HMS Dorsetshire (40)
Heavy cruiser of the Dorsetshire class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Portsmouth Dockyard (Porstsmouth, U.K.): Cammell Laird Shipyard (Birkenhead, U.K.)|
|Ordered||3 Dec 1926|
|Laid down||21 Sep 1927|
|Launched||29 Jan 1929|
|Commissioned||30 Sep 1930|
|Lost||5 Apr 1942|
|Loss position||1° 54'N, 77° 45'E|
Right after commissioning in 1930 HMS Dorsetshire was the flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron Atlantic Home Fleet, serving along her sister ship HMS Norfolk, and the slightly smaller heavy cruisers HMS York and HMS Exeter. From 1933 until 1936 HMS Dorsetshire served on the Africa Station, and her first recorded docking in the Selborne dry dock Simonstown, South Africa was on 5 January 1934. In 1936 the cruiser received a refit, and the following year she joined the China Station.
In October 1939, with the powerful German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee at large on the trade routes of the world, an answer had to be found, and among the many vessels chosen to hunt for her was HMS Dorsetshire and her sister ship HMS Cornwall, both were withdrawn from the China station and despatched to Ceylon to form Force I. On December they arrived in South Africa where they embarked many South African volunteers, drawn mainly from the RNVR (SA)division. When the Admiral Graf Spee was discovered she was sent to the River Plate estuary, because the German pocket battleship was holed up at Montevideo for repairs after action with the cruisers HMS Ajax, HMNZS Achilles and HMS Exeter. the German ship never confronted the British Fleet, instead her captain was ordered by the German High Command to scuttle his vessel after leaving the harbour.
In February 1940 while in the Atlantic, the German supply freighter Wakama on her way from Rio de Janeiro was stopped by Dorsetshire in the area off Cabo Frio and her crew scuttled her . On 2 March 1940 she left the Falklands with wounded from the cruiser Exeter enroute Cape Town via Tristan Da Cunha, where the islanders were supplied with stores. On the 11th , the wounded and the prisoners from the German freighter were put ashore. She was then docked in the Selborne dry dock, prior to sailing back to UK. On May 25th, the cruiser arrived in Plymouth, and at the end of the month sailed for Freetown. In June, she set out from Freetown to follow the French battleship Richelieu which left Dakar for Casablanca, however the French Admiral Darlan ordered the battleship back to Dakar. July found her involved in the close monitoring of the French Naval Forces off Dakar. On September 4th, she was dry-docked at Durban, and on the 20th, she arrived back in Simonstown, where a day later she sailed for Sierra Leone. November saw her in the Indian Ocean where she bombarded Zante in Italian Somaliland. In December Dorsetshire docked once again in the Selborne dry dock, later that month she was ordered from Freetown to search for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer which had recently sunk a British refrigerator ship in the South Atlantic.
On 18 January 1941, HMS Dorsetshire captured the Vichy French freighter Mendoza and escorted the ship to Takaradi. In March, Dorsetshire was once again docked in the Selborne dry dock. May, whilst employed in the North Atlantic convoy covering duties, Dorsetshire together with the cruiser HMS London were tasked to search for the German battleship Bismarck. After the German ship encountered the British Battle Fleet, she was pounded to a hulk and Dorsetshire torpedoed the hulk. Dorsetshire was responsible for rescuing the survivors after expending 254 shells and 3 torpedoes of which 2 hit finally sinking the battleship. In September, she set out from Freetown to cover convoy WS-10X which arrived in South Africa from the U.K. with troops on deployment to the Middle East. The convoy consisted of 5 ships. During November/December, a convoy of 10 troop transports set out from Halifax, Canada en-route to Bombay, India. On December 9th, this convoy, WS-12X arrived in Cape Town. and departed with Dorsetshire as an escort.This convoy of United States Naval Transports escorted by US Navy cruisers USS Quincy and USS Vincennes and US Navy destroyers USS Wainwright, USS Moffett, USS McDougal, USS Winslow, USS Mayrant and USS Trippe, sailed with the 18th Division from Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 9th, 4 weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The USA was not then officially at war. This convoy was labelled “12X” instead of “13” in deference to nautical superstition, but to no avail. The entire 18th Division landed at Singapore but had barely time to get into action before the capitulation. The Units involved were 53, 54, and 55 Brigades. At the end of December HMS Dorsetshire intercepted and surprised the German U boat supply ship Python west of St. Helena, while the latter was providing the submarines U-A and U-68 with fuel. Both U-boats submerged at once, U-A attacked the cruiser with 5 torpedoes, fortunately they all missed. The crew of the Python abandoned ship and the cruiser sunk her, the crew were finally rescued by the submarine U-A.
In March 1942, HMS Dorsetshire was a unit of the Eastern Fleet, based at Ceylon, and whilst undergoing a refit there it was halted on the approach of a Japanese carrier force April, the Japanese carrier planes attacked Ceylon, Dorsetshire in company the cruiser HMS Cornwall sailed with the intention of joining the Eastern Fleet off the Maldives, On April 5th, a spotter plane from a Japanese aircraft carrier sighted the two cruisers in the Bay of Bengal. A total of 53 bombers from the carriers sunk the two ships, 1,122 men from a total of 1,546 were later rescued by the cruiser HMS Enterprise and the British destroyers HMS Paladin and HMS Panther. Dorsetshire (Capt. Augustus Willington Shelton Agar, VC, DSO, RN) was sunk in position 01º54'N, 77º45'E in about 8 minutes by 10 hits from 250 - 550 pound bombs, and several near misses. The HA magazine exploded, which doubtless counted in part for her rapid sinking.
The cruiser`s badge can still be seen today proudly displayed on the side of the Selborne dry dock wall.
Commands listed for HMS Dorsetshire (40)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Capt. Benjamin Charles Stanley Martin, RN||31 Jul 1939||8 Aug 1941|
|2||Capt. Augustus Willington Shelton Agar, VC, DSO, RN||18 Aug 1941||5 Apr 1942|
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Notable events involving Dorsetshire include:
The page for this heavy cruiser is currently (as of January 2018) being updated.
2 Sep 1939
At the start of the Second World War, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was part of the 5th Cruiser Squadron of the China Fleet with HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.J.L. Murray, DSO, OBE, RN), HMS Kent (Capt. L.H. Ashmore, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. E.J.P. Brind, RN).
On 2 September 1939, HMS Dorsetshire departed Shanghai to patrol in the Yellow Sea. (1)
7 Sep 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) returned to Shanghai. (1)
9 Sep 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Shanghai to patrol south of Japan. (1)
18 Sep 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Hong Kong. (1)
22 Sep 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Hong Kong to patrol south of Japan. (1)
5 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) anchored off Shanghai where she was fuelled by RFA Pearleaf (Master A. Spencer). (2)
6 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Shanghai to resume her patrol off Japan. (2)
11 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed her patrol area to return to Hong Kong. (2)
13 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Hong Kong. (2)
14 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is docked at Hong Kong. (2)
18 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is undocked. (2)
19 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Hong Kong for Colombo where she was to join the East Indies Station. (2)
22 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) made a short stop at Singapore before continuing her passage to Colombo later the same day. (2)
25 Oct 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Colombo.
She departed later the same day to patrol in the Indian Ocean with HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN). On departure night encouter exercises were carried out between the two heavy cruisers and the light cruiser HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN) which also departared Colombo at the same time to patrol in the Indian Ocean. (2)
13 Nov 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN) made rendez-vous to the west of Colombo with the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN) which then joined the two cruisers on their patrol. (3)
25 Nov 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Colombo to patrol in the Indian Ocean. (3)
28 Nov 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) returned to Colombo. She departed again later the same day to resume her patrol in the Indian Ocean but now together with HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN) and HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN). (3)
3 Dec 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was ordered to proceed to the South Atlantic Station. She split off from the other two ships of force I; HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN) and HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN) to proceed to Simonstown, South Africa via Mauritius. (4)
5 Dec 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) anchored off Mauritius where she was fuelled by RFA Olcades (Master R.H.P. Mayhew) before departing for Mauritius later the same day. (4)
10 Dec 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Simonstown, South Africa. (4)
13 Dec 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Simonstown for Montivideo / Falkland Islands via Tristan da Cunha.
It had originally been intended that HMS Dorsetshire would replace HMS Exeter in the South American Division. (4)
22 Dec 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Samborombón Bay in the River Plate area where she fuelled from RFA Olynthus (Master L.N. Hill). She sailed again later the same day for the Falkland Islands. (4)
24 Dec 1939
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. (4)
29 Dec 1939
After fuelling from oiler San Casto, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), departed the Falkland Islands for the Plate area. (4)
5 Jan 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN) made rendez-vous in the Plate area with HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, CB, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir H. Harwood, KCB, OBE, RN) and HMNZS Achilles (Capt. W.E. Parry, CB, RN). HMNZS Achilles then took over as flagship of the South America division as HMS Ajax was to return to the U.K. to refit soon. (5)
6 Jan 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN) arrived at Samborombón Bay in the River Plate area where they fuelled from RFA Olwen (Master B. Tunnard). After fuelling was completed they went out to sea again to resume their patrol in the South Atlantic (towards the Rio the Janeiro area). (5)
9 Jan 1940
In the early evening, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN), made rendez-vous with HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, CB, RN). They then coninued their patrol in the 'Rio de Janeiro area'. (5)
12 Jan 1940
After gunnery exercises, in the early evening, HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, CB, RN) parted company with HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN). HMS Ajax set course to proceed to Freetown and eventually the U.K. where she was to refit. HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Shropshire continued their patrol. (5)
19 Jan 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) fuelled from oiler San Casto. (5)
21 Jan 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN) departed Port Stanley with the damaged heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, CB, RN) which they were to escort to a rendez-vous position where other RN ships would take over the escort of HMS Exeter during her passage back to the U.K. for extensive repairs for the damage she had sustained during the Battle of the River Plate on 13 December 1939. (5)
29 Jan 1940
Around noon HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN) turned over the damaged heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, CB, RN) to ships of 'Force K' (HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN) in approximate position 17.21S, 24.56'W.
HMS Dorstershire and HMS Shropshire then proceeded on patrol in the South Atlantic still in company with each other. (5)
3 Feb 1940
Around 0800 hours (zone +2), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN), made rendez-vous in position 29.23'S, 41.49'W with HMS Hawkins (Capt. E. Rotherham, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir H. Harwood, KCB, OBE, RN). They then proceeded to patrol and exercise in company with each other.
HMS Hawkins had relieved HMNZS Achilles (Capt. W.E. Parry, CB, RN) as flagship of the South America Division by now as the Achilles was to return to New Zealand to refit. (6)
8 Feb 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN) parted company. HMS Dorsetshire then proceeded to Buenos Aires and HMS Shropshire proceeded to Montivideo for official port visits. Both ships also refuelled. (6)
9 Feb 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Buenos Aires to patrol in the 'Rio de Janeiro area'. (6)
13 Feb 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) intercepts the German merchant Wakama (3771 GRT, built 1922) in the South Atlantic near Cape Frio, Brazil in position 22°42'S, 41°38'W. However before the German ship can be captured she is scuttled by her own crew. 46 crew from the German ship were then picked up by Dorsetshire.
14 Feb 1940
In the evening HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), while of Rio de Janeiro was joined by HMS Hawkins (Capt. E. Rotherham, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir H. Harwood, KCB, OBE, RN) which had just left that port. Both cruisers then remained in company (6)
20 Feb 1940
HMS Hawkins (Capt. E. Rotherham, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir H. Harwood, KCB, OBE, RN) and HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), which were still on patrol in the 'Rio de Janeiro area' were joined by HMS Alcantara (Capt.(Retd.) J.G.P. Ingham, DSO, RN). She parted company the next day. (6)
27 Feb 1940
While now in the 'River Plate area', HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) parted company with HMS Hawkins (Capt. E. Rotherham, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir H. Harwood, KCB, OBE, RN) and set course to proceed to the Falkland Island. (6)
29 Feb 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Port Stanley where she fuelled from oiler San Casto. (6)
2 Mar 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Port Stanley, Falkland Islands for Simonstown, South Africa via Tristan da Cunha. Dorsetshire had 10 wounded crew on board from HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles which up until now had been on hospital at Port Stanley but were to be taken to South Africa. (7)
6 Mar 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) landed supplies at Tristan da Cunha before continuing her passage to Simonstown. (7)
11 Mar 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Simonstown, South Africa. (7)
16 Mar 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is docked at Simonstown. (7)
18 Apr 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was undocked. (8)
24 Apr 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Simonstown for Freetown. (8)
27 Apr 1940
Early in the morning, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), took over the escort of the whale factory ship Tafelberg (13640 GRT, built 1930) from HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN). These ships had departed Capetown on 21 April. HMS Gloucester then returned to South Africa. (8)
28 Apr 1940
Shortly before midnight, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), parted company with the whale factory ship Tafelberg (13640 GRT, built 1930). (8)
1 May 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (9)
18 May 1940
HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN) and HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Gibraltar around 2000 hours (zone 0, GMT). Around 0830 hours the cruisers had been joined by the destroyers HMS Keppel (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) E.G. Heywood-Lonsdale, RN) and HMS Vortigern (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Howlett, RN) for A/S escort in the approaches to Gibraltar. (9)
22 May 1940
HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN) and HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Gibraltar for Freetown and Plymouth respectively. In the approaches to Gibraltar they were escorted by the destroyers HMS Keppel (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) E.G. Heywood-Lonsdale, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN) until 2345 hours. Both cruisers then set course for their destinations. (9)
25 May 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Plymouth where she was taken in hand at the Devonport Dockyard to complete the refit that had been started at the Simonstown Dockyard in South-Africa. (9)
9 Jun 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) conducted post-refit trials off Plymouth. (10)
10 Jun 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Plymouth to make rendez-vous with convoy US 3 and escort it towards the U.K. (10)
12 Jun 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) made rendez-vous with convoy US 3 to the west of Madeira. She then joined the escort force of the convoy which at that moment was made up of HMS Shropshire (Capt. J.H. Edelsten, RN) and HMS Cumberland (Capt. the Hon. G.H.E. Russell, RN).
The convoy itself was made up of the troopships (liners) Andes (25689 GRT, built 1939), Aquitania (44786 GRT, built 1914), Empress of Britain (42348 GRT, built 1931), Empress of Canada (21517 GRT, built 1922), Mauretania (35739 GRT, built 1939) and Queen Mary (81235 GRT, built 1936). These had on board troops from New Zealand and Australia. (10)
14 Jun 1940
Convoy US 3, made up of the troopships (liners) Andes (25689 GRT, built 1939), Aquitania (44786 GRT, built 1914), Empress of Britain (42348 GRT, built 1931), Empress of Canada (21517 GRT, built 1922), Mauretania (35739 GRT, built 1939) and Queen Mary (81235 GRT, built 1936) with troop from New Zealand and Australia on board and escorted by the British heavy cruisers HMS Shropshire (Capt. J.H. Edelsten, RN), HMS Cumberland (Capt. the Hon. G.H.E. Russell, RN) and HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was joined around 0800 hours by HMS Argus (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), which came from Gibraltar, and joined around 1000 hours by the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. Sir I.G. Glennie, RN) escorted by the Canadian destroyers HMCS Restigouche (Lt.Cdr. H.N. Lay, RN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt.Cdr. H.G. De Wolf, RCN), HMCS Fraser (Cdr. W.B. Creery, RCN) and HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN) which came from the U.K. Shortly afterwards HMS Dorsetshire left the convoy to proceed to Gibraltar.
Later that day, around 1500 hours, the convoy was joined by the destroyer HMS Wanderer (Cdr. J.H. Ruck-Keene, RN) and around 1600 hours by two more destroyers HMS Broke (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, RN) and HMS Westcott (Lt.Cdr. W.F.R. Segrave, RN). (11)
16 Jun 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Gibraltar. (10)
16 Jun 1940
Dakar, the French battleship Richelieu and the fall of France Timespan; 16 June to 7 July 1940.
The fall of France, 16 June 1940.
On 16 June 1940, less then six weeks after the invasion of France and the low countries had started on May 10th, all military resitance in France came to an end. The question of control of the French fleet had thus become, almost overnight, one of vital importance, for if it passed into the hands of the enemy the whole balance of sea power would be most seriously disturbed. It was therefore policy of H.M. Government to prevent, at all costs, the French warships based on British and French harbours overseas from falling into the hands of Germany.
The bulk of the French fleet was at this time based in the Mediterranean. There drastic steps were taken to implement this policy. Elsewhere the most important units were the two new battleships completing, the Jean Bart at St. Nazaire and more importantly as she was almost complete, the Richelieu, at Brest.
Events during the Franco-German negotiations 17-25 June 1940 and politics.
It was on the 17th of June 1940, when the newly-formed Pétain Cabinet asked the Germans to consider ‘honourable’ peace terms in order to stop the fighting in France. At 1516 (B.S.T.) hours that day the Admiralty issued orders that British ships were not to proceed to French ports. On receipt of these orders Vice-Admiral George D’Oyly Lyon, Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic, ordered the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, MVO, RN) then on her way to Dakar after a patrol off the Canary Islands to proceed to Freetown instead at her best speed. At the same time he recalled the British SS Accra which had sailed from Freetown for Dakar at 1730 hours (zone +1) with 850 French troops on board. She returned to Freetown at 0800/18. The British transport City of Paris with 600 French troops on board from Cotonou was ordered to put into Takoradi. On the 18th the Commander-in-Chief was also informed by Commander Jermyn Rushbrooke, RN, the British Naval Liaison Officer at Dakar that the Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy, Admiral Darlan had ordered Admiral Plancon at Dakar to continue fighting and also that the shore batteries and AA personnel there had declared for the British. At 0245/18 Vice-Admiral Lyon passed this information to the Admiralty, cancelled his orders to HMS Hermes to proceed to Freetown and directed her with the armed merchant cruisers HMS Carnarvon Castle (Capt. M.J.C. de Meric, RN) and HMS Mooltan (Capt.(Retd.) G.E. Sutcliff, RN), which were on passage to Freetown from the Western Approaches, to proceed to Dakar at full speed in order to strengthen the French morale. That afternoon the Admiralty ordered HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) to leave Gibraltar and proceed to Dakar and join the South Atlantic Station. She left Gibraltar on the 19th with an arrival date of the 23rd. In the morning of the 18th the French troopship Banfora reached Freetown, from Port Bouet, Ivory Coast with 1000 troops on board, and sailed for Dakar without delay. The French armed merchant cruiser Charles Plumier, which had been on patrol south of the Cape Verde Islands reached Dakar at 1015/18.
