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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the order “Sink the Bismarck!”

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The Bismarck was a German battleship and one of the most famous warships of the Second World War. The lead ship of her class, named after the 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Bismarck displaced more than 50,000 tonnes fully loaded and was the largest warship then commissioned.[2]


took part in only one operation during her brief career. She and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen left Gotenhafen (Gdynia) on the morning of 19 May 1941 for Operation Rheinübung, during which she was to have attempted to intercept and destroy convoys in transit between North America and the United Kingdom. When Bismarck and Prinz Eugen attempted to break out into the Atlantic, the two ships were discovered by the Royal Navy and brought to battle in the Denmark Strait. During the short engagement, the British battlecruiser HMS Hood, flagship of the Home Fleet and pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk after several minutes of firing. In response, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the order "Sink the Bismarck!",[3] spurring her relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy.Two days later, with Bismarck almost in reach of safer waters, Fleet Air Arm Swordfish biplanes launched from the carrier HMS Ark Royal torpedoed the ship and jammed her rudder, allowing heavy British units to catch up with her. In the ensuing battle on the morning of 27 May 1941, Bismarck was heavily attacked for almost two hours before sinking.[4][5] Her destruction was reported on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

The designing of Bismarck was begun in the early 1930s, following Germany's development of the Deutschland class "pocket battleships" and the Scharnhorst class battleships.[A 1] Bismarck was planned as the prototype for other battleships envisaged under Plan Z, like the H class. Bismarck's keel was laid down at Blohm & Voss' shipyard in Hamburg on 1 July 1936. Launched on 14 February 1939 and christened by Dorothea von Löwenfeld, a granddaughter of Otto von Bismarck. The battleship was commissioned on 24 August 1940 with Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann in command.[10]

At Bismarck's commissioning, she was the largest warship to date. Under Plan Z, she was intended to be part of a fast battleship squadron for a main battle line of larger subsequent battleships; however, with the outbreak of war in 1939 and the increased demands on the German armament industry, Plan Z was no longer practical. As a result, Bismarck was used as a commerce raider. She was reasonably well suited for this, being faster than any of the Royal Navy battleships; her endurance qualities were quite good for their period, and better than any of the British battleships that might give chase.[11]


completed preparations for her Atlantic sortie in the Bay of Danzig, refuelling almost to capacity and leaving the port of Gotenhafen (now Gdynia) on her first and only mission, codenamed Rheinübung (Rhine Exercise) in the early hours of 19 May 1941. She was accompanied only by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Other capital ships, including the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, that were to have participated in the sortie were unavailable because of mechanical problems and war damage. Moreover, plans to use Bismarck's sister ship, Tirpitz, were shelved because she had not yet finished sea trials. Despite these setbacks, the mission went ahead under the command of Admiral Günther Lütjens. The Germans had various objectives: destroy as much Allied shipping as possible and force the British to suspend convoys, even temporarily; compensate for their weak submarine presence in the Atlantic; divert British naval forces from the Mediterranean to reduce the risks of the planned invasion of Crete and to allow supply and reïnforcement of Rommel's Afrika Korps in Libya; and to wear out British warships forced to extended patrols. For the first part of the journey, as far as Norway, the route from the Baltic was chosen in preference to a North Sea breakout via the Kiel Canal.[13]The British had learned from Ultra intelligence (deciphered Enigma code messages) about German air surveillance of the Denmark Strait and the Royal Navy's home base at Scapa Flow, as well as the April 1941, delivery of charts for the Atlantic to the Bismarck. (However, the British decrypted no Enigma messages from or to the Bismarck squadron during Rheinübung.) British radar-equipped heavy cruisers, able to refuel in Iceland, were sent to patrol the Denmark Strait. Unequipped to refuel battle squadrons at sea, the Home Fleet awaited a firm sighting report before its ships deployed. On 20 May 1941, the Swedish seaplane-cruiser Gotland encountered and tracked the German battle group steaming north-west past Göteborg. A Norwegian officer in Stockholm learned of the sighting from a Swedish military intelligence source and informed the British naval attaché, who promptly radioed the Admiralty: "Most immediate. Kattegat today 20th May. At 15.00 two large warships escorted by three destroyers, five escort craft, ten or twelve aircraft passed Marstrand course north-west 2058/20th May 1941. B-3 repeat B-3". "B-3" indicated uncertainty about the report's validity, since this information was more precise and timelier than anything the naval attaché had obtained in a year at his station.[14]

