Thursday, May 26, 2011
Bismarck saga -- Luck runs out
At 8:47 p.m. the British Swordfish flight catches up to the Bismarck. While the flight leader had planned to launch a coordinated attack, the worsening weather conditions and heavy AA fire from the Bismarck conspired to break up the attack into disjointed runs in small groups.
Only one of the first 14 torpedoes fired hits the Bismarck, square amidships -- just like the Victorious strike -- and as in the previous case the German torpedo protection system and armor belt was enough to keep the damage from the small 18-inch aerial torpedo carried by the Swordfish to a minimum.
Just as it appeared that the Bismarck might escape, the 15th Swordfish made its run. Fatefully, the Bismarck attempted to turn away from the torpedo, a maneuver that proved to be a mistake as instead of hitting the well-armored middle of the ship, the torpedo struck at the very stern of the ship. It would be decades later before the true nature of the damage suffered by this hit was discovered when Dr. Robert Ballard located the wreck. It appears that the blat jammed her starboard rudder right into the propeller shaft. It's also possible that the blast blew off the port rudder. The Germans didn't know what they were dealing with, but this was a scale of damage unrepairable at sea. The Bismarck was doomed. It was 9:05 p.m.
At 9:30 p.m. the Sheffield runs up on the slowed Bismarck, which opens fire at 15,000 yards. No direct hits are scored on the cruiser, but splinters from near misses kill several crewmen and knock out the ship's radar set. The Sheffield is able to determine that the Bismarck is steering an erratic course, the first indication that the British have that their quarry may not escape after all. Just a few minutes alter, at 9:40 p.m. the Bismarck notifies Berlin of its plight.