May 24, 2016

75 Years Ago Today

Art by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt,

On May 24th, 1941 the German Battleship Bismarck, accompanied by the cruiser Prinz Eugen were engaged by the British Battleships Hood and Prince of Wales which were, respectively, the largest and newest capital ships in the Royal Navy.

During the course of the action, Hood was hit several times and a serious fire was observed just aft of amidships. About 4 minutes after the battle had started an ammunition magazine cooked off, precipitating a tremendous explosion. Of  1418 crew aboard Hood that day. Only three survived.

HMS Prince of Wales was directly behind the flagship when it exploded , stopped dead in the water and raised its bow high into the air. Captain Leach turned towards the Germans to avoid colliding with the wreck. The battleship was so new and the British situation so dire that this action was, in a sense, her shakedown cruise. As a result, her complex quadruple turrets had not had all the bugs worked out yet, and she was for a time reduced to only her twin turret. Badly outgunned and outnumbered, the battleship came under withering and accurate fire from the two german ships, receiving many 15, 8 and 5.9 inch shell hits. However, the ship inflicted some damage on the Bismarck before laying smoke and successfully escaping. That damage would prove significant in the coming days. 

When the news of this action reached England, it was not received well.

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