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Author Topic: 27 MAY 1941: BISMARCK SUNK  (Read 35 times)
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« on: May 27, 2020, 08:22:50 am »

"For want of a nail"...

When Admiral Guenther Lutjens failed to "top off" the battleship BISMARCK's fuel bunkers in Bergen, Norway prior to setting sail for the Atlantic, he may not have given that failure any thought. But he should have. It would, indirectly lead to the destruction of his ship.

During the Battle of the Denmark Strait, BISMARCK was hit by several rounds from the British battleship PRINCE OF WALES [PoW]. One of those hits was to a forward fuel bunker on the port side, causing the loss of, or contamination of, several hundred or thousand gallons of fuel oil. That meant two things. First, BISMARCK's part in the Rhine Exercise was over, and secondly, she would have to return to Europe for repairs. Lutjens decided on Brest.

The Bismarck's top speed was 30 knots or a little better, and the only British capital ship capable of matching that speed [in theory] lay in pieces at the bottom of the Denmark Strait. BUT, BISMARCK's failure to take on fuel in Norway, and the oil loss suffered as a result of the hit by PoW meant Lutjens couldn't run at top speed. As a result, Bismarck slowed to a maximum speed of 27 knots, which was one knot less than the KING GEORGE V class battleships were capable of. BISMARCK was, in theory 'catchable'.

But at first it didn't seem so. On the night of 24 MAY, she slipped the British shadowing her, while PRINZ EUGEN sailed into the Atlantic, and headed east. Even when Lutjens gave the British help [several long radio transmissions that allowed the British to 'fix' his position, they either  miscalculated the plot, sending their own ships the wrong way, or realized they were too far behind to catch him.

But then Lutjens gave an address to his crew that sent morale plummeting, basically telling them they were doomed. And on 26 MAY just before darkness, British double winged torpedo planes [Swordfish], from the carrier ARK ROYAL, launched an attack [BISMARCK had been spotted by a British PBY Catalina co-piloted by an American, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter MODOC]. The attack came after an almost free-fire incident with the cruiser HMS SHEFFIELD, which actually helped the British by showing them their new torpedo firing devices were defective.

One fo the torpedos struck BISMARCK near the stern, jamming the rudders, and causing flooding. The Germans had determined during sea trials, that BISMARCK had a design flaw [her rudders were too close together, and too close to the screws] which could cause the ship to be unable to steer in any fashion. Morale, low already, sank further when the crew was allowed to take what they wanted from the ship's stores.

With the damage to her stern, BISMARCK sailed in circles, and into the wind. Toward the British fleet.

During the night BISMARCK was harassed by a group of detroyers, but the real showdown occurred around 0830 hours, when contact was made with some nine British warships, including KGV [10x14" guns], and HMS RODNEY [9x16" guns].

The British opened the battle, with BISMARCK initially firing on KGV, but soon switching to RODNEY [the more dangerous of the two] narrowly missing her. But BISMARCK's inability to steer meant that was as close as she got, and for the next hour she was pounded by the British battleships [RODNEY got so close she damaged her own guns. She would spend the rest of the war in SCAPA FLOW]. The battleships fire was joined by that of cruisers, and torpedoes were launched as well.

Some 400+ rounds hit BISMARCK, reducing her to a flaming wreck. All her main guns were put out of action [her secondary continued to fire until they were put out of action]. But Admiral Tovey, low on fuel, needed to break off, and ordered the heavy cruiser, HMS DORSETSHIRE to finish BISMARCK with torpedoes. DORSETSHIRE did torpedo BISMARCK, but undereas cameras have shown the torpedoes failed to penetrate the BISMARCK's armored torpedo belt.

BISMARCK was scuttled by her own crew. Incapable of fighting, but with her battle flag still flying, she sank at round 1030 hours. There were 115 survivors of a crew of some 2,500 men. The RHINE EXERCISE was over.

You can get more with a smile, a handshake and a gun than you can with a smile and a handshake - Al Capone
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