Operation Paravane
Operation Paravane was the attack carried out by RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

 on September 15, 1944 against the German battleship Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz
Tirpitz was the second of two s 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...

 at harbour in the far north of Norway. The Tirpitz was a major threat to the convoys supplying the Soviet Union. Flying via a Soviet airfield, two squadrons attacked. A single bomb hit the ship, disabling her and causing the Germans to tow her south to Tromsø
Tromsø is a city and municipality in Troms county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the city of Tromsø.Tromsø city is the ninth largest urban area in Norway by population, and the seventh largest city in Norway by population...

 where she would be sunk in Operation Catechism
Operation Catechism
Operation Catechism was the last of nine attempts to sink or sabotage the Kriegsmarine battleship Tirpitz during World War II. On November 12, 1944, the RAF Bomber Command dispatched 30 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers from No. 9 Squadron RAF and No. 617 Squadron RAF Operation Catechism was the last of...

 a few weeks later.


The Tirpitz was a sister to the battleship Bismarck
Bismarck class battleship
The Bismarck class was a pair of battleships built by the German Kriegsmarine shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The ships were the largest warships built by the German Navy and the heaviest capital ships ever completed in Europe...

 of 42,900 tons, armed with eight 38 cm (15 inch) guns. She was designed to attack merchant shipping in the Atlantic, but the loss of the Bismarck
German battleship Bismarck
Bismarck was the first of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the primary force behind the German unification in 1871, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1936 and launched nearly three years later...

 and other commerce raiders led to instructions that she should be used for limited sorties only. In early 1942, the Tirpitz was sent to northern Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, where she would remain for most of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. She was based mostly in Kåfjord
Kåfjord, Alta
Kåfjord is a fjord in northern Norway, an arm of the Altafjord, in the county of Finnmark, and a village located on the fjord. The village is in the municipality of Alta, 18 km west of the town of Alta on the European route E6....

, a branch of the Altafjord
Altafjord is a fjord in the municipality Alta in Finnmark county, Norway, and is about 38 kilometres long. In the inner southern part of the fjord, near the town of Alta, is the outlet of the 200 kilometre long river Altaelva...

 (formerly known as Altenfjord). She acted mainly as a fleet in being
Fleet in being
In naval warfare, a fleet in being is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port. Were the fleet to leave port and face the enemy, it might lose in battle and no longer influence the enemy's actions, but while it remains safely in port the enemy is forced to...

, threatening the Arctic convoys and tying up three British battleships that were needed elsewhere.


The operation was planned by Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane
Ralph Cochrane
Air Chief Marshal Sir Ralph Alexander Cochrane, GBE, KCB, AFC, RAF was a British pilot and Royal Air Force officer, perhaps best known for his role in Operation Chastise, the famous "Dambusters" raid....

 of No. 5 Group RAF
No. 5 Group RAF
No. 5 Group was a Royal Air Force bomber group of the Second World War, led during the latter part by AVM Sir Ralph Cochrane.-History:The Group was formed on 1 September 1937 with headquarters at RAF Mildenhall....

, and led by "Willie" Tait
James Brian Tait
Group Captain James Brian Tait DSO and three bars, DFC and bar was an officer in the Royal Air Force during and after World War II. He conducted 101 bombing missions during the war, including those which finally sank the German battleship Tirpitz in 1944...

 of No. 617 Squadron RAF
No. 617 Squadron RAF
No. 617 Squadron is a Royal Air Force aircraft squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. It currently operates the Tornado GR4 in the ground attack and reconnaissance role...

. By this time the "Dambusters" squadron were an elite precision bombing force using Avro Lancaster
Avro Lancaster
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force . It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other...

s equipped with the Stabilizing Automatic Bomb Sight
Stabilizing Automatic Bomb Sight
The Stabilized Automatic Bomb Sight was a tachometric bombsight introduced into operational service by the Royal Air Force in 1943 during World War II. Hand-made throughout its lifetime, the SABS was produced in very small numbers and used only in specialist roles...

 and Tallboy bomb
Tallboy bomb
The Tallboy or Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb, was an earthquake bomb developed by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis and deployed by the RAF in 1944...

s. Also taking part in the raid were the Lancasters of 9 Squadron, two B-24 Liberator
B-24 Liberator
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and a small number of early models were sold under the name LB-30, for Land Bomber...

 transports carrying ground crews and spares, and a Mosquito
De Havilland Mosquito
The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was a British multi-role combat aircraft that served during the Second World War and the postwar era. It was known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews and was also nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder"...

 for weather reconnaissance.

The Tirpitz was out of range for Lancasters based in Britain, so they had to fly from their bases in Lincolnshire to Lossiemouth
RAF Lossiemouth
RAF Lossiemouth is a Royal Air Force station to the west of the town of Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland. It is one of the RAF's biggest bases and is currently Britain's main base for Tornado GR4s. From 2013 the Northern QRA force of Typhoon F2 will relocate to Lossiemouth following the closure of...

, refuel and then fly to the Russian airfield at Yagodnik
Yagodnik, Arkhangelsk Oblast, north west Russia, was the site of a World War II airfield. It is located near Arkhangelsk, on the Northern Dvina river, 9 kilometres from the sea at Dvina Bay.-Operation Paravane:...

, 600 miles from Kåfjord.

The defence of the Tirpitz relied on the protection of the narrow fjord, coupled with a highly effective smoke screen system. A pipeline surrounded the fjord, allowing smoke to be generated with the turn of a tap; coupled with nearly 100 smoke pots the entire fjord could be filled with smoke in eight minutes. There were also flak batteries to augment the ship's own anti-aircraft guns.


