Operation EF (ii)

'EF' (ii) was a British carrierborne air attack on the German positions at Kirkenes and Petsamo on the Arctic Ocean coast of Finland and German-occupied northern Norway (24 July/7 August 1941).

In response to a commitment to Premier Iosif Stalin by Prime Minister Winston Churchill for the launch of British naval undertakings along the northern coast of Norway, Finland and the USSR in the hope of alleviating some of the German pressure on the USSR in the dire days after the launch of the 'Barbarossa' invasion of the USSR from June 1941, the Admiralty and Admiral Sir John Tovey, commander-in-chief of the Home Fleet, planned 'EF' (ii). This was to be a sweep along the Arctic coastal regions in search of German naval forces and merchant shipping for destruction, and also attacks on the German naval base at Kirkenes and the Finnish port of Petsamo.

Under the command of Rear Admiral W. F. Wake-Walker, the force which departed Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands group for the Seyðisfjörður in Iceland on 23 July comprised the fleet carriers Furious and Victorious, the cruiser minelayer Adventure tasked with delivering mines to the USSR, the ships of the 1st Cruiser Squadron (including the heavy cruisers Devonshire, Shropshire and Suffolk), and the destroyers Achates, Active, Antelope, Anthony, Escapade and Intrepid. On 25 July Achates and Antelope, of which the former had been damaged by a mine and taken in tow by the latter, were replaced by Echo and Eclipse.

The vessels departed Iceland on 26 July after a single day of refuelling and completion of final preparations, and on 28 July Furious and Adventure were detached for Arkhangyel’sk.

The British planned to deliver a surprise attack on the Germans before the latter had been brought to combat readiness, but the British route passed through the Arctic Ocean, where it was polar day, so there was only the least possible chance of achieving surprise. The British vessels were spotted by German air reconnaissance, and as a result all German naval and merchant vessels were ordered into port. This left the British forces with no sea targets, and the primary objective of 'EF' (ii) thereupon became Kirkenes and Petsamo.

On 30 July Furious launched nine Fairey Albacore and nine Fairey Swordfish single-engined attack aircraft as well as six Fairey Fulmar single-engined fighters. The harbour of Petsamo was almost entirely empty and the attackers claimed the sinking of only one small steamer and the destruction of several jetties for the loss of one Albacore and two Fulmar aircraft, two of the aircraft to the Germans' effective anti-aircraft fire and one to an engine failure.

On the same day Adventure was detached from the carrier group and proceeded, escorted by Anthony and later by the Soviet destroyer Sokrushitelnyi from Cape Gorodetsky, to land its mines at Arkhangyel’sk.

The attack on Kirkenes was a tactical disaster, for the Germans were now fully on the alert and had Messerschmitt Bf 109 single-engined and Bf 110 twin-engined fighters on air patrol. Victorious launched two waves comprising 20 Albacore and nine Fulmar aircraft. These had had to make their approach over the mountains and the fjord rather than attacking from the sea. There were only four cargo vessels in the harbour, and the aircraft released their torpedoes quickly to get away from anti-aircraft fire, sinking one 2,000-ton vessel and setting another on fire, and also causing minor damage ashore. The British claimed one Bf 109 and two Bf 110 aircraft shot down for the loss of 11 Albacore and two Fulmar machines, all but one of the nine surviving Albacore aircraft being damaged.

The British ships returned to Iceland and the UK toward the end of the first week in August.