Wallsmacker Art


"Lutjens was rattled by the superiod British radar.  He had put to sea in the most modern battleship afloat; now his state-of-the-art warhorse was being outclassed by older, inferior steeds.  (Lutjens believed both Suffolk and Norfolk were equipped with this new radar and said so in a radio report to Group North).  What other surprises did the enemy have in store?  Would this be the mission when his luck finally ran out?  Already he had failed to escape into the Atlantic unnoticed.  Whatever his doubts,  the Admiral did not reveal them to his underlings.  But to those around him, he seemed even more dour and withdrawn - almost as if he was resigned to whatever fate held in store.  Not for the first time, Captain Lindemann must have wished he had drawn a more compatible Commander for the most important voyage of his career".  (Bismarck, Robert Ballard).


"In age, range, gun-hitting power, weight of armour and thickness of side protection, Bismarck definitely had the edge over the Hood.  But their speeds were well matched - in fact Hood had begun life with a two-knot advantage over the younger ship.  By 1941 that would have worn away a little though.  An interesting point is that in deck armour - where it has long been held that Hood was at a disadvantage - the British ship had a slight edge on average: varying from location to location it was nearly half an inch thicker, at about five inches in total, although arranged in weaker layers.  Overall, though, in a one-on-one engagement, we can say that Bismarck had a distinct advantage over Hood, but that's far from saying that Hood was a pushover." (Bill Jurens quoted in Hood and Bismarck, White and Mearns)


"Meanwhile, the enemy ships were rapidly closing their original range of more than 30,000 metres.  I estimated that they were steaming at about the same speed as we were, 28 knots.  To approach nearly bow-on, as they were doing, appeared to me absolutely foolhardy; it reminded me of an enraged bull charging without knowing what he's up against.  But, since the British Admiral obviously knew that, his impetuous approach must, I thought, have something to do with gunnery.  Presumably, he wanted to close the range rapidly, so as to get out of the way of plunging fire".  (Battleship Bismarck, Mullenheim-Rechberg, Naval Institute Brest).

"Admiral Holland must also have considered whether it would be to his advantage to fight the enemy at long or short ranges.  He had no information regarding the ranges at which the Bismarck would be most vulnerable to the gunfire of his own ships, but he did know that the Prince of Wales should be safe from vital hits by heavy shells from maximum gun range down to about 13,000 yards, and that the Hood should become progressively more immune from such hits as the range approached 12,000 yards and the enemy's shell trajectories flattened.  At long ranges the Hood, which lacked heavy horizontal armour, would be very vulnerable to plunging fire by heavy shells.  There were, therefore, strong arguments in favour of pressing in to fight the Bismarck at comparatively short ranges". (The War at Sea. Volume 1, Captain S W Roskill)


"The clock showed 0553.  The range, I figured, was less than 20,000 metres.  There were flashes like lightening out there!  Still approaching bow-on, the enemy had opened fire.  Donnerwetter!  Those flashes couldn't be coming from a cruiser's medium-calibre guns.  Certain that we would immediately return the fire, I braced myself for 'permission to fire', and the thunder of our guns that would follow.  Nothing happened.  We in the after station looked at each other in bewilderment.  Why weren't we doing something?  The question hung in the air.  Schneider's voice came over the telephone.  'Request permission to fire.'  Silence.  Schneider again: 'Enemy has opened fire'.  'Enemy's salvoes well grouped,' and, anew, 'request permission to fire.'  Still no response.    (Battleship Bismarck, Mullenheim-Rechberg)

19th May -  THE HOOD!

The tension-laden seconds stretched into minutes.  The British ships were turning slightly to port, the lead ship showing an extremely long forecastle and two heavy twin turrets.  On the telephone I heard Albrecht shout, ' The Hood - it's the Hood!'.  It was an unforgettable moment.  There she was, the famous warship, once the largest in the world, that had been the 'terror of so many of our war games'.  Two minutes had gone by since the British opened fire.  Lindemann could restrain himself no longer and he was heard to mutter to himself, 'I will not let my ship be shot out from under my ass'.  Then, at last, he came on the intercom and gave the word, 'Permission to fire!'.  (Battleship Bismarck, Mullenheim-Rechberg).


