-H.M.S. Hood Reference Materials-
ADM 234/509: H.M.S. Prince of Wales' Gunnery Aspects of the "Bismarck" Pursuit
Updated 11-Mar-2007

This document is a modern transcription of a portion of Admiralty record ADM 234/509. This record concerns the battle performance of H.M.S. Prince of Wales during the pursuit and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in late May 1941. The original file is held at the The National Archives at Kew, London. This Crown Copyrighted material is reproduced here by kind permission of The National Archives.

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- Page 192 -

[Enclosure No. 4 to Submission No. 1165/H.F.1325 of 19th August, 1941 from Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.]


From: The Commanding Officer, H.M.S. Prince of Wales

Date: 12th June, 1941. No. 3 D./001B.

To: The Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.


Herewith is forwarded a "Gunnery Appendix" to the ship's narrative of events which occurred during the ship's engagement with Bismarck.

2. The following enclosures are attached:-

  1. Form S.1146 (f). Summary of Salvoes Fired
  2. F/C Signals received from Hood prior to First Action
  3. Report on events which occurred in 14-in Turrets - 23rd to 25th May
  4. Two Track Charts showing track of Prince of Wales and probable track of Bismarck, with Fall of Shot as they were spotted in Prince of Wales.



- Page 193 -


A - Events prior to First Action

Thursday, 22nd May. - B.C.1 indicated the gunnery policy to Prince of Wales in the following signal:-

"If enemy is encountered and concentration of fire is required, the policy will be G.I.C.; if ships are spread when enemy is met, they are to be prepared to flank mark described in H.W.C.O. 26."

A range and inclination exercise was carried out with Hood during the forenoon and R.D.F. sets worked well.

2. Friday, 23rd May. - Another range and inclination exercise was carried out during the forenoon with R.D.F. Sets again working well.

During the afternoon the 14-in. cages were loaded as is described in Enclosure (III).

B - Events during First Action

24th May. - Enemy was sighted at 0537, range about 38,000 yards. The similarity between the two enemy ships was amazing and with the smaller ship "nearer", it was difficult at first to distinguish which was Bismarck.

2. This difficulty was evidently experienced in Hood as B.C.1 signalled GSB/337/L1 at 0549 (engage left-hand ship bearing 337° ), followed by GOB1 (shift target one ship right) just before opening fire.

The ships were at an inclination of about 130° and Gunnery and Spotting Officers in the fore D.C.T. both agreed at the time that at long range Prinz Eugene (sic) looked exactly like Dunkerque when "X" and "Y" turrets were "merged" into the after superstructure.

3. The rangefinders failed to develop a satisfactory range plot before opening fire; the fore D.C.T. 15-ft rangefinder was the only rangefinder which had a reasonable chance; the closing rate was very high and "A" and "B" rangefinders were able to see the enemy's superstructure for a short time only before "table turning." Conditions for ranging on the enemy's masts were not easy. As a result it required two down ladders to find the target.

4. No results were obtained from either Type 281 or 284 R.D.F.; it is understood that Signal School Officers are now of the opinion that Type 281 suffered interference and Type 284 was defective, although it appeared at the time that 284 was also suffering from interference.

5. Fire was opened at 0553, half a minute after Hood. A list of fire control signals made prior to opening fire is attached, as is also the zone time of each salvo fired by Prince of Wales on Form S.1148(f) with the number of guns fired in each salvo.

