The War Illustrated, No. 245, Vol. 10, November 6th 1946

fmi'cat Stories o f theW arR if oh! The BismorcK has been Sunk' WHEN Mr. Churchill made the brief announcement in Parliament on May 27,1941 :“The Bismarck has been sunk,” he rang down the curtain on a sea drama as thrilling as any recorded in history. In that month the Battle o f the Atlantic had entered on its third phase. Though shipping losses had subsided somewhat from the high figures o f July-December 1940, a toial o f 41 vessels o f over 250,000 tons gross had been sunk during April 1941 through U-boat attack. During February and March the battleships Scharnhorst and Cineisenau were also raiding commerce in the Atlantic, aided by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. Between them they sank or captured 27 ships, but late in March the two former ships were driven into Brest for recuperation. There they continued to re­present a menace to Atlantic convoys should they emerge without interception. Q n May 22 it became known to the Com- mander-in-Chief o f the Home Fleet (Adm. Sir John Tovey) that the big new battleship Bismarck had sailed from Bergen, where she had been located a short time before. This momentous news was obtained by Commander G.A. Rotherham, R.N .,of H .M.S. Sparrowhawk, a naval air station in the north o f Scotland, who made a personal reconnaissance in very adverse weather conditions to satisfy himself whether or not the ship was instill port. As ares -lit o f the dispositions immediately ordered by Admiral Tovey, the Bismarck, accompanied by the heavy cruisef Prinz Eugcn, was sighted on the evening o f May 23 in the Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland. The ships which sighted her were the cruisers Norfolk (Captain A. J. L. Phillips) and Suffolk (Captain R.M. Ellis), the former wearing the flag o f Rear-Admiral W. F. Wake-Walker. Both enemy ships were proceeding at high speed to the south-westward, and it was difficult to keep them in view through storms o f snow and sleet and patches o f mist, which at times reduced visibility to moreno than a mile. In spite o f these obstacles, the enemy continued to be shadowed by the British cruisers through­out the night. Located by a Catalina Aircraft Early in the morning o f May 24, H .M.S. Hood (Captain Ralph Kerr) and Prince o f Wales (Captain J. C. Leach) made contact with the enemy. The former ship, a battle cruiser dat ng from the First Great War, was wearing ‘the Hag o f Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, Second-in-Command Home Fleet. Early in the engagement which imme­diately ensued the Hood received a hit in a magazine from one o f the Bismarck's 15-inch salvos and blew up with the loss o f practically everyone oi board. Sometime later the Prince o f Wales received a hit which put her fire control system out o faction for the time being. Nevertheless, she did not lose touch with the enemy, the Norfolk and Suffolk continuing their skilful shadowing. The Bismarck had not escaped without damage, one o f the hits causing afire to breakout on board. On the evening o f May 24. having effected temporary repairs, the Prince o f Wales was able to renew the action for a short time. At this stage the German ships turned away to the westward, and then swung round onto a southerly course, still closely pursued by the British. During the night avery gallant torpedo attack was carried out by naval aircraft from H .M.S. Victorious (Captain C.H. Bovell), B y FRANCIS E c IV IcM U R T R IE which had arrived in the vicinity. This attack was a hazardous enterprise, from which those engaged in it had little hope o f return­ing, so bad were the weather conditions. In spite o f this all got safely back to their carrier, after hitting the Bismarck with one torpedo. The intrepid leader o f this operation, Lieuten- ant-Comniander E. Esmonde, afterwards lost his life in an even more desperate affair— the attempt to torpedo the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as they passed through the Strait o f Dover in February o f the following year (see pages 131-133). SPL1NTER-HOLE caused by ashell fired from the Bismarck almost joined up with a porthole of H.M.S. Sheffield, one of ths ships engaged in shadowing the German battleship in May 19*11. I'holo, British Official Early on the 25th the weather became thicker, and touch with the enemy was unavoidably lost she was then in a position about 350 miles foS.S.E. Cape Farewell, the southerly extremity o f Greenland. A most anxious period o f suspense followed. Not until 10.30 a.m. on May 26, nearly 32 hours later, was