70 Years Ago

70 years ago this week, one of the great dramas of both World War II and Naval History played out. German Battleship Bismark, accompanied by the Cruiser Prinz Eugen,  set off to attempt to break out into the North Atlantic and attack merchant shipping trying to supply Britain.

Her course took her north towards Iceland, and then south through the Denmark Strait.  There, early on 24 May 1941, the German ships encountered British battleships Prince of Wales and Hood.  At about 5:50 am,  action was commenced, and all 4 ships were engaged.  Prinz Eugen and Bismark both scored hits on Hood, and suddenly, at 6:00am, a monstrous sheet of flame appeared just abaft Hood’s mainmast.  A large column of smoke rose into the sky,  followed by a thunderous sound. When the flame subsided, Hood’s bow could be seen standing nearly straight up in the sea, and she sank within 3 minutes.  Of the 1,418 crew, only three men–Ted Briggs, Robert Tilburn, and William John Dundas–survived. They were rescued about two and a half hours after the sinking by the destroyer HMS Electra.

Prince of Wales withdrew from the action, though both she and Hood apparently had scored some hits. At least three shells struck Bismark, one of which allowed sea water to contaminate her reserve fuel oil, and her radar was out of action.  Lutjens, commanding the group, decided to make for the French coast (the dry-dock in Saint-Nazaire) for repairs, while ordering Prinz Eugen to continue commerce raiding alone. Thus the stage was set for one of the greatest encounters between Battleships since Trafalgar.

I’ll let you read on about the action here, though we all know how it ended.  With the loss of Bismark on 27 May, 1941, the threat against the Royal Navy from Germany’s High Seas Fleet was blunted, and for the rest of the war the German surface fleet was of little use to her nation.


2 Responses to “70 Years Ago”

    May 26, 2011 at 16:29

    His fuel, not hers. To English speakers, all ships are female, to French or Russian speakers, all ships are male, and to WWII era German sailors, merchies are female, and warships are male.

    The BISMARK KLASSE Schwere Panzerschiffes were really upgraded VAN DER TAN class battlecruisers. It would have been interesting to see just how he would have fared against a NORTH CAROLINA or a SOUTH DAKOTA. The 16″/45 was actually a better gun than the 16″/50 for plunging fire, the MK7 having a flatter trajectory. Radar controlled 16″/45 can wreak havoc if properly used.

    Thanks for the reminder, Tim, it is something that should not be forgotten.

    Because of the movie, SINK THE BISMARK, I do have to smile when I think of the BISMARK, however. At one point, the male lead is writing a letter to his son, a Swordfish pilot on ARK ROYAL, and he starts writing it with the salutation, My dearest Richard, which means that he has at least 3 sons named Richard, of which this one, at least, is his favorite.

    • May 26, 2011 at 18:15


      Down towards the bottom of here,


      there is a refutation of the argument regarding Bismark being a “modernized” version of the Bayern class.
      Partly quoted:

      “Preston claimed that the design was an enlarged reworking of World War I Bayern class battleships and retained old-fashioned features particularly in respect of the armour layout, regarded as outdated by the Royal Navy and United States Navy. Authors like Jack Brower[79] or William H. Garzke and Robert O. Dulin have claimed this is not true in their books The Battleship Bismarck and Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II: “This … resulted in some speculation that the Bismarck-class battleships were mere copies of these older ships. This is false; the new ships had to be faster and have more protection, range, and firepower; and the percentages allocated to armour protection, firepower, and propulsion were not the same as Bayern. The triple-shaft arrangement and the distribution and calibre of the main armament were the only major similarities.”

      Not taking sides, but just passing on those comments.

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