Although the German battleship had avoided many British patrols and was only 670 miles northwest of Brest, she was still far from the safety of German Air Force (Luftwaffe) air cover. Still, it would prove difficult for the Royal Navy to catch Bismarck, as the British Battle Squadron was too far north. Fortunately for the British, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal in Force H from Gibraltar found herself southeast of Bismarck's reported location and directly in the path to Brest. Upon acknowledging the contact report, cruiser Sheffield was detached from Force H and ordered to find and shadow the enemy. Later that day, naval observer Lieutenant James E. Johnson in a British Catalina from No. 240 Squadron, relieved Smith's plane and maintained contact with the German battleship until Sheffield took up a shadowing position.
Following an abortive air strike that afternoon in which fourteen Swordfish mistakenly attacked (but missed) Sheffield, a second strike of fifteen Swordfish took off from Ark Royal at 1910 that evening. Over the next hour or so, in conditions of low clouds, strong winds, and fading daylight, the aircraft released thirteen torpedoes in a series of attacks against the German battleship. While the poor weather made these attacks difficult, it also threw off the aim of the German antiaircraft gunners, and no planes were lost. Two torpedoes struck Bismarck, one with little effect, but the other wrecked her steering gear and jammed the rudder. This lucky blow sealed her fate. Slowed to a crawl by the damage, Bismarck could no longer escape her converging pursuers.
After midnight on the 27th, one Polish and four British destroyers closed the range and made multiple torpedo attacks on Bismarck. A few hours after dawn, the British heavy warships steamed into view, and battleships King George V and Rodney engaged Bismarck at a range of 16,000 yards. German gunnery was inaccurate, probably owing to crew exhaustion, and after an hour and a half Bismarck was reduced to a blazing shambles. Torpedoed twice more, and eventually scuttled by her surviving crew, the German battleship sank some 300 nautical miles west of Ushant, France. Only 110 of her crew of 2,222 survived the sinking.
Tags: World war 2, ww2, axis, allies, Bismarck, battleship, flagship, kriegs marine, naval, fear, power, hitler, churchill, battle of the atlantic, world at war, swordfish, torpedo, destroyed, HMS hood
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