Attack the Tirpitz!! In a Halifax??

You are so lucky! You are going to see three photographs of a relatively rare aircraft, a Halifax Mark II, taken in the almost funereal gloom of the RAF Museum at Hendon. I apologise for the quality but in their efforts to preserve the original paint on the aircraft, the museum lights are kept very low indeed. For this particular aircraft, do not be put off by the fact that it seems apparently to have grown two enormous circular fins in the middle of its back. That is an Indian Air Force B-24 Liberator:

this one

The Halifax was the second British four-engined bomber to enter service in World War Two but it became the first to bomb Germany during a raid on Hamburg on the night of March 12th-13th 1941. Subsequent increasing losses on operations over Germany caused Halifax bombers to be used on less hazardous targets from September 1943.

The Halifax made over 75,000 bombing sorties and dropped almost a quarter of a million tons of bombs on Germany.

The Halifax continued in service with Coastal and Transport Commands after the war and the last operational flight was made by a Coastal Command aircraft in March 1952 from Gibraltar.
This s a Halifax B Mk II, Series I, with the serial number W1048. It was built by English Electric in 1942 at their factory near Samlesbury near Preston in Lancashire as part of a contract for 200 Halifaxes. This a similar aeroplane:

halifax_5

On March 27th 1942 it joined 102 Squadron at Dalton in North Yorkshire as “DY-S”.  The squadron was in the process of converting from the old Whitley Mark Vs
On April 9th 1942, six aircraft from 102 Squadron were exchanged with six aircraft from 35 Squadron because they were fitted with Gee radio navigation aid and could not be risked on a raid beyond the range of Gee stations  W1048 now became “TL-S” of 35 Squadron.
On April 15th the aircraft was taken on a training flight around Filey Bay followed by some low level practice bombing at Strenshall. Just over a week later, it  flew with ten other Halifaxes to RAF Kinloss in Scotland as an advance base for the raid on the German battleship, the Tirpitz.
It took off on April 27th 1942 at 2030 hours, the bomber’s first operational mission. “DY-S” was the  seventh of eleven bombers to depart and it was never heard of again. Until, that is, it was restored to the RAF Museum at Hendon;

P1320336xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The crew was Pilot Officer Don P MacIntyre who was 24 years old and came from Canada. The busy bee in the crew was Pilot Officer Ian Hewitt who was the observer, bomb aimer and navigator. He  later won a DFC. After the war, he moved to quieter pursuits and became a chartered accountant, dying peacefully at home in bed in June 2015, aged 94.
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Vic Stevens and the first WOP/AG  was Sergeant Dave Perry
The mid upper gunner was another Canadian, Sergeant Pierre Blanchet.
The tail gunner was Sergeant Ron Wilson who in later life was to become a London cabby.
The aircraft was carrying four spherical mines of the Royal Navy type 19N. They each weighed a ton and their shape and size meant that the the bomb doors could not be closed.
The cunning plan was to roll the four mines down the steep mountainside into the gap between the ship and the shore.  They would then sink the ship because the underside was thinner and therefore more vulnerable.
At half past midnight, the eighth aircraft to attack, Don McIntyre followed by his friend Reg Lane set off to release their mines. McIntyre was first. As they had arranged, they descended to 200 feet but “DY-S” was hit by flak and too badly damaged to get back to Yorkshire or even to Sweden.
They were forced to land on the frozen surface of Lake Hoklingen, twenty five miles east of Trondheim.

Here is the starboard inner engine nowadays in the museum:

P1320335

Vic Stevens broke his ankle and was eventually taken to hospital by the Germans. The other six came into contact with the Ling, the Norwegian underground and were helped to Sweden. Ian Hewitt and Don McIntyre returned to England after a few weeks, and Dave Perry,  Pierre Blanchet and Ron Wilson after a year. By this time Ron Wilson had rented a flat, found a job and made a start on a new life.
The poor old Halifax sank through the ice in the southern corner of the lake just twelve hours after the crash.
In 1971 the remains were found by local divers and in September 1972 by the RAF Sub Aqua Club. Everything was still there except for the starboard outer engine and one or two bits and pieces taken by souvenir hunters in the past.

