Operation Mascot

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Operation Mascot
Part of World War II
Black and white photo of a large number of single engined monoplane aircraft on the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea. Another ship is visible in the background.
Corsair fighters and Barracuda bombers ranged on the flight deck of HMS Formidable during operations off Norway in July 1944
Date 17 July 1944
Location Kaafjord, Norway
Result German victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Henry Moore Nazi Germany Wolf Junge
Strength
44 dive bombers
40 fighters
One battleship
Anti-aircraft batteries and ships
Casualties and losses
Two aircraft destroyed One patrol craft

Operation Mascot was an unsuccessful British air raid conducted against the German battleship Tirpitz at her anchorage in Kaafjord, Norway, on 17 July 1944. The attack was one of a series of strikes against the battleship launched from aircraft carriers between April and August 1944, and was initiated after Allied intelligence determined that the damage inflicted during the Operation Tungsten raid on 3 April had been repaired.

A force of 44 British dive bombers and 40 fighters took off from three aircraft carriers in the early hours of 17 July. German radar detected these aircraft while they were still en route to the battleship, and Tirpitz was protected by a smoke screen by the time the strike force arrived. The British aircraft were unable to see their target, and did not inflict any damage. German losses were limited to a patrol craft that was damaged beyond repair, and two British aircraft were destroyed. A large group of German submarines attempted to intercept the carrier force as it returned to base, without success. Two U-boats were sunk near the carriers by British patrol aircraft and several others were damaged.

Despite the failure of Operation Mascot the Royal Navy attempted four further carrier raids against Tirpitz during August 1944. These attacks were also unsuccessful, and the task of sinking the battleship was transferred to the Royal Air Force.

Background[edit]

From early 1942 Tirpitz posed a significant threat to the Allied convoys transporting supplies through the Norwegian Sea to the Soviet Union. Operating from fjords on the Norwegian coast, the battleship was capable of overwhelming the close-escort forces assigned to the Arctic convoys or breaking out into the North Atlantic.[1] To counter this threat, the Allies were forced to keep a powerful force of warships with the British Home Fleet, and capital ships accompanied most convoys part of the way to the Soviet Union.[2][3]

Black and white photograph of a World War II-era warship in a small bay with a steep and snow-covered shoreline. Clouds of smoke are being blown from the shoreline towards the ship.
A British aerial reconnaissance photograph of Tirpitz moored at Kaafjord. The artificial smoke generators on the shores of the fjord have not yet obscured her.

Several air and naval attacks were launched against Tirpitz in 1942 and 1943. On 6 March 1942, torpedo bombers flying from HMS Victorious attacked the battleship while it was attempting to intercept Convoy PQ 12 but did not achieve any hits.[4][5] Bombers from the Royal Air Force and Soviet Air Forces also attempted to strike Tirpitz in her anchorages on several occasions in 1942 and 1943 but did not inflict any damage.[4] On 23 September 1943, two British X-class midget submarines penetrated defences around the battleship at her main anchorage at Kaafjord in northern Norway during Operation Source, and placed explosive charges in the water beneath her. This attack caused extensive damage to Tirpitz, putting her out of service for six months.[6]

As Tirpitz was still considered a major threat to Allied shipping, the British launched another attack to damage or destroy the battleship before she re-entered service. The task was assigned to the Home Fleet's aircraft carriers and the raid, which was designated Operation Tungsten, was carried out on 3 April 1944. The two strike forces of 20 Fairey Barracuda dive bombers escorted by 40 fighters were not detected during their flights to Kaafjord and hit the battleship with 15 bombs. While Tirpitz's crew suffered heavy casualties, the battleship was not badly damaged.[7] Following Operation Tungsten the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) decided that it was worthwhile to repair the battleship so that she would continue to tie down Allied naval resources, though it was recognised that the threat of further attacks meant that Tirpitz could no longer operate against Allied convoys.[8]

