Battle of the Denmark Strait


Battle of the Denmark Strait

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of the Denmark Strait


caption=Bismarck firing at HMS Prince of Wales, shortly after the sinking of HMS Hood on the 24 May 1941.
partof=World War II
date=May 24 1941
place=Denmark Strait
result=German victory
combatant1=
flagicon|Nazi Germany|naval|size=63px
Kriegsmarine
combatant2=
flagicon|United Kingdom|naval|size=75px
Home Fleet of the Royal Navy
commander1=flagicon|Nazi Germany|naval Günther Lütjens
commander2=flagicon|United Kingdom|naval Lancelot HollandKIA
flagicon|United Kingdom|naval John Leach
strength1=1 battleship
1 heavy cruiser
strength2=1 battleship
1 battlecruiser
casualties1=1 battleship damaged
casualties2=1 battlecruiser sunk
1 battleship damaged
1428 dead
9 wounded

The Battle of the Denmark Strait was a World War II naval conflict between ships of the British Royal Navy and the German "Kriegsmarine".

The British battleship "Prince of Wales" and the battlecruiser "Hood" fought the German battleship "Bismarck" and the heavy cruiser "Prinz Eugen", both of which were attempting to break out into the North Atlantic to destroy Allied merchant shipping.

Less than ten minutes after the British opened fire, a shell from "Bismarck" struck "Hood" near her aft ammunition magazines. The "Hood" exploded and sank within three minutes with the loss of all but three of her crew.

"Prince of Wales" continued to exchange fire with "Bismarck" but suffered serious malfunctions in her main armament. This, combined with the effects of the battle, left most of her main guns unusable and she broke off the engagement.

"Bismarck", damaged but still very much operational, declined to chase "Prince of Wales" and instead headed for the Atlantic along with "Prinz Eugen".

Background

On May 18, 1941 the German Navy's new battleship "Bismarck" was ready, after extensive trials, for her first voyage against enemy shipping, "Operation "Rheinübung"". She was accompanied by "Prinz Eugen", a new cruiser also on her maiden mission. Admiral Lütjens, the German fleet commander, intended to break out into the Atlantic through the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland and attack Allied convoy traffic in the North Atlantic. Earlier raids by German capital ships such as the battleships "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" had done enough damage to cause the British to use some of their older battleships such as the "Revenge" class as convoy escorts. Although old and slow, these ships were well armed with convert|15|in|mm|0|sing=on guns, more powerful than most of the guns of the German heavy cruisers and pocket battleships. "Bismarck" and "Prinz Eugen", though, could risk attacking a convoy escorted by one of these battleships: "Bismarck" could engage and attempt to destroy the escorting battleship, leaving "Prinz Eugen" to chase down and sink the fleeing merchant ships.

The two ships were expected to try to break westward through the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) gap. Royal Navy ships were watching their likely route.
Aircraft scheduled to assist in the search could not do so at the time the German ships attempted their breakout because of cloud and rain. [Barnett, 288.] On the evening of May 23, despite the advantage of foul weather to cloak their presence, the Germans were spotted, steaming at 27 knots, by the heavy cruisers "Norfolk" and "Suffolk". These ships were patrolling the Denmark Strait under the command of Rear-Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker. With the help of "Suffolk's" newly-installed radar set, the cruisers shadowed the German ships through the night, reporting on their movements.

The next morning the German ships were intercepted in the Strait between Iceland and Greenland by a force of British ships. These were the battleship "Prince of Wales" and the battlecruiser "Hood", along with a screen under the command of Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland on "Hood". "Prince of Wales" was a newly commissioned "King George V" class battleship, of much the same size and power as "Bismarck". She had not yet been properly "shaken down", and her crew was green. She still had mechanical problems, especially with her main armament, and had sailed with shipyard workers still aboard working on her. [When "Bismarck" and "Prinz Eugen" first sighted her in the Denmark Strait, they identified her as "King George V", as they believed "Prince of Wales" could not yet have put to sea.] "Hood", from her commissioning in 1918, for 20 years had been the largest warship afloat. Between the wars, more than any other ship she had represented British naval power in the eyes of Britain and the world. But her armour was less comprehensive than a battleship's and her lower armoured deck was too light to stand against long-range plunging fire. Unfortunately the surge of WWII prevented full modernization, specifically the lower deck thickness increase from 3" to 5" and 6". Even so, "Hood's" firepower, convert|15|in|mm|0|sing=on guns, were the equivalent of any battleship.

