Just before World War II broke out, Germany built what was called the Bismarck class battleship. The fast battleships were created explicitly for the Kriegsmarine or the Nazi navy. Not only were they fast, but they were also the largest and most powerful warships that displaced more than 41,000 metric tons with a top speed of 30 knots or 35 miles per hour. The first one released was named Bismarck and was completed in September 1940. Bismarck had a less-popular sister ship named Tirpitz, and she was dubbed the Lonely Queen of the North. Here’s what happened to her.
Exceeding the Limit
Tirpitz was laid down in November 1936 and was completed two and a half years later, in February 1941. She was named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial German Navy. Like her sister, Bismarck, Tirpitz was armed with a main battery of eight 38-centimeter guns in four pairs of turrets. However, she weighed 2000 tons more than Bismarck and was the heaviest battleship built by a European navy at around 46,000 tons.
The weight of both Bismarck and Tirpitz exceeded the 35,000 tons limit imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty that set limits on battleship construction during the interwar period. Again, a limit widely exceeded by the Bismarck class ships, although the international treaty system had fallen apart before the ships were completed after Japan withdrew from it in 1937.
Tirpitz at a Closer Look
Tirpitz was 251 meters long to increase her speed through a more efficient length-beam ratio. Her top speed was at 30.8 knots or 35.4 mph, thanks to the 160,793 shop Brown, Boveri & Cie geared steam turbine triple screw propulsion system that powered her up. She was also equipped with 360 mm of steel on her gun turret fronts, 220 mm on the turret sides, 320 mm over her central belt, and two 50 mm and 100 mm thickly armored decks to protect her from incoming fire.
For offense, Tirpitz was armed with eight 380 mm main guns placed in four superfiring turrets, with one above and behind the other so both turrets could engage targets in the same direction. Apart from that were twelve 150 mm guns, sixteen 105 mm guns, and a tandem of twenty-eight 37 mm and 20 mm anti-aircraft guns.
The ship required 108 officers and 2,500 men to be operated during wartime according to the Battleship Tirpitz, A503 FM30-50 booklet for identification of vessels, published by the Division of Naval Intelligence of the Navy Department of the United States.
When Tirpitz was launched, she was celebrated with an extravagant ceremony, with Adolf Hitler welcoming the ship. The British, however, had a different feeling toward her. From the entire time she was being constructed until she began her career, Tirpitz was constantly harassed by British bombers.
After losing Bismarck in the Atlantic in 1941, Hitler wanted to keep the remaining Bismarck-class battleship from harm, so they decided to keep her safe in the Fættenfjord in Norway, moored up by a cliff to give some protection from possible aerial attacks. Because of her somewhat lonesome career, she earned the name “Lonely Queen of the North.”
Obviously, for the enemies, they wouldn’t leave the lonely queen unaccompanied for long. Churchill even gave the lonely queen a less-endearing nickname, “the beast.” Operation Tungsten was an air raid by the Royal Navy aimed to damage or destroy Tirpitz at her base in Kaafjord, far north of Norway. The British feared the battleship would attack their vital convoys carrying supplies to Russia. Instead, on April 3, 1944, the British Home Fleet and some aircraft struck the ship by surprise. Fifteen bombs hit Tirpitz, and her gun crew suffered casualties from the strafing of fighter aircraft, but the damage they inflicted was still insufficient to sink and disable the ship.
There was also Operation Paravene with the same goal. The attack was made on September 15, 1944, by 21 Royal Air Force heavy bombers from an airfield in the north part of the Soviet Union. This time, the British brought their unprecedented earthquake bomb called Tallboys, made by their leading scientist, engineer, and inventor, Sir Barnes Neville Wallis. This was a 6-ton hardened bomb designed to bury deep into the ground and destroy its target from within by causing seismic waves (We wrote about it and its bigger sister Ten Ton Tess here.)
One of the Tallboys successfully hit the ship’s bow and pierced through the ship before detonating. This severely damaged Tirpitz. The Germans tried to save her by forming a sandbank below to keep her from sinking, but in the end, the damage sent Tirpitz unfit for combat, and she could no longer be repaired, and the Nazis could not even sail her to an important port.
Tirpitz was finished off in Operation Catechism on November 12, 1944, when 32 Lancasters from Nos. 9 and 617 Squadrons launched an attack on Tirpitz and dropped 29 Tallboy bombs. Three of the bombs directly hit the ship, while those others that missed disturbed the sandbank that kept the ship from sinking. Instead, the ship rolled over and stayed like so until the 1950s. Around 900 to 1,200 members of the crew also died.