Order of Battle
Tirpitz Sortie against PQ12 and QP8
6-13 March 1942
Contributed by Richard Hawes

Operation “Sportpalast”, the first sortie of the Tirpitz

1. Chronology

i. On 14th January 1942, Tirpitz, with 4 destroyers as escort, left Wilhelmshaven for Trondheim.

ii. On 16th January 1942, Tirpitz and escorts arrived in Trondheim.  The destroyers returned immediately to Wilhelmshaven and Brest to participate in Operation Cerebus, as the KM was desperately short of escorts.  Tirpitz anchored in Aasfjord, near Trondheim.

iii. The Admiralty gave a warning that Tirpitz might be at sea on the 17th.

iv. The Russian Convoys were stopped between 17th and 25th January; PQ9 was cancelled.

v. Tirpitz was located on 23rd, at anchor, camouflaged and behind anti-torpedo nets.

vi. The Admiralty believed that the German strategy for Tirpitz could be either:
a. support a break-out into the Atlantic by Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen from Brest;
b. break-out with Hipper (?) into the Atlantic;
c. work with Scheer, Hipper and Lützow against the Russian convoys; or
d. protect Norway from invasion.

The Admiralty’s objectives were either:
a. immobilise her where she lay; or
b. drive her from Norway

vii. The Tirpitz was bombed at her anchorage during the night of 29th - 30th January by 9 Halifaxes and 7 Stirlings, but received no damage.

viii. At this time the Home Fleet had King George V, Rodney (due for a refit) and Renown (covering a convoy for the Middle East) to counter Tirpitz.

ix. On 12th February the German Navy carried out Operation Cerebus, or the “Channel Dash”.  Scharnhorst (mined), Gneisenau (mined) and Prinz Eugen (undamaged) sailed from Brest to Brunsbuttel at the mouth of the Elbe.

x. Between 14th to 19th February, the Tirpitz was underway in Aasfjord conducting exercises.  This was accompanied by tremendous Luftwaffe activity in southern Norway.

xi. On 19th February, King George V, Renown, Victorious and escorts sailed from Hvalfjord (Iceland) towards Trosmo in northern Norway, after a report that Tirpitz had sailed from Aasfjord near Trondheim.

xii. HMS Victorious had a ver inexperienced air group, because of the rapid expansion of the FAA. The CO of 818 Squadron had never flown with his crews before, and most of the Albacore pilots had little practice in dropping torpedoes.

xiii. Duke of York worked up and joins the Home Fleet in late February.

xiv. Admiral Scheer and Prinz Eugen sailed from Wilhelmshaven on 20th February, to arrive in Trondheim on the 23rd.  While on passage, Prinz Eugen was torpedoed in the stern by HMS Trident at 0600 / 23rd off Trondheim, and had to return to Wilhelmshaven.

xv. On the night of 25th / 26th February, Bomber Command attacked Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in dock at Wilhelmshaven and Kiel respectively.  Gneisenau had her bows burnt out and A turret blown off its barbette, which led to her being taken out of service for the reconstruction that she never received.

xvi. The Home Fleet, in two squadrons, left Scapa Flow on 3rd February to protect the two convoys.  King George V (flag), Victorious and escorts shadowed PQ12 off the Norwegian coast, while Renown (flag), Duke of York and their escorts sailed towards Jan Mayen Land to meet QP 8.

xvii. A Fw 200 sighted and reported PQ12 on the 5th, which caused Tirpitz to sail late on 6th.

xviii. The two sections of the Home Fleet under Admiral Tovey and Vice Admiral Curteis rendezvoused at 1030 / 6th at 71o 00’N, 4o30’E, close to the cross-over point of the 2 convoys

xix. Tirpitz plus 3 destroyers sortied from Trondheim to attack two Russian Convoys, PQ12 Eastbound and QP 8 westbound, 1800 / 6th March.

xx. HMS Seawolf reported “a large warship, either a battleship or a heavy cruiser” off Trondheim on the evening of 6th March.

