A classic adventure for young readers

The Revenge of the Tirpitz entwines two mysteries around the sunken submarine

Terje Birkedal
Anchorage, Alaska

The Revenge of the Tirpitz is a classic action-adventure book written for young people. The setting is northern Norway and the book’s timeline jumps between World War II and the present day. The centerpiece of the book is the sinking of the Tirpitz and its later consequences. What is the Tirpitz, you might ask? The Tirpitz was one of the crown jewels of the German Navy during World War II.

Commissioned in 1941, the Tirpitz was the pride of the German Navy. Bow to stern this grand battleship measured 823 feet and displaced 42,900 tons of water and it was armed to the teeth with deadly, long-range 15-inch guns. But it was vulnerable to British aerial attack, and the Brits were unflagging in their desire to see it sink, the sooner the better.

Norway’s rugged coast, under German control after a short war in April of 1940, offered both the benefits of protection from the British Bomber Command and an excellent base for launching offensive attacks on the many Allied supply convoys that plied the North Sea to Russia. For three years it was largely a “lady in waiting,” for it only participated in one offensive attack on the Allies, the invasion of Spitsbergen. Once it was sent to intercept a large allied convoy but was hastily recalled before it could engage its guns. For the most part, Tirpitz sat in one fjord or another doing nothing; it was simply too valuable to place in harm’s way. The British repeatedly tried to destroy the vessel using their bombers and even a fleet of revolutionary miniature submarines. By doing nothing the Tirpitz kept the British annoyed and demanded the full attention of Britain’s northern war fleet. The Allies could never be sure when it might be activated to prey on their convoys. Finally, in November of 1944, 32 British Lancaster bombers, armed with gigantic bombs nick-named “Tall Boys,” succeeded in blowing up the stationary Tirpitz within ten minutes. The ship quickly flipped over with its hull turned up and over 1,000 German sailors lost their lives. It is this last and fatal incident that forms the focus of The Revenge of the Tirpitz.

The story is set in two vastly separate time frames that are interwoven throughout the book. The first is the fall of 1944 when the Tirpitz makes its berth just off the shores of Håkøya Island near Tromsø. Two local boys, Erik and Magnus, take notice of the persistent noise of its large rumbling engines and also observe a party of Germans secretly stashing something in a sea cave under cover of night. The other half of the book takes place in the Shetland Islands in 2014 where two teenage brothers, Finn and Gus, unexpectedly encounter the wrath of latter-day Nazis who are intent on harming their grandfather. How are the Shetlands and Norway connected; what ties 1944 to the second decade of the 21st century? That is the mystery at the heart of The Revenge of the Tirpitz.

The book has a classic structure that reminds me of the many mystery and adventure books I enjoyed growing up. The Revenge of the Tirpitz has the usual pair of intrepid and curious youngsters who get into unexpected trouble but are befriended by a helpful adult who gives them guidance and wisdom throughout their adventures. This book is unusual in that we get two sets of boys in two different time periods. Surprisingly, the “helpful adult” in 1944 is an enigmatic German radar operator named Hans. In 2014, the role of the “helpful adult” is taken up by Finn and Gus’s wily grandfather “Olde.” The author actually tells two tales in The Revenge of the Tirpitz, but she gradually reveals as the book moves forward that the two stories are in essence part of one overarching story. And as is key to any book of this genre, there are nasty villains. Again, you get two sets; both father-son pairings.

The author, Michelle L. Sloan, is Scottish but she has a Norwegian sister-in-law who she says helped her get her geography and facts right. This book would be a good way to introduce a young reader to Norway’s plight during World War II and the important role that the Shetland Islands played in the armed resistance to the Germans.

M. L. Sloan’s book The Revenge of the Tirpitz (2016) is a Pokey Hat book from Cranachan Publishing in the United Kingdom.

Terje “Ted” Birkedal was born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1946. He grew up in Colorado and earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado. He retired in 2012 but remains active in his field and has served as the President of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage since 2012. He has conducted archeological fieldwork in the American South, the Great Plains, Norway, Canada, Guam, and Alaska. He has always been passionate about Norwegian prehistory and history.

This article originally appeared in the June 2, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Terje Birkedal

Terje G. Birkedal was born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1946. He immigrated to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Colorado. After earning a Ph.D. in Anthropology he served as an archeologist with the National Park Service for 36 years. He has conducted fieldwork in Alaska, the American South and Southwest, Canada, the Great Plains, Guam, and Norway. He served five years as President of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, Alaska, and he has always been passionate about Norwegian prehistory, history, and culture.