- Patterson, W.R, Captain, RN
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The main armament splashes from King George V and Rodney rose as high as the enemy’s foretop, while those from the 8″ guns of the Norfolk, and at a later period from the Dorsetshire, combined to keep the enemy almost continuously surrounded by splashes. The enemy’s cordite smoke hung heavily and the flashes of his guns appeared through it as a dull orange glow.
Shortly after 9 o’clock the enemy shifted his fire to King George V; a whistling noise was heard over the bridge and then the splashes of heavy shells were seen some 400 yards over. Her fire was not effective; splashes were noticed round the King George V at various times, but the nearest approach to a hit seems to have been a 5.9 inch which burst about 50 yards short of the conning tower.
By 0920, the enemy had been repeatedly hit; about this time she began to blow off steam, black smoke began to pour out of the funnel and a strong fire started amidships. Half her armament appeared to be out of action, and what remained was firing intermittently and erratically. She had a heavy list to port, which at 0925 became most noticeable.
As the range decreased, the 5.25″ batteries were ordered to open fire and a considerable number of hits were obtained. There is no doubt that these guns, with their high rate of fire, had a devastating effect on the superstructure and upper deck of the enemy.
The noise of our own gun-fire soon became so customary that it was no longer noticed. Occasionally when the turrets fired on extreme bearings, their blast rattled round the superstructure, causing discomfort to the personnel and minor damage to the ship.
At 0945, the enemy, who was yawing considerably, exposed his starboard side to view for the first time. Observers noticed at least three large fires amidships and a large hole in the bows near the water line. The few guns which were left were firing spasmodically and gallantly.
The range came down to some 3000 yards and three hits in one salvo were clearly seen. Two entered the deck at the base of the superstructure, and one appeared to take the whole of the back off “B” turret; an enormous sheet of flame enveloped the turret.
Men were seen jumping off the quarterdeck; the ship was a blazing wreck, so ceasefire was ordered at 1021.
There were no casualties or damage in the British ships. This was due to the tactics of the Commander-in-Chief, and to the heavy fire poured into the enemy by King George V and Rodney, while the fire from the two 8″ cruisers must have done a great deal of damage to the less heavily armoured positions of the enemy ship.
During the four days chase, nearly 2000 miles were covered at high speed, and little rest was had by any officer or man. It must also be remembered that many other units, not mentioned here, also contributed to the success of the operation.
In the engagement, the officers and ship’s company of HMS King George V had their reward for a strenuous six months since leaving the Dockyard; all hands working with one object, to make the newly commissioned ship efficient as soon as possible.
The Bismarck having received hits by torpedo from Rodney and Dorsetshire, sank at 1936 with her colours flying after a gallant defence. She went down in about two minutes, turning turtle and then disappearing almost at once; her bows were the last to disappear.
Latitude 40°10′ North, Longitude 16°12′ West. Depth 2500 Fathoms
By kind permission of HMS King George V Association (Australia)
(Captain W.R. Patterson was captain of HMAS Canberra in 1938-39. – (Eds).)