A Story of Two Images - Torpedoing the Gneisenau

Fred started his talk showing a diagram of some British aircraft in use at the time Britain declared war against Germany in 1939. He then showed a small pocket book - Torpedo Bomber! (stories of the torpedo bomber missions of the RAF). Fred then told us one of the stories from the book which emphasized the use of photos during the war.

Fred noted that only a half dozen of the reconnaissance photos taken during WWII were really important. His story discussed two of these photos and the involvement of a Canadian navigator, Sergeant Scott with the RAF in 1941.

The locale was the city of Brest a double harbour port in occupied France, superbly protected by its cloudy, foggy, misty weather. During a raid, a bomb dropped near the dry dock but failed to go off. The German battle cruise Gneisenau was in dry dock at the time. For safety, the Germans moved the battle cruiser out to the inner harbour while they disarmed the bomb.

Word reached Britain that a large ship was in the harbour and they sent a small unarmed reconnaissance aircraft in under the cloud cover at high speed for a peek. When the pictures were examined and Britain recognized the vessel as one of the two German battle cruisers, it sent a handful of torpedo bombers immediately on a mission to try and destroy it.

Pilot Ken Campbell and Sergeant Scott broke formation and dropped through the clouds to seek a target. They spotted the Gneisenau and dropped a torpedo catching the Germans by surprise. Seconds later a barrage was let loose by the Germans in retaliation catching the small bomber before it could escape the area.

A photograph from a second reconnaissance run showed the dry dock seemingly back to normal to the disappointment of the British. It was much later that they learned the true story of that day. Campbell and Scott did hit the Gneisenau causing extensive damage not visible in the aerial photo. The Gneisenau began sinking stern first and was able to limp back to dry dock only with the aid of ships dispatched by the quick thinking Germans to tie up to the Gneisenau and keep her afloat. The ship stayed in dry dock for over 8 months while the damage was repaired.

When the bomber was recovered from the harbour, they discovered Scott in the pilot's seat. The British speculated that Campbell was taken out in the barrage and Scott had tried to take over the controls before the crash.

Fred ended his talk with a caution to collectors: Some of the late WWII era lens used lens elements which proved to be radioactive. These lenses could be harmful to the health. Fred showed an article from Shutter bug about the lenses complete with a picture of the type of fogged image the lens could create on film - a round fuzzy disk in the centre of the negative.

ABOUT THE IMAGES. Click on any image and in a few seconds you will see an enlarged view in a separate window. The images were taken with a Nikon 990 digital camera and modified as required in Photoshop. All images are © 2001 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used if the source is mentioned.


Bob Carter












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