Alerted by this report, at 03.30 on 21 May the Admiralty requested air reconnaissance of the Norwegian coast. A Spitfire reconnaissance aircraft, pilot Flying Officer Michael Suckling,[15][16] found and photographed Bismarck in Grimstad fjord (60°19.492 N 5°14.482 Eÿþ / ÿþ60.32483°N 5.24133°Eÿþ / 60.32483; 5.24133), near Bergen at 13.15,[17] less than two hours after Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had arrived.[18] With this hard information,[19] the British Home Fleet despatched the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood, escorted by a number of destroyers, towards Iceland. Four cruisers were to cover the approach to the North Atlantic via the Denmark Strait and the Iceland-Faeroes Gap.[20]

Some books about the Bismarck mention a sighting report supposedly radioed by Norwegian agents on 20 May and acknowledged by the British. This story is recounted in the 1967 book The Greatest Gamble.[21] No evidence, either direct or circumstantial, supports this story. British and Norwegian authorities deny that secret agents were involved before or during the Bismarck operation,[22] and say that the Norwegian resistance had no radio or other ability to communicate swiftly with Britain and Sweden in May 1941, asserting that radio links between Britain and the Norwegian resistance were established no sooner than in 1942.[23] However, Hansson asserted in his book that the radio operated by the Norwegian agent, Gunvald Tomstad, and used to send notice of the corroborative sighting, was of his own manufacture, and not provided by the Allies. He used an abandoned power line as an aerial, so the German security services had a very hard time localizing it, due to its length.

While Bismarck's operational orders did not require her to refuel in Bergen (Prinz Eugen did so through necessity),[24] the battleship failed to take on extra fuel despite spending an entire day in Grimstadfiord. This was later to have very serious consequences for Bismarck, especially as she had sailed from Gotenhafen with tanks less than brimful and had already used up about one-ninth of her full load during the voyage to Norway. Lütjens knew that an oiler, the Weissenberg, was waiting for him in the Arctic at least a day's sailing away. It was strange that, even with this information, he did not take this opportunity to refuel Bismarck for what could be a hazardous voyage. Moreover, his decision to stop in Bergen overturned any previous decision to head straight for the Arctic and the Weissenberg. It also wasted a day and exposed him to detection by British air surveillance.[25]

At 19:45 on 21 May Lütjens put out to sea, detaching his destroyer escort early on 22 May. Heading north, then north-west at 24 knots (44 km/h), the German fleet made good and largely uneventful progress across the Norwegian Sea towards Greenland and the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland, the gateway into the Atlantic. This circuitous course was against Group North's recommendation to steam directly for the Atlantic between Iceland and the Faeroe Islands. It was also too far south to make a rendezvous with the Weissenberg to refuel Bismarck. Nevertheless, while in waters to the north of the Arctic Circle, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen remained undetected by British air reconnaissance, which was too far south. With a mind on convoy-raiding, Lütjens was hopeful of an easy breakout into the Atlantic aided by foggy weather, but his plans were to be frustrated.[26]

Aerial reconnaissance under clouds by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy on 22 May ascertained that the Bismarck had sailed from Bergen. With this intelligence the Home Fleet Battle Fleet, including the battleship HMS King George V and the aircraft carrier Victorious, put to sea. The Battlecruiser Squadron already bound for Iceland was ordered to cover the Denmark Strait. A bombing raid on 22 May by the RAF proved fruitless, as the Germans had already left.[27]

On the evening of 23 May, the German force was detected by the heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk that had been patrolling the Denmark Strait in the expectation of a German breakout. Norfolk, which had strayed too close to the German ships, came under fire briefly from Bismarck's heavy guns which quickly found the range and straddled the target.[28] Norfolk had a near miss when a shell from Bismarck bounced off the water and struck the bridge of the ship but did not explode nor inflict any casualties. The heavily outgunned British cruisers retired to a safe distance and shadowed the enemy while their own heavy units drew closer. However, Bismarck's forward radar had malfunctioned as a result of the recoil from her heavy guns firing during this skirmish, and Lütjens was obliged to order Prinz Eugen to move ahead of Bismarck in order to provide the squadron with forward radar coverage. This decision later confused the converging British forces as to the identity of each German ship, their silhouettes being similar.[29]

