First major ship sunk by dive-bombers

The Blackburn Skua: the Fleet Air Arm dive bomber that sunk the Konigsberg

At 5.15am on 10th April 1940 sixteen Skua aircraft from 800 and 803 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm took off from Hatston in the Orkneys to make the 300 mile trip to Bergen, Norway. Each plane had one 500lb semi armour piercing bomb. The round trip of 600 miles was just within the range of the Skua. Earlier reconnaissance had revealed that the Konigsberg was to be found alongside the jetty, having been damaged by Norwegian shore batteries. On a bright clear morning with glassy flat calm the Skua’s arrived over Bergen at 7am and climbed to 8,000 feet in line astern. Captain R.T. Partridge, Royal Marines, was leading 800 Squadron:

The ship was very clear and plain in my sights and the only opposition was one AA gun on the fo’c’s’le manned by a very brave crew that continued firing throughout the whole attack. Down now to 4000 feet and still in that beautifully controlled dive that the Skua with its huge flaps could give. AA gun still firing and the tracer bullets were drifting up towards us like lazy golden raindrops going the wrong way. Now 2,500 feet, no fear or apprehension, just complete and absolute concentration; mustn’t drop too high and must watch going too low and blowing myself up with my own bomb blast. Very disturbed water round the ship, and water and oil seemed to be gushing out amidships. Still the fo’c’sle gun continued to fire and at 1800 feet I dropped my bombs and was away towards the sea at nought feet. My observer reported that we had had a near miss on the ship’s port bow.

The Konigsberg under attack

The Konigsberg under attack

Twelve bombs were very near misses, spraying the Konigsberg with shrapnel. Three were direct hits, setting the Konigsberg on fire. Fifty minutes later there was a large explosion and she broke in two and sank. Only one Skua crew were lost. It was an historic demonstration of air power against shipping, the first major ship sunk by aircraft, let alone by dive-bombers.

See Major R.T. Partridge: Operation Skua. For more images see The Sinking of the Konigsberg.

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