May 29, 2012

BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC Part 3: HUNT FOR THE BISMARCK





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Bismarck, German Reich, Hitler, WW2, Battle of Atlantic, convoy raids, battleshipThe Bismarck was the largest battleship ever built. She was the pride of Hitler who envisaged her as the symbol of the resurgence of the Reich and the eminent rise of Germany to that of a dominant world super power. Named after the iconic German national hero, Otto von Bismarck, she was designed to characterize the epitome of German military might, and elegance in design. The vessel was launched on February 14, 1939 amid great fanfare, and christened by none other the grand-daughter of Otto von Bismarck.



In September of 1940, after having been commissioned, the Bismarck embarked on a series of sea trials at Kiel, located at the northern tip of Germany. For the next few months, she was given a intensive series of tests to assess her stability, maneouverability and speed. Strangely, during this period a flaw was discovered in the ship's design (which may or may not have a contributing factor in her ultimate demise). It was noted that while attempting to steer the ship through altering propeller revolutions, the ship could be held on course with only the greatest of difficulty. The turning ability remained minimal, even when the outboard screws were functioning at full power in opposite directions. By November her main battery guns were test-fired and results confirmed the stability of her gun platform. Finally on December 9th the Bismarck had reached the final stage of completion, alterations and all.




Combat at Sea - Bismark Leaving Port.wmv (00:00:48sec)


The Bismarck served only eight brief months and under the command of Capt. Ernst Lindemann, she took part in only one mission - Operation Rheinubung,  The objective was to send the Bismarck, accompanied by the heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen, on a raiding mission to the Atlantic to search and destroy Allied merchant vessels which were criss-crossing the ocean laden with valuable materiel and supplies for Great Britain. There was every anticipation on the part of German Command that the mission would be successful. In fact, Operation Berlin had just completed its mission in March 1941, where German vessels Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made highly successful sorties in the Atlantic.



OPERATION RHEINUBUNG

The mission was to begin the evening of May 19, and according to plan, the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen set out with an escort of eighteen supply ships, while four U-boats were dispatched along the convoy routes to search out allied merchant vessels. By the time the Bismarck departed on her first mission, the number of crew had swelled to 2, 221, officers and enlisted men in all.

At 02:00 hours the Bismarck departed the port of Gotenhafen (which is now Gdynia, in Poland) and steered a course for the Danish straits. At 11:25 hours she rendezvoused with Prinz Eugen which had departed the previous night off Cape Arkona. Joining them were three destroyers, Hans Lody, Friedrich Eckoldt, and Z23, as well as a fleet of minesweepers. The Luftwaffe provided air cover for the extent of the mission.



By noon the next day, Lindemann announced the mission to the crew via the ship's loudspeakers but nobody had noticed that a fleet of a dozen Swedish aircraft were flying nearby on a reconnaissance mission and had spotted their position and heading. A scant hour later, the Swedish cruiser HMS Gotland spotted the convoy and proceeded to shadow them for the next two hours in the Kattegat. Gotland dispatched a report to naval HQ,"Two large ships, three destroyers, five escort vessels, and 10–12 aircraft passed Marstrand, course 205°/20'."German command did not consider the presence of Gotland to be a security risk, but were nevertheless perturbed that their secret operation had been discovered.

The Swedish report eventually made its way through the chain of command to Captain Henry Denham, the British naval attaché to Sweden, who then relayed the information to the British Admiralty. Code breakers at Bletchley Park were able to intercept decrypted German messages, and were startled to discover that the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were poised to launch an Atlantic raid against allied ships. Meanwhile German Command had no idea that the British had found out their plan, and aerial reconaissance confirmed that one British aircraft carrier, three battleships, and four cruisers were still at anchor at Scapa Flow.





Sink The Bismarck 4 of 10 (00:09:01m)



May 20: The Bismarck along with the rest of the fleet reached the Norwegian coast; while the destroyers and raiders veered north, the minesweepers were detached.

May 21: (morning) German radio officers on Prinz Eugen detected an allied signal ordering British reconnaissance aircraft to search for two battleships and three destroyers headed north along the Norwegian coastline.



Prinz Eugen heavy cruiser  WW2 Battle of Atlantic
Prinz Eugen heavy cruiser


May 21 (07:00)The Germans detected four aircraft, but could not identify them as they quickly departed.

