Operation Leader (ii)

This was a British and US carrierborne air attack on shipping in Bodø harbour and the nearby coastal waters of German-occupied Norway (2/6 October 1943).

The operation was rendered feasible by the damage inflicted on the German battleship Tirpitz in Norwegian waters by the ‘Source’ midget submarine attack of September 1943, the crippling of this single most potent German warship in northern waters making it possible for Allied naval forces to be switched to a more offensive role.

Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, commanding the Home Fleet, responded swiftly to the new tactical and operational position enjoyed by his forces, and on 2 October sailed with his main strength (battleships Anson and Duke of York, US light fleet carrier Ranger, US heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa, light cruiser Belfast, and destroyers Milne, Opportune, Teazer, Vigilant and US Capp, Corry, Forrest, Fitch and Hobson), supplemented on the following day by the destroyers Savage, Scourge and Scorpion from the Skálafjørður in the Færoe islands group, to a position 160 miles (255 km) off the Norwegian port of Bodø.

There 30 attack aircraft (Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers and Grumman TBF Avenger level/torpedo-bombers), all armed with bombs, were launched from Ranger on the morning of 4 October with an escort of 14 of the carrier’s fighters. Fraser had also intended to send aircraft from his own carrier, Formidable, to attack shipping in another harbour farther to the south, but this part of the overall scheme had to be cancelled as a result of unfavourable weather.

At Bodø the US Navy’s air crews, the majority of them making their first operational sortie, achieved very considerable success. They attacked in two waves at very low altitude, and sank the Norwegian steamer Vågan and damaged the 5,042-ton Norwegian steamer Topeka; sank the steam vessels Kaguir, La Plata and Rabat as well as the 5,472-ton loaded troop transport Skramstad; and damaged the tanker Schleswig and steam vessels Kerkplein and Ibis. The steam vessel Malaga was also damaged by a bomb which failed to detonate. The results, which included the sinking of some 20,750 tons of shipping, were a striking vindication of the US Navy’s dive-bombing and low-level bombing techniques.

Only three of the attacking aircraft (one Avenger and two Dauntless machines) were lost, all of them to anti-aircraft fire, and these were avenged later in the day when Ranger’s fighters shot down two German aircraft (one Heinkel He 115 floatplane and one Junkers Ju 88 landplane) which had started to shadow the Allied warships.

By 6 October the whole Allied force had returned safely to Scapa Flow tack shipping in another harbour farther to the south, but this part of the overall scheme had to be cancelled as a result of unfavourable weather.

At Bodø the US Navy’s air crews, the majority of them making their first operational sortie, achieved very considerable success. They attacked in two waves at very low altitude, and sank or destroyed five ships totalling some 20,750 tons, including a loaded troop transport. Another seven ships were damaged, among them a large tanker. The results were a striking vindication of the US Navy’s dive-bombing and low-level bombing techniques.

Only three of the attacking aircraft (one Avenger and two Dauntless machines) were lost, all of them to anti-aircraft fire, and these were avenged later in the day when Ranger’s fighters shot down two German aircraft (one Heinkel He 115 floatplane and one Junkers Ju 88 landplane) which had started to shadow the Allied warships.

By 6 October the whole Allied force had returned safely to Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands group.