-H.M.S. Hood Reference Materials-
ADM 234-509: H.M.S. Norfolk's Gunnery and R.D.F. During Operations Against "Bismarck"
Updated 11-Mar-2007

This document is a modern transcription of a portion of Admiralty record ADM 234/509. This particular portion covers H.M.S. Norfolk's involvement in the pursuit and sinking of the battleship Bismarck in 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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From: The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron,

Date: 7th June, 1941.

To: The Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet

No. K.856/196

The following remarks on gunnery and R.D.F. during the operations against the Bismarck are forwarded, separate from my report, while the events are still fresh in my memory.


German Gunnery

2. The first impression of the sinking of the Hood is naturally that the German gunnery is very good from which it is but a short step to the thought that it is better than ours. I feel sure that a close analysis of these incidents will show this conclusion to be false.

3. I do not know what Suffolk was able to observe, but from the Norfolk the enemy's fire was seen on the following occasions:-

2030 on 23rd May

The enemy was met on a closing and opposite course. Norfolk had time to turn away before the first salvo from the 8-in cruiser fell. It fell close on the port quarter and splinters hit "X" turret. I saw this salvo fall and it appeared to me as a broad wall of smoke and water at right angles to our line of fire, and I think that the spread for range and line was very small. On our side of this, the water was pocked with fragments and one complete burnished shell made what I think was its second bounce 50 yards our side of the salvo and ricocheted over the bridge.

Two or three other salvos were fired. I only saw one, and that was very compact and fell astern fine on the starboard quarter when we had turned away and were hidden by our smoke. The range was 12,000 to 14,000 yards.

Action with "Hood" and "Prince of Wales"

Both ships seemed to straddle early, but after Hood sank, Prince of Wales sustained the fire of both enemy ships with remarkably little damage but for the unlucky hit on the bridge. As the range came down to 15,000, this points to very poor shooting.

At the end, Prince of Wales had a spread of 2,000 yards at least and was going short. Her shots were evenly spaced out along the spread.

1830 on 24th May

At 20,000 yards Bismarck fired on Suffolk. Her salvos fell short and had a large spread. She shifted her fired but Prince of Wales thought she was not fired at. Three salvos were seen from Norfolk to fall short. Prince of Wales' second salvo appeared a good straddle, and the range was over 30,000 yards.

0115 on 25th May

Prince of Wales fired two salvos by R.D.F. The reply consisted of a single gun salvo and then a 4-gun salvo, both a long way short. Range was about 16,000 yards and Prince of Wales fired some time before the reply.

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27th May

The condition of the enemy by this time both as regards morale and material was probably low; at any rate he did not succeed in hitting our ships, though I should say he was not hit himself for several salvos.

In the early stages I thought that the fire of King George V and Rodney was good and Bismarck was soon straddled.

4. I think that these instances show that except for the opening stages of the action with Hood the enemy's shooting was distinctly poor. No doubt with practice in the use of R.D.F. and realistic training in range-finding we can improve the accuracy of our opening ranges, but I feel most emphatically that the spectacular loss of Hood should not be allowed to lead to and over-estimation of the enemy's efficiency.

Flank markings

5. Norfolk could have flank marked on 24th May and attempted to do so on 27th May. Her team lacked experience and I fear the results were not of great value. I feel it is important that all cruisers should have a well-drilled and experienced flank-marking system, and that when firings are taking place at Scapa ships should go out and flank mark even if the results are not used.


6. Norfolk had just been fitted with type 286M, which had given trouble; it was working during the operations, though it had to be carefully nursed as all spare valves had been used.

7. It failed to detect the enemy on 23rd May when first met by Norfolk. Range must have been less than 14,000 yards. It was useful for keeping in touch with Prince of Wales and Suffolk during the night of 24th/25th May, though these ships were never actually out of sight.

8. Should the enemy turn on his pursuers when being shadowed from the quarter by a ship using this set, the shadower must act at once, but in turning away he loses R.D.F. touch astern and is very liable to get caught or retire too far.

Enemy R.D.F.

9. I was always wondering if the enemy were using R.D.F. to locate us, but I have the feeling that his R.D.F. is linked with his gun control and does not search independently. Otherwise the cruiser should have been prepared for us at 2030 on 23rd and on various other occasions when clearing visibility brought us in sight at ranges from 8 to 13 miles. That he does fire at unseen targets is shown by the experience of the aircraft and destroyers when actually fired at under those conditions.

10. This was, I fancy, the first occasion that R.D.F. has been used for shadowing and the supreme value of it for this purpose cannot be over emphasised. Suffolk made good use of it but I think the long ranges she obtained during the day must have made her a little over-confident during the night when she must have been near the limit of the R.D.F. range. This left no margin to cover a sudden change of course of the enemy such as was likely during the dark hours. Unless it brings the shadower within effective gun range of her quarry, it is considered that at night touch should be kept within 25 per cent of the ascertained R.D.F. range in hand.

Rear Admiral