May 21 (12:00) The German flotilla reached Bergen and laid anchor at Grimstadfjord. Ship crews proceeded to paint over the camouflage with standard grey typified of German warships. While two Bf109 fighters were circling overhead providing air cover, a Spitfire flown by Flying Officer Michael Suckling managed to pass directly over the scene and from a height of 8,000 meters (26,000 ft), Suckling took several photos of the Bismarck and her escorts.

British Admiral John Tovey received the vital information and ordered the British battle cruiser HMS Hood, the HMS Prince of Wales, and six destroyers to reinforce them on a patrol of the Denmark Strait. The remainder of the British fleet in Scapa Flow was given high alert. Though eighteen British bombers had been dispatched, they could not find the position of the German warships as weather had worsened considerably over the fjords.


WW2 Battle of Atlantic Hunt for Bismark --photo of HMS Hood
HMS Hood


When the Bismarck was finally ready to leave port, she had failed to replenish her fuel stores while at anchor, and was short of 200 t of a full load. She had already consumed 1,000 t on the voyage from Gotenhafen.




BATTLE OF THE DENMARK STRAIT

May 21 (19:30 hours) Bismarck, Prinz Eugen, and three escort destroyers left Bergen. By midnight they were in open sea veering towards the Arctic Ocean. At this time, Admiral Raeder disclosed the plans to Hitler, who was initially opposed to it but then reneged.

May 22 (04:14) The three escort destroyers were detached, while the remainder headed to Trondheim, Norway.

May 22 (12:00) In an attempt to break into the open Atlantic, Admiral Lutjens gave the order to two of his ships to turn toward the Denmark Strait.

May 23 (04:00) Lutjens ordered the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to accelerate speeds up to 27 kn (50 km/h or 31 mph) to make a dash through the strait. They made it through and immediately activated the FuMO radar equipment. Prinz Eugen trailed behind the Bismarck by 700 meters (770 yards). Fog reduced visibility to about 3,000 to 4,000 meters (3,300 to 4,400 yards).

May 23 (10:00) The German vessels had to reduce speed to 24 kn (44 km/h or 28 mph) due to ice conditions. But in two hours, they had reached Iceland. In the attempt to avoid ice floes, they had to proceed in zigzag maneuvers.

May 23 (19:22) German radar operators, using hydrophones were able to detect the vicinity of the HMS Suffolk approximately 12,500 meter (13,700 yards) distance. They were able to intercept radio signals from Suffolk and discovered that the British had indeed reported their location. Lutjens gave Prinz Eugen permission to fire on Suffolk, but the German captain could not launch an attack owing to the poor visibility. The Suffolk continued to shadow the German vessels, albeit at a safer distance.


WW2 Battle of Atlantic Hunt for Bismarck - photo HMS Suffolk
HMS Suffolk



May 23 (20:30) The British HMS Norfolk joined Suffolk, but had made the mistake of approaching the German vessels too closely. Upon Lutjens orders' the Bismarck immediately fired five salvos, three of which straddled the Norfolk and deluged its decks with shell splinters. Using a smoke screen, the cruiser was able to escape into a fog thus ending the deadly encounter. In the heat of battle, the impact of Bismarks' 38 cm guns disabled her radar equipment and so Prinz Eugen was ordered to assume control of this function to scout for targets.


WW2 Battle of Atlantic - Hunt for Bismarck __photo HMS Norfolk
HMS Norfolk


May 23 (22:00) Admiral Lutjens, aware that two heavy British cruisers were stalking the Bismarck, ordered Captain Lindemann to turn the battleship 180-degrees, thereby surprising the two shadowers. British cruisers remained on patrol through the night, charting the location and bearing of the German vessels.

May 24 (05:07) Although there was a clear sky, the weather was harsh. German hydrophone operators on Prinz Eugen picked up the signal of two unidentified vessels that were approaching them at a range of 20 nmi (37 km or 23 miles) They issued a report to German Command, "Noise of two fast-moving turbine ships at 280° relative bearing!".

May 24 (05:45) German crew surveying the ocean with binoculars spotted smoke on the horizon. They were the British battle cruiser HMS Hood and battleship Prince of Wales. Lutjens sounded the alarm calling ships' crews to battle stations.





