"Bismarck" before the sea battle, May 24, 1941
80 years ago, in a fleeting battle in the Danish Strait, the Germans sank the British battle cruiser Hood - the most famous and strongest at that time in the royal navy... Almost the entire crew was killed - only three of 1419 people slept.
His rival - the battleship Bismarck - broke into the operational space of the Atlantic Ocean. The main forces of the British fleet rushed in pursuit of the Bismarck. The German battleship was sunk on May 27, 1941. Of the 2200 people on the Bismarck team, 1995 died.
The British Royal Navy had an overwhelming superiority over the Kriegsmarine (Navy) of the Third Reich. So, four battleships of the German fleet - "Scharnhorst", "Gneisenau", "Bismarck" and "Tirpitz", the British could oppose 15 battleships and battle cruisers (and five more were under construction). Also, Britain had a great advantage in the number of aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers.
The main threat to the British in the Atlantic came from Reich submarines. However, the Teutons decided to repeat the recent experience of the First World War - cruising operations. Then the German raiders, sent to the ocean communications, caused a lot of damage to the shipping of the British Empire and its allies. In August 1939, the heavy cruiser ("pocket battleship") "Admiral Graf Spee" went to sea and at the end of September began cruising operations in the Atlantic. The cruiser died after a battle with an English squadron in December 1939. But before that, the Germans managed to capture and sink 9 ships with a total displacement of 50 thousand tons. Other raiders chalked up more than 100 ships with a total displacement of over 600 thousand tons.
So, from January to March 1941, the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau operated in the Atlantic under the leadership of Admiral Gunter Lutyens (Operation Berlin). They successfully broke through the British operational zone, returned to Brest without loss, destroyed 22 ships with a total displacement of more than 115 thousand tons.
Group photo of the crew of the British battle cruiser Hood. Photo taken at the British Navy base in Malta.
View of the battle cruiser Hood from the battleship Prince of Wales shortly before the battle with the German battleship Bismarck. This is Hood's last known photograph. May 24, 1941
"Teachings on the Rhine"
The German command positively assessed the experience of battleships, cruisers and auxiliary cruisers at sea and expected a lot from this method of war. Therefore, in the spring of 1941, the Teutons decided to launch another major raid on British convoys crossing the Atlantic from the United States to England. The battleship "Bismarck" was to bind the British large ships guarding the transports, and the heavy cruiser "Prince Eugen" - to destroy the merchant ships. It was assumed that later they could be joined by the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which remained in French Brest. If necessary, large surface ships will support the submarines. For this, a submarine officer was sent to the Bismarck.
The operation was highly classified. The Germans conducted additional aerial reconnaissance of the British naval bases and the North Atlantic, set up several false radio points, whose active work was supposed to distract the enemy. The operation was led by Admiral Lutyens, who had already checked in during the raid of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. He was now in command of the Bismarck, at that time the most powerful ship of its class in the world, and second only to the British battle cruiser Hood in grandeur.
On May 18, 1941, German ships left Gotenhaven (now Gdynia) and headed for the Baltic straits. On May 20, the Germans were spotted by the Swedish cruiser Gotland. Sweden remained neutral, but on May 21, the British knew about the movement of enemy ships.
The Germans arrived in the Korsfjord, near the Norwegian Bergen. The Eugen was refueled. On the same day, Lutyens' detachment went to the Atlantic. On May 22, an English reconnaissance aircraft flew over Korsfjord. Having received the air reconnaissance report, the British Admiralty realized that the enemy was already in the ocean. Fleet Commander Admiral Tovey ordered the cruisers under Rear Admiral Wake Walker (Suffolk and Norfolk) to increase surveillance. British ships were already patrolling in the Danish Strait - between Greenland and Iceland. Light cruisers were sent south of Iceland.
