British sink mighty Bismarck (5-27-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 27, 1941)


Aerial torpedoes help to cripple German warship

U.S.-made plane spots Hood’s conqueror after chase and fleet makes 'kill’

By Ned Russell, United Press staff writer

Screenshot (385)
This map shows where the German battleship Bismarck was sunk today as the finale to the sea battle and chase which began Saturday when the Bismarck sank the world’s largest warcraft, HMS Hood.

The Bismarck, and accompanying Nazi ships, had fled approximately 2,000 miles from the scene of the sinking of the Hood when it was finally sent to the bottom 400 miles off the coast of France.

05, Rodney firing on_Bismarck (Norman)
The Rodney firing on the Bismarck, seen burning in the distance.

London, May 27 –
British aerial torpedoes and naval shells sank the 35,000-ton pride of the Nazi Navy, the Bismarck, today after a 72-hour pack hunt in which at least half of Britain’s battleship force was turned loose, seeking vengeance upon the dreadnaught which sank the great Hood.

Details of the three-day sea drama which started in the blizzard-swept Denmark Straits between Greenland and Iceland last Friday night and ended at 11 a.m. today (5 a.m. EDT) 400 miles or so off Brest were made public by the Admiralty and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Admiralty revealed that emergency orders had mobilized a huge naval force to run down and kill the Bismarck after word crackled through by wireless that the Hood had been sunk in the first encounter with the Bismarck early Saturday.

The coup de grâce was delivered upon the Bismarck, the Admiralty revealed, by the 9,975-ton cruiser Dorsetshire this morning which was ordered to close in and sink the Nazi battleship with torpedoes after she had been crippled and virtually put out of action by heavy ships of the Royal Navy and aerial torpedo attacks.

His eyes gleaming with excitement, Prime Minister Winston Churchill personally announced the end of the Bismarck.

Mr. Churchill made the announcement in the House of Commons and told the story of how British sea and naval power had finally brought the great German battleship to her end.

A British announcement revealed that Bismarck was accompanied by Prinz Eugen, a new 10,000-ton cruiser, when the action commenced Saturday. It said measures to finish off the cruiser which has left the company of Bismarck before the final action are being taken.

The Bismarck went to her death in the Atlantic as she ran for the protection of the Nazi-held French coast.

An American airplane signalled the word that brought British torpedo lanes and warships racing in to end the Bismarck’s crowded, brief career.

The plane, a Consolidated four-motored flying boat, sighted the Bismarck about noon yesterday and crackled out an urgent wireless warning, advising the Royal Navy of her position and that she was racing for the French coast.

Charging across the sea came units of the Royal Navy, the ancient aircraft carrier Ark Royal – often sunk in Nazi communiqués but still in action – apparently well up in front.

Within flying range of the Bismarck, the Ark Royal released a covey of Swordfish torpedo planes, the aerial destroyers which have wrought destruction against the Italian fleet in the Mediterranean.

The planes swooped down on the Bismarck, her speed probably already somewhat reduced from torpedo hits and minor shell damage suffered in Saturday’s curtain raiser action.

This time the torpedoes went to a vital spot. One well-aimed shot apparently smashed into Bismarck’s steering gear, tearing off her rudder and smashing the screws.

Like a helpless giant, the 35,000-ton Bismarck slowly turned in curves, unable to continue her dash for the safety of the French coast.

Behind the Ark Royal, British battleships and other fleet units pounded toward the scene.

At horizon range or beyond, the British guns began to speak, sending their seven-ton salvoes at the crippled Bismarck.

Berlin announced that the Bismarck’s commander, Admiral Günther Lütjens, wirelessed after the destruction of his steering apparatus:

The ship is unmaneuverable. We are fighting until the last shell. Long live the Führer.

But even the battleship salvoes did not end the life of the sturdy Bismarck, possibly the best armored ship afloat.

More torpedo assaults were made and apparently it was these that scored the coup de grace on the Nazi dreadnaught although British accounts have not yet made completely clear the last hours of Bismarck’s life.

