Battleship Bismarck
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Part Two - First Round of the Bismarck
But, on the evening of 23 May, 1941, HMS Suffolk sighted the two German ships suddenly through a clearing between the patches of fog. They were bearing 20 degrees course 240, and distance of 7 miles. At 20.32 PM, she sent a message, "a battleship and a heavy cruiser in sight" to the British Admiralty and Sir John Tovey. Half an hour later HMS Norfolk arrived into the scene, also sighted the Germans, but at the same time Bismarck's radars sighted the British cruiser too. Bismarck opened fire with four main guns on Norfolk. The 10.000 ton-class cruiser was a lucky one, the 380mm. shells of Bismarck straddled her, and she escaped with the help of fog. After the arrival of radio messages, Admiral Tovey ordered Admiral Holland to meet with enemy at Denmark Strait, before reaching the Atlantic waters. When he radioed the message to Holland, the Hood and Prince of Wales were 300 miles away the southern east. They turned to close on the enemy and increased the speed to a maximum. But the tired turbines of Hood was only capable to drive the huge battlewagon only 28.5 knots at this time. The sailors of Prince of Wales saw the dark black plumes and red sparks from the giant funnels of the battlecruiser during all the night. The Hood was the leader and Prince of Wales was following the battlecruiser.



At dawn on the 24 May, 1941, they intercepted the German warships while they were passing the strait. At 05.30, the two titans located each other. But as a mistake Holland identified the former ship the Bismarck, but actually the ship was not Bismarck, instead she was Prinz Eugen. Germans didn't make a mistake, identified the Hood successfully, because of their good radars and the well known portrait of the old and brave battlecruiser. When the range had closed to 25.000 yards, Hood opened fire on Prinz Eugen (Holland ordered to open fire on the former ship, because he was still believing that it was Bismarck) at 05.52 AM. 30 seconds later HMS Prince of Wales opened fire too, but after a few shots, the battleship shifted the fire on Bismarck instead of Prinz Eugen. But Hood was still beware about the reality and hurling the shells on German heavy cruiser. Approximately two minutes later, both Bismarck and Prinz Eugen replied to fire, with opening a full salvo fire on Hood.



The German gunners were very accurate due to their superiour discipline and high quality radars and gun directors. After a few salvoes Prinz Eugen and Bismarck scored several hits. At first, the 203mm. shells of Prinz Eugen hit the battlecruiser and ignited the cordite stocks on deck. Also the big explosions were covering the mighty ship under flames and heavy smoke. While Prinz Eugen was shifting her fire on Prince of Wales due to the orders of Admiral Lutjens, the Bismarck's heavy shells began to hit Hood badly. About eight minutes into the fight, the 380mm. shells of Bismarck penetrated through the weak deck armour of Hood and reached into a 300-ton ammunition store. Suddenly Hood dissappeared with a giant flame thunder which rised to sky and clouds. The huge explosion of magazines ripped the Hood into two. In less than ten minutes of battle, the Hood was lost. Only 3 members of her 1400 sailors survived.



After Hood's terrible blow-up, Prince of Wales was left alone against German ships. Prince of Wales had to steer sharply to avoid hitting wrecked fragments of the battlecruiser which were still burning on the cold Atlantic waters with huge smoke, turning directly into the line of fire of two German warships. But at that moment, some of her guns failed to fire due to mechanical problems, and her forward turret jammed, prompting her commander captain John Leach to turn the ship about and steam away from Bismarck, while generating synthetic smoke to jam the German rangefinders. After a short time the ship's aft turret also failed and these failures left captain Leach with a single main gun which was still active. Prince of Wales took a total of seven hits from the Germans, the four of them were the 380mm. shells of Bismarck and the others were the 203mm. shells of DKM Prinz Eugen. One of the shells detonated inside the armoured bridge and killed all the seniors inside, except Leach and a radio operator.

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