British intelligence assessed that Tirpitz could be repaired within six months, and the Admiralty directed that further carrier-borne strikes be conducted against the battleship to prolong the period she was out of service, and harm her crew's morale.[9] The commander of the Home Fleet, Vice Admiral Bruce Fraser, initially resisted this order on the grounds that further raids were unlikely to be successful, as the Germans would have reinforced the defences around Tirpitz and weather conditions were likely to be worse than those encountered during Operation Tungsten. Following an argument with the First Sea Lord, Sir Andrew Cunningham, Fraser eventually agreed to attack Kaafjord again.[9] Many of the Home Fleet's airmen were posted to other units following Operation Tungsten, hindering their squadrons' subsequent operations against German forces in Norway as the replacement aircrew were less experienced.[10]

Three raids against Tirpitz were launched but subsequently cancelled due to unfavourable weather during April and May 1944. The first of these, designated Operation Planet, began when the Home Fleet sailed from its base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on 21 April. The fleet reached the position where its aircraft were to be flown off three days later, but the raid was cancelled when agents stationed near Kaafjord reported bad weather over the target area.[9] The Home Fleet put to sea to attack Tirpitz again in mid-May in what was designated Operation Brawn.[9][11] A strike force of 27 Barracudas escorted by Vought F4U Corsair and Supermarine Seafire fighters took off from the carriers HMS Furious and Victorious on 15 May, but returned to the ships without attacking after they encountered heavy cloud over Kaafjord.[12] The next raid, Operation Tiger Claw, was launched in late May. The planned attack on Kaafjord (which would have involved aircraft flying from Furious and Victorious) had to be cancelled due to bad weather on the 28th of the month. Instead, the carrier aircraft struck the port of Ålesund on 1 June, sinking four merchant vessels.[12]

Preparations[edit]

Kaafjord is located in Finnmark
Kaafjord
Kaafjord
Magnify-clip.png
The location of Kaafjord in northern Norway

Despite the lack of success, the Admiralty and Admiral Sir Henry Moore, who had assumed command of the Home Fleet on 14 June, remained committed to attempting further carrier raids against Tirpitz. Intelligence gained from decrypting German radio messages during early July, and photos taken by a British aircraft on the 12th of the month, provided evidence that the battleship was once again fully operational and possibly preparing to put to sea.[13][14][15] This intelligence led to a decision to launch the next attack, which was designated Operation Mascot.[14] The timing of the raid was set for mid-July, ahead of the resumption of the Arctic convoys, which had been suspended since April 1944 to free up ships for the Normandy landings.[16]

The defences of Kaafjord had been improved following Operation Tungsten. Prior to this raid they had comprised eleven batteries of anti-aircraft guns, several anti-aircraft warships and a system of smoke generators capable of hiding Tipriz from aircraft.[17] After the attack, additional radar stations and observation posts were established and the number of smoke generators located around the battleship was increased.[18] Tirpitz's air defences were strengthened by fitting her with additional 20-millimetre (0.79 in) cannons, modifying the 150 mm guns so they could be used to attack aircraft, and supplying anti-aircraft shells for her 380-millimetre (15 in) main guns.[8] Captain Wolf Junge took command of the battleship in May 1944, replacing Captain Hans Meyer who had been wounded during Operation Tungsten.[19] In addition to the forces around Kaafjord, a patrol line of twelve submarines designated Group Trutz was also established around the island of Jan Mayen with the task of intercepting any British carrier forces which ventured into the Norwegian Sea. The submarines assigned to this force at the time of Operation Mascot were U-347, U-361, U-365, U-387, U-636, U-716, U-742 U-921, U-956, U-965, U-992 and U-995.[16] The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) had few fighters stationed at bases near Kaafjord, and their operations were constrained by a lack of fuel.[20][21]

Attack[edit]