Bismarck vs. Hood (includes battle sequence) (00:06:40m)



May 24 (05:52) The range quickly fell to 26,000 meters (28,000 yards). HMS Hood opened fire followed a minute later by Prince of Wales. In the confusion, while Prince of Wales was engaging fire on the Bismarck, the captain of Hood fired on Prinz Eugen, all the while thinking it was the Bismarck.Sources indicate that the first gunnery officer aboard Bismarck, Adalbert Schneider, requested repeatedly for permission to return fire but Lutjens hesitated.


May 24 1941 Bismarck firing during the Battle of the Denmark Strait
May 24 1941 Bismarck firing during the Battle of the Denmark Strait


May 24 (05:55) For whatever reason Lutjens refused cannot be ascertained, but he finally gave permission after Lindemann's direct intervention. In exasperation he blurted "I will not let my ship be shot out from under my ass."The British ships used only their forward guns, since they were approaching the Germans head on. But the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were able to launch full fire broadside, exerting maximum force and range. A few minutes after opening fire, Holland, British Vice Admiral, had ordered a 20° turn to port thereby permitting his ships to fire with their rear gun turrets. Meanwhile, both German vessels were firing on Hood and just a minute later Prinz Eugen launched a devastating hit with a high-explosive 20.3 cm (8.0 inch) shell. The resulting explosion detonated the Unrotated Projectile (UP) ammunition and erupted into a large fire, but which was quickly extinguished by the crew. UP ammo was developed by the British as a short-range rocket-firing anti-aircraft weapon.

Schneider fired three four-gun salvos and, closing in on the Hood, ordered the Bismarck to commence rapid-fire salvos from its 38 cm guns; in addition to its secondary 15 cm guns to engage Prince of Wales in battle. Holland then orders a second 20° turn to port to position his ships on a parallel course with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

Lutjens gives the order for Prinz Eugen to shift fire to Prince of Wales, thereby keeping both British vessels under attack. Within moments, Prinz Eugen was able to score two hits on the British battleship, resulting in a small fire. Lutjens then issues the command for Prinz Eugen to fall behind Bismark allowing her to monitor the position of Norfolk and Suffolk, whose position at the time was to the east at about 10 to 12 nmi (19 to 22 km; or 12 to 14 miles)


WW2 Battle of Atlantic Hunt for Bismarck  Fatal explosion of HMS Hood as seen from Prinz Eugen at 0600-0601
 Fatal explosion of HMS Hood as seen from Prinz Eugen at 0600-0601

May 24 (06:00) Just as HMS Hood was completing the second turn to port, Bismarck's fifth salvo struck. Two of the shells missed, hitting the water close to the ship, but at least one of the 38 cm shells struck the Hood and easily pierced her thin deck armour. The impact was so great that the shell reached the Hood's rear ammunition magazine and detonated 112 t (110 long tons; 123 short tons) or cordite propellant. The explosive was of such massive proportions that it literally broke the back of the ship between the main mast and the rear funnel. The forward section continued to move forward briefly before water came rushing in. It caused the bow to rise steeply into the air while the stern also rose upward as the water rushed through the ripped-open compartments. Schneider was heard over the ships' loudspeakers, "He is sinking! After just eight minutes of fire exchange, the Hood had disappeared beneath the waves with all but 3 men from a crew of 1,419.



BISMARCK VS PRINCE OF WALES

With the Hood gone, Bismarck turned its guns on the Prince Wales. The Bismarck was able to strike her with its first salvo, while the British battleship did not score a hit on the Bismarck until its sixth salvo. One of the German salvos hit the bridge of the Prince of Wales but did not explode. Rather it exited the other side but killing everyone in the command centre, all except the ships commander, Captain John Leach and another crew.

The Prince of Wales was deluged with shells from the two German vessels, and suffered serious damage, resulting in the malfunctioning of ships guns. Despite problems with the main battery the Prince of Wales was able to score three hits on the Bismarck during the battle.




WW2 Battle of Atlantic - Hunt for the Bismarck- Bismarck firing at HMS Prince of Wales on 24 May 1941 as seen from Prinz Eugen.
 Bismarck firing at HMS Prince of Wales on 24 May 1941 as seen from Prinz Eugen.


