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Ships in dry-dock were quite vulnerable to enemy air attack since, of course, they could not move. In the case of the Gneisenau, the short distance from British airfields to the Channel port of Brest, meant constant attacks on the ship by Royal Air Bomber Command and Royal Air Force Coastal Command (under the tactical control of the Royal Navy). These attacks were so frequent that the Kriegsmarine circled the ship along with their other warships in Brest with a forest of anti-aircraft batteries.
An incredibly brave attack by Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell of RAF Coastal Command damaged the Gneisenau and forced her into dry-dock.
There were four British air crew aboard the RAF Coastal Command torpedo-bomber which came in very low and dropped the torpedo which did significant damage to the stern of the Gneisenau. After dropping the torpedo, the plane was shot down and crashed in the water. All four of the air crew men were killed. Because of the extensive damage done by the torpedo strike, the Gneisenau was forced to enter the dry-dock shown in the photograph above for extensive repairs. Once in dry-dock, she was completely immobile. Several days later she was hit by four bombs by RAF Bomber Command.
To their credit, the Germans recovered the four bodies from the water and brought them aboard the Gneisenau. From Fiasco: The Break-out of the German Battleships by John Deane Potter:
This was also confirmed to me by a source in the Deutsche Marine.
Lest We Forget
In memorium to the four RAF air crewmen who were killed in action:
Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, VC (Victoria Cross)
Sergeant J P Scott RCAF
Sergeant W C Mulliss RAF
Sergeant R W Hillman RAF