|The Bismarck Escapes|
24 May 1941 / Shortly before 1400
An R.A.F. Catalina PBY approached the Bismarck from astern. Anti-aircraft batteries opened fire and the aircraft left the area. The Catalina had radioed the battleship’s position and dropped star shells in her wake.
24 May 1941 / 1420
24 May 1941 / 1515
The British began to marshal all resources available to hunt the Bismarck. The cruisers Manchester, Birmingham and Arethusa were to patrol the Iceland-Faeroes gap. Rodney was diverted to join Tovey’s force. Ramillies was ordered to take a position west of the German battleship. Revenge was to leave Halifax Harbour immediately and shape course to intercept. Edinburgh was to join Wake-Walker.
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Suffolk joined Norfolk and Prince of Wales on the port side of the Bismarck. This was possibly done to avoid being surprised once more if the Bismarck reversed her course. This left the Bismarck’s starboard side open.
24 May 1941 / 2056
Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were now on separate courses. While Bismarck began her run to France, Prinz Eugen continued on a course due south at 24 knots.
Prinz Eugen rendezvoused with the tanker Spichern at 0606 on 26 May and took on fuel. Two days later, Esso-Hamburg provided more fuel, fresh water and a supply of 8” (20.3 cm) shells. This operation was cut short by the appearance of smoke on the horizon.
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Bismarck had avoided six torpedoes but received a hit on the starboard side amidships between sections VIII and X. The battleship was hit by a 388-pound (176 kg) 18” MK XII torpedo causing insignificant damage. However, the explosion killed a crewman and injured six. Oberbootsmann Kurt Kirchberg died when he was thrown against the aircraft catapult by the blast. Kirchberg became the Bismarck’s first battle casualty.
After the attack, Lindemann reduced speed to 16 knots allowing the damage-control parties to replace the matting in the forecastle. They worked throughout the night to repair the damage inflicted by HMS Prince of Wales. Korvettenkapitän (Ing.) Walter Lehmann struggled to prevent sea water that had flooded the port No. 2 boiler room from corroding the feedwater system of turbo-generator No. 4. This could have resulted in unevaporated water being carried along with steam into the propulsion turbines, destroying the turbine blades. It was not until the evening of the following day that Lehmann could report that danger had passed as the ship’s four freshwater condensers and auxiliary boiler produced sufficient freshwater. Another damage-control party set about to reinforce the collision matting that had been placed in the holes in the forecastle. As Bismarck slowed to 12 knots, divers entered the flooded forward compartments and placed fresh collision matting against the gaping holes. They also managed to connect two hoses to the forward fuel tank valves and pump a few hundred tons of fuel oil to the tanks further aft.
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25 May 1941 / Around 0230
Wake-Walker’s ships that followed the Bismarck from her port quarter had entered an area with increased risk of U-boat attack. They therefore began to zigzag 30° either side of their base course every ten minutes. Consequently, Suffolk steamed for ten minutes or so outwards from the base course, then turned to steam for the same length of time inwards. As a result, Suffolk was out of radar range when she reached the last few miles of the port, or outward, leg of her zigzag manoeuvre. Lütjens believed it was time to shake off his pursuers and make a run to starboard.
25 May 1941 / 0300
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25 May 1941 / 0330
Wake-Walker ordered his ships to fan out over an arc from west to south at dawn in the hope to locate the German battleship. Prince of Wales steered due south, eventually to join Admiral Tovey, while HMS Norfolk headed directly west and Suffolk southwest. But their search was in vain.
When Tovey was informed that they had lost contact with the Bismarck, his ship, King George V, was about 100 miles to the southeast of the battleship’s last reported position. Tovey decided to search to the west and ordered all other available Royal Navy ships to hunt the Bismarck. In addition, aircraft from Victorious and land-based reconnaissance aircraft would be involved in the search. The British were desperate to find the Bismarck and even asked the Americans to assist.
Lütjens seems to have been the only one in this great sea chase who was unaware that Bismarck had been lost. He was still convinced that he was being shadowed by the British.
British shore stations intercepted the message that made it possible to calculate his approximate position. The signals were in code and could not be read, but the British recognised the call signs when Hood was sunk and assumed it was the Bismarck. The British could determine Bismarck’s approximate latitude but not her longitude. When her position was plotted on a map, it appeared that Bismarck was somewhere east of Admiral Tovey’s force.
25 May 1941 / 0846
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25 May 1941 / 0900
‘Presence of radar apparatus on enemy ships, range at least 35,000 yards; has the severest possible effect on Atlantic operations. Ships had been contacted in the Denmark Strait in thick fog and contact was never broken. Attempts to break off failed despite favorable weather conditions … Running battle between 23,000 and 19,000 yards. Adversary Hood ... destroyed by explosion after five minutes; thereafter, shift target to King George V, which veered off making smoke after several clearly-observed hits, and was out of sight for several hours. Own ammunition expenditure: 93 shells. King George V thereafter accepted battle only at most extreme range. Bismarck twice hit by King George V, one of these below side armor, Sections XIII and XIV. Hit Sections XX and XXI. Reduced speed and caused ship to be down by the bows and loss of oil tanks. Detachment of Prinz Eugen made possible by battleship engaging cruiser and battleship in fog. Own radar-detection set subject to disturbances, especially when firing.’
25 May 1941 / 1047
From Gibraltar, Vice-Admiral Somerville’s Force H, comprising Renown, Ark Royal and Sheffield were steaming at full speed to engage the Bismarck. Rodney was still on its way to join Tovey’s force. She was old and slow, but her nine 16” (40.6 cm) were the biggest guns in the Royal Navy.
The heavy cruiser Dorsetshire detached from convoy escort duty on Martin’s own authority to engage the Bismarck.
Meanwhile, High Command was frustrated that Lütjens continued to send signals completely unaware that the British had lost contact.
The Admiralty was also frustrated. Based on Lütjens’s signalling, they concluded that Bismarck was southeast of Tovey’s force. Therefore, they could not understand why Tovey was heading northeast. Tovey continued to head in the wrong direction for most of the day. Tovey asked his navigation officer, Captain Frank Lloyd, to recalculate the bearing reports which had been sent from the Admiralty that morning. A few minutes later, Lloyd informed Tovey that he had made a terrible error: Bismarck had been to the southeast of King George V at mid-morning, not northeast. Tovey was puzzled. If he was heading in the wrong direction why had the Admiralty not told him otherwise?
25 May 1941 / Early afternoon
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The Admiralty also had to decide where to send reconnaissance aircraft once dawn broke. Ark Royal’’s Swordfish were to patrol the Bay of Biscay and the Americans were keeping watch west of longitude 30 degrees, which was probably not where the Bismarck was heading in any case. Coastal Command had been searching fruitlessly all day. On the morning of 26 May, two Catalina PBY aircraft would fly a search pattern from northeast to southwest over the area Bismarck was most likely to steam through on her way to Brest or Saint-Nazaire.
26 May 1941 / 0430
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