An aerial reconnaissance photograph of Alten Fjord showing the German battleship TIRPITZ at her anchorage where the Tirpitz was attacked and damaged by British midget submarines. Note the L shaped torpedo net around the ship.

An aerial reconnaissance photograph of Alten Fjord showing the German battleship TIRPITZ at her anchorage where the Tirpitz was attacked and damaged by British midget submarines. Note the L shaped torpedo net around the ship.

HMS Truculent, one of the conventional submarines that towed the X craft across the North Sea for the attack.

HMS Truculent, one of the conventional submarines that towed the X craft across the North Sea for the attack.

The Royal Navy had dealt with the Bismarck in 1941 but since 1942 her sister ship, the Tirpitz, had continued to threaten the sea lanes. The experience of dealing with the Bismarck had demonstrated that a combination of capital ships and aircraft would be needed to deal with her if she put to sea. The mere existence of the Tirpitz in the Norwegian fjords where she was hidden meant that substantial forces were tied up, ready to respond should she be sent out to attack the convoys.

Operation Source was an audacious attempt to attack her, and the two other German battleships, Scharnhorst and Lutzow, by unconventional means. The midget submarine X craft were developed to evade the anti submarine nets and drop huge explosive charges underneath the hull of ships they were attacking. This would give their crews the slim prospect of being able to get away from the scene.

Of the six X craft that departed from Scotland on 11th September, two had already been lost as they were towed across the North Sea. On 22nd September the remaining craft were ready to attempt the run into the closely guarded fjords.

This is the account of Lieutenant B.C.G. Place who commanded X7. He began his run in at 0100 but got caught up in anti submarine nets and was delayed as he spent over an hour extricating himself, by driving the craft backwards and forwards and up and down. Finally he was in sight of the target:

At 0640, when X7 was close to the northward of a tanker of the Altmark-class, the Tirpitz was sighted for the first time at a range of about a mile.

My intention for the attack was to go deep at a range of 500 yards, pass under the anti-torpedo nets at seventy feet and run down the length ofthe target from bow to stem, letting go one charge under the bridge, the other well aft and altering to port to escape under the nets on the Tifpitz’s starboard side.

At 0705 X7 was taken to seventy feet for the attack but stuck in the net instead of passing underneath. This time I had no intention of staying there. By similar tactics to those that extricated us before, but without breaking surface, we came out and tried again at ninety feet, this time getting more firmly stuck. On occasions when the craft is being navigated blind, it is extremely difficult to know one’s position to within a hundred yards-in this case the Tirpitz, the nets and the shore were all within a circle of that diameter, and the gyro had again gone off the board with the excessive angles the boat had taken. Thus when X7 next came clear and started rising, the motor was stopped lest she run up the beach or on to the top ofthe nets and fall into enemy hands. When she broke surface I saw we were inside the close-net defences (how we got undemeath I have no idea) about yards from the Tirpitz’s port beam-‘group up, full ahead, forty feet’.

We actually hit the target’s side obliquely at twenty feet and slid underneath, swinging our fore-and-aft line to the line of her keel. The first charge was let go – as I estimated, under the Tirpitz’s bridge – and X7 was taken about 200 feet astern to drop the other charge under the after turrets. The time was 0720. It was just as we were letting go the second charge that we heard the first signs of enemy counter-attack – but, oddly enough, we were wrong in assuming they were meant for us.

In X7 we had to guess a course that we hoped would take us back to that lucky spot where we had got under the nets on our way in; but we were not lucky. We tried in many places within a few feet ofthe bottom, but in vain, and rapidly lost all sense of our exact position. The gyro was still chasing its tail and the magnetic compass could not be raised for fear it foul some wire or a portion of a net; we did use the course indicator (a form of compass that remains steady during alterations of course but does indicate true position) but the noise it made was most tiresome so we switched it off again.

The next three-quarters ofan hour were very trying; exactly what track X7 made I have no idea, but we tried most places along the bottom of those nets, passing under the Tirpitz again more than once, and even breaking surface at times, but nowhere could we find a way out.