The first shell struck the Bismarck in the forecastle. Although it was above the waterline, it was just low enough to allow the water to come rushing into the hull.

The second shell struck her below the armoured belt, on the torpedo bulkhead and exploded on contact, but damage was minimal.

The third shell penetrated through one of the boats carried aboard, and then through the float plane catapult, without explosion.

At 06:13 Captain Leach ordered a retreat, the Prince of Wales having sustained serious damage. Of the ships' ten 14 inch guns (360mm)only two were still able to fire. She made a 160° turn and created a smoke screen to cover her escape. As the range widened, the Germans ceased fire. Though Lindemann was bent on chasing the Prince of Wales and wanted to destroy her, Lutjens denied pursuit. He was under operational orders to avoid engaging with British vessels which were not protecting a convoy.

During the battle, Bismarck had fired 93 armour-piercing shells, but was kit by only 3 shells in return. The hit to the forecastle caused about 1,000 to 2,000 tons of water flooding the ship. Consequently the fuel oil that was stored in the bow was thus contaminated, and because of Lutjens refusal to reduce ship speed, the ships crew could not repair the damage. The lack of action on their part precipitated greater damages as even more water was flooding the ship. The second hit was not as serious, though it did cause some flooding, and splinters damaged a steam line in the turbo-generator room. However, the two hits combined to cause a 9 degree list to port and a 3-degree trim by the bow.



THE CHASE


After the battle Lütjens issued this report: "Battlecruiser, probably Hood, sunk. Another battleship, King George V or Renown turned away damaged. Two heavy cruisers maintain contact."

At 08:01 he transmitted his damage report to German Command, and of his intention to detach Prinz Eugen to embark on a hunting expedition for commerce vessels, but that he would head for St. Nazaire for repairs.

10:00 hours Lutjens gave the order to Prinz Eugen to fall behind the Bismarck and assess the severity of damages, and oil leakage from the bow hit. The confirmation was sobering - "broad streams of oil on both sides of [Bismarck's] wake"

11:00 hours A British Short Sunderland flying boat spotted the oil slick and reported it to Suffolk and Norfolk, which had since been joined by the damaged Prince of Wales. However, the Prince of Wales was ordered by Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker, the commander of the two cruisers, to remain behind his ships.

All British warships were ordered by Naval Command to join in the pursuit of the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

On the morning of May 24th, Tovey's Home Fleet was speeding towards the German raiders but was still more than 350 nmi away. (650 km or 400 miles)

British Command ordered a hunt of massive proportions - they dispatched the Manchester, Birmingham, and Arethusa - light cruisers, to patrol the Denmark Strait in case Lutjens retraced his route. Also joining the hunt was the battleship Rodney, in addition to two battleships, the Revenge and Ramillies, which were in Halifax on an escort mission for Convoy HX 127. Altogether there were six battleships and battle cruisers, two aircraft carriers, thirteen cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers - all working together with one mission - to hunt down the Bismarck.





Sink The Bismarck 7 of 10 (00:08:34m)



16:40 hours Amid the worsening weather, Lutjens attempted to detach Prinz Eugen but to no avail - the squall was not sufficiently heavy to act as a cover for her withdrawal. In the meantime the British cruisers maintained radar contact.

17:00 hours  The Prince of Wales was finally battle ready as the crew had restored nine of the ships ten main guns to working order. She was fit enough to be placed ahead of formation to attack the Bismarck at the first opportunity.

18:14  Prinz Eugen was successfully detached. At the same time the Bismarck turned to face the British vessels, forcing Suffolk to retreat at high speed. The Prince of Wales launched twelve salvos at Bismarck who in return responded with nine of her own, none of which succeeded in scoring a hit. This exchange of fire served only to allow Prinz Eugen to slip away unnoticed. As Bismarck resumed her original course, three of the British vessels took up position on her port side.

Even though Bismarck had been forced to reduce her speed as a result of the damage she sustained, she was still capable of reaching 27 to 28 kn (50 to 51 km/h or 31 to 32 mph) - the same maximum speed of the British battleship King George V. At this speed, she would be able to reach St. Nazaire unless the British could stop her.

On May 25 just before 16:00 hours, Tovey dispatched the aircraft carrier Victorious and four light cruisers to launch torpedo bombers planes.




