Wallsmacker Art


"At 2.47am 24th May, there was huge relief when a signal was received from Suffolk, revealing she had found Bismarck and her consort again.  The four big ships were heading on a similar course - the British on 200 degrees, the Germans on 220 degrees, in other words slightly diverging.  This was not the best position, but Holland would have hoped the Germans were still not aware enemy capital ships were in hot pursuit and about to catch up with them.  (Killing the Bismarck, Iain Ballantyne).

"The two squadrons were now approaching each other at a combined speed of almost sixty miles an hour, each side racing through the night to get into the best position for the battle that was now inevitable.  For Holland in Hood, that meant presenting the smallest possible target to the Germans until the last moment, then swinging round to bring all eight of his - and Prince of Wales' ten - big guns to bear.  For Lutjens, the key aim for Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had to be to sweep the British aside as fast as he could, and continue into the wide spaced of the Atlantic - so tantalising near now - and begin to destroy the convoys." (Hood and Bismarck, Mearns and White).

16th May - THE MIGHTY

"The Hood, battered and riven by war, was as beautiful as ever as she steamed into her last battle.  The sight offered her consorts in the hours left to her cannot have differed greatly from that recalled by the Rev Gordon Taylor from the Destroyer Arrow off Iceland on Easter Sunday, 13th April 1941.  'I took no services that Easter Day, for the sea was too rough and the closest attention had to be paid to the Hood as she made flag signals to her escorts - but I watched her for hours on the Arrow's bridge.  As she was only about two cables (or 1200 feet) a beam away  from me, she was truly a magnificent sight as she drove along, zig-zagging to foil U-boats, in the green and gold sea whenever the sun came out upon her.  I felt unbelievably privileged to be watching her and had already decided the whole experience of seeing the Hood that morning would be completely imperishable and so it has proved to be for sixty years.' " (Battlecruiser Hood, Bruce Taylor incorporating Taylor Remembrance Day sermon).


To make the most of the forces at his disposal, Admiral Holland hatched a daring plan.  If he continued on his current course, he would intercept the Germans during the darkest part of the night.  But if he altered course to the North, he could intercept the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen at about 2am, just after sunset in these latitudes in late May.  There were two important advantages to this strategy.  The Hood would approach the enemy ships almost head-on at high speed and so could quickly close the distance (the combined speed of the two vessels would be roughly 56 knots).  This would minimise the amount of time when the enemy's shells would be most dangerous (the closer the range, the flatter the shell's projectory).  Equally important, by emerging out of the darkness while the enemy was silhouetted against the still-bright sky to the North-North West, there was the possibility of surprise.  The Hood and Prince of Wales would take on the Bismarck while the Norfolk and Suffolk engaged the Prinz Eugen.  Even if the Germans were not caught napping, it was a brilliant plan that gave the attackers every possible advantage, but at the price of exposing the onrushing British ships to the full main battery of the Bismarck while only able to return the fire with their forward turrets.  But everything depended on the Bismarck's shadowers keeping her on their radar and being able to mirror every changing course and speed.  (Bismarck, Robert Ballard).

"Holland has come in for some very unfair criticism for his approach to Bismarck, usually informed by twenty-twenty hindsight.  He had two problems: covering all potential German movements when shadowing was uncertain, and not scaring the Germans into turning back before bringing them to action.  This meant keeping as many options as possible open, for as long as possible, and not giving his position away.  These two things he did superbly well, and he succeeded in taking the Germans totally by surprise, forcing them to fight.  He then acted as contemporary doctrine dictated, closing the enemy as quickly as possible to come to a decisive gun range where initially superior German rangefinding would be less of an advantage" (Dr Eric Grove, quoted in Hood and Bismarck, Mearns and White)


"I had a grandstand view and would not die unknowingly in the darkness....I'm not, and never have been, a religious zealot, nor a churchman, but my last thoughts in these moments of inaction were of the peaceful little chapel under the flag deck.  It reminded me of Nelson's own prayer, 'May the great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory: and may no misconduct, in any one, tarnish it: and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet. For myself individually, I commit my life to Him who made me and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my country faithfully.  To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen, Amen, Amen'.  And I offered up a pitiful silent prayer of my own for personal courage and stamina and for a British Victory."  (Ted Briggs)


"The first salvo from the Hood fell harmlessly to the stern of the Prinz Eugen, throwing up great geysers of water close to the ship.  But Captain Leach aboard Prince of Wales had realised their mistake before Admiral Holland and without awaiting permission, opened fire on the Bismarck.  The Hood and Prince of Wales, in close formation, were closing rapidly." (Bismarck, Robert Ballard).  