the Bismarck located by a Catalina aircraft o f Coastal Comm and, about 550 miles west o f Land’s End. She was steaming at 22 knots and had parted company with the Prinz Eugen. which was ultimately found to have taken refuge in Brest. Altho ugh driven off and damaged by the Bismarck's well-directed anti-aircraft lire, the Catalina got her report through, enabling the German battleship to be sighted again at 11.15 by naval aircraft from H .M.S. Ark Royal (Captain L.E. H.M aund), belonging to Force“ H ,”based upon Gibraltar. During the afternoon a striking force o f torpedo aircraft flew off from this carrier to attack the Bismarck, but did not reach her. Shortly after 5.30 H .M.S. Sheffield (Cap­tain C.A. A. Larcom), a cruiser which had been detached from Force“ H ”by Vice- Admiral Sir James Somerville, made contact with the Bismarck and proceeded to shadow her. Twenty minutes later a second striking force flown off from the Ark Royal pressed home its attack and achieved an important success, one torpedo hitting the Bismarck amidships and a second on the starboard quarter. The latter evidently damaged the steering gear, for immediately afterwards the great battleship was seen to make two PAGE 451 complete circles. Thenceforward her speed, already affected by the hit from the torpedo- bombcrs o f the Victorious, was reduced to about 12 knots. Afresh gale from the north-west now forced the Bismarck, owing to the damage to her rudder, to head straight towards her pursuers. Just before dark a destroyer force under Captain P.L. Vian, including H .M.S. Cossack, Zulu, Sikh and Maori, and the Polish ship Piorun (Commander E. Plawski), made contact with the enemy. They had been steaming all day at high speed in a heavy following sea, but maintained touch with the Bismarck all night undermost difficult conditions. During the middle watch they attacked with torpedoes and obtained at least two hits. Though under heavy fire from the Bismarck, they sustained only a few minor casualties. Bright Flame Showed in Bismarck On the morning o f May 27 the sun rose on a heavy sea with the north-westerly gale continuing. At times visibility was very good, about 15 miles, until reduced to three or four miles as heavy rain squalls swept across the water. In the British ships the hands had been at action stations all night, taking it in turns to doze off at their posts. In view o f the speed with which situations develop in modern warfare it would not have been wise to allow them togo below for breakfast, so cocoa, soup, sandwiches, cake and ship's biscuits were issued. At eight minutes past 8 the Norfolk reported that she was again in touch with the enemy. The necessary alterations o f course were ordered by the Commander-in- Chicf, and at 8.42 the Bismarck was sighted 15 miles away, some 500 miles west o f Brest. In the flagship King George V (Captain W. R. Patterson) the following message was given out to officers and men by Sir John Tovey :“The sinking o f the Bismarck may have an effect on the war, as a whole, out of all proportion to the loss to the enemy of one battleship. May God be with you and grant you victory.” At 8.47 the battleship Rodney (Captain F. H.G. Dalrym ple-H am ilton) opened (ire, followed a minute later by the King George V, the range then being about 12 miles. The Bismarck opened an accurate fire at the Rodney at 8.50, narrowly missing her. The first o f the King George V’s hits was soon observed to enter the base o f the Bismarck's forward superstructure, where a bright flame burned for some seconds. Splashes from the 16-inch guns o f the Rodney and the 14-inch guns o f the King George V rose as high as the enem y’s <foretop, while those from the 8-inch guns o f the Norfolk, and later from those o f the Dorsetshire, combined to keep the German battleship almost continuously surrounded by splashes. The enem y’s cor­dite smoke luing heavily, flashes o f his guns appearing through it as a dull'orange glow. Q uokily after 9 the enemy shifted his fire ^to the King George V, where a whist­ling noise was overheard the bridge, after which splashes o f heavy shell were seen some 400 yards over but the nearest approach to a hit was a 5'9-inch shell which burst about 50 yards short o f the conning tower. In the Rodney nothing worse than a near miss was experienced, a fragment of shell passing through the starboard side of the director controlling the anti-aircraft armament. It smashed the cease-fire bell, passed through a steel helmet hanging near, cut the trainer’s telescope in half, hit the
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