WW2 Battle of Atlantic Hunt for Bismarck - HMS Victorius Swordfish. The flight deck of HMS Victorious on 24 May 1941.

May 24, 1941 HMS Victorius Swordfish on the flight deck of HMS Victorious. Strike group ready for
battle against Bismarck, in just a few hours. All nine Swordfish of 825th Squadron are clearly visible as well as, in the extreme rear, two Fulmars from 800Z Flight. (Source: www.freerepublic.com)




22:00 hours Victorious launched the strike consisting of six Fairey Fulmar fighters and nine Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers. As the aviators approached, due to their inexperience and confusion, almost targeted the Norfolk. The Bismarck having been alerted of their approach used ships batteries to fire maximum depression - creating giant splashes of water shooting upwards in the paths of the incoming torpedo bombers and managed to evade eight of the nine torpedoes launched at her. The ninth torpedo struck amidships on the main armoured belt, causing some minor damage.The impact shock threw one crew member into a wall killing him instantly. Five others suffered injuries. None of the aircraft were hit during the battle.

The damage to the electrical equipment, though initially minor, began to worsen as the ship began to maintain high speeds and implement erratic maneuvers in an effort to evade more torpedo attacks. It resulted in the loosening of collision mats which failed to stem the incoming water, and flooding increased substantially. Port side number 2 boiler room had to be abandoned. Two boilers had been lost, exacerbated by the decreasing fuel levels and increasing bow trim. Speed had to be reduced to 16 kn (30 km/h or 18 mph). Divers were immediately sent to make repairs to the collision mats, thereby increasing the ships speed to 20 kn (37 km/h or 23 mph). The ships command felt sure that the Bismarck could make its way back to France, even at this speed.

With the departure of the Swordfish torpedo bombers, the Bismarck and Prince of Wales resumed in a brief artillery exchange but neither succeeded in scoring any hits. Damage control teams immediately went to work on the Bismarck; sea water had flooded number 2 port side boiler and was on the verge of entering the number 4 turbo-generator feed water system. If it did, the results would have been traumatic - saltwater would have destroyed the turbine blades and reduce ship speed to an alarming degree.

May 25 (morning)The crew of the Bismarck survived the danger. But now the ship had to slow down to 12 kn (22 km/h or 14 mph) in order to permit divers to pump fuel from the forward compartments to the rear tanks.

The chase ensued as British ships zig-zaged in an attempt to avoid German U-boats that might be lurking in the area. In effect, the ships had to alternate every ten minutes, steaming to port, and then to starboard, just to keep the ships on the same base course. But unexpectedly, at the last few minutes during which British vessels turned to port, the Bismarck slipped away and was out of range of Suffolk's radar.




Sink The Bismarck 8 of 10 (00:07:52)



May 25 (03:00) Lutjens ordered the Bismarck to increase to maximum speed, now only 28 kn (52 km/h or 32 mph). He then ordered her to circle away to the west, and then to the north, to ensure that she would be out of radar range. It worked. The Bismarck broke radar contact and circled back behind her pursuers. The captain of the Suffolk believed that Bismarck had broken off to the west, and headed in that direction hoping to find her. The situation was reported to British Command after half an hour, who ordered the search to resume at daylight, with all three ships conducting a visual search.

The hunt became frantic. Victorious and her escorting cruisers were sent west, Admiral Wake-Walker's ships headed south and west, and Tovey's ships continued towards the mid-Atlantic. To make matters worse, the British ships were getting dangerously low on fuel.

Lutjens was completely unaware that he had evaded Wake-Walker, and hastily sent long radio messages to German Group West in Paris. British intelligence was able to intercept them and discover the Bismarcks co-ordinates. But they were incorrectly plotted, and resulted in sending Tovey on a fruitless chase for seven straight hours. By the time the mistake was discovered, it was too late. The Bismarck had slipped away again. But one thing was certain, the German ships were headed for Brest. The plan now was for Tovey to converge on the area which Bismarck was expected to pass. A squadron of PBY Catalinas was dispatched from Northern Island to join the hunt.