"McMullan  (Prince of Wales) suspected this was NOT Bismarck he was being ordered to shoot at.  He realised that the Hood had made a mistake.  A request was made for Hood to repeat her signal, a hint that perhaps the more senior ship had made a mistake. McMullan later expressed sympathy for Hood's mistake in the heat of the action, for the older ship had a lower bridge which meant the silhouette of the left hand German vessel looked bigger than it did to those in the Prince of Wales.  McMullan reflected it was 'very cunning on the Germans' part' to have these silhouettes so exactly alike.  Of course the Prinz Eugen, although she was a cruiser, was a very big ship." (Killing the Bismarck, Iain Ballantyne).


"I could visualise how the mates I knew in other departments would be preparing.  Ron Bell was on the flag deck at the other end of the voice-pipe I was manning.  His voice did not betray any signs of funk, as I was sure mine did.  Near him would be (Frank) Tuxworth, helping to handle the halyards and still joking no doubt.  Alongside, in charge of the flags I guess that Yeoman Bill Nevett would be as outwardly calm as ever, despite the pallor of his face.  On the boat deck I knew another mate, Petty Officer Stan Boardman, would be readying the crew of (Sammy), the starboard multiple pom-pom.  Would he be thinking of his adored wife and his newly born baby, or would he be questioning what on earth he could do with his anti-aircraft guns against the Bismarck's fifteen inches?  And what of the sick-bay, where I had spent the first few days of my life in the ship?  There the 'tiffies' under Surgeon Commander (Henry) Hurst and sick-bay Petty Officer (George) Stannard would be sterilising operating instruments, laying out blankets, making sure bandages were handy." (Coles and Briggs, Flagship Hood).


"Reverend Patrick Stewart broadcast what Briggs remembered as a 'very calm, matter-of-fact running commentary' of events over the tannoy.  Further below, in spaces Stewart's voice would never penetrate, Sub-Lt John Cambridge tended the ship's boiler rooms in an inferno of heat and hell of noise.  Then there was the 'Chief' himself, Cdr Terence Grogan, performing a miracle of naval engineering from the control platform of the Forward Engine Room.  To this miracle the speed of his ship and the efforts of her consort to keep pace bear witness.  Vice-Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly: 'I shall always hope that, just as he died, he became aware that the brand-new HMS Prince of Wales was having difficulty in keeping up with her twenty-year-old flag ship as Grogan drove Hood into her last battle'. (The Battle Cruiser HMS Hood, Bruce Taylor).


"The battle, but a few minutes old, was going poorly for Admiral Holland.  Because he continued to keep his two ships in close formation, they presented a single target to the German gunners who were rapidly homing in.  He had realised after his first salvo that he was concentrating his fire on the wrong ship, while both German vessels were blasting away at him for all they were worth.  But it took his inexperienced gun crews inordinately long to switch fire.  Meanwhile the Prince of Wales kept firing; her seventh salvo straddled the Bismarck". (Bismarck, Robert Ballard)

"Like much else during her last minutes, the number and placing of the Hood's salvoes is a matter for conjecture.  A B Bob Tilburn records six salvoes from the forward turrets and Ted Briggs at least one from 'X' turret but the actual numbers may never be established.  It seems likely that she did indeed redirect her fire from Prinz Eugen to Bismarck but at what stage, and to what effect is not known for certain.....What is certain is that none of her shells registered on their targets.  The reasons for this are not far to seek.  Not only had her fire power been reduced by half by the angle of approach, but the turret range finders were being drenched in spray as she thundered into a head sea at 29 knots, the speed at which vibration in the spotting top became excessive....  In view of the conditions, the probable need to shift target, and the high rate of change of range as Hood closed the enemy, her failure to land a hit is not to be wondered at". (Battlecruiser HMS Hood, Bruce Taylor)


