Holland must have cursed his luck, for his maneuvering had lost time and space, and the opportunity to cross the T was gone; this would prove critical in the coming battle.
Not wanting a night engagement, Holland brought his ships onto a course to intercept the German squadron at first light, keeping up a good speed but in the heavy seas dropping the escorting destroyers astern. By dawn, the destroyers were an hour behind. Lookouts scanned the horizon for a glimpse of their quarry. At am the two ships were spotted to the northwest, 30, yards 17 miles away. The heavy guns could fire that far but the chance of a hit was remote; they needed to reduce the range to 25, yards or less——and quickly.
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Prinz Eugen had already picked up the sound of ships with her underwater detection gear at some 20 miles to the southeast. At about the same time as the British lookouts spotted them, the Germans spotted smoke on the horizon. He turned to starboard and headed almost due west, confident that he could outrun them. Holland was soon aware the enemy had turned away, but he had to maintain his intercept course.
Turning toward them would merely put his ships behind the Germans and make it a chase. By am, the range was down to 26, yards, and Holland would soon give the order to open fire. Therefore, he compromised by turning 20 degrees to starboard on a new course of degrees toward the enemy. This would close with the enemy faster but make it impossible for the rear turrets of the British ships to bear on the Germans.
At am, Holland designated the lead ship as the target and gave the order to open fire. This caused Captain John Leach of Prince of Wales a few anxious moments, for he was convinced that the rear ship was Bismarck , posing the greater threat. He ignored the orders from Holland and concentrated on Bismarck.
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In seconds, huge columns of water erupted around Prinz Eugen , followed seconds later around Bismarck. However, the British angle of approach still made identification difficult. Marking the fall of shots, the British ships fired another salvo still firing at different targets. Leach had not informed Holland of his opinion and later had not been informed by his own gunners that Prince of Wales was firing at the second ship. Prinz Eugen opened fire first at am, concentrating on the lead British ship, Hood , with her fast-firing 8-inch guns at four salvos per minute; she was firing high-explosive, not armor-piercing shells.
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After a few ranging salvos, Prinz Eugen hit Hood , her shells starting a large fire amidships among the ammunition lockers of the 4-inch antiaircraft guns, as well as ammunition for the unrifled projectile launchers used for defense against aircraft. Attempts to put out the fire were frustrated by the exploding ammunition.
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Remembering Bismarck: The Epic Story of the German Battleship
The battle, for now, was won for Bismarck but difficulties arose as the firing created holes in the warship and as a result, thousands of tons of water seeped into the deck and in addition, the radar-detection gear of Bismarck was knocked down bringing down its speed to 29 knots. It was time again for some repair work so as to avoid Bismarck sinking. An air force plan yet again detected the battleship and the chase was on.
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The ship now, reduced to 20 knots so as to save fuel. On the dreaded night of the 26 th May, struck a squadron of Swordfish Torpedo from the British air carrier. The ship now lost control on many devices and moved towards a wrong direction. The next day at am, Bismarck sinking was witnessed after many battleships fired at it.
The Bismarck Wreck had just survivors out of the thousands that fought along with it. The short yet brave attempt by the German masterpiece was something that created ripples within the British army in no time. Bismarck in itself was an epic and will be the greatest part of the maritime history of all times. Mohit Kaushik is a marine engineer sailing with Maersk Shipping. He handles website development and technical support at Marine Insight.