Meanwhile the British Naval Liaison Officer, Dakar’s signal had been followed by a report from the Naval Control Service Officer at Duala that an overwhelming spirit existed amongst the military and civilian population of the French Cameroons to continue fighting on the British side, but that they required lead, as the Governer was not a forceful character; but that morning the Governor of Nigeria informed the Commander-in-Chief that he considered steps to be taken to prevent a hostile move from Fernando Po (off the entrance to the Cameroon River). Accordingly, at 1845/18, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo (A/Capt. C.H. Petrie, RN) sailed from Freetown at 14 knots to show herself off San Carlos on the morning of the 23rd, and thence to anchor of Manoka in the Cameroon River the next day (her draught prevented her from reaching Duala). A/Capt. Petrie was then to proceed to Duala and call a conference.
It was difficult to arrive at a clear appreciation of the situation in French West-Africa but on the morning of the 19th June the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that, as the evidence pointed to an established resolve on the part of the West-African Colonies to join Great Britain whatever happened, he intended to allow French troop movements to continue. This he anticipated would avoid French exasperation and mistrust. During the early afternoon he heard from the Governors of Nigeria and the Gold Coast that French officers and non-commissioned officers were planning to leave the Cameroons and to join the British forces in Nigeria. At 1900/19 the Commander-in-Chief held a conference with the Governor of Sierra Leone at which it was decided that the Governor should cable home urging immediate action to persuade the French colonial troops and authorities to remain in their territories and hold their colonies against all attacks. In the evening the Commander-in-Chief reported to the Admiralty that French Guinea was determined to keep fighting on the British side. Meanwhile the Governor-General of French Equatorial Africa at Brazzaville was wavering and suggested leading his troops to the nearest British Colony. Late that night, still on the 19th, the Commander-in-Chief informed him that it was essential that he should remain at his post and that it was the expressed intention of French West Africa to fight on to victory.
Next morning, on the 20th, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief that the new French battleship Richelieu (about 95% complete) had departed Brest for Dakar on the 18th. Her sister ship, Jean Bart (about 77% complete) had left St. Nazaire for Casablanca on the 19th. During the afternoon of the 20th the British Liaison Officer at Dakar reported that according to the French Admiral at Dakar the French Government had refused the German armistice terms and would continue the fight in France. This was entirely misleading. For nearly two days the Commander-in-Chief had no definite information till at noon on 22 June when a BB C broadcast announced the signing of a armistice between France and Germany, which was to followed by one between France and Italy. Still there was much uncertainty, and the rest of the day was apparently spent in waiting for news. Early next morning, the 23rd June, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief that the French Bordeaux Government had signed an armistice with Germany. As the terms were not fully known the attitude of the French Navy remained uncertain. Shortly after 0200/23 the Admiralty gave orders that HMS Hermes was to remain at Dakar, and gave the Commander-in-Chief the text of the British Government’s appeal to the French Empire and to Frenchmen overseas to continue the war on the British side. The final collapse of France naturally exercised an important influence on the dispositions and movements of the South Atlantic forces. Also on the 23rd the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and the destroyer HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN) departed Gibraltar for Dakar and Casablanca respectively, and the same morning HMS Bulolo arrived off Fernando Po and showed herself of San Carlos and Santa Isabel. At noon she anchored off Manoka, in the Cameroon River, in the hope of restoring morale at Duala. Meanwhile HMS Mooltan had arrived at Freetown from Dakar and the United Kingdom, and during the afternoon (1500/23) the armed merchant cruiser HMS Maloja (A/Capt. V. Hammersley-Heenan, RN) reached Dakar from the Northern Patrol to join the Freetown escort force. Half an hour later the Richelieu and escorting destroyer Fleuret arrived at Dakar.
For a time the attitude of the French Governor-General at Dakar, the French North African colonies and the French Mediterranean Fleet, and the battleship Richelieu remained in doubt. Then owning to the anticipated difficulty of maintaining French salaries and supplies if the French did not accept the British offer, the situation at Dakar rapidly deteriorated, and by the evening of the 23rd reached a critical state. Early on the 24th, therefore, the Admiralty ordered the Commander-in-Chief to proceed there as soon as possible. The Commander-in-Chief replied that he intended to proceed there in the ex-Australian seaplane carrier HMS Albatross (Cdr. W.G. Brittain, RN), which was the only available ship, and expected to reach Dakar around noon on the 25th. At 1015/24 he left Freetown and reached Dakar around 1600/25. Meanwhile the Richelieu had put to sea. From then on the naval operations centred mainly on the battleship.
The problem of the Richelieu, 25-26 June 1940.
The Richelieu which had been landing cadets at Dakar, had sailed with the Fleuret at 1315/25 for an unknown destination. She was shadowed by an aircraft from HMS Hermes until 1700 hours. She was reported to be steering 320° at 18 knots. At 1700 hours the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to shadow her, and at 2200 hours HMS Dorsetshire reported herself as being in position 16°40’N, 18°35’W steering 225° at 25 knots, and that she expected to make contact with the Richelieu at midnight. At 2126 hours, the Admiralty ordered the Vice-Admiral aircraft carriers (Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) in HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) to proceed with dispatch to the Canary Islands with HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN) and five destroyers (actually only four sailed with them; HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN)). They departed Gibraltar in the morning of the 26th.
Early on the 26th, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, and the Vice-Admiral, aircraft carriers, that His Majesty’s Government had decided that the Richelieu was to be captured and taken into a British port. They were to take every step to avoid bloodshed and to use no more force then was absolutely necessary. It was understood that the French battleship had H.A. ammunition on board but no main armament ammunition, that forenoon however, the British Liaison Officer Brest reported that she had embarked 15” ammunition before leaving there. HMS Hood was to perform this task if possible but that there were a risk that the Richelieu might get away before her arrival, or if she tried to enter a neutral port such as La Luz in the Canaries, HMS Dorsetshire was to take action. After the capture she was to be taken to Gibraltar. The battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN) was detailed to intercept the Jean Bart in case she would depart Casablanca and deal with her in the same way.
Vice-Admiral Wells reported that HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hood and their escorting destroyers would pass through position 36°00’N, 06°35’W at 0300/26, steering 225° at 20 knots. HMS Dorsetshire, meanwhile, having seen nothing of the Richelieu by 0015/26, had proceeded to the northwestward, and then at 0230/26 turned to course 030°. At 0530/26 she catapulted her Walrus aircraft to search to the northward, and at 0730 hours it sighted the Richelieu in position 19°27’N, 18°52’W on course 010°, speed 18.5 knots. Eleven minutes later she altered course to 195°. The aircraft proceeded to shadow, but missed HMS Dorsetshire when it tried to return and in the end was forced to land on the sea at 0930 hours about 50 nautical miles to the southward of her. The Dorsetshire which had turned to 190° at 0905 hours was then in position 18°55’N, 17°52’W. She turned to search for her aircraft. Around noon she abandoned the search and steered 245° at 25 knots to intercept the Richelieu, which she correctly assumed to be continuing to the southward. She made contact soon after 1430 hours and at 1456 hours reported that she was shadowing the battleship from astern.
In the meantime the French Admiral at Dakar had informed Vice-Admiral Lyon that the ‘Admiral Afrique’ had ordered the Richelieu and the Fleuret to return to Dakar. At 1512 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic asked the Admiralty whether, under these circumstances, HMS Dorsetshire was to attempt to capture the Richelieu. He was confident that any interference would antagonise all the local authorities and the French people in general. He also pointed out that His Majesty’s ships at Dakar would be placed in a most difficult position.
At 1630/26, HMS Dorsetshire, reported that she was in position 17°21’N, 18°22’W with the Richelieu within easy visual distance. Relations between the two ships remained cordial. The French ship had not trained her guns when she sighted the Dorsetshire, and she expressed regret that, having no aircraft embarked, she was unable to co-operate in the search for her missing Walrus aircraft but she signalled to Dakar for a French plane to assist. In view of her declared intention to return to Dakar, Capt. Martin took no steps to capture her and at 1700 hours he was ordered by the Admiralty to only shadow the Richelieu. At the same time HMS Hermes left Dakar to search for HMS Dorsetshire’s Walrus.
Shortly after 1900/26, the Admiralty ordered Ark Royal, HMS Hood and their four escorting destroyers to return to Gibraltar. At 2015 hours, the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to cease shadowing the Richelieu and to search for her missing Walrus. On receipt of these orders she parted company with the Richelieu and Fleuret at 2300/26, being then some 70 nautical miles from Dakar. HMS Dorsetshire then proceeded to the north-north-eastward at 23 knots.
At first light on the 27th, HMS Hermes, then some 30 nautical miles to the southward, flew off seven aircraft to assist in the search. It was however HMS Dorsetshire herself which eventually found and recovered her aircraft at 1107/27. Meanwhile the Richelieu had arrived off Dakar at 0900/27 but did not enter the port. Shortly afterwards she made off the the north yet again. HMS Hermes then steered to the northward to be in a position to intercept if needed. Nothing was seen of the Richelieu until she was again located off Dakar at 0500/28. HMS Hermes, by that time about 400 nautical miles north of Dakar, was ordered to proceed southwards and return to Dakar.
The Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, at Dakar 26-29 June 1940.
While these movements were going on at sea, the position at Dakar was steadily deteriorating. At about 1830/26, the Commander-in-Chief had reported to the Admiralty that the French Admiral at Dakar had informed him, on Admiral Darlan’s instructions, that the presence of British warships at Dakar was in contrary to the terms of the Franco-German armistice. At 1700/26 (zone -1) however, the Admiralty had signalled to the Commander-in-Chief that, as the French codes were compromised, that French authorities could no longer be sure that orders came from Admiral Darlan but Admiral Plancon refused to question the authenticity of any signal he received. During the night the appointment of the British Liaison Officer at Dakar was terminated.
At 0500/27 the Richelieu was seen approaching Dakar, but 25 minutes later she turned to seaward again and the Commander-in-Chief ordered a Walrus aircraft from HMS Albatros to shadow her. That afternoon he informed the Admiralty that the Richelieu had put to sea to escort five French armed merchant cruisers [according to another source these were the armed merchant cruisers (four in number and not five) El D’Jezair, El Kantara, El Mansour, Ville d’Oran and the large destroyers Milan and Epervier which came from Brest] to Dakar. The Admiralty was clearly anxious that the Richelieu should not escape and at 0021/28, they ordered Vice-Admiral Wells with HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hood escorted by four destroyers (HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Foxhound and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN)) to proceed to the Canaries to intercept her if she continued to steam to the northward. These ships (with HMS Escapade instead of HMS Vidette) had only returned to Gibraltar late the previous evening from their first sortie to intercept the Richelieu. Now they left again around 0600/28 but were quickly ordered to return to Gibraltar and were back in port around noon.
Around 0500/28 HMS Dorsetshire, proceeding back towards Dakar after having picked up her lost aircraft encountered the Richelieu about 10 nautical miles north of Dakar. Admiral Wells was then ordered by the Admiralty to return to Gibraltar. The rapid deterioration of the situation in West Africa is clearly shown in a series of signals which passed between the Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic and the Admiralty on 28 June. At 1100 hours, the Commander-in-Chief signalled that the French had refused HMS Dorsetshire permission to enter Dakar and that she was therefore proceeding to Freetown with all dispatch to fuel and return to the Dakar area as soon as possible. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at Freetown at 0545/29. At 1415/28 the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that the French Admiral at Dakar had issued orders to prevent H.M. ships from communicating with, or receiving stores, from the shore. In reply he had told the French Admiral that HMS Hermes would enter Dakar on the 29th to embark aircraft stores and fuel, and that he himself would sail from there in HMS Albatros after seeing the commanding officer of HMS Hermes. At 1515/28 the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty of the steps he would take in case the Richelieu would proceed to sea again. The Admiralty then issued orders that Dakar was to be watched by an 8” cruiser within sight of the French port by dayand within three miles by night. HMS Hermes was to remain off Dakar until relieved by HMS Dorsetshire after this ship had returned from fueling at Freetown.
HMS Hermes arrived at Dakar at 0900/29. During the day she embarked Fleet Air Arm personnel and stores which had been landed there earlier. She then completed with fuel and sailed at 1800/29. She then patrolled off Dakar until she was relieved by HMS Dorsetshire at 1800/30. The Commander-in-Chief had sailed from Dakar in HMS Albatros at 1030/29. He arrived at Freetown at 1800/30 and transferred his flag to the accommodation ship Edinburgh Castle.
Deterioration of Franco-British relations, 1 – 3 July 1940.
The first few days of July saw a swift deterioration of Franco-British relations everywhere. The paramount importance of keeping the French fleet out of the hands of the enemy forced the British Government to take steps. According to the armistice terms the French fleet had to assemble at ports under German or Italian control and be demilitarized. To the Government it was clear that this would mean that the French ships would be brought into action against us. The Government therefore decided to offer the French naval commanders the following options; - to continue the fight against the Axis, to completely immobilization in certain ports or to demilitarize or sink their ships.
Already a powerful squadron, known as ‘Force H’ had been assembled at Gibraltar, in order to fill the strategic naval vacuum in the Western Mediterranean caused by the defection of the French fleet, and on 30 June Vice-Admiral James Sommerville hoisted his flag in HMS Hood. His first task was to present the British alternatives to the Admiral commanding the French ships at Oran, failing the acceptance of one of them, he was to use force.
To return to West-Africa, HMS Hermes reached Freetown with the Fleet Air Arm passengers and stores from Dakar on 2 July. Early that afternoon the Commander-in-Chief asked the Consul General at Dakar to obtain, if possible, assurance from the French Admiral there that if British warships were not allowed to use Dakar, enemy men-of-war should also be forbidden to use it. At 1915/2, the ex-British Liaison Officer, who had not yet left Dakar, reported the arrival of a British merchant ship which had not been diverted. He also reported that the French ships Katiola and Potiers might be sailing for Casablanca, escorted by armed merchant cruisers and destroyers. The Admiralty however ordered HMS Dorsetshire, which was maintaining the watch on Dakar, to take no action. At 2310/2 the Commander-in-Chief asked the Consul-General whether there was any chance of the Polish and Belgian bullion which was in the armed merchant cruiser Victor Schoelcher being transferred to either the Katiola or Potiers. He received no reply, and the continued silence of the British Consul led him to believe that the Consul’s signals were either being held up or mutilated.
Next forenoon, 3 July, the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that he intended to divert all British shipping in the South Atlantic from all French ports. Early that morning Vice-Admiral Sommerville’s Force H had arrived off Oran. For the next ten hours strenuous efforts were made to persuade the French Admiral to accept one of the British alternatives, but without success. At 1554 hours (zone -1) Force H sadly opened fire on the ships of their former ally at Mers-el-Kebir, inflicting heavy damage and grievous loss of life. None could predict the result of these measures on the Franco-British relations, but it was sure they would not be improved.
During the afternoon of July 3rd the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, on Admiralty instructions, directed all British Naval Control Officers and Consular Shipping Advisers to order all Biritsh and Allied ships to leave French ports as soon as possible, if necessary disregarding French instructions. All British warships in French ports were to remain at short notice and to prepared for every eventuality. The only warship in a French port within the limits of the South Atlantic Station at the time was HMS Bulolo, which was at Manoka in the Cameroons. At 2048 hours (B.S.T.) the Admiralty ordered all British warships in French ports to proceed to sea and at 2223 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered HMS Bulolo to proceed to Lagos, where she was to remain with HMS Dragon (Capt. R.G. Bowes-Lyon, MVO, RN) until further orders.
HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar, 3-7 July 1940.
Meanwhile HMS Dorsetshire had continued her watch off Dakar. On 3 July 1940 there were sixteen French warships and seven auxiliaries in the harbour. This number included the battleship Richelieu, the large destroyers Fleuret, Milan, Epervier, the armed merchant cruisers El D’Jezair, El Kantara, El Mansour, Ville d’Oran, Ville d’Alger, Victor Schoelcher and Charles Plumier, the colonial sloop Bougainville, the submarines Le Heros and Le Glorieux. At 0917/3 the Admiralty asked the Commander-in-Chief for the Richelieu’s berth at Dakar. HMS Dorsetshire informed him that at 1125/3 she was in position 045°, Cape Manuel lighthouse, 2.6 nautical miles, ships head 230°. Captain Martin seems to have drawn his own conclusions from this question and at 1350 hours he signalled to the the Commander-in-Chief his opinion that the Richelieu’s propellers could be severely damaged by depth charges dropped from a fast motor dinghy, and he asked permission to carry out such an attack about 2300 hours that night. Vice-Admiral Lyon replied that he had no instructions from the Admiralty to take offensive action against the Richelieu. At 1625 hours, however, the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to get ready, but to await approval before actually carrying out an attack. This was followed at 1745 hours by a signal that the proposed attack was not approved as it was feared to be ineffective and for the time being the idea was ‘shelved’. [More on this idea later on.]
