

The British were aware that Neumark and the repair crews left in March, which intimated Tirpitz was nearly operational.[43] A major air strike—Operation Tungsten—involving the fleet carriers Victorious and Furious and the escort carriers Emperor, Fencer, Pursuer, and Searcher,[44] was scheduled for 4 April 1944. Enigma decrypts revealed to the British that Tirpitz was scheduled to depart at 05:29 on 3 April for sea trials; the British therefore moved the attack forward to 3 April.[43] The attack consisted of 40 dive-bombers and 40 escorting fighters in two waves; fifteen direct hits and two near misses were scored by the bombers,[44] with the loss of only one aircraft in the first wave. This was due to the surprise achieved by the carrier aircraft; it took twelve to fourteen minutes for all of Tirpitz's antiaircraft batteries to be fully manned. The first wave struck at 05:29, as tugs were preparing to assist the ship out of her mooring. The second wave arrived over the target an hour later, shortly after 06:30. Despite the alertness of the German antiaircraft gunners, only one other bomber was shot down.[45]

The air strike caused significant damage to the ship and inflicted serious casualties. William Garzke and Robert Dulin report the attack killed 122 men and wounded 316 others,[45] while Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz report 132 fatalities and 270 wounded men, including the ship's commander, KzS Hans Meyer.[46] Two of the 15 cm turrets were destroyed by bombs and both Ar 196 floatplanes were destroyed. Several of the bomb hits caused serious fires aboard the ship. Concussive shock disabled the starboard turbine engine and saltwater used to fight the fires reached the boilers and contaminated the feed water. Some 2,000 t (2,000 long tons; 2,200 short tons) of water flooded the ship, primarily through the two near misses, which holed the side shell with splinters. Water used to fight the fires also contributed to the flooding.[47] Dönitz ordered the ship be repaired, regardless of the cost, despite the fact that he understood Tirpitz could no longer be used in a surface action due to insufficient fighter support. Repair work began in early May; destroyers ferried important equipment and workers from Kiel to Altafjord over the span of three days. By 2 June, the ship was again able to steam under her own power, and by the end of the month gunnery trials were possible. During the repair process, the 15 cm guns were modified to allow their use against aircraft, and specially-fuzed 38 cm shells for barrage antiaircraft fire were supplied.[48]

Operations Planet, Brawn, Tiger Claw, Mascot, and Goodwood

A series of carrier strikes were planned over the next three months, though bad weather forced their cancellation. A repeat of Operation Tungsten, codenamed Operation Planet, was scheduled for 24 April. Operation Brawn, which was to have been carried out by 27 bombers and 36 fighters from Victorious and Furious, was to have taken place on 15 May, and Operation Tiger Claw was intended for 28 May. Victorious and Furious were joined by Indefatigable for Operation Mascot, which was to have been carried out on 17 July by 62 bombers and 30 fighters. The weather finally broke in late August, which saw the Goodwood series of attacks. Operations Goodwood I and II were launched on 22 August; a carrier force consisting of the fleet carriers Furious, Indefatigable, Formidable and the escort carriers Nabob, and Trumpeter launched a total of 38 bombers and 43 escort fighters between the two raids. The attacks failed to inflict any damage on Tirpitz,[44] and three of the attacking aircraft were shot down.[48] Goodwood III followed on 24 August, composed of aircraft from the fleet carriers only. Forty-eight bombers and 29 fighters attacked the ship and scored two hits which caused minor damage.[44] One of the bombs penetrated the upper and lower armour decks and came to rest in the No. 4 switchboard room, though its fuse had been damaged and the bomb did not detonate. Six planes were shot down in the attack.[49] Goodwood IV followed on the 29th, with 34 bombers and 25 fighters from Formidable and Indefatigable, though heavy fog interfered with the attack and prevented any hits from being scored.[44] One Firefly and a Corsair were shot down by Tirpitz's gunners. The battleship expended 54 rounds from her main guns, 161 from the 15 cm guns and up to 20 percent of her light antiaircraft ammunition.[50]

