-H.M.S. Hood Reference Materials-
ADM 234/509: Sinking of the 'Bismarck', 27 May 1941: Official Despatches
Updated 11-Mar-2007

This document is a modern transcription of a portion of Admiralty record ADM 234/509. It deals with various aspects of the mission to locate and sink battleship Bismarck in May 1941. This particular portion covers assorted despatches. 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.

Chainbar divider

Home Fleet,
5th July, 1941
No. 896/H.F. 1325

Be pleased to lay before the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty the following despatch covering the operations leading to the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck on Tuesday, 27th May, 1941. All times are zone minus 2.

First Reports of enemy
2. In the second week of May an unusual amount of German air reconnaissance between Jan Mayen Island and Greenland was noticed. It seemed possible that the object of this reconnaissance was to locate the ice-limits either way with a view to an attack on Jan Mayen Island or to assist some ship to break in or out of the North Sea, through the Denmark Strait. On 14th May, accordingly, I asked the Flag Officer-in-Charge, Iceland for a report of the ice conditions round Jan Mayen Island. The report showed that that the approach was possible only from between south and south-west, with ice blocking all other directions. Reports of troop movements in Norway, a false alarm of an air invasion of Iceland and an air reconnaissance of Scapa Flow all continued to direct my attention towards the Denmark Strait; and on 18th May I instructed the Suffolk, who was on patrol, to keep a special watch on the passage in both directions close to the ice. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, in H.M.S. Norfolk, sailed from Hvalfjord the next day and relieved the Suffolk, who returned to Hvalfjord to refuel.

3. Early on 21st May a report was received of 11 merchant vessels and 2 heavily-screened large warships northbound in the Kattegat the day before. Later in the day the warships were located at Bergen and identified from air photographs as one Bismarck class battleship and one Hipper class cruiser. There were indications that these two were contemplating a raid on the ocean trade routes (Admiralty message 1828/21st May), though, if this were so, it seemed unlikely that they would stop at a place so convenient for air reconnaissance as Bergen. Two other pointers were a report (unreliable) of a U-boat north of Iceland and an attack by a German aircraft on Thorshaven W/T station.

4. The following dispositions were made:-

1) The Hood (Captain Ralph Kerr, C.B.E.; flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Lancelot E. Holland, C.B., Vice-Admiral Commanding Battle Cruiser Squadron) and Prince of Wales (Captain John C. Leach, M.V.O.), screened by the Electra (Commander Cecil W. May), the Anthony (Lieutenant Commander John M. Hodges), the Echo (Lieutenant Commander Cecil H. de B. Newby), Icarus (Lieutenant Commander Colin D. Maund, D.S.C.), Achates (Lieutenant Commander Viscount Jocelyn), and Antelope (Lieutenant Commander Roger B.N. Hicks, D.S.O.), were sailed from Scapa for Hvalfjord.

2) The Birmingham (Captain Alexander C. G. Madden) and Manchester (Captain Herbert A. Packer), on patrol in the Iceland-Faroes passage were ordered to fuel at Skaalefjord and resume patrol.

3) The Suffolk (Captain Robert M. Ellis), who had just arrived at Hvalfjord after being relieved by the Norfolk (Captain Alfred J.L. Phillips; flying the flag of Rear-Admiral William F. Wake-Walker, C.B., O.B.E., Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron) in the Denmark Strait, was ordered to rejoin the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, after completing with fuel. In order to conserve fuel, this movement was deferred, the Suffolk being sailed to arrive on patrol just before the earliest possible time of arrival of the enemy.

4) The Arethusa (Captain Alex C. Chapman), who was due at Reykjavik with the Vice-Admiral Commanding, Orkneys and Shetlands, on a visit of inspection to Iceland, was ordered to remain at Reykjavik at the disposal of the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron.

5) The King George V (Captain Wilfred R. Patterson, C.V.O.; flying the flag of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet), Galatea (Captain Edward W.B. Sim; flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Alban T.B. Curteis, C.B., Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron), Aurora (Captain William G. Agnew), Kenya (Captain Michael M. Denny C.B.), Neptune (Captain Rory C. O'Conor) and the remaining three Home Fleet destroyers - Active (Lieutenant Commander Michael W. Tomkinson), Punjabi (Commander Stuart A. Buss, M.V.O.) and Nestor (Commander Conrad B. Alers-Hankey, D.S.C.) - were brought to short notice at Scapa. The Inglefield (Captain Percy Todd, DSO; Captain (D), Third Destroyer Flotilla) and Intrepid (Commander Roderick C. Gordon, DSO) arrived on 22nd May and joined this force, as did Hermione (Captain Geoffrey N. Oliver) on completing the repair of her fourth turret.

6) The sailing of Victorious (Captain Henry C. Bovell) and Repulse (Captain William G. Tennant, C.B., M.V.O.) in convoy W.S. 8B was cancelled by the Admiralty and they were placed at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet. The Victorious was already at Scapa and the repulse was ordered to sail from the Clyde to join.

7) The submarine Minerve (Lieutenant de Vaisseau P.M. Sommeville) on patrol off south-west Norway was moved to the vicinity of position 61° 53'N., 3° 15'E., And the P31 (Lieutenant John B. de B. Kershaw) was sailed from Scapa to patrol west of Stadtlandet.

8) A bombing attack by Royal Air Force aircraft was arranged for the dark hours and a reconnaissance of the coast from Trondheim to Kristiansand South for first light on 22nd May. Neither of these was able to establish definitely whether the enemy was still at Bergen, owing to fog and low cloud over the Norwegian coast, but some of the bombers attacked ships in harbour.

9) The Admiralty transferred 828 Squadron of Albacores to Sumburgh, to attack the enemy at Bergen. I had hoped to embark them in the Victorious in place of her Fulmars; but when it became known that the enemy had sailed, it was too late to do so.

5. The lack of further news about the enemy's movements was disturbing, and the need was felt of an air patrol similar to "Sentinel" (since established) across the route between Norwegian waters and the Northern Straits to report if the enemy left. Here, too, weather conditions were bad with large stretches of fog, but it would have been possible with the aid of A.S.V. to maintain some sort of watch.

6. This state of uncertainty continued until the evening of 22nd May, when the Commanding Officer, R.N. Air Station, Hatson (Captain Henry L. St. J. Fancourt), on his own initiative, dispatched an aircraft to try to break through the fog belt to the Norwegian coast. This aircraft carried Commander Geoffrey A. Rotherham, O.B.O., the executive officer of the station and a naval observer with much experience, and was piloted by Lieutenant (A) Noel E. Goddard, R.N.V.R. Flying almost at surface level, they succeeded in penetrating to the fjords and carried out a search of the position where the enemy ships had been photographed. Finding nothing there, they examined Bergen harbour, under heavy fire, and reported that the ships had sailed. This skilful and determined reconnaissance is deserving of the highest praise, as is the initiative of Captain Fancourt in ordering it.

7. The report of the departure of the warships and convoy reached me at 2000 on 22nd May and, in view of the qualifications of the aircraft crew, I had no hesitation in accepting it. There seemed to be four possible explanations of the enemy's intentions:

1) The convoy might contain important military stores for Northern Norway and have gone up the Leads. Movements of troops to Kilkenes had been reported for some weeks.

2) The convoy might contain a raiding force bound for Iceland, possibly with a view to capturing an aerodrome for operations against Reykjavik and Hvalfjord.

3) The battleship and cruiser might be trying to break out on to the trade routes. This theory had the support of Admiralty intelligence. If it were correct, the further question arose of which passage the enemy would select. Such information as was available suggested that on all previous occasions the Denmark Strait route had been taken, and this was therefore considered the most likely; but the passages between Iceland and Scotland could not be ruled out, especially in view of the enemy's stop at Bergen.

4) The battleship and cruiser may have covered and important convoy over the dangerous sea passage as far as the Inner Leads, and might now be returning to the Baltic.

8. The third possible move carried the greater menace to our interests and dispositions were therefore made to meet it. These dispositions also gave a reasonable possibility of interfering, before it was too late, with any attempted landing in Iceland.

1) The Suffolk was sailed to join the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, in the Denmark Strait.

2) The Arethusa was sailed to join Manchester and Birmingham in the Iceland-Faeroes passage. These ships were disposed by the Manchester in equal areas between 61° N., 10° 30' W., and 64° N., 15° W. Five trawlers were on their normal patrol west of these areas.