Battle of the Denmark Strait

At approximately 05:30 on Saturday 24 May, as the German squadron was about to leave the Denmark Strait, Prinz Eugen's hydrophones detected the presence of two additional ships some distance to port.[30] By 05:45 both were in sight, although the German force had not yet identified the enemy force. It turned out to be a British battle-group comprising the new battleship Prince of Wales, and the ageing battlecruiser Hood, under the command of Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland. Prince of Wales had only recently been completed and was still being worked up (indeed, she sailed to meet Bismarck with about 100 civilian workers still on board completing her fitting-out). Hood had been built as a battlecruiser and modified to give her protection more like a battleship, but still had relatively weak deck armour. The Germans were not surprised that they had been detected by British ships, but that they would turn out to be capital ships was an unexpected development.[31]

At 05:49 Holland ordered fire to be concentrated on the leading enemy ship, Prinz Eugen, believing it to be Bismarck.[32] Fortunately for the British, the captain of Prince of Wales was soon to realise the error and changed his target. Holland amended his order on the correct ship to be engaged but this did not reach Hood's gunnery control before the first salvo. Hood fired the first shots of the battle at 05:52, in daylight, followed very soon afterwards by Prince of Wales. The range to the German ships was c. 12.5 miles (20.1 km). The first salvo from Hood landed close to Prinz Eugen, causing minor shell splinter damage near the aft turrets.[32]

More than two minutes went by without a reply from the German ships, before Captain Lindemann ordered fire to be returned on the lead British ship. This was Hood, which the Germans had identified only when the British squadron made a turn towards them at 05:55. This manoeuvre was undertaken, it appears, in an attempt to place themselves in the "zone of immunity," an area inside which both plunging fire, in particular, and direct enemy fire is relatively ineffective. Closer in, Hood would be less vulnerable and the advantage of superior German gunnery control would be lessened. The disadvantage was that, during the dash, eight of the eighteen British heavy guns could not be brought to bear.[33]

Both Bismarck and Prinz Eugen opened fire on Hood at a range of 11 miles (18 km). The early gunfire from the German ships was very accurate and within two minutes Hood had been hit by at least one 8-inch shell from Prinz Eugen. It struck the British ship near the mainmast and caused a large fire which Hood's crew tried to bring under control. Prinz Eugen hit Hood three times during the engagement.[A 2] However, Bismarck had also been hit by Prince of Wales, causing a fuel leak from the forward tanks; therefore Lütjens ordered his cruiser to switch its guns towards Prince of Wales, which his own secondary guns were now targeting. Bismarck survivor Baron Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg initially claimed that the hits on his ship were scored by Hood with her third salvo; however, it is equally likely that these hits were scored by Prince of Wales, as it is clear that Hood was targeting Prinz Eugen for the majority of the battle and that the order to change target to Bismarck saw most of her salvoes fall between the enemy ships, hitting neither.[35][36] At 05:54 the range was down to 22,000 yards (20 km); at 05:57 it was down to just 19,000 yards (17 km). Bismarck then fired a fourth salvo which was slightly long and astern of Hood. At the same time Holland had ordered "2 Blue", a 20-degree turn to port. Before the ship began a turn to port Hood fired a fifth salvo at 05:59:30.

At 06:00 Hood, which was in the process of turning to port to bring her full weight of armament to bear on Bismarck,[A 3] was hit amidships by at least one shell from Bismarck's fifth salvo at a distance of under nine miles (16,500 yards). Very shortly afterwards observers on both sides saw a huge jet of flame race skywards, followed by a rumbling explosion that split the huge ship in two. Splinters rained down on Prince of Wales, 400 yards (370 m) away. Hood's stern rose and sank shortly before the bow, all within three minutes. Admiral Holland and 1,415 crewmen went down with the ship. Only three men (Ted Briggs, Bob Tilburn, and Bill Dundas) survived. They were rescued about two and a half hours later by the destroyer Electra. The British Admiralty later concluded that the most likely explanation for the loss of Hood was a penetration of her magazines by a single 15-inch shell from Bismarck, causing the subsequent catastrophic explosion.