Operation orders for Exercise Rhine.  "We must not lose sight of the fact that the decisive objective in our struggle with England is to destroy her trade.  This can be most effectively accomplished in the North Atlantic, where all her supply lines come together and where, even in case of interruption in more distant seas, supplies can still get through on the direct route from North America....The objective of the Battleship Bismarck should not be to defeat in an all-out engagement enemies of equal strength, but to tie them down in a delaying action, while preserving her own combat capability as much as possible, so as to allow the other ships to get at the merchant vessels in the convoy.  The primary mission of this operation is the destruction of the enemy's merchant shipping; enemy warships will be engaged only when that objective makes it necessary and it can be done without excessive risk."  (Operational Directive from the Seekriegsaleitung 2nd April 1941)

Lutjens "must have realised that 'Rheinubung' was going terribly wrong.  He had lost the advantage of secrecy and now he had to do what he had been enjoined not to do, except in extreme circumstances: engage in a set-piece battle with a foe of equal, or even superior strength.  At that point Lutjens actually thought matters were worse than they were - that he was about to engage a fully worked-up King George V from the Royal Navy's newest battleship class, rather than her inexperienced and technically incomplete sister, Prince of Wales." (Hood and Bismarck, White and Mearns)  


"Lindemann's permission for us to open fire was immediately followed by our first heavy salvo.  The Bismarck was in action, and the rumble of her gunfire could be heard as far away as Reykjavik". (Battleship Bismarck, Mullenheim-Rechberg).

" The whole ship plunged with the recoil from the force of a full salvo.  For those on the bridge, in the fire control stations or, worst of all, in the turrets themselves, each salvo was a bone-rattling, mind-numbing experience - something like being next to a bomb going off.  The roar was deafening, the sudden increase in air pressure made it almost impossible to breathe, and the thick cordite smoke choked and blinded.  Unlike most modern forms of warfare, where the senior officers are far from the sting of battle, on board a battleship Admirals and Captains are more exposed than most of the ordinary sailors - and their positions are extremely vulnerable to an enemy hit".  (Bismarck. Robert Ballard)


"I heard Schneider order the first salvo and heard his observation on the fall of the shot, 'Short'.  He corrected the range and deflection, then ordered a four hundred-metre bracket.  The long salvo he described as 'Over', the base salvo as 'Straddling', and immediately ordered, 'Full salvoes good rapid'.  He had thus laid his battery squarely on target at the very outset of the engagement". (Mullenheim-Rechberg, Battleship Bismarck).

"Bismarck had defective radar but superb optical rangefinders, one on the foretop, and the latest fire-control computers and director arrangements.  This was a major advantage." (Dr Eric Grove).  This would be used to devastating effect.  

23rd May - CLOSING IN

"The cruisers, still twelve to fifteen nautical miles astern, followed on our course, a little to one-side of our wake.  There was no evidence that they were preparing to launch a torpedo attack.  The Suffolk fired a few salvoes, but they fell hopelessly short.  Wake-Walker in the Norfolk appeared to have left the battlefield completely in the hands of the senior officer, Holland, in the Hood.  I continued to hear Schneider's calm voice making gunnery corrections and observations.  'The enemy is burning,' he said once, and then, 'full salvoes good rapid.' (Battleship Bismarck, Mullenheim-Rechberg).


At first we could see nothing, but what we saw moments later could not have been conjured up by even the wildest imagination.  Suddenly, the Hood split in two, and thousands of tons of steel were hurled into the air.  More than a thousand men died.  Although the range was still about 18,000 metres, the fireball that developed where the Hood still was seemed near enough to touch.  It was so close that I shut my eyes but curiosity made me open them again a second or two later.  It was like being in a hurricane.  Every nerve in my body felt the pressure of the explosions.  If I have one wish, it is that my children be spared such and experience."  Assistant to Korvettenkapitan Wolf Neuendorff.