6. Salvoes 1 and 2 were spread for line, salvo 1 falling right and salvo 2 in line over. Salvoes 3 and 4 were fired as a down ladder and fell over. Salvoes 5 and 6 were fired as a further down ladder; 5 fell over and 6 straddled. It had been decided after Prince of Wales' last firing to use a 200-yard as opposed to a 100-yard zigzag, as the spreads were in the nature of 350 yards. Accordingly salvoes 7 and 8 were fired as a 200-yard zigzag about salvo 6's range. Both 7 and 8 were observed as over and salvoes 9 and 10 were fired as a regaining down ladder. Salvo 9 was seen to straddle, 10 short, and salvoes 11 and 12 were fired as a 200-yard zigzag about salvo 9's range. Both of these were spotted as short, and salvoes 13 and 14 were fired as a regaining ladder up: 13 appeared to straddle, 14 went over, and a further zigzag was fired with salvoes 15 and 16 about salvo 13's range; both of these appeared as short and salvoes 17 and 18 were fired as an up regaining ladder. The fall of shot of these salvoes is not certain, but it is probably that they went short; evidence of the Rate Officer's observations and settings and the fall of shot points to the fact that the enemy started altering away gradually at about salvo 14. Line was held throughout. A large line spread appeared temporarily in salvoes 11 and 12 and one or two shots fell ahead during this time. Spreads for elevation are not known, but it is thought that salvoes 17 and 18 were ragged as the ship was under full wheel at the time; the ship was listing heavily and it is known that there was considerable movement on both elevation and training pointers.

The true range on opening was 25,000 yards. The true range on ceasing fire was 14,500 yards.

No hits were observed, but it is likely from results observed that fire was effective between salvoes 5 and 16.

When the Fore Director was wooded during the turn away after salvo 18, the main switch in the T.S. was put over to after director. This director was also unable to see the enemy due to the ship's smoke screen, and the Officer of "Y" turret, using his own initiative, went into local control and fired three salvoes as he was able to see under the smoke.

The fall of shot of these three salvoes is uncertain.

"Y" turrets' shell ring jammed during the turn away and the turret was out of action until 0825, as has been described in Enclosure (III).

7. The 5.25-in. armament opened fire at a range of 18,600 yards. After firing a deflection triple, a 15-in. shell passed through the superstructure supporting the H.A. directors.

The shot caused the director to jam temporarily in training and the Control Officer of the latter ordered all turrets to go into "aft control". This was carried out, but about the same time a 15-in. shell burst on the boat deck and seriously upset the after starboard H.A. director. The crew of this director had already been considerably blasted by "Y" turret firing on a forward bearing. The 15-in. shell burst threw the Control Officer off his feet, broke his telephone lead, and a splinter hit his earphones and very slightly wounded him. By the time he had regained control of the situation, the target was lost behind smoke astern.

A careful inquiry has been held into the reason why the fore H.A. director jammed and no satisfactory explanation has been arrived at; the director was found to be "free" after the action and it is possible that the locking bolt jumped down and the Control Officer was too hasty in ordering "after control." This fact has not, however, been proved and it is also possible that the severe shaking the director had caused it to "bind" temporarily in training.

C - Events during Second Action

24th May. - Fire was opened at Bismarck at 1846 at a range of 30,300 yards. The table was tuned to ranges obtained from the fore D.C.T. rangefinder and "fine inclination spotting rules" were adopted, each double salvo being spread one unit apart. Salvoes 1 and 2 both fell right; salvoes 3 and 4 were fired as a further line bracket and both fell in line and short. UP 800 was ordered and salvoes 5 and 6 were fired spread one unit apart. Both these appeared in line and over; the range was then 33,000 yards and check fire was ordered. Prince of Wales then turned towards and opened fire again at 1853.5, with salvoes 7 and 8 fired as a deflection double with the table re-tuned to the fire D.C.T. rangefinder. "Y" turret was not bearing after salvo 6. Again, both these appeared right, and salvoes 9 and 10 were fired as a further line bracket. Both appeared in line and short; UP 800 was ordered and salvoes 11 and 12 were fired spread one unit apart; 11 was observed right and 12 over. Fire was then ordered to be checked by C.S.1 as the enemy turned away and there was a danger of forcing him westward.

It is understood that one of these salvoes was observed to "straddle" by Norfolk.