3) The Vice-Admiral Commanding Battle Cruiser Squadron, with his force, then on passage to Hvalfjord, was instructed to cover the patrols in the Denmark Strait and the Iceland-Faeroes passage, operating north of 62° north.

4) The King George V, Victorious, Galatea, Aurora, Kenya, Hermione and seven destroyers sailed from Scapa at 2245 to cover the passages operating south of 62°. The Lance (Lieutenant Commander Ralph W.F. Northcott) was completed to return to Scapa with boiler trouble, but the Repulse and three destroyers of the Western Approaches Command joined north-west of the Butt of Lewis on the forenoon of 23rd May. I had intended to detach two cruisers to patrol the Faroes-Shetlands passage, but I finally decided to keep all four in company with me.

5) Air reconnaissance of all the passages between Greenland and the Orkneys and of the Norwegian coast was asked for, as well as reconnaissance of forces approaching Iceland. An additional air patrol line about 260 miles west of the Iceland-Faeros passage was also established by the Admiral Commanding Western Approaches.

9. It was desirable that the cruiser patrols in the passages, and the heavy ships as well, should be as nearly complete with fuel as possible when the Bismarck was located. The problem involved in ensuring this, during the long period between her location at Bergen and the report of her departure, was not an easy one. If the Bismarck had chosen the Iceland-Faeros passage, the cruisers which were sent to refuel at Skaalefjord would only just have been in time to intercept her when they resumed their patrol. The force in me was likewise sailed at the latest possible moment for it was obvious that fuel would become a vital factor before the operation was completed.

10. The battlefleet proceeded to the north-westward until reaching latitude 60° N., far enough north to be in a position to deal with an attack on Iceland or a possible break back, and then steered west. There had been an interval of 29 hours between the time the enemy was last seen at Bergen and the time that they were found to have left. So no accurate estimation of their "furthest on" position could be made; but the time of their first sighting by the Suffolk showed later that they must have sailed on the evening of 21st May, soon after they had been photographed at Bergen and long before their departure was discovered.

First Sighting
11. The air patrols arranged for 23rd May were seriously depleted by weather conditions. The patrol in the Iceland-Faeros gap was discontinued after two sorties, the more westerly one backing it up was maintained only from 1300 to 1700, while the Denmark Strait patrol did not fly at all, though I did not learn of this until later.

12. The rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, had issued the following signalled instructions to Norfolk and Suffolk:

"Suffolk is to patrol within R.D/F distance of the ice-edge on line running north-east and south-west. Southern end of 3 hour beat to be on line 310° from Staalbierg Huk. The time at southern end to be 2200 and every 6 hours thereafter. When clear inshore Norfolk will patrol about 15 miles abeam of you. When thick inshore Norfolk will patrol to cover inshore passage. Norfolk will make contact with you at 1300B/24th May in position 66° 45' N., 26° W. to check position. Investigate ice cap up to minefield on parting company today Friday.

13. On the afternoon of 23rd May the atmospheric conditions in the Denmark Strait were unusual, being clear over and close to the ice, and misty between the ice and the land. The Suffolk took advantage of this to move further to the eastward across the top of the minefield than would otherwise have been prudent and kept close to the edge of the mist so as to have cover handy if the Bismarck were sighted at close range. The Norfolk patrolled 15 miles on the beam of the Suffolk's patrol.

14. Shortly after turning back to the south-westward on completing her investigation of the ice-edge, the Suffolk at 1922 sighted the Bismarck, followed by the Prinz Eugen. 7 miles on the starboard quarter, steaming the same course as herself. The Suffolk made an enemy report, increased to full speed and altered to 150° to take cover in the mist and make for the gap in the minefield if unable to round its northern edge. She was able, however, to keep under cover and to follow the Bismarck round the minefield, maintaining touch by R. D/F. Her alert look-out and the intelligent use made of the peculiar weather conditions enabled the Suffolk, after this short range sighting, to avoid being engaged. At 2028 she sighted the enemy again, reported them and once more retired into the mist. At the same time, the Norfolk, who had meanwhile been closing, also made contact, this time at a range of 6 miles. The Bismarck opened fire, but the Norfolk retired safely under a smoke screen, though some salvoes fell close enough to throw splinters on board.

15. This report from the Norfolk (2032/23rd May) was the first intimation that I received of the enemy being sighted, as none of the Suffolk's reports up to date had been received in the battlefleet. The two cruisers proceeded to shadow with great skill in very difficult conditions. There were rainstorms, snowstorms, ice-floes and mirage effects, which occasionally deceived the Suffolk into thinking that the enemy had closed to very short range. The Suffolk took up a position on the starboard quarter of the enemy within R.D/F range of the edge of the ice, to ensure that the enemy could not turn back unseen between her and the ice; the Norfolk on the port quarter covered any possible turn to the southward. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, reports that a third, smaller, ship was thought to be present; but the Suffolk never saw this ship and in view of her position it is considered that its presence is not established. It is curious, however, that the Prince of Wales also obtained three echos after meeting the enemy. It is possible that two separate R.D/F echoes were being received from Bismarck. Aircraft from Iceland were also sent to shadow.

Battlecruiser Force
16. The Hood and Prince of Wales and their screen were meanwhile closing at high speed. They arrived in the vicinity of the enemy sooner than I had expected. At 0205 the Vice-Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Squadron, turned to a course nearly parallel to that of the enemy to wait for the relative positions to become clear and for daylight. The opposing forces were in close proximity at this time, and it is possible that the ship sighted by the Norfolk at 0229 was the Prince of Wales. During the rest of the night the Prince of Wales obtained frequent D/F bearing of the Norfolk and Suffolk and passed them in to the Vice-Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Squadron. At 0340 the Hood and Prince of Wales increased to 28 knots and altered in to make contact.

17. It was the intention of the Vice-Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Squadron, that the Hood and Prince of Wales should engage the Bismarck, leaving the Prinz Eugen to the cruisers, but the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, was not aware that the battlecruiser force was so near; the Norfolk and Suffolk, therefore, shadowing from the eastward and northward respectively at a range of about 15 miles, were not in a position to engage the Prinz Eugen who was now stationed ahead of the Bismarck on a course of 240°.

18. The Hood and Prince of Wales sighted the enemy at 0535 from a direction just before his beam and came into action at 0553 steering to close the range as fast as possible. All three ships opened fire practically simultaneously at a range of about 25,000 yards. The shooting of both the Hood and the Bismarck was excellent from the start and both scored hits almost at once. The Bismarck's second or third salvo started a fire in the Hood in the vicinity of the port after 4-in. mounting. This fire spread rapidly and, at 0600 just after the ships had turned together to open "A" arcs, the Hood was straddled again : there was a huge explosion between the after funnel and the mainmast and the ship sank in three or four minutes. She had fired only five or six salvoes. The loss by one unlucky hit of this famous ship with Vice-Admiral Lancelot Ernest Holland, C.B., Captain Ralph Kerr, C.B.E., and her fine company was a grievous blow.

19. The Prince of Wales started off well for so new and unpractised a ship and had straddled with her sixth salvo. She had been engaging the Bismarck, while herself being engaged by the Prinz Eugen. After emptying her aircraft in preparation for a night encounter, she had been unable to refuel it in time to fly off before contact was made. It was just about to be catapulted when it was hit by splinters and had to be jettisoned. As soon as the Hood had been disposed of, the Bismarck shifted her main and secondary armament fire quickly and accurately on to the Prince of Wales. The range was now about 18,000 yards and the Prince of Wales' starboard 5.25 inch battery had also come into action. Within a very few minutes she was hit by four 15-in, and three smaller, probably 8-in. shells; her compass platform was damaged and most of the people on it killed or wounded; both forward H.A. Directors and the starboard after one were out of action; one four-gunned turret had jammed and the ship was holed underwater aft. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, reports that the Prince of Wales' salvoes were now falling short and had a very large spread. The Commanding Officer considered it expedient temporarily to break off the action and, at 0613, turned away under smoke. The range on ceasing fire was 14,600 yards.

20. The Suffolk reported that the Bismarck had suffered three hits, but neither the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, nor the Prince of Wales had been able to observe any hits for certain, though black smoke had been seen at times. Her fire at any rate was still very accurate. (It is now known that she did probably suffer three hits, one of which caused her to leave an oil track and may have had a considerable effect on her endurance.)

21. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, ordered the destroyers in the area to search for survivors of Hood and told Prince of Wales to remain in company with him and maintain her best speed. By 0720 she had cleared away most of the debris on the bridge and resumed conning from the compass platform; two guns of "Y" turret were again in action and her best speed had been reported as 27 knots.

Decision to Break off the Action
22. The Commanding Officer of Prince of Wales in his report says:

"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 that, together, we could deal adequately with the Bismarck and her consort. The sinking of the Hood obviously changed the immediate situation, and there were three other considerations requiring to be weighed up, of which the first two had been in my mind before the action was joined namely:-

a. The practical certainty that owing to mechanical "teething troubles" a full output from the main armament could not 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 immensely keen, but inexperienced.

c. The likelihood of a decisive concentration being effected at a later stage

In all the circumstances I did not consider it sound tactics to continue single-handed the engagement with 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."

23. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, in his report says:

"At 1545 Admiralty signal 1445 had been received. At that time I had no evidence that the enemy's speed was in any way reduced by damage and I did not consider it likely that he would fight or that we could catch him, as his policy was obviously evasion.

The question whether I should re-engage with Prince of Wales had been exercising my mind for some time before the receipt of this signal. The factors to be considered were as follows: In the first place the state of efficiency of Prince of Wales. I had seen her forced out of action after 10 minutes' engagement, at the end of which her salvoes were falling short and with a very large spread indeed. As a result of the action she was short of one gun and her bridge was wrecked. She was a brand-new ship, with turrets in which mechanical breakdowns had occurred and were to be expected, apart from damage, and she had had a bare minimum period of working up. I had been unable to observe for certain any hits on the Bismarck and her shooting had given a striking proof of its efficiency. To put it in a nutshell, I did not and do not consider that in her then state of efficiency the Prince of Wales was a match for the Bismarck.

This however, was in no way a deciding factor. My object was the destruction of the Bismarck and I knew that other forces were on the way to intercept her. I had therefore two broad alternatives, one to ensure that she was intercepted by the Commander-in-Chief, the other to attempt her destruction with my own force.

This second alternative involved my being able to bring her to action and this required an excess of speed. I had no evidence that, with the Prince of Wales reduced to 27 knots, I possessed it. If, however, the attempt had shown that we could overtake her I would have had to engage with the whole force and press the action to a range at which the 8-in. cruisers' fire would be effective - and could be spotted - namely 20,000 yards or less.

In view of the relative efficiency of the two heavy ships I was of the opinion that such an action would almost certainly result as follows. A gradual reduction of the Prince of Wales' gunfire due to material failures and damage, in return for which the Bismarck would receive some damage. That such damage, though it would affect her fighting efficiency, would also have any large effect on her speed I considered improbable, as in a modern well-protected ship the most that could be expected would be some loss of draught due to damaged funnels or fans or waterline damage forward or aft.

At the range to which the action must be pressed the cruisers might well be left to bear the brunt of Bismarck's and Prinz Eugen's fire and suffer a reduction of speed due to hits in their large and unprotected machinery spaces or waterline. I should then have a damaged Prince of Wales, and possibly damaged cruisers, with which to try and maintain touch with a Bismarck damaged but still capable of a high speed.

The alternative was to ensure her interception by the Commander-in-Chief. This I felt I had a good reason for thinking I could achieve. At this time I was expecting the Commander-in-Chief to be able to make contact about 0100 (This was a miscalculation. The earliest the Commander-in-Chief could arrive, even if he forecast exactly the enemy's movements, was between 0600 and 0700, 25th May) on the 25th - before dark - and I saw no reason why our success so far in keeping in touch should not continue. Even if we had to wait until the next day for the Commander-in-Chief, the conditions of darkness were no more difficult than those of low visibility with which we had been able to deal by use of R. D/F and it would only be dark from 0200 to 0500.

The decision was not an easy one. I appreciated that my force was superior in number and the weight of the moral factors involved. I could not feel, however, that the Prince of Wales in her then state of efficiency was worth her face value or that my extra cruiser would counterbalance her weakness. But for the probability of a T/B attack from the Victorious and interception by the Commander-in-Chief the situation would have been fundamentally different, and any other course but to re-engage could not have been considered.

As it was, however, the alternatives could be summed up as follows:-

(a)To engage with my whole force; this had possibilities varying from the highly problematical destruction of the enemy through the gamut of a long stern chase at high speed which would make interception by the Commander-in-Chief impossible, to that of being driven off with loss of speed and inability to keep touch.

(b) Against this was the alternative of continuing to keep touch, with the possibility that we might fail to do so, though with the Prince of Wales in support I had no fear of being driven off.

Weighing these alternatives, I chose the latter. This did not preclude the possibility of attacking the enemy, but in doing so my object must be to ensure interception rather than attempt his destruction, and on this policy I acted.

Their Lordships' signal had enquired my "intentions" as regards re-engaging with Prince of Wales. I was careful in my reply to state my "opinions" and not my intentions, and I was grateful that They left the matter to my judgement.

24. After full consideration of the facts, I am of the opinion that this decision was justified and correct. Some of the factors affecting it require emphasis. The Prince of Wales, with many of the contractor's workmen still on board, had joined the Fleet on 25th March. It was not until 27th April that the last of her turrets could be accepted from the contractor and that practice drills with the whole main armament could be started. Captain Leach had been able to report on 17th May, shortly before the Fleet sailed for this operation, that he considered his ship fit to operate; but neither he nor I interpreted that report as implying that she was fully worked up. Her turrets, of a new and untried model, were known to be liable to teething -troubles and could already be seen to be suffering them. The effects of all this on her gunnery had been witnessed by the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, and he knew, in addition, that her bridge was seriously damaged, that sue had taken in 400 tons of water aft and could not exceed 27 knots. The Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, on the other hand, after working up for many months under ideal conditions in the Baltic, had given evidence of a very high degree of efficiency: the Bismarck had been hit, but the Real-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, could see no sign of damage.

25. In these circumstances, the senior officer on the spot was clearly justified in his conclusion that he was more likely to achieve his object of ensuring the enemy's destruction, by keeping touch until the approaching reinforcements should arrive. If these powerful reinforcements had not been in the vicinity, the problem would, of course, have been a different one.

28. At 1445 the Admiralty asked the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, to report on the percentage ,fighting efficiency of the Bismarck and requested his intentions as regards the Prince of Wales re-engaging. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, replied that the Bismarck's efficiency was uncertain but high, and that he considered that the Prince of Wales "should not re-engage until other heavy ships are in contact unless interception fails. Doubtful if she has speed to force action." From his reply I assumed that the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruise Squadron, would not force action unless the situation changed materially, or instructions were received either from the Admiralty or myself. I had complete confidence in Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker's judgement, nor did I wish the enemy to be forced away to the westward.

Shadowing during Daylight on 24th May
27. After the action had been broken off, the three ships continued to shadow. The enemy proceeded on a south-westerly course, with minor alterations, until 1240. They tried hard, by frequent alterations of course and speed, to throw off the shadowers; and the rapid variations of visibility, between 2 and 17 miles, were of great assistance to them; but their efforts were without success. The Suffolk, using her R.D/F in a masterly manner to overcome the difficulties of varying visibility, shadowed from the starboard quarter to cover any attempt to break back along the ice; the Norfolk, with the Prince of Wales in company, kept out on the port quarter to ensure the detection of any alteration to the southward. About 1240 the enemy seem to have abandoned hope of evasion by daylight, for they turned south, presumably to gain searoom for another attempt by night, and reduced to 24 knots.

Movements of the Battlefleet
28. At the time the first import of the sighting of the enemy was received by me the King George V, with the Repulse, Victorious, Galatea, Aurora, Kenya, Hermione and nine destroyers in company, was in approximate position 60° 20' N., 13° W. I had always thought the enemy, when breaking out, might have long distance aircraft reconnoitring ahead of them, to give warning of any of our forces in a position to intercept: if either or both of our capital ship forces were reported, the enemy might turn back through the Denmark Strait or shape course and speed to avoid contact. I therefore altered course to 280° and increased to 27 knots, with the idea of reaching a position from which I could intercept the enemy to the eastward of the Denmark Strait, and at the same time be able to reinforce the Hood and Prince of -Wales if they were able to bring him to action and reduce his speed, or force him in my direction. As more information was received, it became clear that the enemy intended to continue his attempt to break out; thought there was still the chance that he would turn back when he encountered the Hood and the Prince of Wales or, if the Hood and the Prince of Wales were to the westward of him when contact was made, he might endeavour to break to the south or south-eastward.

