Bombing the Tirpitz
Don Macintosh featured in World War II Today on 13th March 1941 when he was a telephone operator for the police during the bombing of Clydebank. He was just eighteen years old at the time. That extract comes from the opening pages of Bomber Pilot Donald MacIntosh: A Veteran’s First-hand Account of Surviving World War Two as a RAF Bomber Pilot.
There was still plenty of time for him to qualify as a pilot with the RAF and then fly over 40 operational missions in Wellingtons and Lancasters. Among several very notable missions he participated in the RAF raid from Russia to the Norwegian fjords to attack the Tirpitz:
With great relief, we flew north-west in a clear sky. Flying low over the tundra in loose formation, the familiar sight of the Lancasters around me was comforting. The Tirpitz drew us on like a magnet. ‘I hope we get a shot at it after all this trouble,’ Peter called from his bombing hatch. Wouldn’t like to land in this lot.’ Outside, the desolate landscape was grim and stark. Nobody lived there. We wouldn’t either, if we crash-landed, not for long anyway.
Apart from nagging worry over the Focke Wulfs that might be lying in wait, I felt extremely cheerful. By a bit of luck we had got to Russia in one piece with a serviceable aircraft. We had no fuel worries and at least we knew what the airfield was like for our return. Above all, it was clear underneath, and if our luck held for an hour or two, we would get the ship at anchor in our bombsight for half a minute, and justify all the time and effort we had spent.
I could see, ahead of us, the rear turrets of the Lancasters as the gunners swung their turrets. Nigel came forward with a map in his hand. ‘That’s Lake Imari ahead, Skipper. I suggest you start your climb very soon. You can see the hills rising ahead of you in the distance. Our bombing height is 11,000 feet’ ‘Going down to the bombing hatch now,’ Peter called.
‘Oxygen on, everybody,’ I called and heard the replies moments later, and the steady hiss and puff of my own supply. Glancing at me, with his hand on the throttles, Bob watched the hills ahead anxiously. ‘Alright, Bob. Push them up now.’ The Merlins gave a deep-throated growl accompanied by a drum-like vibration as he poured on the power.
In the cold air we seemed to go up like a lift and shortly, beyond the hills, we saw in the distance the icy blue outline of the mountains. The bomber pack narrowed to a thin line as we approached the target area. I pulled my thick goggles down in case of flying splinters and started to concentrate on the instruments in front of me. A short time later, at our bombing height, I saw over the mountains to the fjord ahead.
There she is!’ Peter shouted over the intercom. ‘I’m starting my run in now. Come 10 degrees to starboard. Left, left. Steady’ Ahead, amongst the leading Lancasters of 617 Squadron, I could see flower-like bursts of flak as they ploughed steadily on, as the guns in the hills opened up first. ‘Bomb doors open. Right 2 degrees.’
I held the controls lightly, and then gently let go, allowing the machine to fly steadily giving Peter his best chance. There was a lot more flak bursting, this time from the ship, as I kept glued to my compass and altimeter.
‘Shit! They’ve set off smoke. She’s disappearing fast,’ Peter called. I can just see the masts. Steady, I’m going to bomb anyway’ Seconds later, he shouted, ‘Bombs gone!’
The plane relieved of its load immediately leapt up 700 feet. Other Lancs were now milling about as we turned for home and the fire from the ship slackened, probably because she could no longer see us.
I banked sharply and stuck the nose down. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here! Geoff, watch out for the 190s, they’ll be here any time now.’ The Lanc vibrated as I poured on power and saw the airspeed wind up. Peter came out of his hatch in the nose. ‘They’ll be bloody lucky if anybody hit her,’ he said. ‘Some of the boys were just dropping their bombs in the smoke. It’s incredible how fast the Krauts got their smoke going. I wouldn’t have believed it unless I had seen it.’
‘Pete, get back in the turret. We’ve stirred the buggers up and they’re probably lying in wait for us.’
We left the mountains behind and flew low over the hills, and an hour later crossed the lake on the way back, safe now from the fighters. No one had been in any doubt that if the Focke Wulfs caught us, we’d be lucky if half of us got back.
We saw Archangel in the distance and this time it was clear and sunny, with the now familiar island in the river. Everyone was a bit depressed at failure after all the effort, and being so tantalizingly close to success. I can’t say I was. I was glad to be alive. I couldn’t understand why we hadn’t been attacked.