May 20th 1941, a restaurant in Stockholm, a British officer the naval assashai to Sweden is having dinner alone when the waiter gives him the phone. It’s from the embassy. His eyes widen he slams down the phone and rushes out. Waiting for him at the embassy is a Norwegian cornel, a man Swedish intelligence leaks to, when they want information in British hands. He has a report from a British cruiser it reads that at 1500 hours 2 large war ships escorted by 3 destroyers, 5 ships and 10 or 12 planes pass to the north east. The ships are German and the hunt is on! The hunt for the Bismarck is one of the most extraordinary stories in WW2. It’s about risk taking, heroism and many, many deaths and some blind luck. The most interesting bit about the hunt for the Bismarck is that the royal navies biggest challenge wasn’t to sink the ship, but to find it. This is a detective story! This international hunt stretched from the ice seas of the Denmark strait and involved the chattering computers of Blechly Park. Lets set the seen. It is May 21st 1940 and early morning at Scapa Flow naval base, Orkney and Vice Admiral John Tovey, commander of the home fleet, is abored his flag ship. For days German Reconnaissance planes have passed above him recording the positions of his ships from their base in Scapa Flow. Tovey’s fleet, guards the expanse between Greenland and Nazi occupied Norway and was the only thing keeping Briton from starving to death. This was a tonnage war measured in supplies delivered rather than ships sunk. Tovey’s nightmare was the Bismarck. The British had been building a file on her for some time, even attending her grand opening, but they didn’t know everything as they didn’t know what crew side or what technology was onboard. What they did know was that she was enormous and outfitted with both heavy armour and 15 inch guns that could sink anything that the navy could throw at them. Britain also knew that the Bismarck was more than a ship, it was a political statement Hitler had used to jumpstart the German economy. The Bismarck was a visible symbol of Germany’s economic upturn. With the exception of political prisoners Germany was now a nation with a 100% employment rate for males. At 40,000 tons the Bismarck was also a violation of the post war treaty, also known as the treaty of Versti.
Tovey’s phone rings and the person on the other end of the lines says that the Bismarck left port three days ago and is in-between Norway and Denmark and RAF planes are currently searching the fords. Tovey orders his fleet to re-fuel and get ready to sail. At 13:15 over Norway an RAF reconnaissance plane spots and photographs a big ship similar to the Bismarck. Back in Scotland an analyst confirms the photos to be the Bismarck. The wether is deteriorating fog is cast over night. Tovey summons Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland and details his plan. Holland will be in a poison to intercept the Bismarck whilst Tovey will stay in Scapa Flow. On May 22nd at 0200 hours in Norway RAF planes blindly bomb the Bismarck’s last known position because of the fog. Since the last sighting, over 30 hours ago, the Bismarck it could have sailed 600 MILES! On May 23rd 19:22 in the Denmark Strait 2 Cruisers have been searching the icy mine filled waters when a sailor spots 2 boats which at first he thinks are British ships but a second glance shows a Nazi flag. The sailor goes running into the helm but as they are only 7 miles away the Bismarck’s 15 inch guns are just within range. Everyone gets in to their battle station and the Cruiser turns hard over and heads for the fog whilst alerting its sister ship. The sister ship then alerts London, who alerts the rest of the fleet. The Bismarck fired on the sister ship, who almost ran into them, and then fired on the HMS PRINCE OF HOOD (who was in the fleet). HMS HOOD along with the HMS PRINCE OF WALES sailed towards the Bismarck.
The HMS HOOD, whilst refurbished from an older ship, was the pride and glory of the Royal Navy. Most sailors joined the navy because of tours and a seeing the HMS HOOD. Its top speed was 32 knots and it had anti aircraft gunnery, torpedoes and 14 inch guns. The Bismarck however was a violation of the treaty of Versti because it was a new ship with with 15 inch guns.
On the 24th of May at 0537 hours in the Denmark Strait, Holland orders full sped ahead. They are parallel to the Bismarck! 2 minutes later the Bismarck fire and hit the HMS HOOD in the munitions store. Pink flames scatter everywhere. The HMS PRINCE OF WALES hit the Bismarck, then the HMS HOOD sinks and Lancelot Holland goes down with his ship.
After the battle a British reconnaissance plane sees a big oil trail leading into fog. Suddenly the Bismark slips out of the fog and Tovey releases that it has been a bluff so the Prince Orgen, the Bismarcks sister ship, can slip away without trace however the Bismarck is hit by a bomb from a plane.
By the 25th of May the Royal Navy has lost the Bismarck on the radar. At 0930 hours at Blechly Park, 6.5 hours since last contact, Huck 4 (the computer that sorts German enigma from the Atlantic) finds that the Bismarck is heading for France. Then 7 hours later at Blechly Park a de-coder finds the word Brest (pronounced Bres) when a message sent to the Bismark from a father asking if his son survived the attack. The reply is all is safe heading for Brest France. One day later all ships head for the Bismarck. American planes have spotted the Bismarck and only a British aircraft carrier is close enough to intercept so it launches 15 Swordfish planes armed with magnetic torpedoes but the ship turns out not to be the Bismarck and is infact the HMS PRINCE OF WALES. Four of the Swordfish planes don’t fire but 11 do but with a stroke of pure luck, they all miss!
When they finally intercepted the Bismark the Swordfish planes were more accurate and knocked out the Bismarks steering. Afterward 4 boats, including the HMS PRINCE OF WALES surrounded the Bismarck and shots were fired from both sides.
A destroyer hit the Bismarck and 100ft flames erupted from the ship. For 50 minutes Tovey’s fleet pounded the Bismarck with 2,800 shells creating leaks and smashed windows in their own ship with the friction of their guns. At 1021 hours Tovey’s fleet runs out of fuel but with a final 2 torpedoes fired into the Bismarck from the Orson, the pride and glory of the German fleet sinks in 15 seconds. The Orson helps German men onboard and gives them hot coco before a crewman spots a u-boat periscope and the Orson is forced to steam ahead and leave hundreds of German sailors stranded in the water. 2,200 men served on the Bismarck but only 119 survived. Churchill tells parliament that the Bismarck is sunk!