The Lonely Lady’s Demise

On this day in 1944, a flight of 32 British Lancaster bombers equipped with “Tallboy” ordnance score two direct hits on the infamous German battle wagon Tirpitz, sending her to the bottom. Like her sister ship Bismarck, the Tirpitz was armed with a main battery of eight 15-inch guns in four twin turrets. After a series of wartime modifications she was 2,000 long tons heavier than Bismarck, making her the heaviest battleship ever built by a European navy.

Notwithstanding her devastating lethality, the Tirpitz never saw significant action. After completing sea trials in early 1941, she briefly served as the centerpiece of the Baltic Fleet, intended to prevent a possible break-out attempt by the Soviet Navy. In early 1942, she sailed to Norway to act as a deterrent against an Allied invasion. While stationed  there, the Tirpitz was also intended to be used to intercept Allied convoys to the Soviet Union, and two such missions were attempted in 1942. This was the only feasible role for her, since the St. Nazaire Raid had made operations against the Atlantic convoy lanes too risky. Tirpitz acted as a fleet in being, forcing the British Royal Navy to retain significant naval forces in the area to contain the battleship.

Known in her nascent role as “The Lonely Lady of the North,” she suffered attacks by British mini-submarines, flights of heavy bombers and numerous sea hunts. On the Queen’s final, fateful day, two 12,000 lb. “Tallboy” bombs scored two direct hits and a near miss, causing her to capsize rapidly. A deck fire spread to the ammunition magazine for one of the main battery turrets, which set off a large explosion. Figures for the number of men killed in the attack range from 950 to 1,204.

“(She) lived an invalid’s life and died a cripple’s death,” said historian Ludovic Kennedy of the Tirpitz, whose demise marks the nadir of the Kriegsmarine. And here endeth the lesson.

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