29. The sinking of the Hood and the damage to the Prince of Wales made it unlikely that the enemy would be forced to turn back, and the best hope lay in interception by my force, though this would not become possible unless he reduced his speed. Course was altered accordingly to 260°, and later to 240°. Reports suggested that the enemy was keeping a few miles off the edge of the ice, possibly in the hope of finding thick weather. From my point of view the greatest danger lay in his bugging the coast of Greenland, and then making his way to the westward, where I suspected he might have an oiler: for, if he could refuel, he would be able to use higher speeds than the King George V could maintain and so get away.

30. The enemy's alteration to the southward and his reduction speed were a great relief, although there seemed a good chance that he was leading our forces into a concentration of U-Boats. It suggested that he did not know of my force and it made interception possible.

31. There was still a grave risk of his getting away by sheer speed, and though I knew the lack of experience of the crews of the aircraft in the Victorious and of the Victorious's own officers and ship's company, I decided I must call upon their aid in an endeavour to reduce the Bismarck's speed and to ensure my being able to bring her to action with the King George V and Repulse - a call they responded to with such splendid gallantry and success.

32. I therefore detached the Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron at 1509, with the Victorious and the four cruisers, with instructions to steer the best course to get within 100 miles of the enemy and deliver a T/B attack. Though the Victorious would be of great value in company with me the next morning to locate the enemy if they escaped during the night, a reduction in speed was the more important object and could only be achieved by detaching her at this stage.

33. The King George V and Repulse steered an intercepting course with the object of bringing the enemy to action soon after sunrise with the sun low behind us. The situation at this time was as follows:-

a. The enemy appeared to have settled down to a course of 180° at about 22 to 24 knots. They were, for no apparent reason, zig-zagging. They were shadowed by the Suffolk from astern and by the Prince of Wales and the Norfolk from the port quarter. The Bismarck had suffered some damage but retained her fighting efficiency, though an aircraft had reported that she was leaving an oil wake. Their reduced speed was probably dictated by the need for economy of fuel and to afford an opportunity of breaking contact by an increase of speed after dark. The Prince of Wales had two guns out of action and considerable damage to her bridge.

b. The King George V and Repulse were closing from the eastward and would, if the enemy held their course, make contact about 0830, half an hour after sunrise. The Repulse was short of fuel, but had just enough to fight a short action and then reach Newfoundland. By midnight all destroyers had left for Reykjavik to fuel.

c. The Rodney (Captain Frederick H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton), with three destroyers, was approaching from the south-eastward and would join about 1000.

d. The Ramillies (Captain Arthur D. Read) was approaching from the south, steering to get to the westward of the enemy, and would make contact about 1100.

Attack by Aircraft of the "Victorious"

34. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, with his force proceeded at 28 knots on the course which would bring him soonest within 100 miles. He hoped to get near enough to launch the attack by 2100, but a short engagement with Prince of Wales caused the enemy to make ground to the westward; and became apparent that the Victorious could not be within 100 miles of them before 2300. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, therefore ordered the striking force to be flown off at 2200, some 120 miles from the objective.

35. The Victorious had only just commissioned. She was about to carry a large consignment of crated Hurricanes to Gibraltar, there to be assembled and flown to Malta, when she was put under my command for this operation. The only operational aircraft she had on board were nine Swordfish of 825 and six Fulmars of 820 Squadron. She had only had a week to work up and the Fulmar crews were far from fully trained. The Commanding Officer had decided that nothing less than the whole of 825 Squadron could be expected to produce any result in a torpedo attack. He realised that the Fulmars were far from ideal for shadowing, but decided to use them to maintain touch, in the hope of being able to launch another torpedo attack in the morning.

36. The nine Swordfish were flown off at 2210, followed at 2300 by three Fulmars and at 0100 by two more as reliefs. The weather was showery with squalls; wind north-westerly, fresh; visibility good, except during showers. Sunset was at 0052.

7. 825 Squadron, by very good navigation and with the assistance of the ASV, located the Bismarck at 2330 and altered to the southward with the object of making their attack from ahead. The cloud was increasing and they lost touch, but after circling round for some time located the Norfolk and Prince of Wales and were redirected by the former. A few minutes later the ASV gear again indicated a ship and the squadron broke cloud to deliver their attack, only to find themselves over a United states Coastguard cutter. The Bismarck was six miles away and, observing this incident, opened H.A. barrage fire, keeping it up throughout the attack. Eight aircraft got in their attacks, the ninth losing touch in a cloud layer and failing to find the target. At least one hit was obtained.

38. This attack, by a squadron so lately embarked in a new carrier, unfavourable weather conditions, was magnificently carried out and reflects the greatest credit on all concerned. There can be little doubt that the hit was largely responsible for the Bismarck being finally brought to action and sunk. The value of ASV was once more demonstrated; without it, it is doubtful whether any attack would have been possible.

39. The Fulmars, whose object was to shadow and to distract the enemy, were less successful. Only one of each group made contact and these did not succeeding holding the enemy for long. The crews were inexperienced, some of the observers finding themselves in a two-seater aircraft for the first time, with a wireless set tuned only on deck and no homing beacon. Night shadowing is a task which tries the most experienced of crews and it is not surprising in these difficult conditions that they failed to achieve it. The utmost gallantry was shown by the crews of these aircraft in their attempt. Two of the Fulmars failed to return, but the crew of one was rescued later by a merchant vessel.

40. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, meanwhile, had been steaming towards the position of the Bismarck, to shorten the return journey of the aircraft. The homing beacon of the Victorious had broken down and the return of the striking force unfortunately coincided with a rain squall round the ship. They missed her in the darkness and it was necessary to home them by D/F on medium frequency and to carry out an all-round sweep with a signal projector. It was with considerable relief that the Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, sighted them at 0155, one hour after they were due and uncomfortably close to the end of their endurance. The homing procedure was continued for the benefit of the missing Fulmars until 0250, when the Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, was regretfully ordered to order the Victorious to stop it. It was by then quite dark and searchlight sweeps in waters close to the enemy, and where attacks by submarines had to be expected, were too hazardous. Course was set to close the last reported position of the enemy, in preparation for a search at dawn; this course was also considered to be the best calculated to avoid an encounter before daylight.

First Cruiser Squadron and the Prince of Wales

41. Throughout the afternoon the Norfolk, Suffolk and Prince of Wales continued to shadow. The enemy's alterations of course to the southward and south-eastward and their reduction of speed were all in our favour. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, endeavoured further to delay them, and so to assist me to intercept, by engaging the enemy from astern; but the enemy must have made an alteration of course to the south-westward while the shadowing force was temporarily out of touch, for when he did come within gun range at 1840, the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, found himself still on the port quarter instead of astern. A few salvoes were exchanged at long range, and the brief action had the undesirable result of forcing the enemy further to the westward, away from my force. The unreliability of the Prince of Wales' armament was demonstrated once more, as two guns again went out of action.

42. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, considered the possibility of working to the westward of the enemy to force them towards me; but the risk of losing touch altogether was too great and he continued shadowing as before, instructing the Prince of Wales not to open fire except in response to enemy fire.

43. Just when the torpedo attack by the aircraft of the Victorious was developing, the shadowing ships were confused by an American Coastguard cutter, which appeared on the bearing of the enemy, and touch was again temporarily lost. It was regained at 0115, but the light was very bad and only two salvoes were fired.

44. By 0140 it was getting dark and the Suffolk was ordered to act independently and keep touch by R.D/F, the Commanding Officer having previously been instructed to concentrate on the Bismarck if the enemy should separate. Experience had suggested that the R.D/F of the Prince of Wales was not reliable, the R.D/F type 286 fitted in the Norfolk had the disadvantage of working on limited bow bearings only, so that she would lose touch at once if forced to turn away. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, therefore, with the Norfolk and Prince of Wales, maintained a position in close support of the Suffolk.

Loss of Touch

45. The loss of touch, when it came, was caused primarily by over-confidence. The R.D/F had been giving such consistently good results and had been used so skillfully that it had engendered a false sense of security. The attention of the Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, had been drawn, both by the Admiralty and by me, to the evident danger of U-Boat attack, and he had ordered the ships in company to zig-zag. The Suffolk was shadowing from the extreme range of her instrument, losing touch on those parts of her zigzag which took her furthest from the enemy. The enemy altered sharply to starboard while the Suffolk was moving to port and, by the time she got back, had gone. It is of interest that on both her last two contacts, at 0229 and at 0306, the Suffolk detected two ships; it would appear that the Prim Eugen was still in company with the Bismarck.