We had to blow each time we got into the nets and the HP air was getting down to a dangerously low level-—but bull-in-a-china-shop tactics were essential as our charges had been set with only an hour’s delay-—and those of others might go up at any time after eight o’clock.

The small charges that were periodically dropped by the Germans were not likely to do us any harm and, when we were on the surface, no guns larger than light automatic weapons which caused no damage could be brought to bear — but we were sceptical about our chances against at least four tons of torpex exploding within a hundred yards. But the luck that had recently deserted us came back for a few minutes shortly after eight. We came to the surface — an original method, but we were halfway across before I realised what was happening.

On the other side we dived to the bottom and at once started to get under way again to put as much distance as possible between us and the coming explosion. Sticking again in a net at sixty feet was the limit, as this confounded my estimate of our position relative to the nets.

But we were not here long before the explosion came—a continuous roar that seemed to last whole minutes. The damage it caused X7 was really surprisingly small…

This account originally appeared in W.R. Fell : Sea Our Shield.

In fact X7 was too badly damaged for the run home and Place was forced to try to surface and surrender. In doing so, however, X7 was accidentally sunk and two of the four man crew died.

X6 and X7 had successfully dropped their charges, disabling the the Tirpitz until April 1944. The two commanders were awarded the Victoria Cross:

Whitehall. 22nd February, 1944.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS for valour to:

Lieutenant Basil Charles Godfrey Place, D.S.C., Royal Navy.
Lieutenant Donald Cameron, R.N.R.

Lieutenants Place and Cameron were the Commanding Officers of two of His Majesty’s Midget Submarines X 7 and X 6 which on 22nd September 1943 carried out a most daring and successful attack on the German Battleship Tirpitz, moored in the protected anchorage of Kaafiord, North Norway.

To reach the anchorage necessitated the penetration of an enemy minefield and a passage of fifty miles up the fiord, known to be vigilantly patrolled by the enemy and to be guarded by nets, gun defences and listening posts, this after a passage of at least a thousand miles from base.

Having successfully eluded all these hazards and entered the fleet anchorage, Lieutenants Place and Cameron, with a complete disregard for danger, worked their small craft past the close anti-submarine and torpedo nets surrounding the Tirpitz, and from a position inside these nets, carried out a cool and determined attack.

Whilst they were still inside the nets a fierce enemy counter attack by guns and depth charges developed which made their withdrawal impossible. Lieutenants Place and Cameron therefore scuttled their craft to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy. Before doing so they took every measure to ensure the safety of their crews, the majority of whom, together with themselves, were subsequently taken prisoner.

In the course of the operation these very small craft pressed home their attack to the full, in doing so accepting all the dangers inherent in such vessels and facing every possible hazard which ingenuity could devise for the protection in harbour of vitally important Capital Ships.

The courage, endurance and utter contempt for danger in the immediate face of the enemy shown by Lieutenants Place and Cameron during this determined and successful attack were supreme.

X-Craft 25 underway in Loch Striven, near Rothesay with Lieut J E Smart, RNVR, the Commanding Officer on deck by the conning tower.

X-Craft 25 underway in Loch Striven, near Rothesay with Lieut J E Smart, RNVR, the Commanding Officer on deck by the conning tower.

Sub Lieutenant K C J Robinson, RNVR, of Crosby, Liverpool, a Commanding Officer in an X-craft at the periscope whilst sailing in Rothesay Bay.

Sub Lieutenant K C J Robinson, RNVR, of Crosby, Liverpool, a Commanding Officer in an X-craft at the periscope whilst sailing in Rothesay Bay.





Wehrmacht massacres Italian soldiers on Cephalonia

21st September 1943: Wehrmacht massacres Italian soldiers on Cephalonia

My companions were loaded onto trucks and taken somewhere: I won’t see them anymore. My friend, the second lieutenant Giampietro Matteri – from Dongo (Como), twenty-two years old – is killed on September 24. The same destiny for another friend, the second lieutenant Pillepich, from Trieste: I still remember the terror in his eyes when, together with eleven companions, he was dragged from the group. Few minutes later we heard the shots of machine guns, followed by cries of pain, yells, invocations. And then other shots. The finishing strokes.