At 1904/3, the Admiralty ordered HMS Hermes to leave Freetown with all despatch to join HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar at 0500/5. At 2112/3 the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to shadow the Richelieu if she sailed and proceeded northwards. If the vessel however made for the French West Indies, the Dorsetshire was to make every effort to destroy her by torpedo attack, and, if that failed, by ramming [ !!! ]. Late that evening the French Government decreed that all British ships and aircraft were forbidden, under penalty of being fired upon without warning, to approach within 20 nautical miles of French territory at home or overseas. Just before midnight the Admiralty gave orders that HMAS Australia (Capt. R.S. Stewart, RN), after refueling at Freetown, was to join HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar. At 0926/4, the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered HMS Hermes and HMAS Australia to rendez-vous with HMS Dorsetshire 21 nautical miles from Dakar instead of the 15 nautical miles previously arranged and at 1037 hours he informed all three ships that as the French Air Force and submarines had orders to attack British ships off Casablanca and Dakar. He therefore issued orders that French aircraft and submarines were to be attacked and destroyed on sight. During that afternoon the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that, as an alternative to the German demands, French warships might proceed to the West Indies. At 2041 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic asked whether, in view of this, the Admiralty intended that the Richelieu should be attacked if she was to proceed to the West Indies. Before this message was received, a signal was sent at 2050 hours cancelling the orders for the Richelieu’s destruction and at about midnight the Admiralty directed that she should be shadowed only.
Early on the 5th the Consul-General at Dakar reported that the merchant vessel Argyll with Commander J. Rushbrooke, RN, the ex-British Naval Liaison Officer, Dakar and his staff onboard, had, in accordance with instructions from the French authorities left Dakar the previous day but that she was recalled on reaching the outer boom, an order which had led the Consul-General to make a protest. Soon after midnight 4/5 July orders were received from the Admiralty that the sloop HMS Milford (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) should be sent to join the patrol off Dakar to provide A/S protection. She left Freetown for Dakar at 1000/5.
At 0723/5, in view of the French order forbidding the approach of British vessels and aircraft within 20 nautical miles from French territory at home and overseas, the Commander-in-Chief ordered his ships off Dakar not to approach within 20 nautical miles of the shore and replied in the affirmative when HMS Dorsetshire asked whether this rule also applied by night. During the afternoon he informed his command that French warships was orders not to attack the British unless they were within these 20 nautical miles. He later added that also submarines had the same orders.
At 1853/5, the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire, HMAS Australia, HMS Hermes and HMS Milford not to attack French submarines outside the 20 mile zone unless they were obviously hostile. An Admiralty report then came in the the Richelieu was reported to have put to sea but HMS Dorsetshire quickly contradicted that report.
Dispositions off Dakar at 0300 on 7 July 1940.
At 0300/7, two of the British warships off Dakar which were under the command of Capt. Martin (being the senior officer) were patrolling of Dakar (HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Hermes). The third ship (HMAS Australia) was patrolling about 35 to 40 nautical miles further to the north. The fourth ship HMS Milford was approaching Dakar from the south. At 0307 hours a signal from the Admiralty was received which gave a completely different complexion to their operations.
23 Jun 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Gibraltar for the 'Dakar area' to monitor the French battleship Richelieu which had arrived there from Brest on that day. She was briefly escorted by HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN) which was to proceed to Casablanca. (10)
26 Jun 1940
At 1430 hours, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), sighted the French battleship Richelieu which had departed Dakar the previous day for Casablanca with the destroyer Fleuret. About two hours later Richelieu and Fleuret reversed course and returned to Dakar where they arrived early on the 28th still shadowed by Dorsetshire. (10)
29 Jun 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. After fuelling from the oiler RFA Cedardale (Master W. Frost) she immediately left Freetown again for the 'Dakar area'. (10)
7 Jul 1940
The attack on the French battleship Richelieu, 7 / 8 July 1940.
The Admiralty orders operations against the Richelieu.
The Admiralty had originally intended that the Richelieu should be dealt with by Vice-Admiral Sommerville’s Force H from Gibraltar but later they decided to employ Force H in the Mediterranean and that the Richelieu was to be put out of action by aircraft from HMS Hermes (Capt. R.F.J. Onslow, RN). Both on account of his up-to-date local knowledge and his air experience Captain Onslow was chosen to take charge of this operation, with the temporary rank of Acting Rear-Admiral. The Admiralty orders to him were contained in a signal sent at 0144/7 (zone -1), which read as follows; ‘H.M. Government have decided question of Richelieu and other French warships at Dakar must be settled without delay. 1) You have been selected to take charge of the operations on account of your recent local and air knowledge, and are hereby promoted to Acting Rear-Admiral until further orders. 2) You are to take HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), HMAS Australia (Capt. R.S. Stewart, RN) and HMS Milford (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) under your command. 3) You should communicate with the French Naval Authorities at Dakar in manner you think best and transmit text of message which will follow in another signal soon. A decision must be asked within four hours so as to give the Richelieu no time to get underway. 4) Shoud alternative 3 be accepted you take such measures of demilitarization to ensure that ships could not be brought into service for at least a year even at a fully equipped dockyard port. [Seven suggestions to archive this were then given] 5) If all alternatives are refused you should as soon as possible carry out an attack on Richelieu with torpedo aircraft and maintain this attack until it is certain she is sufficiently disabled. Approximately half your torpedoes should have Duplex pistols and half contact pistols and endeavor should be made to obtain a hit in the vicinity of the propellers with a contact pistol. All attacks should be from one side if possible. 6) Bombardment by 8” cruisers should not be carried out in view of the small damage to be expected on the Richelieu and streght of defences. 7) HMS Dorsetshire and HMAS Australia should show themselves at intervals during the operation, but no unnecessary risk of submarine attacks should be accepted by any ship. French naval authorities should be informed your forces are kept at a distance until this decision on account of their submarines. 8) Should it be possible after Richelieu have been dealt with, the two light cruisers should also be attacked. Armed merchant cruisers should not be attacked. 9) Any ship endeavours to put to sea should be brought into action. Whether Richelieu can be attacked under these circumstances by the 8” cruisers should depend on her 15” main battery being operative and effective. 10) H.M. Government desires operation to be carried out as soon as possible subject to your plan as being as proposed. 11) Should Richelieu have left Dakar before receipt of these orders she is to be called upon to stop. If she obeys this order the procedure outlined above is to be carried out. If she refuses to stop she is to be attacked with torpedo aircraft. 12) Inform Admiralty in due course whether operation will take place and of various phases of operations as they occur.
This signal was followed almost immediately by another which gave the terms of communication which Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow was to make to the French authorities at Dakar. Four alternatives were to be offererd; 1) To sail their ships with reduced crews and without ammunition, under British control, to a British port. The crews would be repatriated as soon as possible, and the ships restored to France at the end of the war, or compensation paid if damaged meanwhile 2) To sail with us with reduced crews and without ammunition to some French port in the West Indies, where the ships are to be demilitarized or perhaps entrusted to the United States. Crews to be repatriated. 3) To demilitarize the ships at Dakar to Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s satisfaction within 12 hours, to such an extent that they would be incapable of taking part further in the present war. 4) To sink their ships within 6 hours. A reply was required within 4 hours, failing the adoption of one of the alternatives, force will be resorted to.
Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s proceedings, 7 July 1940.
After these clear and unequivocal signals had been deciphered Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s first concern was the delivery of the British ultimatum to the French authorities. He decided to concentrate HMS Hermes, HMS Dorsetshire, HMAS Australia and meet up with HMS Milford as soon as possible. HMS Milford would then proceed into Dakar with the full text of H.M. Governments terms. By 0800 hours that morning the three ships were steaming south in company, but there was some delay in meeting HMS Milford, as owning to pressure of work in the wireless office of HMS Hermes, Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow had told HMAS Australia to pass a signal to HMS Milford to join his flag, and the Australia used a cypher not held by the Milford. Meanwhile, at 0900 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic had asked Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow whether he wished any signal to be made to the Consul-General at Dakar. He replied with a request that the Consul-General to be informed that HMS Milford was being sent into Dakar with an important message for the French Admiral.
It was not until 1155 hours that HMS Milford joined. No time was then lost, and havig embarked Paymaster-Lieutenant R.S. Flynn, RN as interpreter, she left for Dakar at 1214 hours, with a copy of the British ultimatum on board. At 1300 hours, Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow informed the Admiralty that she was on her way and that she should arrive around 1400 hours. On her arrival off Dakar however, the French Admiral declined to accept the British communication and threatened to open fire unless she retired. A request that he should reconsider his decision was met with a blank refusal and at 1448 hours HMS Milford reported that she was returned towards HMS Hermes. Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow then reported this information to the Admiralty without delay, adding that he intended to attack at dusk.
From the first appearance of HMS Milford off Dakar the French kept the British force under aerial observation. Aircraft from HMS Hermes have been keeping Dakar under observation during daylight hours as of 0600/5. At 1700/7 a special reconnaissance was carried out by the Squadron Commander with the senior observer in view of the attack that had to be carried out soon. Shortly afterwards Admiralty approval for the dusk attack was received.
Meanwhile the French authorities seem to have thought better of their abrupt refusal to receive the Milford’s communication, and at about 1615 hours a signal was made to her to the effect that the Governor-General approved of her message being passed by W/T. A further signal seemed to indicate that Admiral Plancon was now prepared to receive it. These signals were interpreted by HMAS Australia and passed on to Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow, who decided to deal with the matter himself, and on receipt of the second message started to pass H.M. Government’s full terms in English by wireless; but in order to allow time to prepare for offensive action during the night he reduced the time limit for a reply from four hours to two. These developments he reported to the Admiralty and the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic at 1700 hours. Dakar W/T station acknowledged the receipt of the message at 1805 hours and the ultimatum was thus due to expire at 2005/7. This however was over an hour after sunset and the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic therefore suggested that the attack with torpedo planes should therefore be carried out at dawn the next day. The possibility that the Richelieu might put to sea during the night could not be overlooked and Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow deployed his ships in such a manner and closer inshore then 20 miles that the most likely routes were covered.
Disposition of Dakar during the night of 7/8 July 1940.
Air reconnaissance had shown that a definite lane leading from the Richelieu in a north-easterly direction had been purposely made through the large number of merchant ships anchored in the Outer Roads, and it seemed that a passage through the outer boom might have been made between Gorée Island and R’solue Shoal to facilitate her escape in that direction. To guard against this HMS Milford was ordered to patrol further eastward then originally intended.
At 1914/7 the Acting Rear-Admiral detached HMS Dorsetshire and HMAS Australia to take up their patrol lines, while HMS Hermes and HMS Milford in company proceeded towards the west end of the latter’s patrol line. No reply to the ultimatum had been received from the French authorities, and at 2003 hours (two minutes before it’s expiration) Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow made a polite signal asking for an answer. There was no response and at 2020 hours he decided to take offensive action. This was to consist of a depth charge attack by the Hermes’s fast twin-engine motor-boat on the Richelieu during the night, followed by a torpedo attack with aircraft at dawn. At 2050 hours HMS Hermes and HMS Milford stopped, being then 17 nautical miles due south of Cape Manuel, the motor-boat was lowered, and started on the first stage of its adventurous trip.
Depth charge attack on the Richelieu.
The motor-boat, which was manned by a volunteer crew of nine with blackened faces, commanded by Lt.Cdr. R.H. Bristowe, RN, had been painted matt black all over during the afternoon (much to the distress of the Boat Officer) and had been armed with a Vickers machine-gun. It carried four depth charges, a portable wireless set, which would prove to be much useful, and extra petrol, oil and provisions. Lt.Cdr. Bristowe’s orders were to proceed with HMS Milford to the western end of her new patrol line within 10 nautical miles of Dakar harbour and thence to go on alone into the outer harbour, passing over and around booms as he thought best. He was to drop the four depth charges under the Richelieu’s stern if he discovered her at anchor, or across her bows if he found her under way. If he failed to find her he was to report that by wireless at once. After the operation he was to endeavor to get in tow of the Milford on her patrol line by 0300/8 but if he found this impossible he was to make a rendezvous with Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s force at 0530/8.
At 2100/7 the crew manned the boat and proceeded with two depth charges from the Hermes to pick up two more from the Milford. A considerable swell was running and when the first depth charge was being hoisted in from the Milford it struck one of the crew of the motor-boat and struck him out. It also wrecked the port engine. Fortunately the new starboard engine which had been fitted during the afternoon, but which had not been tested due to lack of time, was running beautifully.
When HMS Milford got under way at 2145/7, she ordered to motor-boat to follow her at 12 knots if possible. The depth charges slung outboard upset the boat’s stability and it had a perilous trip. Near its point of departure from the Milford a large ship hove into sight which, at first, looked like the Richelieu but it answered the Milford’s challenge correctly and proved to be HMAS Australia.
The motor-boat then parted company and, when out of sight, stopped while the crew lifted the last depth charge into position. When this task was completed, all hands, except the two Royal Marines, which were manning the Vickers machine-gun in the bows carried out a drill with the depth charge throwers. Then they continued their was towards Dakar. Gorée Islands hove into sight after what appeared to have been hours. Actually it was now 0015/8. Shortly afterwards the boat almost collided with a destroyer that was patrolling outside the boom but remained unseen. It then proceeded slowly at only three knots until off the outer boom. The engine was then stopped and it slid over safely. It then went ahead at dead slow speed with engine muffled until it encountered a colonial sloop (must have been the Bougainville), which it at first mistook for the Richelieu and had nearly attacked. Again the motor-boat remained unseen and it now steered for the merchant ships which formed two straight lines running in a north-easterly direction from the Richelieu as she lay about three quarters of a mile due east of the inner harbour entrance. Then passing round the north-eastern end of the inner boom, it steered towards the reported position of the Richelieu, keeping close to the nearest line of merchant ships until the battleship with a merchant vessel laying almost dead astern of her, came into sight. Lt.Cdr. Bristowe steered for the merchant ship which afforded an excellent position from which to attack. As he approached her, however, he sighted a harbour launch under way just astern of the battleship, and decided to attack at once from the quarter instead of from astern. Events followed quickly. The motor-boat was challenged but before the challenge was completed Lt.Cdr. Bristowe had given orders to attack at full speed. As he approached the Richelieu he was challenged again six times, but although he could not reply the French held their fire.
The coxswain’s orders were to go alongside the stern of the battleship, to graze their port side steering towards her bow, and then, as soon as Lt.Cdr. Bristowe gave the order ‘over’ to dash cover amongst the merchant ships. At the last moment a lighter lying right aft along the battleship’s port side, and her port quarter boom with a boat made fast to it, came into sight in the light of the half moon. These the coxswain avoided most skillfully and at 0210 hours put the motor-boat alongside about 30 yards from the battleships stern over what Lt.Cdr. Bristowe hoped was the vital spot for which he was looking. The depth charges then went over. Frenchmen on the quarterdeck of the Richelieu stood looking over the side, apparently at first wondering about what was happening below. When they finally discovered they beat a hurried retreat. Meanwhile the motor-boat dashed for safety amongst the mechant ships. The complete absence of any explosions came as an anti-climax.
Although the Richelieu very quickly sent a general signal which was acknowledged quickly by the shore batteries and the ships in the harbour but no searchlights were switched on. Lt.Cdr. Bristowe decided to get away as soon as possible at full speed to take full advantage of the remaining two hours of darkness. He made a dash for the outer boom. As he approached the boom, however, an auxiliary vessel sighted the motor-boat and gave chase, and, being unable to shake of this pursuer, Lt.Cdr. Bristowe steered at full speed towards the boom with the French vessel only 50 yards behind. The motor-boat passed safely over the nets around 0300 hours but its pursuer got caught in the nets. Another patrol vessel then came into sight and took up the chase, but with steering a zig-zag course the moto-boat managed to escape. Neither French vessel had opened fire. It was already too late to make rendezvous with HMS Milford so Lt.Cdr. Bristowe set course to make rendezvous with the main force. At 0355 hours he informed HMS Hermes by wireless that he had dropped his four depth charges under the stern of the Richelieu at 0210 hours.
At about 0505 hours there were a number of explosions coming from the direction of the French battleship followed by heavy gunfire. A few minutes later a Swordfish aircraft passed overhead, flying to seaward. The Fleet Air Arm attack had taken place. As dawn broke the Richelieu came into sight, shrouded by a pall of yellow smoke, some two to three miles away. There was a heavy barrage of French AA fire and Lt.Cdr. Bristowe turned south to avoid it. A French bomber appeared overhead and for 15 minutes the motor-boat zigzagged to throw it off, but it dropped no bombs.
At 0545 hours, Lt.Cdr. Bristowe decided that he could not reach HMS Hermes so he set course for Bathurst, over 70 nautical miles away. Soon however, a signal was received from the Hermes to stop engines. About noon HMS Hermes picked up the motor-boat 13 nautical miles south of Cape Manuel, after it had been away from the ship for 15 hours.
Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow considered the conduct of Lt.Cdr. Bristowe and the remaining crew of the motor-boat in the highest degree of praiseworthy. It was just said that the depth charges did not explode in the shallow water. The venture clearly deserved better success.
The Fleet Air Arm torpedo attack on the Richelieu at dawn on 8 July 1940.
At 2300/7, Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow had ordered Lt.Cdr. Luard, the leader of 814 Squadron to carry out a torpedo attack with the greatest possible number of aircraft on the Richelieu at dawn the next day. As only three of the available pilots had previously taken off at night Lt.Cdr. Luard decided that the six crews should consist of one pilot and one observer only and that no air gunners were to be part of the crews (to their disappointment). They were to form up in two sub flights in line ahead at a height of 2000 feet, one mile ahead of the Hermes. The pistols carried by the first, second and fourth Swordfish were fitted with Duplex pistols and were set to run under the Richelieu at 38 feet. Those carried by the other three Swordfish were contact pistols set to run at 24 feet. All six were set to run at 40 knots.