Search - Morning of 25th May
46. The Suffolk searched towards the enemy's last bearing until it became certain that they had succeeded in evading and then reported the fact (at 0401). The Commanding Officer decided that it was essential first to allow for an increase of speed, coupled with a small alteration to starboard, since failure to do so now could not subsequently be retrieved. He acted accordingly. By 1100 his curve of search had covered enemy courses up to 220°. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron, informed me that the enemy had probably made a 90° turn to the west, or had turned back and cut away to the eastward under the stern of the shadowers. At 0620 he detached the Prince of Wales to join me and himself searched to the westward, north of the Suffolk.

47. When I heard that the enemy had succeeded in breaking away from the shadowing force, it seemed probable that they would either make for an oiler or they would make for a dockyard. If the former, they would probably steer north-west towards the Davis Strait, which offered an excellent hiding-place for an oiler, or southwards towards where an oiler was suspected to be operating in about 25° 90' N., 42" W. If they were making for a dockyard port, they could steer north-east for the North Sea or south-east for Brest, the Straits of Gibraltar or Dakar. In view of the limited capabilities of the Victorious, I had insufficient forces to search all the possible courses of the enemy. I therefore decided to cover the possibility that they were joining a tanker, for these two ships, refuelled, at large in the Atlantic would constitute a much more serious and immediate menace to our interests than they would, damaged, in a French or German port.

48. The enemy's courses west of south were being covered by the Suffolk and, to a lesser extent, by the Norfolk and the Prince of Wales. The King George V worked across to the south-westward to cover a southerly course, allowing for an increase of -speed by the enemy. Consideration was given to flying off the Walrus from the King George V to search the perimeter astern of the ship and so cover a south-easterly course of the enemy; but the swell was such that the sacrifice of the aircraft would almost certainly result, and I did not wish to expose the King George V to U-Boat attack whilst picking up the crew. Subsequent analysis shows that such a search might possibly have located the Bismarck.

49. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, was ordered by signal to organise an air and surface search, with the Victorious and his four cruisers, north-west of the last known position of the enemy. When I issued these instructions, I estimated that the Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, and the Victorious were well to the northward of this position; but in point of fact he had been steaming south at high speed and was now dose to it. It is probable therefore that the air search carried out did not extend as far as the circle on which the enemy now was, and would not have found them even if the aircraft had searched to the eastward, as the Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, and the Commanding Officer of the Victorious had originally intended.

50. This completed the immediate search, leaving a sector between north and south-east unwatched. The search was backed up to a certain extent by the ships which had been detached by the Admiralty from Various other duties and which were approaching the scene. The Rodney recovered her screen, which had earlier been forced by bad weather to drop astern, and took up an extremely well-chosen position on the route for the Bay of Biscay. The Ramillies patrolled to the southward of the King George V and Prince of Wales. The Edinburgh (flying the flag of Commodore Charles M. Blackman, DSO, Commodore Commanding, Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron), who had been patrolling off the Bay of Biscay and had been sent by the Admiralty to act as relief shadower, was near the track for Gibraltar. In addition, some degree of search was provided by the Repulse, whom I had been compelled to detach to Newfoundland for fuel, and by the London (Captain Reginald M. Servaes, C.B.E.), who had been instructed by the Admiralty to search for an enemy tanker believed to be in the area round 25° 30' N., 42° W. Force "H", some 1,300 miles to the south-eastward, had been instructed by the Admiralty to steer to intercept the Bismarck from the southward.

51. The track of the Bismarck as drawn on the attached strategical plot is probably reasonably accurate. It shows how narrowly she avoided contact with the various British forces during her run east. She started by crossing about 100 miles astern of the King George V at 0800 on 25th May and then passed about 50 miles from the Rodney and 45 miles from the Edinburgh. On the next day she passed 85 miles under the stern of Convoy W.S. 8B and 25 - 30 miles ahead of the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, who had parted company with this convoy. It is understood that the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, had disposed the convoy escort to the westward of the convoy in the hope that the Bismarck would be deflected if she appeared steaming towards it.

52. At 1090 on 25th May, a series of D/F bearings was received from the Admiralty which indicated that the enemy was breaking back across the Atlantic. The signals appeared to come from the same ship which had transmitted several signals soon after the T/B attack of the night before; they could therefore reasonably be attributed to the Bismarck. These bearings as plotted in the King George V, showed a position too far to the northward, which gave the misleading impression that the enemy was making for the North Sea. I broadcast this position of the enemy and instructed all Home Fleet forces to search accordingly. The Prince of Wales had not yet joined, but the course of the King George V was altered to 055°, 27 knots, to make for the Iceland-Faeroes gap.

53. A position of the enemy transmitted by the Admiralty made it clear that the enemy was making for a French port and had a lead of about 100 miles. The accuracy of the information which was issued by the Admiralty throughout this stage of the operation and the speed with which it was passed out were beyond praise. The situation could be clearly envisaged by all the forces concerned and I was able to preserve wireless silence.

54. The King George V, Rodney, Norfolk, Edinburgh and Force "H" all proceeded at their best speed towards the Bay of Biscay: and a sweep was flown in the evening by Coastal Command flying boats as far as longitude 30°° W. When this failed to locate the enemy, two cross-over patrols by flying boats were arranged to start at 1000 on 26th May, across his probable track. In addition to these forces, the Cossack (Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla), with the Sikh (Commander Graham H. Stokes), Zulu (Commander Harry R. Graham, DSO), Maori (Commander Harold T. Armstrong, D.S.C.), And the Polish ship Piorun (Commander E. Plawski) were detached by the Admiralty from Convoy W.S. 8B early on 26th May and instructed to join and screen the King George V and the Rodney, to be joined by the Jupiter (Lieutenant Commander Norman V. J. T. Thew) from Londonderry; and the Dorsetshire (Captain Benjamin C. S. Martin), on receipt of the first enemy report, reported that she intended to leave Convoy S.L. 74, which she was escorting, and came up from the south-west to intercept and shadow.

Other dispositions
55. Meanwhile, those forces which could not reach the most probable track of the enemy were moving to cover alternative possible movements. The Manchester and the Birmingham took up the Iceland-Faeroes patrol, and the Arethusa that of the Denmark Strait, with air patrols of all the northern passages to assist. The Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron, in the Galatea, with the Victorious, Kenya, Aurora and Hermione in company, proceeded towards the Iceland-Faeroes passage, carrying out air searches on the way. The cruisers had not enough fuel left to escort the Victorious to the Bay and she could not be allowed to proceed unescorted.

56. Two Swordfish aircraft were lost during the air searches on 25th and 26th May; but the crew of one of them had a remarkable escape. The aircraft landed alongside a ship's lifeboat, unoccupied but complete with provisions and water, and the crew spent nine days in the boat before being picked up by a merchant vessel. One of the Fulmar crews was also rescued by a merchant vessel.

57. The Prince of Wales also proceeded towards Iceland; and destroyers were sent out to screen her and the Victorious. The Suffolk, after her search, was too short of fuel to steam at the high speed necessary to come up with the Bismarck; considerable forces were better placed than she was for intercepting an enemy movement to the south-eastward and the Commanding Officer considered he would be better employed covering the Victorious in the northern area, where there was nothing more powerful than a 6-in. cruiser. He therefore set course to the north-eastward until he was instructed, on 26th May, to proceed to an area in the Davis Strait south-west of Cape Farewell and search for enemy supply ships.

58. Two other precautions were taken by the Admiralty: The Flag Officer Commanding, North Atlantic, was instructed to arrange air and submarine patrols to prevent passage of the Straits of Gibraltar, the Nelson being sailed from Freetown to reinforce; The London was recalled from her search for a tanker and instructed to escort Convoy S.L. 75, which was approaching the area west of the Bay of Biscay.

59. At 1100 on 25th May, when in position 41° 30'., 17° 10' W the Flag Officer Commanding, Force "H" (Vice-Admiral Sir James F Somerville, K.C.B., DSO) in the Renown (Captain Rhoderick R McGriggor), with the Ark Royal (Captain Loben E.H. Maund) and Sheffield (Captain Charles A.A. Larcom) in company, was instructed by the Admiralty to act on the assumption that the enemy was proceeding to Brest. Course was set for a favourable initial position and a comprehensive scheme of air search to cover all enemy speeds between 25 and 15 knots, was prepared for the following day.