xxi. On the morning of the 7th, the destroyers were detached to sweep to the north while Tirpitz swept to the west.

xxii. At 0800 / 7th, the Home fleet raised steam for full speed and turned east towards the Tirpitz.  The weather was so bad that neither Victorious nor Tirpiitz could fly off aircraft.

xxiii. At 1200, when the 2 convoys were passing each other 200 miles S of Bear Island, Tirpitz (alone), all of the Home Fleet, and both convoys were within 90 miles of one another, in poor visibility.

xxiv. The German destroyers sunk one straggler from QP 8, the Russian MV Izhora, at 1630 / 7th, approximate position 72o 35’ N, 10o 30’E, but were ahead of PQ12 and astern of QP 8.

xxv. The German destroyers returned to Trondheim to fuel on 7th-8th and 8th-9th March.  Tirpitz sailed north, astern of PQ12, towards North Cape and Bear Island.

xxvi. At 2000 / 7th, six Home Fleet destroyers were detached to Iceland to refuel, and the other six were ordered to sweep off the Lofotens before returning to Scapa to refuel.

xxvii. The Home Fleet (HMS King George V, Duke of York, Renown, Victorious, Berwick, Kenya) was now without destroyers.  So was the Tirpitz.

xxviii. Tirpitz abandoned her search for PQ12 at 2000 / 8th, SE of Bear Island when steering W away from PQ12.  Actually she had passed only 80 miles astern of the convoy at 1200 / 8th.  The convoy was ordered to sail north of Bear Island, but encountered heavy pack ice, and so sailed south of Bear Island, along the edge of the ice.

xxix. Tirpitz and Frederich Inn were sighted at 0730 / 9th by an Albacore from Victorious (6 Albacore were allocated for patrols), due W of Narvik, 10o30’E, 68o30’N, steering W of S.  The Home Fleet was ~75 miles to the WNW of Tirpitz, steering towards her.

xxx. Tirpitz altered course to N of E for Narvik at 0830 / 9th.

xxxi. Tirpitz was attacked by 12 Albacore from HMS Victorious at 0925 / 9th off the Lofoten Islands.  Tirpitz was steaming and manouvering desperately at 30 knots in a 35 mph headwind, and the Albacore were unable to attack from ahead.  Instead the flight commander ordered attacks by individual flights, which were avoided.  No hits were achieved.  One torpedo passed 10 meters behind the stern of Tirpitz.  2 Albacore were lost.

xxxii. A dispute broke out on the bridge of Tirpitz.  Admiral Ciliax ordered the helmsman to turn to port, Kapitän Topp shouted “Hard a-starboard.  I am in command of this ship, Sir, and not you.  Helmsman, obey my orders, hard a-starboard”.  The helmsman turned to starboard to avoid a torpedo.  One torpedo missed Tirpitz’s stern by 10 meters.  Immediately after the action, Cilax awarded Topp with the Iron Cross on the bridge of his ship.

xxxiii. Tirpitz and Frederich Inn arrived at Narvik at 1620 / 9th.  Tirpitz left with 5 destroyers as escorts at 2300 / 12th.

xxxiv. Eight home Fleet destroyers were dispatched to sweep north up the coast of Norway to intercept Tirpitz from 0130 to 0300 on 13th.  Tirpitz and her 5 destroyers sailed from Narvik at 0400 / 13th, and passed through the patrol area from 1000 to 1200 on 13th.

xxxv. Four RN submarines were ordered to patrol of Trondheim, but Tirpitz and her escort evaded these in the very dirty weather.

xxxvi. Tirpitz and her 5 escorts returned to Trondheim at 2100 / 13th.

xxxvii. The operations against PQ12 and QP 8 used up 8,000 tons of fuel oil, which the German Navy could ill afford to use without a result.

xxxviii. The sudden appearance of the Albacores caused OKM to re-evaluate its tactics and strategy off Norway, in the light of poor recce work in bad weather by the Luftwaffe.

xxxix. Admiral Hipper sailed from Brunsbüttel to Trondheim and arrived on 19th March.

xl. The dry-dock at St. Nazaire, the only one capable of handling the Tirpitz, was wrecked by HMS Campbelltown on 28th-29th March 1942.  This in itself did not prevent the Tirpitz from breaking out to the French coast, but it made it very difficult to repair any hull damage incurred in transit.