Prince of Wales

had to turn towards the German fleet to avoid hitting the wreckage left by the flagship and was hit a number of times by gunfire from both German ships. Still, her own gunfire had caused damage to Bismarck. The British battleship turned away, laying smoke, her aft turret firing briefly under local control. She had received seven hits (three of them from Prinz Eugen) and mechanical failures had caused intermittent problems with her main guns and her aft turret jammed as she turned away.[39]At 06:03 Prinz Eugen, which at that point had fired 183 20.3 cm shells, reported propeller noises to starboard, bearing 279° and 220°. Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were forced into emergency manoeuvres and sighted a Sunderland flying boat shortly afterwards.[40] Although Captain Lindemann wanted to chase Prince of Wales and "finish her off," Admiral Lütjens ignored his suggestions since delay risked the possibility of encountering other heavy enemy ships. In a battle lasting less than 20 minutes Bismarck and her consort had destroyed one enemy capital ship and forced another to withdraw.

At 08:01 Bismarck made the following transmission to Group North:[40]

Sections XIII-XIV. Electric plant No. 4 broken down. Port No. 2 boiler room is making water but can be held. Maximum speed 28 knots [52 km/h]. Denmark Strait 50 nautical miles [93 km] wide. Floating mines. Two enemy radar sets recognised. Intention: to put into Saint-Nazaire.

Faulty intelligence had led the Germans to believe that Prince of Wales was not yet ready for action, therefore reports from Bismarck referred to her as King George V, the first of that class, which had been active for some months.[33]

Despite the jubilation on board Bismarck, the battleship was not safe. The British knew her position, her forward radar was out of action and she had received three hits, one of which caused water to leak into and contaminate her reserve fuel oil. From then on, Bismarck had to reduce speed to a maximum of 20 knots (37 km/h) to conserve fuel. Lütjens eventually decided that he would have to head for the French coast (the dry-dock in Saint-Nazaire) for repairs, while ordering Prinz Eugen to continue commerce raiding alone. The British continued to shadow her, Prince of Wales having rendezvoused with Norfolk and Suffolk. To enable his consort to escape, Lütjens turned on his pursuers and forced them to turn away, thus allowing Prinz Eugen to steam on out of British radar range. The plan was to be executed on the signal "Hood." Lütjens' first attempt failed; however, at 18:14, a second attempt succeeded. The two German ships parted and Bismarck signalled "Good hunting."

The chase

Determined to avenge the sinking of Hood, the British committed every possible unit to hunt down Bismarck. During the early evening of 24 May an attack was made by a small group of Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers from 825 Naval Air Squadron of the aircraft carrier Victorious. One hit was scored resulting in a single fatality (Bismarck's first); however, the blast caused only superficial damage to Bismarck's armoured belt. The effect of the attack reopened the Bismarck's earlier "wounds;" the collision mats which had been used to block further flooding in the bow region had come loose, due to constant jarring from evasive action and the firing of the anti-aircraft guns. The packing of the damaged bulkheads was also loosened, leading to the complete flooding of the forward port boiler room, which was abandoned. This caused the bow to go down further. Lütjens ordered speed to be reduced to 16 knots (30 km/h) while the mats were repaired.[41]

For some time Bismarck remained under long-distance observation by the British. At about 03:00 on 25 May, the ship took advantage of her opponents' zig-zagging and performed an almost three-quarter clockwise turn behind her pursuers to escape towards the east and then south-east. Contact was lost for four hours; however, perhaps in awe of British radar capabilities, it appears that the Germans did not realise their good fortune. Lütjens, for reasons that are unclear but possibly believing that Bismarck was still being tracked (despite a communication sent by Group West telling him the opposite),[42] transmitted a half-hour radio message to HQ, which was intercepted thereby giving the British time to work out roughly where he was heading; however, a plotting error made on board King George V, where Admiral John Tovey, commander of the British Home Fleet, was leading the pursuit, incorrectly calculated Bismarck's position and caused the chase to veer too far north. Bismarck was therefore able to make good time on 25/26 May in her unhindered passage towards France and protective air cover and destroyer escort.