Operations Paravane and Obviate

The ineffectiveness of the vast majority of the strikes launched by the Fleet Air Arm in mid-1944 led to the task of Tirpitz's destruction being transferred to the RAF's No. 5 Group. It was determined that four-engined Lancaster bombers were required to carry bombs powerful enough to penetrate the ship's heavy armour.[51] The 6 short tons (5.4 t) Tallboy bomb, developed in 1943 by Barnes Wallis, was to be the primary weapon used against Tirpitz.[52] The first attack, Operation Paravane, took place on 15 September 1944; operating from a forward base at Yagodnik in Russia, 23 Lancasters (17 each carrying one Tallboy and six each carrying twelve JW mines), scored a single hit on the ship's bow.[44] The Tallboy completely penetrated the ship, exited the keel, and exploded in the bottom of the fjord. Some 800 to 1,000 t (790 to 980 long tons; 880 to 1,100 short tons) of water flooded the bow and caused a serious increase in trim forward. The ship was rendered unseaworthy and was limited to 8 to 10 kn (15 to 19 km/h; 9.2 to 12 mph). Concussive shock caused severe damage to fire-control equipment. The heavy damage persuaded the naval command to repair the ship for use only as a floating gun battery. Repair work was estimated to take nine months, but patching of the holes could be effected within a few weeks, which would allow Tirpitz to be moved further south to Tromsø. On 15 October, the ship made the 200 nmi (370 km; 230 mi) trip to Tromsø under her own power, the last voyage of her career.[53]

The RAF made a second attempt on 29 October, after the ship was moored off Håkøy Island outside Tromsø. Thirty-two Lancasters attacked the ship with Tallboys during Operation Obviate.[44] As on Operation Paravane, No. 9 Squadron and No. 617 Squadron carried out the attack together, which resulted in only one near-miss,[53] partially the result of bad weather over the target.[54] The underwater explosion damaged the port rudder and shaft and caused some flooding. Tirpitz's 38 cm fragmentation shells proved ineffective in countering the high-level bombers, though one aircraft was damaged by ground-based antiaircraft guns.[53] Following the attack, the ship's anchorage was significantly improved. A large sand bank was constructed under and around the ship to prevent her from capsizing and anti-torpedo nets were installed. Tirpitz retained a one-degree list to port from earlier damage, and this was not corrected by counter-flooding to retain as much reserve buoyancy as possible. The ship was also prepared for her role as a floating artillery platform: fuel was limited to only what was necessary to power the turbo-generators and the crew was reduced to 1,600 officers and enlisted men.[55]

Operation Catechism
Tirpitz capsized

Operation Catechism, the final British attack on Tirpitz, took place on 12 November 1944.[44] The ship again used her 38 cm guns against the bombers, which approached the battleship at 09:35; Tirpitz's main guns forced the bombers to temporarily disperse, but could not break up the attack.[56] A force of 32 Lancasters from Nos 9 and 617 Squadrons dropped 29 Tallboys on the ship, with two direct hits and one near miss.[44] Several other bombs landed within the anti-torpedo net barrier and caused significant cratering of the seabed; this removed much of the sandbank that had been constructed to prevent the ship from capsizing. One bomb penetrated the ship's deck between turrets Anton and Bruno but failed to explode. A second hit amidships between the aircraft catapult and the funnel and caused severe damage. A very large hole was blown into the ship's side and bottom; the entire section of belt armour abreast of the bomb hit was completely destroyed. A third bomb may have struck the ship on the port side of turret Caesar.[56] The amidships hit caused significant flooding and quickly increased the port list to between 15 and 20 degrees. In ten minutes, the list increased to 30 to 40 degrees; the captain issued the order to abandon ship. Progressive flooding increased the list to 60 degrees by 09:50, though this appeared to stabilize temporarily. Eight minutes later, a massive explosion rocked turret Caesar. The turret roof and part of the rotating structure were thrown 25 m (82 ft) into the air and over into a group of men swimming to shore. Tirpitz then rapidly rolled over and buried her superstructure in the sea floor.[57]

