Remember Us!

There’s a fascinating story from World War Two about the world’s biggest battleship (until that time) and its fate. The German Navy wasn’t up to the task of fighting both the British and French navies. They intended the Bismarck, their biggest battleship, to attack only supply convoys. Bismarck spent most of its existence hiding from the British Navy.

When Bismarck finally came out of hiding, it was hunted down and sunk in less than a week. Oh, sorry, I should have posted a spoiler alert. :E Of course, in its first encounter after coming out of hiding, it did sink the powerful British battleship HMS Hood. Out of Hood’s crew of 1400 men, only three survived.

The number of mistakes, weather interferences, technology advantages, disadvantages, and malfunctions throughout the Bismarck’s “death mission” is astounding.

Historian Walter Mow confirmed what the History Channel (link below) said: what doomed the Bismarck was an attack by British biplanes manufactured in the 1930s – nine Swordfish, flying from the British aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. Britain built aircraft carriers for the first time in the late 1930s, in the knowledge that Germany was re-arming.

Most sources seem reluctant to mention it, but two did confirm this incident: “Unfortunately [the Swordfish] had not been advised that the cruiser HMS Sheffield was on the scene and in their first attack launched all their torpedoes at her. Only good fortune prevented an epic Royal Navy disaster because the magnetic torpedoes failed to explode.”

Their second attempt, however, resulted in damage to Bismarck’s rudder, making it impossible to steer with the rudder. Bismarck was limping toward France for repairs when the entire British fleet was sent to hunt it down. The damage slowed Bismarck down enough for HMS Rodney, HMS King George V, and heavy cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire, to catch up to and sink the Bismarck at 10:39 am on May 27th, 1941, after almost two hours of constant shelling, with the assistance of two more torpedo-bomber attacks.

“The Swordfish … was obsolete before the war started.” (History Channel comment) It was a fragile fabric-wing aircraft. It was slow. Yet somehow, per the Aviation History Online Museum, “Despite being antiquated, it sank more Axis tonnage than any other Allied plane during World War II and served from the beginning of the war until the end.”  In fact, the slow speed of the Swordfish was probably one reason that all of them made it back to the carrier after their bombing runs: the Bismarck incorporated automatic speed compensators for their anti-aircraft guns, and they didn’t calculate slowly enough to get on target. 😀

Like Walt said, “Us oldsters still have a role to play.”

The Aviation History Online Museum says, “The Swordfish also had the capability to serve as a dive-bomber, perform night missions, and pioneered the use of Air to Surface Vessel (ASV) radar. It was nicknamed ‘Stringbag’ as it was compared to a housewife’s string shopping bag, common at the time, due to its ability to carry an unlikely combination of loads. The nickname was meant as a compliment.”

There is an excellent hour and a half History Channel documentary here
 of the Bismarck’s manufacture, life, and sinking. It’s actually an entertainment-quality movie, if you like military history. I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it enthusiastically. It includes a lot of actual battle footage, interviews with the last surviving members of the RAF and Royal Navy warriors who fought the Bismarck, and survivors from the Bismarck.

 

At 41,700 tons, 823 feet long, with a 30 knot top speed (35mph) and maximum range of 8,870 miles (10,210 miles land measurement), Bismarck the biggest, most formidably armed battleship afloat, carrying eight 15-inch bore diameter guns, 12 six-inch bore diameter guns, and eighteen other much smaller guns primarily for anti-aircraft firing. Radar that could spot enemy ships over the horizon, 12 inch thick side armor, and 14 inch thick turret armor. Truly an enemy’s worst nightmare. Yet it only lasted hours after its first engagement.

I discovered that the Bismarck was one of two monster German battleships. Its sister ship was named “Tirpitz”. The Tirpitz was a little heavier than the Bismarck, but otherwise nearly identical. But Tirpitz was restricted to convoy attacks due a raid on the German’s base at St. Nazairre, France, where Tirpitz was based until those pesky, determined British sent an explosive-laden ship ramming into the dock. (The explosion put the dock out of commission until 1948!) Wikipedia 

Like the Bismarck, the Tirpitz was proclaimed unsinkable. But the Tirpitz only lasted long enough to fire its guns in action one time.

There’s an amazing 46-minute documentary of the sinking of the Tirpitz here.

 

This video contains interviews with survivors of the Tirpitz as well as the RAF pilots who sank Tirpitz. It was the 3rd attempt, at the last moment before arctic weather would have protected Tirpitz from the RAF. This achievement, in my opinion, was even more fascinating and unlikely than the sinking of the Bismarck. There were rumors of unknown factors, which the producer of this video discovered because he couldn’t believe discrepancies in the official accounts. Actual footage of the sinking and interviews with the last survivors of the RAF bombing crews that accomplished the mission are part of this video. Also, on-scene interviews with a Norwegian who was there at the time which exposed the last secret: Why did the German fighters assigned to protect the Tirpitz from their base only minutes away not arrive until after the RAF Lancasters had dropped their bombs and left the scene?

Of the 1700 sailors on board Tirpitz at the time of the attack, 971 died.

It hurts me to see the RAF pilots and Royal Navy sailors in their interviews, old, bent, weak, facing the end of their lives after all they had done for king and country. For a righteous cause. In an interview at 45:30, Squadron Leader Tony Iveson, DFC, Sept. 11, 1919 – Nov. 5th 2013, said, “It’s like the words at the ceremony, isn’t it? ‘They shall not grow old.’ … It … sticks in your throat a bit …”

There is another life, that will not end. A life where there will be no more war, no more pain, no more illness or fear or death. Those who come to faith in Jesus the Messiah go there when they die. They in truth shall not grow old. God grant that our warriors enter heaven through that Door. “Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7)

Recessional, Rudyard Kipling, 1897:

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

 

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