Battleship Bismarck
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Part Three - The Lonely Winner
But, despite her troublesome main guns, Prince of Wales scored three hits on Bismarck. Actually, neither of the hits were serious, but caused big problems for a long Atlantic operation. A 356mm. shell penetrated the armour and detonated inside a generator room, flooding the section and two of the ship's boilers had to be shut down. Another shell hit and penetrated the bow, ruptured some fuel oil tanks and caused approximately 1000 tons of fuel unusable. This was a bad failure, because it was 1/8 of the total reserve of full deposit, but at this time, Bismarck burned more than 2000 tons of fuel oil during the course to Denmark Strait. Now, she had only 4000 tons, and it was not sufficient to a full Atlantic operation without repairing the tanks and refueling again. Also, due to the hit on the generator room, damages caused two boilers to stop, and the top speed dropped to 28 knots. Also the bow was down to water at least 2 degrees, because of flooding more than 2000 tons of water under the forecastle. Prinz Eugen was the only lucky ship who didn't receive any hits during the battle.



Unable to remain in the fight any longer, HMS Prince of Wales cancelled the action and returned back to the cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk. Under these conditions, insisting on a fight would be meaningless with a damaged battleship whose guns were failed too. But, instead of returning back to British bases, Prince of Wales joined the two heavy cruisers and trailed the German ships within a safe distance. The Battle of Denmark Strait was over.



Within Bismarck had sunk the mighty Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy. In less than ten minutes of battle this wonderful ship was lost with more than 1400 sailors including Admiral Lancelot Holland. Also the ill fated ship couldn't score any single hit on the German ships. When Hood exploded, she was turning to open a full salvo fire on Bismarck, but it was too late. When she had received the deadly hits from Bismarck, her last salvo was still on the air. The 'noble giant of the high seas' was the new leader of the Atlantic Ocean who had destroyed the biggest and powerful British ship, and forced another to escape. But, at these moments, Bismarck's fate was sealed too.

The winner of the battle was Bismarck, and aboard, joy was mixed with concern. The shells of Prince of Wales had caused enough damage to cancel the operation and undergo a repair especially on the damaged fuel tanks. The ship was losing fuel continuously, leaving an oily line behind her and the top speed was reduced to 28 miles per hour due to the loss of two boilers. The range of operation was reduced and Admiral Lutjens decided to change the route to St. Nazaire, a French harbour which was under the German invasion. Bismarck would soon have to steam for a friendly port.

At 08.01 AM, Bismarck sent a message to Kriegs Marine Admiralty, Group West, which was informing the situation:

1. Elecrical engine room-4 broken down, generators stopped.
2. Port boiler-room no:2 is flooded by water but can be held. Also water in forecastle.
3. Maximum speed is reduced to 28 knots.
4. Two enemy radar sets recognized.
5. Intention to put into St. Nazaire. No losses of personnel.

At noon, the two German warships turned to a new course of 180 degrees due to south. At 18.15 PM, Bismarck suddenly turned to starboard at 28 knots, to circle around a large diameter while Prinz Eugen maintained her course and left the formation. At 18.30 PM, Bismarck opened fire on HMS Suffolk and then, at 18.40 on HMS Prince of Wales. Prince of Wales responded to the gunfire with her available guns, and the duel ended at 18.57. No one could hit a score during this shell exchange, but Prinz Eugen escaped. This was the decision of Admiral Lutjens. He decided to steam to St. Nazaire with Bismarck only. But this decision also affected the fate of Bismarck. The battleship was left alone at the hostile waters. This decision may be an indication of the commanders' and Admiral's big trust to their 'unsinkable' battleship. Actually, the trust was not a false one, the Bismarck was the most powerful and strongest battleship ever built. But she was alone, without any air defence, any U-boat help and without any luck. Her powerful 380 mm. guns were still operative, engines and all the battle equipment including range finders and radars were still working properly. Only the fuel situation was going to a critical condition, and Lutjens was trying to arrive in friendly waters in a short time.

At these moments, the remaining powerful ships of the Royal Navy Home Fleet, HMS King George-V and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were still far from Bismarck and after the Battle of Denmark Strait, two powerful ships were out of action. Bismarck was escaping from the hands of Royal Navy with her maximum available speed. In an effort to slow down the deadly war machine Bismarck even further, Admiral John Tovey ordered the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious to launch an air strike againist the German battleship. Also, the Royal Admiralty directed - Force-H - (aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, heavy cruiser HMS Sheffield, battlecruiser HMS Renown and destroyers) to set a course from Gibraltar, to prevent Bismarck from escaping to the south. Actually, Admiral Tovey had no information about the serious damage on the fuel tanks of Bismarck and changing the course to St. Nazaire. He was still afraid of Bismarck attacks against British merchant ships.

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