Heavy losses as Coastal Command attacks Prinz Eugen

Oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial of the German warships, ADMIRAL SCHEER and PRINZ EUGEN lying in Lo Fjord (Drontheim), Norway. Lying in the lee of a snow-covered bluff, nearest the camera, is ADMIRAL SCHEER, protected by a torpedo boom. In the middle of the fjord is PRINZ EUGEN, also protected by a boom, undergoing repairs to her stern and rudder after being seriously damaged by a torpedo fired by HMS TRIDENT on 23 February 1942. She is attended by the repair vessel HUSCARAN, tugs and a sheer-legs platform aft, where some 30 feet of her after section have been cut away.

The German heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN was torpedoed and severely damaged by a British submarine off Norway in February 1942. On 16 May she sailed from Trondheim in an attempt to reach her home port in Germany for further repairs. Coastal Command organised a strike for the following evening involving 12 No 42 Squadron Beauforts, inluding the Mk IIA seen here with its crew preparing for the operation.

A crew of a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV of No. 404 Squadron RCAF, prepare to take off from Dyce, Aberdeen, in the evening of 17 May 1942, to take part in the attack on the German heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN off Norway. Six Blenheims were detailed to accompany the strike force of Bristol Beauforts in order to make dummy torpedo attacks on the cruiser so as to confuse the enemy anti-aircraft defences, and to provide fighter cover.

Coastal Command of the RAF tended to be the poor relation when compared with Fighter Commmand and Bomber Command. It was lower down the scale of priorities when it came to new aircraft, receiving some that were regarded as obsolete for bombing. Yet its work was far from being any less hazardous. The scale of casualties sustained on some operations were remarkably high. Low level attacks on any ship with anti-aircraft defences was always a risky undertaking. Attacking a heavily armed warship was very much more so.

The Photographic Reconnaissance Unit had been keeping a close eye on the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen since HMS Trident had torpedoed her in March. When she was spotted moving south on the 16th May it rapidly became the task of Coastal Command to try to finish the job:

Coastal Command flew 517 sorties, of which 37 were on convoy escort. Shipping protection patrols by Fighter Command involved 791 sorties.

A total of 133 aircraft of Bomber Command and six aircraft of Coastal Command laid 306 sea mines. Eleven aircraft are missing.

Two forces wrere despatched to attack the Prinz Eugen, which had been sighted steaming to the Southward off the Norwegian coast.

The first force was unable to locate the cruiser, but part of the second force, which consisted of 52 aircraft, including 27 torpedo-carrying Beauforts, carried out an attack. Two possible hits with torpedoes are claimed. Considerable enemy fighter opposition was encountered and nine of our aircraft failed to return. Five enemy fighters were destroyed. The Prinz Eugen has since been identified by photographic reconnaissance as having arrived at Kiel.

A successful attack was carried out by Hudsons on two convoys off Texel and Terschelling respectively. Three ships (one of 4,500 and two of 2,500 tons) were hit and left burning and seven others of between 2,000 and 6,000 tons were hit. Of the 18 Hudsons despatched, five are missing.

Another Hudson made five hits on a 350 ft. camouflaged vessel near Molde. A large cloud of smoke was seen issuing from the bows.

Spitfires and Hurricane Bombers made a number of attacks on small craft, as a result of which a minesweeper, a barge and a launch were sunk and other vessels damaged. Enemy air activity off our coasts was again on a small scale, consisting mainly of shipping and weather reconnaissances. No attacks on our coastal shipping have been reported. Three aircraft were destroyed by our fighters and a further five were damaged.

From the Air Situation Report for the week as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/25/7

Hugging the Norwegian shore, the German battlecruiser PRINZ EUGEN makes her way southwards while under attack from Coastal Command aircraft on the evening of 17 May 1942. The heavy anti-aircraft barrage she put up shot down three of her attackers, and a follow-up wave was intercepted by enemy fighters and suffered heavy losses. No hits were scored by the RAF, and the ship made Kiel safely the following day.

Two Bristol Beauforts (N1173/`MW-E' and AW242/`MW-B') of 217 Squadron, Royal Air Force patrolling the British coast near St Eval, Cornwall.

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Peter Wood January 1, 2014 at 7:32 pm

So pleased to have found this. My Father Fl. Lt. George Henry “Timber” Wood was a pilot with 217 squadron, based at St. Eval. Killed May 1944. Thank you

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