The Bismarck Action story in brief… from the destruction of the ‘mighty Hood’ to a bloody finale
One of the most famous episodes in naval history, at the time it gripped the attention of people around the world. They wondered if Britain could weather the shock of losing its grip on maritime supremacy, which had been established at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The epic pursuit of the German battleship KM Bismarck took place across 1,700 miles of the North Atlantic, starting with the destruction of the legendary British battle-cruiser HMS Hood, on 24 May 1941 during the Battle of the Denmark Strait.
That devastating blow, with all but three of the ‘Mighty Hood’s’ 1,418 ship’s company lost, was followed by a dramatic search and destroy mission conducted by much of the Royal Navy.
After losing the Bismarck for 31 hours, contact was regained on 26 May followed by Swordfish torpedo-bombers making a bid to stop the flagship of Germany’s navy escaping to safe refuge in a port on the Atlantic coast of occupied France.
With Bismarck’s steering crippled, next into the boxing ring with the Kriegsmarine heavyweight were British destroyers – and one plucky Polish warship – which threw themselves at the enemy during a tumultuous night action.
U-boats ordered to the scene were unable to do anything to protect Bismarck, with one would-be rescuer running out of torpedoes and forced to watch impotently as enemy ships steamed past unharmed.
Come the new day British battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney charged into action and, with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk and HMS Dorsetshire, surrounded the limping Bismarck. They unleashed a storm of fire such as has rarely been seen in modern sea combat.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill endured high anxiety as he kept track of events at his War Rooms in London, while at his Eagle’s Nest in Bavaria, the German dictator Adolf Hitler raged against his naval chiefs’ decision to even deploy Bismarck.
• Watch this space for unique material on how the final battle unfolded.
…a cold uninviting prospect to weary men already shocked by loss of Hood and three days and nights of alarms, excitement and disappointment.’
An officer in HMS Rodney on the prospect of action with Bismarck on 27 May 1941