Operation Mascot (i)

This was a British carrierborne air attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in the Kåfjord, a spur of the Altafjord in German-occupied northern Norway (17 July 1944).

The failure of ‘Tungsten’ to destroy or cripple the German battleship meant that the vessel was still a potent threat to the movement of the Allies’ Arctic convoys, so more operations were planned. Three air attacks were planned as ‘Planet’, ‘Brawn’ and ‘Tiger Claw’ but then cancelled, in April and May 1944, as a result of adverse weather.

In April and May 1944 Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser’s Home Fleet had undertaken a series of operations off the Norwegian coast to strike at German inshore shipping with carrierborne aircraft attacks and also to further the Allied strategic deception plan designed to convince the Germans that an Allied invasion of Norway was imminent. On 14 June Admiral Sir Henry Moore succeeded Fraser in command of the Home Fleet, and in that month the 1st Cruiser Squadron and other ships twice steamed south into the North Sea for diversionary purposes during the ‘Overlord’ landings in Normandy, and to guard against any westward movement by German warships from the Baltic. Another operation to supply the Allied garrison on Spitsbergen was also undertaken in this period.

As soon as the success of ‘Overlord’ in the Normandy seemed certain, the Admiralty turned its attention to the resumption of the interrupted Arctic convoys to deliver supplies and weapons to the Soviet forces. As a first step it was obviously sensible to inflict further damage on Tirpitz, which was still in the Altafjord and by this time might have been repaired of the damage suffered in the 'Source' midget submarine attack of September 1943 and 'Tungsten' carrierborne air attack of April 1944. The Admiralty’s assessment of the battleship’s condition was that by June she would be capable of ‘limited operations’.

Moreover, quite separately from the need to safeguard the Arctic convoys, it was impossible to complete the further strengthening of the Eastern Fleet at the expense of the Home Fleet until Tirpitz had been sunk or put permanently out of action.

The fleet carriers Victorious and Indomitable had sailed for the Far East on 12 June, and their new sister ships Implacable and Indefatigable did not replace them in the Home Fleet until a time early in the following month. Of the modern British battleships, Howe had sailed to the Far East on 1 July, while King George V and Anson were refitting in preparation for their own departures to the Far East. Thus Duke of York was the only modern battleship available to the Home Fleet after the start of July.

To implement the Admiralty’s purpose of inflicting further damage on Tirpitz, Moore departed Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands group on 14 July in Duke of York together with the heavy cruisers Devonshire and Kent, light cruiser Jamaica, light anti-aircraft cruiser Bellona, destroyers Marne, Matchless, Milne, Musketeer, Nubian, Scourge, Verulam, Vigilant, Virago, Volage and Canadian Algonquin and Sioux, and frigates Bulldog, Burges, Hoste and Inman, while Rear Admiral R. R. McGrigor, commanding the 1st Cruiser Squadron, took command of the fleet carriers Formidable, Indefatigable and Furious, in which 45 Fairey Barracuda torpedo-bombers and 50 fighters were embarked.

The attack on Tirpitz took place early in the morning of 17 July, but the Germans had received early warning of the approach of the British attack force (44 Barracuda attack aircraft escorted by 18 Vought Corsair, 12 Fairey Firefly and 18 Grumman Hellcat fighters), and by the time the aircraft arrived over the target, all was shrouded in dense smoke. The aircraft therefore had to bomb ‘blind’, and obtained no hits. A second attempt was frustrated by fog.

This unsuccessful operation convinced Moore that there would be no purpose in maintaining attacks on Tirpitz with the unsatisfactory Barracuda warplane. The type was so slow that the defences were bound to have been alerted once the attackers crossed the coast, thus providing every opportunity for the laying of an effective smoke screen. The Admiralty believed, though, that repeated attacks over a period of 48 hours might wear down the defences, and cause the Germans to exhaust their supply of smoke-making material. Moore therefore acceded to the Admiralty’s urgings to repeat the attempt, and there followed the 'Goodwood I', 'Goodwood II', 'Goodwood III' and 'Goodwood IV' attacks.

The possibility of using the de Havilland Mosquito fast fighter-bomber from the carriers as an alternative to the Barracuda was also discussed at this time as the use of this land-based type’s very much higher speed and longer range would have greatly improved the prospect for surprise, and it could also carry a 2,000-lb (907-kg) armour-piercing bomb. All available Mosquito aircraft were working with the expeditionary forces, generally to escort heavy bombers on their raids into Germany, so the agreement of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, had to be secured: Eisenhower felt that the aircraft would be better employed in their current role.

It the event, no more attacks on Tirpitz were made before the first of the new series of Arctic convoys sailed.