'Nordmeer' was a German naval raid against a pair of Allied convoys as they passed through the Norwegian Sea (6/13 March 1943).
The undertaking followed the completion of 'Sportpalast' to reinforce the German naval forces based in occupied Norway, and was undertaken by the battleship Tirpitz, three destroyers and eight U-boats. The German ships were unable to locate either of the 'Arctic convoys' they had been ordered to intercept and destroy, but sank one merchant vessel sailing independently. The Allies attempted to intercept the German force, also without success.
The operation was the first major German attack on convoys making the passage to and from the USSR, and used warships that had been transferred to occupied Norway in early 1942. Tirpitz and her escorts sailed on 6 March, a fact which the Allies discovered from decoded German radio signals, and Admiral Sir John Tovey’s Home Fleet attempted to locate and destroy the German force. The intelligence was also used to re-route the convoys to evade Tirpitz. The British located the German battleship on the morning of 9 March, by which time she was returning to Norway. An attack on Tirpitz by torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier Victorious was unsuccessful, and two of the British aircraft were shot down. The German ships returned to their base on 13 March.
The British were disappointed with their failure to damage or sink Tirpitz, a failure which they attributed to the limitations of the aircraft involved and the tactics they employed. The British believed that the battleship continued to pose a major threat to the convoys, and continued to allocate potent escort forces to them. The Germans were concerned by the fact that Tirpitz had come close to disaster, and decided henceforward to be more cautious with the manner in which the battleship was committed. As a result, Tirpitz was deployed against only one other convoy, PQ.17 in June 1942, and was recalled before attacking it.
Before the outbreak of World War II, the German navy had developed plans to attack Allied merchant shipping in the event of war. The navy’s commander, Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, believed that battleships and cruisers were a key part of this strategy. As a result, the 'Bismarck' class battleships and 'Scharnhorst' class battle-cruisers constructed in the late 1930s and early 1940s were designed with the capability for long-range raids into the Atlantic Ocean. Tirpitz was the second of the two 'Bismarck' class vessels, was launched in April 1939 and was commissioned on 25 February 1941.
The German navy undertook two capital raids against Allied convoys in the Atlantic Ocean during early 1941. The battle-cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst was involved in 'Berlin' between January and March 1941: in this undertaking, the two ships sailed from Germany, attacked Allied shipping and returned to occupied France. The second raid was 'Rheinübung', which was attempted in May and involved the battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. While the German ships destroyed the British battlecruiser Hood on 24 May during the Battle of the Denmark Strait, Bismarck was later crippled by Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal and was finally sunk on 27 May after being bombarded by several British battleships. Tovey was the commander of the Home Fleet, which he led in the battleship King George V during the battle. The loss of Bismarck left Tirpitz as Germany’s only battleship, and at this time her crew was still being trained as the ship was worked up to operational capability.
After the start of the German 'Barbarossa' invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941, the Allies began to respond to the USSR’s increasing plight sending convoys loaded with supplies through the Norwegian Sea and Arctic Ocean to ports in northern Russia. The Arctic convoys that were despatched during 1941 and early 1942 were lightly opposed, with only a single Allied merchant vessel and the British destroyer Matabele succumbing to U-boat attack before March 1942. Harsh weather conditions, including extreme cold, heavy seas and gales, made air and naval operations in the area difficult for all of the combatants.
In December 1941, largely in response to Adolf Hitler’s long-term belief that Norway was a 'zone of destiny', the German military began to redeploy substantial land, sea and air forces to northern Norway, which they had occupied since early in 1940 in the later stages of 'Weserübung'. The forces sent to Norway were tasked with attacking the Arctic convoys as well as defending the area from the amphibious invasion which Hitler believed to be inevitable. On 12 January 1942 Hitler ordered the transfer of Kapitän Karl Topp’s Tirpitz from Germany to Trondheim in Norway. The battleship and two escorting destroyers departed Wilhelmshaven in Germany on 14 January and arrived in Trondheim on 16 January. She was to form the main element of a powerful battle group once other German warships arrived in the area.
