Operation Judgement, Kilbotn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Operation Judgement, Kilbotn was an operation carried out at the end of World War II by the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy in North Norway on May 4, 1945, when 44 aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm attacked a U-boat base 5 miles (8.0 km) south of the town and port of Harstad. The attack was directed at vessels in the natural harbour at Kilbotn. It lasted seven minutes and left two ships and a U-boat sunk. No Norwegians in the village of Kilbotn were injured during or after the attack. Operation Judgement was the last air raid of World War II in Europe. Much of the history of Operation Judgement has been written in Norwegian, and this is a brief summary.

From 1939 to 1945 the German war effort made extensive use of the U-boat as a strategic weapon. From bases in Northern Norway U-boats sailed against the Allied convoys making for Russian ports in the Arctic Ocean. In autumn 1944, when German forces retreated from the extreme north, the U-boat base at Hammerfest was moved south to Kilbotn.[1]

The base consisted of the 5000-ton depot-ship Black Watch, a former North-Sea passenger ferry,[2] supported by a Norwegian cruiser converted by the Germans into a flak-ship, two barges fitted with anti-aircraft guns, and numerous gun emplacements on the land round the harbour. Several other ships were employed in ferrying supplies and ammunition to the base at Kilbotn, including the 950-ton Norwegian cargo ship Senja. The attack destroyed Black Watch and Senja and also U-711, which had been moored alongside Black Watch. Two British aircraft with four aircrew were lost, and an estimated 150 German personnel also lost their lives.

The attack[edit]

The attack was carried out by the First Cruiser Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Rhoderick McGrigor, second-in-command of the Home Fleet, in his flagship Norfolk. The force included the cruiser Diadem, three escort carriers, and eight destroyers and other vessels. In the carriers three Naval Air Squadrons were embarked: 846 Squadron in Trumpeter contributed eight Avenger torpedo-bombers and four Wildcat fighters to the attack, 853 Squadron in Queen contributed eight Avengers and four Wildcats, while 882 Squadron in Searcher contributed twenty Wildcats. The force sailed from Scapa Flow on May 1.[3]

The force was aware of the strength of the defences at Kilbotn and of the presence of a German fighter base at Bardufoss, 50 miles (80 km) to the east. Four Wildcats were assigned to provide top-cover against the arrival of enemy aircraft, while the majority of the other Wildcats were to arrive at Kilbotn at the start of the operation, to attack the gun emplacements on land and in the harbour. Eight of the Wildcats were in addition each armed with a single 250-lb bomb to attack the flak-ship Thetis, formerly Harald Haarfagre. The Avengers would then arrive, each armed with four 500-lb bombs, and carry out their glide-bombing [4] runs in quick succession, 846 Squadron attacking Black Watch and 853 Senja. Bombs were launched from a height of 2,000 feet (610 m) after a glide from 6,000–8,000 feet (1,800–2,400 m).[5]

The Germans' early-warning systems in the islands – radar, gun emplacements and spotters – could not have failed to observe and identify the aircraft passing over, but by great good luck for the attackers the headquarters staff at Harstad failed to circulate a warning. As a result the airborne force, under the command of Lt. Cdr. C.L.F. Webb RN, arriving from the west over Kilbotn at 17.00 on a sunny afternoon, achieved almost complete surprise. In the initial attack a Wildcat of 882 Squadron was hit and entered the water with the loss of the pilot. In the next minutes as the attack developed several aircraft received flak damage but the attack went according to plan. One Avenger of 846 Squadron made a forced landing which the three-man crew did not survive.[6]

In Kilbotn village, 1 mile (1.6 km) from the main target Black Watch, one bomb fell near some houses after a fault in the launching mechanism of one of the Avengers. With its time-delayed fuse it exploded after entering soft ground, which absorbed most of the splinters. Two houses suffered windows blown out and some damaged woodwork.

The remaining 42 aircraft returned to the carriers. On board U-711 the harbour crew of eight including the captain, Hans-Günther Lange, survived by moving the boat away from the vessels under attack. It was damaged and sank some hours later but those eight were picked up. Lange was interviewed in 2008 at the age of 92 for a book published in Norway which also contains information from Norwegian and British eyewitnesses.[7] A summary of the Operation is also given on a Norwegian website for divers,[8] and background information is given in the Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet's War Diary for 1945.[9]

Aftermath[edit]

The First Cruiser Squadron sailed south to provide air-cover for the passage of ships in the Skagerrak (Operation Cleaver) and arrived back at Scapa Flow on May 10. Allied ships continued to be sunk by U-boats based in Norway until May 7,[10] even though it was later discovered that Germany's leader Dönitz had ordered the immediate cessation of all U-boat attacks on allied shipping on May 4, a few hours before the Kilbotn attack took place. Captain Lange confirmed in 2008 that this signal had been received on board U-711 in the early afternoon and therefore his crew believed their war was over before the Fleet Air Arm attack arrived.

Of the four British aircrew lost in Operation Judgement, one, Lt. Hugh Morrison from Wellington, New Zealand, Senior Pilot of 882 Squadron, is buried in Narvik New Cemetery. A photograph of his grave is shown on the web.[11] The other three were buried by the Germans, assisted by a Norwegian priest with local Norwegians present, in Sørvik Churchyard near Kilbotn. Photographs of the area and some aircraft parts, and photographs of the graves of Lt. Francis Gahan, Sub-Lt. Alasdair Elder and L/A Peter Mansfield of 846 Squadron can be seen on the web [12]

Decorations to personnel taking part in Operation Judgement were awarded in the King's Birthday Honours of June 14 and listed in the London Gazette.[13] At the same time, the commanding officer of HMS Trumpeter, Capt. K.S.Colquhoun RN, was appointed to the Distinguished Service Order.[14][15]

Details of the wrecks of Black Watch and U-711 are available on the web.[16][17]

In June 2013 people from Kilbotn and Harstad fixed a board on the hillside at Barnvika, as close as possible to the Black Watch anchorage, giving details of the action. It was described in the newspaper Harstad Tidende. [18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Harald Isachsen (2009), Operation Judgement: Angrepet på <<Black Watch>>, Kilbotn 4 Mai 1945, ISBN 978-82-998024-2-0
  2. ^ ''Black Watch''. Warsailors.com. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  3. ^ CinCHF War Diary 1945. Naval-history.net. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  4. ^ Glide bombing. Eugeneleeslover.com. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  5. ^ Glide bombing. Eugeneleeslover.com. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  6. ^ Harald Isachsen (2009), Operation Judgement: Angrepet på <<Black Watch>>, Kilbotn 4 Mai 1945, ISBN 978-82-998024-2-0
  7. ^ Harald Isachsen (2009), Operation Judgement: Angrepet på <<Black Watch>>, Kilbotn 4 Mai 1945, ISBN 978-82-998024-2-0
  8. ^ Black Watch 3. Vrakdykking.com. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  9. ^ CinCHF War Diary 1945. Naval-history.net. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  10. ^ U-2336. Uboat.net (1945-05-07). Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  11. ^ Narvik Cemetery. Militaryphotos.net. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  12. ^ Kilbotn Avenger. Ktsorens.tihlde.org. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  13. ^ London Gazette, Aug. 3, 1945, p. 4022. London-gazette.co.uk (1945-08-03). Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  14. ^ ''Trumpeter''. Royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  15. ^ Birthday Honours June 14. Flightglobal.com. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  16. ^ ''Black Watch''. Wrecksite.eu (2009-10-22). Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  17. ^ U-711. Wrecksite.eu. Retrieved on 2011-05-27.
  18. ^ Tavle om Black Watch (in Norwegian)