First Lord of the Admiralty A. V. Alexander announced that Ark Royal planes put two torpedo into Bismarck last night. He said:

This morning, other torpedo-bombers from that ship joined other officers and men of the Royal Navy in putting the finishing touches on the Bismarck.

As Hitler has followed in his whole ill-gotten career the precepts of Bismarck, let us hope that destruction of the Bismarck, Germany’s latest and greatest ship, marks the beginning of the end of his reign.

Prime Minister Churchill told this story of the battle:

Wednesday last, the new German battleship Bismarck accompanied by the new eight-inch gun cruiser Prinz Eugen were described by our air reconnaissance as at Bergen and on Thursday it was known that they had left.

Many arrangements were made to intercept them should they attempt, as seemed possible, to break out into the Atlantic with a view to striking at our convoys from the United States, and during the night of the 23rd–24th our cruisers gor visual contact with them as they were passing through the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland.

At dawn Saturday, the Prince of Wales and the Hood intercepted these two enemy vessels. No detailed account is available because events have been moving too rapidly since, but the Hood was struck at about 23,000 yards by a shell which penetrated one of her magazines and she blew up with only a few survivors.

During the whole of Saturday, our ships remained in touch with the Bismarck and her escort and arrangements were made for effecting battle at dawn yesterday morning, but during the night the weather deteriorated, visibility decreased and the Bismarck by making a sharp turn shook off pursuit. We do not know what happened to the Prinz Eugen, but measures are being taken in respect to her.

Yesterday, shortly before midday, a Catalina (Consolidated) aircraft, one of a considerable number of those very far-reaching scouting planes sent us by the United States, picked up the Bismarck and it was seen that she was making for a French port, Brest or St. Nazaire.

On this further rapid dispositions were made by the Admiralty.

We may say that the moment she was known to be at sea, the whole apparatus of our ocean patrol came into play and very far reaching combinations began work. Last evening – from yesterday afternoon there had not been time to prepare a detailed statement – fleet air arm torpedo carriers and seaplanes from the Ark Royal attacked and then made a succession of attacks on the Bismarck, who now appeared to be alone without escort.

About midnight, we learned that the Bismarck had been struck by two torpedoes, one amidships, the other astern.

This second torpedo apparently affected the steering gear of the ship for not only was she reduced to very low speed but he continued making uncontrollable circles in the sea, in which condition she was attacked by one of our flotillas with two more torpedoes, which brought her virtually to a standstill far from help and far outside the range in which enemy bomber aircraft from the French coast could come to the scene.

This morning at daylight or shortly after daylight, the Bismarck was attacked by British pursuing battleships and we do not know what were the results of the bombardment. However, it appears that the Bismarck was not sunk by gunfire and will be dispatched by a torpedo. This is now proceeding and there cannot be any lengthy delay in disposing of this vessel.

Shortly after this statement had been prepared, the Ministry of Information and then the Admiralty announced that the Bismarck had been sunk.

The fate of the German crew and of the commander, Admiral Günther Lütjens, who had been hailed as a hero for his sinking of the Hood, was not immediately known.

The Bismarck’s complement of men is not listed in authoritative naval publications. But the complement of Germany’s 26,000-ton battleships is 1,461 officers and men. The Bismarck’s was probably larger.

The Royal Navy, which had suffered a heavy blow in the loss of the proud Hood, the world’s largest warship, had vindicated its prowess and had dealt a crippling blow to the German Navy.

The Hood was an old ship. Its 42,000-ton bulk, its eight 15-inch guns, had made it the most glamorous unit in the navy, but it had been built 21 years ago. It met its fate last Saturday in what the Admiralty called an “unlucky” hit in its magazine.

In the Bismarck, the Germans had lost a new battleship, possibly the only one completed of the four of the Bismarck class.

The British fleet still ruled the Atlantic and the German Navy had paid a heavy price to find it out.

In the final flashes of the explosions as the great German ship went down, the Germans had lost the prize ship of their navy, and one that it would take them years to replace, a battleship matched by only a handful in the world today.

