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The raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo took place on 31 July 1941 during World War II. The Royal Navy air arm launched this unsuccessful raid from 2 aircraft carriers, (HM ships Victorious and Furious) to inflict damage on merchant vessels owned by Nazi Germany and Finlandmarker. Also it was meant to show support for their new ally the Soviet Unionmarker.

Origins

During the Russian Civil War, Finlandmarker declared independence from the Soviet Union with the north port of Petsamo under the Treaty of Tartu (1920). In the Winter War the Soviet Unionmarker occupied Petsamo. In the following peace agreement only the Finnish part of the Rybachy Peninsula was ceded to the Soviet Union (321 kmĀ²), although the Soviet Union had occupied all of Petsamo during the Winter War. In 1941, during the Continuation War, Petsamo was used by Nazi Germany as a staging area for the attack towards Murmanskmarker.

Kirkenes is in Norwaymarker, which was neutral at the start of the war, but was invaded by Germany and occupied.

War officially broke out between Britainmarker and Nazi Germany on the 3rd September 1939. In December Joseph Stalin decided to invade Finland and, although they put up a stubborn defense, Finland had to give up some of territory after they agreed to sign an armistice. Subsequently Denmark and Norway were invaded in April 1940 and France was defeated in May.

By June 1940 Britain was the only European country standing against Adolf Hitler. However, after defeat in the Battle of Britain, Germany focused eastwards and invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 and Finland fought as a co-belligerent, in what is known the Continuation War.

During Operation Barbarossa, the Finns regained all the land they had lost in the Winter War. The British, who were afraid the Russians may cede the Ukraine to Germany, decided that the best way to show the support to their new ally would be to attack ports occupied by the Axis: the use of aircraft from ships having previously been shown effective at Tarantomarker and against the Bismarckmarker.

The Strike

The strike force, consisting of the two carriers and six destroyers, left Scapa Flowmarker for Seidis Fjord in Icelandmarker on 23 July 1941. They arrived two days later, refuelled and sailed the following day for Norway. 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 launched nine Fairey Albacores from 817 Squadron, nine Swordfish of 812 Squadron and six Fairey Fulmars from 800 Squadron. In the end, the harbour was almost entirely empty and the raiders claimed sinking only one small steamer and the destruction of several jetties. One Albacore and two Fulmars were lost.

The raid on Kirkenes was a disaster. The Luftwaffe had been allerted and had their Bf109 and Bf 110 fighters in the air and waiting. Victorious launched two sub flights consisting of a total of twelve Albacores from 827 Squadron, eight Albacores from 828 Squadron, and nine Fulmars from 809 Squadron. The aircraft 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 ton vessel and setting another on fire and causing minor damage ashore. One Bf 109 and two Bf 110s were claimed shot down for the loss of eleven Albacores and two Fulmars with a further eight Albacores damaged.

Aftermath

The attack was a failure. Unlike the Battle of Taranto, it had no impact on the course of the War. A number of aircraft and their even harder to replace aircrews were lost. Some say that Britain needed to show its commitment to Russia and some say it was pointless. But Britain had showed it was willing to make sacrifice to win the War.

Footnotes

 The 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.


References


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