Thirty-eight Lancasters left Lossiemouth on 11 September 1944. One was forced to return to Britain. After 11 hours in the air, they arrived at Yagodnik to find it covered in 10/10ths cloud at 300 to 500 feet and driving rain, and thirteen Lancasters failed to find the airfield. However the Russians soon located them and all the crews were recovered, although two of 617's aircraft and four of 9 Squadron could not be retrieved from the marshes.

Rain set in and the crews were grounded. On the morning of the 15 September, the weather plane reported that the skies were clear over the Altafjord, and twenty-eight Lancasters set off over the White Sea
White Sea
The White Sea is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of...

. Twenty carried 5 ton Tallboy bombs, seven carried 400-500 lb "Johnny Walker"
Frederic John Walker
Captain Frederic John Walker, CB, DSO and three Bars, RN was a British Royal Navy officer noted for his exploits during World War II...

 mines designed for use against ships in shallow water, and one was fitted for photo-reconnaissance.

However as the Altafjord came into sight, the smokescreen was turned on. Only Tait in the leading aircraft caught a glimpse of the masts as they disappeared under the smoke, and his bomb-aimer Danny Daniels had to release the bomb by guesswork. Howard, Freddie Watts and Sanders aimed at gun flashes in the smoke, Kell and Knilans bombed on the spot the Tirpitz was last seen; the others bombed by flying beneath the smoke screen and using the intense light flak from the ship as a guide. A number of aircraft did not bomb including two IX squadron aircraft whose Tallboy bombs 'hung up'. Of these P.O. Scott and his crew, veterans of twenty nine previous raids attempted no less than four runs on the target, before heading back to base. P.O. Scott's Tallboy later fell through the closed bomb doors of his aircraft shortly before landing. When the crews had landed, Woods, one of the bomb aimers, said that he had seen Daniels' bomb hit the ship, but no one believed him.

The crews that still had their bombs wanted to have another go, but the weather broke again and they returned home. Levy's aircraft never arrived at Lossiemouth; it is thought he flew into the mountains somewhere in Norway. Eleven men died, including four of Wyness' crew.


The Tirpitz was left with a flooded bow from one Tallboy which struck the ship 50 feet back from her prow, pierced her bow compartments without detonating and exited under the waterline on the starboard side before exploding. This underwater detonation close to her hull—as well as those from multiple other 12,000-lb Tallboys detonating nearby—also caused severe concussion damage to her machinery and engines.

Though she remained floating, the damage to her bow and power train left Tirpitz immobile and in need of a slow and laborious backwards tow to a suitably large dry dock
Dry dock
A drydock is a narrow basin or vessel that can be flooded to allow a load to be floated in, then drained to allow that load to come to rest on a dry platform...

 for repair. Since the destruction of the Normandie Dock during the St. Nazaire Raid
St. Nazaire Raid
The St Nazaire Raid or Operation Chariot was a successful British amphibious attack on the heavily defended Normandie dry dock at St Nazaire in German-occupied France during the Second World War. The operation was undertaken by the Royal Navy and British Commandos under the auspices of Combined...

—conducted by the British precisely with this eventuality in mind—there was no longer any Atlantic dry dock in German hands large enough to accommodate her, and an attempt to reach Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

 or Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

 by crossing the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 at towing speed in the face of the combined forces of the North Sea Fleet
North Sea Fleet
The North Sea Fleet is one of three fleets of the People's Liberation Army Navy.It includes nuclear powered submarines: five Han class attack submarines and China's single Xia class ballistic missile submarine, all based at Qingdao....

 and RAF would have been suicidal.

A German report recovered by the Allies after the war stated the Kriegsmarine's conclusion: "It was eventually decided at a conference on 23 September 1944 at which the C-in-C and Naval Staff were present, that it was no longer possible to make Tirpitz ready for sea and action again…" The Germans made plans to tow her south to Tromsø for use as a floating battery
Floating battery
A floating battery is a kind of armed watercraft, often improvised or experimental, which carries a heavy armament but has few other qualities as a warship.An early appearance was during the Great Siege of Gibraltar....

 in the expected defence of Norway. She was installed on a purpose-built sandbar off Håkøya Island where her keel was further supported with backfill in an effort to keep her guns above water if she was sunk. This could not, however, protect her from capsizing from damage done to one side of the ship, and moving Tirpitz south had (unknown to the Germans) brought her within range of Scotland-based bombers.

The British were unaware they had successfully crippled Tirpitz and continued their attacks, which could now be launched from Lossiemouth
Lossiemouth is a town in Moray, Scotland. Originally the port belonging to Elgin, it became an important fishing town. Although there has been over a 1,000 years of settlement in the area, the present day town was formed over the past 250 years and consists of four separate communities that...

, Scotland. Tirpitz suffered no major damage during Operation Obviate
Operation Obviate
Operation Obviate was the RAF Bomber Command attack on the German battleship Tirpitz at Tromsø on 29 October 1944. The attack was foiled by cloud covering the ship at the last minute, and the bombs that were dropped caused only minor damage...

 due to last-minute cloud cover, but was eventually penetrated and destroyed by multiple Tallboys during a joint attack by 617 and IX Squadrons (Operation Catechism
Operation Catechism
Operation Catechism was the last of nine attempts to sink or sabotage the Kriegsmarine battleship Tirpitz during World War II. On November 12, 1944, the RAF Bomber Command dispatched 30 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers from No. 9 Squadron RAF and No. 617 Squadron RAF Operation Catechism was the last of...

) on 12 November 1944, undergoing a magazine explosion and capsizing over her port side with the loss of most of her crew.

See also

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

    • Operation Tungsten
      Operation Tungsten
      Operation Tungsten was a British naval operation during World War II. it was one of a number of aerial attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz while she was in Norwegian waters...

    • Operation Mascot
    • Operations Goodwood
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