Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bismarck saga -- air attack

The HMS Victorious was still in the process of working up its air group when it was deployed along with the Home Fleet to counter the Bismarck breakout. It was understrength and inexperienced -- but it was also all that was available early on the morning of May 25.

Nine Swordfish torpedo planes took off from the Victorious to launch an attack on the Bismarck, reaching the battleship about 12:15 a.m. t first the inexperienced Swordfish pilots lined up on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Modoc, which happened to be near the Bismarck. That the plots could mistake the much smaller US ship for the battleship is telling and suggest how had it would have been for them to single out the Bismarck if the Prinz Eugen was still accompanying it.

In any case the Swordfish sorted out their error and made runs at the Bismarck. Interestingly the Bismarck's anti-aircraft fire was not able to shoot down any planes. It's been suggested that the ancient biplanes were too slow for the Bismarck's modern AA fire control to track! In any case, none were shot down and the British even managed to score a torpedo hit amidships. The 18-inch weapon wasn't able to penetrate the Bismarck's armored belt, however, and damage was slight.

At 1:31 a.m. the Bismarck exchange fire with the Prince of Wales again, but no hits were scored. A few hours later, around 3:15 a.m. the Bismarck, through some cleverly timed maneuvering, gave the British shadows the slip as they zigged after a zag. After pulling out of radar range the Bismarck circled back behind the British pursuers and then set out towards France. It was quite some time before the British realized the Bismarck had given them the slip.

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