U-Boat Wolfpack returns to Atlantic with a vengeance

20th September 1943: U-Boat Wolfpack returns to Atlantic with a vengeance

After circling around we were called back to the ship’s side. A signalman got into the motor boat and passed us some papers and a signal lamp. As we were leaving the ship we were called back again to hook onto two Carley floats that were filled with men, we took them from the ship’s side and around to the stern. As we came around the other side there was a man in the water. One of the boys from the motor boat dove over the side, swam to him and brought him back to the motor boat. When we got them both back in the boat the lad was almost gone.




Discovering the end of German occupation in the East

19th September 1943: Discovering the end of German occupation in the East

Germans who had been withdrawn to the rear villages were searching for food from morning till night. They ate, drank alcohol and played cards. According to what prisoners said and [what was written in] letters found on dead German soldiers, the Germans considered themselves the representatives of a higher race forced to live in savage villages. They thought that in the wild eastern steppes one could throw culture aside.




Assassination on the streets of Warsaw

18th September 1943: Assassination on the streets of Warsaw

We ran quickly down the stairway and sheltered in the tunnel under the viaduct, ahead of the crowd. What we intended to do would take us only a few seconds, but every one of them counted. We knew we had to disarm the sergeant before the other three Germans descended the stairway. We barely had time enough to take our guns out of our pockets before the sergeant appeared, with a crowd of people behind him. When he was about two meters from us we faced him and said, “Arms up quickly, or we will shoot.”




Red Army attack on the retreating German army

17th September 1943: Red Army attack on the retreating German army

Then the mortar men kicked into action and laid down a sheaf of fire, up to three shells per tube. The field of battle began to darken. After the mortar attack, five to seven minutes passed, and then the Germans once again rushed forward, although their numbers were now fewer. One German constantly kept turning back to the advancing line, waving his pistol and shouting something. Nishchakov took careful aim, and the leader fell. The others dropped to the ground again.




Navigating a first combat mission in a B-17 over France

16th September 1943: Navigating a first combat mission in B-17 over France

Finally, the target was reached, bomb-bay doors were opened, the lead bombardier released his bombs, and the other planes toggled their bombs on that signal. The formation headed out to sea, reducing altitude again, so as to fly back to England out of view of German radar on the French coast. The fighters deserted the formation, and headed back to their home bases. I navigated primarily by flight plan, calculating occasional dead-reckoning fixes for practice, and was pleased to find that these fixes agreed closely with the flight plan.




Wehrmacht “scorched earth” retreat in Russia

15th September 1943: Wehrmacht “scorched earth” retreat in Russia

Although the war caused these people a great deal of misfortune and hardship, the latter bore no comparison to the terror-bombing suffered by the civil population in Germany or what happened later on in Germany’s eastem territories. In any case, all the measures taken on the German side were conditioned by military necessity. One or two figures may serve to show what an immense technical achievement this withdrawal operation was. To begin with, there were 100,000 wounded to evacuate. About 2,500 trains were needed to shift German equipment and stores and requisitioned Soviet property. And the Russian civilians who had attached themselves to us alone numbered many hundreds of thousands.




Auschwitz: selected to work by Mengele

14th September 1943: Auschwitz: selected to work by Mengele

Then a number of civilians came to the block. They were accompanied by Hauptsturmführer Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz. The consensus of our block supervisors indicated that they were from I.G. Farben, a large German pharmaceutical company that already employed prisoners in the nearby Buna camp. At Buna, the I.G. Farben Company was making synthetic rubber. There, we were told, the inmate death rate was very high, and they had a continuous need for replacement workers. We believed that it could only be better than our present situation. We just wanted to get out of here.




Australian 7th Division close in on Japanese

13th September 1943: Australian 7th Division close in on Japanese

I wanted to bring [wounded] Cpl Richards back, because he was my cobber, so I jumped out from the stump where I was sheltering and threw a few grenades over into the position where the Japanese were dug in. I did not kill them all, so went back, got a Bren gun and emptied the magazine in the post. That settled the Japanese. Another position opened up when I went on to get Cpl Richards, but we got a bit of covering fire and I brought him back to our lines.