Operation Source

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Operation Source
Part of World War II
Date 20–22 September 1943
Location Altafjord, Norway
Result Allied success
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 Norway
 Australia [1]
 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Henty Henty-Creer   Hans Meyer
Strength
6 midget submarines,
6 conventional submarines
2 battleships, 1 heavy cruiser
Casualties and losses
9 killed, 6 prisoner 1 battleship damaged

Operation Source was a series of attacks to neutralise the heavy German warships – Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lützow – based in northern Norway, using X-class midget submarines.

The attacks took place in September 1943 and succeeded in keeping Tirpitz out of action for at least six months.

The attack was masterminded and directed from HMS Varbel, located in Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute. 'Varbel' (named after Commanders Varley and Bell, designers of the X-Craft prototype) was the on-shore headquarters for the 12th Submarine Flotilla (midget submarines). It had been a luxury 88-bedroom hotel (the Kyles Hydropathic Hotel) requisitioned by the Admiralty to serve as the Flotilla’s headquarters. All X-craft training, and preparation for X-craft attacks (including that on 'Tirpitz'), was co-ordinated from 'Varbel'.[2]

Intelligence contributing to the attack on Tirpitz was collected and sent to the RN by the Norwegian resistance, especially brothers Torbjørn Johansen and Einar Johansen.

Attack[edit]

Lt Henty-Creer and the crew of X5

Six X-craft were used. HMS X5, X6 and X7 were allocated the battleship Tirpitz, in Kåfjord. HMS X9 and X10 were to attack the battleship Scharnhorst, also in Kåfjord. HMS X8 was to attack the heavy cruiser Lützow in Langfjord.

The craft were towed to the area by conventional submarines (HMS Truculent (X6)[3] Syrtis (X9),[4] Sea Nymph (X8),[5] Thrasher (X5),[6] Stubborn (X7),[5] and Sceptre (X10)[5]) and manned by passage crews on the way. Close to the target, the operation crews would take over. X9, while commanded by S-Lt E Kearon of the passage crew[7] and probably trimmed heavily by the bow in the heavy sea for the tow, was lost with all hands on the passage when her tow parted and she suffered an abrupt plunge due to her bow-down trim.[5] X8 (passage crew commanded by Lt. Jack Smart) developed serious leaks in her side-mounted demolition charges, which had to be jettisoned; these exploded, leaving her so damaged she had to be scuttled.[5] The remaining X-craft began their run in on 20 September and the attacks took place on 22 September 1943.

Scharnhorst was engaged in exercises at the time, and hence was not at her normal mooring, X10's attack was abandoned, although this was due to mechanical and navigation problems, and the submarine returned to rendezvous with her 'tug' submarine and was taken back to Scotland.

X5, commanded by Lieutenant Henty Henty-Creer, disappeared with her crew during Source. She is believed to have been sunk by a direct hit from one of Tirpitz's four-inch guns before the crew had a chance to place her charges. In 2004, a saddle charge identical to those used by the X-class was found on the bottom of Kåfjord, a short distance from the site of the attack. Although it has not been positively identified, it is believed to be from X5.[citation needed][contradiction] An expedition jointly run by the late Carl Spencer (Britannic 2003) and Bill Smith (Bluebird Project) and the Royal Navy using the mine hunters HMS Quorn and HMS Blyth in 2006 mapped the north and south anchorages used by Tirpitz and was able to prove without doubt that this charge was well inside the net enclosure of the north anchorage and was therefore most likely to have come from X6. In June 2011 this device was detonated by the Royal Norwegian Navy.[8]

X6 and X7 managed to drop their charges underneath Tirpitz, but were unable to make good their escape as they were observed and attacked. Both craft were abandoned and six crew survived to be captured. Tirpitz was heavily damaged. While not in danger of sinking, she took on over 1,400 tons[9] of water and suffered significant mechanical damage, including shock to the roller bearings in "D" turret aft.[9] Tirpitz could not leave her anchorage until April 1944. For this action, the commanders of the craft, Lieutenant Donald Cameron (X6) and Lieutenant Basil Place (X7), were awarded the Victoria Cross, whilst Robert Aitken, Richard Haddon Kendall, and John Thornton Lorimer received the Distinguished Service Order and Edmund Goddard the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.[10] The commander of the X8, John Elliott Smart was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).[11]

X-craft and crews[edit]

The grave of Lieutenant Lionel Barnett Whittam at the Commonwealth War Graves section of Tromsø's main cemetery

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ The CO of X5, Henty Henty-Creer was an Australian commissioned in the RNVR and five members of the Royal Australian Navy were among the crew of the British midget submarines involved. Worledge, Ray. 2012 Australians in Midget Submarines. (Access date: 24 March 2012.)
  2. ^ Bute at War
  3. ^ Grove, Eric. Sea Battles in Close-up: World War 2, Volume 2 (Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan, 1993), pp.124.
  4. ^ a b c Grove, p.124.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Grove, p.127.
  6. ^ Grove, pp.124 & 127.
  7. ^ a b [1] Supplement to The London Gazette, p.996 of the article or p.4 of PDF file
  8. ^ Her sprenges bomba som skulle senke «Tirpitz»
  9. ^ a b Grove, p.131.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36390. pp. 901–902. 10 September 1943. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36295. pp. 5539–5540. 17 December 1943. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
  12. ^ Grove, pp.124 & 128.
  13. ^ Grove, pp.127 & 128.
  14. ^ Magennis later earned a VC in the midget submarine attack on Takao. Grove, p.127.
  15. ^ Grove, p.128.