On This Day: Bismarck sinks

Julian Gavaghan

May 27: The feared German battleship Bismarck was sent to the bottom of the sea on this day in 1941 by British sailors after the biggest chase in naval history.

The 41,000-ton vessel, which was said to be unsinkable, was relentlessly pursued by dozens of ships after it sank HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy.

Destroying the Bismarck, which had begun its only offensive three weeks earlier, helped boost morale in Britain, which was by then fighting alone against the Nazis.

A British Pathé newsreel showed the ‘pride of Hitler’ sinking and – reflecting his propaganda duties and battle-hardened opinions during WWII - the reporter seemed indifferent to the fate of the 2,100 German sailors who died.

Some of the mere 114 survivors are seen being taken to PoW camps, where the announcer said they could 'ruminate' over Britain’s 'swift and sure vengeance'.

Aboard HMS Rodney, the posh voice of Commodore Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton contrasted with the strong West Country accent of an ordinary sailor, who said of the Bismarck: "She was a fine ship, but she just couldn’t take it."

A group of plum-mouthed officers – one stroking a cat – also explained how it was 'the first chance we had of going out and having a crack at the hun'.
















[On This Day: Britain drops its first H-bomb]



The report ends with victorious music and the reporter’s rousing words: "What spirit, what courage, what men."

Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the Navy to sink the Bismarck after she sank the Hood a week earlier.

All warships in the area were sent on an epic chase, which lasted for 1,700 miles.

However, in the end the Bismarck was scuttled by her own crew after being crippled by HMS Ark Royal on May 26 and set upon by four other ships the following day.

More British Pathé videos from yesteryear: