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Rated: E · Documentary · Military · #1701515
The epic battle between the German Bismarck and the British HMS Hood during WW2
Part 7

  May 22, 1941

  The weather was perfect for a breakout by the Bismarck and Prince Eugen into the

North Atlantic. It was cloudy with a thick fog that enveloped both ships, making them

difficult to spot by British forces or Allied spies. The Prince Eugen turned on her

searchlight to maintain visual contact with the Bismarck. Admiral Lutzens must have

felt luck was with him but it was not to last. At 7:22 that evening the heavycruiser

HMS Suffolk spots the Bismarck coming out of the fog with her advanced radar

system. The German ships spot the Suffolk as well as she is dangerously close to

the German force at only seven miles. The Bismarck does not fire as the Suffolk slips

back into the fog and continues to follow.

  One hour later the Norfolk is spotted by the Bismarck and this time open fires with

five salvos which all miss their mark. The Norfolk throws up a smoke screen and heads

into the fog for cover. Both British ships trail the Bismarck from a safe distance using

radar and wait for more powerful ships to arrive. On the Bismarck the radar has been

disabled due to the powerful blast of its forward guns and switches postions with the

Prince Eugen. This would cause much confusion for the British the next day. Lutzens

continues towards the Atlantic trying to shake off the British cruisers throughtout the

night. He tries turning around to chase them but they would turn around and run

off. Baron Mullenheim-Rechberg was a officer on the deck of the Bismarck and

remembers it well, "They must have sensed what we were doing on their radar and

when we turned toward them, because they were faster then us, they would turn and

runaway. It was a futile excercise! ". The Suffolk and Norfolk continue to send out

reports of the Bismarcks position throughout the night.

  Meanwhile three hundred miles to the east, the Hood and the Prince of Wales were

racing to intercept. The pride and flagship of the British navy and the super weapon

of the Kreisg-marine were about to have a showdown. These two war ships, that were

known around the world, were about to engage in a heavyweight bout that would

surprise both sides with its ending.

  Midnight May 23, 1941

  On the Hood, Captain Lancelot Holland alerts the crew over the loudspeakers to

assume battle stations as action was definitely expected. Ted Briggs, on officer on the

Hood recalls, "This was the first time realized that something was going to happen.

This was no false alarm".  Holland decided on a full steam, head-on attack but during

the night the Suffolk and Norfolk lost contact with the Bismarck and he was forced to

wait untill contact was reestablished. The Hood was now forced to make a slow and

dangerous approach from the side. Only its forward guns could engage the enemy

while all of their guns could be aimed toward the British. The Bismarck would "cross

the T" on the Hood as it is known in Navy parlance. The crew of the Hood had been

at their stations for hours. They were getting anxious and they were getting scared.

  Ted Briggs, " I think the fear was the fear of showing fear. I wasn't afraid of being

killed. I thought if you get killed, its outright. But I was desperately afraid of being

injured or wounded and suffering in agony and screaming. I was very frightened of

that". Meanwhile with their radar out of commission, the Bismarck had no idea that

the Hood was on its way. Finally at 5:30 am on May 23rd the two ships caught sight

of each other. Baron Mullenheim-Rechberg recalls, "At first we didn't know who it was.

Was it a cruiser? And then it got bigger and bigger coming over the horizon. The

gunnery sargent with his powerful binoculars shouts, "Its the Hood. Its the Hood!".

The terror of of war games. What an excitement it was for us".

  The battle alarm sounded. Johannes Zimmerman was stationed in the boiler room

when he heard that they were going to have a battle with the Hood. He thought to

himself, "Are they crazy? We are going to have a war game now?". Abroad the Hood

Ted Briggs was on the compass platform with the captain. "The bridge of the

platform was pretty unreal", he recalls, "It was so desperately quiet and everything

seem to be happening in slow motion". Holland was now moving at full speed toward

the Bismarck. At close range the Bismarcks shells would have a low trajactory and

hopefully hit the Hoods strong sides instead of her weak deck armour. They were

within thirteen miles when Holland ordered, "Open fire!". 

  The Hood aimed at the lead ship thinking it was the Bismarck but quickly turned

her guns and fired her fifteen inch shells. Josef Statz on the Bismarck remembers

the sound of approaching projectiles, "When the shells flew overhead, they literally

ripped a scream from your body. It was in indescribable. It was from the air pressure,

the fear and uncertainty of where they would land. But it was mostly the fear".

Admiral Lutjens resisted firing back, remembering his orders not to engage enemy

war ships but Captain Linderman finally stepped in and remarked, "I will not have

my ship shot out from under my ass!". The Bismarck opened fired. The Bismarcks

first salvo fell long and its second salvo fell short. The third salvo was a direct hit.

The Bismarck had found the range. The Hood shook violently and knocked the crew

off of their feet. Fires broke out on the forward decks and the magazines for the

secondary guns. The forth salvo ripped through the observation tower above the

compass platform. Ted Briggs shipmate went out to inspect the damage. Ted recalls,

"He went out on the port side and said there were bodies falling down from the

observation tower. One was a Lieutenant. He knew every officer aboard but he

couldn't recognize him. He had no face or hands".

  Holland ordered the Hood to port to allow her rear guns to join the fight. It was then

that Bismarcks fifth salvo struck. Ted Briggs,"All I saw was a gigantic sheet of flame

that shot all around the compass platform. At the same time we were all thrown off

of our feet. It seem to me like it was a vortex, spinning around. And then she started

to list to port. She had gone maybe thirty or forty degrees when we realized she just

wasn't coming back. There was no order to abandon ship, it just wasn't necessary".

  On the Bismarck Mullenheim-Reichberg was watching the story unfold in his

viewfinder, "I seen two ends of the Hood sticking up and ready to sink. We hadn't

expected the Hood to sink so quickly, nobody had".  A shell had penetrated the Hoods

weak deck armour and exploded in her ammunition magazines. The resulting blast had

split this huge ship in two. Ted Briggs, "By that time I was under water and I tried to

get away as fast as I could. I was ready to give up when I felt myself being shot to the

surface". It is believed a boiler exploded under water and the resultant air bubble shot

Ted to the surface saving him from a watery grave. "I came up and the Hood was about

fifty yards away. She was vertical with the water and "B" turret was just going under.

I panicked and swamed away as fast as I could". Covered in oil Ted, managed to grasp

a tiny raft floating in the water. When he looked back the Hood was gone. All he saw

were two other shipmates floating nearby. In less than ten minutes of battle the

Bismarck had destroyed the "Mighty Hood" and 1,415 of her crew. Only three

survived, Ted Briggs, Robert Tillburn and William Dundas.

  Back on the Bismarck news of the Hoods demise raced through the ship. Hans

Zimmmerman recalls, "The Hood sunk!?. It was such a shock. At first there were

smiling faces but that didn't last as there was a strange feeling that tomorrow it would

be us".

(to be continued, all comments most welcome) email "macthemechanicca2001@yahoo.ca"


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