THE LONELY QUEEN OF THE NORTH -The German Battleship Tirpitz

THE LONELY QUEEN OF THE NORTH -The German Battleship Tirpitz

The German battleship Tirpitz was launched in 1939. In World War II she was sent to Norway to be used to attack naval commerce of allied shipping in the North Atlantic. She was regarded as a serious threat by the British and their Tirpitz2 allies to supply shipping which was vital to the British in particular. The Germans moored the ship in a narrow fjord where underwater nets were rigged to prevent submarines from entering and anti aircraft guns protected her from air attack.

The British decided to attack the ship with midget submarines. The story of this effort was told in a 1955 movie Above Us The Waves.

These submarines were known as X Class subs. There were about 51 feet long and only 5.5 feet in diameter. A small 42 hp diesel engine powered it at a maximum of 6.5 knots. There were only three to four men in the crew. Explosives were held on each side of the hull. These were designed to be placed under a target and set off by a timer as the sub escaped the area. Due to their small size they were towed to the target area and then released to attack under water.

In September of 1943 the British began their plan to attack the Tirpitz using the X-class subs because they were small enough they could maneuver under and around the protective nets in the fjord which were placed both from the surface down and from the bottom up since normal size subs would be stopped by the many nets. Six X-craft midget subs were used. They were towed under water and would surface every six hours or so for 15 minutes to ventilate the sub.

On the way to the fjord, while being towed one sub sunk. After they arrived and they dove to enter the fjord one sub was damaged in the fjord and had to surrender to a German picket boat. Another sub became entangled in the nets, but after an hour got loose only to become entangled in another net. It got loose again and successful placed her explosives under the ship. On the way out, however, it again was caught in nets. After getting loose it surfaced to small arms fire from surface vessels. It dove again and once more was caught in nets. After getting lose the sub was so damaged by the nets that it was forced to surface and surrender just as the sub sank under them taking two crew members with it.

Then the Germans sighted another midget sub on the surface and opened fire as well as closing a protective boom across the mouth of the fjord. It dove and the Tirpitz captain decided the ship should be taken out to sea for protection, but two violent explosions from the placed charges under the ship went off with considerable damage to the ship. The lighting and power supply were put out of service and the ship listed to the port with the areas below deck flooded. In the meantime, other midget subs were sighted by the Germans who had a destroyer after them. It dropped depth charges and destroyed the subs.

Of the six X-craft subs which had started out, none returned. Three crew men were lost on the way there. One sub was scuttled without casualties. Subs were destroyed by depth charges. One sub was scuttled on the way home without loss of life. In the attack six men died and six were taken prisoner, but all the prisoners returned home after the war.

The battleship was out of commission for six months while repairs were carried out in the fjord where she had been moored. During this time the allies used air attacks on the battleship, but the Germans had set up effective warning systems which allowed them time to cover the area with smoke so that the aircraft could not see their target. There were near misses but no air strikes. Finally, in one attack a bomb struck the ship causing enough damage the German’s decided she couldn’t be put to sea again. However, they kept that fact a secret so that the British continued their air attacks on the ship assuming it was still a threat to shipping.

The Germans decided to tow the damaged ship to another area of Norway to be used as a "floating gun battery" against enemy invasion of Norway. The new location now put her within closer flying distance range from bases in Scotland making attacks with larger planes easier. On November 12, 1944 she was struck with bombs during an air attack resulting in explosion that capsized the ship with the loss of 1000 German sailors who were aboard.

The Tirpid never fired a shot against an enemy ship and spent the entire war in bases in Norway. She was dubbed "The Lonely Queen of the North," but was an effective threat to the allies none the less.

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