Norwich man recalls involvement in the bombing of Tirpitz with Arctic convoys

Arthur Towlson with his array of medals. From left: the Malta 50th anniversary, Russian convoy comme

Arthur Towlson with his array of medals. From left: the Malta 50th anniversary, Russian convoy commemoration, Distinguished Service Cross, 39-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Arctic Star, Africa Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal and General War Medal. - Credit: Archant © 2013

The destruction of the German battleship Tirpitz was a crucial event that helped pave the way for the Arctic convoys from Scapa Flow to reach the Soviet Union – and a Norwich man was involved in disabling the vessel.

An aerial photograph taken by Arthur Towlson of the bombing of Tirpitz

An aerial photograph taken by Arthur Towlson of the bombing of Tirpitz - Credit: Arthur Towlson

Arthur Towlson, 91, of Grove Walk, recently received the Arctic Star medal for his involvement in helping to secure the convoy's safe passage to the Soviet Union with supplies.

Now he has recalled the events of April 1944 when he was involved in a bombing raid that severely damaged the vessel, which was a menace to British merchant ships in the area.

He had joined the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm in December 1939 and was flying Fairey Barracuda dive bomber aircraft when he was involved in Operation Tungsten to destroy or damage the 823ft long Bismarck class battleship.

Mr Towlson remembered how the attack was carried out in daylight and he flew from HMS Victorious to Altenfjord, Norway, to join aircraft that targeted the centre of Tirpitz from stern to stern to ensure greater accuracy.

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He said: 'The Tirpitz was huge. I don't think we had a ship as big as that. We were briefed to attack the centre line of Tirpitz from stern to stern.

'The bombing practice runs had shown that we could be much more accurate attacking in line than sideways. In fact when it became my turn to bomb, the ship was partially covered by smoke.'

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However, he said he was not nervous during the raid and said his aircraft did not encounter any German fighters defending Tirpitz, although they did have to contend with the anti-aircraft guns.

The raid put the ship out of action for months until it was eventually destroyed in a raid by Lancaster bombers in November 1944.

However, the Arctic was not the only theatre that Mr Towlson served in, as he also spent time in the Mediterranean and supporting the Burma campaign against Japanese forces.

After being demobbed he worked as an architect in Norwich until his retirement in 1986 and lived with his wife Jean, who died nine years ago, aged 74.

The couple had two children, James Towlson and Kate Turner, and he now has a partner Dian Daynes.

Of his Arctic medal award, he said: 'I am pleased to receive it in recognition of what all of us did in the Arctic.'

The Star was awarded to surviving personnel who were involved in the convoys, which cost the lives of 3,000 sailors.

Mr Towlson has also received a number of other medals including the Africa Star, Atlantic Star, Defence Medal and the General War Medal.

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