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- Pages 364 to 369 -
EVIDENCE TAKEN AT DORLAND HOUSE, REGENT STREET, S.W.1.
2nd September, 1941
DR. GODFREY ROTTER, C.B., C.B.E., D.SC.,
Director of Explosives Research,
The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter 11.
50. Have you had much experience in observing magazine and cordite explosions?
I have seen cordite exploded under a number of conditions. I have seen a large ignition of cordite in a factory and have seen trials which were carried out at Hoo Fort in which we tried to simulate the conditions of storage of cordite in land deports and set fire to it. Then of course, I have read various reports. I have not seen actual explosions on board ship. I have had representatives present at trials in which ships magazines were exploded in H.M.S. MARLBOROUGH and I know roughly what their observations were.
Cordite can either burn or detonate. When it functions normally in a gun, you get a yellow grey to reddish brown smoke according to the size of the gun and a very large report. When it burns under less confinement it tends to give less of a report and the smoke becomes more reddish. In the Hoo Fort trials which simulated a land service depot, the smoke issuing from that was brownish red due to oxides of nitrogen. When cordite detonates the report is very much sharper than when it burns and also the smoke is greyish.
51. How can you detonate cordite?
If you detonate a C.E. primer alongside cordite S.C., the cordite will detonate. The bursting of a shell alongside a bundle of cordite sticks would probably make it detonate. Whether the cordite detonates or not depends to some extent on the way it is held up to the explosion, in other words the confinement of the individual sticks next to the shell. If the cordite were strongly confined it would undoubtedly detonate. It is difficult to make cordite detonate as a result of a fire.
52. Can you tell us what the effect is likely to be on 4" fixed ammunition in a magazine, of the penetration of a large shell?
If the rounds are stacked relatively close together the explosion of the shell would possibly initiate detonation of several rounds and this might spread to the full contents of the magazine, blowing it up. On the other hand, if the shell did not explode actually in the magazine but set fire to a portion of the contents, then the rounds would be expected to explode intermittently. It is unlikely that the noise would be heard at any great distance from the ship.
As regards the 15" magazine, assuming that certain of the lids had been taken off the cylinders, the ignition of the cordite in one 15" charge case by a shell fragment, would certainly ignite the cordite in the cylinders which had been opened. The probability is that the whole of the charges in the magazine would explode. In regard to the outside effects, there might be a small preliminary report and some flame, followed after a very short interval by a loud rumbling explosion which would blow the ship up. It is not clear that the preliminary explosion would be heard outside. The smoke from such an explosion would tend to be reddish in colour with a large golden flame. If a shall had detonated the 15" magazine the contents might have detonated simultaneously and a sharp explosion rather than a rumbling, would be heard, and the smoke would tend to be more greyish. Such detonations might occur whether or not the lids of the cordite cases were on. If the lids of the cases had been on - all perhaps except a couple of cylinders, there is a small chance that the ignition of one charge would not explode the whole contents of the magazine. The chance of that happening in a ship where magazines are non venting is much less likely than in a vented magazine.
53. If the cordite magazine detonated do you consider it likely that a ship in the neighbourhood would feel the shock of the detonation through the water?
Yes, I would expect that ships situated not a great distance away would feel a tremor through the water.
54. Would the burning or explosion of the 4" magazines cause any effect in the 15" magazines?
If there was a fire in the 4" magazines which did not cause the whole of the contents to explode simultaneously but rather of the nature of a piecemeal sort of explosion of individual rounds, it would be improbable that the 15" magazine would be exploded at least until some considerable time afterwards. Such explosion might conceivably occur through conduction of heat if the bulkhead separating the two magazines was not thicker than half and inch and not otherwise heat insulated.
If the whole of the contents of the 4" magazine exploded simultaneously it is quite probable that the bulkhead would be ruptured and a flame penetrate to the 15" magazine which would cause its explosion practically simultaneously. Alternatively it is possible that fragments of a detonating shell might be projected through the bulkhead and cause ignition if the 15 inch cordite.
55. Assuming the 15" charges are contained in brass cases 1/8" thick how near do you consider a 15" shell would need to explode to cause the detonation of the cordite in that case?
Practically alongside. On the other hand the shell exploding a little way away from such a case would project very hot fragments through the cordite and set fire to it.
56. In that latter case you would expect, I presume, explosion and not detonation of the cordite?
57. In view of what you have just told us, it does not follow therefore that a 15" shell detonating in the 15" magazine will detonate the contents of the magazine.
No, but it would probably cause ignition of so many charges that the whole of the contents would burn and blow the ship to pieces.
58. In other words you would then anticipate explosion of the magazine and not detonation?
That is so. The difference observed outside would, I think, be mainly in the colour of the smoke.
59. Observing that the 4" ammunition is fixed and is in a closed non venting magazine, do you think it probable to get a piecemeal explosion of the charges? What I mean is either one or two charges will explode and no further effect will follow, or else a sufficient number will explode to cause the explosion of the complete magazine.
A piecemeal explosion could occur if there was combustible material in the magazine to create a fire which would burn for some time.
60. What do you think would happen if there was no such combustible material?
One or two rounds might fire and the remainder be left unignited.
61. Have you had much experience in observing the detonation of T.N.T. and other high explosives (a) in the open and (b) below decks in ships?
