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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : 'Tirpitz' Sunk

12 November 1944

Location: The Norwegian fjord of Tromsö.
Players: Lancaster Bomber Squadrons (9 and 617); Soviet aircraft.
Outcome: 'Tirpitz' sunk with the loss of 1,204 lives.

Sister ship to the Bismarck, the Tirpitz was a huge 42,000-ton battleship armed with 15-inch guns. There was some debate as to whether these two ships were in violation of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty, but Germany argued that she had initially adopted the treaties only 'in principle,' and their final accession contained a size escalation clause that made capital ships under 45,000 tons 'legal'.

The Tirpitz posed a serious threat to the North Atlantic convoys. In October 1942, an attempt to sink her was made by human torpedoes, and in September 1943 a midget submarine attack put her out of action for six months. After this attack she was moved to the Norwegian fjord of Tromsö, where she endured a number of air attacks, one of them by Soviet aircraft.

On 12 November 1944, Lancaster Bomber Squadrons 9 and 617 set forth towards Tromsö, where the Tirpitz was at anchor, surrounded by submarines.

Armed with 12,000-pound Tallboy bombs, the Dambuster crews arrived in clear skies over the fjord. The Tirpitz was easily visible in contrast against the still deep waters. As flak from the ship's heavy armament burst all around them, one by one the Lancasters rolled in for the attack. They were joined by Soviet aircraft. The devastating aerial bombardment was completed in minutes and with her port side ripped open the Tirpitz capsized and sank.

The loss of life was huge: 1,204 seamen died and it is reported that they sang 'Deutschland über alles' as the ship went down.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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