From the main base of the British fleet in Scapa Flow (harbor in Scotland in the Orkney Islands), a detachment of Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland left. He carried the flag on the battle cruiser Hood, followed by the new battleship Prince of Wales and six destroyers. The detachment received the task of blocking the exit from the Danish Strait from the south. The main forces of the British - the battleship King George V, the aircraft carrier Victories, 4 cruisers and 7 destroyers, moved to the southwest coast. Later they were joined by another battleship. In general, the hunt for the Bismarck has begun. German radio intelligence intercepted an order from the British Admiralty to begin searching for two battleships sailing from Bergen to the North Atlantic Ocean.
German heavy cruiser "Prince Eugen". Keel. Germany. 1941 g.
View from the heavy cruiser "Prince Eugen" to the battleship "Bismarck". In the foreground is the cruiser signalman. May 1941
Battleship Bismarck docked in Kors Fjord after crossing from the Baltic Sea during Operation Rhine Exercises. The photo was taken aboard the heavy cruiser Prince Eugen. May 21, 1941
The death of "Hood"
May 23, 1941 at 19 o'clock. 22 minutes The British heavy cruiser Suffolk spotted the enemy 7 miles away. The British prudently went into a strip of fog and began to follow the Germans by radar. Admirals Tovey and Holland received heading, speed, and location data. Then the Norfolk approached the Germans, but was driven away by the Bismarck's fire. The British command received fresh information. The British cruisers were now walking right and left behind the enemy at a respectful distance. Meanwhile Holland's detachment was marching westward at full speed.
The Germans knew that the British were "on the tail." In the evening, Eugen's commander Brinkman was informed of the intercepted Suffolk radio messages. It was not possible to break away. The Germans guessed that the enemy had instruments that neither fog nor smoke would interfere with. However, Lutyens did not interrupt the operation and did not return. Obviously, the German admiral was eager to carry out the order at any cost.
At midnight on May 24, the British lost radar contact with the enemy. Upon learning of this, Holland decided that the Germans broke away from the group of cruisers and went back. It was logical. The British admiral turned north after them. Holland drew up a battle plan: Hood and Prince of Wales would concentrate fire on the Bismarck and the cruiser on Prince Eugen, but did not inform Rear Admiral Wake Walker. At 2 hours 47 minutes. Suffolk has detected the enemy again. The Germans were still going southwest. "Holland" turned around again, developed an almost maximum speed of 28 knots, and lost her destroyers. They stayed to the north and, like the Wake Walker cruisers, did not participate in the battle.
May 24 at 5 o'clock 35 minutes the British discovered the Bismarck. Holland decided to attack, not to wait for Tovey's battleships. At 5 o'clock. 52 minutes The Hood opened fire from the bow towers from a distance of approximately 12 miles, continuing to approach the enemy. This distance was considered dangerous for "Hood": enemy shells, falling along a steep trajectory, could hit the relatively weakly protected decks of the old cruiser. And under them - ammunition cellars. Both German ships fired at the Hood in concert. The first salvo of the British battle cruiser lay far from the Prince Eugen. The Prince of Wales hit the Bismarck with only the fifth or sixth salvo. But after the second volley of German ships on the "Hood", a strong fire began in the ammunition cellars. At about 6 o'clock, when the opponents were separated by 7-8 miles, Holland turned to the left to bring the aft towers into action. Here the Bismarck hit 380-mm shells of the main caliber on the deck of the Hood between the second pipe and the mainmast. Almost immediately there was a powerful explosion, "Hood" was torn in half and quickly sank. Of the 1419 sailors, only three were rescued. Admiral Holland was also killed.
German battleship Bismarck firing at the British cruiser Hood in the Danish Strait
Bismarck moved fire to Prince of Wales. Soon, the British battleship was hit by three 380-mm shells and four 203-mm shells from a German cruiser. The battleship did not receive serious damage, however, due to a technical malfunction, the bow turret of the main caliber (356 mm), and then the aft one, failed. As a result, the Prince of Wales was left with one main caliber turret. In order not to share the fate of the flagship, at 6 o'clock. 13 minutes Commander Leach ordered a smokescreen to be set up and withdrew from the battle. The German battleship was hit by three shells from the Prince of Wales. There was no serious damage. However, one shell hit the bow, under the armor belt, a trim arose, and the full speed dropped to 26 knots. The second round pierced the fuel tank. Not dangerous, but there was a loss of fuel. Also, a distinct oil trail allowed the British to spot an enemy battleship.
