Friday, May 26, 2017

Footage of the Bismarck firing upon the Hood, and Bismarck under fire from the British fleet

HMS Hood in 1941.
Seventy-six years ago between May 23 and 27 played out one of the great dramas of World War II -- the breakout of the Nazi super-battleship, Bismarck, the sinking of the battlecruiser HMS Hood at the Battle of Denmark Strait, and the subsequent frantic pursuit and destruction of the Bismarck by the British navy under almost miraculous circumstances.

I recall reading the accounts of the battle when I was a kid, accompanied by black-and-white photos of the ships involved, including the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Now, in the age of YouTube, I was amazed to discover recently that footage of the Battle of Denmark Strait exists to this day, taken originally by a camera crew on board Prinz Eugen.

This silent film gives the viewer a front-row seat to the battle, which took place May 24, 1941. Beginning at about the 2:30 mark, one can see the tremendous flash as Bismarck fires her main guns, followed by the smaller bursts of her secondary batteries opening up. Also visible are the huge columns of water thrown up by the British shells from Hood and Prince of Wales missing nearby. It's easy to get a sense of the heaving of the seas and the anxiety of the camera crew who must have considered that their lives could be snuffed out in an instant should any of those 1,000 pound armor-piercing shells hit their ship.

Bismarck fires a salvo during the
Battle of Denmark Strait.
At the 3:32 mark of the film, the focus shifts from Bismarck to an ominous cloud of smoke on the horizon where the HMS Hood was but seconds before. Impact from one of Bismarck's 15-inch shells had ignited her aft magazines, destroying the great ship in mere moments and sending over 1,400 souls to a frigid grave in depths of the north Atlantic. Only three men survived. Flashes may be seen erupting from the cloud and it's hard to say if they are secondary explosions from the sinking battlecruiser or muzzle-flashes from Prince of Wales which was steaming about 1/2 mile astern of Hood when she exploded.

As amazing as this film is, I was equally surprised to find out that additional footage exists of Bismarck's demise a few days later. Though nearly within range of air cover from the friendly ports of occupied France, Bismarck was crippled during a desperate air attack by Swordfish torpedo-bombers from HMS Ark Royal on the evening of May 26. A fortunate hit in the stern smashed Bismarck's rudder, rendering the huge ship unmaneuverable and able to make only 10 knots. British battleships HMS Rodney and King George V were able to close the range and pummel the crippled giant into a flaming hulk.

Taken from a British newsreel released soon after the action, the footage above shows about 30 seconds of the battle, as shells fall astern of Bismarck beginning at about the 0:50 mark. The gunners soon find the range, however, and a little later, direct hits may be seen smashing into the ship. Of Bismarck's 2,200-man crew, a mere 110 survived the ship's destruction.

As we approach Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S., it is not inappropriate to remember those who died bravely for other nations as well, for they are no less men with immortal souls. May Almighty God have mercy on them and grant them eternal rest. Let perpetual light shine upon their souls forever. Amen.

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