The attack was only possible from one side owning to nets, shipping and depth of the water. From this direction, the north-east, the six aircraft were to attack in line ahead, and were then to return to HMS Hermes independently. At 0415/8 they all took off successfully from HMS Hermes which was then in position 14°37’N, 17°46’W about 20 nautical miles west of Cape Manuel, and at 0445 hours took departure about 2000 feet over her. At 0452 hours they sighted the Cape Verde peninsula and at 0500 hours when they were approaching Gorée Island they formed a single line ahead. At 0502 hours, Lt.Cdr. Luard went into a shallow dive from the south to keep a good background as long as possible, turning south-west at 0505 hours. Fortunately the Richelieu was swung heading south-east broadside on. He aimed his torpedo at her port side, two-thirds of the way aft from a range of 800 yards. When he had completed his attack he turned to port and made a rapid get-away to the south before turning west to rejoin HMS Hermes. The other five Swordfish dropped their torpedoes in quick succession. As Lt.Cdr. Luard made his attack a large number of AA guns opened fire and engaged all six Swordfish. The third aircraft to attack saw the two previous torpedo tracks running straight for the Richelieu and the last aircraft reported seeing four tracks proceeding towards her. Two of the aircraft saw a large column of smoke rising from the Richelieu and all the pilots considered that they had made good drops. Owning to the lack of light and the necessity of getting away quickly they found it imposible to observe the effect of their torpedoes but Lt.Cdr. Luard estimated that at least four or five of them had run correctly towards the target. He landed without mishap on board HMS Hermes at 0526/8 and all the other Swordfish did the same afterwards. One had been hit twice and another one once by AA fire but they had received only minor damage.
The exact amount of damage done to the Richelieu was not easy to determine. Lt.Cdr. Luard estimated that four or five of the torpedoes dropped by the six aircraft had run correctly towards their target and that HMS Dorsetshire reported hearing five distinct explosions between 0500 and 0515 hours. A pall of smoke shrouding the Richelieu was reported by one of the pilots and his observer. As the day wore on, further evidence convinced Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow that she had been disabled. Air reconnaissance reported her as being down by the stern, with large quantities of oil all around her. Of this he informed the Admiralty at 0930/8.
On the recovery of the motor-boat at noon Lt.Cdr. Bristowe reported hearing explosions while his motor-boat lay broken down off the end of the inner boom at 0230 hours, which he naturally attributed to his depth charges exploding underneath her stern. Like the Dorsetshire he had heard a number of explosions around 0510 hours and had noticed the pall of smoke reported by the airmen.
Between 0930 and 1235 hours, French aircraft made intermittent attacks on the British force. They failed to press these attacks home but after picking up the motor-boat Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow ordered his ships to the south and south-west to avoid the French aircraft whilst still keeping the Richelieu under observation from the air. Photographs showed her down by the stern and slightly listing to port.
At 1314/8 the Admiralty replied to the report of 0930 hours. ‘Good, but further attacks should be made and report made’. But it was too late. During the afternoon the Richelieu was moved to the inner harbour and berthed alongside the detached mole where she rested on the bottom at low tide. At this position she was immune from further torpedo attack. This information was passed to the Admiralty at 1710 hours, together with the opinion that the Richelieu was definitely disabled. It was suggested that the British force should proceed to Freetown to fuel. HMS Milford was detached after dark. The other ships took up night patrolling positions but just after midnight Admiralty approval to proceed to Freetown was received. HMS Hermes and HMS Dorsetshire indeed did so but HMAS Australia proceeded to the U.K. The passage to Freetown by HMS Hermes and HMS Dorsetshire was not without incident. In a sudden dense tropical storm during the middle watch on 10 July HMS Hermes collided with the armed merchant cruiser HMS Corfu (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN) which was escorting convoy SL 39 coming from Freetown. HMS Corfu was badly holed, while HMS Hermes suffered severe damage to her bow and the forward end of her flight deck but was able to proceed under her own steam to Freetown where she arrived at 1800/10. On 11 July 1940 Temporary Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow reverted to his rank of Captain.
Damage to the Richelieu.
The Admiralty tried to find out if Richelieu was indeed ‘definitely disabled’ as Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow had claimed. Before the end of the month further reports became available. Commander Rushbrooke, the former British Naval Liaison Officer at Dakar was at Dakar in the merchant vessel Argyll during the attacks which was moored only 3 cables away from the Richelieu on her port beam. Commander Rushbrooke had had a ringside seat. On his arrival at Freetown he reported that at 0230/8 funnel explosions were heard from the direction of the Richelieu which gave the impression that the fuel supply to her furnaces was not normal. These explosions had occurred before and one must take into account that the Richelieu was brand new and not fully completed at that time let alone be fully worked up and possibly suffering from small defects which had not fully be remedied during her trial period. Following these explosions, two officers, which were on the bridge of the Argyll did not see any special activity on board the Richelieu nor in the harbour. These funnel explosions were probably the explosions heard by Lt.Cdr. Bristowe around 0230 hours.
Shortly after 0500/8, Commander Rushbrooke and the same two officers witnessed the air attack and at 0507 hours heard two dull thuds. When full daylight broke they saw a patch of oil round the Richelieu’s stern, which also appeared to be slightly down in the water. Later she lowered her main aerials but soon rehoisted them.
After pursuing all available reports, the Admiralty considered that the attack had been well conceived and executed, but that certain technical aspects required comment. The depth of the water at the time was 42 feet and the Richelieu’s draught was 26 feet 10 inches. In those conditions the setting of the torpedoes intended to run under the ship would have been about 3 feet more then the expected draught, or at most 33 feet (instead of 38 feet) and the setting of the contact torpedoes should have been at least 6 feet less the the draught, 21 feet at most (instead of 24 feet). In view of the shallowness of the water and the fact that the target was at anchor, too, the high speed setting of 40 knots should not have been used, as it was known that these torpedoes were liable to have an excessive initial dive on the 40 knot setting, and a much reduced one on the 29 knot setting.
It was also pointed out in the Admiralty that 18” torpedoes containing about 440 lbs. of T.N.T. hitting the ships side within the length of the citadel would not defeat the main protection. They would cause little flooding but would allow oil to escape into the sea. Torpedoes fitted with Duplex pistols exploding under the ships bottom would not produce damage visible from outside the ship. Broken aerials are a feature of underwater explosions and new aerials may have been hoisted to replace broken ones, but from Commander Rushbrooke’s report it would appear that not more then one torpedo could have exploded under the Richelieu’s main machinery compartments. It was considered, therefore, that she could not be regarded as out of action, but still as seaworthy and able to steam at at least three-quarters speed with all her main armament capable of use.
Actually the damage was more serious then this assessment. According to French sources which later became available, only one torpedo hit. It blew a hole 25 x 20 feet, fractured stern post, distorted the starboard inner shaft and flooded three compartments. She was rendered incapable of steaming more than half power, and repairs to restore seaworthiness took a year. But her main armament was intact which would be shown a few months later. (13)
10 Jul 1940
Shortly after 0300 hours (zone +1), in bad weather, HMS Hermes (A/Rear-Admiral R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, MVO, RN) and HMS Corfu (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN) collided with each other. The ships got stuck together and only came loose around 0520 hours. Most of the crew of the heavily damaged Corfu had evacuated to the Hermes but later the engine room staff returned. HMS Hermes then proceeded to Freetown while HMS Corfu got underway for Freetown als at dead slow speed and proceeding astern under escort by HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN).
At 1830/10 HMS Dorsetshire commenced towing HMS Corfu but after two minutes the bollard was carried away and the tow parted. At 1845 hours Corfu again proceeded astern at dead slow speed.
At 0520/11 HMS Milford (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) arrived on the scene for A/S protection and at 0600/11 the Dutch tug Donau arrived on the scene as well. She took HMS Corfu in tow shortly after 0800 hours.
HMS Hermes arrived at Freetown later the same day. HMS Corfu, HMS Dorsetshite and HMS Milford arrived at/off Freetown on the 12th. (14)
12 Jul 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (15)
16 Jul 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown for an anti-raider patrol in the mid-Atlantic. (15)
24 Jul 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) searched the Portugese passenger/cargo vessel Colonial (7988 GRT, built 1908) in approximate position 02°00'N, 30°20'W and took off an Italian Consul (currently unknown to us in which country but most probably Brasil). (15)
29 Jul 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (15)
30 Jul 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown to patrol in the South Atlantic to search for the German raider Thor. (15)
11 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (16)
11 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (16)
13 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown for patrol in the South Atlantic. (16)
22 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at St. Helena. (16)
23 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) conducted exercises off St. Helena. (16)
24 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed St.Helena to make rendez-vous at sea with the troopship Orion (23371 GRT, built 1935) and her escort the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Sumatra (Capt. C.H. Brouwer, RNN). The next day, August 25th, around 170 hours (zone -1), HMS Dorsetshire took over the escort of the Orion toward Capetown while HrMs Sumatra proceeded independently to Lobito, Portugese Africa (now Angola) before she continued on to Capetown as well. (16)
29 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and the troopship Orion arrived at False Bay. HMS Devonshire anchored near Simonstown. (16)
31 Aug 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) proceeded to the Simonstown Naval Dockyard where she was taken in hand for repairs. (16)
3 Sep 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Simonstown for Durban where she was to dock. (17)
5 Sep 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Durban where she was immediately docked. (17)
12 Sep 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is undocked. (17)
18 Sep 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Durban for Simonstown. (17)
20 Sep 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Simonstown. (17)
21 Sep 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Simonstown for Freetown. (17)
29 Sep 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (17)
1 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) conducted gunnery exercises off Freetown. (18)
7 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown to patrol in the South Atlantic. (18)
10 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived off Takoradi. She departed later the same day escorting the captured Vichy-French passenger/cargo ship Touareg (5135 GRT, built 1924). (18)
11 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and the captured Vichy-French passenger/cargo ship Touareg briefly anchored off Keta to land a female passenger of the Touareg which needed medical attention. The ships continued their passage later the same day. (18)
12 Oct 1940
At 0645 hours (zone -1,5 hours), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), gave over the escorted of the captured Vichy-French passenger/cargo ship Touareg to HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN). (18)
18 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (18)
20 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown to escort convoy WS 3B towards Suez. This convoy was coming from the U.K. and was made up of the troopships Capetown Castle (27002 GRT, built 1938), Duchess of York (20021 GRT, built 1929), Georgic (27759 GRT, built 1932), Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931), Orontes (20097 GRT, built 1925) and Winchester Castle (20012 GRT, built 1930). (18)
28 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) left the convoy and arrived at Simonstown to refuel and take on board provisions. (18)
30 Oct 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Simonstown to rejoin convoy WS 3B at sea. (18)
3 Nov 1940
In the morning convoy WS 3A (slower part) and Convoy WS 3B (faster part) merged together west of Madagascar.
Convoy WS 3A was at that moment made up of the British transports Dorset (10624 GRT, built 1934), Erinpura (5143 GRT, built 1911), Highland Brigade (14134 GRT, built 1929), Khedive Ismael (7290 GRT, built 1922), Oropesa (14118 GRT, built 1920), Perthshire (10496 GRT, built 1936) and Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933). These were escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Carthage (Capt.(Retd.) B.O. Bell-Salter, RN).
Convoy WS 3B was at that moment made up of the British troop transports Duchess of York (20021 GRT, built 1929), Georgic (27759 GRT, built 1932), Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931) and Orontes (20097 GRT, built 1925). These were escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN).
Shortly before noon the Erinpure and Khedive Ismael split off from the convoy and set course for Mombasa escorted by HMS Carthage. HMS Dorsetshire then continued on towards Suez with the remainder of the convoy. (19)
11 Nov 1940
In the morning convoy WS 3, at that moment made up of the British (troop) transports Dorset (10624 GRT, built 1934), Duchess of York (20021 GRT, built 1929), Georgic (27759 GRT, built 1932), Highland Brigade (14134 GRT, built 1929), Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931), Orontes (20097 GRT, built 1925), Oropesa (14118 GRT, built 1920), Perthshire (10496 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) under escort by the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), was joined by the light HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN) at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. (19)
12 Nov 1940
During this day, in the vicinity of Aden and before entering the Read Sea, convoy WS 3, at that moment made up of the British (troop) transports Dorset (10624 GRT, built 1934), Highland Brigade (14134 GRT, built 1929), Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931), Orontes (20097 GRT, built 1925), Oropesa (14118 GRT, built 1920), Perthshire (10496 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) under escort by the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and the light HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN).
The transport City of Lille (6588 GRT, built 1928) and several more escort vessels, the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. G.M.B. Langley, OBE, RN), destroyer HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, RN), sloops HMS Auckland (Cdr. J.G. Hewitt, DSO, RN) and HMAS Parramatta (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Walker, MVO, RAN) joined during the day for the passage through the Red Sea in which the Italian Navy was still active at this time.
The troopships Duchess of York (20021 GRT, built 1929) and Georgic (27759 GRT, built 1932) also re-joined the convoy after a brief visit to Aden. HMS Caledon also briefly left the convoy to oil at Aden before re-joining it.
Around 2130 hours, the convoy entered the Perim Strait. (19)
14 Nov 1940
At 0915 hours, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), parted company with convoy WS 3 and set course for Aden. (19)
15 Nov 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Aden to refuel. (19)
17 Nov 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Aden for Durban. (19)
18 Nov 1940
In the afternoon, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), bombarded Dante in Italian Somaliland (now Ras Hafun, Somalia). About 200 rounds were fired and a torpedo was fired which hit and destroyed a jetty. Also the ships Walrus aircraft bombarded oil storage tanks. (19)
26 Nov 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Durban. (19)
2 Dec 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Durban for Simonstown. (20)
4 Dec 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Simonstown. (20)
7 Dec 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is docked at Simonstown. (20)
9 Dec 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is undocked. (20)
10 Dec 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Simonstown for Freetown. (20)
18 Dec 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown from Simonstown. After fuelling, she and the light cruiser HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN, the Vice-Admiral commanding 1st Cruiser Squadron) departed Freetown to patrol together in the mid-Atlantic to search for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. (21)
26 Dec 1940
HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN, the Vice-Admiral commanding 1st Cruiser Squadron) and HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown from their anti-raider patrol in the mid-Atlantic. (21)
27 Dec 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown to reinforce the escort of convoy WS 5A that is on passage from the U.K. to the Middle-East via the Cape. (20)
30 Dec 1940
In the afternoon, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), sighted two of the troopships from the dipersed convoy WS 5A, the troopships (passenger/cargo ships) Costa Rica (8055 GRT, built 1910) and Menelaus (10307 GRT, built 1923). She then started escorting these two ships southwards. (20)
31 Dec 1940
Around 0800 hours (zone +1), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), and the two ships under her protestion, the troopships (passenger/cargo ships) Costa Rica (8055 GRT, built 1910) and Menelaus (10307 GRT, built 1923), joined the bulk of convoy WS 5A. (20)
5 Jan 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. Here convoy WS 5A was reformed for further passage southwards. (22)
8 Jan 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown as part of the escort of convoy WS 5A. (22)
10 Jan 1941
Around 0600 hours (zone +1), HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN), HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker CB, OBE, RN), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) split off from convoy WS 5A and proceeded to cover this convoy from a distance.
Both destroyers parted company, the next day, around 1715/11 to return to Freetown. (23)
15 Jan 1941
Early in the evening HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) split off from the other two ships, HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN) and HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker CB, OBE, RN).
HMS Dorsetshire then proceeded on an anti-raider patrol in the South Atlantic and HMS Formidable and HMS Norfolk continued to provide cover for convoy WS 5A from a distance. (22)
21 Jan 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) made rendez-vous with the armed merchant cruiser HMS Asturias (Capt.(Retd.) H. Ardill, RN) and the Vichy-French passenger/cargo ship Mendoza (8199 GRT, built 1920) she had captured on the 18th. The prize crew of the Asturias was now replaced by one of the Dorsetshire. The Mendoza then proceeded to Freetown independently. (22)
25 Jan 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) dropped anchor off St. Helena. The oiler Laurelwood then came alongside to supply fuel to the Dorsetshire. (22)
26 Jan 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed St. Helena for Freetown. (22)
29 Jan 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (22)
1 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown to patrol in the South Atlantic. (24)
2 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is ordered to return to Freetown. (24)
3 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived back at Freetown.