60. No information had been received since 23rd May of the two German battlecruisers at Brest, so a security patrol was flown off in the morning to search to the west and northward in case one or both of these ships should be at sea in support of the Bismarck. Ten Swordfish were flown off at 0835 on 26th May for the first search, whose western edge was next to the flying boat patrols arranged by the Admiralty. It had been hoped to thicken the search with Fulmars, but the weather conditions rendered this impracticable. The wind was from 320° , force 7, sea rough, sky overcast, visibility 10 - 12 miles; the round down of the Ark Royal was rising and falling 56ft. And the handling of aircraft on deck was extremely difficult. While the search was in progress Force "H" proceeded to reach a position to windward, so that the operation of the aircraft would not be impeded by subsequent movements of the Bismarck, if the latter were located.

The "Bismarck" Located

61. At 1030 on 26th May, one of the Coastal Command flying boats on cross over patrol sighted and reported the Bismarck. The Flag Officer Commanding, Force "H", on receipt of this report, ordered the Ark Royal to fly off two shadowing aircraft fitted with long range tanks to gain touch, as he feared that the flying boat's position might be inaccurate in view of the weather conditions and the distance from her base. (It was, in fact about 35 miles in error.) Three-quarters of an hour after the first sighting, one of the Ark Royal's searching aircraft also located the enemy, followed shortly by another. The flying boat reported at this time that her hull had been holed by shrapnel and soon after she lost touch. The reports of the aircraft from Ark Royal placed the enemy about 20 miles north of her correct position, but this error was due to the reference position passed out by the Flag Officer Commanding, Force "H", and was corrected later in the day.

62. The Bismarck was shadowed continuously by aircraft from the Ark Royal for the rest of the day and excellent reports were made. Particular credit is due to the crews of these aircraft whose part, though unspectacular and often forgotten, is as important and frequently as dangerous as that of the aircraft which attack with torpedoes. The Flag Officer Commanding, Force "H", manoeuvred his force throughout the day to maintain the weather gauge for flying operations, to avoid loss of bearing on the Bismarck and to keep within 50 miles of her facilitate the launching of T/B attacks. He was instructed by the Admiralty that the Renown was not to become engaged with the Bismarck unless the later was already heavily engaged by either King George V or the Rodney.

63. The first report of the Bismarck placed her about 130 miles south of me steering a south-westerly course at 22 knots. It was evident that she had too great a lead for the King George V to come up with her unless her speed could be further reduced or she could be deflected from her course; our only hope lay in torpedo attacks by aircraft of the Ark Royal.

64. The shortage of fuel in the Home Fleet battleships was a matter of grave anxiety; the King George V had only 1,200 tons (32 per cent) remaining, and the Rodney reported that she would have to part company at 0800 the next morning. When these ships joined company later in the day they had to share an A/S screen of three destroyers - the Somali (Captain Clifford Caslon), Tartar (Commander Lionel P. Skipwith) and Mashona (Commander William H. Selby) and even these were due to leave that night for lack oil fuel. There were known to be several U-Boats in the area and it was safe to assume that every available destroyer and U-boat in the ports of western France would also be ordered to sea. The Admiralty had also warned me to expect heavy air attack. It was therefore essential to allow a sufficient reserve of fuel to enable the battleships to return to United Kingdom ports at a reasonably high speed. The loss of the Hood and the damage to the Prince of Wales had left the King George V as the only effective capital ship remaining in Home waters. I was not prepared to expose her unscreened at low speed to almost certain attack by U-boats unless there was very good prospect of achieving a result commensurate with the risk. I therefore decided that unless the enemy's speed had been reduced, the King George V should return at 2400 on 26th May to refuel.

65. The speed of the King George V was reduced to 22 knots at 1705 on 26th May to economise fuel, and the Rodney, who had by then been overhauled, was formed astern. I had recommended the Flag Officer Commanding, Force "H", to remain with the Ark Royal, he was maintaining his position on the beam of the Bismarck and had detached the Sheffield to shadow. The visual signal ordering this latter movement was not repeated to the Ark Royal, an omission which, as will be seen later, had serious consequences.

66. A striking force of 15 Swordfish, one of which had to return, was flown off at 1450; they were armed with duplex pistol set to 30 ft. instead of 34 ft., in consequence of the doubt which then existed in the Ark Royal whether the enemy ship was the Bismarck or the Prinz Eugen. The weather was particularly bad in the vicinity of the target and reliance was placed on the ASV set carried in one of the aircraft; this aircraft located a ship at 1550, about 20 miles from the expected position of the enemy, and an attack through the cloud was ordered. The ship detected was the Sheffield, of whose presence near the Bismarck the striking force was not aware, and eleven torpedoes were dropped at her. Two of the torpedoes exploded on hitting the water, and three more on crossing the wake, the remainder being successfully avoided by the Sheffield who, with great forbearance, did not fire a single round in reply.

67. The flying boat was still shadowing, though her reports now differed widely in position from those of the aircraft of the Ark Royal. Her signals were made on H/F and her position could not therefore be checked by D/F. She reported twice during the afternoon that she was being attacked by enemy aircraft, but these were probably shadowing Swordfish from the Ark Royal.

68. A second striking force of 15 aircraft was launched at 1915. Owing to the limited number of serviceable aircraft, it had been necessary to re-arm and refuel most of those which had taken part in the first attack. In view of the apparent failures with duplex pistols in the first attack, contact pistols were employed on this occasion. The striking force was ordered to make contact with the Sheffield before launching the attack and the latter was instructed to home the striking force by D/F.

69. The aircraft approached the Sheffield below the clouds, and then climbed to 6,000 ft. to make their final approach. The weather in the vicinity of the Sheffield appeared to be ideal for a synchronised torpedo attack, but when the aircraft came near the Bismarck, they found that she was under a cold front. A thick bank-of cloud with base about 700 ft. and top between 6,000 and 10,000 ft. was encountered and the force became split up. The torpedo attacks had therefore to be made by sub-flights or pairs of aircraft over a long period in the face of intense and accurate fire; they were pressed home with a gallantry and determination which cannot be praised too highly, One aircraft, having lost touch with his sub-flight, returned to the Sheffield for a fresh range and bearing of the enemy and went in again by himself in the face of very heavy fire to score a hit on the port side of Bismarck. At least two hits were scored, one of which so damaged the Bismarck's rudders that she was unable to keep off the wind, which was providentially was from the north-west, for any length of time; a result which the Ark Royal and her aircraft crews had well earned and which ensured my being able to bring the Bismarck to action next morning.

70. When I received the first report that the Bismarck had altered course to 340° I dared not hope that it was more than a temporary alteration to avoid a T/B attack; a further report four minutes later that she was steering 000° suggested, however, that her rudders had been damaged and that she had been forced up into the wind towards the King George V and Rodney, I immediately turned towards our estimated position of the Bismarck in an endeavour to make contact in time to engage her from the eastward in the failing light. But with frequent rain squalls and gathering darkness the light conditions became too unreliable, and with no certainty of the enemy's position or of that of our own forces, but with confirmation of the damage to the enemy and the knowledge that the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla was shadowing, I decided to haul off to the north-north-eastward and work round to engage from the westward at dawn.

71. The Flag Officer Commanding, Force "H", had informed me that no further T/B attacks were possible that evening and that he was preparing all remaining Swordfish for a strong attack at dawn. He was instructed to keep not less than 20 miles to the southward of the Bismarck so as to be clear of my approach.

Night Shadowing and Attach by Destroyers

72. The Sheffield made her last enemy report at 2140 on 26th May." At this time the Bismarck turned and fired six accurate 15-in. salvoes at her, at a range of nine miles. The Sheffield turned away at full speed and made smoke, but suffered a few casualties from splinters. The turn caused her to lose touch, but shortly afterwards she made contact with the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla (Captain Philip L. Vian, DSO), in the Cossack, who with the Maori, Zulu, Sikh and the Polish destroyer Piorun, was approaching the Bismarck. The Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, as I knew he would, had decided to shadow and attack the Bismarck, instead of screening the King George V and Rodney , and was wisely proceeding at high speed, in spite of fuel shortage, to get in touch before dark. Ships were spread 2-5 miles apart at right angles to the estimated bearing of the enemy. The approximate bearing and distance of the enemy was obtained from the Sheffield, and, in view of the heavy sea running, speed was reduced and the flotilla manoeuvred to avoid a high speed end-on contact.

