- Patterson, W.R, Captain, RN
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The disposition made, all that could be done on Sunday was to steam and hope. Information arrived which showed that the dispositions were well chosen, and the report of the enemy by the Catalina on Monday raised our hopes again. The Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force had well earned the honour of regaining contact. Shortly after this, aircraft from the Ark Royal made contact, and the reports confirmed that the Bismarck was making for Brest.
During the afternoon of Monday, 26th, the Rodney was sighted ahead, and shortly afterward, at 1551, in a position 500 miles west of Land’s End, a Focke-Wulf was sighted and engaged at long range by the 5.25″. The fire was accurate, the enemy was seen to dive towards the water; some reports said it crashed. It could not be claimed as a certainty, but information subsequently received made it almost certain that it had been destroyed.
The British forces were converging, but unless the enemy’s speed could be reduced, the chance of bringing him to action would be small.
The Sheffield made contact with the enemy and came under his fire. During the dog-watches, a torpedo bomber attack was delivered by aircraft from the Ark Royal. This attack failed to find its mark. The enemy was some 100 miles ahead of us, and steaming at high speed, and it seemed only too probable that he would escape. Our hopes at this time were very low.
There was still just time before dark for another torpedo attack. A most successful attack, in the face of heavy fire, was delivered by the Ark Royal’s aircraft and this resulted in several hits, one of which struck the Bismarck’s quarter and put her rudder out of action. This alone would not have stopped her flight. The Bismarck, however, could only steam into the wind. There was a fresh gale from the north-west, so that she was forced to head straight for us. It is well to remember the gale that scattered the Armada, the gale that brought Hawke’s squadron tearing into Quiberon Bay and crashed the wrecks of Conflan’s ships on to the rocks, and the calm at Dunkirk. There are many other examples in our naval history and they cannot be purely chance.
Our hopes again ran high, the Commander-in-Chief adjusted the course and speed; it seemed we should make contact just before dark, and the hands again went to Action Stations. The light, however, began to fail, and the Commander-in-Chief decided to wait for the dawn.
The Cossack, Zulu, Sikh, Maori and the Polish destroyer Piorun made contact with the enemy just before dark. They had been steaming at high speed in a heavy following sea all day in order to do so. They remained in contact with the enemy under most difficult conditions, and during the middle watch attacked her with torpedoes and got several hits. The destroyers were frequently under fire, and, although the Bismarck’s manoeuvring ability had been drastically reduced, she was still capable of very heavy and effective fire. The destroyers, although struck by splinters, were fortunate in only having a few minor casualties.
On the morning of the 27th May, the sun rose at 0712 on a heavy sea and a moderate north-westerly gale. At times the visibility was very good, about 15 miles, and at times it would be reduced to some three or four miles as heavy rain squalls swept across.
The hands had been at action stations all night, taking it in turn to doze off beside their guns or station. The speed with which situations can develop in modem naval warfare would not allow the ship’s company to go below for breakfast, so cocoa, soup, sandwiches, cake and ship’s biscuits were issued to the quarters.
At 0808, HMS Norfolk was sighted, and reported she was in touch with the enemy. The necessary alterations of course were ordered by the Commander-in-Chief, and the Bismarck was sighted at 0842 15 miles distant and some 500 miles west of Brest.
At 0847 the Rodney opened fire, being followed at 0848 by the King George V, the range then being some 12 miles. Bismarck opened an accurate fire at Rodney at 0850 and Rodney was fortunate not to have been hit. The first of King George V’s hits was soon observed, and was reported as entering the base of Bismarck’s fore superstructure; a bright flame burnt for some seconds.