May 26 (10:30) Patrolling the skies were PBY Catalinas and the Ark Royal's Swordfish. The first to spot the Bismarck was a Catalina, piloted by Ensign Leonard B. Smith, of the US Navy. He logged the coordinates, placing the sighting at 690 miles northwest of Brest (1,280 km or 790 miles). At the current speed, she could have reached her destination in less than a day, and was too far ahead of British vessels to be in any danger.

WW2 Battle of Atlanticf -Hunt for Bismarck - photo HMS Ark Royal and Swordfish
HMS Ark Royal and Swordfish


The only option available now to the Royal Navy was Ark Royal with Force H, under the command of Admiral James Somerville. The only heavy ships available, apart from Force H, were the King George V and Rodney, however, they were too far away. Several torpedo bombers were able to spot the Battleship some 60 nmi distance from the Ark Royal (110 km or 69 miles). Somerville ordered an attack as soon as the Swordfish returned and rearmed themselves. Unknown to the Ark Royal, the Sheffield cruiser was detached and began following the Bismarck. It set off an unexpected set of events - the Swordfish, armed with torpedoes and equipped with new magnetic detonators, attacked the Sheffield by accident. The magnetic detonators had malfunctioned, but luckily the Sheffield survived unscathed.

May 26 (19:10) The Swordfish having returned to the Ark Royal, prepared for the second attack. Fifteen aircraft were launched, each loaded with torpedoes equipped with contact detonators.

May 26 (20:47) As the torpedo bombers descended upon the Bismarck, she fired her main battery at Sheffield, straddling the cruiser with her second salvo.Shrapnel rained down on the Sheffield, killing three men and wounding numerous others. The Sheffield quickly retreated under cover of a smoke screen. As the Swordfish were closing in to attack, the Bismarck turned sharply aiming her anti-aircraft batteries at the incoming bombers.While the Bismarck was able to evade most of the torpedoes, two were able to strike her; the first hit amidships on the port side, just below the armour belt. Though there was structural damage and minor flooding, the explosion was contained by the underwater protection system and belt armour. The second torpedo hit the Bismarck in her stern on the port side, near the port rudder shaft causing serious damage to the port rudder assembly. The rudder was locked in a 12° turn to port, caused my major shock damage. After repeated attempts by the crew to regain control of the steering, they managed to repair the starboard rudder, however the port rudder was still badly jammed.

May 26 (21:15) Lutjens reported that the ship was unmanoeuvrable.




SINKING OF THE BISMARCK

With her port rudder jammed, Bismarck was now steaming in a large circle and unable to escape from Tovey's ships. Though fuel shortages had removed several British ships from the hunt, King George V, and Rodney were still in the running and were joined by heavy cruisers, the Dorsetshire and the Norfolk,

May 26 (21:40) Lutjens dispatches what will be his last message. "Ship unmanoeuvrable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Fuhrer." As darkness descended, the Bismarck briefly fired on the Sheffield but to no avail. The Sheffield quickly retreated and could not be seen through the poor visibility. Five British destroyers were standing by, with the mission of keeping track of Bismarck throughout the night.

May 26 (22:38) Upon spotting the Bismark,  British vessels engaged her in battle. After firing three salvos, she straddled the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun. The destroyer continued to close the range until a near miss at around 12,000 meters (39,000 ft) forced her to turn back. Throughout the night and into the morning, Vian's destroyers persistently harassed the Bismarck, illuminating her with star shells and firing dozens of torpedoes, none of which hit.

It was the Piorun who first spotted the Bismarck, and proceeded to shadow her. The Polish Destroyer launched numerous torpedo attacks on the Bismarck during the night before she was met her fate. At one point, the Piorun charged at the Bismarck without any assistance from allied ships, and for the next half hour exchanged gun fire. Neither side scored a hit. Before commencing firing, the Captain of the ORP Piorun transmitted a message. It said only, "I AM A POLE" and the attack commenced on the German destroyer. By 05:00 Vian had ordered Piorun back to base - she very low on fuel and had used up all her torpedoes, but she defied orders and remained on duty for an hour before returning to the British base.

