Battleship Bismarck
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The Tragedy
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Section Four - The Second Round
In response to Admiral Tovey's strict orders on 25 May, 1941, the carrier Victorious launched her Swordfish torpedo planes at 10.00 PM. The airplanes located Bismarck at about midnight and attacked. The squadron leader Eugene Esmonde scored a hit to the amidships with a torpedo, but it couldn't give any serious damage to the thick and very strong belt armour. They couldn't be successful to slow down her speed. The 52.000 ton battleship was so strong and still powerful. Her speed was approximately 28 miles per hour and the morale of the sailors were very high due to the victory against Hood and the trust for Bismarck's power and strength.

Having shrugged off the torpedo attack, Bismarck then succeeded in outfoxing HMS Suffolk and breaking the radar contact that the British cruiser had maintained throughout the night. Bismarck suddenly steered to starboard, circled around a big diameter with changing her course to 130 degrees southeast and disappeared. Guessing that the German battleship would head west to the Atlantic, Admiral Tovey concentrated his search in this direction. Actually, on board Bismarck, Admiral Gunther Lutjens had decided to head towards St. Nazaire for repairs and refuelling. Throughout the next day, he drew farther away from the Royal Navy warships. Due to these reasons Admiral Tovey's hopes of finding and attacking Bismarck faded seriously.

But then, there followed a series of mistakes on both sides. Admiral Lutjens, finally having avoided all pursuit, took a great risk and sent an half an hour message to Group West and Kriegs Marine Admiralty in Berlin, describing the Battle of Denmark Strait and how they sunk the British battlecruiser Hood. The message was so long and the time was enough for British radio direction finders at Blechley Park to pinpoint the Bismarck's net position. But, on the British side, some misunderstanding due to goniometric mapping errors and faulty plotting led to a pursuit in a wrong direction to north. So it was late therefore in the day before Admiral Tovey's forces actually turned in the direction of the German battleship.

Also as another problem on British side, the fuel shortage was becoming critical in the battleships of Tovey. The HMS Repulse, HMS Prince of Wales and some cruisers had to return back in order to refuel. To partially offset the force gap, old and slower battleship HMS Rodney was released from Britannic to join in the hunt for Bismarck. Her maximum speed was only 22 knots but having 9 X 406mm. (16 inch) guns, she was a powerful gun platform. This old battlewagon's commander was Captain Dalrymple Hamilton.

But, suddenly Bismarck's fate changed badly. In the morning of 26 May, a long range Catalina flying boat sighted Bismarck 130 miles ahead of Tovey's slower battleships. Bismarck was closing to France and her speed was approximately 28 knots. By this speed, she had only one day and night to enter her friendly waters and under the cover of Luftwaffe fighter and bombardment planes. The Home Fleet's distance was too far to cover before Bismarck would reach safely. Only a very small chance, Force-H could slow the terrible fighting machine at that situation.

Force-H didn't appear to be a serious obstacle for Bismarck. HMS Renown was a battlecruiser like Hood, which had a weak armour and Admiral Tovey ordered her captain not to close within range of Bismarck. Because the main guns of the German battleship were powerful enough to blow up this battlecruiser too. Actually Admiral Sommerville aboard Renown knowing the fuel situation of Tovey's ships offered to come and help, but Admiral Tovey had no inclination of losing another battlecruiser. So, he ordered Admiral Sommerville to remain with the Ark Royal. The cruiser Sheffield was fast enough to shadow the German ship, but she was an easy target for Bismarck's gunners. Only a single hit from the Bismarck could destroy this cruiser very easily. Therefore, the third ship, the carrier HMS Ark Royal and her Swordfish torpedo planes offered the only hope of engaging the German battleship. But, Ark Royal was not a superior ship againist Bismarck, her planes were prefabrique made old biplanes and each could carry only one torpedo. Their air speed were also not high, but the Ark Royal was the last chance of Royal Navy.

Carrier HMS Ark Royal was capable of operating a maximum of sixty aircraft, but had an incomplete complement of old Swordfish torpedo bombers. But as a chance, these planes were flown by some of the most experienced pilots in the Royal Navy. On 26 May, 1941, in the afternoon, at 02.30 PM 14 Swordfish planes took off after Bismarck. But the attack was nearly disastrous for the Royal Navy. Because the pilots were unaware that the British cruiser Sheffield was near the target, Bismarck and when the airmen spotted the cruiser first, they attacked on Sheffield by a deadly mistake. But, as a big chance, all the torpodeos failed due to their proximity fuses and exploded immediately when they met with the surface. Therefore HMS Sheffield was avoided more than ten torpedoes.

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