Far away to the south-east, Admiral Holland's superior, Admiral Sir John Tovey debated whether to order Admiral Holland to allow "Prince of Wales" ahead of "Hood". In this position, the better-protected "Prince of Wales" would draw the enemy's fire. He decided not to give this order, claiming, "I did not feel such interference with such a senior officer justified." [Kennedy, Ludovic, "Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Bismarck" (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), 66.]

Plan gone awry

Holland's battle plan was to have "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" engage "Bismarck" while "Suffolk" and "Norfolk" engaged "Prinz Eugen" (which, Holland assumed, still steamed behind "Bismarck" and not ahead of it). He signalled this to Captain Leach [Bercuson and Herwig, 140.] but did not radio Wake-Walker for fear of disclosing his location. Instead, he observed radio silence. Holland hoped to meet the enemy at approximately 0200. Sunset in this latitude was at 0151. "Bismarck" and "Prinz Eugen" would be silhouetted against the sun's afterglow while "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" could approach rapidly, unseen in darkness, to a range close enough not to endanger "Hood" with plunging fire from "Bismarck" [Chesneau 2002, p. 151] . The Germans would not expect an attack from this quarter, giving the British the advantage of surprise

This plan's success depended on "Suffolk's" continually unbroken contact with the German ships. "Suffolk" lost contact, however, beginning at 0028. For an hour and a half Holland neither sighted the enemy nor received any further news from "Norfolk" or "Suffolk". Reluctantly, he ordered "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" to turn south-south-west while the destroyers would continue searching to the north.

Before contact was reestablished, the two squadrons missed each other by a hairsbreadth. Had the German ships not altered course to the west at 0141 to follow the line of the Greenland icepack, the British would have intercepted them much earlier than they did. The British destroyers were just 10 miles to the south-east when the Germans made this course change. Had visibility not been reduced to between three and five miles, the German ships would likely have been spotted. [Kennedy, 70-71.]

Just before 0300, "Suffolk" regained contact with "Bismarck". "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" were 35 miles away, slightly ahead of the Germans. Holland signaled to steer toward the Germans and increased speed to 28 knots. "Suffolk's" loss of contact had placed the British at a disadvantage. Instead of the swiftly closing head-on approach Holland had envisioned, he would have to converge at a wider angle, much more slowly. This would leave "Hood" vulnerable to "Bismarck"'s plunging shells for a much longer period. The situation worsened further when, at 0320, "Suffolk" reported that the Germans had made a further course alteration to the west, placing the German and British squadrons almost abeam of each other.

At 0535, lookouts on "Prince of Wales" spotted the German ships, 28 kilometres (17 miles) away. The Germans, already alerted to the British presence through their hydrophonic equipment, picked up the smoke and masts of the British ships 10 minutes later. Holland at this point had the option of joining "Suffolk" in shadowing "Bismarck" and waiting for Tovey to arrive with "King George V" and other ships to attack or to order his squadron into action, which he did at 0537. [Boyne, Walter J., "Clash of Titans: World War II at Sea" (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1995), 59.] The rough seas in the Strait kept the destroyers' role to a minimum. The cruisers "Norfolk" and "Suffolk" would be too far behind the German force to reach the battle.

The battle begins

"Hood" opened fire at 0552 at a distance of approximately convert|26500|yd|m|-2, about convert|13|nmi|km|0. Holland had ordered firing on the leading ship, "Prinz Eugen", believing from her position that she was "Bismarck". Holland soon amended his order and directed both ships to engage the rear ship, "Bismarck". "Prince of Wales" had already correctly identified and targeted "Bismarck", whereas "Hood" is believed to have continued to fire at "Prinz Eugen" for some time.

