The Bismarck is Discovered
The location and destination of the Bismarck became a matter of wide speculation among the British. If she had been heavily damaged by the Prince of Wales, would she double back and return to Germany? If she was only slightly damaged, would she head for the French coast for repairs or rendezvous with a naval auxiliary vessel to accomplish any necessary repairs at sea? Would she rendezvous with a tanker to take on more fuel? Would she immediately begin operations against convoys in the North Atlantic? The British did not have sufficient resources to adequately cover all of those possibilities, so it became a matter of assessing their probabilities and prioritising the allocation of resources to cover the various alternatives.

Admiral Tovey continued to sail in a south-westerly direction while the Prince of Wales was ordered to remain on a southerly course and join his task force. Force H, now more urgently required than before, was proceeding northward off Spain after leaving its convoy a few hours earlier. Other units of the Royal Navy were also converging on the area to assist in the search for the Bismarck.

As soon as it became light enough on the morning of 25 May, the Victorious was ordered to make an air search to the north-west for the Bismarck, but by that time she was already south-east of that area and heading further away. Several Swordfish took off and after a search of several hours, they returned without success. One Swordfish did not return and was lost without trace.

That morning Admiral Lütjens, apparently in the belief that he was still under radar observation by the British cruisers that had been trailing him, began transmitting a long message to the German Naval High Command. In this message, he reported on the action that took place on the previous morning against the Hood and Prince of Wales. He then described the damage sustained by the Bismarck and his intention to head for St. Nazaire for necessary repairs. He commented on the effectiveness of British radar and other circumstances that adversely affected the accomplishment of his mission.

The German Naval High Command had not intercepted any further sighting reports from the Suffolk since the last one sent out during the night before the Bismarck made her attempt to break away. Convinced that contact had actually been broken, they immediately advised Lütjens of this and ordered him to cease transmission. The Bismarck had apparently been receiving radar signals from the Suffolk, but they were in fact not strong enough to be reflected from the Bismarck and be received by the Suffolk. Lütjens believed that the British radar had a range in excess of the 23,000 meter (25,000) yards it actually had.

The British intercepted Lütjens' transmission at several locations, but their radio direction-finders within range were roughly in a line and therefore could point only in the same general direction. They did not have a direction-finder situated far enough at an angle to the transmission where it could cut across the lines of the other direction-finders and enable them to pin-point its position by triangulation. The direction indicated did, however, give a clue to the course of the Bismarck based on the last known position of the ship. It was now almost certain that she was heading for the French coast, and further search efforts would be concentrated in that direction.

During the day of 25 May, the Bismarck was forced to reduce her speed during the day to a more economical 20 knots instead of her maximum sustained speed of 28 knots. A repair crew was later able to bypass some of the damaged pipes and valving and thereby allow part of the fuel reserves earlier cut off to be tapped for use, but this only slightly alleviated the problem.

Deployment of British forces at time of discovery of the Bismarck

At 0300 on 26 May, two American-built Consolidated PBY-5 (Catalina) flying boats assigned to RAF Coastal Command took off from their base in Northern Ireland to conduct a long-range search for the Bismarck.

Photo: Flying Officer Dennis Briggs, pilot of the Consolidated PBY-5 (Catalina) flying boat that rediscovered the Bismarck on 26 May.

At about 1030, an observer aboard one of the aircraft spotted the wake of a ship below, and the pilot (Dennis Briggs) immediately turned the plane toward the ship for a closer look. As soon as the ship could be identified as a large warship, possibly a battleship, its position was radioed back to their base. As soon as the Catalina flying boat had come into view, the Bismarck immediately opened fire on it with her anti-aircraft batteries, thereby advertising the fact that she was an enemy warship. About an hour after being spotted by the Catalina, the Bismarck had another unwelcome intruder, a Swordfish on a scouting mission from the Ark Royal, which had just arrived in the area with Force H.

After more than 31 hours of breaking contact, the Bismarck had been discovered again.

Soon the light cruiser Sheffield, also from Force H, was spotted by the Bismarck.

Now that the Bismarck had been discovered, it would just be a matter of time before all of the available resources of the Royal Navy would be thrown against her.