D - Events during the Third Action

25th May. - One double salvo was fired at 0131 at a range of 20,000 yards at an enemy ship which might have been Bismarck or Prinz Eugen. A good R.D.F. range was obtained but the target was then lost in funnel smoke and mist and fire could not be continued.

It is possible that a hit was obtained from these two salvoes as in addition to enemy gun flashes, a different type of explosion was seen at the same time as shots were due to fall. The splashes of our own salvoes were not seen due to the visibility.

E - Notes on Enemy Gunnery

  1. Spreads. - The small size of the enemy spreads was remarkable. The driving bands of the 15-in. projectile discovered in Prince of Wales are in a perfect state of repair and appear tougher and larger than those of our shell. Although this may assist the accurate ranging of their guns, it is likely that such driving bands cause the guns to wear more quickly.
  2. Method of Fire. - Bismarck appeared to fire the whole of her fore group (i.e. "A" and "B" turrets), followed by the whole of her aft group ("X" and "Y" turrets). Towards the end of the morning action, guns in a group were definitely observed to "ripple" as if one or more turrets were in gunlayers' firing.
  3. All enemy cruisers and capital ships appear to have their large rangefinders mounted considerably higher than than in our ships. Provided vibration can be eliminated, this fact should be kept in mind in future designs of our ships.

F. - Notes on Own Ship's Gunnery

  1. Application of Spotting Rules. - These were applied successfully in the T.S. during the first action.
  2. Cross-levelling gear. - This was used throughout both the first and second actions with success.
  3. A.F.C.T., Mk IX. - The 14-in. table was run continuously for 32 hours and proved most reliable. The only incidents which occurred were as follows:-
    1. During the first action after firing salvo 12, a heavy hit was felt on the starboard side and the director setting mechanical pointer was seen to be oscillating violently. At the same time a fuze was noticed to blow at the panel in the 14-in. T.S. The director setting control trigger was used to move off the mechanical pointer. On release, the pointer settled in line with the indicator pointer and no further trouble was experienced.
    2. Immediately after the third action, the safety diaphragm in the air supply to the motors, blew with a loud report and the T.S. was filled with blue smoke caused by vaporised oil in the air system. A double diaphragm was inserted to prevent recurrence.
  4. Communications between Bridge and D.C.T. - Great difficulty was found in using the voicepipe communication with the high wind blowing past the director. A direct sound power hand-set has now been rigged by ship's staff and is recommended for future construction.
  5. General remarks on the behaviour of the 14-in. Turrets - During the working up period numerous minor mechanical defects have been experienced in spite of unremitting efforts on the part of the Ordnance staff, and during the operations against Bismarck this state of affairs persisted.

In the circumstances the output achieved might well have been lower. That this was not so was due to the continual efforts of the Ordnance staff and with one exception, to good loading drill in the turrets.

The presence in each turret of one of Messrs. Vickers Armstrong's erecting staff was of the greatest assistance.

- Page 196 -

[Enclosure (I)]



No. of


Able to



Loss of

Min. sec.

First action

8 58

18 (b)

55 (a)





Second Action

12 02


41 (c) (d)





Third Action


5 rounds only fired (e)



  1. A.1 gun out of action after one salvo.
  2. In addition "Y" turret fired four rounds in local control after 18th salvo: shell ring then jammed.
  3. A.1 gun out of action from 5th salvo onwards.
  4. A.3 gun temporarily out of action after 11th salvo.
  5. "A" turret shell ring jammed.

- Page 197 -

[Enclosure (II)]

Ships: Hood 1

Prince of Wales 2

Time Signal

'0103 - 0543 Preliminary testing

'0544 2 v 1 PP GCW ? 43

v 2 IMI X

0546 2 v 1 PP GCW 0548

V 2 R

0548 2 v 1 PP GCW 0550

V 2 R

0550 2 v 1 GCW 0550


v 2 GCW

'0551 2 GIC


2 v 1 GIC

v 2 R

'0552 2 v 1 GOB - 1



-------------- Nil more heard -------

No intercommunication of ranges.


'0550 GSB 337 - L1

ADM 234/509

- Page 198 -

23rd TO 25th MAY

Friday, 23rd May

A - Events prior to First Action

The order to load the cages was given late in the afternoon. In the course of loading the following defects developed:-

  1. "A" Turret

    No. 2 gun loading cage: Front flashdoors could not be opened fully from the transverser compartment and the cage could not be loaded. Examination showed that the front casing had been badly burred by being struck by the lugs carrying the guide rollers on the gun loading rammer head when the latter was making a "withdrawing" stroke.

    This was cleared by filing and the other gun loading cages were examined for the same defect. Slight burring was found in some cases and was dressed away.

    No. 1 gun: On ramming shell the second time after the order "Load", the shell arrestor at the shell ring level jammed out and could not be freed before the first action.

    While steaming at high speed, large quantities of sea water entered "A" turret round the gun ports and through the joints of the gunhouse roof. It became necessary to rig canvas screens in the transverser space and bale the compartment.

  2. "B" Turret

No. 2 central ammunition hoist: Arrestor at shell ring level would not withdraw after ramming shell. It is impossible to strip this in place in the Mark II mounting, and the arrestor was removed complete. The axis pin of the pinion driving the inner tube of the arrestor had seized. There does not appear to be any effective means of lubricating this pin. The pin was drilled out and removed and the arrestor re-assembled. It was not, however, possible to replace the arrestor before action stations was ordered, because at this stage a defect developed in the hinge trays of the forward shell room as described below. This latter defect was taken in hand immediately in order to free the revolving shell ring and was completed a few minutes after action stations. It was not then considered advisable to proceed with replacing the arrestor.

Hinge trays at forward shell room fouled the locking bolt on the revolving shell ring: both trays being bent.

Saturday, 24th May

During the early hours hydraulic pressure failed on the revolving shell ring ship control in "B" turret. This was due to the pressure supply to the turret from the starboard side of the ring main being isolated. The revolving shell ring ship control is fed from the starboard side only, and the non-return valves on the pressure main adjacent to the centre pivot prevent pressure being fed to the starboard side and the revolving shell ring ship control from the port side in the event of the former being isolated from the ring main. Similar conditions exist on the port side of "A" and the starboard side of "Y". It is considered essential that a cross connection be fitted in the shell handling room with two non-return valves so that the revolving shell ring ship control can be supplied from either side of the ring main.

B - Events during the First Action

The following defects developed in "A" turret:-

  1. "A" Turret

    On several occasions the shell ring rammers fouled the brackets on the hinge trays for No. 11 interlock. Shell could not be rammed until the bearing of the turret was changed. This also occurred in "Y" but did not prevent ramming.

    No. 1 gun only fired one salvo, due to the events described in A (i).

    After the second salvo, No. 24A interlock failed on No. 2 shell ring rammer. It was tripped after a short delay and thereafter assisted by hand.

    About halfway through the firing, the tappets operating the shell ring arrestor release gear on No. 4 rammer failed to release the arrestor. Subsequent examination has shown that the shaft carrying the levers operating these tappets had twisted. The rammer was kept in action by giving the tappets a heavy blow at each stroke.

    Shortly after this, a further defect occurred on No. 4 shell room rammer. When fully withdrawn the rammer failed to clear No. 7 interlock and the ring could not be locked. This was overcome by operating the gear with a pinch-bar at every stroke.

    Throughout the engagement the conditions in "A" shell handling room were very bad; water was pouring down from the upper part of the mounting. Only one drain is fitted and became choked; with the result that water accumulated and washed from side to side as the ship rolled. The streams above and floods below drenched the machinery and caused discomfort to the personnel. More drains should be fitted in the shell handling room and consideration given to a system of water catchment combined with improved drainage in the upper parts of the revolving structure. Every effort is being made to improve the pressure systems and further attempts will be made as soon as opportunity occurs to improve the mantlet weathering, but a certain amount of leaking is inevitable.