After fuelling she departed Freetown again later the same day together with HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, DSC, RN) and HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker CB, OBE, RN) for an anti-raider patrol in the mid-Atlantic. (24)
7 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was detached and joined HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) which was escorting the infantery landing ships HMS Glenearn (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, OBE, RN), HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) and HMS Glenroy (Capt.(Retd.) Sir J.F. Paget, RN). (24)
10 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and her convoy arrived at Freetown to refuel. (24)
11 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown for Cape Town, South Africa, She was escorting the infantery landing ships HMS Glenearn (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, OBE, RN), HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) and HMS Glenroy (Capt.(Retd.) Sir J.F. Paget, RN) that were to proceed to the Middle East. Two destroyers, HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), were present as A/S screen until shortly after noon on the 12th. (24)
19 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and her convoy arrived at Capetown. (24)
21 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Cape Town, South Africa still escorting the infantery landing ships HMS Glenearn (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, OBE, RN), HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) and HMS Glenroy (Capt.(Retd.) Sir J.F. Paget, RN) on their passage to the Middle East. (24)
28 Feb 1941
Around mid morning, the convoy made up of the infantery landing ships HMS Glenearn (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, OBE, RN), HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) and HMS Glenroy (Capt.(Retd.) Sir J.F. Paget, RN) and their escort the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is joined by the light cruiser HMS Glasgow (Capt. H. Hickling, RN). (24)
2 Mar 1941
In the evening, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), parted company with the convoy made up of the infantery anding ships HMS Glenearn (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, OBE, RN), HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) and HMS Glenroy (Capt.(Retd.) Sir J.F. Paget, RN). They were now escorted only by the light cruiser HMS Glasgow (Capt. H. Hickling, RN). (25)
5 Mar 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Port Victoria, Seychelles to refuel. Shortly after arriving the Walrus aircraft was put into the water and then took off but crashed almost immediately into a hillside. Three of the crew of the Dorsetshire were killed in the crash. (25)
6 Mar 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Port Victoria, Seychelles for Simonstown. (25)
12 Mar 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Simonstown. (25)
16 Mar 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is docked at Simonstown. (25)
20 Mar 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is undocked. (25)
23 Mar 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) conducted gunnery exercises in False Bay. (25)
27 Mar 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed False Bay escorting the Capetown section of convoy WS 6C which was made up of the British transports / troopships Ascanius (10048 GRT, built 1910), Burdwan (6069 GRT, built 1928), Cape Horn (5643 GRT, built 1929), City of Athens (6562 GRT, built 1923), Kina II (9823 GRT, built 1939), Leopoldville (11509 GRT, built 1926), LLandaff Castle (10763 GRT, built 1927), Nova Scotia (6791 GRT, built 1926), Opawa (10107 GRT, built 1931) and Port Alma (7983 GRT, built 1928). (25)
7 Apr 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) parted company with the convoy and set course for Durban, South Africa. (26)
10 Apr 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Durban. (26)
10 Apr 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Durban. (26)
15 Apr 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Durban to rendez-vous at sea with the troopships Empress of Japan (26032 GRT, built 1930) and Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931) and escort them towards Capetown. (26)
17 Apr 1941
In the morning, near Capetown, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), parted company with the troopships Empress of Japan (26032 GRT, built 1930) and Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931) she had been escorting. HMS Dorsetshire then set course to return to Durban. (26)
19 Apr 1941
In the morning, near East London, South Africa, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), made rendez-vous with HMS Illustrious (Cdr. G.S. Tuck, RN) and took over the escort of the damaged aircraft carrier from the armed merchant cruiser HMS Carthage (Capt.(Retd.) B.O. Bell-Salter, RN). Course was then set for Capetown. (26)
23 Apr 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Capetown to escort the damaged aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Cdr. G.S. Tuck, RN) and the troopships Empress of Japan (26032 GRT, built 1930) and Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931) northwards through the South Atlantic. (26)
27 Apr 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), HMS Illustrious (Cdr. G.S. Tuck, RN) and the troopships Empress of Japan (26032 GRT, built 1930) and Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931) made a short stop at St. Helena. There both warships fuelled. They left St. Helena later the same day to continue their passage northwards. (26)
29 Apr 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), HMS Illustrious (Cdr. G.S. Tuck, RN) and the troopships Empress of Japan (26032 GRT, built 1930) and Monarch of Bermuda (22424 GRT, built 1931) made rendez-vous with the light cruiser HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN). The troopships then parted company with HMS Dunedin as escort. HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Illustrious then proceeded in company towards Trinidad. (26)
HMS Caradoc and HMS Illustrious then continued on to Trinidad. HMS Dorsetshire set course for Freetown. (27)
6 May 1941
The British merchant Oakdene is torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-105 northwest of St. Paul Rocks in position 06°19'N, 27°55'W. HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) picked up the 35 survivors (all crew survived) late in the afternoon. (27)
8 May 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Freetown. (27)
10 May 1941
Convoy SL 74
This convoy departed Freetown on 10 May 1941 for the U.K. where it was dissolved on 4 June 1941.
It was made up of the following merchant ships; Afghanistan (British, 6992 GRT, built 1940), Aliakmon (Greek, 4521 GRT, built 1913) retuned 11-04 after collision with Zephyros, Amstelkerk (Dutch, 4457 GRT, built 1929), Anselm (British, 5954 GRT, built 1935), Arosa (Norwegian, 5043 GRT, built 1924), Benalder (British, 5161 GRT, built 1919), Bonita (Panamanian, 4929 GRT, built 1918), City of Lyons (British, 7063 GRT, built 1926), Clan MacNair (British, 6096 GRT, built 1921), Corvus (Norwegian, 1317 GRT, built 1921), Empire Success (British, 5988 GRT, built 1921), Empire Trader (British, 9990 GRT, built 1908), Evros (Greek, 5283 GRT, built 1918), Gamaria (British, 5255 GRT, built 1918), Glenstrae (British, 9460 GRT, built 1922), Holmside (British, 3433 GRT, built 1930), Koumoundouros (Greek, 3598 GRT, built 1925), Liberian (British, 5129 GRT, built 1936), Llandaff (British, 4825 GRT, built 1937), Linge (Dutch, 2114 GRT, built 1928), Marsa (British, 4405 GRT, built 1928), Melpomene (French, 7011 GRT, built 1923), Nagara (British, 8791 GRT, built 1919), Nicolas Pateras (Greek, 4362 GRT, built 1910), Norita (Swedish, 1516 GRT, built 1924), Olivebank (British, 5154 GRT, built 1926), Olympos (Greek, 5216 GRT, built 1918), P.L.M. 17 (French, 4008 GRT, built 1922) left the convoy on 20 May with engine trouble, Pendeen (British, 4174 GRT, built 1923), Queensbury (British, 3911 GRT, built 1931), Rosenberg (Dutch, 2068 GRT, built 1918), Saturnus (Dutch, 2741 GRT, built 1909), Scotia (Swedish, 1874 GRT, built 1918), Shahristan (British, 6935 GRT, built 1938), Southern Empress (British, 12398 GRT, built 1914), Taurus (Norwegian, 4767 GRT, built 1925), Tombouctou (French, 5636 GRT, built 1919), Tovelil (Danish, 2225 GRT, built 1925), Trentbank (British, 5060 GRT, built 1929), Tudor Star (British, 7199 GRT, built 1919), Vassilios A. Polemis (Greek, 3429 GRT, built 1907), Viking Star (British, 6445 GRT, built 1920), Waterland (Dutch, 6847 GRT, built 1922), Wentworth (British, 5212 GRT, built 1919) and Zephyros (Greek, 4796 GRT, built 1909).
Escort was initially provided by the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) (10 May 1941 to 3 June 1941) and the corvettes HMS Amaranthus (Lt. N.B.J. Stapleton, RNR), HMS Anchusa (T/Lt. P. Everett-Price, DSC, RNR), HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and HMS Calendula (Lt.Cdr. A.D. Bruford, RNVR). (All from 10 May 1941 to 19 May 1941). They were joined on 12 May 1941 by the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN).
On 26 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire parted company with the convoy to join the pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck. She succeeded in making contact on the next day he delivered the coup de grace to her and torpedoed the heavily damaged German battleship from both sides and she sank soon afterwards. HMS Dorsetshire picked up German survivors until she was forced to leave the scene after a U-Boat alarm. More survivors had to be left in the water.
The convoy was joined by more escorts for the passage through the Western Approaces, these were; Destroyer HMS Reading (Lt.Cdr. D.V. Clift, RN) and the corvettes HMS Gentian (Lt.Cdr. R.O. Yeomans, RD, RNR), HMS Hibiscus (Lt. H. Roach, RNR), HMS Pimpernel (Lt. F.H. Thornton, RNR), HMS Rhododendron (Lt.Cdr. W.N.M. Faichney, DSO, RNR). These ships all joined on 30 May 1941 and remained with the convoy until it was dissolved on 4 June 1941. The destroyers HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN) and HMS Winchelsea (Lt.Cdr. W.A.F. Hawkins, DSC, RN) also joined on 30 May but left the convoy on 2 June 1941. Finally the corvette HMS Freesia (T/Lt. R.A. Cherry, RNR) joined the convoy on 31 May and remained with it until dissolved on 4 June 1941.
11 May 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown to overtake and join convoy SL 74 at sea which she did shortly before noon the next day.
More on convoy SL 74 see the event for 10 May 1941, Convoy SL 74, 10 May 1941 - 4 June 1941. (27)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
Departure of the Bismarck from the Baltic.
At 2130B/18 the German battleship Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen departed Gotenhafen for an anti-shipping raid in the North Atlantic. The following morning they were joined off Cape Arkona by the German destroyers Z 16 / Friedrich Eckhold and Z 23. They then proceeded through the Great Belt. The four ships were joined by a third destroyer, Z 10 / Hans Lody shortly before midnight on 19 May.
First reports of Bismarck and British dispositions 20-21 May 1941.
On 20 May 1941 two large warships with a strong escort were seen at 1500 hours northward out of the Kattegat. This information originated from the Swedish cruiser Gotland which had passed the Germans off the Swedish coast in the morning. The Naval Attaché at Stockholm received the news at 2100/20 and forwarded it to the Admiralty. At 0900/21 the Bismarck and her consorts entered Kors Fjord, near Bergen, Norway and anchored in nearby fiords. A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen at 1330/21 reported having seen two Hipper class heavy cruisers there. One of these ships was later identified on a photograph as being the Bismarck. This intelligence went out at once to the Home Fleet.
The ships of the Home Fleet were at this time widely dispersed on convoy duties, patrols, etc. Some of the units were ranging as far as Gibraltar and Freetown. The Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir John Tovey, was at Scapa Flow in his flagship, HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN). With him were her newly commissioned sister ship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN, onboard), the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), the light cruisers HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. Sir W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN). HMS Victorious was under orders to escort troop convoy WS 8B from the Clyde to the Middle East.
Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker (commanding the first Cruiser Squadron), with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) (flag) and HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) was on patrol in the Denmark Straight. The light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) were patrolling between Iceland and the Faeroes. The battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. Sir W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) was at the Clyde to escort troop convoy WS 8B.
Action taken by the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet
Admiral Tovey took the following action when he received the news the Bismarck had been spotted at Bergen. Vice-Admiral Holland with the Hood, Prince of Wales, Achates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, Electra and Icarus was ordered to cover Rear Admiral Wake-Walker's cruisers in the Denmark Straight. His force departed Scapa Flow around 0100/22.
HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), which was taking the Vice-Admiral, Orkneys and Shetlands, to Reykjavik on a visit of inspection, was ordered to remain at Hvalfiord and placed at Rear-Admiral Wake-Walkers disposal. HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham were ordered to top off with fuel at Skaalefiord and them to resume their patrol. The other ships that remained at Scapa Flow were brought to short notice for steam.
The Free French submarine FFS Minerve (Lt. P.M. Sonneville), which was on patrol off south-west Norway was ordered to proceed to position 61°53'N, 03°15'E and HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, RN) was ordered to proceed to position 62°08'N, 05°08'E which is to the west of Stadtlandet.
The sailing of HMS Repulse and HMS Victorious with troop convoy WS 8B was cancelled and the ships were placed at the disposal of Admiral Tovey.
A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen reported that the German ships were gone. This information reached Admiral Tovey at 2000/22. HMS Suffolk which had been fuelling at Hvalfiord was ordered to rejoin HMS Norfolk in the Denmark Strait. HMS Arethusa was ordered to join HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham to form a patrol line between Iceland and the Faeroes. Vice-Admiral Holland, on his way to Iceland was told to cover the patrols in Denmark Strait north of 62°N. Admiral Tovey would cover the patrols south of 62°N.
Commander-in-Chief leaves Scapa Flow on 22 May 1941
The King George V, with Admiral Tovey on board, departed Scapa Flow at 2245/22. With the King George V sailed, HMS Victorious, HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Active, HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi, HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMAS Nestor. HMS Lance however had to return to Scapa Flow due to defects.
At A.M. 23 May they were joined off the Butt of Lewis by HMS Repulse escorted by HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN) and HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN) coming from the Clyde area.
The Commander-in-Chief was 230 miles north-west of the Butt of Lewis in approximate position 60°20'N, 12°30'W when at 2032/23 a signal came in from HMS Norfolk that she had sighted the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait.
HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk made contact with the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on 23 May 1941.
At 1922/23 HMS Suffolk sighted the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in position 67°06'N, 24°50'W. They were proceeding to the south-west skirting the edge of the ice in Denmark Strait. HMS Suffolk immediately sent out an enemy report and made for the mist to the south-east. HMS Norfolk then commenced closing and sighted the enemy at 2030 hours. They were only some six nautical miles off and the Bismarck opened fire. HMS Norfolk immediately turned away, was not hit and also sent out an enemy report.
Although HMS Suffolk had sighted the enemy first and also sent the first contact report this was not received by the Commander-in-Chief. The enemy was 600 miles away to the north-westward.
Vice-Admiral Holland had picked up the signal from the Suffolk. He was at that moment about 300 nautical miles away. Course was changed to intercept and speed was increased by his force to 27 knots.
Dispositions, 23 May 1941.
At the Admiralty, when the Norfolk's signal came in, one of the first considerations was to safeguard the convoys at sea. At this time there were eleven crossing the North-Atlantic, six homeward and five outward bound. The most important convoy was troop convoy WS 8B of five ships which had left the Clyde the previous day for the Middle East. She was at this moment escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light cruiser (AA cruiser) HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Lt.Cdr. H.N. Lay, RCN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). HMS Repulse was also intended to have sailed with this convoy but she had joined the Commander-in-Chief instead.
Force H was sailed around 0200/24 from Gibraltar to protect this important convoy on the passage southwards. Force H was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt Sir R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN).
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk shadowing Bismarck 23 / 24 May 1941.
During the night of 23 / 24 May 1941 HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk hung on to the enemy, The Norfolk on their port quarter, Suffolk on their starboard quarter. All through the night they sent signals with updates on the position, course and speed of the enemy. At 0516 hours HMS Norfolk sighted smoke on her port bow and soon HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales came in sight.
HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales 23 / 24 May 1941.
At 2054/23 the four remaining escorting destroyers were ordered to follow at best speed in the heavy seas if they were unable to keep up with the capital ships which were proceeding at 27 knots. Two destroyers, HMS Antelope and HMS Anthony had been ordered to proceed to Iceland to refuel at 1400/23. The destroyers all managed to keep up for now and at 2318 hours they were ordered to form a screen ahead of both capital ships. At 0008/24 speed was reduced to 25 knots and course was altered to due north at 0017 hours. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made at any time after 0140/24. It was just now that the cruisers lost contact with the enemy in a snowstorm and for some time no reports were coming in. At 0031 hours the Vice-Admiral signalled to the Prince of Wales that if the enemy was not in sight by 0210 hours he would probably alter course to 180° until the cruisers regained touch. He also signalled that he intended to engage the Bismarck with both capital ships and leave the Prinz Eugen to Norfolk and Suffolk.
The Prince of Wales' Walrus aircraft was ready for catapulting and it was intended to fly it off, but visibility deteriorated and in the end it was defuelled and stowed away at 0140 hours. A signal was then passed to the destroyers that when the capital ships would turn to the south they were to continue northwards searching for the enemy. Course was altered to 200° at 0203/24. As there was now little chance of engaging the enemy before daylight the crews were allowed to rest.
At 0247/24 HMS Suffolk regained touch with the enemy and by 0300 hours reports were coming in again. At 0353 hours HMS Hood increased speed to 28 knots and at 0400/24 the enemy was estimated to be 20 nautical miles to the north-west. By 0430 hours visibility had increased to 12 nautical miles. At 0440 hours orders were given to refuel the Walrus of HMS Prince of Wales but due to delays due to water in the fuel it was not ready when the action began and it was damaged by splinters and eventuelly jettisoned into the sea.
At 0535/24 hours a vessel was seen looming on the horizon to the north-west, it was the Bismarck. She was some 17 nautical miles away bearing 330°. Prinz Eugen was ahead of her but this was not immediately realised and as the silhoutte of the German ships was almost similar the leading ship was most likely thought to be the Bismarck on board HMS Hood.
Battle of the Denmark Strait, action with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Loss of HMS Hood.
At 0537/24 HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were turned together 40° to starboard towards the enemy. At 0549 hours course was altered to 300° and the left hand ship was designated as the target. This was a mistake as this was the Prinz Eugen and not the Bismarck. This was changed to the Bismarck just before fire was opened at 0552 hours. At 0554 hours the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen also opened fire. In the meantime Prince of Wales had also opened fire at 0053 hours. Her first salvo was over. The sixth salvo was a straddle. The Norfolk and Suffolk were too far astern of the enemy to take part in the action.
At 0555 hours Hood and Prince of Wales turned two points to port. This opened up Prince of Wales' A arcs as her ninth salvo was fired.
Shortly before 0605 hours Hood signalled that another turn of two points to port had to be executed. Bismarck had just fired her fifth salvo when the Hood was rent in two by a huge explosion rising apparently between the after funnel and the mainmast. The fore part began to sink seperately, bows up, whilst the after part remained shrouded in a pall of smoke. Three or four minutes later, the Hood had vanished between the waves leaving a vast cloud of smoke drifting away to the leeward. She sank in position 63°20'N, 31°50'W (the wreck was found in 2001 in approximate position 63°22'N, 32°17'W, the exact position has not been released to the public.)
The Prince of Wales altered course to starboard to avoid the wreckage of the Hood. The Bismarck now shifted fire from her main and secondary armament to her. Range was now 18000 yards. Within a very short time she was hit by four 15" and three 6" shells. At 0602 hours a large projectile wrecked the bridge, killing or wounding most of the personnel and about the same time the ship was holed underwater aft. It was decided temporarily to discontinue the action and at 0613 hours HMS Prince of Wales turned away behind a smoke screen. The after turret continued to fire but it soon malfunctioned and was out of action until 0825 hours. When the Prince of Wales ceased firing the range was 14500 yards. She had fired 18 salvos from the main armament and five from the secondary. The Bismarck made no attempt to follow or continue the action. She had also not escaped unscatched and had sustained two severe hits.
Such was the end of the brief engagement. The loss by an unlucky hit of HMS Hood with Vice-Admiral Holland, Captain Kerr and almost her entire ships company was a grievous blow, but a great concentration of forces was gathering behind the Commander-in-Chief, and Admiral Sommerville with Force H was speeding towards him from the south.
When the Hood blew up, HMS Norfolk was 15 nautical miles to the northward coming up at 28 knots. By 0630/24 she was approaching HMS Prince of Wales and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker, signalling his intention to keep in touch, told her to follow at best speed. The destroyers that had been with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were still to the northward. They were ordered to search for survivors but only HMS Electra found three. The Prince of Wales reported that she could do 27 knots and she was told to open out to 10 nautical miles on a bearing of 110° so that HMS Norfolk could fall back on her if she was attacked. Far off the Prinz Eugen could be seen working out to starboard of the Bismarck while the chase continued to the southward.
At 0757 hours, HMS Suffolk reported that the Bismarck had reduced speed and that she appeared to be damaged. Shortly afterwards a Sunderland that had taken off from Iceland reported that the Bismarck was leaving behind a broad track of oil. The Commander-in-Chief with HMS King George V was still a long way off, about 360 nautical miles to the eastward, and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker on the bridge of HMS Norfolk had to make an important decision, was he to renew the action with the help of the Prince of Wales or was he to make it his business to ensure that the enemy could be intercepted and brought to action by the Commander-in-Chief. A dominant consideration in the matter was the state of the Prince of Wales. Her bridge had been wrecked, she had 400 tons of water in her stern compartments and two of her guns were unserverable and she could go no more then 27 knots. She had only been commissioned recently and barely a week had passed since Captain Leach had reported her ready for service. Her turrets were of a new and an untried model, liable for 'teething' problems and evidently suffering from them, for at the end of the morning her salvoes were falling short and wide. It was doubted if she was a match for the Bismarck in her current state and it was on these grounds that Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker decided that he would confine himself to shadowing and that he would not attempt to force on an action. Soon after 1100/24 visibility decreased and the Bismarck was lost out of sight in mist and rain.
Measures taken by the Admiralty, 24 May 1941.
After the loss of HMS Hood the following measures were taken by the Admiralty. To watch for an attempt by the enemy to return to Germany, HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa had been ordered at 0120/24 to patrol off the north-east point of Iceland. They were told to proceed to this location with all despatch.
HMS Rodney (Capt. Sir F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), which with four destroyers was escorting the troopship Britannic (26943 GRT, built 1930) westward, was ordered at 1022/24 to steer west on a closing course and if the Britannic could not keep up she was to leave her with one of the destroyers. Rodney was about 550 nautical miles south-east of the Bismarck. At 1200/24 she left the Britannic in position 55°15'N, 22°25'W and left HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) with her. Rodney then proceeded with HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) westwards on a closing course.
Two other capital ships were in the Atlantic; HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN). The Ramillies was escorting convoy HX 127 from Halifax and was some 900 nautical miles south of the Bismarck. She was ordered at 1144/24 to place herself to the westward of the enemy and leaving her convoy at 1212/24 in position 46°25'N, 35°24'W, she set course to the north. HMS Revenge was ordered to leave Halifax and close the enemy.
Light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN) was patrolling in the Atlantic between 44°N and 46°N for German merchant shipping and was ordered at 1250/24 to close the enemy and take on relief shadower. At 1430/24 she reported her position as 44°17'N, 23°56'W and she was proceeding on course 320° at 25 knots.
Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was ordered to continue shadowing even if he ran short of fuel so to bring the Commander-in-Chief into action.
The Bismack turns due south at 1320 hours on 24 May 1941.
In the low state of visibility, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk had to be constantly on the alert against the enemy falling back and attacking them. At 1320/24 the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen altered course to the south and reduced speed. HMS Norfolk sighted them through the rain at a range of only 8 nautical miles. Norfolk had to quickly turn away under the cover of a smoke screen.
It was at 1530/24 when HMS Norfolk received a signal made by the Commander-in-Chief at 0800/24 from which it was estimated that the Commander-in-Chief would be near the enemy at 0100/25. This was later changed to 0900/25.
At 1545/24, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was asked by the Admiralty to answer four questions; 1) State the remaining percentage of the Bismarck's fighting efficiency. 2) What amout of ammunition had the Bismarck expended. 3) What are the reasons for the frequent alterations of course by the Bismarck. 4) What are your intentions as regards to the Prince of Wales' re-engaging the Bismarck.
The answers by Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker were as follows. 1) Uncertain but high. 2) About 100 rounds. 3) Unaccountable except as an effort to shake off HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. 4) Consider it wisely for HMS Prince of Wales to not re-engage the Bismarck until other capital ships are in contact, unless interception failed. Doubtful if she has the speed to force an action.
The afternoon drew on towards evening. Still the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen held on to the south while the Norfolk, Suffolk and Prince of Wales were still keeping her in sight.
At 1711/24 in order to delay the enemy if possible, by attacking him from astern, the Prince of Wales was stationed ahead of the Norfolk. The enemy was not in sight from the Norfolk at that time, but the Suffolk was still in contact.
At 1841/24 the Bismarck opened fire on the Suffolk. Her salvoes fell short, but one or two shorts came near enough to cause some minor damage to her hull plating aft. HMS Suffolk replied with nine broadsides before turning away behind a smoke screen.
On seeing the Suffolk being attacked, HMS Norfolk turned towards and she and HMS Prince of Wales opened fire, the latter firing 12 salvoes. By 1856 hours the action was over. Two of the guns on the Prince of Wales malfuntioned again. After the action the cruisers started to zig-zag due to fear for German submarines.
British dispositions at 1800 hours on 24 May 1941.
From the Admiralty at 2025/24, there went out a signal summarising the situation at 1800/24. The position, course and speed of the Bismarck was given as 59°10'N, 36°00'W, 180°, 24 knots with HMS Norfolk, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales still in touch. The Commander-in-Chiefs estimated position at 1800/24 was 58°N, 30°W, with HMS King George V and HMS Repulse. HMS Victorious was with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Neptune). They had parted company with the Commander-in-Chief at 1509/24. Heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) was in position 42°45'N, 20°10'W and had been ordered to leave her convoy and close the enemy. HMS Ramillies was in estimated position 45°45'N, 35°40'W. She had been ordered to place herself to the west of the enemy. HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa were returning from their position off the north-east of Iceland to refuel. HMS Revenge had left Halifax and was closing convoy HX 128. HMS Edinburgh was in approximate position 45°15'N, 25°10'W. She had been ordered to close and take over stand by shadower.
Evening of 24 May 1941.
At 2031/24 HMS Norfolk received a signal sent by the Commander-in-Chief at 1455/24 stating that aircraft from HMS Victorious might make an attack at 2200/24 and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker now waited for an air attack which he expected at 2300 hours. By that time Bismarck had been lost from sight but at 2330/24 HMS Norfolk briefly sighted her at a distance of 13 nautical miles. At 2343/24 aircraft from HMS Victorious were seen approaching. They circled round HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Norfolk and the latter was able to direct them to the enemy. At 0009/25 heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was seen and the Bismarck was just visible as the aircraft attacked.
HMS Victorious and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron detached by the Commander-in-Chief.
At 1440/24 the Commander-in-Chief ordered the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione) and HMS Victorious to a position within 100 nautical miles from Bismarck and to launch a torpedo bombing attack and maintain contact as long as possible. The object of the torpedo bombing attack was to slow the enemy down. On board the Victorious were only 12 Swordfish torpedo bombers and 6 Fulmar fighters. Victorious was only recently commissioned and her crew was still rather green. She had on board a large consignment of crated Hurricane fighters for Malta which were to be delivered to Gibraltar.
At 2208/24 HMS Victorious commenced launching 9 Swordfish in position 58°58'N, 33°17'E. Two minutes later al were on their way to find the Bismarck. The Squadron was led by Lt.Cdr.(A) E. Esmonde, RN.
HMS Victorious aircraft attack the Bismarck.
When the Swordfish took off from HMS Victorious the Bismarck was estimated to be in position 57°09'N, 36°44'W and was steering 180°, speed 24 knots. At 2330/24 they sighted the Bismarck but contact was lost in the bad weater. Shortly afterwards the Swordfish sighted HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. HMS Norfolk guided them to the enemy which was 14 nautical miles on her starboard bow. At 2350 hours a vessel was detected ahead and the squadron broke cloud to deliver an attack. To their surprise they found themselves over a United States Coastguard cutter. The Bismarck was 6 nautical miles to the southward and on sighting the aircraft opened up a heavy barrage fire. Lt.Cdr. Esmonde pressed home his attack, 8 of the Swordfish were able to attack, the other had lost contact in the clouds.
The 8 planes attacked with 18" torpedoes, fitted with Duplex pistols set for 31 feet. At midnight three Swordfish attacked simultaneously on the port beam. Three others made a longer approach low down attacking on the port bow a minute later. One took a longer course, attacking on the port quarter. One went round and attacked on the starboard bow a couple of minutes after midnight. At least one hit was claimed on the starboard side abreast the bridge. The Germans however state that no hit was scored but that the violent maneuvering of the ship to avoid the attack, together with the heavy firing by the Bismarck caused the leak in no.2 boiler room to open up. No.2 boiler room was already partially flooded and now had to be abandoned.
All Swordfish from the striking had returned to HMS Victorious by 0201/25. Two Fulmars launched at 2300/24 for shadowing failed to find their ship in the darkness due to the failure of Victorious' homing beacon. Their crews were in the end picked up from the chilly water.
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk loose contact at 0306/25.
While the aircraft from HMS Victorious were making their attack, HMS Norfolk sighted a ship to the south-west and gave the order to open fire. HMS Prince of Wales was able to identify it in time as an American coast guard cutter, but in the movements prepartory to opening fire HMS Norfolk lost touch with the enemy for a time and it was not until 0116/25 that she suddenly sighted the Bismarck only 8 nautical miles away. There followed a brief exchange of fire. HMS Norfolk and HMS Prince of Wales turned to port to bring their guns to bear and the latter was ordered to engage. It was then 0130/25. The Prince of Wales fired two salvoes at 20000 yards by radar. The Bismarck answered with two salvoes which fell a long way short. The light was failing and the enemy was again lost to sight. HMS Suffolk, which had to most reliable RDF set was told to act independently so as to keep in touch.
Around 0306/25 the Suffolk lost touch with the Bismarck. At 0552/25 Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker asked if HMS Victorious could launch aircraft for a search at dawn.
Search measures, 25 May 1941.
With the disappearance of the Bismarck at 0306/25 the first phase of the pursuit ended. The Commander-in-Chief, in HMS King George V with HMS Repulse in company was then about 115 nautical miles to the south-east. At 0616/25, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker signalled that it was most probable that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen made a 90° turn to the west or turned back and 'cut away' to the eastward astern of the cruisers. Suffolk was already searching to the south-west and Norfolk was waiting for daylight to do the same. Prince of Wales was ordered to join the King George V and Repulse.
Force H was still on a course to intercept the Bismarck while steaming on at 24 knots. The Rear-Admiral commanding the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in HMS Galatea had altered course at 0558/25 to 180° for the position where the enemy was last seen and the Victorious was getting 8 aircraft ready to fly off at 0730/25 for a search to the eastward. This plan however was altered on orders being recieved from the Commander-in-Chief to take the cruisers and Victorious and carry out a search to the north-west of the Bismarck's last reported position. Five Fulmars had already been up during the night, two of them had not returned to the ship. The search therefore had to be undertaken by Swordfish, the only aircraft available. At 0810/25, seven Swordfish were flown off from position 56°18'N, 36°28'W to search between 280° and 040° up to 100 nautical miles. The search was supplemented by Victorious herself as well as the cruisers from the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Galatea, Aurora, Kenya and Hermione) which were spread some miles apart.
DF position of the Bismarck of 0852/25.
HMS King George V was still proceeding to the south-west when at 1030/25 the Commander-in-Chief recieved a signal from the Admiralty that the Bismarck's position had been obtained by DF (direction finding) and that it indicated that the Bismarck was on a course for the North Sea by the Faeroes-Iceland passage. To counter this move by the enemy the Commander-in-Chief turned round at 1047/25 and made for the Faeroes-Iceland passage at 27 knots. HMS Repulse was no longer in company with HMS King George V, she had been detached at 0906/25 for Newfoundland to refuel. Suffolk also turned to the eastward to search, her search to the south-west had been fruitless. The search by HMS Victorious, her aircraft and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron to the north-west also had no result. Six Swordfish were landed on by 1107/25, one failed to return. HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora and HMS Kenya now turned towards the DF position of the Bismarck to search in that direction. HMS Hermione had to be detached to Hvalfiord, Iceland to refuel as she was by now down to 40%. The other cruisers slowed down to 20 knots to economise their remaining fuel supply wich was also getting low. At this moment HMS King George V had about 60% remaining.
Events during 25 May 1941.
At 1100/25, HMS King George V, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales were proceeding to the north-east in the direction of the enemy's DF signal. HMS Rodney was in position 52°34'N, 29°23'W some 280 nautical miles to the south-eastward on the route towards the Bay of Biscay. On receiving the Commander-in-Chiefs signal of 1047/25 she too proceeded to the north-east.
Meanwhile to Admiralty had come to the conclusion that the Bismarck most likely was making for Brest, France. This was signalled to the Commander-in-Chief at 1023/25 to proceed together with Force H and the 1st Cruiser Squadron on that assumption.
In the absence however of definite reports it was difficult to be certain of the position of the enemy. The DF bearings in the morning had not been very definite. At 1100/25, HMS Renown (Force H), was in position 41°30'N, 17°10'W was ordered to act on the assumption the enemy was making for Brest, France. She shaped course accordingly and prepared a comprehensive sheme of air search. At 1108/25, HMS Rodney, was told to act on the assumption that the enemy was making for the Bay of Biscay. At 1244/25 the Flag Officer Submarines ordered six submarines to take up intercepting positions about 120 nautical miles west of Brest. The submarines involved were HMS Sealion (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS Seawolf (Lt. P.L. Field, RN), HMS Sturgeon (Lt.Cdr. D. St. Clair-Ford, RN) from the 5th Submarine Flottilla at Portsmouth, HMS Pandora (Lt.Cdr. J.W. Linton, DSC, RN), which was on passage to the U.K. from the Mediterranean to refit, HMS Tigris (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Bone, DSO, DSC, RN), from the 3rd Submarine Flottilla at Holy Loch and HMS H 44 (Lt. W.N.R. Knox, DSC, RN), a training boat from the 7th Submarine Flotilla at Rothesay which happened to be at Holyhead. Seawolf, Sturgeon and Tigris were already on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sealion departed Portsmouth on the 25th as did H 44 but she sailed from Holyhead. Pandora was on passage to the U.K. to refit and was diverted.
At 1320/25 a good DF fix located an enemy unit within a 50 mile radius from position 55°15'N, 32°00'W. This was sent by the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief at 1419/25 and it was received at 1530/25. It was only in the evening that it was finally clear to all involved that Bismarck was indeed making for a French port. Air searches had failed to find her during the day. (28)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
26 May 1941.
By now the question of fuel was becoming acute. For four days ships had been steaming at high speeds and the Commander-in-Chief was faced with the reality of fuel limits. HMS Repulse had already left for Newfoundland, HMS Prince of Wales had by now been sent to Iceland to refuel. HMS Victorious and HMS Suffolk had been forced to reduce speed to economise their fuel.
Coastal Command started air searches along the route towards the Bay of Biscay by long range Catalina flying boats. Lack of fuel was effecting the destroyer screens of the capital ships. There was no screen available for HMS Victorious. The 4th Destroyer Flotilla, escorting troop convoy WS 8B, was ordered at 0159/26 to join the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and HMS Rodney as was HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) which sailed from Londonderry. Leaving the convoy the 4th D.F. proceeded to the north-east. Force H in the meantime was also approaching the immediate area of operations. These forces were to play an important part in the final stages of the chase of the Bismarck.
Force H, 26 May 1941.
HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Sheffield were having a rough passage north in heavy seas, high wind, rain and mist. Their escorting destroyers had already turned back towards Gibraltar at 0900/25. At dawn on the 26th there was half a gale blowing from the north-west. At 0716/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a security patrol in position 48°26'N, 19°13'W to search to the north and to the west just in case the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had departed Brest to come to the aid of the Bismarck. At 0835/26 there followed an A/S patrol of ten Swordfish. All planes had returned by 0930. None had seen anything.
Bismarck sighted at 1030/26.
It was at 1030/26 that one of the long range Catalina's of the Coastal Command sighted the Bismarck in position 49°30'N, 21°55'W. It was received in HMS King George V at 1043 hours and in HMS Renown in 1038 hours. It placed the enemy well to the westward of the Renown. It was confirmed within the hour when two Swordfish from the Ark Royal which reported the Bismarck in position 49°19'N, 20°52'W some 25 miles east of the position given by the Catalina. The Commander-in-Chief was at that moment about 130 miles to the north of the Bismarck but it was soon clear that the Bismarck had too great a lead to permit her being overtaken unless her speed could be reduced. Nor was the question one merely of distance and speed. The Bismarck was approaching a friendly coast and could run her fuel tanks nearly dry and was sure of air protection, while the British ships would have a long journey back to base in the face of air and submarine attack. HMS Renown was ahead of the Bismarck but it was important that she did not engage the Bismarck unless the latter was already heavily engaged by the better armoured HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.
When the Catalina found the Bismarck at 1030 hours, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was steering east to join the Commander-in-Chief. They seem to have crossed astern of the enemy's track about 0800/26. The Catalina's report reached Capt. Vian in HMS Cossack at 1054/26 and 'knowing that the Commander-in-Chief would order him to intercept the enemy' Capt. Vian altered course to the south-east.
First attack by aircraft from the Ark Royal.
At 1315/26 HMS Sheffield was detached to the southward with orders to close and shadow the enemy, who was estimated to be 40 nautical miles south-west of the Renown. The visual signal ordering this movement was not repeated to HMS Ark Royal, an omission which had serious consequenses for the aircraft that were to take off did not know that HMS Sheffield had parted company.
