The Fleet Air Arm had failed to hit the Tirpitz when they had hastily mounted an attack when she was seen at sea on the 9th March 1942. Now the RAF would mount the second of what was to become a long campaign to disable the powerful battleship that threatened the Arctic convoys.
On the evening of the 30th of March, just after 1800hrs BST, twelve Halifax aircraft from 76 Squadron took off from Tain to commence the first phase of the attack. Ten Halifax aircraft from 10 Squadron took off from Lossiemouth and twelve from 35 Squadron took off from Kinloss for the second phase of the attack. One 35 Squadron Halifax returned to base early due to engine trouble.
The aircraft would be flying a total distance of approximately 1,300 miles with a total flight time, including time over target, estimated at being around eight to eight and a half hours.
On reaching the Norwegian Coast the weather was clear with bright moonlight. However, on approaching the Trondheim area sea fog and 10/10 low cloud was almost totally obscuring the landscape below making it virtually impossible to locate Tirpitz. Many of the aircraft jettisoned their loads in the target area and bombed flak and searchlights that could be seen. However, no observations were made as to the effectiveness of these due to the sea fog and haze.
Six of the thirty-four aircraft that took off failed to return.
This was the last flight of Pilot Officer Neil Blunden RNZAF. Neil Blunden’s diary provides a vivid insight into the life of an RAF pilot, including the attack on Hamburg on 26th October 1941. On 26th March 1942 he was based at RAF Leeming with No.10 Squadron when he recorded in his diary:
Thursday 26th March 1942
Warm day. Had a briefing at 0915 hrs which A.O.C. came to and gave us a talk and generally conducted it with our C.O. Only Captains and Observers attended – it is most secret and hush hush etc! Ten crews of 10 Squadron are on and wouldn’t miss it for pounds! Managed to get Ganger unscreened for it too! As is Jack Watts and Angus Buchan. Did air test in P.M in ‘D’. Did air-firing and all but 3 guns jammed! Whilst up the brakes went for a burton and had to land without brakes. Stopped well short of runway end and taxied right back to dispersal, but didn’t turn there!
The following day the Halifax’s from No. 10 squadron flew to Lossiemouth from where they took off for the raid on 30th March.