The Allies learned of Tirpitz's arrival at Trondheim on 17 January from 'Ultra' intelligence gleaned from the decryption of intercepted German radio traffic. British photo-reconnaissance aircraft located the battleship at her new base on 23 January, and regular sorties were flown over the Trondheim area to monitor the German capital ship. As a result of the threat Tirpitz posed to Allied convoys in the Atlantic Ocean and Norwegian Sea, Churchill directed on 25 January that 'the destruction or even crippling of this ship is the greatest event at sea at the present time. No other target is comparable to it.' The RAF despatched 16 heavy bombers to attack Tirpitz at her anchorage during the night of 29/30 January, but no damage was inflicted. The RAF’s No. 217 Squadron was also ordered in February to prepare for a one-way mission against the battleship. This would have involved its Bristol Beaufort torpedo-bombers making an attack and the crews then parachuting from their aircraft over neutral Sweden or ditching into the sea. The raid was not attempted, and No. 217 Squadron returned to normal duties in mid-March 1942.
Allied intelligence learned on 19 February that Tirpitz was being readied in the Trondheimfjord for operations, and Tovey sailed that day with most of the Home Fleet either to raid the Norwegian port of Tromsø or to attack Tirpitz if she had put to sea. He cancelled the raid on Tromsø after the Admiralty forwarded intelligence that another group of German ships (the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Prinz Eugen together with three destroyers) was being transferred to Trondheim. The fleet carrier Victorious, escorted by the heavy cruiser Berwick and four destroyers, was detached to attack these ships, and four submarines took up positions near Trondheim. The carrier’s aircraft were unable to locate or attack the German force as a result of bad weather, but the submarine Trident torpedoed and severely damaged Prinz Eugen near the entrance to the Trondheimfjord on 23 February. Admiral Scheer was undamaged, and anchored near Tirpitz. The Befehlshaber der Schlachtschiffe (admiral commanding battleships), Vizeadmiral Otto Ciliax, assumed command of this battle group, flying his flag on Tirpitz. Ciliax had led the German forces in the 'Cerberus' naval dash up the English Channel on 11/13 February, during which Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen had returned to Germany from Brest in north-western France via the English Channel. Both of the battle-cruisers had been damaged by mines during this operation, and could therefore not be deployed to Norway as intended. While the failure to prevent the battle-cruisers from passing through the English Channel was intensely embarrassing to the British, the German redeployment ended the threat which the warships at Brest had posed to Allied shipping in the Atlantic.
As a result of the German battle group’s presence at Trondheim, the Home Fleet was directed to provide a powerful distant covering force for the next Arctic convoys; this was the first time that this had been done. The British also increased their air patrols of the Trondheim area and Norwegian Sea to monitor German naval movements. Two Arctic convoys sailed simultaneously on 1 March 1942: PQ.12 departed Iceland bound for the USSR, and QP.8 departed Murmansk in northern Russia to return ships to the Atlantic. PQ.12 comprised 17 merchant ships and was escorted by one heavy cruiser, two destroyers and several Norwegian armed whalers. QP.8 comprised 15 merchant vessels and had a weak escort of two corvettes and two minesweepers. Tovey had requested that the convoys sail simultaneously to make it easier for the Home Fleet to protect them while they passed through the waters between Jan Mayen island and Bjørnøya, where they would be at greatest risk of attack by German surface ships.
On 3 March a force under the Home Fleet’s second in command, Vice Admiral Alban Curteis, departed Iceland to protect the convoys. This force comprised the battleship Duke of York, the battlecruiser Renown and six destroyers. Tovey was on board the battleship King George V at the fleet’s main base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands group. He preferred to remain there with the battleship and Victorious so that he could remain in contact by telephone with his sources of intelligence, and to intercept Tirpitz should she attempt to break out into the Atlantic. Tovey also felt that the retention of part of the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow would also help to keep ships and their crews combat ready over what was anticipated to be a lengthy campaign, for Tovey believed that Gneisenau and Scharnhorst would join Tirpitz during the summer after they had been repaired. The Admiralty disagreed with this strategy and ordered Tovey to put to sea on 3 March so that the full force of the Home Fleet could be brought to bear against Tirpitz if she sailed. In doing so it accepted responsibility for the consequences if the German battleship entered the Atlantic. Tovey sailed shortly after this with King George V, Victorious, Berwick and six destroyers. The two main elements of the Home Fleet met to the east of Jan Mayen island on 6 June. Tovey was under orders to give precedence to protection of the convoys over the destruction of Tirpitz. He was unhappy with this, and regarded the sinking of the battleship as being of 'incomparably greater importance to the conduct of the war than the safety of any convoy'. The forces under Tovey’s command were considerably more powerful than those available to Ciliax.