"Then a shell from Prinz Eugen's second salvo exploded at the base of the Hood's main mast, touching off UP projectiles stored there.  The three-inch rockets loaded with cordite propellant started a spectacular fire that soon spread to nearby ammunition." (Bismarck, Robert Ballard)

"Then I was flung off my feet.  My ears were ringing as if I had been in the striking-chamber of Big Ben.  I picked myself up, thinking I had made a complete fool of myself, but everyone else on the compass platform was also scrambling to his feet.  Commander 'Tiny' Gregson walked almost sedately out to the starboard wing of the platform to find out what had happened"  Ted Briggs from 'Flagship Hood' Coles and Briggs.  

 "As the fire continued to blaze, a blue pendant shot out of the Hood's yardarm, signalling a twenty degree turn to port".  (Bismarck, Robert Ballard)....

"He ordered all of his guns to turn to port.so that at last all the guns on both Hood and Prince of Wales could bear on the enemy and fire broadside.  This came at a price - exposing more of his two ships to shell hits and armour penetration.  ...but Eric Grove believes that probably the order from the bridge could not have been carried out by Hood's damaged fire-control system".(Hood and Bismarck, Mearns and White)


"On came the Hood, shells raining down as her after turrets strained against the stops to find bearing on the enemy.  His approach completed, at approximately 06.00 Holland ordered another 20-degree turn to port.  It was just seven or eight minutes since she had opened fire.  Until now, Holland and his officers had followed the progress of the battle with the steely composure of their forebears, outwardly unperturbed by the havoc being wrought on their ship.  But this detachment was not to last.  Even as the Hood began to execute her turn a shell from Bismarck's fifth salvo was hurtling in from 16000 yards.  With it came the mortal hit."  Battle Cruiser Hood- Bruce Taylor

"As the Hood turned, X turret roared in approval, but its Y twin stayed silent.  And then a blinding flash swept around the outside of the compass platform.  Again I found myself being lifted off my feet and dumped head first on the deck.  This time, when I got up with the others the scene was different.  Everything was cold and unreal.  The ship which had been a haven for me for the last two years was suddenly hostile."  Ted  Briggs quoted in  Coles and Briggs, Flagship Hood.

The next shell came aft and the ship shook like mad.  I was next to the gun shield, so I was protected from the blast, but one of my mates was killed and the other had his side cut open by a splinter.  It opened him up like a butcher and all his innards were coming out."  Bob Tilburn- Arthur, The Navy 1939 to the Present Day

After the initial jarring she listed slowly, almost hesitatingly, to starboard.  She stopped after about ten degrees, when I heard the helmsman's voice shouting up the voice-pipe to the officers of the watch: "Steering's gone, sir."  The reply of "Very good" showed no signs of animation or agitation.  Immediately Kerr ordered: "Change over to emergency steering."  Although the Hood had angled to starboard, there was still no concern on the compass platform.  Holland was back in his chair.  He looked aft towards the Prince of Wales and then re-trained his binoculars on the Bismarck.  Slowly the Hood righted herself.  "Thank heaven for that," I murmured to myself, only to be terrorized by her sudden, horrifying cant to port.  On and on she rolled, until she reached an angle of forty-five degrees." Coles and Briggs, Flagship Hood.

"Realising the ship was finished, those on the compass platform began to file noiselessly out of the starboard door.  Only Holland and Kerr remained, the admiral broken in his chair and beside him his flag captain, struggling to keep his footing as the Hood capsized.  Neither made the slightest effort to escape. "  Battle Cruiser Hood- Bruce Taylor.

