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Posts Tagged ‘Ark Royal’

The sinking of the Hood by the Bismarck caused no small embarassment for the British Admiralty…and no small anger, either.  True, it was a one-in-a-million shot that pierced the Hood just forward of its rear tower, but still, this ship had been the pride of the Navy for two decades.  And it hadn’t just been sunk, it had been obliterated with 99.8% loss of life.

The British response was swift.  Every available ship was dispatched with two orders:  find the Bismarck, and sink the Bismarck.  Fortunately, the “finding” part wasn’t too difficult.  First, the British cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk and the battleship Prince of Wales (already bloodied when the Hood went down) were trailing the ship.  Second, the Bismarck had sustained damage (thanks to the Prince of Wales), was leaking fuel, and had a slight list.  All of this served to slow the battleship down a bit.

Early on the morning of the May 25, 1941, the German fugitive was attacked by torpedo bombers from the carrier Victorious.  Comprised of only seven outdated biplanes (an eighth got lost in the clouds), they managed to hit the Bismarck with one torpedo.  Damage was not severe, but it did require the ship to slow down even more for repairs.  At 3:00am, the Bismarck’s commander (Admiral Gunther Lütjens), knowing he needed to make a run for the safety of Saint-Nazaire in occupied France, looped the Bismarck around, and was lost to her British pursuers…

…until 10:30am the next morning when she was relocated by air patrols.  And the chase was on…again.  The British carrier Ark Royal launched planes early in the afternoon…which unsuccessfully tried to torpedo one of their own ships!  A second attack at 9:00pm gave better results and the Bismarck was hit twice.  The first torpedo was inconsequential because the second one jammed the rudder, forcing the Bismarck into a wide circle.  The gig was up, and the end was near for the Bismarck.

But the German powerhouse would not go quietly.  The British closed in and, at 9:00am on May 27, 1941, the final battle began.  By 10:15am, after hundreds of 15″ and 16″ shells had poured from British main guns into the Bismarck, the firing ceased.  The British cruiser Dorsetshire then moved in and fired three torpedoes, all of which hit the dying battleship but, hanging over the precipice, she still wouldn’t go down.  In the end, the mighty Bismarck’s death blows were dealt by her own hands, as she was scuttled and sank at 10:40am.  Of the ship’s 2,200 sailors, only 115 survived.

The Bismarck’s wartime life lasted less than 10 days, but the aura of that single ship will last for many lifetimes.

Recommended Reading: The Destruction of the Bismarck

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