The air wing embarked on Victorious included Nos 817 and 832 Squadrons equipped with Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers, though the number of these aircraft assigned to the squadrons differed: No. 817 Squadron had nine and No. 832 Squadron 12. These obsolescent biplanes could be armed with a single torpedo and were both slow and unmanoeuvrable. The crews of the two Albacore squadrons were experienced, but had received little training in attacks on warships. The other element of the carrier’s air wing was No. 809 Squadron, which was equipped with the Fairey Fulmar two-seat fighters: these were wholly inferior to German land-based single-seat fighters as a result of their lack of speed and manoeuvrability, but were capable of intercepting bombers. Tovey regarded the amount of air support available to his fleet as inadequate.
The crew of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor maritime patrol aeroplane spotted the PQ.12 convoy near Jan Mayen island at about 12.00 on 5 March. The commander of the Marinegruppenkommando Nord, Generaladmiral Rolf Carls, requested permission to attack the convoy using Ciliax’s force, and authorisation was granted by Raeder after he consulted with Hitler. Raeder’s orders to Ciliax specified that he was to avoid Allied naval forces to the greatest extent possible, and only attack convoys if they were protected by an equal or lesser force than his own. The resulting raid is often but wrongly designated as 'Sportpalast', but was in fact designated 'Nordmeer' by Ciliax and his staff.
Ciliax knew that two Allied convoys were at sea. While he believed that they would be protected by the Home Fleet, he did not know the latter’s deployed strength and whether or not it had sailed. His plan for 'Nordmeer' was to intercept one or both of the convoys in the area between Jan Mayen island and and Bjørnøya. Once a convoy had been met, Tirpitz was to destroy its escorts and then she and the destroyers would attack the merchant vessels. As a result of fuel shortages, Ciliax was unable to sail with his entire force, and thus departed Trondheim at 12.00 on 6 March with Tirpitz and the destroyers Friedrich Ihn, Hermann Schoemann and Z 25. Eight U-boats submarines based in Norway were assigned to support Tirpitz. The four boats with the most experienced crews were positioned in locations where it was hoped they could attack the Home Fleet if it intervened. The other four boats operated near Murmansk to attack any of the PQ.12 convoy’s ships that escaped the battleship.
The German ships were not spotted by Norwegian resistance agents as they departed. The British photo-reconnaissance flight over Trondheim scheduled for 6 April did not take place as a result of adverse weather, and the additional air patrols over the Norwegian Sea that were meant to be conducted in this eventuality were also not flown because of a shortage of aircraft.
Contact was first made by the submarine Seawolf at 18.01 on 6 March: the boat’s crew spotted a single large warship while patrolling to the north of the exit to the Trondheimfjord. Seawolf's commanding officer, Lieutenant Dick Raikes assumed this was Tirpitz and attempted to attack the German force, but was outpaced and broke off. Seawolf then radioed a report of this contact, which indicated that the ship was either a cruiser or a battleship. The German battle group steamed to the north-east along the coast of Norway at 23 kt for the rest of 6 March, and turned to the north at 00.00.
During 6 March the PQ.12 convoy passed through areas of loose pack ice, which forced the merchant ships to take a south-easterly course for much of the day, and resulted in serious damage to the destroyer Oribi. The QP.8 convoy was also behind schedule, as it had been scattered by gales on 4 and 6 March. The Soviet cargo ship Izhora and the US vessel Larranga lagged behind the convoy on 4 March and were unable to rejoin it.