The British had a stroke of luck on 26 May. In mid-morning an RAF Coastal Command Catalina reconnaissance aircraft from 209 Squadron, which had flown over the Atlantic from its base on Lough Erne in Northern Ireland across the Donegal Corridor, a small air-corridor secretly provided by the Éire government,[43] spotted Bismarck (via her oil slick) and reported her position to the Admiralty. From then on, the German ship's position was known to the British, although the enemy would have to be slowed significantly if heavy units hoped to engage it out of range of German aircraft protection. All British hopes were now pinned on Force H, whose main units were the aircraft-carrier Ark Royal, the battlecruiser Renown and the cruiser Sheffield. This battle-group, commanded by Admiral James Somerville, had been diverted north from Gibraltar.[44]

At 19:25 that evening, in atrocious weather conditions, Ark Royal launched its Fairey Swordfish for another attack. The first wave mistakenly targeted the Sheffield that was by now shadowing the quarry. Although precious time was lost by this incident, it proved beneficial to the British in that the magnetic detonators on the torpedoes used against Sheffield were seen to be defective, and for the following attack on Bismarck were replaced by contact detonators. In a final attack, almost in darkness at 21:05, a hit by a single torpedo from a Swordfish of 818 NAS (piloted by Sub-Lieutenant John Moffat) jammed Bismarck's rudder and steering gear.[45] This rendered Bismarck virtually unmanoeuvrable, increased her list to port and left her able to steam only in a large circle in the general direction of King George V and Rodney, two frontline battleships that had been in pursuit from the west. After extensive and unsuccessful efforts to free the jammed rudders, the fleet command finally acknowledged their, by now, impossible position in several messages to naval headquarters. Lütjens sent one last defiant message: "Ship unmanoeuvrable. We fight to our last shell. Long live the Fuhrer". The cost to the attacking British had been five Swordfish aircraft damaged, one beyond repair.[46]

Throughout the night of 26/27 May Bismarck was the target of incessant torpedo attacks by the Tribal-class destroyers Cossack, Sikh, Maori and Zulu, with the Polish Piorun. Bismarck inflicted some damage on the British destroyers. Aboard Zulu a sub-lieutenant in the gunnery control tower lost a hand to shell splinters when a shell landed on the destroyer's forecastle, but did not explode. Cossack had its radio antenna sheared off by a shell.[47] The constant harrying tactics of the British helped wear down the morale of the Germans and deepened the fatigue of an already exhausted crew.[48]

Both Ark Royal and Renown had a lucky escape during the night. The British ships were unaware they had come within firing range of Kapitänleutnant Herbert Wohlfarth's U-556 submarine, which had earlier exercised with Bismarck in the Baltic,[49] with Bismarck being referred to as the submarine's "big brother;"[50] however, U-556, returning from a combat patrol, had spent all its torpedoes. U-556 continued to shadow the British forces, reporting their position and guiding other U-boats to the area until forced to abandon the Bismarck and return to Lorient as he was running low on fuel.[51]

The Sinking.

Around 08:00 on 27 May, Rodney and King George V closed to within 21 nautical miles (39 km) of Bismarck, with their enemy well illuminated by the morning sun in the background. At this point visibility was only 10 nautical miles (19 km) and the sea state at 4-5. High winds were blowing in 320 degrees from the North West at a force of 6-7.[52] Rodney steered to the north so that her gunfire would work the length of Bismarck, while King George V took the side. They opened fire at 08:47. Bismarck returned fire, but her inability to steer and her list to port affected accuracy. Her low speed of seven knots made her an easy target, and she was soon hit several times, with heavy cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire adding their firepower. At 09:02 an 8-inch (200 mm) shell from Norfolk hit the main gun director, killing the gunnery officer, Adalbert Schneider, who had been awarded the Knight's Cross in the early hours of the same morning for his part in sinking Hood. At 09:08 a heavy shell from Rodney hit both of Bismarck's forward turrets, Anton and Bruno,[52] disabling the latter; this was followed by another salvo which destroyed the forward control post, killing most of the senior officers.[53] The aft turrets, Caesar and Dora, continued to fire locally. At 09:21 Dora was knocked out. The crew of Anton managed to fire one last salvo at 09:27. At 09:31 Caesar fired its last salvo and was then knocked out.[52] This salvo straddled Rodney, jamming the ship's torpedo tubes. Bismarck's salvoes throughout the battle were directed at Rodney, the older ship (perhaps in the hope of achieving a success similar to Hood). When Admiral Guernsey observed this, he remarked: "Thank heavens she's shooting at Rodney."[54] The closest Bismarck came to threatening King George V was when von Müllenheim, under local fire control, zeroed in on the enemy but had his director blown away by a direct hit before fire could be directed at the British battleship. Within 44 minutes, Bismarck's heavy guns were all silent. Rodney now closed to point-blank range (approximately three km) to pound the superstructure, while King George V fired from further out.[55]


