Battle of the Denmark Strait, 24 May 1941
In the early morning hours of 24 May 1941, the German battleship Bismarck and cruiser Prinz Eugen steamed southwesterly through the Denmark Strait, shadowed by the British heavy cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk. Shortly before 6AM, Prinz Eugen, which was ahead of Bismarck, sighted ships to the southeast. These were the Royal Navy's battlecruiser Hood, long the World's largest warship, and battleship Prince of Wales, a new ship that was not yet properly "shaken down".
The British capital ships soon opened fire with their forward turrets, while rapidly closing the range. Hood initially fired her fifteen-inch guns at Prinz Eugen. Her consort, which carried fourteen-inch guns, shot at Bismarck, but neither made hits. As the British began a turn to bring their after turrets to bear, the two Germans opened fire at Hood, whose identity was clearly apparent. Bismarck's fifteen-inch guns, and the much smaller eight-inchers of Prinz Eugen, soon found the range and started hitting. Fire broke out amidships on Hood, and at a minute past Six, immediately after Bismarck's fourth salvo arrived, the great battlecruiser's after ammunition magazines exploded in a jet of flame and a large cloud of smoke. Hood's bow rose as her shattered after hull filled with water, and she was soon gone, leaving but three survivors of her crew of over 1400 officers and men.
The Germans shifted fire to Prince of Wales, making three 15" and four 8" hits that seriously damaged the British ship. She was troubled throughout the action by gun functioning problems, but still managed to hit Bismarck with three shells before her own damage forced her to turn away and break off the battle. One of the three British 14" projectiles hit Bismarck's hull forward, flooding some of the German ship's bow compartments. Another hit low and amidships, bringing more water into the ship. This damage, though hardly vital, left Bismarck listing to port, down at the bow and unable to use all her oil fuel. Her maximum speed, seakeeping ability and range were all reduced, and she was now leaving an oil slick in her wake. The third shell, which struck high and amidships, made it impossible for Bismarck to launch her floatplane.
The brief Battle of the Denmark Strait, which lasted only about seventeen minutes from opening shot to "cease fire", caused the Germans to terminate Bismarck's sortie. After parting ways with Prinz Eugen later in the day, she turned southeast, toward France. The British, who already had sufficient cause to want Bismarck eliminated, now had an additional motive: revenge for the tragic loss of Hood and nearly all of her crew.
This page features views of the 24 May 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait, between the German ships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen and the British HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales.
[The Occupied Nations]