Key point: How one of Hitler's most powerful warships was taken out of actions--and ultimately for good.
By mid-1942, the towering German battleship Tirpitz stood alone as the largest, most powerful warship in the world. Despite rarely venturing from her lair deep within the Norwegian fjords, her mere presence in the region forced the British Royal Navy to keep a large number of capital ships in home waters to watch over Allied convoy routes to the Soviet Union.
The fact that the menacing shadow of one ship could hold so many others virtually captive in the North Atlantic at a time when they were desperately needed elsewhere was an intolerable situation in the eyes of Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. “The greatest single act to restore the balance of naval power would be the destruction or even crippling of the Tirpitz,” he wrote. “No other target is comparable to it.” His obsession with the massive dreadnought was the driving force behind numerous Royal Air Force and Royal Navy attempts to sink her, but all had met with failure.
The harsh reality was that inside Norwegian waters the Tirpitz enjoyed the protection of an ice-clad fortress bounded by sheer walls of solid rock and enhanced by German ingenuity. The natural defenses had been substantially bolstered by the deployment of countless artillery batteries and antiaircraft guns in the surrounding mountains while close-quarter protection for the 42,000-ton battleship was provided by layers of heavy antitorpedo nets that were closed around her like a second skin. Nothing had been left to chance, and within these all-encompassing defenses, the Germans confidently believed the “Lonely Queen of the North,” as the Tirpitz was known, was untouchable. To the Royal Navy looking on from afar, it was not an idle boast.
Churchill wanted action, but the British Admiralty could see no way to strike at its nemesis. Naval bombardment was impossible due to the configuration of the intervening land, the fjords were mostly beyond the range of land-based bombers, and a raid by conventional submarines would be suicidal.
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