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
and Archangel in northern
would have to pass dangerously close to Kriegsmarine bases in occupied
. 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
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
, 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
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
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.
at Source – Tirpitz” in Sea
Battles in Close-Up - Volume Two by
Eric Grove and Submarines
of World War Two by Erminio
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
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
Master of Miniscule