Throughout 1941 the French port of Brest had been a principal target for the RAF, attempting to knock out the two ‘pocket battleships’ that remained in dock, poised to move out and attack Atlantic convoys. The town became one of the most heavily bombed in Europe and consequently had one heaviest concentrations of anti-aircraft guns as well. RAF crews had heroically penetrated the defences to damage the Gneisenau at no small cost, but it was very difficult to ascertain how disabling the damage was, and how much had been repaired.
Daylight raids were especially risky over such heavily defended target but it was considered a necessary risk.
From the Operations Report of Wing Commander B V Robinson flying Halifax V9978-A – “A” Apple – which took off at 0959:
Took off from Linton-on-Ouse for Brest (Scharnhorst and Gneisneau) at time stated. Attacked primary at 1236 hrs from 16,000 feet. Observer definitely saw one stick hit dock area, one astern end of ship, not necessarliy own due to close formation of Squadron.
Heavy flak burst observed under port wing by other aircraft in formation. Aircraft repeatedly hit. Port inner engine failed immediately after leaving target, feathered with difficulty. Shortly afterwards starboard outer engine failed and at 1241 hrs a Glycol leak developed in the same eingine, followed by a small fire and flames were observed in the cowling. The same engine totally failed about 1250 hrs. Propellor boss holed by shrapnel. Port inner engine and port main plane behind port inner engine both holed by shrapnel.
Subsequently the aircraft made a successful landing on the sea and the crew took to the dinghy, 1315 hrs, until rescued. Visibility Excellent.