Wallsmacker Art


27TH MAY 1941

Painting of HMS Hood                                                                                                                Painting of Battleship Bismarck 

 "Tovey's plan was simple, yet sound. King George V and Rodney would approach from the west with the wind at their backs, into the faces of the Germans.  The Bismarck would be backlit in the early morning light, making her an easier target for the rangefinders.  His two battlships would close quickly to sure-hitting range, approaching end-on to make the smallest target.  Tovey hoped, as he later wrote, that 'the sight of two battleships steering straight for them would shake the nerves of the range-takers and control officers, who had already had four anxious days and nights'." Bismarck: Ballard

In confronting the BIsmarck, the two British battleships brought to an end a pursuit that had lasted five days and covered 1,750 miles.  More than 5000 Britons and 2,365 Germans would be locked in combat."

"Our eight 38 centimetre guns were now opposed to nine 40.6 centimetre and ten 35.6 centimetre guns; our twelve 15 centimetre guns by twenty-eight 15.2 centimetre and 13.3 centimetre guns.  A single Brtish broadside weighed 18,448 kilograms (20,306 kilograms, including the sixteen 20.3 centimetre guns on the heavy cruisers, Norfolk and Dorsetshire) against 6,904 kilograms for a German broadside."  Battleship Bismarck: Mullenheim-Rechberg

0847 Rodney fires first salvo shaking this aged ship from stem to stern

0848 King George V fires her first salvo causing her bridge compass to bound out of its binnacle.  Soon after the ship opened fire a hit was reported as "entering the base of Bismarck's fore superstructure; a bright flame burned for several seconds."

0849 Bismarck's fore turrets reply with a partial salvo at the Rodney.  It landed 180 metres short.  The second, roaring over like fifty express trains, struck the water with a deafening detonation around 300 metres in her wake.  This was impressive firing and must have raised fears of Rodney befalling a similar fate to that of Hood

0854  Norfolk, off Bismarck's starboard bow fired her 20.3 centimetre battery at a range of 20,000 metres forward of the starboard quarter.

0858 BIsmarck straddles Rodney with her third salvo.  The latter experienced difficulty finding the range

0859 16" shell from Rodney explodes near Anton and Bruno putting them both out of action

0900 Bismarck turns his attention to King George V.  Bismarck's outline was wreathed in heavy cordite smoke, gun flashes flickering within "a dull orange glow." (KIng George V magazine)  There were a number of near misses- the closest to a hit being a shell from one of BIsmarck's 5.9 inch guns which burst about 50 yards short of the conning tower.

0904 Dorsetshire fires at a range of 18000 metres from the starboard side, astern. 

 "The Bismarck was under fire from all directions, and the British were having what amounted to undisturbed target practice.  Not long after the action began the King George V and, a little later, the Rodney gradually turned to starboard onto a southerly course, where they maneuvred so as to stay on our port side  This tactic caused the range to diminish with extraordinary rapidity, which seemed to be exactly what Tovey wanted."  Mullenheim-Rechberg

"Captain Martin, exposed to the elements of the Dorsetshire's bridge, expected the full fury of the BIsmarck to be turned on his ship at any moment.  He studied the enemy through his binoculars, each time spray covered the lenses turning to a junior rating standing nearby who passed him a dry set.  Dorsetshire began getting the range and scoring hits.  Meanwhile in the cruiser's gunnery control position an excited commentary was provided by a young officer for the rest of the ship's company, via the public address system.  As shell spouts rose around Bismarck, he exclaimed: "There's a good straddle!  Got her that time......battleships are hitting her.  There are some whacking great fires on her now."  It seemed that a lot of explosions were taking place deep inside Bismarck; shell bursts could just be made out but the blast appeared to go inwards."  Ballantyne

"Lindemann could no longer manuevre so as to direct, or at least infleunce, the tactical course of the battle.  He could neither choose his course nor evade the enemy's fire...... (Some 20 minutes after the first salvoes) turrets Anton and Bruno were out of action.  (Mullenheim-Rechberg takes control of Caesar and Dora and fires at King George V)  "Three over, one short," I never did see the flashes reach their full height.  Lieutenant Commander Hugh Guernsey, in the King George V, heard my fourth salvo whistle over and, wondering if the next one would be a hit, involuntarily took a step back behind the splinter shield........My aft director gave a violent shudder....(It) had been shattered.  Damn!  I had just found the range of my target and now I was out of the battle". (Mullenheim-Rechberg)