At 1450/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a striking force of 14 Swordfish aircraft with the orders to proceed to the south and attack the Bismarck with torpedoes. Weather and cloud conditions were bad and a radar contact was obtained on a ship some 20 nautical miles from the estimated position of the enemy that had been given to the leader shortly before takeoff. At 1550 hours they broke through the clouds and fired 11 torpedoes. Unfortunately the supposed enemy was HMS Sheffield which managed to avoid all torpedoes. The Bismarck at that time was some 15 nautical miles to the southward. The striking force then returned an all aircraft had landed on by 1720/26.
At 1740/26, HMS Sheffield, sighted the Bismarck in position 48°30'N, 17°20'W and took station about 10 nautical miles astern and commenced shadowing the enemy.
Ark Royal's second attack, 2047/26.
The first striking force on its way back sighted the 4th Destroyer Flotilla 20 nautical miles west of Force H. As soon as the aircraft from the first strike had landed they were refuelled and rearmed as fast as possible. Take off started at 1910/26, a total of 15 Swordfish were launched. Reports coming in from HMS Sheffield placed the Bismarck at 167°, 38 nautical miles from the Ark Royal. The striking force was ordered to contact HMS Sheffield who was told to use DF to guide them in.
At 1955/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted but soon lost in the bad weather conditions. She was found again at 2035 hours, she guided the Swordfish in and directed them by visual signal on the enemy bearing 110°, 12 nautical miles. The force took departure for the target in subflights in line astern at 2040/26.
At 2047/26 no.1 subflight of three Swordfish dived through the clouds and sighted the Bismarck 4 nautical miles off to the south-east. One Swordfish of no.3 subflight was with them. Approaching again just inside the cloud they made their final dive at 2053/26 on the port beam under a very intense and accurate fire from the enemy. They dropped four torpedoes of which one was seen to hit. No.2 subflight, made up of two Swordfish, lost touch with no.1 subflight in the clouds, climed to 9000 feet, then dived on a bearing obtained by radar and then attacked from the starboard beam, again under heavy and intense fire. They dropped two torpedoes for one possible hit. The third plane of this subflight had lost touch with the other two and had returned to HMS Sheffield to obtained another range and bearing to the enemy. It then flew ahead of the enemy and carried out a determined attack from his port bow under heavy fire and obtained a torpedo hit on the port side amidships.
Subflight no.4 followed subflight no.3 into the clouds but got iced up at 6600 feet. It then dived through the clouds and was joined by no.2 aircraft from subflight no.3. The Bismarck was then sighted engaging subflight no.2 to starboard. The four aircraft then went into the clouds and cicled the German battleships stern and then dived out of the clouds again and attack simultaneously from the port side firing four torpedoes. All however missed the Bismarck. They came under a very heavy and fierce fire from the enemy and one of the aircraft was heavily damaged, the pilot and air gunner being wounded.
The two aircraft of subflight no.5 lost contact with the other subflights and then with each other in the cloud. They climbed to 7000 feet where ice began to form. When coming out of the cloud at 1000 feet aircraft 4K sighted the Bismarck down wind, she then went back into the cloud under fire from the enemy. She saw a torpedo hit on the enemy's starboard side, reached a position on the starboard bow, withdrew to 5 miles, then came in just above the sea and just outside 1000 yards fired a torpedo which did not hit. The second plane of this flight lost his leader diving through the cloud, found himself on the starboard quarter and after two attempts to attack under heavy fire was forced to jettison his torpedo.
Of the two Swordfish of subflight no.6 one attacked the Bismarck on the starboard beam and dropped his torpedo at 2000 yards without success. The second plane lost the enemy, returned to the Sheffield for a new range and bearing and after searching at sea level attacked on the starboard beam but was driven off by intense fire. The attack was over by 2125/26. Thirteen torpedoes had been fired and it was thought two hits and one probable hit had been obtained. Two torpedoes were jettisoned. The severe nature and full effect of the damage done was at first not fully realised. Actually the Bismarck had received a deadly blow. The last of the shadowing aircraft to return had seen her make two complete circles. One torpedo had struck her on the port side amidships doing little damage but th other torpedo that hit was on the starboard quarter damaging her propellors, wrecking her steering gear and jambing her rudders, it was this torpedo hit that sealed her fate.
HMS Sheffield was still shadowing astern when at 2140/26 the Bismarck turned to port and fired six accurate salvoes of 15". None actually hit Sheffield but a near miss killed three men and seriously injured two. HMS Sheffield turned away and while doing so she sighted HMS Cossack and the other destroyers from the 4th DF approaching from the westward. She then gave them the approximate position of the Bismarck. At 2155/26, HMS Sheffield lost touch with the Bismarck. The destroyers continued to shadow and eventually attack. Meanwhile HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal shaped course for the southward to keep the road clear for the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and for HMS Rodney. Also in the Ark Royal aircraft were being got ready for an attack on the Bismarck at dawn.
Bismarck, 26 May 1941.
The Bismarck could no longer steer after the torpedo hit aft. The steering motor room was flooded up to the main deck and the rudders were jambed. Divers went down to the steering room and managed to centre one rudder but the other remained immovable. She was by this time urgently in need of fuel. It was hoped by the Germans that while she was nearing the French coast strong forces of aircraft and submarines would come to her assistance.
At 2242/26, Bismarck sighted the British destroyers. A heavy fire was opened on them. Their appearence greatly complicated the situation. Before their arrival however, Admiral Lütjens seems to have made up his mind as one hour earlier he had signalled to Berlin 'ship out of control. We shall fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer.'
The fourth Destroyer Flotilla makes contact, 26 May 1941.
Just as the sun was setting, Captain Vian (D.4) in HMS Cossack with HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun arrived on the scene.
Shortly after 1900/26 HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were sighted to the northward. Ark Royal was just about to fly off the second striking force. The destroyers continued on the the south-east. At 2152/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted and from her Captain Vian obtained the approximate position of the enemy.
The destroyers were spread 2.5 nautical miles apart on a line bearing 250° - 070° in the order from north-east to south-west, Piorun, Maori, Cossack, Sikh, Zulu. During the latter stages of the approach speed was reduced and the flotilla manoeuvred so as to avoid making a high speed end-on contact.
At 2238/26, ORP Piorun on the port wing reported the Bismarck 9 nautical miles distant, bearing 145° and steering to the south-eastward.
Destroyers shadowing, late on 26 May 1941.
At the time the Piorun reported being in contact with the Bismarck the destroyers were steering 120°. All were at once ordered to take up shadowing positions. Four minutes later the Bismarck opened a heavy fire with her main and secondary armaments on the Piorun and Maori. Two attempts were made by these ships to work round to the northward of the enemy but they were silhouetted against the north-western horizon making them easy to spot. The Bismarck's fire was unpleasantly accurate, through neither destroyer was actually hit. The Commanding Officer of the Maori then decided to work round to the southward and altered course accordingly.
The Piorun closed the range and herself opened fire from 13500 yards but after firing three salvoes, she was straddled by a salvo which fell about 20 yards from the ships side. She then ceased fire and turned away to port while making smoke. During this engagement she lost touch with the other destroyers and later also with the Bismarck. She remained under fire for about one hour but was not hit. She worked round to the north-east of the Bismarck but eventually lost touch with her prey at 2355/26.
The other destroyers, meanwhile, had been working round to the southward of the enemy to take up shadowing positions to the eastward of him. Soon after the initial contact it was evident the the Bismarck's speed had been so seriously reduced that interception by the battlefleet was certain, provided that contact could be held. In these circumstances Captain Vian defined his object at firstly, to deliver the enemy to the Commander-in-Chief at the time he desired, and secondly, to sink or immoblise her with torpedoes during the night but not with to great a risk for the destroyers. Accordingly at 2248/26 as signal was made to all ordering them to shadow and this operation was carried out through the night, though torpedo attacks were carried out later under the cover of darkness.
As darkness came on, the weather deteriorated and heavy rain squalls became frequent. Visibility varied between 2.5 nautical miles and half a mile but the Bismarck, presumably using radar, frequently opened up accurate fire outside these ranges.
About half an hour after sunset, the destroyers were ordered at 2324/26 to take up stations prepartory to carrying out a synchronised torpedo attack. This was subsequently cancelled on account of the adverse weather conditions and they were ordered to attack independently as opportunity offered. At about 2300 hours the Bismarck altered course to the north-westward.
At this time HMS Zulu was in touch with her and kept her under observation from the southward. At 2342 hours the Bismarck opened fire on HMS Cossack, then about 4 miles to the south-south-west and shot away her aerials. The Cossack turned away under the cover of smoke, shortly afterwards resuming her course to the eastward.
A few minutes later, at 2350 hours, HMS Zulu came under heavy fire from the Bismarck's 15" guns. The first three salvoes straddled wounding an officer and two ratings. Drastic avoiding action was taken as a result of which Zulu lost touch. HMS Sikh, however, who had lost sight of the enemy half an hour previously, had observed her firing at HMS Cossack and now succeeded in shadowing from astern until 0020/27 when the enemy made a large alteration to port and commenced firing at her. HMS Sikh altered course to port, intending to fire torpedoes, but the view of the Torpedo Control Officer was obscured by shell splashes and Sikh then withdrew to the southward.
Destroyer night torpedo attacks, 26/27 May 1941.
HMS Zulu, after her escape at 2345/26, had steered to the northward and at 0030/27 fell in with HMS Cossack. Shortly afterwards she sighted ORP Piorun. On receipt of a signal from Captain Vian, timed 0040/27, to take any opporunity to fire torpedoes, HMS Zulu altered course to the westward,and at 0100/27 sighted the Bismarck steering 340°.
Positions of the destroyers was now as follows; to the north-eastward of the enemy, HMS Cossack was working round to the north and west. HMS Maori, since losing touch, had been making to the westward. She was now to the south-west of the Bismarck. HMS Sikh was some distance to the southward, not having received any information regarding the position of the Bismarck since 0025/27. HMS Zulu was astern of the enemy and in contact. Range was only 5000 yards. Bismarck finally spotted Zulu and at once opened fire with her main and secondary armament and straddled Zulu. She fired four torpedoes at 0121/27 but no hits were observed and they are believed to have missed ahead. Zulu then ran out to the northward in order to be clear of the other destroyers. Shortly afterwards they widnessed a successful attack by HMS Maori.
HMS Maori had seen the Bismarck opening fire on the Zulu at 0107/27. Maori then closed to 4000 yards on Bismarck's port quarter apparently undetected. When abeam of the enemy, who then appeared to be altering course to starboard Maori fired a star shell to see what he was about. Two minutes later, at 0137/27, two torpedoes were fired and course was altered towards the Bismarck with the intention of attacking again from her starboard bow once the enemy had steadied on her new course. Whilst Maori was turning a torpedo hit was observed on the enemy. A bright glow illuminated the waterline of the enemy battleship from stem to stern. Shortly afterwards there appeared between the bridge and the stem a glare that might have been a second hit. The enemy immediately opened up a very heavy fire with both main and secondairy armaments and quick firing guns. As the Maori was being straddled, she turned away, and increased to full speed. Shots continued to fall on both sides of the ship until the range had been opened up to 10000 yards. Maori was not actually hit. Meanwhile HMS Cossack had been creeping up from the north-eastward and at 0140/27, only three minutes after Maori had fired two torpedoes, Cossack launched three torpedoes from 6000 yards. Bismarck stood out plainly, silhoutted by the broadsides she was firing at the Maori. One torpedo was seen to hit. Flames blazed on the forecastle of the Bismarck after this hit but they were quickly extinguished. Probably as a consequence of the torpedo hits the Bismarck stopped dead in the water, this was reported by HMS Zulu at 0148/27. After about one hour the Bismarck got underway again. On receipt of this report, HMS Sikh, who was closing the scene of the action from the southward, made an attack. Four torpedoes were fired at 0218/27 at the stopped battleship. It is believed that one hit was obtained. After this attack Sikh remained in radar contact with the enemy until 0359/27 when contact was lost.
Around 0240/27 the Bismarck was underway again, proceeding very slowly to the north-westward. At 0335/27, HMS Cossack made another attack firing her last remaining torpedo from a range of 4000 yards. It missed. HMS Cossack then came under a heavy fire. She withdrew to the northward under the cover of smoke, altering to a westerly course shortly afterwards.
At 0400/27 all destroyers had lost touch with the enemy. HMS Cossack was then to the north-west and HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HMS Maori were between the south-west and south-east of the Bismarck. All destroyers now endeavoured to regain contact.
Touch with the enemy was not regained until shortly before 0600 hours. By that time ORP Piorun, which was running short of fuel, had been ordered to proceed to Plymouth.
Destroyers shadowing, morning twilight, 27 May 1941, final attack.
Touch was regained by HMS Maori at 0550/27 when she sighted the Bismarck zigzagging slowly on a base course of 340° at about 7 knots. Maori commenced shadowing until daylight. At 0625 hours, HMS Sikh was also in contact when the Bismarck emerged from a rain squal 7000 yards on her starboard bow. By then it was nearly full daylight but to the surprise of the crew of the Sikh she got away with it without being fired at.
Shortly before sunrise a final torpedo attack was carried out by HMS Maori, which fired two torpedoes at 0656/27 from 9000 yards. Both missed. The Bismarck opened fire and straddled Maori which escaped at 28 knots.
At daylight the destroyers were stationed in four sectors from which they were able to keep the enemy under continuous observation until the arrival of the Battle Fleet at 0845 hours.
Force H, 26/27 May 1941.
While the destroyers were shadowing the Bismarck, the pursuing forces were drawing steadily closer. To the north was the Commander-in-Chief with the King George V and the Rodney with the Norfolk closing on them. In the south HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was coming up, while Force H was waiting for the dawn. When Captain Vian's destroyers got in touch at 2251/26 the Renown and Ark Royal were north-west of the enemy. It was not possible to attack with aircraft during the night but all preparations were made to attack at dawn with 12 Swordfish. Course was shaped to the northward and then to the west for a time and at 0115/27 Force H turned south. Shortly afterwards instructions were received from the Commander-in-Chief to keep not less then 20 miles to the southward of the Bismarck so as to leave a clear approach for the Battle Fleet. Force H accordingly continued to the southward during the night. Bursts of starshell and gunfire could be seen during the night while the destroyers attacked. At 0509/27 an aircraft was flown off from HMS Ark Royal to act as a spotter for HMS King George V but it failed to find the Bismarck in the bad weather. The striking of force of 12 Swordfish was ready but due to the bad weather to strike was cancelled.
At 0810/27, HMS Maori was sighted. She reported the Bismarck 11 miles to the north of her. The made the enemy 17 miles to the north of HMS Renown so course was shaped to the south-west. At 0915/27 heavy gunfire could be heard and the striking force was flown off. They found the Bismarck at 1016/27. By then the battle was almost over, her guns were silenced and she was on fire. They saw her sink. At 1115/27 they had all landed back on HMS Ark Royal. A German Heinkel aircraft dropped a couple of bombs near HMS Ark Royal when they were landing on.
HMS Norfolk, 26/27 May 1941.
When the Catalina report (1030/26) came in, HMS Norfolk altered course to the south-west and increased speed to 27 knots. At 2130/26 the Bismarck was still some 160 nautical miles to the southward and speed was increased to 30 knots. At 2228/26 the report on the torpedo hit by the aircraft from Ark Royal came in and the Norfolk turned to the southward, continuing to close the enemy. At 0753/27 Norfolk sighted the Bismarck. She did not open fire and was lost to sight after ten minutes. At 0821/27, HMS King George V, was sighted to the westward, 12 nautical miles away. The position of the enemy was passed to the Commander-in-Chief. The action opened at 0847/27 at which time HMS Norfolk was then some 10 nautical miles from the Commander-in-Chief and due north of the Bismarck. HMS Norfolk had seen the beginning and was now to see the end.
HMS Dorsetshire, 26/27 May 1941.
On 26 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire, was with convoy SL 74 proceeding from Freetown to the U.K. When she received the sighting report from the Catalina at 1056/26 she was some 360 nautical miles to the south of the Bismarck. She then left the protection of the convoy to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) and set course for the northward to take up the possible task of shadowing. By 2343/26 it became clear from reports that the Bismarck was making no ground to the eastward and that at 0230/27 she appeared to be laying stopped. Due to the heavy seas HMS Dorsetshire was forced to reduce speed to 25 knots and later even to 20 knots. At 0833/27 a destroyer was sighted ahead at a range of 8 nautical miles, it was HMS Cossack which reported the enemy at a range of 6 nautical miles. At 0850/27 the flashes of the Bismarck's guns could be seen to the westward. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at the scene of the action in the nick of time.
HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, 26/27 May 1941.
During 26 May 1941 the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V had been making hard to the south-east at 25 knots. He had been joined by HMS Rodney at 1806/26. They were then some 90 nautical miles north of the Bismarck. Fuel was a matter of grave anxiety. At noon on the 26th, HMS King George V, had only 32% remaining and HMS Rodney reported that she had to return at 0800/27. Speed had to be reduced on this account to 22 knots at 1705/26. In these circumstances it was no longer possible to hope to intercept the enemy, and the Commander-in-Chief decided that unless the enemy's speed had been reduced by 2400/26, he must turn at that hour. The only hope lay in the Bismarck being slowed up by the Swordfish attacking from HMS Ark Royal. A report came in that the striking force had left. Then at 2132/26, HMS Sheffield, reported that the enemy was steering 340° followed by 000° four minutes later. These reports indicated that the Bismarck was not able to hold her course and that her steering gear must have been damaged. It might still be possible to intercept her.
