The epic battle between the German Bismarck and the British HMS Hood during WW2
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
(to be continued, all comments most welcome) email "firstname.lastname@example.org"