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Bryce Stewart from RAF 54 Squadron with ex-Pilot Officer Hugh Rogers who flew on reconnaissance missions during World War II.

You Sank my Battleship

Hugh Rogers was a young photographer during WWII, sent out on reconnaissance missions to record enemy locations. One such mission involved the Tirpitz - a beast of a battleship tasked with intercepting Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. James Walker and Paul Fillingham give an overview of the Tirpitz and life on Bomber Command.

Hugh Rogers joined the RAF when he was 16. Five years later he was a pilot officer on reconnaissance missions, taking photographs from a Lancaster Bomber to document the events of the WWII. His most famous mission was to photograph Tirpitz, a Bismarck-class battleship. Tirpitz was the heaviest battleship ever built by a European navy. Her vital statistics were: 51,800 long tons fully loaded, with a length of 251 meters and beam of 36 meters.

Tirpitz sliding down the slipway at her launch. Source: Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-63-40 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Tirpitz sailed to Norway in 1942 as the centrepiece of the Baltic Fleet. Although her role was to intercept Allied convoys to the Soviet Union and act as a deterrent against Allied invasion, her primary function was as a "fleet in being". This is a naval term for having a controlling influence without ever leaving port. A bit like a tactical chess move, Allied ships were deployed to keep an eye on her less she decide to venture out.

The giant German warship was moored in Kåfjord, near Alta, Norway and frequently hidden from aerial reconnaissance and attacks by smokescreens created using water and chlorosulfuric acid. These toxic clouds caused lasting ecological damage as evidenced in recent samples taken from birch and pine forests up to 4 km from the Tirpitz site.

Fleet Air Arm attack the colossal Bizmark-class battleship Tirpitz, Norway, 3rd April 1944. Source: Imperial War Museum Collections, Public domain.

From 8 October 1940 to 12 November 1944 there were 36 missions to try and sink the Tirpitz. Lancaster Bombers first took part on 27 and 28 January 1942, flying alongside their predecessor, Handley Page’s Halifax. Although Fairey Barracuda dive bombers would be the first aerial attack to finally hit the elusive Tirpitz on 3 April 1944, it was the Lancaster Bomber squadrons that finished her off in three raids towards the end of the year.

Lancaster Squadron flying in formation, 1942. Source: Imperial War Museum Collections, Public domain.

On 15 September Operation Paravane delivered the first direct hit, Operation Obviate was next up, although the 38 Lancasters that set out on 29 October created minor damage. Then, on 12 November, Operation Catechism scored three direct hits and the Tirpitz capsized, taking an estimated 950-1,204 men down with her.

Former RAF Pilot Officer Hugh and London Cabbie Bill at Highfields Nursing and Residential Care Home.

Hugh, along with other photographers, played a vital part in WWII. One of his pictures from a reconnaissance mission was so important it made the front page of a newspaper. After the War, Hugh joined the American RAF where he gained his pilot wings. His career would take him all over the world, though he always retained his passion for the Lancaster Bomber.

Highfields Care Home arranged a 'Wishing Well' visit to RAF Coningsby for Hugh.

He would be reunited with one at the age of 95 as part of a Wishing Well wish arranged by Highfields Care Home that would see him visit RAF Coningsby in south-east Lincolnshire. Coningsby has been home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) and visitor centre since 1976. The BBMF operate one of two remaining airworthy Avro Lancaster bombers in the world, alongside; six Spitfires of various types; two Hurricanes; a Dakota and two Chipmunks.

A taxi-worthy Lancaster named 'Just Jane' (after the wartime comic character) is located at The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, established by local farmers Fred and Harold Panton, as a memorial to their elder brother, Christopher, who died during World War II.

Comic art styled Bomber Command interpretation panel at East Kirkby.

A Tirpitz museum is located in Kåfjord, just outside the city of Alta. The timber building dates from around 1880. Originally built in Lillehammer, it was transported to Alta in 1946 as part of an effort to rebuild the war-ravaged region. Initially, the building served as a nursing home, the first of its kind in Finnmark county, Norway.

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Sources: Bennett, G.H. (2012). "Introduction". In Bennett, G.H. (ed.). Hunting Tirpitz: Naval Operations Against Bismarck's Sister Ship. Plymouth, United Kingdom: University of Plymouth Press. pp. 7–25.

Bishop, Patrick (2012). Target Tirpitz. London: Harper Press.

Middlebrook, Martin; Everitt, Chris (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries : An Operational Reference Book, 1939–1945 (Repr. ed.). Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking.

Roskill, S.W. (1961). The War at Sea 1939–1945. Volume III: The Offensive Part II. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.