as seen from Prinz Eugen shortly after
the battle of the Denmark Strait. Notice
that her A and B guns are not trained in
Bismarck had received three hits altogether.
One had carried away the captain's motor-boat
amidships, damaged the aircraft launching
gear, landed in the sea beyond without
exploding. The second had also struck amidships,
penetrated the ship's side beneath the
armored belt, destroyed one of the dynamoes,
put No. 2 boiler-room and its two boilers
out of action, wounded five men by scalding,
caused some flooding. The third and most
serious hit had struck the port bow about
the level of the water-line, penetrated
two oil tanks, come out the starboard side
without exploding. This hit not only let
sea-water into the oil tanks and quantities
of oil into the sea, but knocked out the
suction valves, and cut off from the engines
a further thousand tons of oil.
Because of flooding the bow was down
by two or three degrees, there was a list
to port of nine degrees, the starboard
propeller was coming out of the water.
Captain Lindemann ordered counterflooding
aft to restore the trim, and maximum speed
was reduced to 28 knots. Collision mats
were put down to cover the two holes in
the bows, divers were sent to the flooded
compartments. Presently the collision mats
stopped any more water getting into the
ship, though the oil continued to leak
out of it. Some officers suggested a big
reduction of speed and further counterflooding
to bring the bows right out of the water,
enable the holes to be repaired by welding;
but Admiral Lütjens was not prepared
to risk the dangers of delay. Schlüter
(a technician from Blohm and Voss) suggested
lightening the bows by cutting loose the
anchors and cables, dumping them overboard,
but this idea was also rejected. Despite
the difficult working conditions the divers
finaly managed to make temporary repairs,
pump out some of the water so the bows
began to rise.
But however successfull the repairs,
it was clear beyond a doubt to Lütjens
and his staff that with one boiler-room
out of action, maximum speed reduced to
28 knots, serious flooding and loss of
fuel and the ship leaving a pathway of
oil that could be seen for miles, Bismarck
could no longer carry out her assignment
without dockyard repairs.
Lütjens had now decided that the
Bismarck needed some repairs in a dockyard.
But to wich dockyard should he go? If back
to Germany his nearest friendly port was
Bergen or Trondheim in Norway, both a little
over a thousand miles away. But this meant
a return through the hazardous passages
north or south of Iceland, with the enemy's
air forces now fully alerted, and the possibility
that further heavy British units were at
sea between him and Scapa Flow.
ship yard area at the port of St. Nazaire
in France. The huge "Normandie" dry
dock, which the Bismarck headed for,
can be seen at the center, close to the
top on the photograph.
The coast of France was 965 kilometer (600
miles) farther, but meant longer nights and
wider seas in wich to shake off his shadowers,
perhaps entice them over a line of U-boats,
top up with fuel from one of the waiting
tankers, then steam unmolested to the huge
Normandy dry dock at the French port of St.
Nazaire (which had been built for the great
French liner Normandie).
A further advantage of this was that once
repairs had been effected, Bismarck (with
perhaps Scharnhorst and Gneisenau too) would
already be poised on the edge of the Atlantic
trade-routes instead of having to renegotiate
the perils of a second break-out from Germany.
That would bring Operation "Rheinübung" closer
to its original concept. In the meantime,
the Prinz Eugen might be able to inflict
some damage on British convoys by herself
and keep the Royal Navy busy until the new
battlegroup could be formed.
At 0801, Lütjens signalled Group North,
together with a report on Bismarck's damage
and the efficacy of British radar, his intensions
to release Prinz Eugen for independent cruiser
warfare and for Bismarck to put into St.
Once the action with the Bismarck had been
broken off and the Prince of Wales was out
of range of German guns, Captain Leach slowed
his ship and turned to rendezvous with the
Suffolk and Norfolk. The cruisers had continued
to follow the German squadron after the Hood
was sunk and the Prince of Wales disengaged.
As soon as the Norfolk appeared, Leach conferred
by signal with Admiral Wake-Walker. The Admiral
had to continue the pursuit of the Bismarck,
and he ordered the Prince of Wales to join
his squadron in that pursuit regardless of
the damage she had sustained. She was still
a potent fighting machine that might yet
be needed to help destroy the Bismarck in
conjunction with other units of the Royal
Navy en route to intercept the enemy.
About 1000, Lütjens ordered the Prinz
Eugen to take up position aft of Bismarck
temporarily in order to observe her loss
of oil. An hour later, the Prinz Eugen resumed
her previous position in front of the Bismarck.
At 1240 the German task force changed course
to 180º due south at 24 knots.
During the mid-afternoon of 24 May, the
three-ship task force under Wake-Walker continued
to maintain contact with the German squadron,
which was now steaming at high speed in a
southwesterly direction. Shortly after noon,
the German ships turned south and made desperate
manoeuvres in attempts to shake off their
pursuers. Lütjens had the Bismarck and
Prinz Eugen slow down, suddenly speed up
and change direction, and take other evasive
action in an attempt to lose the British
task force, but to no avail.
In addition to the other ships already
committed, the battleships Rodney, Ramillies,
and Revenge and the cruisers London and Edinburgh
were detached from convoy or patrol duty
in the North Atlantic to aid in the search
and destruction of the Bismarck. Force H
at Gibraltar, under the command of Vice-Admiral
Sir James Somerville was also alerted to
participate in the chase should the Bismarck
head in that direction. That force consisted
of the battlecruiser Renown, the aircraft
carrier Ark Royal, and the light cruiser
Bismarck in the wake of Prinz Eugen after
the battle of the Denmark Strait.
falls further aft in order to prepare
the detachment of Prinz Eugen.. This
is the last German photograph of Bismarck.