73. The Bismarck was sighted by the Piorun, on the port wing, at 2238, just after the last shadowing aircraft left to return to the Ark Royal; destroyers were ordered to take up stations for shadowing; at 2242 the enemy opened a heavy fire on the Piorun, who made a spirited reply before turning away under smoke. It was evident to the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, that the enemy's speed had been so seriously reduced by the torpedo bomber attack that interception by the battlefleet was a certainty, provided that the enemy could be held. He therefore decided that his main object was to keep touch and his secondary object to attack with torpedoes if he thought this would not involve the destroyers in serious losses. He ordered the destroyers to attack independently as opportunity offered.

74. Throughout the night and until 0845 on 27th May, when the battlefleet came into action, these destroyers maintained touch, in spite of heavy seas, rain squalls and low visibility. The were frequently and accurately engaged by the main and secondary armaments of the Bismarck, who was apparently firing by R. D/F; but by skilful handling they avoided serious damage and suffered a very small number of casualties. The four ships of the Seventh Division all delivered torpedo attacks during the night, the Cossack and Maori making two each; hits were scored by the Cossack and by the Maori, the latter's torpedo causing a fire on the forecastle of the Bismarck; the Sikh may also have scored a hit.

75. The Commanding Officer of the Piorun had not worked with the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla before and he therefore decided to wait until last to deliver his attack, as he did not wish to interfere with the flotilla and was not fully conversant with their methods. He had drawn the Bismarck's fire for an hour during the period of dusk, hoping that this would assist the other destroyers to get in their attacks, but after dark he retired to a distance of some six to eight miles to wait for them to finish. He had not succeeded in regaining touch with them when, at 0500, he was ordered by the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, to proceed to Plymouth to fuel if not in contact with the enemy. The Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, knew that Commander Plawski would certainly attack the enemy as soon as he could find him; conditions as light came would not be easy and the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, was concerned lest a valuable ship and a fine crew should be lost without need. The Piorun continued to search until 0600 and left an hour later.

76. The conduct of the night operations by these five destroyers under the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, was a model of its kind. In heavy weather, frequently under fire, they hung on to their prey with the utmost determination, hit her with torpedoes and delivered her to me the next morning, without suffering damage, other than splinters, to any of their ships.

77. During the night the Norfolk arrived in the area and made her way round to the north-eastward of the enemy, ready to flank mark for the battleships in the morning; the Edinburgh was compelled to leave for Londonderry owing to lack of fuel (she arrived there with 5.5 per cent remaining); and the Dorsetshire was also approaching, to arrive soon after the battlefleet joined action. The King George V and Rodney worked round to the westward ready to engage at dawn.

78. The Bismarck was making frequent alterations of course, possibly involuntarily, and it was difficult to gauge her progress from the frequent course reports which were received. As was only to be expected with forces which had been widely separated in weather unsuitable for taking sights, considerable differences in reckoning were now apparent. I instructed destroyers to fire starshell to indicate the position of the enemy, but frequent rain squalls prevented these from being seen in the King George V, while the Captain (D), Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, reported that the reactions of the Bismarck to this practice were unpleasant. Destroyers in touch were then instructed to transmit on medium frequency so that bearings might be obtained by D/F, but some had their aerials shot away and the Zulu had a smashed deck insulator, which caused enough sparking when transmitting to illuminate the whole ship. It became evident that the relative positions were not known with sufficient accuracy for a dawn approach to be practicable. The visibility, too, was uncertain; and I decided to wait for full light.


Wind - North-west, force 8.
Weather - Overcast; rain squalls.
Visibility - 12 - 13 miles.
Sea and swell - 45.

Sunrise - 0722

Choice of Tactics
79. It was clear from the reports of the ships which had come under her fire that, in spite of the damage she had already received from guns and torpedoes, the gun armament and control of the Bismarck were not seriously affected. Everything suggested, however, that her rudders had been so seriously damaged that she could not steer; in the strong wind prevailing, she could, by working her engines, haul off the wind only for short periods. So it was possible for me to select the direction and time of my approach and close to whatever range I chose. The experience of the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla made it clear that the Bismarck had R. D/F which ranged accurately up to 8,000 yards; by day, she could range very accurately up to about 24,000 yards, either by means of the excellent stereoscopic rangefinders the Germans have always had or possibly by R. D/F.

80. I decided to approach with the advantages of wind, sea and light as nearly end-on as possible, so as to provide a difficult target and to close quickly to a range at which rapid hitting could be ensured. I hoped that the sight of two battleships steering straight for them would shake the nerves of the rangetakers and control officers, who had already had four anxious days and nights.

The Approach

81. Between 0600 and 0700, D/F bearings of a series of reports by the Maori enabled the relative position of the enemy to be deduced with reasonable accuracy. The Bismarck had settled down to a course of about 330°, at 10 knots. The horizon to the north-eastward was clear and the light good, but south of east were rain squalls and a poor background. The strong wind and heavy sea made it most undesirable to fight to windward. I decided to approach on a bearing of west-north-west and, if the enemy held his course, to deploy to the southward, engaging him on an opposite course at a range of about 15,000 yards and subsequently as events might dictate. At 0737, when the enemy bore 120°, 21 miles, course was altered to 080° to close; Rodney was stationed on a bearing of 010° and instructed not to close within six cables of me and to adjust her own bearing. The Norfolk was shadowing from the north-westward, ready to carry out flank marking for the battleships; and at 0820 she came insight and provided me with a visual link. It had been necessary to alter course on the way in to avoid rain squalls and to allow for the reported alterations of course of the Bismarck, but at 0843 she came in sight, bearing 188° , 25,000 yards, steering directly towards us, our course at this time being 110°.

The Action
82. The Rodney opened fire at 0847, followed one minute later by the King George V and then by the Bismarck. The Bismarck had turned to starboard to open "A" arcs, and directed her fire at the Rodney. This turn of the enemy made it look as if it would be better for us to deploy to the north-eastward, and I hoisted the signal to turn to 085° ; the Bismarck, however, almost immediately altered back to port, so the negative was hoisted and I indicated my intention to turn to 170°. The Rodney, who wished to open her "A" arcs had anticipated the hauling down of the first signal and started to alter course to port; the King George V also had altered 20° to starboard to open her distance from the Rodney; so that the ships were well separated, which was entirely in accordance with my wishes. The Bismarck's fire was accurate at the start, though it soon began to fall off; she made continual alterations of course, but it is doubtful whether these were deliberate.

83. The range was now 20.000 yards and decreasing rapidly, the general trend of the enemy's course being directly towards us. Shortly after our turn to the southward, the Bismarck shifted her fire to the King George V. By 0905 both the King George V and the Rodney had their secondary armaments in action. At this stage the effect of our gunfire was difficult to assess, as hits by armour-piercing shell are not easily seen; but after half an hour of action the Bismarck was on fire in several places and virtually out of control. Only one of her turrets remained in action and the fire of this and her secondary armament was wild and erratic. But she was still steaming.

84. Some interference from our own funnel and cordite smoke had been experienced, and at 0917 the course of the battlefleet was altered towards the enemy and right round to north, the Rodney again anticipating the signal. When the turn had been completed, the lines of fire of the King George V and Rodney were approximately at right angles; a heavy volume of fire could be produced without interference in spotting between the two ships. The Dorsetshire had been firing intermittently since 0902 from the other side of the enemy, as had the Norfolk from her flank marking position.

85. In order to increase the rate of hitting, the battleships continued to close, the range eventually coming down to 3,300 yards. By 1015 the Bismarck was a wreck, without a gun firing, on fire fore and aft and wallowing more heavily every moment. Men could be seen jumping overboard, preferring death by drowning in the stormy sea to the appalling effects of our fire. I was confident that the Bismarck, could never get back to harbour and that it was only a matter of hours before she would sink.

86. The shortage of oil fuel in the King George V and the Rodney had become acute. It was not merely a matter of having sufficient oil to reach one of our harbours: I had to consider the possibility of damage to fuel tanks by a near miss from a bomb or a hit by a torpedo; this might easily result in the ship being stopped in an area where U-boats were known to be concentrating, and where I had been warned to expect heavy air attack. Further gunfire would do little to hasten the Bismarck's end. I therefore decided to break off the action with King George V and Rodney, and instructed any ships still with torpedoes to use them on the Bismarck. The Dorsetshire anticipated my order and torpedoed the Bismarck at close range on both sides; she sank at 1037 at position 48° 09'N ., 16° 07'W. Although her sinking had been seen from the after director control tower in the King George V, the fact did not become known to me until 1100 and I informed the Flag Officer Commanding, Force "H", that I could not sink the Bismarck with gunfire; this signal (1045/27th May), which was perhaps unfortunately phrased, was addressed only to him and was intended to ensure that he should take any steps which might help to hasten her sinking; when intercepted by others, it may have caused some misunderstanding.