  2. "B" Turret

    No mechanical defects.

  3. "Y" Turret

The following defects occurred in "Y" turret:-

Salvo 11 - No. 3 central ammunition hoist was raised with shell but no cordite; No. 25 interlock having failed to prevent this. The interlock was functioning correctly before the engagement. There has been no opportunity to investigate this. It is also reported that the reason no cordite had been rammed was that the indicator in the cordite handling room did not show that the cage had been raised after the previous ramming stroke. This caused the gun to miss salvoes 15 to 20.

Salvo 12 - Front flashdoors of No. 2 gun loading cage failed to open and cage could not be loaded. Flashdoors on transfer tubes were working correctly and investigation showed that adjustment was required on the vertical rod operating the palm levers which open the gun loading cage doors. To make this adjustment, three-quarter inch thread had to be cut on the rod. This defect was put in hand after the engagement had been broken off and was completed by 1300. It would appear that the operating gear had been strained, possibly by the foreign matter in the flashdoor casing making the doors tight. The doors were free when tried in the course of making the repair. This caused the gun to miss salvo 14 onwards.

Salvo 20 - Owing to the motion of the ship, a shell slid out of the port shell room and fouled the revolving shell ring while the latter was locked to the trunk and the turret was training. The hinge tray was severely buckled, putting the revolving shell ring out of action. The tray was removed, but on testing the ring it was found that No. 3 and 4 hinge trays of the starboard shell room had also been buckled and were fouling the ring. The cause of this is not yet known. The trays were removed and as the action had stopped by this time, No. 4 tray was dressed up and replaced. The ring was out of action until 0825.

C - Events subsequent to First Action

During the day in "A" turret, No. 1 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor was driven back with the intention of carrying on without it by ramming cautiously. The gun and cages were then loaded, but owing to the motion of the ship the round in the central ammunition hoist cage slid forward until its nose entered the arrestor, putting the hoist out of action again. Subsequent examination has shown that the anti-surging gear in this cage was stiff and consequently did not re-assert itself after ramming to traverser.

D - Events during the Second Action

"A" Turret

No. 1 gun fired only two salvoes owing to central ammunition hoist being out of action as described above in C, para 1. At salvo 9, No. 3 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor jammed out.

"B" and "Y" Turret

Clean shoot.

E - Events subsequent to Second Action

"A" Turret

No. 3 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor was removed complete from the hoist. Time did not allow of it being stripped and made good, but it was intended to use the hoist without it. The gun and cages were loaded in this manner.

F - Third Action

"A" Turret

First Salvo - Shell rammed short into No. 3 central ammunition hoist cage. In trying to remedy this a double ram was made, putting the shell ring out of action. The second shell was hauled back by tackle, clearing the ring. The base of the shell in the central ammunition hoist cage was jamming against the upper edge of the opening in the hoist. This could not be cleared as the central ammunition hoist control lever cold not be put to lower. After much stripping the trouble was located in a link in the control gear which was found to be out of line.

"B" Turret

Clean shoot.

G - General

With pressure being kept on shell room machinery for a long period, much water has accumulated in the shell rooms and bins. Suctions are fitted from 350-tomnm pumps only and these are not satisfactory for dealing with relatively small quantities of water. Drains are urgently required. It is suggested that a drain be fitted at each end of each shell room and larger drain holes be made in the bins; present drain holes being quite inadequate and easily choked.

The drains should be led to the inner bottom under the cordite handling room. Non-return valves and flash-seals could be fitted if considered necessary.

On passage to Rosyth after the action, two further hinge trays in "Y" shell handling room were buckled by fouling the revolving shell ring.


Exhibit A
Exhibit A. Click to enlarge

Exhibit B
Exhibit B. Click to enlarge