For 1750 Miles They Chased the Bismarck
"I have just received news that the Bismarck is sunk." In these words Mr. Churchill announced to an expectant House of Commons on May 27 the end of the chase of Hitler's newest and most powerful battleship. Below we tell the full story in the words of the Admiralty communiqués issued shortly after the fight was fought and won.
Air reconnaissance by Coastal Command aircraft revealed that a German battleship and cruiser, which they had previously located in the Norwegian port of Bergen, had sailed.
Certain dispositions were therefore ordered, and as a result H.M. cruiser Norfolk (9,925 tons), Capt. A. J. L. Phillips, R.N., wearing the flag of Rear-Adml. W. F. Wake-Walker, C.B., O.B.E., and H.M. cruiser Suffolk (10,000 tons), Capt. R. M. Ellis, R.N., were ordered to take up position in the Denmark Straits. On Friday evening Adml. Wake-Walker reported sighting an enemy force of one battleship and one cruiser [Prinze Eugen] proceeding at high speed to the southwestward. Visibility in the Denmark Straits was bad and extremely variable. The range of the enemy was only six miles when he was first sighted, and storms of snow and sleet and patches of mist at times reduced the visibility to one mile.
Despite the difficulties of visibility, H.M.S. Norfolk and H.M.S. Suffolk shadowed the enemy successfully throughout the night.
Meanwhile, other units of the Royal Navy were taking up dispositions at high speed with a view to intercepting the enemy and bringing him to action with our heavy forces.
Early on Saturday morning H.M. battlecruiser Hood (42,100 tons), Capt. R. Kerr, C.B.E., R.N., wearing the flag of Vice-Adml. L. E. Holland, C.B., with H.M. battleship Prince of Wales (35,000 tons), Capt. J. C. Leach, M.V.O., R.N., in company, made contact with the enemy. Action was immediately joined. During the ensuing engagement Bismarck received damage and was at one time seen to be on fire. Hood, as has already been announced, received a hit in the magazine and blew up. H.M.S. Prince of Wales sustained slight damage. The chase was continued on a south-westerly course, with H.M.S. Norfolk and H.M.S. Suffolk shadowing the enemy and maintaining contact, despite all the enemy's efforts to shake off the pursuit.
It appeared at this time that the enemy's speed had been slightly reduced, and reconnaissance aircraft of the Coastal Command reported that she was leaving a wake of oil.
On Saturday evening H.M.S. Prince of Wales again made contact with the enemy and action was joined for a short time. The German ships at once turned away to the westward, and then swung round on to a southerly course, with our forces still in pursuit. Other of our naval forces were now approaching the enemy, and during the night naval torpedo-bombing aircraft from H.M. aircraft-carrier Victorious (23,000 tons), Capt. H. C. Bovell, R.N., delivered a torpedo attack on the enemy from a considerable distance, and one torpedo was seen to hit the Bismarck.
H.M.S. Norfolk, H.M.S. Suffolk and H.M.S. Prince of Wales continued to shadow the enemy successfully until shortly after 3 a.m. on Sunday. Touch with the enemy was now lost in low visibility. The enemy was then approximately 350 miles south-south-east of the southern point of Greenland. Searching dispositions were at once taken up by other units of the Royal Navy.
The main body of the Home Fleet, under the command of Adml. J. C. Tovey, K.C.B., D.S.O., with his flag flying in H.M. battleship King George V (35,000 tons), Capt. W. R. Patterson, C.V.O., R.N., was steaming at high speed in a south-westerly direction from northern waters.
Another force under the command of Vice-Adml. Sir James F. Somerville, K.C.B., D.S.O., with his flag flying in H.M. battlecruiser Renown (32,000 tons), Capt. R. R. McGrigor, R.N., was steaming north-westwards at high speed from Gibraltar.
H.M. battleship Rodney (33,900 tons), Capt. F. H. G. Dalrymple Hamilton, R.N., and H.M. battleship Ramillies (29,150 tons), Capt. A. D. Read, R.N., who were escorting convoys in the North Atlantic, proceeded to move in the direction of the enemy.
Extensive air searches were organized by Coastal Command and by the Royal Canadian Air Force stationed in Newfoundland.
It was not until about 10.30 a.m. on Monday that the enemy was again located. At that time the Bismarck was sighted by a Catalina aircraft of Coastal Command in a position about 550 miles west of Land's End.
This aircraft was attacked, and as a result lost touch with the enemy battleship half an hour later, but at 11.15 a.m. the Bismarck was sighted by naval aircraft operating from H.M. aircraft-carrier Ark Royal (22,000 tons), Capt. L. E. H. Maund, R.N. Only the battleship Bismarck was seen, and she was then steering an easterly course.
At this time H.M.S. King George V and H.M.S. Rodney were approaching the area, but were not yet sufficiently close to bring the enemy to action.
As soon as Bismarck was sighted by Ark Royal's aircraft Adml. Sir James Somerville detached the cruiser Sheffield (9,100 tons), Capt. C. A. A. Larcom, R.N., to make contact with and shadow the Bismarck. During the afternoon a striking force of naval aircraft was dispatched from Ark Royal to attack with torpedoes, but this proved unsuccessful. Shortly after 5.30 p.m. H.M.S. Sheffield made contact with the Bismarck and proceeded to shadow her. Within 20 minutes another striking force of naval aircraft was flown off by H.M.S. Ark Royal. This force attacked successfully, and one torpedo was seen to hit the Bismarck amidships.
Read on, on the next page.
Articles in the The Bismarck and The Hood serie
- Previous article: none
- Next article: How the Royal Navy Avenged the Hood