In Prince of Wales, Lieutenant Commander McMullen did not see the cataclysm, at least not directly: "Suddenly the whole inside of our spotting top (lit  up) as if there was a sudden sunset."  Others in the battleship were stunned to see Hood torn apart, her bows rising vertically in the air, the twin 15-inch guns of A turret firing one last, defiant, salvo.  Sailors and marines in the Suffolk, witnessing the horrifying turn of events from a distance, found it almost beyond the capacity of their minds to process.  Commander Porter saw that "a salvo appeared to hit the Hood aft."  And then, "A tremendous column of flame shot hundreds of feet into the air, following (sic) by dense clouds of black rolling smoke, rising to form a funeral pall for what had a second before been  the largest fighting ship in the world.  It must have been instantaneous for seventeen hundred (sic) officers and men of her gallant company..  So swift was the disaster that for a moment the mind was stunned..........Wood lifted up the phone, telling Sick Berth Petty Officer Silk down below in one of the aid stations: "The Hood's gone."  There was no response, so, still stunned, Wood replaced the handset."  Ballantyne, Killing the Bismarck

"From the Hood's opening salvo, the battle had lasted just six minutes.  Having split in two, the stern and bow sections of the mighty Hood momentarily pointed vertically in the air before disappearing beneath the waves."  Ballard, Bismarck


"Ted Briggs, Bob Tilburn and Bill Dundas struggled to stay awake and out of the clutches of fatal hypothermia on their three tiny rafts....They could not, of course, know that the action they had fought had achieved its main objective: to stop Bismarck getting in among the British convoys like a tiger in bloodlust.  Nor could they know that their fight had marked Bismarck down to die- an end that would not be long coming..........Just three men were saved out of more than 1,400- men of many ages, nationalities and ranks, from midshipman to admiral, from long-serving rate to newly arrived ordinary seamen.  "With favourable winds", may they all rest in peace"  Hood and Bismarck White & Mearns.


Sadly, our story must move away from this mighty ship- "British warships cleaved there way through the North Atlantic last night seeking vengeance for the battle cruiser Hood....Thoughts of every British sailor, as our ships chased the Germans, were fixed on Bismarck...It was every man's hope to see her sunk." Sunday Pictorial 25th May 1941

Within six hours of the loss of the Hood, the British had deployed against us four battleships, two battle cruisers, two aircraft carriers, three heavy cruisers, ten light cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers.  And so there began a chase which, in terms of the area involved (more than a million square nautical miles) and the number and strength of the ships engaged, is perhaps unique in naval history.  Battleship Bismarck: Mullenheim-Rechberg


"The British torpedo- bomber looked like a flying museum piece, but, for its role, was a superb workhorse, some of its perceived faults actually proving to be advantages.  Its low take-off speed meant the Swordfish (nicknamed "Stringbag"  could get airborne even when a ship was at anchor...During the famous raid on Taranto of November 1940, the Swordfish torpedo bombers showed their dexterity by flying between the cables of barrage balloons meant to deter their attack." Ballantyne- Killing the Bismarck

"When you'd got searchlights on you, you couldn't dive out of them, you couldn't accelerate out of them, but you did the opposite, you closed the throttle.  But they couldn't believe that you could go that slow."  John Moffat Swordfish pilot

The strike on a flight of Swordfish bombers in the late evening resulted in a single torpedo hit slightly displacing Bismarck's armour belt, but scarcely marking her- their was a single fatality aboard ship- the first of many to come. (See corresponding account from the Bismarck page)

25th May


"Here we must speculate.  But it seems likely that a combination of bureaucracy and fatalism acted together.  History shows that the Nazi regime had a deep love of reports and paperwork, even sometimes incriminating themselves in its own crimes against humanity by methodically listing details of its extermination campaigns against European Jews and others.....the navy of the Third Reich with its highly centralized bureaucracy based on orders, reports and radio messages, was no exception to this rule.  The opportunity this gave to British intelligence was already contributing to the neutralization of the U-boats, and would be a vital factor in their final defeat.  Now it would betray the Bismarck."  White and Mearns: Hood and Bismarck

"I realize that in this unequal struggle between the British Navy and ourselves I shall sooner or later have to lose my life.  But I have settled my private affairs, and I shall do my best to carry my orders out with honour." Lutjens to friend before Exercise Rhine


"Far away in occupied Athens, a senior Luftwaffe officer made a family enquiry- about his son, a midshipman "somewhere at sea".  The officer wanted to know where his boy's ship was heading.  The ship was the Bismarck, and the answer to his enquiry came back encrypted in the Luftwaffe's version of the Enigma code, which had been unravlled by the Ultra Codebreakers at Bletchley Park near London.  The reply was straightforward, and it fell into the hands of the Royal Navy almost as soon as it was sent.  BIsmarck was making for the west coast of France.  So- another grim irony- this officer had helped to reset the jaws of the British trap around his own son."  White & Mearns

