At 5:37 a.m. the German task force detects the approaching British battleships at a range 0f 17 miles. At first the Germans believe that the approaching ships are more cruisers, sent to relieve the pair that have been shadowing the Bismarck since late the day before.
At 5:50 a.m. the Germans identify the approaching ships as the HMS Hood and a King George V class battleship (They don't realize the Prince of Wales is operational.)
5:52 a.m. the Hood and Prince of Wales open fire. Adm. Tovey orders both ships to fire on the lead German ship, which he believes is the Bismarck., based on earlier reports from the Norfolk and Suffolk and the similarity in profile between the two German ships. The gunnery officer on the Prince of Wales, however, realizes the mistake and that ship opens fire on the Bismarck.
5:54 a.m. Prinz Eugen opens fire on the Hood and scores a hit on the first salvo. starting a fire amidships.
5:55 a.m. Bismarck opens fire on the Hood.
5:57 a.m. Prinz Eugen shifts fire to the Prince of Wales on its sixth salvo.
The Prince of Wales' firepower has been reduced to 4 guns because of a malfunction of the "B" turret (which has 2 guns) after the first salvo. The Bismarck and Prinz Eugen can fire full broadsides at the approaching British ships, which can only fire their forward guns in turn.
5:59 a.m. The Bismarck has now straddled the Hood and fires three salvos at maximum rate of fire.
6:00 a.m. A shell from the Bismarck its the Hood near the stern, apparently penetrating the thin deck armor and exploding in a magazine servicing the Hood's 4-inch guns. The ensuing blast sets off the main battery magazine under the X turret and then the Y turret a split second later, blowing the ship in two. An enormous billowing cloud of smoke marks the spot and the two ends of the Hood form a huge V and the ship quickly sinks. There would be only three survivors.
6:02 a.m. Bismarck switches fire to the Prince of Wales, scoring hits. The Prince of Wales also finds the range and starts hitting the Bismarck.Prince of Wales, right, makes smoke to escape while a pall of smoke, left, marks the sinking of the Hood
6:05 a.m. The Prince of Wales is getting the worst of the exchange of fire, being hit multiple times by both Germans ships. It makes smoke and pulls away. The fire of the Prinz Eugen is interrupted as the Bismarck pulls ahead of the cruiser.
6:03-6:14 a.m. The Germans ships maneuver to avoid reported torpedo wakes, although there's no indication that either British ship fired any.
6:09 a.m. Bismarck ceases fire. At first it appears that one of the three hits scored by the Prince of Wales was significant, but soon damage control reports an oil slick and a shot that passed though the bow of the German battleship is letting in a considerable amount of water, causing it to be down at the bow and labor a bit in the heavy seas.