After the sinking of the Hood, Lutyens had a choice: either return to Norway (1150-1400 miles), or head to the French ports of Brest or St. Nazaire (1700 miles). But the way to the Norwegian ports occupied by the Germans passed too close to the British bases. In addition, the English battleship Prince of Wales was nearby. The Germans did not know that he was seriously injured and dropped out of the game. Also in France, one could count on the support of two more German battleships. They could come out to meet and help break through to the French port. German Admiral Lutyens contacted the headquarters, reported the situation and received permission to release the cruiser into an independent raiding, and go to the French coast himself.
"Bismarck" in the battle in the Danish Strait
The German battleship "Bismarck" shoots at the British battleship "Prince of Wales"
Pursuit and discovery of the "Bismarck"
Having received news of the death of Hood, the British naval command sent to help the battleship Rodney, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, and the cruiser Sheffield. Another battleship and 4 destroyers were removed from the convoy, the third was sent from Halifax. "Bismarck" at 18 o'clock. unexpectedly turned on the Wake Walker cruisers, which were following the enemy, and forced them to retreat. This maneuver helped the cruiser Brinkman get lost in the ocean. Yes, he was not particularly looked for, the main target was "Bismarck". After 10 days "Prince Eugen" came to "Brest".
About 23 pm 9 British torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier "Victories" went to the battleship and achieved one hit on the starboard side. The torpedo exploded near a powerful armor belt and did not do much harm. At about 3 o'clock. On May 25, the British cruisers lost the enemy. They began searching in the west and southwest of the site of the last radio contact. Tovey's unit was also chasing the enemy. His ships went northeast towards Iceland. The Bismarck walked quietly 100 miles behind it and headed south-east. The British intercepted radio messages from the Bismarck. Tovey received this data from the Admiralty, but not the exact coordinates, but the bearings, hoping that there were radio direction finders on his ships. But they didn't exist!
On the same day, another mistake occurred that unexpectedly led the British to success. At 13 o'clock. 20 minutes. the British tracked down a radio message sent from the Atlantic. It was handed over by a German submarine that discovered a British aircraft carrier. It was not possible to read the text, but it was decided that the transmission was carried out from the Bismarck, going to the west coast of France. Then the British detected an active radio exchange of the German group "West", which confirmed the British in the previous conclusion. All squadrons were ordered to march south-east. The German battleship at this time broke away from the enemy by 160 miles.
At 10 o'clock. 20 minutes. On May 26, the German battleship was discovered 690 miles from France from the British flying boat Catalina. The British realized that it was difficult to catch up with the enemy battleship. It was necessary to suspend it by any means. This could have been done by the sea aviation... Formation "H" under the command of Admiral Sommerville went from Gibraltar, having in its composition the aircraft carrier "Arc Royal". At 14 o'clock. 50 minutes torpedo bombers "Suordfish" flew from the aircraft carrier to the place of detection of the enemy. By this time, the British light cruiser Sheffield was in the area where the Bismarck was discovered. British aircraft attacked their ship, luckily for them, none of the 11 torpedoes hit the target.
By 17 o'clock. 40 minutes Sheffield spotted a German battleship and began pointing aircraft at it. At 20 o'clock. 47 minutes Fifteen aircraft, despite the darkness, launched a new attack on the Bismarck. Two torpedoes hit the ship of the line. One hit the armor belt, but the other exploded in the stern and damaged the rudders. "Bismarck" has lost the ability to maneuver and control. Interestingly, before going to sea, Lutyens predicted the following outcome:
"The only thing I fear is that one of the English torpedo bombers would not shoot down the steering control of the battleship with his" eel "(the slang for the German sailors' name for a torpedo. - Author.).