I have observed the detonation of TNT and other high explosives in the open on numerous occasions. I have been present at certain trials which were carried out in the MONARCH in which 55lb. Bombs were burst between decks.
62. You have just seen the plans of the torpedo arrangements of H.M.S. HOOD. If one torpedo detonated in its mantlet what do you think the effect would be on the remaining torpedoes on that side of the ship?
The torpedo in the same horizontal compartment would be detonated but the torpedoes in the compartment above or below as the case is would not be detonated, although their contents might be scattered and partly burnt.
63. What would you expect the visual and aural effect to be to an observer outside the ship of the detonation in the HOOD of one or more of her warheads?
A sharp explosion would be heard. The side of the ship in the immediate vicinity would be blown out. It is highly probable that you would see a flash mainly out from the ships' side and some above, and dense black smoke. A lot of the light superstructure would be ruptured and smoke would be coming out for some time afterwards.
64. Would you expect any white smoke?
If the lower warheads were detonated and ruptured the mantlet above, the explosion might well cause a partial ignition of the TNT in the upper warheads, with the formation of white smoke. Conceivably this might be blown forwards on top of the black smoke.
65. I was 10 or 15 miles away and I saw a tremendous column of flame shoot up somewhere about the mainmast of HOOD. It was pink or red in colour with white and black streaks in it, and shaped like an inverted cone. Its direction was obviously vertical and it was very quickly surmounted by dense clouds of black smoke. The flame had a certain duration though this was very short. There is one thing I forgot to mention - that for about 3 minutes before this sheet of fire appeared, I had seen a fire burning with a very clear flame on the uppermost deck that I could see, about the same part of the ship that the explosion eventually came from. What did I see?
The fire which was seen on the deck before the main explosion may have been U.P., petrol, or possibly flame coming from below deck. It is not though that a deck fire would have been sufficient to cause the detonation of the warheads two decks below but this might have been brought about by a fire below deck. The warheads might also have been exploded by a second hit (it is understood that the ship was hit twice). Their explosion might possibly project unconsumed 4" and UP rounds above into the air in a burning condition, giving rise to the streak effect but other debris might also cause this. It is not thought, however, that the explosion of the warheads would be sufficient to cause the ship to sink.
66. What would you expect to be the effect on the HOOD'S armoured belt as shown in the diagram of the explosion of two warheads?
The explosion of two of the warheads would blow out the 5" plating. It would also blow away the lighter decks above and the 7" belt would be splayed open. The 12" belt might not have been blown away. The armoured deck would tend to get blown in and split.
67. Would you not anticipate it opening up the ship's side below the waterline?
Not sufficient information to answer this question satisfactorily, but it is not though that the ship would be sunk by the explosion of the warheads only.
68. Is there any difference between naked H.E. charge and closely confined charge with the same type of H.E. such as you would get in a shell or bomb, with regard to the damaging effect, except splinter damage?
Provided the H.E. is brought to detonation in both cases the heavily confined charge will give rise to less blast but more fragment effect than the unconfined charge.
69. Is the detonating effect of a warhead fairly equal in all directions?
Yes, approximately, but if you ignite the explosion at the rear end you get an enhanced effect in the forward direction as compared with igniting it at the forward end. The difference may be something like 10 per cent but not more than that.
70. I was half a mile away from the ship and I saw a fire burning fiercely on her boat deck. It was very hard to see its dimensions, but its centre was in the vicinity of the mainmast. It burnt with a clear flame. I am rather vague as to the smoke, if any. Suddenly there was a blinding flash which startled me so much that I could not give at all a clear description of its colour or the smoke that accompanied it, but there was definitely a vertical direction and it occurred somewhere about the mainmast, but it may have been a little further forward or as far aft as "X" turret. The next I saw was that the ship had disappeared, all except her bows, and where she had been was enveloped in a cloud of smoke. What did I see?
The fire on the boat deck may have been U.P.'s. It may also have been burning gasses escaping under pressure up a shaft from a fire in a magazine. If so, the fire would probably gain in intensity subsequently igniting the whole of the cordite in that or in an adjacent magazine. An explosion in the 15" magazine would give rise to a big flash upwards in the form of an inverted cone directly above the magazine. The smoke might well have been greyish brown in the first instance, later turning to a deep reddish brown, such as I noted when 1.5 tons of cordite was exploded in Hoo Fort.
71. If you saw a flame followed by a dense column of white smoke which almost had the appearance of steam - this smoke later turning to black - what would you expect that to be?
It is difficult to account for the change in colour, presuming the smoke to have been as described, white and black. It is possible that the different appearance was not an actual change in the colour of the smoke but due to the intensity of illumination by the flash of the explosion dying away. The black smoke might have been produced by the detonation of TNT or from burning fuel oil. Dark grey smoke might also be caused by the detonation of cordite. Both smokes might have been present, the white smoke disappearing (e.g. steam) rather than changing.
72. In the previous question describing the upward rush of flame, supposing I saw a ball of incandescent fire, say 100ft. diameter, what would you think that was caused by?
That might readily have been due to the projection of cordite charges only partly ignited, taking fire in the air, or ignition of projected oil fuel.
73. I saw an upward rush of flame in the shape of a funnel, rather a thin funnel and instantaneously the ship was enveloped in smoke from one end to the other. The flame gave me the idea of a blow lamp and its colour was between "D" and "E" on exhibit 1. What would this have been caused by?