In the aftermath of the attack, rescue operations attempted to reach men trapped in the hull. Workers managed to rescue 82 men by cutting through the bottom hull plates.[44] Figures for the death toll vary; John Sweetman states that 1,000 out of a crew of 1,900 were killed,[58] while Niklas Zetterling and Michael Tamelander estimated nearly 1,000 fatalities.[59] Siegfried Breyer and Erich Gröner both agree on 1,204 deaths,[2][44] though Gordon Williamson gives the death toll at 971.[14] William Dulin and Robert Dulin place the number of deaths at "about 950."[57] The wreck remained in place until after the war, when a joint German-Norwegian company began salvage operations. Work lasted from 1948 until 1957;[2] fragments of the ship are still sold by a Norwegian company.[14]

The performance of the Luftwaffe in the defence of Tirpitz was highly criticised after her loss. Major Heinrich Ehrler, the commander of III./Jagdgeschwader 5 (3rd group of the 5th fighter wing), was singled out and blamed for the Luftwaffe's failure to intercept the British bombers. Many veterans of his unit regard him as having been a convenient scapegoat for his superiors' failures. He was subsequently court-martialled in Oslo and threatened with the death penalty. He was instead sentenced to three years in prison, though he was released after a month, demoted, and reassigned to an Me 262 fighter squadron in Germany. On 4 April 1945, he was shot down over Berlin, though according to anecdotal evidence, he reportedly told a comrade that he intended to ram a bomber after running out of ammunition, stating "We'll meet again in Valhalla."[60]

Ludovic Kennedy wrote in his history of the vessel that she "lived an invalid's life and died a cripple's death".[61]

References in the Wehrmachtbericht

Tirpitz was referenced three times in the Wehrmachtbericht, an information bulletin issued by the headquarters of the Wehrmacht. To be singled out in the Wehrmachtbericht was an honor.[Note 4]

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
9 July 1942 Die sowjetische Behauptung, daß das deutsche Schlachtschiff "Tirpitz" Torpedotreffer erhalten hätte, ist frei erfunden. Das Schlachtschiff ist weder beschädigt noch überhaupt angegriffen worden.[62] The Soviet claim that the German battleship "Tirpitz" had received a torpedo hit is fictional. The battleship is neither damaged nor has it even been under attack.
4 April 1944 Im Zusammenhang mit diesen Kampfhandlungen versuchten gestern britische Trägerflugzeuge einen norwegischen Stützpunkt der Kriegsmarine anzugreifen. Der Angriff wurde durch die eigene Abwehr zersplittert und kam nicht zur vollen Wirkung. Hierbei wurden durch das Schlachtschiff "Tirpitz" vier, durch ein Vorpostenboot zwei feindliche Flugzeuge abgeschossen.[63] British carrier based aircraft attempted to attack a Kriegsmarine base in Norway. The attack was broken up by our own defense and did not come to full effect. The battleship "Tirpitz" shot down four, a patrol boat two enemy aircraft.
14 November 1944 Durch einen feindlichen Luftangriff wurde in Nordnorwegen das Schlachtschiff "Tirpitz", dessen tapfere Besatzung in den letzten Monaten zahlreiche englische Luftangriffe mit gutem Erfolg abgewehrt hatte, außer Gefecht gesetzt. Ein großer Teil der Besatzung wurde gerettet.[64] The battleship "Tirpitz", with its brave crew which had repelled numerous British air attacks with good success in recent months, was put out of action by an enemy air attack in northern Norway. A large part of the crew was rescued.


  1. ^ Tirpitz's draft at full load was 10.6 metres (34 ft 9 in).[1]
  2. ^ Crew could be augmented up to 108 officers and 2,500 enlisted men.[2]
  3. ^ According to naval historians Gerhard Koop and Klaus-Peter Schmolke, Tirpitz displaced 53,500 metric tons (52,700 long tons; 59,000 short tons) at full load in 1944.[7]
  4. ^ Due to the nature of the Wehrmachtbericht dispatches, the information is not entirely accurate. For example, the dispatch regarding the air attack on 4 April claims Tirpitz shot down four British aircraft, along with two more by a patrol boat; only two aircraft were in fact destroyed during the attack.