Torpedo bombers on the deck of the aircraft carrier "Victories" before the raid on the German battleship "Bismarck"
View from a British torpedo bomber on the German battleship Bismarck before the start of a torpedo attack. May 26, 1941
Torpedo bomber "Suordfish" flies over the aircraft carrier "Arc Royal"
The last battle of "Bismarck"
At this time, the British command was already considering ending the pursuit of the Bismarck.
Large ships are starting to run out of fuel, due to the dashing march to the north. The battle area approached the Luftwaffe's sphere of action. But a successful torpedo hit changed everything. Late in the evening of May 26, a German battleship fired at Sheffield, injuring several people. On the night of May 27, he entered into battle with British destroyers (among them was the Polish "Perun"). The Bismarck stopped 400 miles from France.
At 8 o'clock. 47 minutes On May 27, the British battleships Rodney and King George V approached. They opened fire from 12 miles. "Rodney" also fired a torpedo salvo. "Bismarck" began to answer. But he could not inflict great damage on the enemy: the battleship could not maneuver, evade, was an ideal target, and the roll negatively affected the accuracy of shooting. Also, one of the first hits was destroyed the main rangefinder post.
At this time, the German submarine U-556 was passing through the battle area. British large ships (battleship and aircraft carrier) went without escort and did not change course. The goal was excellent. But the submarine was returning from the campaign and had already used the ammunition.
The British heavy cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire entered the battle. At 10 o'clock, having spent the shells, the main caliber of the Bismarck ceased fire, then the middle one fell silent. Most of the top commanders were apparently killed. The British ships were running low on shells and fuel. Admiral Tovey ordered the cruiser Dorsetshire to finish off the enemy. The British calmly approached the dying, but not surrendering battleship.
“It burned from the aft bridge,” recalled a participant in the battle. - The guns of tower A, in front of the bridge, were thrown back, like antlers, severe damage was seen on the forecastle. I remember well that the left side paneling was red-hot and when it was overwhelmed by waves, clouds of steam rose. "
The British calmly, as in an exercise, drove torpedoes into the starboard side, bypassed the battleship and drove another one into the left. At this time, German sailors, dying but not surrendering, opened the kingstones and put explosives in the turbines.
"Bismarck" in this battle showed the highest survivability. And there is a possibility that the death of the ship was caused by the actions of the Germans themselves. At 10 o'clock. 36 minutes the blazing Bismarck banked, rolled over and sank. The British rescued 110 people, three more - after a while German submarines. On the battleship there were 2200 people (according to other sources - 2403). Admiral Lutyens and the captain of the ship, Captain Lindemann, were killed along with the battleship.
The Germans investigated the death of the Bismarck and came to the conclusion that the matter was a violation of the secrecy regime. The German naval command refuses to raids by large surface ships and relies on the actions of the submarine fleet.
The British, after the almost instant death of the Hood and the subsequent stubborn resistance of the Bismarck, overestimated their views on the combat capabilities of German ships. They began to keep in the fleet of the mother country a sufficient number of battleships and aircraft carriers to fend off a new enemy raid. This worsened the capabilities of the British Navy in other naval theaters. Also, this operation showed the growing role of naval aviation and aircraft carriers in naval battles.
Surviving German sailors from the battleship Bismarck board the British cruiser Dorsetshire. Of the 2200 people of its crew, about 800 sailors left the dying battleship. An hour after the battleship sank, the cruiser Dorsetshire picked up 86 sailors, the destroyer Maori - 25 more. But because of the alarm played with the appearance of the German submarine, they left the battlefield, leaving the rest of the crew in the water. The approaching submarine U-74 rescued three sailors, and the next day two more sailors from the Bismarck were picked up by the German hydrometeorological ship Saxenwald.