The flame might readily have been produced by the explosion of cordite in a magazine and the burning gasses escaping under pressure up a shaft. The smoke may have been due to cordite or possibly to some of the oil fuel taking part of the combustion.
74. I saw wreaths of yellowish smoke coming out of the water by the ship's side. What would you expect that to come from?
75. Could you distinguish between the colour of a fire originating from UP ammunitition 4" ammunition in the open?
The colour of the flame would probably be the same in the two cases. 4" ammunition would be unlikely to give rise to a large amount of flame since unless stacked very close together explosion would not propagate from round to round in the open.
76. Do you consider a strong fire such as that from cordite would detonate a warhead?
There is very good evidence that it would detonate a warhead.
77. Will you give us your views on the effect of (a) background (b) distance on the appearance of the flames and smoke of a big explosion?
Flashes observed from different distances may appear slightly different colours. The appearance of smoke varies considerably in accordance to the background and also whether it is illuminated in front or behind. It might vary according to the intensity of the illumination, that is during the actual flash of an explosion and subsequently after the flash has disappeared.
78. Am I correct in understanding from your evidence that you regard the following as the colours of smoke arising from the various effects I am describing?
Detonation of TNT Black
Detonation of Cordite Grey
Explosion of Cordite Brownish Red
Yes, except that the colour of the cordite should be brownish red to yellow.
79. In answer to question No.65 you discussed the possibility of the effect being produced by the detonation of warheads and the ammunition stowed over them. Do you think the effect described, especially in view of its position could have been caused by the explosion of any or all of the after magazines of the "HOOD"?
The earlier question was coupled with the statement that streaks had been seen in the inverted cone of flame. These might also have been produced by explosion of the after magazines, individual cordite charges might be projected into the air not fully alight, but in any case there would be a large amount of projected debris.
80. Would you not have expected the effect, to have been much farther aft than that described?
81. I saw a colossal volume of brown smoke with a red glow all the way along the base of it. The red glow did not last very long. What would you expect this to be?
I should say that the red glow at the base of the smoke was the red smoke being illuminated by an intense fire from below. This would indicate a cordite fire.
- ?Page 481? -
Bismarck v Hood
Summarising the reports of supposedly reliable eye witnesses of the fall of shot – 15” salvos only – on H.M.S. Hood, the following conclusions were reached in Prince of Wales:-
Salvo 1 Fell ahead of Hood who steered between the splashes.
2 Fell astern
3 Fell in line. Fire amidships observed after salvo 3.
4 Fell “all” down the starboard side – apparently.
5 Mostly hits – caused the explosion.
6 Some over
- Page 382 -
Contents of the After Magazines etc.
The approved stowage of magazines in HOOD was as follows:-
“X” magazine 510 cases each containing two quarter charges that is 216 lbs. of cordite per case, total weight of cordite approximately 49 tons.
“Y” magazine 466 cases, each containing two quarter charges, total weight of cordite approximately 45 tons.
The 4” magazines in the after group contained the number of rounds, and the weight of cordite indicated. The stowage was in bottle racks
Hold 280 – 290 539 rounds 2.17 tons.
Hold 290 – 302 830 rounds 3.32 tons
Lower Platform 280 – 296 1001 rounds 4 tons
Lower Platform 296 – 302 540 rounds 2.17 tons
Upper Platform 280 – 294 467 rounds 1.88 tons
Upper Platform 296 – 306 1232 rounds 4.96 tons
Total about 18 ½ tons
5 in No. Ready Use lockers were supplied to each of the 7 in No. 4” mountings. Each locker contained 32 rounds, therefore 160 rounds per mounting = 80 rounds per gun. Total weight of cordite per mounting approximately 1440 lbs.
The approved amount of U.P. ammunition was 2 in No. lockers per mounting at the mounting, and 4 in No. per mounting stowed elsewhere. Each locker contained 10 charges.
- Page 383 -
Rear-Admiral H.T.C. Walker
Sir, The following is considered a synopsis of the evidence given by Dr Rotter:-
(a) A high column or fan shaped flame, bright yellowish in colour, and of some duration, is the accompaniment of cordite fire or explosion.
(b) Cordite may be detonated but this is unlikely as the detonating shell has to be in actual contact with the cordite or its container to initiate such detonation.
(c) A fierce fire such as that from cordite may cause the detonation of T.N.T. lightly confined as in a warhead.
(d) Omitting splinter damage and assuming complete detonation the damaging potentiality of a given weight of T.N.T. increases slightly as the thickness & strength of the container decreases.
(e) The major explosion of a magazine would produce the most prominent effect as regards the emission of flame, smoke & debris in that part of the ship at which the explosion occurred.
(f) If any one of the warheads in Hood [Page 384] was detonated the other one in the same division of the mantlet would also be detonated. The other two in the mantlet would not be detonated but may be burned.
(g) The damaging effect of the detonation of T.N.T. is practically symmetrical in all directions with a slight bias – no more than 10% - in direction of initiation of the detonation.
(h) The detonation of T.N.T. gives rise to black smoke, the detonation of cordite grey smoke & the explosion of cordite to reddish brown-yellowish smoke. The burning of T.N.T. may give rise to light coloured almost white smoke.