If Germany had any 35,000-ton battleship left, it could have but one – the Tirpitz, launched a month and a half after the newly-completed Bismarck, It has two 26,000-ton battleships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, crippled in Brest harbor after repeated blows by British planes. It has two pocket battleships, Luetzon and Admiral Scheer (10,000 tons), two 19,250-ton aircraft carriers and at most about seven cruisers.

Britain has the new King George and Prince of Wales, 35,000-ton battleships of at least equal power to the Bismarck, and possibly from one to three more ships in this class. It has the 34,000-ton battleship Nelson and Rodney with 16-inch guns, nine lesser battleships, the powerful 15-inch battlecruisers Renown and Repulse, at least eight aircraft carriers. It had about 70 cruisers and four anti-aircraft ships.

The Admiralty revealed that the Bismarck was run down and sunk by probably the heaviest naval force mobilized for a single action since the start of the war.

This force included the British Home Fleet, guardians of the waters around the British Isles which was sent into action with the new battleship George V (35,000-tonner) as its flagship. It includes the George V’s sister ship, Prince of Wales, which fought at the side of the Hood in the initial encounter Saturday and suffered slight damage.

Ships from Mediterranean

It included the Western Mediterranean fleet which sped away from Gibraltar at full steam with the 32,000 battlecruiser, Renown, at its head. It included the two slow but powerful battleships, 33,950-ton Rodney and 29,150-ton Ramillies, which were cut loose from convoys they were escorting across the Atlantic and turned into the chase.

It included the new 22,000-ton aircraft carrier victorious and the ancient aircraft carrier Ark Royal, and the bulldog cruisers. Norfolk and Suffolk which first picked the Bismarck in the snow and sleet of the Denmark Straits at six-mile range last Friday night.

The Admiralty’s communiqué for the first time gave a detailed account of the entire action including the sinking of the Hood.

It started, said the Admiralty, last Friday when the cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk, 10,000 and 9,925 tons, sighted the Bismarck.

All through Friday night and early Saturday, said the Admiralty, the two British cruisers “shadowed” the great Nazi warship.

Other ships come up

The Admiralty said:

Meanwhile, other units of the Royal Navy were taking up dispositions at high speed with a view to intercepting the enemy and bringing him to action with our heavy forces.

The range of the enemy was only six miles when firt sighted and storms , snow, sleet patches and mist at times reduced cvisibility to one mile.

Saturday morning, said the Admiralty, the Hood and the 35,000-ton newly-constructed Prince of Wales contacted the Bismarck and “action was immediately joined.”

The Bismarck, said the Admiralty, at one time was seen to be afire. The Hood, however, was sunk by an unlucky hit on her powder magazine and the Prince of Wales was damaged slightly.

When the action between the Bismarck, Hood and Prince of Wales was broken off, the Norfolk and Suffolk took up their “shadowing” of the Bismarck which was seen to be accompanied by the cruiser Prinz Eugen.

Enemy’s speed reduced

The Admiralty said:

It appeared at this time that the enemy’s speed had been slightly reduced and reconnaissance aircraft of the coastal command reported she was leaving a wake of oil.

Saturday night, said the Admiralty, the Prince of Wales again brought the Bismarck into brief action but:

The German ships at once turned away to the westward and then swung around in a southerly course with our forces still in pursuit.

The Admiralty said:

Other of our naval forces were now approaching the enemy and during the night torpedo bombing aircraft from HMS Victorious (23,000 tons) delivered a torpedo attack on the enemy from a considerable distance and one torpedo was seen to hit the Bismarck.

About 3 a.m. Sunday, the Admiralty said, the two cruisers and the Prince of Wales lost touch with the Bismarck because of low visibility. At this time, the Bismarck was roughly 350 miles south southeast of the southernmost point of Greenland.

Main fleet on way

Meanwhile, said the Admiralty the main body of the Home Fleet, under Admiral J. C. Tovey who was aboard the George V, new sister ship of the Prince of Wales:

…was steaming at high speed in a southwesterly direction from northern waters.

Another force, headed by the battlecruiser Renown steamed at full speed from Gibraltar while the battleships Rodney and the Ramillies, which were escorting convoys in the Atlantic, were detached to converge on the Bismarck.