0916  Rodney fires 6 torpedoes from 10,000 metres- all miss

0921 Heavy calibre shell hits Bruno

0926 12 Swordfish launched from Ark Royal but took no part in the action when they arrived as four ships were firing at the Bismarck at close range

0927  Firing from Anton and Bruno peter out

0930 Left barrel of Dora burst, whether from a shell hit or an internal explosion is not known, shredding like a peeled banana

0931 Bismarck's main battery fired its last salvo- the great guns were silenced for ever

0945 The enemy, who was  jawing considerably, exposed his starboard to view for the first time.

"In all my life I doubt I will remember another hour as vividly as that one.  It was the colour contrasts I recall most, so rare in the eternal greyness of voyaging at sea.  The sun appeared for the first time in days, shining from a blue sky between white, racing clouds; and the wind, still strong, was marbling and stippling the green water, creaming the tops of the short, high seas.  There was the sombre blackness of the BIsmarck and the grey of the British ships, the orange flashes of the guns, the brown of the cordite smoke, shells splashing as tall as houses, white as shrouds.  It was a lovely sight to begin with, wild, majestic as one of our officers called it, almost too clean for the matter at hand.  It seemed strange to think that within those three battlships were five thousand men; it seemed almost irrelevant, for this was a contest between ships, not men.  And who was going to win?" Pursuit Ludovic Kennedy

"But still the British poured their fire into the stricken battleship.  Tovey's orders were to sink the Bismarck, to gain full revenge for sinking the Hood, even if it meant using every last once of ammunition.  The expenditure was enormous.  In all, 2,876 shells were fired at the Germans- 719 from the big guns alone.  Perhaps as many as 400 struck the ship.  But because the range was so close, the trajectory so flat (many bounced of the water before hitting), they did little damage below the waterline.  The BIsmarck was a blazing wreck, but still would not sink. ..... A Canadian lieutenant aboard Tartar, George Whalley, later put into words what many were feeling: "What that ship was like inside...does not bear thinking of: her guns smashed, the ship full of fire, her people hurt; and surely all men are much the same when they are hurt."" Ballard Bismarck

Lt. Cdr Crawford on Rodney: "Stunned and horrified, sickened by the carnage and dreadful impact on the senses, at the power of modern artillery, I watched with wide-eyed fascination."  The battle was like an obscene game of skipping stones played by giants: supersonic blurs that were Rodney's big shells hitting the sea, tumbling and crashing through Bismarck's sides or carving a path of destruction across her upper works."  Ballantyne

1000 approximately Order given to abandon ship

1013 ADP Lt Campbell was praying for it all to stop.  The scene unfolding before his eyes was like something from a hellish medieval painting, showing wretched sinners cast into Lucifer's realm.  He would never be able to erase the images from his memory: "Smoke and flame gushed from a hundred places like blood from a riddled carcass and a stream of men ran and stumbled about her decks or jumped into the shell-torn sea.  It was slaughter, ruthless, without mercy, a brutal, necessary killing.  I remember calling out :"Oh God, why don't they stop?" (Ballantyne)

1016 Tovey ordered cease fire and withdrew with Rodney "From about 0936 the Rodney steamed back and forth by the Bismarck at ranges between 2750 and about 4500 yards firing salvo after salvo of 16" and 6" during the entire period." Observer in Rodney

1020 Captain Martin, acting on his own initiative, fires 2 torpedoes at Bismarck's starboard side at a range of 3000 metres- one hit below the bridge, the other astern

1022 Admiral Somerville orders Dorsetshire to torpedo Bismarck!!!!

1036 Dorsetshire, now on the port side launches third torpedo at 2,200 metres- the last of all projectiles fired at Bismarck

At this stage BIsmarck heels even more sharply to port and begins to sink

"One of the last shells to hit Bismarck penetrated to the Battery deck in Compartment 10, just aft of the funnel, where a few hundred men had gathered and were surging forward toward the companionway to the open deck above.  Commander Oels had just arrived at the scene and was frantically urging the men to save themselves.  Instead he was killed along with more than one hundred others; many more were wounded.

"The destruction around was frightful.  Everything up to the bridge bulwarks had been erased.  Stumps indicated the columns on which nautical apparatus had once rested, the big binoculars in the middle of the ship on the bridge, remarkably enough, undamaged; on both sides, close to the wings of the bridge, the remains of anti-aircraft guns identifiable only by the seat for the men who had directed them.....After a leap to the starboard side Statz was surprised to glimpse another living being there.  He was sitting on the bridge deck, immobilized by serious leg wounds, an officer with four stripes on his sleeve, a Fregattenkapitan.  Bracing himself against the deck with his left hand, he sat completely upright- and around him only the dead!  He was observing the bombardment with a professional interest.  What a fine, neatly styled haircut he had, thought Statz; what beautiful, lustrous white hair........Then they saw a British cruiser approaching with guns blazing and the bridge deck again reverberated with impacts...........The Fregattenkapitan must have fallen victim to a direct hit, for the place where he had been sitting was no more."

