John's Maritime History / Warships

The World of Warships Facts & Details

Mini Subs V Tirpitz

Lurking in the Norwegian Fiords in the Second World War, the Tirpitz, Hitlers greatest battleship, threatened convoys supplying the Russians, in much the same way as the Bismark had threatened the English convoys, which we have already featured.

In 1942, small submarinesm called X craft, crept bravely through the dark and well defended waters to plant explosives beneath this mighty ship, What follows now is what we have found out about this,

OK where to start, Mini subs like minnows in search of a shark, three tiny submarines swam through the hazards of Norway's Altenfiord towards the Tirpitz, The proud battleship of the Third Reich. The mission of the submarines was to cripple the mighty fighting ship and prevent her ever again venturing from her icy lair to savage the struggling convoys that were the supplies lifeline to the hard pressed Russian ally. The odds were immense, and so was the achievement.

When Russia entered the Second World War in 1941, vast quantities of war materials had to be transported from the embattled Allied forces to the Russian war effort on the Eastern front. the Allies established convoy routes from Great Britain northwards round the North Cape into the White Sea, landing at the Russian port of Archangel.

The Germans had to strangle this life line. they had made the mistake of fighting on two fronts and in both the East and the West the war was taking its toll. But the Russian assault in the East depended on the flow of munitions from other Allies and Hitler and his naval aides soon came to the conclusion that the munitions lifeline, stretching tenuosly round the North Cape and into Archangel had to be broken. If the munitions flow could be halted then the sting of the Russian aggresion on the Eastern front would be blunted,and would eventually cease. So plans already made, to move the capital ships of the German Navy into such a position that they could spring out and crush the convoys, was bought into play.

Cat and Mouse game The plans involved moving capital ships of the Reich into naval anchorages of Tronheim, Narvik and Altenfiord ( Altarfjord ), along the pitted coastline of occupied Norway. These anchorages were natural, deep and winding fiords that cut far into the coastline, dark and dank sancturies that were ideal places to hide capital ships of the German Navy. There the cat would wait, in comparative safety, for the convoy to pass. Then, so the plans had it, the cat would spring from its lair and kill the mice,the allied munitions ships.The munitions lifelines would then be severed.

The most northerly and most tortuous harbour chosen by the Third reich was at Altenfiord, and here the modern 42,000 ton battleship Tirpitz lay. The presence of this warship, the most highly efficient and deadly weapon of the German Navy, played havoc with the already greatly stretched convoys. One convoy, number PQ17, was virtually wiped out after it scattered thinking the Tirpitz was out, others were strafed so that very few ships reached there destination, Archangel. If the Russian war effort was to be sustained, something had to be done to counter this menace of predators.

The British Adnirlty decided that the only way to safeguard convoys was to eliminate as many German capital ships as possible. But how ??? that was the big question. Several methods had been tried, all had failed.RAF bombers were sent to blast the ships while at anchor in the fiords, but the luck was always with the German Navy. A method to penetrate deep into the fiords, to the very heart of their lairs had to be found.

New secret weapon For many months, secret trials and pratices were carried out on the caost of Scotland, in Loch Scriven, as this was the nearest natural configuration to the fiords of Norway. Here the Royal Navy secretly tested and modified an new weapon, the X craft.

X craft were midget submarines designed to hold four men, small enough to pick their way stealthily through the many navigational hazards, to negotiate the tortuous and twisting route necessary to avoid minefields and patrol vessels and slip unseen into the battleships lair. The small submarines were designed to carry a payload of high explosives, Two ton charges which were deployed either side of the craft and could be released by one of the submariners.

A plan of action was devised. The submarines were to enter the guarded anchorage at Altenfiord and worm their way through the heavy defences to place their lethal explosives underneath the Tirpitz. With the explosives in place the submarines would return by the route by which they came. The plan was ingenious and top secret and in early September 1943, with the trials in Loch Sciven completed, it was designated by the official code name Operations Source.

Six Royal Navy midget submarines, HMS X 5, to HMS X10 were to enter Altenfiord during the period of September 20th - 25th. this timming would give them the favourable weather conditions needed. The six X craft, after navigating the fiords, would place their charges under the battleship and leave the fiord.

All was set for Operation Source, six conventional submarines towed the X craft to their target across the North Sea, But then misfortune struck, two of the midget submarines broke adrift while on passage and were lost. Another developed serious mechanical defects and was forced to abondon the operation. Only three craft were left to enter the predator's lair. the X5,X6, & X7.

First Strike The three midget submarines dived off the entrance to Altenfiord to carry out their task and travelled singly up the tortuous passage. One craft X6, commanded by Lieutenant Donald Cameron, RNR, suffered mechanical defects, his periscope, the eye of the submarine was only partly effective. Nevertheless, X 6 was the first to strike.

The Tirpitz was protected by a very heavy and intricate anti torpedo net, This encircled her anchorage so that no submerged craft could get within striking distance. It was inpenetrable. or almost. One space had been left open for small supply boats to ferry men and stores to the great ship. The X 6, completely submerged, followed one heavily guarded supply boat through the encircling defensive net and entered the battleships sanctuary.Before her, immense and threatening lay the Reich's mighty battleship Titpitz. But then disaster struck the brave predator. While trying to manouver into position to drop her deadly cargo. the X6 smashed into a submerged rock.

The midget submarine was driven almost clear of the water. In the grey half light of morning, the guards onboard the Tirpitz sighted the submarine breaking the surface. Though Lt Cameron managed to regain control it was too late, the alarm had been given. With great courage and fortitude Cameron bought his craft close in to the Tirpitz, but again disaster struck. Wires hanging over the side of the battleship became entangled with the X6, and for a few moments the midget submarine was trapped. Cameron skilfully managed to extricate his tiny ship and, diving deeper, right under the hull of the Tirpitz, he planted his charges.