(i) The apparent colour of flash, flame & also of smoke may depend in some reason upon the distance from which it is viewed & the background existing at the time. It also depends on whether the sun is before or behind the position of the phenomena.
- Page 384 -
NAVAL CONSTRUCTION DEPARTMENT.
31st Aug. 1941
Rear Admiral H.T.C. Walker.
I have listened to all the evidence given before your Board of Enquiry into the Technical Aspect of the loss of H.M.S. HOOD and consider it is not appropriate at this stage to forward for your information my impressions and deductions therefrom.
The evidence is almost unanimous that there was a fire on the Boat Deck in the neighbourhood of the Mainmast. The exact nature of the fire has not been established but it seems most probable that it was caused by the contents of the Ready Use Lockers. Such fire have occurred in several previous actions and so far as is known without any serious consequences to the ship.
The majority of the evidence is that the fire was on and not under the Boat Deck. Also it has been established that during the time which elapsed between the commencement of the fire and the final explosion HOOD did not slacken speed. It seems therefore that there could not have been any very serious damage in the immediate neighbourhood of the Engine and Boiler Rooms at this phase of the action. There is also some evidence that X and Y turrets were operating satisfactorily until immediately before the explosion.
In view of the above it is considered that the original fire had nothing whatever to do with the final explosion and the loss of HOOD. Also that the ship was not seriously damaged until after the explosion.
On the main explosion the evidence differs very considerably. It can be conveniently divided into (a) that which indicates a magazine explosion; (b) that compatible with the detonation of one or more warheads in the Upper Deck Torpedo Tubes and (c) that which gives no clear indication one way or the other or which must be discarded as unreliable.
An analysis of the evidence of the colour of the flame or flash and of the smoke of the main explosion gives no sure guide as to the cause. This is not surprising as complete certainty from such visual effects would rarely be possible even with fully trained and expert observers expecting the event.
- Page 385 -
Many of the witnesses seem to have accepted without question that HOOD was lost as a direct consequence of a magazine explosion. Some gave the impression that they considered no other explanation possible. This attitude was not confined to the ratings but existed in the case of a number of officers. An indication of this is the story of th “piece of debris from HOOD.” The Board were informed in the most definite fashion the debris from HOOD was found on PRINCE OF WALES. This has been retained for some time but had been thrown away before the present enquiry. It seems to have been accepted more or less generally that it was a piece of a recoil cylinder of a 15” gun mounting. However as soon as it was suggested that it might be something else it was quickly established to the satisfaction of the Board that it was a piece of PRINCE OF WALES herself, viz. part of the pintle housing of the aircraft crane which was damaged in the action. This incident is quoted as indicating how readily it was accepted that HOOD’S magazines had exploded and that a piece of recoil cylinder was a most likely piece of debris.
The following evidence is regarded in favour of a magazine explosion:-
(a) Answer No [blank space] by Captain Leach. The description of the flame as like that of a blow lamp is an excellent analogy for a cordite fire leading to explosion i.e. of a phenomenon somewhat sustained and of the nature of a gas rush fed from below. In interpreting this evidence one must however give heed to the fact that the witness is a gunnery expert and until recently D.N.O.; nevertheless he would not express an opinion as to whether the phenomena were the result of an explosion of a propellant or the detonation of a high explosive i.e., whether due to magazine explosion or warhead detonation.
(b) Answer No [blank space] by Lt. Terry indicates the blowing out of the bottom of the ship in the after magazine area. When pressed for detail the witness did not appear absolutely certain of his facts; for example he found difficulty in describing the exact position of the ‘exposed flames’ both longitudinally and in the girth of the ship. He was in fact by no means sure that they were ‘exposed flames’. It is possible that he was mistaken in what he saw. It is most unlikely that an explosion would blow off any appreciable area of the outer bottom plating and leave the frames in situ. It is to be noticed that the witness observed no smoke &c. issuing from the ‘hole’ in the ship.
(c) Answer No [blank space] by C.P.O. [blank space] if taken as true that a gunhouse and guns were seen in the air is an almost certain indication that a main magazine exploded. This witness was most positive in his statements and gave the impression of being a good and reliable witness and a trained observer. From the ‘material’ point of view however his statements are bordering on the impossible for the following reasons:-
(1) It was the gunhouse only and no part of the revolving hoist &c. which he saw in the air. It is unlikely that a force from below would separate and break away the gunhouse from the revolving hoist without also disrupting the gunhouse itself and at least detaching the lightly secured roof. Also it is improbable that the guns would have come away in position in the gunhouse. The witness claims to have seen near the side and roof complete and intact both guns in position and to have observed it for some appreciable time.
(2) The witness saw the gunhouse go up to a height of about 1000 ft. only and says that it fell about 800 ft. away from HOOD. For an explosion of a main magazine whose principal blast or gas rush would be vertically up the barbette structure such a trajectory of the gunhouse is most improbable.
The following evidence is regarded as in favour of the detonation of warheads:-
(a) Nearly all the witnesses who are able to place the main explosion state that it was in the neighbourhood of the Mainmast and the majority opinion is that it was just before rather than just abaft that position. Apart from this being in the near vicinity of the Torpedo Tubes it is far removed from the main magazines and some distance from the 4” magazines. All previous experience is that the explosion from a magazine will manifest itself almost straight up from the magazines.