Here is a photograph which is admittedly very similar to one of the others. I am quite proud of it, though, because my Idiots’ Guide to Photoshop has enabled me to turn a pretty well completely black picture into something understandable. Slight tinges of red are apparently the chemical which inhibits any further deterioration in the fresh air. Do they make that for humans?

P1320338xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

By the end of June 1973, the Halifax had been retrieved from the lake, and after a lot of restoration, it was ready for the public by the end of 1982. Apparently a second Halifax from the same squadron and the same operation was discovered at the bottom of a nearby fjord in 2014. This exciting discovery was made by the Marine Technology Centre from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. The wreckage is around 600 feet down, and is thought to be W7656 and to contain the remains of Sergeants Evans and Columbine, the wireless operator/gunner and the navigator respectively. I do not know if this will make any difference to plans to raise the aircraft and to restore it.

Advertisements

25 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

25 responses to “Attack the Tirpitz!! In a Halifax??

  1. Fascinating post John. There were no less than 26 Allied raids on the DKM Tirpitz, ending on 12 November 1944 with a force of 32 Lancasters from No.s 9 and 617 squadron in Tromsø. She Capsized after 3 direct hits and 2 near misses. Between 950 and 1,204 sailors were killed. It really shows the ingenuity of the British that they used mines on this Halifax with the objective of rolling them down the mountainside! – perhaps it could have worked – everyone thought that Barnes Wallace was crazy until the successful attacks on the Ruhr valley and the villages in the Eder valley.

    • I have always regretted the deaths of those 1,204 German sailors and indeed, of the young men of the RAF who were sent to drop the bombs that sank the Tirpitz. I suppose that that is hindsight talking though. On November 12th 1944 nobody would have realised that the Tirpitz was going to be pretty much an irrelevance for the rest of the war. I wonder what would have happened though if the Germans had had the aircraft carriers necessary to protect it?

      • Hitler didn’t understand the significance of maritime power. The Graf Zeppelin was 85% complete by the end of the war. Her fighters, the Messerschmitt Bf 109Ts were issued to several training units in 1943. Then, in April 1943 the Jagdstaffel Helgoland was formed[33] and operated from Düne until late 1943 when the unit transferred to Lista in south Norway. The unit was renamed as 11./JG 11 as of 30 November 1943 and the Bf 109Ts remained on operations until the summer of 1944. I imagine if there had been a carrier group that the fate of the Tirpitz would have been quite different.

  2. Always a good looking plane I used to think. I had an Airfix model that hung in my bedroom next to the Lancaster. Prompted by your post to Google I came across this – https://www.airfix.com/uk-en/news/aerodrome/the-lucky-bomber-with-an-unlucky-name/

    • Thanks a lot for that link. I too had an Airfix Halifax all those years ago, although I don’t remember ever having a Stirling or a B-17. I do remember the appearance of the AIrfix B-29 though. My Mum just adored having a kit with a wingspan of 36 inches or so knocking round my bedroom. .

  3. John, in your opinion, should it raised?

    • Yes, I think it should. Not so much for the fact that it might be possible to restore it but because it may contain the remains of Sergeants Evans and Columbine which I believe should be retrieved and given a proper Christian burial in the town or city where they used to live.

  4. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget II and commented:
    Very interesting.

  5. Pierre Lagacé

    Found on a forum

    Hi Pete

    I have following details about this aircraft and crew in my archive:

    ‘D.F.M. London Gazette 25.5.1943. 633143 Sergeant Ronald Horace David Wilson, No. 35 Squadron, jointly listed with Can/R. 56057 Sergeant Joseph Pierre Gaston Blanchet, No. 35 Squadron.’

