At ten miles range the Norfolk, which had come up at the last minute, joined battle with her eight-inch guns, and soon a fourth ship, the Dorsetshire, arrived. The King George V and Rodney continued firing and were soon claiming straddles and hits. About 9 a.m. Captain Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, on the bridge of the Rodney, saw the burst of a heavy shell on the Bismarck’s fo’c’sle, while another sent a sheet of flame up the superstructure.
The Rodney was only four miles from the enemy and closing when a shell from the Bismarck landed just off the starboard bow, jammed the sluice door of the starboard torpedo tube, rendering it useless. This was the nearest the Bismarck got to a direct hit. Afterwards her fire began to fall off rapidly. The British battleships closed the range and poured in salvo after salvo.
It was now possible to see something of the damage being done. Two i5-inch guns were stuck at maximum depression, “drooping,” said one man, “like dead flowers.” The back of another turret had been blown over the side; one of its guns like a giant finger pointed at the sky. In the after turret one barrel had burst, leaving a stub like a peeled banana. Inside the hull flames were flickering in half a dozen places. And still, because there was life in the Bismarck and her flag flew, the huge shells went on being pumped into her. “I can’t say I enjoyed this part of the business much,” said Dalrymple-Hamilton, “but didn’t see what else I could do.”
By 1o a.m. the Bismarck was abattered burning wreck, her guns silent, but at the foremast her admiral’s flag and at the mainmast the German naval ensign were still bravely flying. In the British ships they looked at her with awe and admiration that her crew could fight so gallantly to the end. “Pray God I may never know,” said Guernsey, “what those shells did as they exploded inside the hull.” Presently, in the British ships fire was checked; the Bismarck no longer menaced anyone.
Tovey had already stayed ten hours longer than he had said his fuel would allow, and U-boats would soon be on the scene, if they had not reached it already. He signalled the Rodney to form up astern and gave orders to take the flagship home. As he left he made a general signal : “Any ship with torpedoes to close the Bismarck and torpedo her.”
Only one ship, the Dorsetshire, still had torpedoes. She had anticipated this order and, closing to a mile and a half, fired two into the Bismarck’s starboard side, both of which hit. She then went round the other side and fired another, which also hit.
In the King George V, half-way to the horizon, Tovey saw through his glasses the great ship keel over to port until her funnel was level with the water, and go on turning until she was completely upside down. The stern dipped below the surface, then the main keel. The great flared bows were the last to go. And then all that was left to show where the Bismarck had been were hundreds of men in lifebelts, swimming in oil and water.
Glory and Disaster
SOME died early in the BisLütjens some late, and the luckiest were those who knew nothing of it. Of those that survived the day, none at all came from the fore part, not from A and B turrets, the bridge or superstructure, the charthouse and gunnery control, the magazines and shell rooms below.
We do not therefore know how Liitjens and Lindemann and all the other officers of the admiral’s staff died. But there is much evidence of fires raging forward, both in the superstructure and below decks. It would seem that the peoMullenheim-Rechberg’slenheim-Rechberg’se burned to death by the fires or trapped behind them, and drowned when the ship turned turtle.
In ones and twos the survivors reached the upper deck aft, some through hatches that were still free, others up ammunition hoists, a few up the wiring tch-room to Miillenheim-Rechberg’s after control position. Some of the last men to come up were the people 1o-Ihe engine-room.