Famous Battles in History WWII and the Pursuit of the Bismarck

About the famous sea battle in history between the German Bismarck and the British battleships during World War II.



With the European continent in Nazi hands, the Atlantic convoys were Britain's lifeline. These convoys were already under constant German U-boat attacks when the Germans planned to unleash yet another danger--the battleship Bismarck. Built in 1939, the 50,000-ton Bismarck was the largest, most powerful ship afloat. If it were loose in the Atlantic, its radar-controlled 15-in. guns could sink whole convoys.

On May 21, 1941, a British reconnaissance plane spotted and photographed two German ships hidden in a Norwegian fjord. They were the Bismarck and its companion, the cruiser Prinz Eugen. The British navy was alerted, but it was too late. The Bismarck had bolted for the open seas on the same day. Adm. Sir John Tovey, commander of the British fleet, ordered all available ships to hunt it down.

The two German raiders were sighted heading south between Greenland and Iceland on May 23. The British sped the battleships Hood and Prince of Wales to intercept them. On the 24th, at 5:30 A.M., the British battleships located and fired on the Bismarck. In turn, the Bismarck shot a salvo into the Hood, which exploded and sank into the icy Arctic waters in three minutes. Of the Hood's 1,419 men, only 3 survived. The Prince of Wales was hit eight times but managed to limp away to safety. The Bismarck had been hit twice; one shell had punctured its fuel tanks and caused a severe oil leakage.

With insufficient fuel, the Bismarck was forced to head for the French port of Brest for repairs. But on May 26, 15 planes from the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal plowed two torpedoes into the Bismarck, destroying its rudder and steering gear. Out of control, the ship sailed in circles, but was finally located 400 mi. from Brest.

At nine the next morning, the British battleships Rodney and King George V, with two cruisers, began bombarding their prey. The crippled Bismarck fought back, but by 10:15 its guns were silent and its decks ablaze. A British cruiser delivered the death blow, sending two torpedoes into the lifeless hulk. Amid explosions, the Bismarck rolled over and slid beneath the waves, with 2,000 German sailors aboard.

The British had destroyed the deadliest ship in existence and proved that they were capable of keeping the sea-lanes open to beleaguered Britain.

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