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Operation Goodwood

Between 31 July - 1 August 1944 Tirpitz carried out exercises at sea for the last time, with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, the destroyers Z29, Z31, Z33, Z34 and Z39.

Three weeks later the Fleet Air Arm returned to the fray with a series of attacks under the operational codename "Goodwood I, II, III, IV", using 5 aircraft carriers, Indefatigable, Formidable, Furious, Nabob and Trumpeter.

Photo: 22 August 1944. Corsairs of 1841 Squadron take departure for the first strike (Operation "Goodwood I"). HMS Devonshire and behind her HMS Trumpeter can be seen too.

The first 2 attacks were carried out on 22 August 1944 (Operation "Goodwood I" and "II") 1944. Just after noon, Barracudas and escorting Corsairs failed to repeat the success of Operation "Tungsten" as low cloud prevented them from reaching the target but Hellcats bombed through the cloud and claimed 2 hits. In the early evening a further 6 Hellcats from Indefatigable attacked Tirpitz and again claimed 2 hits with 227 kg (500 lb) bombs. The morning sortie had also attacked other shipping and had damaged 2 small supply ships as well as Tirpitz's sea-planes which were moored nearby.

Photo: Taken shortly after the air attack on 22 August 1944 (Operation "Goodwood II"). Tirpitz is located in the upper right corner, hiding behind the smoke.

Both sides were optimistic in their claims. In fact no hits were obtained by the Hellcats but the British losses were only 1 Barracuda and 1 Hellcat whereas the Germans had claimed no less than 12 aircraft to have been observed shot down. However the escort carrier Nabob was torpedoed by a U-boat but managed to return to harbour, while the CAP shot down 2 Blohm und Voss 138 flying boats that ventured too close to the carrier task force.

Photo: 24 August 1944. The British Force turns into the wind to launch the third strike of Operation "Goodwood III". Left to right on the photograph is Formidable, Devonshire, Indefatigable and Duke of York.

In the afternoon of 24 August 1944, Barracudas, Hellcats, Corsairs and Fireflies from Indefatigable, Formidable and Furious took off in the heaviest attack (Operation "Goodwood III") made by the Fleet Air Arm. The 33 Barracudas all carried 726 kg (1,600 lb) AP bombs, the 10 Hellcats each a 227 kg (500 lb) bomb, and 5 of the 24 Corsairs carried 454 kg (1,000 lb) AP bombs, the remainder with the 10 Fireflies being detailed for antiflak duties. At 1547 the German defences gave an aircraft alarm and the smoke screen was started. The aircraft approached from all directions at heights from 1,981 meter (6500 feet) to 3,048 meter (10,000 feet), diving low into the attack. This was a technique devised out of the lessons of Operation "Tungsten" which made the directing of AA fire very much more difficult for the gunnery control on board Tirpitz. Despite the smoke screen 2 hits were scored for the loss of 2 Hellcats and 4 Corsairs. A 227 kg (500 lb) bomb landed straight on the top of "B" turret dishing its top and temporarily damaging the elevating gear of the starboard gun and destroying the quadruple 2cm AA mounting on it. The other hit was to prove to be the Fleet Air Arm's greatest disappointment. A 726 kg (1,600 lb) AP bomb hit just forward of the bridge on the port side and penetrated not only the upper deck but the armoured deck below, finally coming to rest in No. 4 Switch Room on the lower platform deck, having gone through 14,6 cm (5¾ inches) of decking, mostly armoured steel. It failed to explode and when the Germans finally removed the explosive there was only 45 kg (100 lb) instead of 98 kg (215 lb). Had this bomb exploded it would have wrecked the main fire control room and the switchboard room as well as causing serious flooding. Of this attack the German records state:

"The attack on 24 August 1944 was undoubtedly the heaviest and most determined so far. The English showed great skill and dexterity in flying. For the first time they dived with heavy bombs. During the dive bombing, fighter planes attacked the land batteries which, in comparison with earlier attacks, suffered heavy losses. The fact that an armour-piercing bomb of more than 699 kg (1,540 lb) did not explode must be considered an exceptional stroke of luck, as the effects of that explosion would have been immeasurable. Even incomplete smoke screening upsets the correctness of the enemy's aim and it has been decided from now on to use it in wind strengths up to 9 meters/second (8.2 yards/second) irrespective of possible gaps".

The Germans also ordered a reduction in the required time of notice for smoke from 10 to 7 minutes.

Photo: 29 August 1944. Barracudas from aircraft carrier Indefatigable to carry out another attack on Tirpitz (Operation "Goodwood IV). The Barracudas can be seen approaching the coast at low level to avoid detection by the German radar.

Gales and fog alternated for the next 5 days until 29 August 1944 when another heavy attack (Operation "Goodwood IV") of 60 aircraft was launched from Formidable and Indefatigable. 4 of the 7 Hellcats flew in with target indicators but the Germans had sufficient warning and the battleship was completely obscured by smoke. The aircraft bombed blindly and although they thought they had 2 hits in fact they had none. 1 Firefly and 1 Corsair were lost and the carrier force withdrew to cover convoy RA-59A briefly before returning to Scapa Flow.

So ended the Fleet Air Arm's attacks against Tirpitz. The effect had been very considerable and since the X-craft attack in September of the previous year the battleship had been rendered virtually useless. The cost had been 17 aircraft and 40 aircrew lost and 1 carrier damaged. But had German strategy and tactics not been bedevilled by the internecine feuding between the Navy and Luftwaffe, so that no fighter cover was ever provided to protect Tirpitz, the outcome might have been very different. When eventually fighters were allocated for this duty it was to be too late.

As well as the attacks which had been carried out by the Fleet Air Arm other plans for sinking Tirpitz had been considered. In July a scheme had been put forward for the use of USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses in a daylight raid with 726 kg (1,600 lb) bombs but it had not been pursued. Although the Americans were keen to destroy so important a target there were obvious difficulties, not least that the Flying Fortress could only carry small bombs which had already proved somewhat ineffective. Another proposal for a high speed attack by Mosquito bombers, whose speed might enable them to surprise the smoke-screen defences, got as far as an operational codename of "Servant" but never took place. In yet another scheme 6 Sunderland flying boats had been fitted to carry 2 chariots each, but this also remained untried. It was to be left to Bomber Command to resolve the problem.

© John Asmussen, 2000 - 2014. All rights reserved.