Holland, himself a gunnery expert, was well aware of the danger posed by "Hood's" weak horizontal protection. Therefore, he wanted to reduce the range as quickly as possible. At a shorter range the trajectory of "Bismarck's" shells would be flatter and they would be more likely to hit the sides of the ship rather than the decking, or to glance off the top deck. However, he closed the range at an angle that placed the German ships too far forward of the beam. This meant he could use only 10 of his capital ships' 18 heavy guns while presenting the Germans more at which to aim than necessary. Those 10 guns became nine when a defect in one of "Prince of Wales"' forward guns rendered it inoperative after the first salvo. [Barnett, 292.]

Also, while the British fire was divided between two targets, all the German fire was concentrated on "Hood". Had "Norfolk" and "Suffolk" been ordered to close on "Bismarck" and worry her from the rear, that might have distracted the German ship enough to draw fire from the aft turrets toward them. This might have been one possibility Holland had considered. Orders sent to "Bismarck's" after fire control room to keep an eye on the two cruisers show that Lütjens expected such a move. Since Holland had failed to give such an order to Wake-Walker, this opportunity was lost.

The Germans also had the weather gauge, meaning the British ships were steaming into the wind, spray drenching the lenses of the forward turrets' two-foot range finders. This necessitated using smaller range finders in the control towers instead. In addition, Admiral Holland had "Prince of Wales" stay close to "Hood", conforming to "Hood's" movements instead of varying course and speed. This made it easier for the Germans to find the range to the British ships, as well as harder for the British ships to observe each other's fall of shot.

"Prince of Wales" struck her target first. She would ultimately hit "Bismarck" three times. One shot struck the commander's boat and put the seaplane catapult amidships out of action. The second shell passed through the bow from one side to another. The third struck the hull underwater. These last two caused minor damage and medium flooding. More importantly, the damage to the bow cut access to the forward fuel tanks' 1,000 tons of fuel oil. It also caused "Bismarck" to trail a visible oil slick and reduced her speed a little.

Lutjens held fire until 0555, when both German ships targeted "Hood". A shell hit "Hood's" boat deck, starting a sizable fire in the ready-use 4 inch ammunition stored there, but this fire did not spread to other areas of the ship or cause the later explosion. Although unconfirmed, it is possible that "Hood" was struck again at the base of her bridge and in her foretop radar director.It is a matter of contention over which German vessel struck "Hood" at this time. It has been claimed "Prinz Eugen" was targeting "Prince of Wales" and could not have been responsible. However "Prinz Eugen's" Gunnery Officer, Paul Schmallenbach (and later principal Historian), rejects this, confirming "Eugen's" target was also "Hood" [Chesneau 2002, p. 156.] .

inking of "Hood"

At 0600, Holland ordered his force to turn once again to port to ensure that the after main guns on both "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" could bear on the enemy. During the execution of that turn, a salvo from "Bismarck", fired at a range of about convert|9|mi|km|0, was seen by men aboard "Prince of Wales" to straddle "Hood" abreast her mainmast. It is likely that one 380 mm (15 inch) shell struck somewhere between "Hood"'s mainmast and "X" turret aft of the mast.

This was immediately followed by a huge pillar of flame that shot upward like a giant blowtorch, in the vicinity of the mainmast. This was followed by an explosion that destroyed a large portion of the ship from amidships clear to the rear of "Y" turret. The ship broke into two. The stern broke away and sank. The bow, pointed upward and pivoting about, followed shortly thereafter. Its forward turret did manage to fire one last salvo, possibly from the doomed gun crew, just before the bow section sank.

It has been claimed that at least one shell of this last salvo penetrated the Bismarck's fuel tanks, and emerged on the other side without detonation, but leaving a large hole in the tank, leaving the Bismarck losing fuel fast, and subsequently leaving her unable to escape the Allied pursuers in time to get to France. [History Channel "Dogfights: Sink the Bismarck".] However, this hit is normally said to have been by a 14-inch shell from "Prince of Wales" (one of the three hits described above).

Splinters rained down on "Prince of Wales" half a mile away. "Hood" sank in about three minutes, taking 1,415 men, including Vice-Admiral Holland, with her. Only three of her crew (Ted Briggs, Bob Tilburn and Bill Dundas) survived to be rescued two hours later by the destroyer "Electra".

The British Admiralty later concluded that the most likely explanation for the loss of the "Hood" was a penetration of her magazines by a single 380 mm shell from "Bismarck," causing the subsequent catastrophic explosion. Recent research by submersible craft suggests that the initial explosion was in the after 4-inch magazine and that it spread to the 15-inch magazines via the ammunition trunks.