"I heard a shout, "She's blowing up!"  "She"- that could only be the Hood!  The sight I then saw is something I shall never forget.  At first the Hood was nowhere to be seen; in her place was a collosal pillar of black smoke reaching into the sky.  Gradually, at the foot of the pillar, I made out the bow of the battle cruiser projecting upwards at an angle, a sure sign that she had borken in two.  Then I saw something I could hardly believe: a flash of orange coming from her forward guns!  Although her fighting days had ended, the Hood was firing a last salvo.  I felt great respect for those men over there."  Battleship Bismarck, Mullenheim-Rechberg


"The Prince of Wales, which, in obedience to Admiral Holland's last command, was turning twenty degrees to port when the Hood blew up, had changed direction to avoid the wreckage of her vanished leader.  She was then at approximately the same range and on the same course as the Hood  had been......the Prince of Wales was being fired upon by both German ships.....she turned away to the southeast, laying a smoke-screen to cover her withdrawal. She "took four 38-centimetre hits from the Bismarck and three 20.3 centimetre hits from the Prinz Eugen.  One 38 centimetre shell struck the bridge and killed everyone there except the captain and the chief signal petty officer.  Another put her forward fire-control station out of action, and a third hit her aircraft crane.  Number four penetrated the waterline, did not explode, and came to rest near one of the generator rooms.  Two 20.3 centimetre shells went through her hull below the water-line aft, letting in some 600 tons of water which flooded several aft starboard compartments, including a shaft alley; the third entered the shell handling room of a 13.3 centimetre gun and came to rest there without exploding." As above.


Prinz Eugen was not hit despite shells falling close to her.  Bismarck received three 35.6 centimetre (14 inch) hits.

  1. Forward of the transverse bulkhead in the forecastle, passing completely through the ship from port to starboard above the waterline but below the bow wave.
  2. The armoured belt alongside Compartment XIV and exploded gainst the torpedo bulkhead causing flooding to the port generator room and power station No 4, and shattered the bulkheads between that room and the two adjacent ones, the port No 2 boiler room and the auxiliary boiler room.  It had also ripped up several of the fuel tanks in the storage and double bottom.
  3. Severed the forepost of a service boat.
"As a result of the flooding, the Bismarck was down 3 degrees by the bow and had a 9 degree list to port.  The tips of the blades of her starboard propeller were already turning above the water....speed was restricted to 28 knots.  We were now leaving a broad streak of oil in our wake, which was undoubtedly going to help the enemy's reconnaisance and pursuit.  The oil was leaking from the service tanks in Compartment XIV and also possibly from the storage tanks in Compartments XX and XXI......Lutjens advised the Seekriegleitung of the damage he had received......"Intention: to proceed to St Nazaire, Prinz Eugen (to conduct) cruiser warfare.""  As above
It is apparent that effective repairs could not have been carried out at sea- St Nazaire was some 2000 nautical miles away.  The location is in the estuary of the river Loire. St Nazaire contained a vast dry dock- the Form Ecluse- the only dry dock on the Atlantic coast capable of receiving and repairing a ship the size of the Bismarck and Tirpitz.  It was because of the latter ship that  the "Greatest Raid of All" "Operation Chariot" was launched in 1942- but that is another story!!  Safe arrival there together with the necessary repairs would probably have resulted in a delay to Exercise Rhine rather than have it aborted.

"The Bismarck would indeed have been wise to rest content on what amounted by itself to a resounding triumph.  She had destroyed in a few minutes one of the finest ships in the Royal Navy, and could go home to Germany with a major success.  Her prestige and potential striking power would rise immensely, in circumstances difficult for us to measure or explain.  Moreover, as we know, she had seriously injured the Prince of Wales, and oil was leaking from her heavily.  How then could she hope to discharge her mission of commerce destruction in the Atlantic?  She had the choice of returning home victorious, with all the options of further enterprises open, or of going on to almost certain destruction.  Only the extreme exaltation of her Admiral or the imperious orders by which he was bound can explain the desperate decision he took.  When I saw my American friend about ten o'clock I had already learned that Bismarck was steaming southward, and I was therefore able to speak with renewed confidence about the final result." Winston Churchill The Second World War Vol 3

"His defiance at such a dark moment made a significant impression on Harriman (American diplomat), who would report back to Roosevelt that the bulldog spirit burned bright." Ballantyne Killing the Bismarck

HMS Hood had not died in vain.