When swimmers close to the bow of the ship looked back, they saw Lindemann standing on the forecastle in front of turret Anton.  HIs messenger, a seaman, was with him.  Soon, both men went forward and began climbing a steadily increasing slope.  Lindemann's gestures showed that he was urging his companion to go overboard and save himself.  The man refused and stayed with his commanding officer until they had reached where the jackstaff had been.  Then Lindemann walked out on the starboard side of the stem which, though rising ever higher, was becoming more level as the ship lay over.  There he stopped and raised his hand to his white cap.  The Bismarck now lay completely on her side.  Then slowly, slowly, she and the saluting Lindemann went down."  Mullenheim-Rechberg

"Three Sieg Heils, then we jump," shouted Gerhard Junack.....The sun shone, the British guns had gone silent.  "Don't worry, comrades.  I'll be taking a Hamburg girl in my arms again, and we'll meet once more on the Reeperbahn."  More than one of those who heard this remarkable speech must have wondered how Junack could think of the prostitutes of Hamburg's red light district at a time like this.  But they all cheered and headed for the water."

Gerhard Junack swam for all he was worth to get free of the sinking ship.  When he was safely away he turned to watch her go.  As she rolled over to port he looked along the starboard side for any sign of torpedo holes and saw none.  Then the BIsmarck's bow pointed into the air an she slid straight down by the stern.  Without thinking, Junack looked at his watch, which was still working.  It was 10:36.  Ballard                                                                                                                                           (It is pleasing to note that this character was rescued- one wonders how long it was before he found himself in the arms of one of the young ladies!!)  

"Many were less lucky.  One man whose arms had been blown off, but had somehow made it this far, was trying to grab a line with his teeth.  On the Dorsetshire, Midshipman Joe Brooks climbed over the side in an attempt to get a bowline around him.  But the ship began to move forward and Brooks lost him, only barely managing to climb back on board himself.  The ever vigilant Captain Martin promptly put Brooks under arrest for leaving the ship without permission- and had him confined to his cabin........In all, 110 men, so blackened with oil that they looked like coal miners, were pulled from the water: 85 were on the Dorsetshire, 25 on the Maori

"She put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds, worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy." Tovey

1100 "This morning shortly after daylight, the Bismarck, virtually at a standstill, far from help, was attacked by the British pursuing battleships.  I do not know what were the results of the bombardment.  It appears however that the Bismarck was not sunk by gunfire, and she will now be dispatched by torpedo.  It is thought that this is now proceeding, and it is also thought that there cannot be a lengthy delay in disposing of this vessel.  Great as is our loss in the Hood, the Bismarck must be regarded as the most powerful, as she is the newest battleship in the world."  I had just sat down when a slip of paper was passed to me which led me to rise again.  I asked the indulgence of the House and said, "I have just received news that the BIsmarck is sunk."  They seemed content." Churchill addressing the House of Commons  in the Church House

1200 Hitler informed that the British government had announced the Bismarck's sinking an hour before.  To add insult to injury the enemy had beat his own intelligence service in relaying the news!

1322 Group West radio to Lutjens: "Reuter reports Bismarck sunk.  Report situation immediately."

Empty sea only present at the place to which the message sent

"Retribution had overtaken her, and very gallantly had she suffered it; fighting to the last.  Bismarck had outlived our friend the Hood by just three days.  To us the time had passed like an eternity. Lieutenant T.J. Cain Electra


View from Germany

May 1941 had not been a good month for Hitler.  Hitherto, he had been preoccupied with the flight of Hess.  True to character, Hitler did not brood on the human tragedy sustained by the brave crew of Bismarck, preferring to expend fury on the naval leadership for unnecessarily exposing the ship to enemy attack- a huge risk, as he saw it, for little gain.  