The British fleet left Scapa Flow on 14 July. As Victorious had departed for other duties, the carriers involved in the attack were the recently commissioned HMS Indefatigable as well as the veterans Formidable and Furious. The carriers were escorted by the battleship HMS Duke of York, four cruisers and twelve destroyers.[14][22] The twelve German submarines in the Norwegian Sea did not make contact with the British force as it sailed north.[16]

Black and white photograph of a single-engined monoplane running along the deck of an aircraft carrier
An 830 Naval Air Squadron Barracuda taking off from Furious at the start of Operation Mascot[23]

After an incident-free voyage, the carriers launched their aircraft during the early hours of 17 July. After forming up, the bombers and fighters began their flight to Kaafjord at 01:35 (1:35 am). The main striking force comprised 44 Barracudas from No. 8 Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance Wing (827 and 830 Naval Air Squadrons) and No. 9 Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance Wing (820 and 826 Naval Air Squadrons). All but two of the dive bombers were armed with powerful 1,600-pound (730 kg) armour-piercing bombs; the other aircraft each carried three 500-pound (230 kg) bombs.[14][24] A force of 18 Corsairs from 1841 Naval Air Squadron was assigned to provide protection against German fighters, and 20 Grumman F6F Hellcats and 12 Fairey Fireflies from 1840 and 1770 Naval Air Squadrons respectively were given the task of suppressing anti-aircraft guns. The weather was fine throughout the flight, but clouds were sighted as the aircraft neared the target area.[24]

The British strike force was detected by German radar when it reached a point 43 miles (69 km) from Kaafjord at 02:00. While it took four minutes to pass a warning to Tirpitz, her protective smoke generators were in action by 02:13 and quickly covered the vessel in an artificial cloud. The battleship and anti-aircraft batteries located on the shore began firing a barrage towards the British aircraft at 02:19.[18]

The smokescreen frustrated the British attack, and the crews of only two of the Barracudas and a pair of fighters managed to spot Tirpitz. While those Barracudas were able to aim their bombs visually, the 37 other dive bombers attempting to attack the ship were forced to aim at her gun flashes. These bombing attacks took 25 minutes to complete, and while seven near misses were achieved no damage was inflicted on Tirpitz.[18] One of the other Barracudas attacked an anti-aircraft battery, another attempted to bomb a destroyer and a third scored a near miss on the tanker Nordmark.[18] The Hellcats and Fireflies strafed anti-aircraft positions as well as the destroyer Z33 and small patrol craft Vp 6307. The patrol craft was forced aground and subsequently declared a total loss.[18][25] Because of the heavy smoke screen a second British raid, which had been scheduled to take off from 08:00, was cancelled.[18] The British fleet subsequently turned south to return to Scapa Flow.[14]

Although German gunners fired a heavy anti-aircraft barrage throughout the attack, they also achieved little success. Only one British aircraft, a Corsair, was shot down near Kaafjord, though a damaged Barracuda was forced to ditch near Indefatigable. The crew of the Barracuda were subsequently rescued by the destroyer HMS Verulam. Several other Barracudas were damaged during the raid but returned to their carriers.[18][26]

Submarine actions[edit]

While the attack on Kaafjord was being conducted, the commander of the German submarines in the Norwegian sea ordered Group Trutz to take up new positions to the south-east of Jan Mayen and intercept the British ships as they returned to Scapa Flow. The Admiralty had anticipated this redeployment, and maritime patrol aircraft from No. 18 Group RAF were directed to sweep the Home Fleet's route back to its base.[27]

The British patrol aircraft prevented Group Trutz from attacking the Home Fleet. At 21:48 on 17 July, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator assigned to No. 86 Squadron detected and sank U-361; none of the submarine's crew were rescued. Eight minutes later a No. 210 Squadron Consolidated PBY Catalina piloted by Flying Officer John Cruickshank spotted U-347 on the surface. While the submarine's anti-aircraft guns damaged the Catalina, killing the navigator and wounding Cruickshank as well as three other crewmen, the pilot pressed home his attack and sank U-347 with depth charges. The Catalina managed to return to base, and Cruickshank was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action.[28] That night the Home Fleet sailed through the gap in the German patrol line that had been opened with the sinking of the two submarines.[28]