Tovey received Seawolf's sighting report shortly after 00.00 on the night of 6/7 March, and judged that Tirpitz was at sea. He believed that the battleship was probably being used to protect northern Norway from any Allied landing, but was unable to discount the possibility that she would attack the convoys. Tovey wished to use Curteis’s force to protect the convoys while the ships under his direct command intercepted Tirpitz. The Admiralty refused to permit this, and directed the Home Fleet to remain concentrated so that Victorious's fighters could protect it from air attack. Tovey ordered the fleet to sail to the north in order to reach a position from which Victorious could launch search aircraft at 10.00, but icy conditions at that time made flying impossible. This was a missed opportunity as the planned search would probably have located Tirpitz at a time when the Home Fleet was less than 100 miles (160 km) from her.
The Germans lacked information on the location of the PQ.12 convoy as their aircraft and submarines had failed to spot the convoy again. Ciliax was still unaware that the Home Fleet was operating near his ships. Tirpitz launched two Arado Ar 196 floatplanes on the morning of 7 March, but these did not find the PQ.12 convoy. Ciliax also detached the three destroyers to undertake independent searches. The weather remained bad throughout the day, with frequent squalls and blizzards. The two convoys passed one another in the afternoon. Z 25 came within 10 miles (16 km) of the QP.8 convoy but did not sight it. During the afternoon of 7 March the Admiralty warned the PQ.12 convoy that German ships might be operating in its vicinity, and the the convoy responded with a temporary alteration of course to the north before turning to the east again to avoid an area of sea ice.
At about 16.30, Friedrich Ihn spotted and reported Izhora, and Tirpitz changed course to join the destroyer. Friedrich Ihn attacked and hit Izhora with a torpedo, but the cargo ship’s radio operator managed to send a sighting report before his vessel sank. The report was received by the Home Fleet, giving Tovey an approximate location for the German force. The British also intercepted a radio transmission from a U-boat at 16.40 which was wrongly identified as having been sent by Tirpitz. Radio direction-finding indicated that this transmission had been sent from a location near the PQ.12 convoy, and Tovey the detachment of six of his destroyers to search the route that the German ships might be using to return to Norway from Izhora's position while the main battle fleet proceeded to the north-east to protect the convoy. Tovey received 'Ultra' intelligence that afternoon which confirmed that the Germans were hunting the convoys rather than seeking to prevent an Allied landing. Another radio signal from a U-boat that was intercepted at 19.40 led Tovey and his staff wrongly came to believe that Tirpitz was rapidly steaming to the south.
Ciliax continued to search for the convoys during the afternoon of 7 March. His destroyers ran low on fuel, and Friedrich Ihn was detached to refuel in Narvik and then rejoin the battle group. Two attempts to refuel the other destroyers from Tirpitz failed as a result of bad weather, and the destroyers were sent instead to Tromsø instead. On 7 March, the battleship suffered mechanical problems which could not be repaired at sea, and this limited her speed to 29.5 kt.
The six British destroyers proceeded to the south-east, before turning north at 02.00 on 8 March. They failed to spot any of the German ships. At this time Tirpitz was searching for the convoys independently and was some 250 miles (400 km) to the north-east of the Home Fleet. The British destroyers were now starting to run low on fuel after their search, and headed for Iceland to refuel. This left the Home Fleet with just one destroyer, as another two had been detached during the night to refuel in Iceland. Tovey judged that the German battleship had evaded his destroyers, and turned to the south-west to link with other destroyers that were needed to protect the capital ships from possible U-boat attacks. He received further 'Ultra' intelligence about German aircraft operations and appreciations of British radio activity during the morning and shortly after 12.00, but in a blunder this advice failed to note that the intercepted radio signals were addressed to Ciliax. Had Tovey been informed of this, it is likely that he would have arrived at the conclusion that Tirpitz was not headed to Norway and turned the Home Fleet round.
During the morning of 8 March, Tirpitz headed north toward Bjørnøya in an attempt to get ahead of the PQ.12 convoy. The battleship then turned to the south-west on a course which Ciliax believed would intercept the convoy and her crew were called to action stations ahead of the expected battle. Ciliax was mistaken, as the PQ.12 convoy had changed its course at dawn after being warned of the attempted interception by intelligence sourced from 'Ultra'. It passed to the north of Tirpitz. The battleship and a patrolling Condor did not spot any of the Allied ships. The Marinegruppenkommando Nord sent Ciliax a signal at 18.20 which suggested that the PQ.12 convoy might have abandoned its passage after being spotted on 5 March and gave him permission to break off the operation if he wished. Ciliax decided to do so, and at 22.25 turned south bound for Norway.
