A first-hand account of the sinking of the Tirpitz
by Flight Lieutenant Bob Knights DSO, DFC
“The early morning of 12th November 1944 was clear and very cold, and the wings of the Lancasters of 617 Squadron, parked on the airfield at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, were coated with ice. This ice had to be removed before the aircraft could take off for the final attack on the Tirpitz, the Lancasters were already overloaded with a 12,00lb Tallboy, full petrol tanks, and a reserve fuel tank in the fuselage. The aircraft had been fitted with more powerful engines, the Rolls-Royce Merlin 24, and take-off performance was surprisingly good.
After turning out over the Moray Firth, we set course north east for the Norwegian sea at 1500 feet. We saw the Shetland Islands pass by on our left, and when we reached 64 degrees north we turned eastwards towards the Norwegian coast at low level. We crossed the coast, climbing rapidly to clear mountains, and flew over the Swedish border. We then turned north and, keeping on the Swedish side of the border, proceeded to our assembly point, a narrow lake about 100 miles south east of Tromso.
At zero hour, Wing Commander Willie Tait, Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, set course on the long run-in to the target, accompanied by the first wave of 617 Squadron aircraft. As we topped the last mountain before reaching Tromso, we saw the Tirpitz clearly from about thirty miles. She looked very vulnerable lying there with no cloud or smoke to protect her, and fortunately there was no sign of the fighters, which were stationed at Bardafoss.
The anti-aircraft guns opened up as we approached, and there were enormous shell bursts from Tirpitz herself. We had a good straight bombing run, and both my bomb aimer and my flight engineer followed our Tallboy right down to the ship. They reported two direct hits and three bombs very close to the sides of the ship. After taking our aiming point photograph, we circled the ship to observe the subsequent bombing. We stayed in the vicinity for about another fifteen minutes and before we left the ship was beginning to capsize.
Then followed the long flight back to Scotland. When we arrived, bad weather had affected Lossiemouth and we were diverted to Peterhead, where we eventually landed after a flight of 12 hours 35 minutes.”
Each print has been signed by five survivors of the Tirpitz Raid:
Group Captain JAMES TAIT DSO DFC ADC
Squadron Leader T C IVESON DFC
Flight Lieutenant BOB KNIGHTS DSO DFC
Flight Lieutenant M B FLATMAN
Flight Lieutenant F H A WATTS DFC