The morning of 24 May had remained relatively
clear with only occasional small patches
of fog. The British ships were therefore
able to maintain not only radar contact,
but also visual contact with the Bismarck
for most of the morning. In the early afternoon,
the weather began to deteriorate, and the
German squadron became more difficult to
see. Lütjens decided that this would
be a good opportunity to detach the Prinz
Eugen. His plan was to turn on his pursuers
out of the fog with guns blazing and create
enough of a diversion to allow the Prinz
Eugen to escape undetected in the confusion.
An earlier attempt in mid-afternoon had to
be aborted when the Bismarck became visible
In the early evening at 1814, while both
ships were in a fog bank, the Bismarck made
a sudden 180º turn at 27 knots toward
her pursuers. As she emerged from the fog
bank, she opened fire on the following British
cruisers. The British force broke off their
pursuit and scattered to escape the heavy
gunfire. The Prinz Eugen continued at high
speed on her southerly course, and she was
soon beyond radar range of the British, making
good her escape.
At 1830 the Bismarck was firing at 18,000
meters (20,000 yards) against the Suffolk
which was the more persistent ship in maintaining
contact, but she was able to avoid damage
by turning away under a smoke screen. Between
1840 and 1856 there was an exchange of shells
at long distance with the Prince of Wales.
Bismarck were trying to hold the British
ships to let the Prinz Eugen escape.The last
thing her crewmen on deck saw of the Bismarck
was the flashes of her guns as she continued
to fire on the British ships until the cruiser
was in the clear. Realising the remote possibility
of a hit at nearly 27,000 meter (30,000 yards),
both sides finally ceased fire to conserve
their ammunition, and the Bismarck returned
to her southerly course.
Later in the evening, while it was still
light, Admiral Tovey's task force came within
aircraft range of the Bismarck, and he ordered
an air strike from the Victorious in an effort
to disable her or at least slow her down.
At 2210, nine Swordfish torpedo planes of
the 825th Squadron took off. At 2300, they
were followed by three Fulmars, and at 0100
by two more.
as photographed by one of the Swordfish
aircraft of the 825th Squadron, 24 May
the attack on 24-25 May 1941, the Bismarck
was hit amidships. The hit was of no
significance.. This picture probably
shows the clouds of smoke from this torpedo
At 2330, the Swordfish obtained visual
contact with the Bismarck and attacked.
The Bismarck received a single torpedo
hit at 2338 on the starboard side, amidships,
at the level of the main belt which resisted
the impact without much problem. It caused
the death of a crewmember (Kurt Kirchberg
- who became the first casualty aboard)
and injured six others. Except of two Fulmar's
wich ran out of fuel, all of the aircraft
returned safely to the Victorious in spite
of the heavy anti-aircraft fire directed
against them and poor visibility as darkness
After the attack of the Swordfish, the
Bismarck reduced her speed from 27 to 16
knots to do some repairs in the forecastle.
The distance between both forces decreased,
and at 0131 on 25 May the Prince of Wales
fired two salvos from 15,000 meters (16,000
yards) against the Bismarck which responded
with another two salvos. However the visibility
was very bad and no hits were scored.
The Admiralty decided that the destruction
of the Bismarck was the highest-priority
task facing the Royal Navy, and it was
willing to take certain risks to achieve
that goal. Admiral Somerville's Force H,
standing by at Gibraltar, was now committed
to the pursuit.
The Prinz Eugen had escaped, and now
it was the Bismarck's turn to try to shake
her pursuers. During the night, the crew
of the Bismarck noted that the British
ships were staying on her port quarter
and that they had begun zigzagging, probably
as a precaution against U-boats believed
to have been dispatched to help the Bismarck.
Once darkness had fallen, the Suffolk could
maintain contact with the Bismarck only
by radar, but at times her zigzagging took
her temporarily out of radar range of 23,000
(25,000 yards). Lütjens, realising
that this might be the case, decided to
take advantage of those circumstances and
try to break away from his pursuers.
In the early hours of morning of 25 May,
the Suffolk was beginning to make another
south-eastward swing on her zigzag course
which would again put her out of radar
contact with the Bismarck for a few moments.
When the cruiser seemed to be approaching
the limit of her south-eastward swing,
Lütjens ordered the Bismarck to make
an immediate turn to starboard and to continue
almost due west at high speed away from
the British force. The manoeuvre worked.
When the Suffolk returned to the south-westward
leg of her zigzag course, her radar did
not pick up the Bismarck as it had done
after earlier zigzags. Concentrating on
the Bismarck, the Suffolk was not yet aware
that the Prinz Eugen had already escaped.
When the loss of radar contact with the
Bismarck was reported to Admiral Wake-Walker
on the Norfolk, he immediately ordered
his two cruisers to steam in a south-westerly
and then a westerly direction in an attempt
to regain it. Lütjens, however, instead
of renewing his southerly course after
breaking free, decided to make a wide swing
to the north and circle around to the rear
of the British ships. Once he had completed
the circle, he headed in a southeasterly
course of 130º toward St. Nazaire.
By dawn, it became apparent that the Bismarck
and Prinz Eugen had successfully eluded
their pursuers and that it would take the
combined resources of all available British
air and sea forces to find them again.