It has been suggested from examination of the wreckage, found in 2001, that the magazine explosion in the 4-inch armament near the mainmast caused the vertical blast of flame seen there, and this in turn ignited the magazines of the aft convert|15|in|mm|0|sing=on guns that caused the explosion that wrecked the stern. This explosion might have traveled through the starboard fuel tanks, igniting the fuel oil there, setting off the forward magazines and completing the destruction of the ship. The wreck of "Hood" revealed the bow section bereft of any structure and a huge section of its side is missing, from the 'A' barbette to the foredeck. The midship section had its plates curled outward. Moreover the main parts of the forward structure including the 600 ton conning tower were found over a mile away from the main wreckage. This gives substance to the theory that the 15 inch forward magazines did explode as a result of the force, flames and pressure, caused by the detonation of the aft magazines [Chesneau 2002, p. 178-179] .

"Prince of Wales" alone

"Prince of Wales" found herself steering towards the sinking "Hood". Her commanding officer, Captain John C. Leach, ordered an emergency avoidance turn away from "Hood"'s wreckage. This violent change of course disrupted her aim and put her in a position that made it easier for the Germans to target her. She resumed her previous course, but was now under the concentrated fire of both German ships.

"Prince of Wales" was struck four times by "Bismarck" and three times by "Prinz Eugen". One shell passed through her upper superstructure, killing or wounding several crewmen in the Compass Platform and Air Defense Platform. Pieces of another shell struck her radar office aft killing crewmen within. A 203 mm shell from "Prinz Eugen" found its way to the propelling charge/round manipulation chamber below the aft 5.25" gun turrets, and a 380 mm shell from "Bismarck" hit underwater below the armour belt, and penetrated about convert|13|ft|m|0|abbr=on into the ship's hull, about convert|25|ft|m|0|abbr=on below the waterline, but was stopped by the armoured, anti-torpedo, bulkhead. Fortunately for "Prince of Wales", neither shell exploded, but she still suffered minor flooding and the loss of some fuel oil. Contrary to some mistaken opinion, the 380 mm shell that struck "Prince of Wales" below the waterline did not endanger her magazines, as it came to rest abreast an auxiliary machinery room. [ Battleships by Garzke and Dulin, p.181 ]

By this time, serious gunnery malfunctions had put most of the main guns out of action. Captain Leach realized that continuing the action would risk losing "Prince of Wales" without inflicting further damage on the enemy. He therefore ordered the ship to make smoke and withdraw. "Prince of Wales" turned away just after 0604, firing from her rear turret under local control until the turret (with a total revolving weight of 1500 tons) jammed on its ring, making the guns inoperable. Despite efforts by crew members and civilian technicians to free the turret, its guns were not back in service until 0825. The salvos were ragged and are believed to have fallen short. [Barnett, 294.] She retired from the battle around 0610. Thirteen of her crew were killed, nine wounded. [ Tarrant, p.58 ] The timing of "Prince of Wales"' withdrawal was fortuitous, as she had come into torpedo range of "Prinz Eugen" and turned away as the German cruiser was about to fire. [Kennedy, 89.]

Breaking off action

On "Bismarck" there was tremendous elation at the sinking of "Hood". There was also a keen expectation that they would close on "Prince of Wales" and possibly finish her off. Lindemann requested that Lütjens allow "Bismarck" to do just that. Lindemann was a master naval gunner and knew he had the "Prince of Wales" within reach. Even if Admiral Tovey's squadron had left Scapa Flow the previous day, he would still be more than 300 nautical miles away from "Bismarck" even after diverting to sink "Prince of Wales"—a chase, Lindemann figured, that would take only two or three hours. [Bercuson and Herwig, 165-6.] Lütjens refused to allow Lindemann to give chase, giving no explanation. Lindemann repeated his request, this time more assertively. [Bercuson and Herwig, 166.] Lütjens held firm to Raeder's orders to avoid unnecessary combat with the Royal Navy, especially when it could lead to further damage that could hasten delivering "Bismarck" toward the waiting hands of the enemy. He broke off combat instead of pursuing "Prince of Wales". [Barnett, 295.] He ordered a course of 270 degrees, almost due southwest. [Bercuson and Herwig, 166.]