(b) The position indicated for the hit in Answer No. [blank space] by [blank space] means that the shell would pass very near to the Port Torpedo Tubes and certainly nowhere near the magazine.
(c) The detonation of one or more warheads would destroy the strength deck over a considerable width and the ship’s side for a considerable depth so that at high speed the after end would disappear almost immediately and the forward end would follow in a few minutes. This is in agreement with much of the evidence.
(d) There is little evidence of a sustained flame which would be expected in the burning and explosion of large masses of cordite. The black smoke changing to grey is more the accompaniment of T.N.T. than of cordite.
(e) Neither of the survivors from Hood remember any cordite smell and were not conscious of an inordinate amount of noise or shock. Neither spoke of rumblings deep in the ship which would be anticipated from a magazine explosion.
(f) The presence of a number of tubes from the bulge compartments of HOOD is more compatible with the ship breaking her back than having the bottom blown out of her.
(g) Several witnesses refer to seeing the Mainmast or debris which could have been parts of the Mainmast in the air and this would be expected if one or more warheads detonated. One witness [blank space] viz. described in some detail the bulging up of the deck over the Tube position.
(h) The blood red flash, the absence of yellow and the difficulty of deciding whether the smoke or the flash were seen first all seem more indicative of T.N.T. detonation than of Cordite explosion.
(i) If one or more magazines exploded with sufficient violence to disrupt almost completely the after end of HOOD it is surprising that there was no evidence of ‘water hammer’ effect upon PRINCE OF WALES.
My conclusion is that there is no reliable established evidence that will enable one to say definitely the cause of the loss of HOOD, i.e. whether it was due to the detonation of torpedo warheads, explosion of main or secondary magazines or some unfortunate combination of both. Because however the evidence available does not prove definitely that it was a warhead detonation that caused the catastrophe it does not follow that the cause was a magazine explosion solely because in the last way we had some unfortunate experiences of this sort.
H.M.S."PRINCE OF WALES"
4th June 1941
I have the honour to submit the following account of operations between 22nd May and 27th May, 1941, in which H.M.Ship under my command took part.
2. Throughout the operations, and in particularly during and immediately after the morning engagement on Saturday, 24th May, the behaviour of my officers and ship's company was in all respects admirable, and the morale throughout the Ship was unquestionably high. The sinking of the "Hood" produced no noticeable adverse effect. It is intended to submit, as soon as is practicable, a list of those officers and ratings who are considered deserving of special mention for outstanding devotion to duty.
3. Some explanation remains to be made as to my decision to break off the engagement after the sinking of H.M.S. "Hood" - a decision which clearly invites most critical examination. Prior to the disaster to the "Hood" I felt confident that together we could deal adequately with "Bismarck" and her consort. The sinking of "Hood" obviously changed the immediate situation, and there were three further considerations requiring to be weighed up, of which the first two had been in my mind before action was joined. Namely:
(a). The practical certainty that owing to mechanical "teething troubles" a full output from the main armament was not to be expected.
(b). The working up of the Ship after commissioning had only just reached a stage where I felt able to report to the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, that I considered her reasonably fit to take part in service operations. This was the first occasion on which she had done so. From the gunnery point of view the personnel was (sic) immensely keen and well drilled, but inexperienced.
(c). The likelihood of a decisive concentration being effected at a later stage.
In all circumstances I did not consider it sound tactics to continue single handed the engagement with the two German ships, both of whom might be expected to be at the peak of their efficiency.
Accordingly I turned away and broke off the action pending a more favourable opportunity.
4. A detailed narrative is attached as an appendix, and tracks charts are forwarded under separate cover.
I have the honour to be,
your obedient servant,
The Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.
(Copy to Rear Admiral Commanding,
First Cruiser Squadron).
Appendix to "Prince of Wales" NO.001.B. dated 4th June, 1941.
NARRATIVE OF OPERATIONS AGAINST "BISMARCK"
All times ZONE -2.
"Prince of Wales" passed Hoxa Gate in close order astern of "Hood". Courses as necessary to follow route to North Westward. Screen: "Electra", "Icarus", "Echo", "Achates", "Antelope", "Anthony". Shortly before leaving Scapa, a walrus aircraft from Hatston was embarked as "Prince of Wales" only aircraft was unserviceable. B.C.1 ordered first degree at 0330, subsequently reducing to third degree. At 0400 Force was on a mean course of 310 Degs., zig-zagging, speed 20 knots.
Information was received from B.C.1 that force was proceeding to Hvals Fjord to prevent "Bismarck" attacking convoys, and gunnery policy was indicated as follows:-
"If the enemy is encountered and concentration of fire required, the policy will be G.I.C.; if ships are spread when enemy is met they are to be prepared to flank mark as described in H.W.C.O.26".
Range and inclination exercise was carried out, 1st Division screening "Hood" and 2nd Division "Prince of Wales". No restrictions on R.D/F - policy L had been previously ordered - and sets were working well. Exercise was completed by 1307 and by 1320 "Prince of Wales" was again astern of "Hood", zig-zagging No.20, M.L.A. 310 degs. It was decided, after an exchange of signals, that the primary duty of "Price of Wales" aircraft was to report the enemy, supplemented by reporting fall of shot for "Prince of Wales" only.
