Honour - 'Bismarck' 1941

Date - 23/27-May-1941
Type - Fleet or Squadron Actions
Conflict - World War 2; 1939-45

Description The action took place in the North Atlantic from the Denmark Strait to a point about 300 miles west of Brest.

The German battleship Bismarck in company with Prinz Eugen left Gdynia on 18-May to break out into the Atlantic and attack British North Atlantic convoys.

The two ships were sighted in the Denmark Strait at 1922hrs on 23-May by the cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk who reported and began shadowing the German ships.

The British Battle cruiser Hood and just completed battleship Prince of Wales, had sailed from Scapa Flow to cover the Denmark Strait as soon as the German ships had been reported at Bergen. Therefore they were about 300 miles away when the initial sighting report was made by HMS Suffolk.

They engaged at 0552hrs on 24-May when the range was down to 25,000 yards. Eight minutes later with the range down to 19,000 yards Hood has hit by Bismarck's 5th salvo, and blew up with the loss of all but three of the 1,419 on board. Prince of Wales broke off the action, and joined the two cruisers in continuing to shadow Bismarck. Prinz Eugen turned north and returned to Germany. Bismarck continued towards the south.

An attack by Swordfish aircraft about midnight on 24-May caused no damage but may have caused the German to decide to head for Brest. After a short engagement between Prince of Wales and Bismarck about 0100hrs 25-May contact was lost

Meanwhile the British battleship King George V had sailed from Scapa Flow and expected to join that evening. However there was no sign of Bismarck. But Bismarck made a long 30 minute wireless signal which allowed her position to be plotted as east of her last known position. The raw bearings were sent to the shadowing ships and plotted on the wrong type of chart, which showed Bismarck to be 200 miles north of her true position. By the time the error was caught Bismarck was 110 miles ahead of King George V and several British ships were running short of fuel.

Virtually all major Royal Navy units in the North Atlantic including those escorting convoys, and Force H from Gibraltar.

At 1036hrs on 26-May she found by patrolling Catalina aircraft followed shortly afterwards by Swordfish aircraft from Force H's HMS Ark Royal. At 2035hrs, only a few hours before Bismarck would have made the safety of getting within range of land based Luftwaffe aircraft, a torpedo strike in bad weather by Swordfish aircraft from HMS Ark Royal jammed Bismarck's rudder. The damage could not be repaired and the pursuing ships caught up the next morning.

At 0847hrs 27-May the Battleship HMS Rodney engaged, followed at 0848hrs by HMS King George V. By 1000hrs Bismarck's main armament had been put out of action and 10 minutes later all other guns were also silenced. At 1015hrs the British battleships broke of the action and running short of fuel turned for home. The cruiser Dorsetshire was ordered to close and sink the Bismarck with torpedoes.

She put two torpedoes into the starboard side and one into the port side.

At 1040 hrs the German ship turned keel up and sank. Only 115 of her crew of about 2,400 were picked up.


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This page last edited - 29 January, 2013.

Copyright Ian M King, except where otherwise indicated.