By now the alarm and confusion had spread throughout the Tirpitz at the sighting of the enemy submarine. LT Cameron knew the game was up, he could not escape with his damaged submarine. He decided to surface close to the Tirpitz and abondoned his submarine. The four submariners were hauled aboard the Tirpitz and the X6 was sent to the bottom of the fiord.

One of the other craft, the X7, commanded by Lieutenant Godfrey Place RN, had tried to go under the maze of anti submarine nets. Then at a depth of 75 feet, the craft became entangled in the encircling web. With great skill the commander extricated his vessel and moved silently on to the target. Diving deeper underneath the belly of the mighty battleship, LT Place, too, laid his charges in strategic positions.He turned and began to make his escape, but once again the nets ensnared his Submarine. The explosive charges had a time fuse, and time was fast running out for him and his crew.

Five Commanding Officers of X-Craft. Left to right, Lt. T.L Martin RN (X9), Lt. K.R. Hudspeth RANVR (X10), Lt B.M. MacFarlane RNVR (X8), Lt. G. Place RN (X7), Lt D. Cameron RNR (X6). Complete crews list at the end of this entry

At 0812 hours, some 30 minutes after the charges had been laid, explosions rocked the 42,00 ton Titpitz. water and steam flew high into the air. Two simultaneous explosions thundered down the fiord, echoing to and fro in a deafening cresendo of noise. The Titpitz lurched to one side, a great hole torn below the waterline in her keel. Oil poured from her fuel tanks and spread its slimy fingers over the surface of the water. On the battleship there was chaos. The explosions were so violent that the ensnared X7 was blasted clear of the entangling nets and thrust to the surface by the underwater shock waves. German gunners opened fire on the wallowing submarine with small arms, and threw grenades to try and sink the fleeing craft. Damage to the X7 was severe and Lt Place decided to abandon ship. The crew scuttled the brave ship. Tragically only one of the four man crew escaped alive from this daring and courageous exploit.

In the aftermath of the brave sortie came dissapointment. Air reconnaissance photographs showed Tirpitz still at anchor, it seemed that little damage had been done. What was not known, and would not become apparent for a few months was, that the Tirpitz had suffered a grievous injury. The hole in her hull had seriously weakened her main structure and her generators and her dynamos had virtually been destroyed.

The mighty Tirpitz never again ventured out into the Atlantic and never again fired a shot in anger. The small defiant attack by the extremely gallant and courageous crews of the midget submarines had cleared the way for the convoys. The tenuous supply routes could now be maintained. Russia received her precious armamnents and the war continued against Germany on two fronts.

It was not until two years after the end of the war that the British public became fully aware of the gallantry of the men in the three submarines. As a reward for the tremendous contribution they had made to the war effort the survivors of Operation Source were proudly presented to, and decorated by, King George VI at Buckingham Palace. An official report by the Admiralty predicted that this 'daring at attack will surely go down in history as one of the most courageous acts of all time.

Hence the reason we have presented it here,

Shortly Photos will be added, a map of the fiords, and Tirpitz Tech Data

Officers and Men involved in Operation Source 

Operational Crew Passage Crew
X5 Towed by HMS/M Thrasher (Lt. A.R. Hezlet DSC RN)

 Lt. H. Henty-Creer RNVR Lt. J.V. Terry Lloyd SANF

 Mid. D.J. Malcolm RNVR A/LSea B.W. Element

 Sub.Lt. T.J. Nelson RNVR Stoker N. Garrity

 ERA4 J.J. Mortiboys

 Operational Crew Passage Crew
X6 Towed by HMS/M Truculent (Lt. R.L.Alexander DSO RN)

 Lt. D. Cameron RNR Lt. A. Wilson RNVR

 Sub.Lt. J.T. Lorimer RNVR LSea J.J. McGregor

 Sub.Lt. R.H. Kendall RNVR Stoker W. Oakley

 ERA4 E. Goddard

 Operational Crew Passage Crew
X7 Towed by HMS/M Stubborn (Lt. A.A. Duff RN)

 Lt. B.C.G Place DSC RN Lt. P.H. Philip SANF(V)

 Sub.Lt. L.B. Whittam RNVR AB J. Magennis

 Sub.Lt. R. Aitken RNVR Stoker F. Luck

 ERA4 M. Whitley

 Operational Crew Passage Crew
X8 Towed by HMS/M Seanymph (Lt. J.P.H. Oakley DSC RN)

 Lt. B.M. McFarlane RNVR Lt. J. Smart RNVR

 Lt. W.J. Marsden RANVR 

 Sub.Lt. R. Hindmarsh RNVR Stoker J.G. Robinson

 ERA4 J.B. Murray

 Operational Crew Passage Crew
X9 Towed by HMS/M Syrtis (Lt. M.H. Jupp DSC RN)

 Lt. T.L. Martin RN Sub.Lt E. Kearon RNVR

 Sub.Lt. J. Brooks RN AB A.H. Harte

 Lt. M. Shean RANVR Stoker G.H. Hollett

 ERA4 V. Coles

 Operational Crew Passage Crew
X10 Towed by HMS/M Sceptre (Lt. I. McIntosh RN)

 Lt. K. Hudspeth RANVR Sub.Lt. E.V. Page RNVR

 Sub.Lt. B.E. Enzer ERA4 H.J. Fishleigh

 Mid. G.G. Harding RNVR A/PO A. Brookes

 ERA4 L. Tilley