Fatal Torpedo Hit
only hope of destroying the Bismarck was to slow
her down sufficiently for the battleships to
be able to catch up with her. This task obviously
fell to the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, as only
her torpedo planes had the range and weapons
to do the job. By the time this plan of action
had been decided upon, Force H had already steamed
some distance further north before Somerville
turned his ships on a course parallel to that
of the Bismarck at about noon. Force H was still
within range, but it would take longer for the
aircraft of the Ark Royal to reach their target.
Preparations were immediately undertaken
to launch an air strike against the Bismarck
as soon as possible that afternoon. The
Swordfish aboard the Ark Royal were fuelled,
and 18in torpedoes were latched to their
underbellies as their crews were being
briefed. At 1450 on 26 May, 15 Swordfish
aircraft took off from the Ark Royal and
headed for the last known position of the
Bismarck. Their pilots had just been advised
that their target was alone in the area,
but in fact the light cruiser Sheffield
had been ordered to move up astern of the
Bismarck and keep her under observation.
The signal concerning the Sheffield had
not been deciphered on the Ark Royal in
time to alert the Swordfish pilots.
The Swordfish pilots obtained radar
contact with what they thought was Bismarck
(Sheffield) at 1540 and pressed their
attack against the ship shortly after.
Fortunately, the Sheffield was not hit
by any of the 11 torpedoes that were
launched against her. All of the Swordfish
aircraft returned safely to Ark Royal
at about 1700.
At 1740, the Sheffield obtained contact
with the Bismarck and started to shadow
The fuel shortage caused by the Prince
of Wales' fateful hit required the Bismarck
to steam at only 20 knots so that she
would have sufficient fuel to reach St
Nazaire. Topping off her tanks in Norway
or from a tanker at sea would certainly
have eased the situation, but that had
not been done. Had the Bismarck been
able to steam at 28 knots, she would
have already been under the protective
cover of the Luftwaffe by that afternoon.
Aboard the Ark Royal they knew they
only had one more attempt in trying
to stop or at least slow down Bismarck
as the German battleship would reach
the French coast the next day. At 1915,
another fifteen Swordfish took off
from the Ark Royal.
The Swordfish attack took place
at 2047. Bismarck was hit by a
torpedo amidship which caused no
damage. But then she was hit by
a torpedo in the starboard rudder
area. According to the rudder indicator,
the rudder was jammed at 12º or
15º to port (the sources disagree
here). Despite that the German
anti-aircraft fire was very intense
none of the Swordfish aircraft
was shot down.
Fatal Torpedo Hit
different sources about the
history of the Bismarck are
disagree about what actually
happened during the last air
attack against the Bismarck.
The outcome of my research
seems to state the fact that:
Accounts differ as to the number
of torpedo hits (two or three)
and the order in which they
All the sources agree that
Bismarck turned to port when
the fatal torpedo came towards
The Bismarck's rudder indicator
indicated that the rudder was
jammed either 12° or 15° to
port. They disagree about that
Between 2130-2155, Bismarck fired
six salvoes from 14,000 meter (15,000
yards) against the Sheffield which
had just come insight. The Sheffield
was not hit but some splinters
disabled her radar, killed three
men and injured six more.
At 2140, Admiral Lütjens
sent the following message to Group
West: "Ship unable to maneuver.
We will fight to the last shell.
Long live the Führer".