On September 11, 1943 several Royal Navy submarines left Loch Cairnbawn each towing an unusual load.  Operation “Source” had commenced with the goal of sinking the German battleship Tirpitz using new X-Craft 4-man midget submarines. British convoys to Murmansk and Archangel in northern Russia would have to pass dangerously close to Kriegsmarine bases in occupied Norway .   The presence of the Tirpitz in the Norwegian fjords compounded this fear which was underscored by her sortie against convoy PQ12 in March 1942.  In this action, Tirpitz did not directly encounter the convoy and narrowly escaped superior British forces and torpedo attacks by Albacores from HMS Victorious.  While the aftermath was that the Kriegsmarine was now reluctant to risk the Tirpitz in future actions, she remained a threat that had to be dealt with.  If she would not come out to meet the Royal Navy, they would have to meet her. Arguably the genesis for Operation “Source” can be traced back to December 19, 1941 when a trio of Regia Marina Maiale human torpedoes infiltrated the harbor in Alexandria and successfully sank the British battleships HMS Valiant and HMS Queen Elizabeth in shallow water putting them out of action for over a year.   The destroyer HMS Jervis and a Norwegian tanker were also seriously damaged.  This daring exercise caught the attention of Prime Minister Winston Churchill who demanded that the British develop a copy of the Maiale.  Using one that was captured in an aborted attack on Gibraltar , the British Chariot was developed by June 1942.   The two-man Chariot was powered by an electric motor and its batteries could propel it at a speed of just under 3 knots for about six hours.   The crew would sit astride the device wearing specially developed diving suits with oxygen supplies.  The forward crew member would be the driver and the rear crew member acted as navigator and charged with detaching the 600lb high explosive warhead and fixing it to the target.  The delayed fuse would provide the Chariot time to make an escape.

In October 1942, two Chariots were employed for Operation “Title”, the first mission to sink the German battleship Tirpitz at her mooring. Unfortunately, a storm caused both Chariots to break away from the keel of the Norwegian fishing trawler Arthur which was to smuggle them and the crews to the entrance of the Trondheim Fjord.   The Tirpitz remained relatively safe through the winter of 1942/43 and in March of 1943 she was joined by the freshly repaired Scharnhorst and six destroyers. In the meantime, the Royal Navy had developed and tested the X-Craft.  Measuring 51ft 7in long and 5ft 9.5 in wide they were powered using a converted London bus 4-cylinder 42hp diesel engine which gave a maximum surface speed of 6.5 knots.  A 30hp electric motor provided a submerged speed of 5.5 knots. A pair of two ton Amatol high-explosive charges was fitted to the sides.  The charges were fitted with a time fuse with a delay of up to six-hours to allow an escape.    The crew numbered 4 – commander, pilot, engineer and diver. For Operation “Source”, six X-Craft were used; X-5 through X-10.  They were to be towed by “T” and “S” class submarines to a staging area where they were to be deployed and sneak into the fjords.  The plan was for X-5, X-6 and X-7 to attack Tirpitz; X-9 and X-10 to attack Scharnhorst and X-8 to attack Lützow.  Problems occurred en route – X-9’s tow rope broke and she was lost and issues arose with X-8’s explosive charges which caused damage, forcing her to be scuttled. The four remaining X-Craft, X-5, X-6, X-7 and X-10, were deployed and they made their way to their intended targets.  The subs were humorously nicknamed by their crews Platypus, Piker II, Pdinichthys and Excalibur respectively.   Charges from the X-6 and X-7 were successfully placed under Tirpitz.  The crew of X-6 surrendered to Tirpitz crew after she was scuttled.  X-7 was also scuttled farther away from the Tirpitz but only two crewmembers escaped in time.  The fate of X-5 remains a mystery as she was never heard from again and presumed lost.  However there is a strong possibility that she managed to drop her charges under the German battleship.   Explosions from these charges were so violent that the 42,000 ton ship was literally lifted from the water, causing “D” turret to be lifted from its rollers.  As a result, “D” turret could no longer be moved and “B” and “C” turrets were taken out of action.  Serious damage to machinery and control systems were sustained, electrical power knocked out and the Tirpitz took on 1,430 tonnes of water.   While the goal of sinking the ship was not met, the damage she sustained had her out of action until April 1944. On the way into the fjord X-7 spotted the Scharnhorst heading out for gunnery practice and out of danger but this information could not be communicated to X-10.  X-10 searched for her target and eventually aborted her mission.  She escaped and rendezvoused with HMS Stubborn, but the tow rope broke on the voyage back and she was scuttled.   (Sources:  “Attack at Source – Tirpitz” in Sea Battles in Close-Up - Volume Two by Eric Grove and Submarines of World War Two by Erminio Bagnasco)

