As the 27th of May approaches I could not help but think of what it was like in 1941 when the events surrounding the sinking of the German battleship KMS Bismarck were announced.
As a child I was enthralled by all things naval, so her demise was probably amongst my favourite wartime moments, although viewed through the eyes of a child who did not understand the mechanics involved in naval battles such as this. Neither was there the wealth of information that is available now so a lot of what we read as children was skewed from the British point of view with no input from the German.
The first time I really understood the last days of this ship was when I read Dr Robert Ballard’s book “The Discovery of the Bismarck” about the rediscovery of the long lost battleship. My viewpoint was also enhanced by reading “Battleship Bismarck” by Burkard Baron von Mullenheim-Rechberg, who was gunnery officer on board the vessel when she went down. I do recall watching the TV special about the discovery and it was strange to see this floating fortress in her dark underwater world. It is hard to believe that it is the same ship that gave the Royal Navy a run for its money.
There is no doubt that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were tough opponents, and had they been given a free hand they would have not only sunk HMS Hood but probably HMS Prince Of Wales too. And of course, had she come across a convoy the carnage would have been horrific.
It is difficult to write about something like this so many years after the fact. I am not a naval historian, and there are others much more qualified to expound on what is now known as the Battle of the Denmark Strait. As I have said so often, I only photograph what is left over and view things like this with some sort of hindsight. I did do some thinking about the events that occurred on 24 May 1941 about how I could present my own small tribute to these ships and men that fought battles at long distances in an environment that was even more deadly than the shells that they fired from their large calibre guns,
The biggest shock of the battle was the loss of HMS Hood in one cataclysmic explosion that left 3 survivors out of a complement of 1418 on board.
1384 Members of her crew are Commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. They are however not listed under their ship, but rather in order of rank for 1941.
HMS Prince of Wales was fortunate enough to escape with reasonably minor damage,
but she too met her end on 10 December 1941 along with HMS Repulse by Japanese air attack off Kuantan, in the South China Sea. Of her crew are mentioned on the Chatham Naval Memorial
As for the Bismarck, the one machine that really brought about her end was an insignificant biplane from HMS Ark Royal, possibly flown by pilot John Moffat that delivered a torpedo that critically damaged her rudder, leaving the ship sailing in circles, thereby ensuring that she would not be able to flee to a safe haven, but would have to face up to the might of the Royal Navy that was closing in on her for the final battle.
The age of the battleship was drawing to a close, no more would the imposing firepower of these floating fortresses dominate all within range, the Second World War was really the final gasp of the big gun ship. From now on the aircraft carrier and submarine would reign supreme.
Bismarck however lives on our memories as one of the ultimate war machines of her era, and as we remember her sinking so many years ago, let is not forget those who went down with her, and those who died on HMS Hood and the brave pilots in their biplanes that went forth and crippled the pride of the Kriegsmarine.
© DRW 2016-2018. Created 26/05/2016.