This clash between the two senior German officers reflected their disparate and distinct command functions. As commander of "Bismarck", Lindemann operated first and foremost as a tactician. As such, he had no question about his ship's immediate objective to destroy "Prince of Wales", and he had pressed his case as far and hard as he should. Lütjens, as fleet chief and task force commander, operated at the strategic and operational levels. To some degree, his orders were clear—attacking convoys was his priority, not risking "a major engagement for limited, and perhaps uncertain, goals." Nevertheless, Raeder had also ordered Lütjens to be bold and imaginitive, to accept battle if unavoidable and conduct it vigorously to the finish. [Bercuson and Herwig, 166-7.]

The bottom line was that Lütjens' orders did not cover a spectactular success like the one just achieved. His priority therefore was to stick to his instructions, focus on sinking merchant shipping and avoid encounters with enemy warships whenever possible. [Kennedy, 98.] Moreover, before leaving Germany, Lütjens had told Admirals Conrad Patzig and Wilhelm Marschall, that he would adhere to Raeder's directives. This meant he did not intend to become the third fleet chief to be relieved for contradicting Raeder's orders; Marschall had been one of his two predecessors. Nor was he predisposed to discuss his command decisions with a subordinate officer. [Bercuson and Herwig, 166-7.]

Even if he had known it was the untried "Prince of Wales" he was fighting and not "King Geoorge V", Lütjens would not likely not altered his decision. Following her would have meant exposing the squadron to further gunfire as well as to torpedo attacks from "Norfolk" and "Suffolk". He would have risked his ships and crews on an expressly forbidden opportunity.Kennedy, 98.]

Between 0619 and 0625, "Suffolk" fired six salvoes in the direction of "Bismarck", having mistaken "Bismarck" for a radar contact with an aircraft. She was actually out of gun range of both "Bismarck" and "Prinz Eugen" at the time. [Dewar, p.8]

Aftermath

With Vice-Admiral Holland's death, command of "Prince of Wales" as well as "Norfolk" and "Suffolk" fell to Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker. With this command came the responsibility of coping with "Bismarck" until enough British warships could concentrate and destroy her. His choice was either to renew action with "Bismarck" or ensure that she be intercepted and brought to action by Admiral Tovey. Wake-Walker chose the latter course, continuing to shadow the German ships. Further action, he concluded, would cause more damage to "Prince of Wales" than to "Bismarck" and endanger his cruisers, plus he knew Tovey was on his way. He ordered "Prince of Wales" to follow "Norfolk" at her best speed, so that "Norfolk" could fall back on her if attacked. At 07:57 "Suffolk" reported that "Bismarck" had reduced speed and appeared damaged. [Barnett, 297-299.]

Since "Bismarck's" receiving the first hit in the forecastle, all six of the ship's 26-man damage control teams had worked ceaslessly to repair the damage. When it was reported that the tips of the starboard propeller could be seen above water, Lindemann had ordered counterflooding two compartments aft to restore the ship's trim. He then ordered divers into the forecastle to connect the forward fuel tanks, containing a much-needed 1,000 tons of fuel, first to the tanks near the forward boiler then to the rear fuel tank by way of a provisional line running over the upper deck. Both these maneuvers failed. Lindemann then requested permission to slow "Bismarck" and heel the ship first to one side then the other to weld patches from the inside to the holes in the forward hull. Lütjens refused, again without comment. Eventually, the admiral had to agree to slow the ship to 22 knots to allow hammocks and collision matting to be stuffed in the holes of the No. 2 boiler room and the auxiliary boiler room to stop the growing ingress of seawater. This attempt also failed. Boiler Room No. 2 was shut down, with a loss of speed to 28 knots. [Bercuson and Herwig, 169-70.]

Along with seawater pouring in was fuel oil leaking out. Lütjens ordered "Prinz Eugen" to drop back and see how much of a wake it was leaving astern. The carpet of oil was broad enough to cover both sides of the ship's wake, was all colors of the rainbow and smelled strongly—a tell-tale marker leading to "Bismarck". [Bercuson and Herwig, 173; Kennedy, 99.]

