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Rated: E · Documentary · Drama · #1664140
Part 6 of one of the greatest sea battles in WW2
Part 6

  But Operation Rhein was forced to change from its original plan for three

reasons. One was the recent commissioning of the Tirptz on Feb. 25, 1941

and its yet to be completed sea trials. It would not be ready in time for the

Atlantic mission. Secondly, the Scharnhorst had entered dry dock for machinery

repairs and would be unavailable for several months. And thirdly was the courage

and tenacity of a RAF crew and their Costal Command Beaufort plane piloted

by Lieutenant Kenneth Campbell. They would deliver a knockout blow to the

battlecruiser Gneisenau.

  The original mission called for six Beauforts to attack the Gneisenau while

docked at the Brest harbour. Three planes would be armed with conventional

bombs that would cause a diverson in the harbour while the other three

Beauforts would aim for the Gneisenau with torpedos.  On April 6th,1941, in

the pre-dawn darkness the torpedo trio took off and headed for their mark. Brest

harbour was shrouded in fog when they arrived and they circled the harbour

waiting for the bombers. They were unaware that only one bomber had managed

to get air-borne form soggy Saint Eval Airfield. As daylight approached and there

still was no sign of the bombers, the mission was becoming untenable with

each minute of gaining daylight. Their advantages of darkness and surprise were

quickly dwindling. Suddenly Leiutenant Campbell dove towards the harbour and

roared towards the Gneisenau only fifty feet above sea level.

  Flying straight and level for a torpedo run, he ran a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire

from several ships before dropping his torpedo five hundred feet from his target.

He then started a desperate climb to fly above the hills that surrounded the

harbour. With the underside of the plane exposed to relentless flak, he had

little chance of surviving. The crippled plane crashed in the harbour and all four

crew members perished. The bodies were later recovered by the Germans and

buried in a grave of honour for their heroic act. The Gneisenau was so severly

damaged that it was rushed back to dry dock before it sank completely. It

remained there for eight months.

(to be continued)
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