27th May 1941. Sink the Bismarck!
The mighty HMS Hood, an Admiral Class Battlecruiser of 45,000 tons, was launched in 1918, by the widow of Rear-Admiral Sir Horace Hood.(1)
Following the loss of three Battle Cruisers at Jutland in 1916, it was decided to plate the Hood with an extra 5,000 tons of armour plating, which in the end proved its undoing, as the deck was not fully protected.
Imagine the shock and consternation in 1941 when in the North Atlantic, Battle of Denmark Strait, on May 24th, the Hood, thought to be indestructible was sunk by Germany’s newest and fastest battleship.
For the 45,000 tons, Bismarck, after firing six salvoes, one of which went through the deck, sunk the ship, from a range of 13 miles.
There were three survivors from a crew of 1,400, who were singing ‘roll-out-the barrel’, when picked up by the destroyer Electra.
The message now went out Sink the Bismarck, which now became the Royal Navy’s prime target, and so it was Today in 1941 that Churchill was able to announced in the Commons its sinking, to loud applause. (2)
After the breakout of the Bismarck from it fjord, confusion faced Jack Tovey Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, as to whether it would make for France or Norway.
The Navy now extended operations over 1,750 miles from the Denmark Strait to 400 miles, west of Brest resulting in the greatest concentration of ships ever assembled.
Two battleships, supported by cruisers, were detached from escorting convoys in the north Atlantic, It also included the main body of the Home Fleet, coming from the north, and vessels from the Mediterranean Fleet from the south; in all about 100 vessels.
It was to be bi-planes, sent by Ark Royal from Gibraltar, which were initially to spot, and damage with torpedoes, the rudder of Bismarck on 26th, forcing her to go round in circles, making escape impossible, whilst being harassed by destroyer torpedoes, most of which missed.
Swordfish of 825 squadron from the carrier Victorious were also involved, and during an initial attack Philip Gick (later Rear Admiral), was the only pilot out of nine, to score a torpedo hit.
The end came on Tuesday the 27th, when after a 100 minutes pounding, the Bismarck sank at 10.40am, after repeated shelling, torpedoes and finally its scuttling.(3)
The cruiser Norfolk was engaged throughout the whole operation, being the last ship mentioned as being in action.
One outcome of the action was the realization of the power of the airborne torpedo from planes operating from aircraft carriers.
The sinking of the Bismarck helped to ‘bury’the bad news from the Mediterranean where cruisers and destroyers were lost, against the Italians in the Battle of Crete.(4)
(1) Launched by the great-great grandson of the famous Lord Hood. The ship was commissioned on 15th May 1920.
(2) Churchill had been asked by Mr Lees Smith to make a war statement, but had to interrupt the proceedings by announcing that the Bismarck had been sunk.
(3) Garzk and Dufin p 296 as quoted in wikipedia.org/battle_of_battleship_bismarck.
(4) Battle for Crete, S.W.C. Pack, 1973 P.91.
Ref: Commons Debate: 27.5.1941, Vol 371 cc 1714-18.
Ref: Pic of Hood, wikipedia.org.
Ref: battle-cruisers.co.uk/Painting of Hood and Express.