Tovey received further 'Ultra' intelligence during afternoon of 8 March that confirmed that Ciliax was operating in the area of Bjørnøya. In response, he reversed the Home Fleet’s course at 18.20 to head for Bjørnøya. It was taking only two or three hours at this time for intercepted German naval radio signals to be decoded, which allowed the forces at sea to respond rapidly to this intelligence.
After changing course, Tovey broke radio silence to report to the Admiralty that he was heading north with the main body of the fleet and lacked protection against U-boat attack. He also requested that the Admiralty assume direct control of the Home Fleet’s separate forces of cruisers and destroyers given that it had a better understanding of their locations and could more easily communicate with them. Two cruisers had been sent into the Norwegian Sea, where they were operating near Jan Mayen island. Another pair of cruisers and three of destroyers that had conducted the search on the morning of 8 March subsequently sailed from Iceland to patrol the same area. Groups of destroyers were also readied at bases in Iceland and Scotland to join the Home Fleet. Tovey was hopeful that the Germans would intercept his radio signal and recall Tirpitz as this would guarantee the safety of PQ 12 and possibly bring the battleship within range of Victorious's aircraft.
At 01.37 on 9 March the Admiralty directed Tovey to 'steer 120 degrees maximum speed'. This was in response to an intercepted German radio message which revealed that Ciliax was headed to the Lofoten islands group to meet destroyers there at 07.00 on that day. The Home Fleet adjusted its course to head for the Lofoten islands at 02.42 at a speed of 26 kt. At this time the British ships were about 200 miles (320 km) to the west of the German battleship. Tovey received further 'Ultra' intelligence during the early hours of the morning that confirmed the Germans were returning to Trondheim and provided Tirpitz's expected position at 13.00 on that day. A detachment of B-Dienst signals intelligence personnel on board Tirpitz intercepted radio signals from the Home Fleet, and warned Ciliax that a British force that included an aircraft carrier was in the area.
By this time it was too late for the Home Fleet’s battleships and battle-cruiser to intercept the German force before it reached the Norwegian coast. There was a possibility though that Victorious's torpedo bombers could damage Tirpitz and slow her sufficiently to allow the Home Fleet to come up and destroy her. At 03.16, Tovey requested that the aircraft carrier’s commanding officer, Captain Henry Bovell, provide him with proposals for such an attack. Bovell responded with a plan to fly off six Albacore aircraft at 06.30 to search for the German ships, followed by an attack force of 12 torpedo-armed Albacore aircraft one hour later.
Three from each Albacore squadron, the six search aircraft were launched at 06.40. At this time the Home Fleet was 115 miles (185 km) to the north-west of Tirpitz, which had rendezvoused with Friedrich Ihn. The weather was good. The German force was spotted by the pilot of an Albacore at 08.03, as as soon as the Albacore’s sighting report was received, the 12 attack aircraft were ordered to take off even as the search aircraft maintained contact with Tirpitz. After his ships had been spotted, Ciliax judged that a torpedo bomber attack was imminent. Only one of the floatplanes could be launched, and once this was in the air Ciliax changed the battleship’s course to the Vestfjorden so that she could shelter at Narvik. At this time the battleship was only 50 miles (80 km) from the Norwegian coast. Tirpitz Flak guns fired on the search aircraft without success, but the floatplane damaged one of them and wounded a crewman. The other search aircraft were not deterred, and continued to track the German ships. Ciliax requested that the Luftwaffe units in Norway provide fighter cover for his force, but it took several hours for any of these to be despatched from nearby airfields.