The plan, devised by Lutjens was for Prinz Eugen to separate from Bismarck to operate alone in the Atlantic.  Bismarck would draw off the pursuers.  The cue for this action would be the code-word "Hood."

"The signal to execute the order for the two  ships to separate is given for the second time at 1814.  AS the Bismarck turns away sharply, for the second time, the sea calms.  Rain squalls hang like heavy curtains from the low-lying clouds.  Watching our "big brother" disappear gave us a melancholy feeling.  Then we see him again for a few minutes, as the flashes of his guns suddenly paint the sea, clouds and rain squalls dark red.  The brown powder smoke that follows makes the scene even more melancholy.  It looks as though the ship is turning somewhat northward.

In the fire of his after turrets, we see clearly again the outline of the mighty ship......Then the curtain of rain squalls closes for the last time.  The "big brother" disappears from the sight of the many eyes following him from the Prinz, with great anxiety and with very best wishes......We are to act as a decoy, proceeding on the same course as before at a somewaht slower speed, in order to help the BIsmarck, whose speed has been impaired, to escape from the British shadowers." Kapitanleutnant Paul Schmalenbach

Had these ships no separated, it is likely that the Prinz Eugen would have suffered the same fate as her "big brother."  Normally, of course, a ship would be referred to as "she", but Lindemann preferred the masculine form for Bismarck to reflect the great power of the ship.


"Our antiaircraft batteries fired anything that would fit into their barrels.  Now and again one of our 38 centimetre turrets and frequently our 15 centimetre turrets fired into the water ahead of the aircraft, raising massive waterspouts.  To fly into one of these spouts would mean the end.  And the aircraft: they were moving so slowly that they seemed to be standing still in the air, and they looked so antiquated.  Incredible how the pilots pressed their attack with suicidal courage, as if they did not expect ever again to see a carrier......Some of the planes were only two metres above the water and did not release their torpedoes until they had closed to 400 or 500 metres.  It looked to me as though many of them intended to fly on over us after making their attack.  The height of impudence, I thought.........It cannot be said that we came out of the Swordfish attack unscathed.  When we increased our speed to 27 knots, water pressure increased correspondingly and that, together with the violent zigzags, caused the matting in the forecastle to rip, and water began rushing in again.  The result was that we were more steeply down by the bow.  Furthermore, vibration from our gunfire and the shock response of the starboard torpedo hit enlarged the gash in the bulkhead......We reduced speed to 16 knots long enough for the matting in the forecastle to be made watertight again.  Meanwhile, we resumed our course to St. Nazaire."  Battleship Bismarck Mullenheim-Rechberg

It was reported to Bismarck'[s crew that 5 aircraft had been shot down- this was not the case.  No Swordfish was ever shot down by the Bismarck! 

25th May


"Hearty congratulations on your birthday.  After the last feat of arms, may more successes be granted to you in your new year.  Commander in Chief of the Navy" Raeder

"Best wishes on your birthday"  Adolf Hitler

"The German people are with you, and we will fight until our gun barrels glow red hot and the last shell has left the barrels.  For us seamen, the question now is victory or death."  Lutjens

Although a quiet day at sea for Bismarck the message of Lutjens to his crew had a devastating effect on the ship's hitherto excellent morale- on a par with "Floggings will continue until morale improves".  According to a junior gunnery officer; "deep depression enveloped the whole crew."  It probably would have been better if this speech had never been made.  Lindemann endeavoured to retrieve the situation.

