Tirpitz

The History

Operation "Sizilien"
Photo: The Scharnhorst (left) and the Tirpitz (right) prior to Operation "Sizilien".

240 kilometer (150 miles) north of Bear Island and 640 kilometer (400 miles) north of Kåfjord and North Cape, the most northerly point of Norway and the Continent of Europe, is South Cape, the most southerly point of the island of Spitzbergen. A bleak island which before the war had some 3,000 inhabitants, Norwegian and Russian, whose livelihood had been coal mining, its inhabitants had been evacuated by the Allies in August 1941 and the mines smashed. A month later the Germans had set up a weather reporting station on the island. A rival Norwegian station had been established in the summer of 1942 and the Germans had been forced to evacuate their weathermen by submarine.

Photo: 8 September 1943: Operation "Sizilien". The burning Barentsburg at Spitzbergen is seen from Tirpitz's foredeck.

On 6 September 1943 squadron consisting of Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and 9 destroyers (Erich Steinbrinck, Karl Galster, Hans Lody, Theodor Riedel, Z27, Z29, Z30, Z31, Z33) weighed anchor in Altenfjord and Kåfjord and headed for Spitzbergen. The objective was to attack the enemy base on Spitzbergen. The mission was codenamed Operation "Sizilien". At dawn on 8 September 1943 Tirpitz and Scharnhorst opened fire with their main armament against the two 3 in guns which comprised the defences of Barentsburg and the destroyers ran inshore with landing parties. Before noon it was all over. Some prisoners had been taken, a supply dump destroyed, the wireless station wrecked and the landing parties had returned on board. The German ships returned safely to Altenfjord and Kåfjord 9 September 1943 at 1730 . For the only time in her existence Tirpitz had fired her main armament offensively at low trajectory. Although those on board were not to know it, Tirpitz had carried out her last operation. In the 14 months remaining to her, she was to be nothing but a target for attack