"After the loss of Bismarck, Hitler placed a series of conditions on the future operations of the remaining capital ships in the German fleet: no battleships were allowed to enter the Atlantic; action was not to be risked against equal or superior forces; battleships would not sortie where a Britsh aircraft carrier was present; and finally, the movement of battleships would be subject to his personal approval.  Operational freedom was totally denied Admiral Raedar, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy.  And this was not the only difficulty that the German naval high command faced.....the British were able to read almost all the German military intelligence signals.  From the summer of 1941 onwards, all German naval codes could be deciphered and movement orders were intercepted and passed to the Admiralty.  The fact that this was happening remained a secret from the Germans for the entire period of the war." Johnston & McAuley The Battleships

View from Great Britain

"This episode brings into relief many important points relating to sea warfare, and illustrates both the enormous structural strength of the German ship and the immense difficulties and dangers with which her sortie had confronted our very numerous forces.  Had she escaped the moral effects of her continuing existence as much as the material damage she might have inflicted on our shipping would have been calamitous.  Many misgivings would have arisen regarding our capacity to control the oceans, and these would have been trumpeted round the world to our great detriment and discomfort.........While credit is due to all, we must not forget that the long-drawn battle turned on the first injury inflicted on the Bismarck by the guns of the Prince of Wales.  Thus the battleship and gun were dominant both at the beginning and the end.  The traffic in the Atlantic continued unmolested.  To the President I telegraphed on the 28th:

"I will send you later the inside story of the fighting with the Bismarck.  She was a terrific ship, and a masterpiece of naval construction.  Her removal eases our battleship situation, as we should have had to keep King George V, Prince of Wales, and the two Nelsons practically tied up at Scapa Flow to guard against a sortie of Bismarck and Tirpitz, as they could choose their moment and we should have to allow for one of our ships refitting.  Now it is a different story.  The effect upon the Japanese will be highly beneficial.  I expect they are all doing their sums again."" The Second World War: Churchill

These words of Churchill pre-date the Japanese lightning airborn attack on Pearl Harbour (7th December 1941) which altered the way men fought at sea more decisively and more swiftly than any action in history. Battleships Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, West Virginia and California had been sunk.  Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee were seriously damaged.  Over 2,400 lost their lives in this attack.   With the benefit of hindsight, the role played out by the little Swordfish aircraft pointed the way to the future.  The awesome might of these leviathans of the deep would be eclipsed by the aircraft carrier as it emerged as the new capital ship.  The latter could never match in appearance the aura of power and invincibility of the battleship.  This was no better demonstrated than, ironically, the loss of the largest of all the battleships-  the Japanese ship Yamato on April 7th 1945.

"I had never seen so many aircraft in the air.  I couldn't tell you how many, but it looked to me like just about every airplane we had was going north." Howard Skidmore  Torpedoes dropped from the sky destroyed her.  Capsized, a huge underwater explosion in her after magazines tore the ship apart.  The resulting cloud of smoke was seen 100 miles away.  From a crew of 2498, only 280 were saved.

For a long while a battle fleet must have represented the most expensive investment any government ever made, the most concentrated investment.  They carry, in peace and war, the government's main power in a way that you never really saw before, and I don't think you have since.  They are hard to build; if they are sunk they are hard to replace, so the loss of a battle fleet might be a total national disaster.  There was no other disaster that could possibly befall a government on that scale and similarly, destroying another enemy's battle fleet could be an absolutely decisive victory, and that's what the Japanese hoped to achieve at Pearl Harbour." Norman Friedman U.S. Naval historian.

"Because Britain, unlike almost all other powers, was a true maritime power with global economic interests that drove her to sea and kept her at sea, the battleship was very much the core of Britain's perception of herself in the world.  No other monarch would have reviewed his fleet for his coronation review, he would have reviewed his army......That was the symbol that made Britain different........The Royal Navy defended Britain and extended Britain beyond the British Isles and it secured that through deference, through presence, and that presence is not just the availability of the ships, its the design of the ships; the ships are designed to be intimidating.  They're designed to convey messages to the enemy, their names, their images and history that they conjure up, so the battleship is an absolute integral part of Britain's self-image, perhaps deep in our psyche, it's still there."  Andrew Lambert, naval historian, King's College, London


"There is a special quality about the battlecruiser Hood which resists a single definition.  It has to do with her beauty and her destructive power, with her gilded years of peace and then her annihilation in war, of sinuous strength and desperate fragility.  Most of all, perhaps, it has to do with the association between these elements and what she represented.  The Hood came to symbolise two things above all: the perpetuation of the British Empire and all that the Royal Navy wished for itself.  One she had gone nothing could or would ever be quite the same again and the passage of time has only sharpened the impression.... (The loss of many of our great ships subsequently including Barham, Ark Royal, Repulse, Prince of Wales, Hermes and Eagle) did not alter the outcome of the war, they encapsulated a loss of power and prestige from which there would be no recovery............There is another tragedy, too, and that is that the Hood went ill-prepared to her moment of reckoning in the Denmark Strait.........what makes a ship in peace is assuredly not what makes her in war; that the power of a capital ship equates to the strength which permits her to suffer a measure of punishment she would mete out to others; and that there is a further distinction to be drawn between what keeps a ship fighting and what keeps her from sinking.  For Bismarck that distinction was very great; for Hood it was barely perceptible."Battle Cruiser HMS Hood: Bruce Taylor

