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Rheinubung

18th - 27th May 1941

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Video Clip - featuring Hood and Bismarck. 29 Meg First 2 minutes shows various views of Hood. 2.10 - 2.45 Bismarck Launch. 3.12 - 3.35 Views of Nelson and Rodney. 3.39 A QE class BB, possibly Valiant. 3.42 - 4.17 Bismarck. 4.17 - 5.04 Bismarck firing on Hood, taken from Prinz Eugen. 5.04 - 5.10 Hood blows up, around 5.09 you can see a salvo landing around Hood, followed by an explosion. 5.46 - 5.59 Nelson, Rodney and a QE Class battleships. 5.59 - 6.40 KGV class battleship. 6.51 the destruction of Bismarck. 7.18 - 7.24 a British cruiser, probably Arethusa class.

Bismarck
Bismarck
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Prinz Eugen
Prinz Eugen
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there has been some recent correspondence about this photo which I had thought was Bismarck - well it is Prinz Eugen. They look very similar from the front, but Bismarck has a broader beam. I can now see how Admiral Holland got it wrong and opened fire on the wrong ship !

There is an excellent article on the sinking of HMS Hood on the here.


On 18 May 1941 Bismarck and Prinz Eugen left the Baltic base of Gotenhafen. Two days later they passed through the narrow Kattegat -and were for the first time spotted. On 21 May British reconnaissance aircraft brought home photographs of the two ships lying in Korsfjord near Bergen and taking on more fuel oil. On 22 May they had vanished from the Korsfjord.

taken from Prinz Eugen, at Korsfjord
taken from Prinz Eugen, at Korsfjord
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At this point the C-in-C had at Scapa Flow two battleships, an aircraft carrier and a battle cruiser, but his cruiser strength was divided. On patrol in the Denmark Strait was the Norfolk. Patrolling the Iceland-Faeroes gap were Birmingham and Manchester. Arethusa was en route to Iceland and Suffolk was refuelling there. Hermione was on passage to Scapa after repairs and at Scapa were the Galatea, Aurora, Neptune and Kenya. The only other cruisers in the general area were the Exeter and Cairo escorting convoy WS 8B to the west of Ireland.

taken from the official Admiralty chart
taken from the official Admiralty chart
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It was at 1922 on 23rd May that the Suffolk, which had hastily rejoined her sister ship in the Denmark Strait, picked up the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen at a range of seven miles. The sighting was a visual one and Suffolk immediately took refuge in the mist to track the enemy by her superior radar set while signalling the Norfolk to join her. Suffolk confirmed visually again after an hour and Norfolk, with inferior radar, pounded up to join her, almost running into the German giant at six miles range. Three salvos from those huge and accurate 15-inch guns forced her hastily to make smoke and retire to a more respectable distance. Her sighting reports were picked up by the C-in-C who had failed to receive the earlier ones from Suffolk.

With what has been described as 'great skill and determination' the two 8-inch cruisers now shadowed the German squadron as it sped southward through the snow and rain of the icebound strait, with Suffolk on the enemy's starboard quarter and Norfolk her port quarter waiting for the Hood and Prince of Wales to close. For once the classic trap had been sprung and it now seemed mere formality for the finishing touch to be supplied by the British heavy ships.

good and rare photo of Hood
good and rare photo of Hood
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the last photo of Hood before her sinking, taken from Prince of Wales
the last photo of Hood before her sinking, taken from Prince of Wales
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Two minutes later, at 05.55, Admiral Lutjens gave the order to open fire. The range was only 9 miles, and Prinz Eugen landed the first hits on Hood. Then came the fatal salvo from the Bismarck, which resulted in a direct hit on the British flagship's magazine. The Hood blew up. Only eight minutes after the engagement had begun this mighty ship had gone with only 3 survivors. Now the Germans turned their guns on the second British battleship, and at 06.02, the first shots struck the Prince of Wales. The ship was brand new, its artillery and gunnery untried in action, and only individual barrels were firing although she was able to obtain two 14in hits. One minute later shell splinters mowed down practically all her officers. Numbed by this tragic turn that events had taken, and himself wounded, Captain Leach gave the order to turn away.

a famous photo - Bismarck opens fire on Hood
a famous photo - Bismarck opens fire on Hood
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After being eyewitnesses to this scene there was nothing left for the two cruisers to do but to continue their patient shadowing once more in the hope that the C-in-C could come and do the job properly.