    ‘The joint Recommendation, for Sergeant Perry (Bar to D.F.M.), Sergeant Blanchet, and Sergeant Wilson, dated 10.5.1942, states ‘Pilot Officer MacIntyre and the above mentioned N.C.O.’s were detailed as a crew to attack the German battleship “Tirpitz” in the Aas fjord at Trondheim on the night of 27th April 1942. This flight involved a total flying time of nine hours and covered a distance of 1,350 miles over the North Sea and the mountainous country of Northern Norway. The attack was ordered to be carried out at 150 feet in the face of intense opposition from the battleship and the guns on both sides of the fjord. It would appear that whilst carrying out this courageous attack, Pilot Officer MacIntyre’s aircraft must have been fatally damaged by flak, necessitating a forced landing in this most difficult country. By a feat of most superb airmanship, this landing was carried out successfully. Having carried out this forced landing, Pilot Officer MacIntyre and the above N.C.O.’s then made their escape from the numerous search parties that had been sent out by the German garrison in Trondheim. For eight days the members of the crew suffered the greatest hardships, walked through deep snow and crossed the mountains, and in an exhausted condition arrived at the Norwegian border, having covered a total distance of 45 miles. By sheer determination and will-power, they crossed safely into Sweden. For this outstanding example of good airmanship on the part of the captain, initiative and devotion to duty on the part of the whole crew, Pilot Officers MacIntyre and Hewitt are strongly recommended for the immediate award of the D.F.C., and Sergeants Blanchet, Perry, and Wilson, the Distinguished Flying Medal.’

    ‘Flying Officer MacIntyre’s and Pilot Officer Hewitt’s joint Recommendation for the D.F.C. adds more detail and states ‘One night in April 1942 Flying Officer MacIntyre and Pilot Officer Hewitt were captain and navigator respectively of an aircraft detailed to carry out a low level attack on the German naval base at Trondheim. The target was located and, in face of intense of opposition from the enemy’s ground defences, the attack was pressed home with great coolness and determination from a low level. During this operation the aircraft was hit. The outer portion of the wing caught fire and the fuselage and cockpit were filled with smoke. Soon the aircraft was well alight and as it became uncontrollable Flying Officer MacIntyre decided to descend onto a lake to which he was directed by Pilot Officer Hewitt. This he achieved by a feat of superb airmanship. The crew then manned their dinghy and made their way to the side of the lake. After a perilous journey and suffering great hardships, Flying Officer MacIntyre and his crew eventually reached England. The greatest credit is due to both these officers for their calm efficiency and courageous devotion to duty.’