2.       German Forces


KM Tirpitz, flag of Vizeadmiral Otto Ciliax, Kapitän zur See Karl Topp


Escort Force from Wilhelmshaven to Trondheim, 14th to 16th January:
KM Richard Beitzen
KM Paul Jacobi
KM Bruno Heineman
KM Z-29

These four destroyers returned immediately to Wilhelmshaven, to be transferred to Brest to take part in Operation Cerebus, the “Channel Dash”.


Escort Force during first sortie on 6th – 9th March, detached to sweep to the north on 6th March;
KM Frederich Inn, detached to refuel in Trondheim 7th – 8th March
KM Herman Schoeman, detached to refuel in Trondheim 8th – 9th Marck
KM Z-25, detached to refuel in Trondheim 8th – 9th March


Escort force from Narvik to Trondheim, 13th March:
KM Frederich Inn
KM Herman Schoeman
KM Z-25
KM Paul Jacobi
1 other destroyer

(KM Richard Beitzen, KM Paul Jacobi, KM Herman Schoemann, KM Frederich Inn, KM Z 25, and KM Z 29 were all involved in escorting Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen in Operation Cerebus on 11th – 13th February)

3. British forces


PQ12, outward bound convoy, 16 ships, Hvalfjord to Kola Inlet.
QP 8, Inbound (or westward) convoy, 15 ships, Kola Inlet to Hvalfjord.

“Force I”
HMS King George V, flag of C-in-C Home Fleet, Admiral Sir John Tovey
HMS Victorious
Strike force of 19 Albacore of 817 Squadron, Lt. Commander W.J. Lucas
HMS Berwick
17th Destroyer Flotilla
6 destroyers, detached to refuel in Hvalfjord at 0400 /  8th
HMS Intrepid
HMS Icarus
HMS Ashanti
HMS Bedouin
HMS Lookout
HMS Onslow

“Force II”
HMS Renown, flag of Vice Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, 2i/c Home Fleet
HMS Duke of York
HMS Kenya
6 destroyers, detached to sweep for Tirpitz sailing south from the Bear Island area, off the Lofoten Islands, 0400 / 8th, before refueling at Scapa.  (At this time, Tirpitz was actually sailing northwards towards Bear Island and North Cape).
HMS Foxhunter
HMS Fury
HMS Eclipse
HMS Echo
HMS Eskimo
HMS Punjabi


8 Home Fleet destroyers were ordered to sweep up the Norwegian coast SE of Vestfjord at 0130 to 0300 / 13th March, as Tirpitz was thought to be approaching Trondheim from Vestfjord with 5 destroyers as escort at this time:
HMS Foxhunter
HMS Fury
HMS Eclipse
HMS Echo
HMS Eskimo
HMS Punjabi
HMS Tartar
1 other
Actually, they were approximately 9 hours early, in appalling weather with very limited visibility.


HMS Seawolf, on patrol off Trondheim on 6th March, sighted Tirpitz (“a heavy cruiser or a battleship”) leaving.


Submarine patrol off Trondheim, 12th – 16th March
HMS Seawolf
HMS Trident
RNorN Unredd
2 other submarines

4. Sources

Menace: The Life and Death of the Tirpitz by L. Kennedy
The Battleships of the Bismarck Class by G. Koop and K-P. Schmolke
The War at Sea, Vol. 2 by Roskill, S.W., (1956);
Hit First, Hit Hard: The Story of HMS Renown, 1916-1948 by P.C. Smith