87. The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds, worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy, and she went down with her colours still flying. The Dorsetshire picked up four officers, including the Third Gunnery Officer, and 75 ratings; the Maori picked up 24 ratings; but at 1140 the Dorsetshire sighted a suspicious object, which might have been a U-boat, and ships were compelled to abandon the work of rescue. Some of the remaining survivors may have been rescued by the Spanish cruiser Canarias.

88. From the information available, it appears that the Bismarck suffered three hits by gunfire on 24th May, one hit by aircraft torpedo on 25th May and two on 26th May, two hits by destroyer torpedoes early on 27th May, one by Rodney's torpedo, and the subsequent heavy pounding by gunfire. At the end of this she was in a sinking condition, and the final torpedoes from the Dorsetshire only hastened her end. A few casualties and slight damage from splinters were incurred in the Sheffield and the destroyers of the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla during the night of 26th/27th May; there were no casualties or damage to any of our ships during the subsequent day action.

89. In the King George V W/T transmission on power on certain wave lengths interfered with reception on R. D/F. For this reason I was unable during the action to keep the Admiralty fully informed of its progress, especially in view of the fact that I had been warned to expect heavy attack by enemy aircraft, and I did not wish to risk being fixed by D/F. The Bismarck's sinking was reported as soon as it was known and a description of the engagement was deferred until it was practicable to transmit a long signal by wireless. This limitation applies in some degree to all ships and will have to be borne in mind in the future.

Return of the Fleet

90. The King George V and the Rodney with the Cossack, Sikh and Zulu proceeded to the northward. The Dorsetshire and the Maori rejoined at 1230, and the screen was augmented by the Jupiter during the afternoon. Nine further destroyers had joined by 1600 the following day. Several signals were received on 28th May, indicating that air attacks on the fleet were impending, but only four enemy aircraft appeared. One of these bombed the screen without effect, while another jettisoned its solitary bomb on being attacked by a Blenheim fighter. The Mashona and the Tartar, 100 miles to the southward, were heavily attacked, the Mashona being sunk at noon, with the loss of one officer and 45 ratings; the Tartar shot down one of the attacking aircraft. The Piorun underwent six attacks by aircraft on her way back to Plymouth; all were driven off by gunfire.

91. The Rodney, screened by the Maori, Sikh and Columbia (Lieutenant Commander Somerville W. Davis), was detached to the Clyde at 1700; the Dorsetshire was detached to the Tyne at 2316; the King George V was delayed by fog, but eventually anchored in Loch Ewe at 1230 on 29th May. The Galatea (Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron), Aurora and Prince of Wales arrived at Hvalfjord on 27th May, as did the Victorious; the Edinburgh (Commodore Commanding, Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron) arrived at Londonderry on 28th May and the Norfolk (Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squadron) at the Clyde on 29th May; Force "H" returned to Gibraltar.

Conduct of Officers and Men

92. Although it was no more than I expected, the co-operation, skill and understanding displayed by all forces during this prolonged chase gave me the utmost satisfaction. Flag and Commanding Officers of detached units in variably took the action I would have wished, before or without receiving instructions from me. The conduct of all officers and men of the Fleet which I have the honour to command was in accordance with the traditions of the Service. Force "H" was handled with conspicuous skill throughout the operation by Vice-Admiral Sir James F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, and contributed a vital share in its successful conclusion.

Supply of Information and Disposition of Forces

93. The accuracy of the enemy information supplied by the Admiralty and the speed with which it was passed was remarkable, and the balance struck between information and instructions passed to the forces out of visual touch with me was ideal. The disposition of Force "H", the Rodney and the other forces placed at my disposal, completed my own dispositions and enabled me to avoid breaking W/T silence at a time when this was particularly important.

I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,

Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.

APPENDIX 1 TO HOME FLEET No. 396.H/F. 1225 OF 5TH JULY, 1941

List of courses, speeds and positions - 22nd to 28th May, 1941

H.M.S. "King George V" (the Flag of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet)

(All times are Zone minus 2)

22nd May

2307: Passed Hoxa Gate

23rd May

0800: 58° 57'N., 07° 20'W, Course 320° , 18 knots. Zigzag No. 15

0830: Recovered paravanes

1200: 59° 40'N., 08° 32' W

1500: Obs. Position 60° 17.5' N., 09° 30.0W

1536: altered course 270°

In company:









2000: 60° 24' N., 12° 08' W

2040: Received first enemy report.

2105: altered course 295° , 25 knots. Leg zigzag.

2116: altered course 280°

2121: 27 knots

24th May

0045: Obs. Position 60° 41' N., 15° 49' W

0410: Obs. Position 60° 57' N., 18° 47' W

0740: altered course 310° to avoid H.X. 126

0755: altered course 280°

0800: 61° 17' N., 18° 08'

0810: altered course 260°

1050: altered course 240°

1200: 60° 47' ., 25° 31' W

1507: altered course 212° (Victorious and C.S. 2 detached)

1650: altered course210°

2000: 58° 11' N., 30° 14' W

25th May

0515: 24 knots

0740: altered course 270°

0800: 54° 00'N., 35° 02' W

0830: altered course 240° (Repulse detached)

1047: altered course 030°

1056: 27 knots

1104: altered course 065°

1200: 53° 55' N., 35° 55' W

1548: altered course 113°

1612: altered course 080° , 25 knots

1735: Commenced continuous swing zigzag (U-boat area)

1810: altered course 117°

1939: Obs. Position 54° 34' N., 30° 34' W

2000: ceased zigzag

26th May

0800: 52° 11' N., 22° 39' W

1100: altered course 150°

1152: altered course 130°

1200: 51° 18' N., 20° 37' W

1313: Obs. Position 50° 58' N., 20° 00' W

1510: altered course 140°

1517: altered course 130°

1527: altered course 128°

1705: altered course 110° , 22 knots (Rodney joined)

2000: 49° 37' N., 16° 27' W

2036: 21 knots

2144: altered course 135°

2149: altered course 190°

2153: altered course 170°

2258: altered course 140°

2310: altered course 120°

2319: altered course 140°

2329: altered course 110°

2336: altered course 030°

27th May

0030: 19 knots

0108: altered course 230°

0122: altered course 270°

0221: altered course 220°

0411: altered course 180°

0501: altered course 260°

0719: altered course 190° (approach)

0723: altered course 150° together

0728: altered course 125° together

0737: altered course 080° together

0750: altered course 140° together

0759: altered course 105° together

0800: 48° 13' N., 16° 38' W

0806: altered course 085° together

0826: altered course 175° together

0833: altered course 110° together

0852: altered course 130° (Action)

0855: 17.5 knots

0859: altered course 175°

0910: swung 20° to starboard (to 195° ), 19 knots and back.

0915: altered course 150°

0917: altered course 000°

0926: altered course 310°

0930: altered course 000°

0932: 20 knots. Altered course 040°

0934: altered course 010°

0939: altered course 290°

0941: altered course 010°

0952: altered course 200°

1001: altered course to port (180° )

1006: 14 knots

1008: altered course 070°

1014: altered course 027°

1016: altered course 000°

1018: Swung to port and back.

1021: altered course 000°

1022: altered course 027° , 19 knots

Noon: 48° 33' N., 15° 44' W (Retirement)

1233: altered course 150° to secure forecastle

1303: altered course 022°

In company: Rodney, Dorsetshire, screen

1328: 17 knots

1415: altered course 037°

1419: 19 knots

1638: Obs. Position 49° 27' N., 14° 43' W

2200: Commenced zigzag No. 10 (Dorsetshire detached)

28th May

0200: altered course 007°

0800: 53° 14' N., 11° 32' W

0919: altered course 045° (More screen joined)

1100: altered course 040°

1229: Obs. Position 54° 27' N., 10° 29' W

1300: altered course 053°

1428: altered course 065° (More screen joined)

1600 Made Aran Island, Ireland

and thence as requisite to Loch Ewe, arriving at gate 1227, having been delayed 6 hours by fog in the Minches. Rodney detached at 1830 on 28th May to Clyde.