Attacks on the German submarines continued for the next six days. On the morning of 18 July a German reconnaissance aircraft spotted the Home Fleet, but the German Naval Command Norway assessed that it was heading north-east to launch another strike. Accordingly, Group Trutz was ordered to sail north, and four more submarines were sortied from Narvik to guard the approaches to Alten and Vest fjords. On the evening of the 18th U-968, which was one of the four boats which had sailed from Narvik, was attacked twice by Liberators; she shot down the first attacker, but was damaged by the second and had to return to port.[28] U-716 also suffered severe damage from a Liberator attack at 19:15 on 18 July but managed to return to Hammerfest. At about 23:00 U-716 was seriously damaged by a Short Sunderland, but also survived. Three other submarines were attacked on 20 July, but only one suffered any damage. Following these actions the commander of submarines in the Norway area decided to dissolve Group Trutz as it was too vulnerable to air attack; all but four of the surviving submarines returned to port, and the remaining boats were ordered to sail north so that they were out of range of the British aircraft. The final attack on the submarines of the former Group Trutz was made on 23 July when a No. 330 Squadron Sunderland damaged U-992 near Vestfjord.[29]

Aftermath[edit]

Hellcats returning to HMS Furious following Operation Mascot

Following the attack on 17 July the British learned from intercepted German radio messages and reports provided by Secret Intelligence Service agents that Tirpitz had not suffered any significant damage.[13] Admiral Moore blamed the failure of Operation Mascot on the shortcomings of the Barracuda dive bombers. As the dive bombers' slow speed gave the defenders of Kaafjord enough time to cover Tirpitz in a smoke screen between the time incoming raids were detected and their arrival over the target area, Moore concluded that further attacks using these aircraft would be futile. However, the Admiralty was hopeful that a strategy of repeatedly striking Kaafjord over a 48-hour period would wear down the defences, and Moore agreed to attempt another attack. Consideration was also given to flying fast and long-ranged de Havilland Mosquito bombers off the carriers in an attempt to achieve surprise, but none of these land-based aircraft could be spared from supporting the Allied bombing of Germany.[22]

The next attack on Kaafjord took place in late August. During Operation Goodwood aircraft flying from three fleet carriers and two escort carriers conducted four raids between 22 and 29 August. The attackers found Tirpitz covered in smoke on each occasion, and only managed to inflict light damage on the battleship. These unsuccessful attacks cost the British 17 aircraft and 40 airmen killed.[30][31] In addition, the frigate HMS Bickerton was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine U-354; the same boat also inflicted heavy damage on the escort carrier Nabob before being destroyed by British escort vessels.[32][33]