The Commander-in-Chief turned to the south at once hoping to make contact from the eastward in the failing light. Due to the bad weather conditions and visibility the Commander-in-Chief decided to haul off the the eastward and northward and then work round to engage from the westward at dawn. He turned eastward at 2306/26. During the night reports from Captain Vian's destroyers came in confirming the northerly course of the Bismarck. At 0236/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered Captain Vian that the destroyers were to fire star-shell every half hour, but frequent rain squalls prevented these from being seen and they tended to attrack the enemy's fire. The Bismarck was still a formidable opponent for at 0353/27 Captain Vian reported that during the last hour she had done 8 nautical miles and that she was still capable of heavy and accurate fire. The Commander-in-Chief decided not to make a dawn approach but to wait until daylight while approaching from the west taking advantage of wind, sea and light. At 0529/27 HMS Rodney reported sighting HMS Norfolk to the eastward by DF. It was light at 0600 hours. At 0820 hours HMS Norfolk was sighted on the port bow of HMS King George V. She signalled 'enemy 130°, 16 nautical miles'. At 0843/27 looming on the starboard bow there emerges out of a rain squall the dark grey blot of a large ship. 'Enemy in sight'.
Bismarck 26/27 May 1941.
The Bismarck after altering course to the north-west had been labouring along with a jambed rudder, steering an erratic course at 8 knots. During the night the attacking destroyers were met with heavy and accurate salvoes. Sixteen torpedoes were fired at her. Early in the morning a glare of star-shell burst over her, lighting her up. Three torpedoes followed from a destroyer on the port bow (HMS Maori) of which one hit on the port side amidships. Three minutes later three more came from the starboard side (these were fired by HMS Cossack) of which one hit on the starboard bow. The damage that was sustained from these torpedo hits is not known. The Bismarck lay stopped for over one hour. At 0140/27 a message was received that a large number of Junkers bombers were coming to her aid as were U-boats but the Bismarck was beyond their help besides that the aircraft did not find her. One U-boat (U-556, which was out of torpedoes) on its way back from the Atlantic joined her and was within sight during the night. Another (U-74) arrived at 0600/27 but had been damaged in a depth charge attack and could do nothing as well. In the Bismarck the crew was exhausted and men were falling asleep at their posts. It was under these conditions that at 0840/27 two British battleships were seen to approach from the westward.
Situation before the action, 27 May 1941.
A north-westerly gale was blowing when dawn broke with a good light and clear horizon to the north-eastward. Reports received during the night indicated that, despite reduced speed and damaged rudders, Bismarck's armament was functioning effectively. Given the weather conditions the Commander-in-Chief decided to approach on a west-north-westerly bearing and, if the enemy continued his northerly course, to deploy to the southward on opposite course at a range of about 15000 yards. Further action was to be dictated by events.
Between 0600 and 0700 hours a series of enemy reports from HMS Maori which was herself located by DF bearings. This enabled HMS King George V to plot her position relatively to the Bismarck which had apparently settled down on a course of 330° at 10 knots. At 0708/27, HMS Rodney, was ordered to keep station 010° from the flagship. HMS Norfolk came in sight to the eastward at 0820/27 and provided a visual link between the Commander-in-Chief and the enemy. After the line of approach had been adjusted by two alterations of course, the Bismarck was sighted at 0843/27 bearing 118°, range about 25000 yards. Both British battleships was then steering 110° almost directly towards the enemy in line abreast formation, 8 cables apart.
Commencement of action 0847/27.
HMS Rodney opened fire at 0847/27, her first salvo sending a column of water 150 feet into the air. HMS King George V opened fire one minute later. Bismarck opened fire at 0850 hours after turning to open up A arcs. The first German salvo was short. The third and fourth salvoes straddled and nearly hit, but the Rodney manoeuvered succesfully to avoid them and the nearest fell 20 yards short. At 0854/27, HMS Norfolk joined in, but the target was not clearly visible and she opened fire without obtaining a range.
Observers state that the German gunnery was accurate at first, but commenced to deteriorate after 8 to 10 salvoes. The first hit on the Bismarck was believed to be scored by the Rodney at 0854 hours with her third salvo. Both British battleships made small alterations of course away from the enemy shortly after opening fire, the King George V to increase her distance from the Rodney and the latter to open her A arcs. From then onwards they manoeuvered independently although HMS Rodney conformed to the Flagship's general movements. The Bismarck's secondary armament came into action during this phase. HMS Rodney opened fire with her secondary armament at 0858 hours.
Run to the southward.
HMS King George V deployed to the southward at 0859/27 when the Bismarck was 16000 yards distant. HMS Rodney, 2.5 nautical miles to the northward, followed suit a minute or two later. Cordite smoke was hanging badly with the following wind and spotting was most difficult. Considerable smoke interference was therefore experienced on the southerly course which was partly overcome by radar. The Bismarck had transferred her fire to the King George V shortly after the turn but except for an occasional splash the latter hardly knew that she was under fire. At 0902/27, HMS Rodney saw a 16” shell hit the Bismarck on the upper deck forward, apparently putting the forward turrets out of action. At 0904 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined in the firing from the eastwards from a range of 20000 yards but observation of the target was difficult and she had to check fire from 0913 to 0920 hours. Between 0910 and 0915 hours the range in King George V was more or less steady at 12000 yards.
The fate of the Bismarck was decided during this phase of the action although she did not sink until later. Around 0912 hours, the Bismarck was hit on her forward control position. During the run to the south HMS Rodney fired six torpedoes from 11000 yards and HMS Norfolk four from 16000 yards. No hits were obtained. The King George V’s secondary battery came into action at 0905 hours but this increased the smoke interference and was accordingly ordered to cease fire after two or three minutes.
Run to the northward.
At 0916/27 the Bismarck’s bearing was drawing rapidly aft and HMS Rodney turned 16 points to close and head her off. The King George V followed a minute or so later and both ships re-opened fire at ranges from 8600 and 12000 yards respectively. The Bismarck shifted her target to the Rodney about this time. A near miss damaged the sluice of her starboard torpedo tube. Most of the enemy’s guns had however been silenced at this time. Only one turret from her main armament was firing at this time as was part of her secondary armament. A fire was blazing amidships and she had a heavy list to port. During the run to the north HMS Rodney obtained a very favourable position on the Bismarck’s bow from which she poured in a heavy fire from close range. She also fired two torpedoes from 7500 yards but no hits were obtained.
HMS King George V’s position, further to leeward, was less favourable. Her view was obscured by smoke and splashes surrounding the target and her radar had temporarily broken down. Mechanical failures in the 14” turrets constituted, however, a more serious handicap at this stage. ‘A’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ turrets were out of action for 30, 7 and a unspecified short period, respectively. This resulted in reduction of firepower of 80% for 7 minutes and 40% for 23 minutes which might have had serious effects under less favourable conditions. There were also several defects of individual guns in addition to those effecting the turrets.
At 0925/27, HMS King George V, altered outwards to 150° and reduced speed to avoid getting too far ahead of the Bismarck. She closed in again at 1005 hours, fired several salvoes from a range of only 3000 yards and then resumed her northerly course. Meanwhile HMS Rodney was zigzagging across the Bismarck’s line of advance at a range of about 4000 yards firing her main and secondary armaments. She also fired four torpedoes, one of which is thought to have hit. By 1015 hours the Bismarck was no more than a wreck. All her guns were silenced, her mast had been blown away, she was a black ruin, pouring high into the air a great cloud of smoke and flame. Men were seen jumping overboard at this time and the Captain of the King George V later remarked had he known it he would have ceased fire.
End of the action.
The Commander-in-Chief was confident that the enemy could never get back to harbour, and as both battleships were running short of fuel and as further gunfire was unlikely to hasten the Bismarck’s end, the Commander-in-Chief signalled the King George V and Rodney to steer 027° at 1015/27 in order to break off the action and return to base. At 1036/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire to use her torpedoes, if she had any, on the enemy. In the meantime HMS Norfolk had been closing the target but due to the movements of the King George V and Rodney, had not fired her torpedoes until 1010 hours when she fired four torpedoes from 4000 yards and two possible hits were reported. The Dorsetshire was then approaching a mile or so to the southward, and anticipating the Commander-in-Chief’s signal at 1025 hours fired two torpedoes from 3600 yards into the enemy’s starboard side. She then steamed round the Bismarck’s bow and at 1036 hours fired another torpedo but now into her port side from 2600 yards. This was the final blow, the Bismarck heeled over quickly to port and commenced to sink by the stern. The hull turned over keel up and disappeared beneath the waves at 1040/27.
The Dorsetshire then closed and signalled to one of HMS Ark Royal’s aircraft to carry out a close A/S patrol while she was to pick up survivors assisted by HMS Maori. After 110 men had been picked up by both ships from the water both ships got underway again as a submarine was suspected to be in the area.
Damage to the Bismarck.
Survivors have told the story of terrible damage inflicted on her. The fore turrets seem to have been knocked out at 0902 hours. The fore control position was knocked out around 0912 hours. The after control position followed about 0915 hours. The after turrets were at that moment still in action. Then the aftermost gun turret was disabled by a direct hit on the left gun which burst sending a flash right through the turret. ‘C’ turret was the last one in action.
One survivor stated that around 0930 hours a shell penetrated the turbine room and another one entered a boiler room. A hit in the after dressing station killed all the medical staff and wounded that were in there at that moment. The upper deck was crowded with killed and wounded men and the seas surging in washed them overboard. Conditions below were even more terrible. Hatches and doors were jammed by concussion and blocked with wreckage. The air was thick with smoke and even more smoke was coming in from great holes in the upper deck. By 1000 hours all heavy guns were out of action and 10 minutes later the all secondary guns were also silent.
As HMS King George V and HMS Rodney turned northwards they were joined by HMS Cossack, HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu at by 1600/28 more detroyers had joined the screen (HMS Maori, HMS Jupiter, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi, HMAS Nestor, HMS Inglefield, HMS Lance, HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN), HMCS St. Clair (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Wallace, RCNR), HMCS Columbia (Lt.Cdr. (Retd.) S.W. Davis, RN) and HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN)). Heavy air attacks were expected that day, but only four enemy aircraft appeared, one of which bombed the screen while another one jettisoned her bombs on being attacked by a Blenheim fighter. The destroyers HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar, 100 nautical miles to the southward, were not so furtunate. They were attacked in position 52°58’N, 11°36’W at 0955/28 by German aircraft. HMS Mashona was hit and sank at noon with the loss of 1 officer and 45 men. The Commander-in-Chief reached Loch Ewe at 1230/29. Vice-Admiral Sommerville with Force H was on his way back to Gibraltar.
End of ‘Operation Rheinübung’.
The Bismarck’s consort, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was not heard off until 4 June 1941 when aircraft reported her having arrived at Brest. After leaving the Bismarck at 1914/24, the Prinz Eugen’s primary need was to replenish her fuel stock. She set course for a rendez-vous with two tankers, the Spichern (9323 GRT, built 1935, former Norwegian Krossfonn) and the Esso Hamburg (9849 GRT, built 1939) which were position to the north-west of the Azores. All next day the German cruiser made her way southwards, and at 0906/26 , some 600 nautical miles west-north-west of the Azores she sighted the Spichern and refuelled. Two reconnaissance ships had also been ordered into this area, the Gonzenheim and the Kota Pinang. On the 28th Prinz Eugen fuelled from the Esso Hamburg. She then proceeded southwards to carry out cruiser warfare against independently routed ships in the area to the north and west of the Cape Verde Islands but an inspection of her engines the next day showed that an extensive overhaul was needed. Her Commanding Officer then decided to break off the action and course was set for Brest, France where she arrived at 2030/1 June.
A German reconnaissance ship, a supply vessel and two tankers were intercepted by Royal Navy warships and sunk by their own crew or sunk with gunfire. Also two tankers were captured. These were in chronological order; tanker Belchen (6367 GRT, built 1932, former Norwegian Sysla) by gunfire from HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora on 3 June 1941 in the Greenland area in approximate position 59°00'N, 47°00'W. On 4 June the tanker Esso Hamburg by HMS London and HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN) in position 07°35'N, 31°25'W, tanker Gedania (8966 GRT, built 1920) was captured in the North Atlantic in position 43°38'N, 28°15'W by naval auxiliary (Ocean Boarding Vessel) HMS Marsdale (Lt.Cdr. D.H.F. Armstrong, RNR), she was put into service with the MOWT as Empire Garden, reconnaissance vessel Gonzenheim (4000 GRT, built 1937, former Norwegian Kongsfjord) was scuttled by her own crew after being sighted by HMS Esperance Bay ((Capt.(ret) G.S. Holden, RN) and intercepted by HMS Nelson (Capt. Sir. G.J.A. Miles, RN) and finally ordered to be boarded by HMS Neptune in position 43°29'N, 24°04'W. The next day (5 June) supply vessel Egerland (10040 GRT, built 1940) was intercepted by HMS London and HMS Brilliant in approximate position 07°00'N, 31°00'W. On 12 June, HMS Sheffield, intercepted tanker Friedrich Breme (10397 GRT, built 1936) in position 49°48'N, 22°20'W and finally on 15 June, HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN), captured the tanker Lothringen (10746 GRT, built 1940, former Dutch Papendrecht) in position 19°49'N, 38°30'W which had first been sighted by an aircraft from HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN). The Lothringen was sent to Bermuda and was put into service by the MOWT as Empire Salvage. (28)
26 May 1941
Around 1100 hours, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), parted company with convoy SL 74 to join the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. (27)
27 May 1941
At 0830 hours, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), sighted the German battleship Bismarck. Dorsetshire opened fire at 0902 hours.
At 1041 hours the Bismarck was seen to sink. Dorsetshire then commenced picking up survivors. (27)
29 May 1941
Shortly before midnight, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), arrived at Newcastle where she was to refit. (27)
3 Jun 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is docked at Newcastle. (29)
28 Jun 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was undocked. (29)
14 Jul 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is docked at Newcastle. (30)
19 Jul 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) is undocked. (30)
27 Jul 1941
Having completed her refit, HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), departed Newcastle for Scapa Flow. En-route post-refit trials were carried out. (30)
28 Jul 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow to commence a work-up period. (30)
4 Aug 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) conducted gunnery exercises at Scapa Flow. (31)
8 Aug 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises at Scapa Flow. (31)
11 Aug 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises at Scapa Flow. (31)
15 Aug 1941
Convoy WS 10X
This convoy departed U.K. ports on 14/15 May 1941 for Suez where the ships arrived between 1 to 4 October 1941.
The convoy assembled in the Clyde area on 15 May 1941.
The convoy was made up of the following troop transports; Brisbane Star (12791 GRT, built 1937), Orion (23371 GRT, built 1935), Strathmore (23428 GRT, built 1935), Strathnaver (22283 GRT, built 1931), And the transports Palma (5419 GRT, built 1941) and Port Jackson (9687 GRT, built 1937).
Escort was initially provided by the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) (joined at sea on 17 August 1941 until 28 August when the convoy arrived at Freetown), the AA (light) cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holte, RNN) (15 – 17 August) and the destroyers HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) (15-17 August), HMS Witch (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Holmes, RN) (15-17 August), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) (17-19 August), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) (17-19 August), HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) (17-19 August) and ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski) (17-19 August).
When approaching Freetown the convoy was joined on 26 August by a local escort made up of the destroyers HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) (left the convoy before noon on 27 August), HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) and the corvettes HMS Clematis (Cdr. Y.M. Cleeves, DSO, DSC, RD, RNR) and HMS Crocus (Lt.Cdr. E. Wheeler, RNR). The convoy arrived at Freetown on 28 August 1941.
The convoy departed Freetown for Capetown on 1 September 1941. Escort was now provided by the battleship HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN). The convoy arrived at Capetown on 11 September 1941.
The convoy departed Capetown for Suez on 14 September 1941. Escort was still provided by HMS Revenge until 22 September 1941 when the light cruiser ), HMS Ceres (Capt. E.G. Abbott, AM, RN) took over until the dispersal of the convoy on 27 September 1941 when it was near Aden. The ships of the convoy then continued independently towards Suez where they arrived between 1 and 4 October 1941.
15 Aug 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) conducted AA gunnery exercises at Scapa Flow. Upon completion of these exercises she departed Scapa Flow for Greenock. (31)
16 Aug 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) arrived at Greenock. (31)
17 Aug 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) departed Greenock to join convoy WS 10X at sea.
More on this convoy see the event for 15 August 1941, Convoy WS 10X. (31)
28 Aug 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN), which was escorting Convoy WS 10X, arrived at Freetown. (31)
29 Aug 1941
HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN), HMS Newcastle (Capt. E.A. Aylmer, DSC, RN) departed Freetown to patrol in the mid-Atlantic. They were escorted until 1800/30 by the destoyers HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN). HMS Newcastle parted company with HMS Eagle and HMS Dorsetshire around 0430/31.
The RFA oiler Echodale (Master B. Tunnard) also went to sea to fuel HMS Eagle and HMS Dorsetshire at given times while at sea. The Echodale was escorted by the corvette HMS Calendula (Lt.Cdr. A.D. Bruford, RNVR). (32)
21 Sep 1941
While trying to land on HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) the Walrus aircraft from HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) crashed into the sea and sank. There were no casualties. (33)
- ADM 53/108347
- ADM 53/108348
- ADM 53/108349
- ADM 53/108350
- ADM 53/112031
- ADM 53/112032
- ADM 53/112033
- ADM 53/112034
- ADM 53/112035
- ADM 53/112036
- ADM 53/112036 + ADM 53/111885 + ADM 53/112448
- ADM 199/318
- ADM 234/318
- ADM 199/318 + ADM 53/111848 + ADM 53/112037 + ADM 53/112435
- ADM 53/112037
- ADM 53/112038
- ADM 53/112039
- ADM 53/112040
- ADM 53/112041
- ADM 53/112042
- ADM 53/112042 + ADM 53/112879
- ADM 53/114129
- ADM 53/114129 + ADM 53/114264 + ADM 53/114806
- ADM 53/114130
- ADM 53/114131
- ADM 53/114132
- ADM 53/114133
- ADM 234/322
- ADM 53/114134
- ADM 53/114135
- ADM 53/114136
- ADM 53/114137 + ADM 53/114193 + ADM 53/114789
- ADM 53/114138 + ADM 53/114194
- ADM 53/114139 + ADM 53/114195
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.