Operation Planet

This was a British attempted carrierborne air attack on the German battleship Tirpitz (24 April 1944).

After the results of the ‘Tungsten’ attack of 3 April 1944 on Tirpitz had been analysed, the Admiralty realised that the German battleship could not be sunk with the largest bombs which the Fleet Air Arm’s current generation of warplanes could carry, so the longer-term incapacitation of this most important of surviving German surface warships could be ensured only by recourse to frequent attacks each designed to inflict moderate damage. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, the First Sea Lord, therefore thus urged the rapid planning and execution of another air attack before the battleship and her crew had effected any matériel, personnel and morale recovery. But Cunningham’s point of view was not mirrored by that of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, commanding the Home Fleet, who suggested that the favourable conditions enjoyed during the first attack were unlikely to be repeated, and that there would be no convoy at sea to divert the Germans’ attention and draw off their U-boat strength. Fraser therefore preferred to revert to the policy of attacking German shipping off the Norwegian coast.

There followed a period of discussion before Fraser finally agreed to attack the battleship again, provided that he could find favourable weather and also achieve tactical surprise. Since many of the Home Fleet’s destroyers were needed in the English Channel at the end of April to take part in exercises associated with the preparations for ‘Overlord’, Fraser proposed to make the next attack on 23 April, but added that should conditions make the primary task impossible, the forces committed would attack shipping in Bodø and other Norwegian harbours used by German coastal traffic.

Vice Admiral Sir Henry Moore, Fraser’s second-in-command, accordingly sailed on the 21 April with forces similar to those he had commanded in ‘Tungsten’. The British ships reached the flying-off position without being detected, but the weather proved wholly unfavourable and, although Moore refuelled his destroyers at sea and held on to the prudent limit of his larger ships’ endurance, he was finally forced to abandon the enterprise.

On 26 April the fleet carriers Victorious and Furious, together with the escort carriers, despatched two attack forces to strike at shipping in Bodø harbour and sweep the Inner Leads to the south. The weather inshore proved far from ideal, and a misunderstanding of the operation’s orders caused some confusion in the attack forces. For this reason most of the aircraft attacked the same target, a southbound convoy. Three ships totalling 15,083 tons (all loaded with iron ore) were sunk, but the attack force lost six aircraft. In the afternoon of the same day aircraft from Victorious reconnoitred the approaches to Narvik harbour, to give the impression that the Allies intended to make a combined assault in that neighbourhood. This was part of the deception plan now being implemented to mislead the Germans regarding the destination of the large invasion forces which were assembling in the UK for ‘Overlord’, and several similar operations were carried out by the Home Fleet in the spring of 1944.

It is worth noting that carrierborne aircraft attacks such as that made on Bodø in April now took a prominent place in the Home Fleet’s activities. No less than three more were made in May: the first achieved no successes, but in the second and third two ships (2,667 tons) were sunk and three others, totalling about 12,500 tons, were damaged. These operations formed part of a big campaign waged by the Home Fleet’s submarines and coastal craft and by No. 18 Group of the RAF’s Coastal Command against German coastal shipping.