The damage to "Bismarck's" forward fuel tanks, combined with a missed opportunity to refuel at Bergen earlier in the voyage, left less than 3,000 tons of fuel remaining, not enough to operate effectively against the Atlantic convoys. [Barnett, 295.] Also, the element of surprise, which was considered essential for the operation's success, had most definitely been lost, and the squadron continued to be shadowed by "Suffolk", "Norfolk" and eventually also "Prince of Wales". [Bercuson and Herwig, 170.] Lütjens concluded that he needed to abort "Bismarck's" mission and head toward a convenient dockyard for repairs. [Barnett, 295.]

The question became which dockyard to head for. The nearest friendly ports were Bergen and Trondheim, a little over 1,000 miles away. Steaming in that direction meant a return passage north or south of Iceland, with the enemy's air forces now fully alerted to their presence and the possibility of other heavy units between them and Scapa Flow. Lütjens also knew his intelligence was unreliable. "Hood"' had been reported by Group North in West Africa and there had been no reports of a "King George V" class battleship in the vicinity.Kennedy, 100.]

Disregarding Lindemann's recommendation to return to Bergen, [Bercuson and Herwig, 172] Lütjens ordered "Bismarck" to head for the French port of Saint-Nazaire. [Barnett, 295.] Though the French coast was 600 miles further away than Bergen, Saint-Nazaire held the potential of longer nights and wider seas in which to shake off "Bismarck's" shadowers, plus the possibilities of luring them across a line of U-boats. It would also leave "Bismarck" poised on the edge of the British trade routes once damages were repaired, and with the potential support of the battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau", as well.Kennedy, 100.] Both ships had been stationed at Brest, France since the end of Operation Berlin earlier that year but had been kept in port for repairs and overhaul. While Brest was closer than Saint-Nazaire, it was also within range of Royal Air Force bombers. [Bercuson and Herwig, 171.]

Lütjens detached the undamaged "Prinz Eugen" to commence commerce raiding alone. The cruiser went further south into the Atlantic where she refueled from a tanker at sea. She suffered engine troubles, abandoned her commerce raiding mission without having sunk any merchant ships, and returned to Brest.

Reaction

German

News of Lütjens' decision hit Berlin, Wilhelmshaven and Paris like a bolt from the blue. A blizzard of urgent telephone calls raced across German-occupied Europe. While the Berlin Admiralty was satisfied with Lütjens' success, it was tempered by news of "Bismarck's" damage and the decision to steer for France. Grand Admiral Raeder was not clear whether Lütjens intended to steam for St. Nazaire immediately or after shaking off his pursuers and oiling in mid-Atlantic. Raeder immediately conferred with his chief of staff, Admiral Otto Schniewind, who in turn telephoned Admiral Rolf Carls, who commanded Group North in Wilhemshaven. Carls had already drafted a message recalling Lütjens to Germany but had not yet sent it. Schniewind pointed out that at noon Lütjens had crossed the demarcation line between the Northern Hebrides and Southern Greenland, thus passing from Group North's operational control to Group West; therefore, the decision to recall Lütjens was no longer Carls' to make. A subsequent call to Group West's commander, Admiral Alfred Saalwächter, revealed that he did not plan to recall Lütjens and that he felt such a decision should be discussed between Schniewind and Raeder. [Kennedy, 100-101.]

Raeder was again issuing a recal himself, telling Schniewind they did not know enough about the situation at hand and that the person who would best know would be Lütjens. [Kennedy, 101.] He then telephoned Hitler, who was at the Obersalzberg in the Bavarian Alps. Hitler received the news of the "Hood"'s sinking stoically, exhibiting neither joy nor any other triumphant behavior. [Bercuson and Herwig, 169.] After hearing Raeder's report, he turned to those who were with him and expressed his personal thoughts:

News of the "Hood's" destruction was seized upon more enthusiastically by Dr. Joseph Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry. That evening it was broadcast to the nation, accompanied by "We march against England" and other martial airs. The German public, already enjoying the news of Luftwaffe victories over the Royal Navy off Crete, took the "Hood's" sinking euphorically. [Kennedy, 100.]