WW2 Polish Destroyer ORP PIORUN - participated in every Allied navy mission + Hunt for Bismarck
WW2 Polish Destroyer ORP PIORUN
 
WW2 Battle of Atlantic - Hunt for Bismarck - Polish Navy - ORP Piorun returns to Plymouth after fight German battleship Bismarck
ORP Piorun returns to Plymouth after fight German battleship Bismarck

May 27 (between 05:00 and 06:00) The third shell launched by Prince of Wales hit the Bismarck and damaged the steam line on the aircraft catapult, making it inoperative. The crew on the Bismarck had attempted to launch one of the Arado 196 float planes to carry away the ship's war diary, footage of the engagement with Hood and other important documents, but unable to launch, they simply pushed it overboard.

May 27 (daybreak) King George V led the attack, Rodney followed off her port quarter. Tovey's objective was to steam towards the Bismarck head-on until about 8 nmi away (15 km or 9.2 miles) at which point he would veer south to put his ships on a parallel position to his target.




Sink The Bismarck 10 of 10 (00:08:26m)


May 27 (08:43) Lookouts on the King George V spotted the Bismarck 23,000 meters away (25,000 yards).

May 27 (08:47) Rodney opens fire from two forward turrets, a total of six 16 inch (410 mm) guns blazing. Almost simultaneously, King George V also fires turning its 14" (360 mm) guns on her.

May 27 (08:50) Bismarck returns fire with her forward guns; and with her second salvo straddled Rodney. As range decreased, her secondary batteries joined in. The Norfolk and Dorsetshire converged on her firing with their 8" (200 mm) guns.

May 27 (09:02) The Bismarck is hit by a 16 " shell from Rodney, killing hundreds of men and severely damaging the two forward turrets, as well as Lindemann and Lutjens.

May 27 (09:27) The Bismarck managed to fire one last salvo, even though the forward main battery had become disabled. The main gunnery control station was quickly destroyed. Lieutenant von Müllenheim took over firing control for the rear turrets and managed to fire three salvos before a shell destroyed the gun director, disabling his equipment.

May 27 (09:31) Mullenheim gave the order for guns to fire independently, but all four main battery turrets had been neutralised.

May 27 (10:00) Tovey's two battleships fired over 700 main battery shells, many of them at very close range. Bismarck was reduced to a wreck, engulfed in flames from stem to stern. She was listing 20° to port and was low in the water at the stern. Rodney closed in, and from a distance of 2,700 meters (3,000 yards) fired guns at point-blank range, continuing a barrage of fire upon the battered hulk of the Bismarck. The onslaught continued unabated. Tovey had to continue firing until the Germans struck their ensigns (a sign of surrender), or abandoned ship. The Bismarck fired a shell hitting the starboard side of the Rodney, disabling its torpedo tube, nevertheless the Rodney was able to fire two torpedoes using the port-side tube. Ludovic Kennedy, a renowned Scottish journalist and author remarked that, "if true, [is] the only instance in history of one battleship torpedoing another."


Battle of Atlantic - The Final Battle  27 May 1941 Surrounded by shell splashes, Bismarck burns on the horizon.
The Final Battle, 27 May 1941. Surrounded by shell splashes, Bismarck burns on the horizon.


Then all hell broke loose on the Bismarck - First Officer Hans Oels ran frantically throughout the ship, ordering the men to abandon ship - instructing the engine room crews to open the ship's watertight doors and proceed to scuttle the ship. But as soon as he reached the deck another massive hit took his life and those of a hundred more.

10:20 Tovey ordered Dorsetshire to close in and fire torpedoes. She launched a pair of torpedoes into Bismarcks' starboard side. One hit the mark. Then Dorsetshire moved around to her port side and fired another torpedo and scored a hit.

10:35 Her port list worsened considerably and the Bismarck capsized and slowly sank by the stern.

10:40 The Bismarck disappeared beneath the waves, while hundreds of her crew were in the water. The Dorsetshire and destroyer Maori veered in, lowering the rope, they helped full survivors aboard.

11:40 Upon the order of the Dorsetshire's captain, the rescue effort was abandoned. Lookouts had spotted U-boats in the area. By the time the Dorsetshire and Maori left the area they had rescued only 110 of the men. A U-boat later approached the area, and found only three survivors, while a German trawler found another two. One of the German crew rescued by the British died of his wounds the next day. Of a crew of 2,200 men, only 114 survived.




SINK THE BISMARCK ~ sung by Johnny Horton (00:03:35m)



NEXT

(please click on the following link for Part 4)

Part 4



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