"What significance did 25th May have for the continuation of Exercise Rhine?  No exciting actions took place and by nightfall we had not seen a single enemy either on the sea or in the air, nor did we throughout the night of 25-26 May.  But, it could hardly have been a more fateful day.  In the morning the enemy lost contact with us- Lutjens didn't realise it and sent two radio messages- Group West informed him of its impression that contact had been broken- Lutjens accepted this finding and instituted radio silence- the enemy took a bearing on the two messages he did send, but their coordinates having been incorrectly evaluated in King George V, our pursuers turned in the wrong direction- Tovey's loss of time and space was our gain- in the afternoon Tovey returned to the correct course- the British net drew together - preparations were made for an air search for the Bismarck at her supposed position- our prospects of reaching St. Nazaire rose in the morning and sank in the afternoon, but were still real at the end of the day.

Lutjens must have bitterly regretted not having taken the opportunity to fuel in Grimstadfjord or from Weissenberg after we got under way.  Ever since it had been determined that part of our fuel supply was inaccessible, more than twenty hours earlier, the Bismarck had had to proceed at an economical 20 knots.  Had we been making 28 knots of which her engines were capable, we would have been 160 nautical miles nearer to St. Nazaire and under cover of the Luftwaffe." Battleship Bismarck: Mullenheim-Rechberg

26th May


1015 Flying Officer Dennis Briggs and co-pilot Leonard Briggs flying in a Catalina find Bismarck which was now at a distance of 400 nautical miles from St. Nazaire.

1200 Enemy aircraft maintains contact with Bismarck.

1903 "Fuel situation urgent" Radio message to Group West

2030 "Aircraft alarm" "They approached even more recklessly than the planes had done from Victorious two days earlier.  Every pilot seemed to know what this attack meant to Tovey.  It was the last chance to cripple the Bismarck so that the battleships could have at her.  And they took it......Once more, the Bismarck became a fire-spitting mountain.  The racket of her anti-aircraft guns were joined with the roar from her main and secondary turrets as they fired into the bubbling paths of on-coming torpedoes, creating splashes ahead of the attackers....The antique looking Swordfish, fifteen of them, seemed to hang in the air, near enough to touch.......The heeling of the ship first one way and then the other told me that we were trying to evade torpedoes......Two torpedoes exploded in quick sucession, but somewhere forward of where I was........The attack must have been almost over when it came, an explosion aft.  My heart sank.  I glanced at the rudder indicator.  It showed "left 12 degrees."  Did that just happen to be the correct reading at that moment?  No.  It did not change.  It stayed at "left 12 degrees."

Lindemann desperately tried combinations of speeds and propellers.  Nothing did any good.  When he did suceed in deflecting the ship from her course to the northwest, her jammed rudders brought her back into the wind.  Increasing winds and rising seas made our useless rudders and even more critical factor.

Messages Lutjens to Group West:

2115 "Ship no longer steerable"

2140 ""Ship unable to maneuvre. We will fight to the last round.  Long live the Fuhrer."

2205 Group West informs Lutjens that eight U-boates in the area had been ordered to close the Bismarck.

2235 "Am surrounded by Renown and light forces."

2300 BIsmarck sights destroyers- salvoes fired.

2303 Group West to Fleet: "Complete aerial reconnaissance on 27 May between 46 degrees and 48 degrees 30 minutes north and sector from Brest northwest.  Earliest possible start 0430, bombers 0630."

2358  Fleet Commander to the Fuhrer of the German Reich, Adoph Hitler: "We will fight to the last in belief in you, my Fuhrer, and in unshakeable confidence in Germany's victory."

2359 Fleet to Group West: "Ship is able to defend herself and propulsion plant intact.  Does not respond to steering with engines, however."

"A moonless, gloomy night had long since fallen over us.  Incapable of maneuvering, we crept towards the superior forces coming to destroy us- a virtual journey to Golgotha.  As the hours passed, our dying hope that somehow we would still find a way to escape was supplanted by the growing certainty that there was no escape.  Sometime after midnight, the word spread that work on the rudder had ceased, and certainty became absolute."  Battleship Bismarck: Mullenheim-Rechberg


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