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Hunting Tirpitz - G H Bennett

Hunting Tirpitz: Royal Naval Operations Against Bismarck’s Sister ShipAfter each major naval or combined operation of the Second World War the Admiralty published a ‘Battle Summary’ which provided a thorough and highly detailed description of the entire operation.  The objectives of the summaries were to inform selected individuals of the successes and failures highlighted in the action so that lessons could be learnt for future operations. Access to the summaries was, therefore, restricted at the time and distributed only to selected individuals.

Though the Battle Summaries have been available to the general public through the National Archives for some years, the production of Hunting Tirpitz marks the first time that any of these documents have been published in their entirety.

In Hunting Tirpitz, the compilers have collected together three Battle Summaries, Nos. 12, 29 and 27. These represent the attack on Saint-Nazaire on 28 March 1942, Operation Source, the attack on Tirpitz by Midget Submarines, and Operation Tungsten, which was the naval aircraft attack on Tirpitz, respectively.

It is difficult to explain in the course of a short review just how well presented the Battle Summaries were by the Admiralty. Each one is divided into similar sections. For example, Battle Summary No.29, Operation Source, has the following sections or chapters:

  1. An introduction explaining the reasons behind the decision to mount an operation;
  2. The preparations for the attack;
  3. The plan of operation;
  4. Preliminary movements;
  5. Passage to Norway.

There then follows an account of the attack upon Tirpitz, including the narrative of one of the X-craft and the movements of the operational submarines. The summary ends with the conclusions which were drawn on the operation along with copious footnotes. The summary is completed with appendices, listing the officers and ratings involved, an analysis of the German security measures in place around Kaa Fjord in September 1943, and a consideration of the damage inflicted upon Tirpitz by the X-craft.

One of the main features of this, as with all of the Battle Summaries, are the charts. Precision in navigation was, and is, a matter of the utmost importance to the Royal Navy and the many charts included in each summary are very detailed and very precise.

The appendices of Battle Summary No.27 include full details of all the bombing attacks and the air crew reports. It even includes information on the covering flights made by aircraft not directly involved in the attacks as well as listing all the German air bases whose aircraft could have potentially affected the operation and the types and number of aircraft at each one.

In addition to the three Battle Summaries, the editors of Hunting Tirpitz have included extracts from the Naval Staff History relating to the attacks upon the German battleship. These give accounts of the various attacks carried out by the UK against Tirpitz and analysis of their effectiveness.

The penultimate chapter of this book is a short compilation of newly-translated personal accounts from members of Tirpitz’s crew who survived the sinking of the battleship on 12 November 1944. This, of course, was an RAF operation but it provides added colour and a different perspective to the other accounts.

The last chapter is a collection of a few black and white photographs of Tirpitz, her crew and of the memorial stone to the dead crewmen of Tirpitz at the Wilhemshaven Ehrenfriedhof Cemetery.

All of this, put together in one volume, makes Hunting Tirpitz a very valuable publication; indeed it is difficult to praise this book too highly or find fault with it. It is with eager anticipation that I await the next in the series from the University of Plymouth Press.

Review courtesy of Britain At War Magazine.