in the morning of 23 May the Bismarck and Prinz
Eugen entered the Denmark Strait. By the late
afternoon of 23 May, the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen
were approaching the pack ice off the coast of
Greenland. From there, they turned on a southerly
course. The German squadron proceeded cautiously
down the dangerous channel during the rest of
the afternoon. The narrow passage was the most
dangerous part of the breakout. At this time
of year not more than 48 kilometer (30 miles)
to 64 kilometer (40 miles) wide.
In the early evening, at 1922 the alarm
bells on the Bismarck sounded again. The
hydrophones and radar had picked up a contact
on the port bow of the Bismarck (the distance
were about 11 kilometer (7 miles)). Bismarck
signalled the alarm to the Prinz Eugen and
her lookouts saw a dim shape disappearing
into the mist about 20 degrees on the port
bow. It was taken to be an auxiliary cruiser
(actually it was the British heavy cruiser
Suffolk). But the encounter had been so sudden
that neither of the German ships had been
able to make a definite identification and
neither had been able to bring its guns to
bear. As soon as the lookouts on Suffolk
spotted the German ships. the Suffolk turned
toward the coast of Iceland to hide there
inside the fog. Suffolk later came around
and fell astern of the German task force
to begin shadowing it.
A few minutes before 2030 the radar of the
Bismarck detected a new contact closing from
the port bow (the distance was about 10 kilometer
(6 miles)). It was another British heavy
cruiser, the Norfolk, which had come up to
assist the Suffolk after receiving her sighting
report. The British cruiser was in the clear,
and the Bismarck immediately took her under
fire with her main armament. Five salvos
in all Bismarck fired before Norfolk raced
into a fog bank as the Suffolk had done earlier.
Some straddled, and splinters came on board,
but there were no casualties or hits. The
Norfolk fell back and joined Suffolk shadowing
the German squadron.
The German ships had picked up the sighting
report from the Suffolk and advised the German
headquarter that they had been detected.
The Germans was able to decode the British
radio meesages and was aware that the British
cruisers were able to shadow the German ships
with their radar equipment.
The blast from Bismarck's guns when firing
at Norfolk had put her forward radar out
of action, and she was now blind ahead. A
desire to have eyes in front of him and also
perhaps a fear that the shadowing british
ships might creep up on Prinz Eugen in bad
visibility, caused Lütjens to signal
to Prinz Eugen to take station ahead. Now
Prinz Eugen was in the lead, Bismarck astern
of her, Norfolk and Suffolk ten to fourteen
miles astern of Bismarck, all going at nearly
Hood photographed from Prince of Wales
on 23 May 1941, racing to intercept the
Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.
Throughout the rest of the evening, both
forces continued on their convergent courses.
The Germans made several attempts during
the night to shake off their pursuers, but
to no avail. At about 2200, the Bismarck
doubled back on her course hoping to catch
the British cruisers by surprise, but they
were nowhere in sight. The Suffolk had detected
the manoeuvre on her radar, and both cruisers
disappeared in the fog as the German ship
approached. When the Bismarck returned to
her original course, both British cruisers
resumed their shadowing duties astern of
the German task force.
The Germans kept on a course of about 220º parallel
to the coast of Greenland.