26th May


"By the morning of May 26 the problem of fuel for all our widely scattered ships, which had now been steaming hard for four days, began to clamour for attention.  Already several of the pursuers had had to reduce speed.  It was clear that in these wide expanses all our efforts might soon be in vain.  However at 10.30 am, just as hopes were beginning to fade, the Bismarck was found again.  The Admiralty and Coastal Command were searching with Catalina aircraft working from Lough Erne in Ireland.  One of these now located the fugitive steering towards Brest, and still about 700 miles from home.  The Bismarck damaged the aircraft and contact was lost.  But within an hour two Swordfish from the Ark Royal spotted her once more.  She was still well to the westward of the Renown, and not yet within German air cover radiating powerfully from Brest.  The Renown however could not face her single-handed.  It was necessary to await the arrival of the King George V and Rodney, both still far behind the chase."  The Second World War Vol. 3 Winston Churchill

At this stage, therefore, things did not look good for the British forces and if Bismarck could not be slowed shortly, he would then make it to cover of German forces.

"With sad justice, it was the aircraft from Hood's old partners in Force H that were to avenge her now.......Ark Royal rose and fell to the long Atlantic swell.  She was sometimes engulfed by green seas, even though she stood over 60 feet out of the water.  She was torn at by wind speed over her flight deck of 50 miles an hour.  Nonetheless, a reconnaissance sortie to find the Bismarck had to be flown. " Hood and Bismarck: White and Mearns

It is a well known fact that the Sheffield was mistaken for the BIsmarck by Swordfish crews resulting in her being fired upon with torpedoes.  It was extremely fortunate and largely thanks to the skills of her Captain, Charles Larcom, that Sheffield did not sustain a single hit.  The mistake was recognised by the Swordfish crews and one signalled to her "Sorry for the kipper!"  As things turned out, it was a blessing in disguise as it revealed the inefficiency of the magnetic pistols which were replaced by contact detonators.  The next chance would be the last one- there could be no slip ups.  

Led by Lt. Cdr Tim Coode an attack was made on the BIsmarck- the planes approaching their target from all directions.  It was thought at the time that the attack had been unsuccessful.

Storm'd at with shot and shell,                                                                                                                                                                      Boldly the rode and welI,                                                                                                                                                                                           Into the jaw of Death,                                                                                                                                                                                          Into the mouth of Hell

"With shrapnel beginning to shred his aircraft, Pattison levelled off at 90ft above the waves, less than 1,000 yards out from Bismarck.  Deciding the anti-aircraft barrage was a little too fierce to hold straight and true all the way in,  Pattison threw his aircraft from side to side in an attempt to make it harder to hit.  Torpedo away, Pattison did not see the impact, but others claimed to see an enormous fountain of water springing up at the battleship's stern.  A modest man, Pattison would only ever admit that it was "highly probable" that his torpedo did the fatal damage."  Killing the Bismarck: Ballantyne

"But then at the darkest hour, the last of the spotter Swordfish that had been clinging onto the BIsmarck's coat tails ever since the attack lurched to a halt as its hook caught the arrester wire on Ark Royal's still heaving flight deck.  It was now just before midnight and the Swordfish crew had a strange story to tell.  They reported that one torpedo had seen to hit home, the German ship had turned through two full circles on the ocean and then dropped her speed.  This report-added to an earlier one from the shadowing cruiser Sheffield, greeted with disbelief, that the Bismarck had turned almost due north at the end of the attack......BIsmarck was, in effect, now going in exactly the wrong direction and she was holding that course when last sighted by the cruiser."  Hood and Bismarck

"On this Monday night I went to the Admiralty and watched the scene on the charts in the War Room, where the news streamed in every few minutes.  "What are you doing here?" I said to the Controller, Admiral Frazer.  "I am waiting to see what I have got to repair," he said.  Four hours passed quickly away, and when I left I could see that Admiral Pound and his select company of experts were sure the Bismarck was doomed."  Churchill


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