An Epitaph

"It was a very long time before I got over the shock of Hood's loss.  As a ship's company we had been together a very long time.  We had shared the joys and excitement of peace.  In war we had welded ourselves in true comradeship that had weathered the Arctic gales and outshone the Mediterranean sun.  As long as sea history is written, Hood and her gallant band of men will be remembered, and theirs will be a golden age in the book of time."  Leonard Williams: Gone a Long Journey.


"The Battleship Bismarck owes her place in naval history primarily to the gunnery actions in which she engaged on 24 and 27 May 1941.   On 24 May she demonstrated her exceptional striking power.  At an average range of 16,000 metres, it took her only 6 minutes and expenditure of only ninety-three heavy shells to sink the largest and most famous British battle cruiser of the day.  This lightening success exceeded the most sanguine expectations and showed the Bismarck to represent a high point in German naval gunnery.  On 27 May the Bismarck displayed an almost unbelievable staying power.  She was also a high point in German shipbuilding.  It required the collective efforts of a British fleet of five battleships, three battle cruisers, two aircraft carriers, four heavy and seven light cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers to find and destroy her.  In additon, more than fifty aircraft of the RAF's Coastal Command participated in her destruction......

 (0217 27th May 1941-Fleet Commander to Commander in Chief: "Recommend bestowal of Knight's Cross on Korvetteenkapitan Schneider for sinking the Hood."  0351 27 May 1941 Commander in Chief, Kriegsmarine, to Korvettenkapitan Schneider, Fleet Commander to be informed: The Fuhrer has bestowed Knight's Cross on your sinking of the battle cruiser Hood.  Hearty congratulations") 

She lies at 48 degrees 10 minutes north and 16 degrees 12 minutes west, not very far out in the North Atlantic, and yet the distance of an eternity from the shores of France.  The end of her brief career foreshadowed the passing of the battleship era, of which she was a technological triumph and upon which she and her brave, fallen crew left an indelible mark." Battleship Bismarck: Mullenheim-Rechberg 

"The Bismarck lived and died a ship of war, a floating gun platform dedicated to destruction.  But her story is more a tale of men than of machines.  When I think about those eight days in May 1941, I will remember the acts of courage and endurance by the countless young men who played out the war games of the superpowers.  I think of Signalman Ted Briggs on the bridge of the Hood as she went into battle, of Lieutenant Percy Gick dodging shells and wavetops in his Swordfish biplane, of ensign Tuck Smith in his Catalina flying boat suddenly spotting the lone ship in the gray Atlantic, of Lieutenant Herbert Wohlfarth in U-556 cursing the wasting of his last torpedo on a convoy, of Seaman Heinz Jucknat leading his friends from the after computer room up the cable shaft to safety, of Midshipman Joe Brooks on Doresetshire risking his life to save an armless German sailor and being censured for his trouble.  Their experiences form the real story of the Bismarck.  And they tell a tale of the arbitrariness of life and the futility of war."


With proud thanksgiving, her mother for her children,

England mourns for her dead across the sea.

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,

Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrills; death august and royal

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,

There is music in the midst of desolation

And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;

They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.  



I once had a comrade, you won't find a better one.

The drum was rolling for battle, 

He was marching by my side

In the same pace and stride.

A bullet flew towards us

Meant for you or for me?

It did tear him away,

He lies at my feet like he was part of me.

He wants to reach his hand to me,

While I'm just reloading my gun.

"Can't give you my hand for now,

You rest in eternal life

My good comrade!"


My paintings of HMS Hood and the battleship Bismarck, together with this log of events is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in those tempestuous days in May 1941.

Hood - 1,415

Bismarck - 2,131

and one must not forget the thirteen other souls whose lives were lost on the compass platform of the Prince of Wales when it was hit by a shell from Bismarck immediately after Hood sank. 

With 'favourable winds', may they all rest in peace.

TO SEE THE PAINTING OF HMS HOOD CLICK HERE (and account of events May 1941)



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