Now the Bismarck, having been hit in return, decided that her only hope was to make for a French port for repairs, while the accompanying cruiser slipped away to make the raid on her own. To do this she had to shake off her shadowers. For many hours now the two British cruisers had held her fast, losing her for a time but always picking her up again by radar. They had developed a pattern for this but the German Admiral outthought them. Meanwhile in an effort to slow the Bismarck down still further the untried carrier Victorious had been sent out escorted by the Aurora, Galatea, Hermione and Kenya, and she launched torpedo-bombers at the enemy giant at 1000 on the 24th, without success.

Even before this attack the Bismarck had fallen back on the British cruisers and engaged them to allow Prinz Eugen to slip away unseen, which she did. Around 0100 on the 25th she repeated this tactic and after this, at 0306, the Suffolk, whose skill had held her for so long, lost contact and could not regain it.

Despite searches by both 8-inch cruisers to the west they never found her again for the Bismarck had slipped away to the south heading for St Nazaire. While Norfolk and Suffolk hunted to the west and southwest the four 6-inch cruisers hunted to the northwest, but all in vain. All other ships at sea in the Atlantic were called in to join the hunt, including the Edinburgh steering north in the central North Atlantic, the Dorsetshire, escorting an important convoy north in the same general area while the Sheffield sailed with Force 'H' from Gibraltar to cover the Bay of Biscay. For a time it was felt that Bismarck was heading back the way she came and sweeps were made towards the Iceland-Faeroes passage. Much valuable time was lost and precious oil fuel expended by this diversion and ships began to fall out of the chase one by one. The rest of the afternoon and night of the 25th and 26th passed in a fever of anxiety with the German ship still not located. Not until 1030 on the 26th was she re-sighted by a British flying-boat, already far south and on course for Biscay.

Force H - Sheffield top, Ark Royal and Renown
Force H - Sheffield top, Ark Royal and Renown
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The one hope was for Force 'H' to cut her off. Although the battle-cruiser Renown could not hope to engage the Bismarck on equal terms it was hoped that Ark Royal's more experienced air group might score a torpedo hit and slow her down, and accordingly Sheffield was sent on ahead to gain visual contact and shadow.

Swordfish on Victorious waiting to attack Bismarck
Swordfish on Victorious waiting to attack Bismarck
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Unfortunately the first air strike attacked their companion of many months instead of the enemy and only by the most skilful handling did the British cruiser avoid the torpedoes aimed at her. A second strike was more successful striking the Bismarck in its steering gear late on the evening of the 26th, rendering the ship out of control and therefore a sitting target for its pursuers.

King George V
King George V
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Rodney in mid 1942
Rodney in mid 1942
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The Bismarck sank after a fierce fight with Rodney and King George V at about 10.40 hours on 27 May 1941, taking with it about 2,000 men, including the entire fleet staff. Only 115 survivors were picked up.

Bismarck under fire from King George V and Rodney
Bismarck under fire from King George V and Rodney
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King George V firing on Bismarck
King George V firing on Bismarck
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Rodney firing on Bismarck
Rodney firing on Bismarck
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Bismarck behind the smoke, the view from Dorsetshire
Bismarck behind the smoke, the view from Dorsetshire
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Lutjens final signal - Ship unmanoeuvrable. We fight to the last shell
Lutjens final signal - Ship unmanoeuvrable. We fight to the last shell
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Among the ships that closed on the Bismarck that day were the cruisers Sheffield, Dorsetshire and Norfolk, but only the latter two got into the edges of the fight. It was particularly fitting that Norfolk should be present as she had been in on the hunt from the start, and it was equally apt that a cruiser, the Dorsetshire, should have finally despatched the Bismarck with torpedoes.

With the destruction of the Bismarck the most serious phase of the German surface attack on British trade came to a close.

the bow of Hood on the bottom of the Denmark Strait
the bow of Hood on the bottom of the Denmark Strait
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