Raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo
The raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo (Operation EF) took place on 30 July 1941 during the Second World War. The British Fleet Air Arm launched this unsuccessful raid from the aircraft carriers HMS Victorious and Furious to inflict damage on merchant vessels owned by Germany and Finland and to show support for Britain's new ally, the Soviet Union.
During the Russian Civil War, Finland declared independence from the Soviet Union and acquired the north port of Petsamo under the Treaty of Tartu (1920). In the Winter War (1939–1940), the Soviet Union occupied all of Petsamo. However, in the following peace agreement, only the Finnish part of the Rybachy Peninsula (fin. Kalastajasaarento) was ceded to the Soviet Union (321 km²/124 mi²). In 1941, during the Continuation War, Petsamo was used by Nazi Germany as a staging area for the attack on Murmansk.
Kirkenes is in Norway, which was neutral at the start of the war, but was invaded and occupied by Germany.
War officially broke out between Britain and Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939. In November, Joseph Stalin ordered the invasion of Finland and, although they put up a stubborn defense, the Finns had to give up 10% of the country's total territory after they agreed to sign an armistice in March 1940. Subsequently, Denmark and Norway were invaded in April 1940 and France was defeated in May–June.
By June 1940, Britain was the only European country standing against Adolf Hitler. After being defeated in the Battle of Britain, Germany focused eastward, invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 and Finland fought as a co-belligerent, in what is known the Continuation War.
Germany's Operation Barbarossa threatened the survival of the Soviet Union. The British decided that the best way to show support for their new ally would be to attack ports occupied by the Axis; the use of carrier-borne aircraft had previously been shown effective at Taranto and against the battleship Bismarck.
The strike force, consisting of the two carriers, two cruisers, Devonshire (flagship of Rear Admiral Wake-Walker) and Suffolk, and six destroyers (Escapade, Active, Anthony, Achates, Antelope and Intrepid) left Scapa Flow for Seidis Fjord in Iceland on 23 July 1941. They arrived two days later, refuelled and sailed the following day for Norway. The destroyer Achates was mined off Iceland on 25 July and towed home by Anthony; they were replaced by Inglefield and Icarus. The strike was supposed to be a surprise attack but, since it was light for 24 hours a day at that time of year, surprise was almost impossible and was lost when the attacking force was spotted by aircraft shortly before launch of the attack.
Furious attacked ships in the harbour of Petsamo, Liinahamari, launching nine Fairey Albacores from 817 Squadron, nine Fairey Swordfish of 812 Squadron and six bomb armed Fairey Fulmars from 800 Squadron. In the end, the harbour was almost entirely empty and the raiders claimed the sinking of only one small steamer and the destruction of several jetties, amid heavy antiaircraft fire. One Albacore and one Fulmar were lost due to enemy action and one more Fulmar was lost due to engine failure prior to the attack.
The raid on Kirkenes was a disaster. The Luftwaffe had been alerted and had their Bf 109 and Bf 110 fighters in the air and waiting. Victorious launched two sub flights consisting of a total of 12 Albacores from 827 Squadron, eight Albacores from 828 Squadron, and nine Fulmars from 809 Squadron. The Fulmars were unable to rendezvous with the Albacore squadrons, who were thus left without fighter protection. The Albacores had to attack by flying over the mountains and the fjord rather than attacking from the sea. There were only four cargo vessels within the harbour. The aircraft released their torpedoes quickly to get away from anti-aircraft fire, sinking one 2,000 long tons (2,000 t) vessel, setting another on fire and causing minor damage ashore. One Bf 109, two Bf 110s and one Ju 87 were claimed shot down[i] for the loss of 11 Albacores and two Fulmars, with a further eight Albacores damaged. Incomplete German loss records confirm the loss of at least one Bf 110 to a Fulmar and one Ju 87 to an Albacore.
^[i] References differ on the numbers of aircraft claimed. Sturtivant states one Bf 109 and two Bf 110, the Fleet Air Arm Archive web site states two Bf 109s and one Bf 110. Tovey provides the official numbers on page 3172, and they amount to one Bf 109, two Bf 110s and one Ju 87.
- Tovey, Sir John C., Despatch on carrier-borne aircraft attack on Kirkenes (Norway) and Petsamo (Finland) 1941 July 22-Aug.7, p.3175 - 3176
- Kindell, Don, British and Other Navies in World War 2 Day-by-Day: NAVAL EVENTS, JULY 1941 (Part 2)
- Tovey, p.3170, paragraph 1.
- Sturtivant, Ray (1990). British Naval Aviation: The Fleet Air Arm 1917–1990. London: Arms & Armour Press Ltd. p. 86. ISBN 0-85368-938-5.
- Tovey, Appendix 1, paragraph 14.
- Fleet Air Arm Archive 1939–45 FAA attack on Petsamo to assist its ally the Soviet Union, July 1941
- Sturtivant, Ray. The Swordfish Story. London: Cassell & Co., 1993 (2nd Revised edition 2000). ISBN 0-304-35711-1., p. 40
- Tovey, Appendix 2, paragraphs 2 and 3.
- Tovey, Appendix 2, paragraph 6.
- Tovey, paragraph 30.
- Tovey, p.3172
- Nordic Aviation During WW2
- "Tromso Cemetery". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
- Tovey, THE CARRIER BORNE AIRCRAFT ATTACK ON KIRKENES AND PETSAMO. The London Gazette, 25 May 1948
- FAA attack on Petsamo to assist its ally the Soviet Union, July 1941 Fleet Air Arm Archive 1939–1945
- Don Kindell, British and Other Navies in World War 2 Day-by-Day: NAVAL EVENTS, JULY 1941 (Part 2)