  1. ^ a b c d e Gröner, p. 33
  2. ^ a b c d e f Gröner, p. 35
  3. ^ Campbell, p. 43
  4. ^ a b c Williamson, p. 35
  5. ^ a b Hildebrand, Röhr and Steinmetz, p. 239
  6. ^ a b Garzke & Dulin, p. 247
  7. ^ Koop & Schmolke, p. 18
  8. ^ Williamson, p. 43
  9. ^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 247–248
  10. ^ Sweetman, p. 11
  11. ^ Gröner, p. 20
  12. ^ a b Sweetman, p. 12
  13. ^ a b c Garzke & Dulin, p. 248
  14. ^ a b c Williamson, p. 40
  15. ^ Sweetman, p. 16
  16. ^ Sweetman, p. 17
  17. ^ a b Garzke & Dulin, pp. 248–250
  18. ^ a b c Hildebrand, Röhr and Steinmetz, p. 240
  19. ^ Sweetman, p. 19
  20. ^ Zetterling & Tamerlander, p. 207
  21. ^ a b c d e Garzke & Dulin, p. 250
  22. ^ Sweetman, p. 23–24
  23. ^ Sweetman, pp. 24–25
  24. ^ Sweetman, pp. 25–26
  25. ^ Sweetman, p. 27
  26. ^ Gröner, p. 60
  27. ^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 250–251
  28. ^ a b c Garzke & Dulin, p. 253
  29. ^ Sweetman, p. 54
  30. ^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 253–255
  31. ^ a b Garzke & Dulin, p. 255
  32. ^ a b c d e f Garzke & Dulin, p. 258
  33. ^ Sweetman, pp. 73–74
  34. ^ a b Torkildsen, p. 221
  35. ^ Sweetman, p. 76
  36. ^ Sweetman, p. 77
  37. ^ Sweetman, pp. 76–77
  38. ^ Zetterling & Tamerlander, pp. 195–196
  39. ^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 258–259
  40. ^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 259
  41. ^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 259–261
  42. ^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 262
  43. ^ a b c Garzke & Dulin, p. 264
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Breyer, p. 26
  45. ^ a b Garzke & Dulin, p. 265
  46. ^ Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz, p. 243
  47. ^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 265–267
  48. ^ a b Garzke & Dulin, p. 267
  49. ^ Garzke & Dulin, pp. 267–268
  50. ^ Brown, p. 39
  51. ^ Sweetman, pp. 132–133
  52. ^ Sweetman, pp. 133–139
  53. ^ a b c Garzke & Dulin, p. 268
  54. ^ Sweetman, p. 193
  55. ^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 270
  56. ^ a b Garzke & Dulin, p. 272
  57. ^ a b Garzke & Dulin, p. 273
  58. ^ Sweetman, p. 248
  59. ^ Zetterling & Tamerlander, p. 327
  60. ^ Zetterling & Tamelander, p. 233
  61. ^ Van der Vat, p. 508
  62. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 198.
  63. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 73.
  64. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 332.


  • Brown, David (1977). Tirpitz: the floating fortress. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9780853683414
  • Campbell, John (1987). "Germany 1906–1922". In Sturton, Ian. Conway's All the World's Battleships: 1906 to the Present. London: Conway Maritime Press. pp. 28–49. ISBN 0851774482. 
  • Garzke, William H.; Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9780870211010. 
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870217909. 
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  • Sweetman, John (2004). Tirpitz: Hunting the Beast. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited. ISBN 0750937556. 
  • Torkildsen, Torbjørn (1998) (in Norwegian). Svalbard : vårt nordligste Norge (3rd ed.). Oslo: Aschehoug. ISBN 8203222242 (ib.). 
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