The British attack force was organised into four sub-flights, each with three Albacore aircraft, and was led by Lieutenant Commander 'Bill' Lucas of No. 832 Squadron. Lucas had joined the squadron only recently, and lacked any training in attacks on warships. He spotted the German ships at 08.40, and ordered his aircraft to approach them at an altitude of 3,500 ft (1065 m) where scattered cloud might hide the aircraft from sight. The combination of a strong easterly wind and the German ships' speed meant that the Albacores' closing speed was only 30 kt. British torpedo bomber doctrine called for torpedo attack forces to overtake their targets, and then have half the aircraft attack from port and the others from starboard with the torpedoes released simultaneously between 1,000 and 800 yards (915 and 730 m) from their targets. Such an attack would be difficult for a large warship to evade. As a result of the slow closing speed, Lucas instead ordered each sub-flight to attack independently.
The first attack was made by Lucas’s own sub-flight. The aircraft approached Tirpitz from her port side and released their torpedoes at 09.18 from a very low altitude and a distance that was probably greater than 1,000 yards (915 m) from the battleship, which turned sharply to port and evaded the torpedoes. A sub-flight from No. 817 Squadron then made a similar attack from the battleship’s port side, and all their torpedoes missed.
Tirpitz's manoeuvring forced the other two sub-flights to attack from astern rather than from starboard as their commanders had intended. This required the British crews to fly into heavy Flak fire. They released their torpedoes at extreme range, and two Albacore aircraft were shot down, all six men of their crews being killed. No hits were achieved, though one torpedo came within 10 yards (9.1 m) of the battleship. Following this attack, the British aircraft returned to Victorious, and landed at about 11.00.
The Germans were highly relieved to have escaped the British attack without any damage to Tirpitz. Their only casualties were three men who had been wounded by gunfire from the British aircraft.
The surviving British airmen were berated by Victorious's senior officers when they were debriefed. In his report, Bovell criticised Lucas for beginning the attack before his aircraft were positioned correctly, and judged that the other pilots had released their torpedoes at too great a distance from the battleship. Tovey did not attempt a second torpedo attack as he understood that Victorious's aircraft were unable to operate in the defended airspace around Narvik with any prospect of success.
The failure of the torpedo bomber attack meant that the Home Fleet was unable to bring Tirpitz to battle before she reached safety. The German battleship anchored near Narvik at 20.00 on 9 March. In the late afternoon of the same day, the Home Fleet had turned to the west to evade possible German air attacks. German reconnaissance aircraft began shadowing the fleet, but none of Victorious's Fulmar fighters was launched as it was thought that they would be unable to intercept them. At 15.45 three Junkers Ju 88 aircraft unsuccessfully attacked the Home Fleet with bombs. Four destroyers joined the Home Fleet at around 19.00. Tovey considered raiding German positions in Norway, but decided against this and instead set course for Scapa Flow. The Home Fleet, which had been reinforced with a further eight destroyers, arrived at Scapa Flow during the night of 10 March.
On 9 March Shera, one of the two Norwegian armed whalers which had been despatched from Iceland to strengthen the PQ.12 convoy’s escort, capsized while searching for the convoy. Only three members of her crew were rescued by the other whaler, which then proceeded directly to Murmansk.
Tirpitz's crew completed repairs to the battleship’s engines 48 hours after her arrival at Narvik, and she then departed the port with an escort of five destroyers just before 00.00 on 12 March. Guided by 'Ultra' intelligence and reports from resistance agents in Norway, a force of eight British destroyers under the command of Captain Alan Scott-Moncrieff attempted to intercept the German force between Trondheim and Bodø that night. They did not make contact, however, and were forced to turn away from the coast at 03.30 to avoid attack by German aircraft once dawn had broken. Four British submarines stationed along the route between Narvik and Trondheim were also unable to attack the German ships. Tirpitz anchored near Trondheim at 21.00 on 13 March. The British received reports of her arrival there from Norwegian agents, and these were confirmed by a photo-reconnaissance aeroplane on 18 March.
Both convoys reached their destinations without further loss. The QP.8 convoy arrived at Reykjavik in Iceland on 11 March, and most of the PQ.12 convoy’s vessels reached Murmansk on 12 March, but several that had become separated from the convoy arrived in Russian ports on other dates. One of the Norwegian whalers assigned to the PQ.12 convoy shot down a German aeroplane while it was attempting to bomb a merchant ship on 13 March: this was the only attack on the convoy during its voyage. Two of the four U-boats operating off Murmansk spotted ships from the PQ.12 convoy as they approached the port, but neither was able to attack.