Following the failure of Operation Goodwood the Admiralty accepted that Barracudas were too slow to be effective against the Kaafjord area. As a result, the task of attacking the battleship was transferred to the Royal Air Force's heavy bombers.[34] A raid on 15 September (Operation Paravane) inflicted irreparable damage, and Tirpitz was finally sunk with heavy loss of life by Operation Catechism - another bomber attack on 12 November.[35]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Ellis (1999), pp. 294–295
  2. ^ Bennett (2012), p. 9
  3. ^ Faulkner and Wilkinson (2012), p. 109
  4. ^ a b Bennett (2012), p. 11
  5. ^ Bishop (2012), pp. 78–83
  6. ^ Woodman (2004), p. 340
  7. ^ Bennett (2012), pp. 14–17
  8. ^ a b Garzke and Dulin (1985), p. 267
  9. ^ a b c d Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 280
  10. ^ Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 283
  11. ^ Bishop (2012), p. 310
  12. ^ a b Brown (1977), p. 36
  13. ^ a b Hinsley et al. (1988), p. 276
  14. ^ a b c d e Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), p. 282
  15. ^ Roskill (1961), p. 155
  16. ^ a b c Tarrant (1994), p. 129
  17. ^ Tactical, Torpedo and Staff Duties Division (Historical Section) (2012), pp. 135, 151
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Brown (1977), p. 37
  19. ^ Williamson (2003), p. 40
  20. ^ Bennett (2012), p. 14
  21. ^ Tactical, Torpedo and Staff Duties Division (Historical Section) (2012), p. 135
  22. ^ a b Roskill (1961), p. 156
  23. ^ Brown (2009), p. 25
  24. ^ a b Brown (1977), pp. 36–37
  25. ^ Brown (2009), p. 28
  26. ^ McCart (2000), p. 150
  27. ^ Tarrant (1994), p. 131
  28. ^ a b c Tarrant (1994), p. 132
  29. ^ Tarrant (1994), p. 133
  30. ^ Zetterling and Tamelander (2009), pp. 282–283
  31. ^ Bishop (2012), pp. 311–313
  32. ^ "HMS Nabob (D 77)". uboat.net. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  33. ^ "U-354". uboat.net. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  34. ^ Roskill (1961), pp. 161–162
  35. ^ Bennett (2012), pp. 19–21
Works consulted
  • Bennett, G.H. (2012). "Introduction". In Bennett, G.H. Hunting Tirpitz: Naval Operations Against Bismarck's Sister Ship. Plymouth, United Kingdom: University of Plymouth Press. pp. 7–25. ISBN 9781841023106. 
  • Bishop, Patrick (2012). Target Tirpitz. London: Harper Press. ISBN 9780007431199. 
  • Brown, David (1977). Tirpitz: The Floating Fortress. London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 0853683417. 
  • Brown, David (2009). Hobbs, David, ed. Carrier Operations in World War II. Barnsley, Yorkshire: Frontline. ISBN 9781848320420. 
  • Ellis, John (1999). One Day in a Very Long War: Wednesday 25th October 1944 (Pimlico ed.). London: Pimlico. ISBN 0712674659. 
  • Faulkner, Marcus; Wilkinson, Peter (2012). War at Sea: A Naval Atlas, 1939–1945. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9781591145608. 
  • Garzke, William H.; Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9780870211010. 
  • Hinsley, F.H.; et al. (1984). British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations. Volume Three, Part I. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 0116309350. 
  • McCart, Neil (2000). The Illustrious & Implacable Classes of Aircraft Carrier 1940–1969. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire: Fan Publications. ISBN 1901225046. 
  • Roskill, S.W. (1961). The War at Sea 1939–1945. Volume III: The Offensive Part II. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. OCLC 59005418. 
  • Tactical, Torpedo and Staff Duties Division (Historical Section) (2012) [1944]. "Naval Aircraft Attack on the Tirpitz (Operation 'Tungsten') 3 April 1944". In Bennett, G.H. Hunting Tirpitz: Naval Operations Against Bismarck's Sister Ship. Plymouth, United Kingdom: University of Plymouth Press. pp. 133–177. ISBN 9781841023106. 
  • Tarrant, V.E. (1994). The Last Year of the Kriegsmarine: May 1944 – May 1945. London: Arms and Armour. ISBN 185409176X. 
  • Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Battleships 1939-45. Botley, Oxfordshire: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1841764981. 
  • Woodman, Richard (2004). The Arctic Convoys: 1941–1945 (Paperback ed.). London: John Murray. ISBN 0719566177. 
  • Zetterling, Niklas; Tamelander, Michael (2009). Tirpitz: The Life and Death of Germany's Last Super Battleship. Philadelphia: Casemate. ISBN 9781935149187. 

Coordinates: 69°56′07″N 23°02′43″E / 69.9353°N 23.0454°E / 69.9353; 23.0454