British

The British public were shocked that their most emblematic warship and more than 1,400 of her crew had been destroyed so suddenly. The Admiralty mobilized every available warship in the Atlantic to hunt down and destroy "Bismarck". The Royal Navy forces pursued and brought "Bismarck" to battle and the German battleship sank on the morning of the 27 May.

Later, moves were made to court-martial Wake-Walker and Captain John Leach of "Prince of Wales". The view was taken that they were wrong not to have continued the battle with "Bismarck" after "Hood" had sunk. John Tovey, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, was appalled at this criticism. A row ensued between Tovey and his superior, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound. Tovey stated that the two officers had acted correctly, not endangering their ships needlessly and ensuring that the German ships were tracked. Furthermore, "Prince of Wales's" main guns had repeatedly malfunctioned and she could not have matched "Bismarck". Tovey threatened to resign his position and appear at any court-martial as 'defendant's friend' and defense witness. No more was heard of the proposal.

A British board of enquiry quickly investigated the cause of "Hood's" explosion and produced a report. After criticism that the initial enquiry did not record all the available evidence, a second board of enquiry more extensively investigated "Hood's" loss, and examined the vulnerabilities of other large British warships still in service in light of the probable causes of the explosion. It, like the first enquiry, concluded that a 380 mm shell from "Bismarck" caused the explosion of "Hood's" aft ammunition magazines. This led to refitting some older British warships with increased protection for their ammunition magazines and some other related improvements.

Many naval historians and writers have analyzed the "Bismarck" engagement and weighed the participants' decisions. One of the most debated is Admiral Lütjens' choice to proceed into the Atlantic rather than continue the battle. Intensely private, Lütjens never explained his orders not to pursue the "Prince of Wales".

Parallels to Jutland

A number of parallels could be drawn from Vice-Admiral Holland's actions in this battle and those of Admiral David Beatty in the opening stages of the Battle of Jutland. From his actions, it seems clear that Holland felt he had to engage "Bismarck" immediately, rather than support Wake-Walker in shadowing until Force H could arrive. Beatty, likewise, felt he needed to engage German Admiral Franz von Hipper's battlecruisers with his own forces instead of drawing the Germans toward Admiral John Jellicoe and the British Grand Fleet. [Barnett, 292.]

Holland, like Beatty, possessed superiority in the number of heavy ships he possessed yet was encumbered by inferiority in fighting effectiveness of those units. Moreover, Holland's deployment of his units compared to Beatty's deployment at Jutland. Beatty and Holland both attacked while German units were well before the beam. as a result, the midships and after turrets of Beatty's ships could barely fire on the enemy; Holland's ships could not use their after turrets until the final turn to port just before "Hood" was sunk. Beatty placed his lighter-armoured battlecruisers at the head of his line, leaving the more powerful and better-armoured "Queen Elizabeths" in the rear. Likewise, Holland placed the old and vulnerable "Hood" ahead of the strongly armoured (albeit new and untested) "Prince of Wales". Both admirals exercised tight tactical control over their units from their flagships. This prevented Captain Leach from manoeuvering "Prince of Wales" independently and possibly taking a different line of approach that could have confused the enemy. [Barnett, 292.]

Bibliography

* Adams, Simon, "World War II". Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-78946-990-1
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* Chesneau, Roger (2002). "Hood -Life and Death of a Battlecruiser" (London: Cassell Publishing). ISBN 0-304-35980-7.
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* Garzke and Dulin "Battleships", USNI, 1980. ISBN 0-87021-100-5
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* Storia Militare, "La battaglia dello Stretto di Danimarca", 2005
* B.B. Schofield "Loss of the Bismarck", Ian Allen Ltd. 1972.
* VE Tarrant, "King George V Class Battleships", Arms and Armour Press, 1991. ISBN 1-85409-524-2.

References

ee also

* Rheinübung Sortie of "Bismarck" and "Prinz Eugen"

External links

* [http://www.hmshood.com/history/denmarkstrait/index.htm HMS Hood Association: Battle of the Denmark Strait Documentation Resource]
* [http://www.bismarck-class.dk/bismarck/bismarck_menu.html The Battleship Bismarck]
* [http://www.admiral-hipper-class.dk/prinz_eugen/prinz_eugen_menu.html The Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen]


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