“Das Biest” – Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz : “Das Biest” The German Battleship Tirpitz, often referred to as “Das Biest” (the beast) or “einsame Königin des Nordens” (lonely queen of the north) was the largest battleship of the Kriegsmarine during World War II. Initially, it was designed as the sister of the battleship Bismarck, nevertheless, was made more powerful due to crucial changes in structure.
Tirpitz vs. Bismarck – the differences
Although the Tirpitz was the official sister-ship of the Bismarck, there were crucial differences that made “the beast” significantly stronger than her sister.
The most conspicuous of these was the superstructure between the two rear turrets of the center artillery, which on the Tirpitz was extended to the edge of the upper deck. For this reason, unlike on the Bismarck, the main cranes of the Tirpitz could not be installed on the upper deck, but on the deck thus created above it.
Behind this projection, additional torpedo quadruple sets were installed in the fall of 1941, armament that was not available on the Bismarck.
Unlike the Bismarck, the Tirpitz received protective covers on the aft rangefinders of the artillery as well as, among other things, a distinctive 2-cm Flak Vierling 38 on the elevated 38-cm “Bruno” turret, which was also not present on the sister ship.
In contrast to the Bismarck, the Tirpitz also received a set of marching turbines that optimized fuel consumption at partial load.
Overall, the changes resulted in the displacement of the Tirpitz being 1,200 tn.l. greater than that of her sister ship and thus also her draught. This made the Tirpitz the largest German warship ever completed (Bismarck 41,700 tn. l., Tirpitz 42,900 tn. l.).
2-cm Flak Vierling 38
“Tirpitz” (top) vs “Bismarck” (bottom)
The course of the Tirpitz era
When the ship was planned, her original purpose was to participate in the Battle of the Atlantic. However, she was moved to Norway on Hitler’s orders in January 1942 to prevent an expected British invasion that would have jeopardized German ore supplies from Sweden via Narvik.
From this moment Churchill’s massive obsession with this ship has begun. For Churchill himself, there was nothing more important than the sinking of the Tirpitz. He requested daily reports from British Special Operations (SOE) on their positions, which in turn had to resort to Norwegian spies for information.
The fate of the Tirpitz followed many operations and years of preparation. Including a mixture of massive attacks from the air and under the sea. And cunning attempts to sink her with the latest military technology. This continued almost until the end of the war, where the Tirpitz was a thorn in the side of every captain in the area.
“How come the Japanese were able to sink the Prince of Wales and Repulse while we couldn’t even hit the Tirpitz? – Expression of bewilderment from Sir Winston Churchill to First Sea Lord Dudley Pound after a failed attempt at a torpedo attack by flying squadrons of HMS Victorious on 9 March 1942.
The passive power of the Tirpitz
One of the most impressive aspects of the Tirpitz was the power that the sole presence of this ship exerted. The Tirpitz functioned primarily as a ”Fleet-in-being”, meaning that it did not have to leave port to inflict heavy damage on any Allied forces in its area.
Her very presence forced the British Navy to station important naval forces away from the battleship, so the Tirpitz was a real nuisance to Allied ship commanders. During Operation Rösselsprung, in which Allied convoys were hunted. Moreover, the Allies lost 24 of 35 merchant ships, simply due to fear of an attack by the Tirpitz. The warships responsible for protecting the convoys were ordered back, making the merchant ships an easy target for German submarines and aircraft.
The attempts of defeating the Tirpitz
“If the Italians could do it against us, why can’t we do it with the Tirpitz?” – Winston Churchill to Sir Dudley Pound after a successful attack by Italian divers who sank two Royal Navy battleships
Italy used human-guided torpedoes in this attack, which inspired Churchill to make a similar attack against the Tirpitz.
Operation Title was intended to disable the Tirpitz with “Charitos”. Which is how the British called their human-guided torpedoes. That were tethered under the Norwegian fishing boat Arthur until they were close enough to the target. However, the Chariots were lost at sea due to bad weather and the attempt failed.
Although Tirpitz was subject to more air attacks than any other battleship in history. Furthermore, none of the attempted attacks against the Tirpitz had been successful so far.
Thus, Operation Source was launched.
With the newest submarines (“X-class”) they wanted to go undetected to the harbor where the Tirpitz was located. They would then swim through the anti-torpedo nets. In addition, plant mines on the outside of the German warships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Lutzow.
Although only three of the six submarines that were sent arrived. And those three were discovered by German defense facilities in the port, they somehow managed to plant some of the mines and caused severe damage to the Tirpitz.
Through an 18 meter long crack along the port side from the keel. 1,400 tons of water flowed into the ship. An oil tank was ruptured, her two seaplanes were disembarked and destroyed by the explosion. In addition, the turret “Dora” was torn from the turret bearing.
In April 1944, after the Tirpitz had just been repaired, an air attack damaged the Tirpitz heavily again. Although the second setback frustrated the crew massively, the German leadership wanted another repair at any cost. Nevertheless, in November of the same year, the operation Catechism once and for all destroyed the Tirpitz. Three five-ton tallboy bombs hit the Tirpitz on the port side. The ship capsized and “das Biest” was defeated.
What happened to the wreck?
The wreck of the ship was cut open and scrapped by a Norwegian company, but even today it sells parts of the ship. Some parts were donated to museums and manhole covers for Oslo were made out of her hull.
Written by Bernhard Böck
Edited by USS New Jersey Curator Ryan Szimanski & Tony Cao