Mean course altered to 283 degs.
Friday, 23rd May
Visibility was good all night, and dawn action stations were cancelled by B.C.1. Weather at 0600: Wind N.W., Force 4, Overcast, moderate sea and swell. At 1155 mean course was altered to 270 degs. A range and inclination exercise on similar lines to that of the day before was carried out during the forenoon. R.D/F again used satisfactorily. By 12.45 exercise was completed and zig-zagging No. 20 resumed. From signals received it now seemed likely that the force would remain at sea, and at 1400 this was confirmed when B.C.1 detached "Anthony" and "Antelope" to fuel at Hvals Fjord, ordering them to rendezvous with him in position 63 N 22 30' W at 11.30 on Saturday 24th May.
The first indication that the situation was developing was at 1939, when B.C.1 ordered steam for full speed. "Prince of Wales" reported ready for 29 knots at 1948. Course was then altered in succession to 295 degs., R.D/F policy J ordered, and "Prince of Wales" put on a bearing of 100 degs. From B.C.1. The reason for this became clear when at 2004 the first enemy report from "Bismarck was received, T.O.O.1922, one battleship and one cruiser approx. true course 240 degs. Position put enemy about 300 miles 005 degs from battlecruiser force. At 2040 and enemy report was also received from "Norfolk". Speed was increased to 26 knots at 2045 and 27 knots at 2054. At 2055 B.C.1 signalled to destroyers; "If you are unable to maintain this speed I will have to go on without you. You should follow at your best speed".
At this time "Prince of Wales" was going nearly full speed to maintain station. Destroyers kept up well and at 2120 B.C.1 signalled his intention to spread them at 2300 on a bearing of 070 degs. 7 miles or visibility distance if less, to act as a reconnaissance screen. This was not done and at 2305 signal was received that destroyers would not be spread until later.
Course altered by blue pendant to 285 degs.
"Prince of Wales" stationed on a bearing 090 degs. From "Hood".
In reply to signals "Prince of Wales" informed B.C.1 that no more speed was possible without taking risks and that maximum gun range of "Prince of Wales" was 36,000 yards. At 2318 destroyers were ordered to form screen No.4 and at 2334 "Prince of Wales" was signalled to report bearing of "Suffolk" by D/F on 138Kc/s. The first bearing 000 degs., was reported at 2347. B.C.1 left it to "Prince of Wales" discretion whether to fly off aircraft before contact with the enemy was made.
Saturday, 24th May
Weather at 0001: Wind North, force 4/5, visibility - moderate, Sea and swell 34. At this time reports put the enemy 120 miles 010 degs., from battlecruiser force, approx. true course 200 degs. Speed was reduced to 25 knots at 0008 and course altered by blue pendant to 340 degs. At 0012 and 000 degs. At 0017. At 0015 ships assumed first degree of readiness, final preparations for action were made, and battle ensign hoisted. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made at any time after 0140. Cruisers at this time had lost touch with the enemy in low visibility and snow storms. B.C.1 signalled his intentions as follows:-
"If enemy is not in sight by 0210 I will probably alter course 180 degs. until cruisers regain touch = 0031."
"Intend both ships to engage "Bismarck" and to leave "Prinz Eugen" to "Norfolk" and "Suffolk" = 0032."
"Prince of Wales" Walrus was now ready for catapulting and, as Iceland was out of her range if more than half an hour's useful work was to be carried out, the pilot was given instructions to land alongside a destroyer when endurance was up. It was intended to fly off to port altering course to starboard as necessary. B.C.1 was informed accordingly. However, visibility deteriorated rapidly from about 0045, and as there seemed little likelihood of improvement and action was expected shortly, it was decided to de-fuel aircraft and stow it in the hanger. This was started at 0140 and B.C.1 informed.
At 0147 B.C.1 signalled:-
"If battlecruisers turn 200 degs. At 0205 destroyers continue to search to the northward."
Difficulty was experienced in passing this signal to destroyers owing to visibility, and it is uncertain whether it was received by all of them. Course was altered by blue pendant to 200 degs. At 0203, B.C.1 then ordered "Prince of Wales" to search with type 284 from 020 degs. To 140 degs. As type 284 would not bear beyond 070 degs. Permission was requested to use type 281, but this was refused.
Chance of encounter before daylight was now slight and B.C.1 gave permission for personnel to be rested while on the present course. Speed was increased to 26 knots at 0214 and 27 knots at 0222. Visibility was now about 5 miles and after a long gap in enemy reports "Suffolk" regained touch by R.D/F at 0256, her report putting the enemy about 15 miles to the northwest of the battlecruiser force. The large unknown vessel reported by "Norfolk" at 0229 appears from the plot to be "Prince of Wales". Regular D/F bearings were now being obtained from "Norfolk" and "Suffolk" and passed to B.C.1. Course was altered by blue pendant to 220 degs. At 0321 and 240 degs. At 0342. At 0353 speed was increased to 28 knots. Enemy was considered to be 20 miles to the northwest at 0400. Visibility continued to improve and by 0430 was about 12 miles. Consequently orders were given to refuel the aircraft. Owing to delays, principally on account of water in the fuel, aircraft was not ready until after fire had been opened on the enemy and it was damaged by shell splinters before it could be flown off. As the petrol constituted a danger, the aircraft was jettisoned into the sea.
