Thursday, May 26, 2011

There's the Bismarck!

The RAF-manned Catalina that spotted the Bismarck on May 26, 1941

More than 24 hours had passed since the British last had a fix on the Bismarck's position when a an RAF PBY Catalina sea plane co-piloted by an American Ensign named Leonard Smith spotted a ship in the middle of the Atlatic at 10:30 a.m.

In a later interview Smith described what happened:
“[A]t 1010 I sighted what was first believed to be Bismarck. . . . I immediately took control from ‘George’ [the automatic pilot]; started slow climbing turn to starboard, keeping ship sited to port, while the British officer went aft to prepare [the] contact report. My plan was to take cover in the clouds, get close to the ship as possible; making definite recognition and then shadow the ship from best point of vantage. Upon reaching 2,000 feet we broke out of a cloud formation and were met by a terrific anti-aircraft barrage from our starboard quarter.”

The intense AA fire confirmed that the ship was, indeed, the Bismarck. The last 24 hours of the Bismarck's existence had begun.

Eventually the Catalina lost contact with the Bismarck, but by afternoon the British regained contact with the light cruiser HMS Sheffield and the Bismarck would never shake off its pursuers again.

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