continued to fly her ensign. With no sign of surrender, despite the unequal struggle, the British were loath to leave Bismarck. Their fuel and shell supplies were low, a demonstration of how difficult it was for a battleship to sink a similar unit, even in an unbalanced engagement; however, when it became obvious that their enemy could not reach port, Rodney, King George V and the destroyers were sent home. Norfolk had no torpedoes left, so Dorsetshire launched three 21-inch (533 mm) torpedoes at comparatively short range, which may have hit Bismarck. The battleship's upper works were almost completely destroyed but her engines were still functioning, although Johannes "Hans" Zimmermann, a boiler room stoker who survived, confirms that salt water had entered the boiler feed lines causing the engineers to reduce speed to seven knots, fearing an explosion,[56] and the hull appeared to be relatively sound; therefore, rather than risk her being captured, survivors have said the order to scuttle and then abandon ship was given. Many of the crew went into the water, but few sailors from the lower engine spaces survived. As Captain Lindemann was presumed killed with all officers after the bridge was hit by a 16-inch (410 mm) shell, it is unclear whether he could have given the order to scuttle.Bismarck

slipped below the waves stern-first at 10:39 that morning. Unaware of the fate of the ship, Group West, the German command base, continued to issue signals to Bismarck for some hours, until Reuters reported news from Britain that the ship had been sunk. In Britain, the House of Commons was informed of the sinking early that afternoon.[57] Dorsetshire and Maori stopped to rescue survivors, but a U-boat alarm caused them to leave the scene after rescuing only 110 Bismarck sailors, abandoning the surviving crew in the water. The next morning U-74, which had heard sinking noises from a distance, and the German weather ship Sachsenwaldpicked up 5 survivors. 1,995 of the ship's crew of 2,200 died.[58]In all, 2,876 shells of various calibres were fired by the British ships; approximately 300-400 hit. Of the total fired, 714 were heavy-calibre 14-inch (360 mm) and 16-inch (410 mm) shells from two battleships, about 80 of which hit Bismarck, but only a few shells penetrated its armour.[59]

After the sinking, Tovey wrote in his memoirs: "The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds, worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy, and she went down with her colours flying."[60] The admiral had wanted to say this publicly but the Admiralty informed him: "For political reasons it is essential that nothing of the nature of the sentiments expressed by you should be given publicity, however much we admire a gallant fight."[61]

War diary

At 07:10 on the morning of the final battle, Lütjens, with Bismarck now doomed, requested that Group West send any U-Boat in the area to retrieve the ship's war diary.[52] U-556 was now low on fuel and had passed its shadowing duties and communication with Group West to U-74 which had just arrived, albeit damaged by depth charges and unable to fire torpedoes. U-556 was underwater when Lütjens sent out the request to retrieve the war diary. An earlier attempt to send the diary via the Arado Ar 196 float aircraft had also failed, due to the damage the catapult had received from Prince of Wales at the Denmark Strait battle (the Arado was dumped overboard and its floats pierced to ensure it sank).[62] However, by this point (08:00) it was far too late for a U-Boat to reach Bismarck.[51]

[edit] Role of the Luftwaffe

The Luftwaffe came under heavy criticism from Hitler for failing to help Bismarck on the morning of her final battle. Luftflotte 3 had been apprised of Bismarck's intentions as early as 24 May and its units, mainly equipped with Heinkel He 111s, could have been positioned to help the ship. On 26 May Bismarck was within 700 miles (1,100 km) of the French coast (as reported by Flying Officer Dennis Briggs flying a Catalina of No. 209 squadron).[63] An attack by the He 111s, with a maximum range of 1,750 miles (2,820 km), could have slowed down Ark Royal and prevented the Fairey Swordfish attack which crippled Bismarck. In the event, the Luftwaffe appeared over the battle area an hour after Bismarck had sunk. 17 Kampfgeschwader 28 He 111s attacked Ark Royal but their bombs missed. Only 218 sorties were flown by the Luftwaffe in support of Rheinübung with KG 100, KG 1, KG 54 and KG 77. The only casualty of these raids was the destroyer Mashona, which was sunk by Kampfgeschwader 77 on 28 May off the west coast of Ireland.[64] A Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor had sighted Rodney but was unable to communicate the position accurately without radar, reporting her as 200 miles (320 km) further from the French coast than was the case. Thus, a possible chance for the Luftwaffe to attack the British battleship was lost. Meaningful missions did not start until 03:00 on 27 May, by which time Bismarck's fate was sealed