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Admiralty Model Works 1/350 Scale X-Craft Admiralty Model Works has gained a reputation for well-cast 1/700 scale kits and 1/350 scale accessories and now they are venturing into 1/350 scale submarine kits.  They had already released kits of the Foxtrot and HMS Astute class and I was pleasantly surprised to hear Pavel Vacata’s announcement that Admiralty Model Works was going to release a 1/350 scale model of this midget sub.   Up to then the only model kits of an X-Craft were 1/72 scale resin kits from Combat Subs and Pavla Models.   Since I like building both submarines as well as odd-ball subjects I was intrigued enough to get one for myself. The kit is all resin and while there are seemingly quite a number of parts for such a small subject (14 in total) it is quite simple in terms of construction.  The main part is the hull which measures a mere 1.75 inches.  The top of the hull has slots to accommodate the forward and stern deck pieces which helps lining the parts up.  The middle deck has a pair of round openings that correspond with the openings in the hull into which the cylindrical hatch parts go into.  The explosive saddle charges are molded separately.   The smaller parts include the propeller and the vertical and horizontal planes on the same runner as the hatches.  The diesel air induction trunk, periscope and compass mast are also done in resin and cast inside individual boxes.   A piece of brass wire is provided for the plane control rods. The level of detail cast into the resin parts is very good and Admiralty’s reputation is evident here.  The major parts needed a bit of clean-up with some sandpaper and an Exacto knife and some air bubbles along the keel needed attention. The instructions come on a two-sided sheet of paper.  Side one was an inventory of the parts, some general information on the X-Craft and general instructions.  Side two has a series of blow-up diagrams showing how the parts go together as well as what the parts should like after everything is assembled.  The instructions are very good and more than I would expect for such a small model.   The instructions provide the option of modeling the periscopes and other masts in a stowed position.

Assembly After test fitting the parts I found that attaching the deck pieces first helped with positioning the side charges correctly.  I needed to sand off a little from the ends to the middle deck in order for it to fit in between the other deck sections.  I also had to drill out the openings for the hatches to make the a tad wider so I could fit them in without forcing them. The propeller and the vertical and horizontal planes all went on fine but be careful with the propeller as you could break off one of the blades when removing it from the casting runner or handling it with a tweezers. Removing the periscope, trunk and mast for their boxes proved to be the most difficult part of the assembly process.   It was nearly impossible to do this without bending or nearly breaking the parts.  I managed to do it but had to repair the compass mast.  There was also quite a bit of flash that needed to be carefully removed.   You could opt to use brass rod but it would require transferring some of the resin bits to the rod or even scratch-building replacements using the resin parts as a guide.  I opted to use the resin versions.   While I understand casting these parts in resin would help keep the price down of the kit some other media perhaps would make these parts a little sturdier.   Looking at the image at the top of the first page of the instructions as well as some photos there are a pair of grab handles at the base of the periscope.  I clipped the curved sections off of a photoetch ladder handrail and glued them into place. Painting was a snap as the submarine was done in an overall dark gray.  I conferred with John Snyder, paint expert extraordinaire, who suggested that Panzer Gray (RAL 7021) was the best match in his opinion.  The color is available in both the WEM Colourcoats and Testors Model Master line.  After airbrushing the color, I applied a wash of diluted black watercolor to help bring out the cast in details.

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Felix Bustelo
Master of Miniscule