    Regards

    Finn Buch

    • Pierre Lagacé

      Another one…

      BLANCHET, Sergeant Joseph Pierre Gaston (R56057) – Distinguished Flying Medal – No.35 Squadron – Award effective 11 May 1943 as per London Gazette dated 25 May 1943 and AFRO 1294/43 dated 9 July 1943. Born 27 June 1918 in St.Augustine, Quebec; home in Trois Rivieres, Quebec (bank clerk); enlisted there 17 April 1940. To No.1 ITS, 29 April 1940; graduated and promoted LAC, 23 May 1940; to No.1 WS that date; may have graduated 20 October 1940 but not posted to No.2 BGS until 27 October 1940; graduated and promoted Sergeant, 14 December 1940. To Halifax that date. To Eastern Air Command, 5 February 1941. To Embarkation Depot, 24 January 1941. To RAF overseas, 2 March 1941. To No.35 Squadron, 24 September 1941; promoted Flight Sergeant, 1 December 1941; first sortie was 15/16 January 1942; last sortie was 27/28 April 1942. Promoted WO2, 1 November 1942. Repatriated 31 July 1943. To No.10 EFTS, date uncertain but almost immediately after repatriation. To be Officer Cadet, 28 September 1943. Placed in Administration Branch, 30 September 1943; commissioned that date with simultaneous promotion to Flying Officer. To Recruiting Centre, Montreal, 28 October 1943. To No.3 Air Gunner Training School, 14 January 1944. To No.8 AOS, 14 November 1944. To Lachine, 12 April 1945. To Release Centre, 23 June 1945. Retired 27 June 1945. Award presented 24 April 1944. Cited with Sergeant R.H.D. Wilson (RAF, awarded DFM). Sergeants Blanchet and Wilson have displayed high qualities of courage and fortitude in air operations. Their exemplary conduct has been worthy of the highest praise. Public Record Office WO 208/3312 has MI.9 evasion report of both Blanchett and Wilson based on interview of 10 April 1943. They had left Stockholm on 8 April 1943, arriving Leuchars 9 April 1943. Our craft was hit by light flak over Trondheim while we were bombing the Tirpitz and we crashed on a lake about 0050 hours, 28 April 1942. The other members of the crew were: P/O MacIntyre (S/P.G. -746) P/O Hewitt (S/P.G. – 747) Sergeant Penny (S/P.G. – 1132) Sergeant Stevens (left injured in Norway). The whole crew continued together after landing, as described in P/O MacIntyre?s ad P/O Hewitt?s report. P/O McIntyre, our captain, decided about 1800 hours that we should split up into two groups. He went with F/O Hewitt and Sergeant Perry, and we went with Sergeant Stevens who had broken the arch of his foot in landing. We were near Levanger when we split. After leaving thr others, our party continued walking across country. We had many fences to climb, and Sergeant Stevens fainted several times. His foot was badly swoolen and a bone was sticking out. Eventually, on 29 April, we left Sergeant Stevens, at his own request, at a farm house about 15 miles from Levanger, where the people, who spoke English, promised to get him a doctor. We left him 150 kroner, half our rations, a compass and a map. We then continued east to a frozen lake which we crossed three days after we had crashed (31 April) [sic]. On the day we left Sergeant Stevens we were almost caught by a party of about 25 Germans, who searched a house near the one where we were being sheltered. We left the house at once and got away through the woods. We made east after crossing the frozen lake, to another large lake across the frontier in Sweden. We crossed the frontier about six days after we had crashed, at a point about ten miles north of Storlien. We got considerable help on the way from the Norwegians, and about two days before we reached the frontier we got food and shelter at a shack, where the people also supplied us with maps and a compass and showed us a route to the border. We gave ourselves up after crossing the frontier and were taken to Storlien (one night in prison) and Ostersund (two days). We were then interned from 5 May to 5 April 1943 in Falun camp. We had not been advised at briefing to tell the Swedish authorities that we had been in German hands in Norway, and were indeed told that the Swedes, being very pro-British, would repatriate us immediately. A Swedish corporal also told us that if we said we had not been in German hands we would have been repatriated at once. His idea was that if we said we had escaped from German hands, we would be sent to Germany.

      • Thank you Pierre for that amazing story. It makes me feel very humble to read what those men did. People must have been much more courageous in those days and certainly a lot more prepared for self sacrifice for the good of the cause.

  6. It’s certainly a ghostly example and the light at Hendon exaggerates that too. It’s a fascinating story John, and to think mines being rolled down hills, how bizarre! Nice to know the story behind the aircraft John.

  7. Chris Waller

    Very interesting. The Halifax sadly never achieved the same kudos as the Lancaster. Whenever Bomber Command’s campaign is mentioned the Lancaster is always top of the bill.

    • You’re absolutely right there. There are lots of arguments still about the relative merits of the two aircraft. but I don’t suppose that they’ll ever be settled. Halifax crew were always very loyal to their aircraft but I think the clue is that many Halifaxes were used as transport aircraft. When the decision was taken to send bombers to bomb Japan as part of ‘Tiger Force’ in 1945 it was Lancasters they decided to send, presumably as our best bomber to show off to the Americans.

  8. Fascinating, I was reminded of the books by Nevil Shute, he is one of my favourite writers . Thank you 🙂

  9. I’ve got a soft spot for Halifaxes. When I was a teenager, a friend knew a gentleman who had flown in them during the War and been shot down becoming a POW. He survived the war and wrote a book which I read.

    • Thanks a lot for that. Halifaxes were certainly always very popular with their crews. They had better survival rates than Lancasters because when the crew were ordered to bale out, the exit hatch on a Halifax was just a little bigger and easier to get through.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s