Meanwhile at 0450 "Prince of Wales" was made guide of the fleet while "Hood" stationed herself on a bearing of 230 degs., resuming guide of the fleet at 0505. B.C.1 ordered first degree of readiness at 0510. There was a long wait while the horizon became gradually more distinct and at last at 0535 a suspicious object was sighted and an enemy report made at 0537. "Hood's" report followed immediately. Enemy bore 335 degs. And was on an approx course of 240 degs., "Bismarck" astern of a lighter ship. Course was altered 40 degs. By blue pendant at 0537 and at 0541 "Prince of Wales" was stationed on a bearing of 080 degs. At 0549 B.C.1 signalled:-
"G.S.B. 337 L.1" and a further blue two making to course 300 degs. Was executed.
During the approach "Hood" made - "G.I.C." - followed by - "G.O.B.1" - just before opening fire at 0552 1/2. Range approx. 25,000 yards. "Prince of Wales" opened fire at 0553. "Bismarck" replied with extreme accuracy on "Hood". 2nd or 3rd salvo straddled and fire broke out in "Hood" in the vicinity of the port after 4" gunmounting. Lighter ship engaged "Prince of Wales". "Price of Wales" opening salvo was observed over, 6th was seen to straddle. At this time "Prince of Wales" had five 14" guns in action. "Y" turret would not bear. Fire in "Hood" spread rapidly to the mainmast. A turn of 2 blue at 0555 opened "A" Arcs at "Prince of Wales" ninth salvo. "Hood" had a further 2 blue flying when, at 0600, just after "Bismarck's" 5th salvo, a huge explosion occurred between "Hood's" after funnel and mainmast and she sank in three or four minutes. "Hood" had fired five or six salvos but fall of shot was not seen, possibly because this coincided with firing of "Prince of Wales'" guns.
"Prince of Wales" starboard 5.25" battery was now in action. Course had to be altered to starboard to avoid remains of "Hood"; meanwhile "Bismarck" had shifted main and secondary armament fire quickly and accurately onto "Prince of Wales". A heavy hit was felt almost immediately. And at 0602 compass platform was hit and majority of personnel killed. Navigating Officer was wounded; Commanding Officer unhurt.
The same salvo severed all fire control leads to the port forward H.A. Director and put the starboard forward H.A. Director out of action temporarily jamming it in training. The control officer of the latter ordered all turrets to go into "After Control". This was carried out, but, about the same time a 15" shell burst on the boat deck and seriously upset the starboard after H.A. Director. The crew of this director had already been considerably blasted by "Y" Turret firing on a forward bearing. The 15" shell burst threw the control officer off his feet and broke his telephone lead. By the time he was again through to the H.A.C.P. The target was lost behind smoke astern.
It was considered expedient to break off the action and consolidate the position, and the ship, after being manoeuvred round the remains of "Hood", turned away behind a smoke screen. "Y" Turret fired in local during the turn as smoke blanked the after director.
It now seems probable that the enemy turned away at the same time as "Prince of Wales" and about two enemy salvos were seen short during this period.
The "Prince of Wales" fired 18 main armament salvos. The target was crossed and recrossed and three straddles observed. No hits were seen. True range on opening fire was 25,000 yards. The true range on ceasing fire was 14,500 yards.
The 5.25" opened fire at a range of 18,000 yards but only fired 3 salvos. "Y" Turret's shell ring jammed during the turn away and the turret was out of action until 0825.
After retiring on a course of about 160 degs. "Prince of Wales" circled to port, steadying up on a course of 250 degs. And joining "Norfolk" came under orders of C.S.1 who at 0633, stated his intention of keeping in touch with the enemy. The extent of the general damage to the ship was reported to C.S.1. At 0707 C.S.1 ordered "Prince of Wales" to follow at her best speed giving his course 210 degs. Speed 26 knots. Two guns of "Y" Turret were again in action by 0720 and an amplifying report of damage was made to C.S.1.
When the debris on the bridge had been cleared away, damage was found to be less than at first thought and conning, which had been carried out in the upper conning tower, was resumed on the compass platform. Later, at 1007, a more accurate and comprehensive report of damage was made to the Admiralty.
Meanwhile, at 0737 C.S.1 ordered "Prince of Wales" to take station 10 miles on a bearing of 110 degs. In order to support him if the enemy attempted to drive him off. Courses and speeds were as necessary to open out and maintain station.
At 1126 C.S.1 was ordered by Admiralty to continue shadowing "Bismarck" even at the risk of expending all fuel in order that C-in-C. H.F. might catch up in time.
Visibility was good up to about 1200 when it became worse, and "Prince of Wales" closed "Norfolk" and was ordered to keep within one mile and conform to her movements.
Enemy at this time was estimated as bearing 260 degs. Distance 18 miles, and efforts were made to detect by R.D/F but no results were obtained. C.S.1 increased speed at 1256 to try and regain touch and "Prince of Wales" was ordered to maintain V/S touch with him.
The enemy was resighted at 1323. Shadowing continued. At 1518 a Catalina Flying Boat approached and identified herself. "Suffolk" at this time was just visible on the horizon bearing 255 degs. Ships were zigzagging independently.
Visibility continued variable and at 1715 C.S.1 signalled:-
"As in this visibility we are likely to sight the enemy within gun range, am putting you ahead."
