Battleship Bismarck
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Part Five - The Last Chance
The result was inadequate and erroneous so the commanders of Ark Royal decided to prepare a second attack on the German battleship. By shortly after 07.00 PM, technicians rearmed the Swordfish planes with torpedoes which carry classic impact fuses this time for the second mission. The planes took off again and guided to the target by radio signals from HMS Sheffield. It was dark and nearly 09.00 PM before the British planes finally located Bismarck and began to attack. Bismarck's AA guns were so powerful but the heavy AA fire from Bismarck failed to destroy any of the Swordfish airplanes. During the attack, the German ship tried to escape from the torpedoes by her speed and manoeuvring, but finally received two hits from the torpedo bombers.

One of the torpedoes hit to the amidships and caused minor damage, but the second torpedo hit to the weakest part of the ship... her rudders. This torpedo hit the Bismarck's stern and while failing to penetrate the strong armour, it locked the rudders due to a damage on the bearings and servo - motor compartment. The torpedo disabled the rudders during a sharp port turn. Now, the giant ship was unable to alter course, due to the 12 degrees jammed rudders, headed towards the onrushing British Home Fleet. Her speed drastically slowed down to 8 - 10 miles per hour because of jammed rudders and reduced RPM of the propellers. The portside propeller was shut down, and the starboard turbines were dropped to a half speed. Bismarck was only circling due to damage on her rudders. Her fate was sealed...


During the first moments, Admiral Tovey initially didn't care about the reports from observation planes and radio messages from Ark Royal and HMS Sheffield which were declaring that Bismarck had changed the route. According to the non-experienced observers, confusing the zig-zags and manoeuvres of the ship with the route changes was a normal situation. But, later the same messages arrived repeatedly and the British commanders began to realize that serious damage caused Bismarck to change her route and slowed the speed. Now, the Home Fleet could reach and catch the German battleship before any German assistance. The tragedy of the Bismarck had begun. The rest of the great drama can be best understood by the radio signals of DKM Bismarck, which she was sending to the Group West during the last critical hours:

1. (19.54 PM) I am being attacked by torpedo bombers.
2. (20.15 PM) Ship no longer manoeuvrable.
3. (21.05 PM) Approx. position 47 degrees 40' N, 14 degrees 50' W. Torpedo hit aft section and rudders.

At 23.40, Bismarck informed her headquarters at Group West with another series of short radio messages about the critical situation. The original message was that:

"23.40 Uhr. Schiff. manoverierunfahig. Wir. kampfen. is. zur letzten Granate. Es lebe der Deutschland, es lebe der Fuehrer."

"23.40 PM. The ship lost manoeuvrability. We will fight to the last shell. Long live Germany, long live the Fuhrer."

During the night, several attempts were made to get the rudders active. Without them, the giant battleship could be manoeuvred with her propellers only, but the rudder had to be in center position. As it was turned to extreme port, it was impossible to control the course of the ship. Also it was suggeted to try to get rid of the failed rudder by explosive charges, but heavy seas prevented divers examining the damage. While the battleship now slowly sailed with a northern course, it became clear that they couldn't escape from the Royal Navy forces anymore.



Then, after a few hours, a flotilla consisting of five destroyers (Tribal class destroyers; the Cossack, Maori, Zulu, Sikh and the Polish destroyer Piorun) which were under the command of Lieutenant Philip Vian, attacked on Bismarck. The battleship responded these attacks with her 380 mm. main and 150 mm. secondary guns. No one could score a single hit during all this exchange, but the tired crew of Bismarck exhausted completely due to a sleepless, stressful night and the battle against destroyers. The British action did succeed in further tiring the German gunners and war crew.

On May 27, 1941, just before the dawn, Bismarck was waiting for the final battle. Admiral Lutjens and KptZs Lindemann were aware about the closing British Home Fleet. All the crew members were tired, hopeless and silent. But all of them were ready for a new battle to the last ammunition. Bismarck was circling slowly, she was waiting for a meeting with her fate.

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