The Admiralty said that extensive patrols by the coastal command plus units of the Canadian Air Force from Newfoundland succeeded in relocating the Bismarck at 10:30 a.m. Monday (4:30 a.m. EDT).

The communiqué said:

At that time, the Bismarck was sighted by a Catalina aircraft of the coastal command in a position about 150 miles west of Lands End.

Attacked by aircraft

This aircraft was attacked and, as a result, lost touch with the enemy battleship a half-hour later but at 11:15 a.m., the Bismarck was sighted by aircraft operating from HMS Ark Royal. Only the battleship Bismarck was seen and she was steering an easterly course.

The Admiralty said that the Sheffield soon contacted and shadowed the Bismarck while the Ark Royal loosed an aerial striking force.

The communiqué said:

This force attacked successfully and one torpedo was seen to hit the Bismarck amidships. A second hit was obtained by a torpedo on the starboard quarter of the German battleship.

The Admiralty said that the cruiser Dorsetshire was ordered to sink the Bismarck with torpedoes after the German had been engaged by heavy ships. The Bismarck sank at 11:01 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT).

The Admiralty said that after Ark Royal planes had attacked the Bismarck, the battleship was reported to have made two complete circles with its speed again reduced.

Destroyers also attack

Later in the evening of the same day (Monday), some destroyers of the tribal class, including the Cossack, contacted the Bismarck. The contact was made soon after 11 p.m. Then, at 1:20 a.m. Tuesday the destroyers Zulu, Maori and Cossack engaged in a half-hour torpedo attack. The Maori and Cossack each scored one hit.

The Admiralty said:

After the attack by HMS Maori, it was reported there was fire in the forecastle of the German battleship. An hour after these attacks by our destroyers, it was the reported that the Bismarck appeared to be stopped.

She then was about 400 miles due west of Brest and had been pursued by our forces for more than 1,750 miles.

The Admiralty said that then the Ark Royal again tried an air attack at daylight today, but it was cancelled because of poor visibility.

The communiqué said:

Shortly after daylight, the Bismarck engaged our destroyers by gunfire. HMS Norfolk was in action with the Bismarck almost immediately afterwards and very soon the Bismarck was being engaged by our battleships. Details of this phase of the act have not yet been received. It is known, however, that HMS Dorsetshire was ordered to sink the Bismarck with torpedoes. The Bismarck sank at 11:01 this morning. So far as is known at present the only damage sustained by His Majesty’s ships, other than the loss of HMS Hood, is the slight damage to HMS Prince of Wales, already referred to.


The fantastic Catalina, these long range slow recon plane crews are much less known than the Spitfires an Mustangs but their contribution was essential. Extremely long flights, scanning the sees all the time and underarmed against enemy planes and almost always alone on the mission.

I flew really close to one last year in a Supercub at Duxford. A very graceful plane.


This is the [news station] special broadcast on the sinking of the battleship Bismarck, with special guest Indiana Neidell as an analyst speaking from Germany. Go ahead, Mr. Neidell.


Audio courtesy of NBC of H. V. Kaltenborn’s commentary on the sinking of the Bismarck:

Audio courtesy of BBC of First Sea Lord A. V. Alexander’s announcement of the sinking of the Bismarck:


1941 has so far turned out to be quite a disastrous year for the German navy. Also, their aerial losses are piling up. I wonder what their armies are going to do next.


One of those destroyers was the Piorun of the Polish navy. During her attack run she closed to within 12000 meters of Bismarck all the while flashing “I am a Pole”


By Helen Kirkpatrick

London, May 27 –
The news of the sinking of Germany’s newest battleship Bismarck sent London into a delirium of joy this morning.

The rejoicing was almost incredible. The famous Lutine Bell at Lloyd’s, which has remained silent since the outbreak of war, clanged merrily with a sound impossible to confuse with the lugubrious note sounded to tell of British losses.

Judges interrupted proceedings to inform the courts of the news. Strangers told each other in the street and restaurants and even the stolid press room of the Ministry of Information resounded to the cheers of all nationalists when the announcement was made.