The British were highly disappointed by their failure to sink or even to damage Tirpitz. After the operation Tovey was critical of the instructions he had received from the Admiralty. He believed that the order to prioritise the defence of the convoys over any attack on the battleship had hindered his operations and that the fleet should not have been sent into waters where large numbers of U-boats were operating as it lacked enough destroyers to protect its capital ships. He was also frustrated by the Admiralty’s attempts to closely manage his command during the battle. The Admiralty conceded the first two of Tovey’s criticisms, agreeing that the sinking pf Tirpitz would be the Home Fleet’s main priority when it covered convoys in the future and that the fleet should not proceed beyond 14° E if it lacked destroyers. His other criticism was thought to be unfair as the Admiralty had better access to 'Ultra' intelligence than Tovey did while at sea.
On 13 March Churchill asked the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, to provide 'a report on the air attack on TIRPITZ, explaining how it was that 12 of our machines managed to get no hits as compared to the extraordinary efficiency of the Japanese attack on PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE'. The reason was that Japanese had enough highly effective aircraft with well-trained crews while the Fleet Air Arm did not. Pound attempted to explain this to Churchill, but the prime minister was not fully convinced, and this contributed to his growing scepticism about the value of the Fleet Air Arm. Nevertheless, the failure of the attack on 9 March led to a decision to accelerate improvements to the Royal Navy’s aviation force.
'Nordmeer' also demonstrated the threat which the German warships based in Norway posed to the Arctic convoys, and it was also decided that the Home Fleet now provide cover for all such convoys in the future. This prevented ships being transferred from the Home Fleet to other theatres. Pound was so concerned about the risk of Tirpitz attacking an Arctic convoy that he sought Churchill’s agreement to not dispatch any of them during the period of summer in which there would be almost continuous daylight in the Arctic. The prime minister did not agree. In contrast, Tovey believed that the Germans would be cautious with how Tirpitz was henceforward to be employed as a result of their experiences during 'Nordmeer'. He expected that they would not assign her to attack convoys while they were passing through the Barents Sea.
The Germans were also chastised by 'Nordmeer'. Both Ciliax and Raeder believed that good luck was the only reason that Tirpitz had escaped damage or even destruction. As a result, Raeder and Hitler decided to despatch the battleship against convoys again only if victory was considered certain. Hitler also directed that she could be used in attacks on convoys only if it had first been established that no aircraft carriers were present. Tirpitz was thereafter mainly held in reserve to attack Allied forces that attempted to make a landing in Norway, and it was other warships, as well as U-boats and aircraft, which were now used against the convoys. As a result, the Allies had no opportunity to attack Tirpitz at sea after 'Nordmeer'. RAF heavy bombers made further attacks against the battleship at Trondheim on 31 March and 28 and 29 April 1942, but did inflicted no damage.
In June 1942 Raeder decided to despatch Tirpitz and three heavy cruisers against the next Arctic convoy in 'Rösselsprung'. This force sailed on 2 July after the PQ.17 convoy had been detected bound for the USSR, and put in at the Altafjord in the far north of Norway on 4 July to await Hitler’s permission to attack. After learning that Tirpitz had sailed, Pound ordered the convoy to scatter and its escort to withdraw on the evening of 4 July, a decision with which Tovey strongly disagreed. The result was heavy losses from U-boats and aircraft over subsequent days. The battleship departed the Altafjord on 5 July to attack the convoy, but was recalled by Raeder that night after it was learned that Victorious was at sea.
Allied forces attacked Tirpitz at her anchorages in Norway during 1943 and 1944. The battleship was badly damaged on 22 September 1943 in the 'Source' raid which used midget submarines, and was never again fully combat-worthy. The Fleet Air Arm inflicted further damage during the 'Tungsten' raid on 3 April 1944, but several subsequent carrier attacks failed due to bad weather and the continuing shortcomings of British naval aircraft. RAF heavy bombers crippled Tirpitz on 15 September 1944 during 'Paravane', and finally sank her with considerable loss of life in 'Catechism' on 12 November of the same year.