"Prince of Wales" was made guide and "Norfolk" stationed herself on "Price of Wales'" starboard quarter. The Enemy was not in sight at this time but "Suffolk" was in touch. At 1730 "Prince of Wales" made to C.S.1-
"Presume policy is to shadow. Request permission to fire one of two salvos on turning away if enemy is sighted"
The gist of the reply to this signal was that C.S.1's intentions were to shadow from astern, not to engage the enemy closely until C-in-C H.F. came up, and to try and draw the enemy to the eastwards.
It was expected that C-in-C H.F. would be in touch soon after midnight.
Visibility was now improving and enemy was resighted at 1840, hull downbearing 230 degs "Prince of Wales" course at this time was 180 degs. Enemy opened fire on "Suffolk" who was shadowing him from astern. "Suffolk" replied and "Prince of Wales" opened fire in support at 1846, range about 30,000 yards. "Norfolk" joining in almost immediately. Course was altered 30 degs. Towards at 1850. "Prince of Wales" fired 12 salvos and enemy was twice crossed by an 800 yard bracket. No other results were observed. "Prince of Wales" was not fired at. Cease fire was ordered by C.S.1 at 1900 after enemy had turned away, and a course of 180 degs. Was resumed about 1920. "Norfolk" resumed guide and "Prince of Wales" was ordered to act independently but to remain in support.
At 1923 temporary breakdown of two guns in "A" Turret was reported to C.S.1
At 1926 signal was received from C.S.1 -
"Do not open fire except in response, as I do not want to force the enemy away to the westward."
Shortly afterwards a signal "Look out for U-Boats" - was received from C-in-C H.F. and ships were ordered to zig-zag independently.
At 1934 C.S.1 reported that the long range engagement had been broken off to avoid forcing the enemy further away.
At 2031 a signal was received from C-in-C H.F., T.O.O. 1455, indicating that torpedo bombers from "Victorious" would attack about 2200. Shadowing continued.
Sunday, 25th May
The torpedo bomber attack did not take place until shortly after midnight; bombers were sighted at 0001 and circled round "Prince of Wales" and "Norfolk" before proceeding to the target. The leader made "O.K." by light just before disappearing from view.
"Bismarck" was not in sight when the bombers went in to attack, but A.A. gunfire could be seen. A vessel, at first thought to be "Bismarck", was sighted at 0200 in the direction of the gunfire, and a signal to open fire was received. The control, however, considered that she was and American coastguard cutter, and fire was withheld. It is now believed that the ship sighted was "Modoc". Ships closed over to starboard to regain touch with the enemy.
At 0013 a signal from C-in-C H.F. Was received saying that he hoped to engage from the eastward about 0900.
At 0121 the Enemy was resighted on a bearing of 200 degs. Two salvos were fired at 0131 at a range of 20,000 yards by R.D/F. Three flashes from the enemy were observed, one of which did not appear typical of a gunflash. Only one enemy shell was observed to fall. The target then became indistinct due to funnel smoke, but it appeared that her course was about 180 degs. And an enemy report of one battleship, timed at 0130 was made to this effect. It is now realised that the enemy sighted at this time may, perhaps, have been a cruiser. This was the last occasion on which either of the enemy ships was seen by "Prince of Wales". At 0139 "Prince of Wales" was ordered to follow astern of "Suffolk", course about 140 degs. Speed 22 knots. At 0152 "Norfolk" went ahead and ordered "Prince of Wales" to follow. Course was altered to 180 degs. At 0155.
The next information of the enemy was "Suffolk's" 0213, indicating that touch had been regained by R.D/F, her report being amplified at 0225 giving enemy's course and speed. At 0401, however, "Suffolk" signalled to C.S.1 that in her opinion enemy had either worked round to the eastward under the stern of the shadowing force or turned to the westward, and that she was working on the latter assumption.
Contact was not regained.
At 0511 C.S.1 had signalled his intention to keep "Prince of Wales" in support if visibility was low, otherwise to detach her to join C-in-C H.F. As visibility was good "Prince of Wales" was detached at 0630 to join C-in-C H.F., an estimated position, course and speed was given, and "Prince of Wales" proceeded to the southward at 26 knots. Position, course and speed of "Prince of Wales" was broadcast at 0707. Contact was not made with C-in-C H.F. And nothing was sighted.
At 1059 C-in-C H.F. 1047 giving estimated position of the enemy as 57N. 33W was received. Course was accordingly altered to the northward at 1100.
At 1500 course was altered to the eastward (083 degs).
At 1540 "Price of Wales" signalled her intention to maintain present course until 2000 and then to proceed to Hvals Fjord to refuel.
At 1730 course was altered to investigate masts sighted on the horizon, which turned out to be "Norfolk" on an easterly course. She informed "Prince of Wales" that she was working on the assumption that enemy was proceeding to Brest.
Lack of fuel prevented "Prince of Wales" taking any further part in the operations, and at 2000 course was set for Hvals Fjord.
Monday 26th May
Nothing of note happened on the way. "Galetea" and "Aurora" were contacted at about 0800, and they took up screening positions. Destroyers "Electra", "Antelope" and "Anthony" joined the screen at 1620.
Tuesday 27th May
Ship anchored in Hvals Fjord.