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On This Day …..

  • On this Day


    On this day in 1941 The Royal Navy sank Hitler’s prize Battleship the Bismarck.


    On the 14th of February 1939 Germany launched its state-of-the-art Battleship, the Bismarck. The ship was named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and was set to be the most state of the art ship in the German fleet. Work continued on the ship after its launch until the 24th of August 1940, when it was commissioned into the German Navy. The Bismarck was a formidable ship which was hoped to turn the tide on Britain’s control of the seas.


    The first mission of the Bismarck was to break out into the Atlantic Ocean, where she would be almost impossible to track, allowing her to destroy passing conveys on their way to Britain. On the evening of the 19th of May 1941 the Bismarck set off on her mission and accompanied by the German heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen. In support of the two ships the German navy also sent three destroyers, several minesweepers, and the Luftwaffe provided air cover.


    The Bismarck was quite a prize for the Royal Navy and shortly after she set off on the 20th of May, Swedish aircraft spotted the fleet heading through the Danish Straight. The movement of the Bismarck was confirmed by the code breakers at Bletchley Park and on the 21st of May Flying Officer Michael Suckling flew his spitfire at a height of 8,000 m (26,000 ft) over the flotilla and took photos of the Bismarck and her escorts.


    Battlecruiser HMS Hood and Battleship HMS Prince of Wales were sent with six destroyers to the Denmark Straight to intercept the approaching enemy flotilla. 


    In the early hours of the 24th of May the two opposing fleets were in range of each other and the Battle of the Denmark Straight began. HMS Hood opened fire on the Prinz Eugen and HMS Prince of Wales opened fire on the Bismarck. The Germans aboard the Bismarck were hesitant but began to return fire 10 minutes later. Both the German ships attacked HMS Hood with their main guns and after several hits, the ships weapons battery was hit. The explosion split the ship in half and HMS Hood sank with only 3 of the 1,419 crew surviving.


    The two German ships then turned their attention to HMS Prince of Wales causing severe damage. Gun malfunction on the guns of HMS Prince of Wales made retaliation almost impossible but the ship managed three hits on the Bismarck but causing what appeared to be minimal damage. HMS Prince of Wales was forced to retreat leaving the two German vessels victorious in the battle.


    Although the hull breaches on the Bismarck were above sea level the heavy waves soon began to fill the ship with water and she began to list to port side and another of the hits had caused a fuel leak. The two German Vessels headed for the safety of Occupied France for repairs.


    Meanwhile HMS Prince of Wales had met with a large fleet of ships comprising of 5 other battlecruiser and battleships, two aircraft carriers, thirteen cruisers and 21 destroyers. After the sinking of HMS Hood the Navy ordered all available ships to join the pursuit of the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. HMS Prince of Wales managed to repair nine of their ten guns and was able to take the lead of the fleet. Planes from the aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal hit the Bismarck with three torpedoes causing further damage and during the attack the Prinz Eugen was able slip away.


    On the 26th of May the Captain of the Bismark sent a message to command saying "Ship un-manoeuvrable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer."


    On the 27th of May the Battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney spotted the Bismarck and pursued her. They were ordered to continue firing until the crew began to abandon ship and they fired some 700 shells at the Bismarck. The Captain of the Bismarck ordered his men to abandon ship but not before placing demolition charges throughout the ship. Before all the men were able to escape the charges exploded and hundreds died. With the ship abandoned the British battleship attempted to sink the Bismarck and fired several more shells at the vessel without success. Eventually two torpedoes were fired at the ship and with one exploding on the portside the Bismarck eventually began to sink. Some witnesses reported seeing its Captain, Lindemann, standing to attention on the deck as she sank.


    Out of the 2,200 crew only 114 survived.