This page was last updated on 21 March 2024

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

The battle of the Bismarck and the loss of HMS Hood







In April 1941, Admiral John Tovey was aware of Admiral Raeder’s plan whereby the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen should escape unseen from the Baltic, join forces in the Atlantic with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and thereby, pose a powerful threat to Britain’s Atlantic lifeline. The Bismarck was Germany's most feared ship as it was a modern, fast and well armed battleship. Tovey dispersed his fleet accordingly, ordering his cruisers to keep a close watch on the Denmark Strait.

On 21st May 1941, the Battle Cruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet, under the command of Vice-Admiral Holland on his flagship HMS Hood, along with HMS Prince of Wales and six other destroyers were ordered to the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. On the 22nd May 1941, the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had been reported as having left Bergen, indicating an escape was imminent. At 7.45pm, on his flagship HMS King George V, he led the rest of the Home Fleet towards the Denmark Strait. At 7.22pm on 23rd May, the cruiser HMS Suffolk sighted the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen seven miles ahead of it in the Denmark Strait.

On 23rd May the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were sited 300 miles away from the Hood’s force. The force increased its speed to 27 knots, and by 0535 the next morning they were only 17 miles away. At 0552 when the Bismarck was within 25,000 yards, the Hood opened fire, quickly followed by the Prince of Wales. The Bismarck immediately returned fire, straddling the Hood with her second or third salvo. The magazine was hit and a fire broke out and quickly spread. At 0600 just after the Bismarck fired her fifth salvo, a huge explosion split the Hood in two, and within a few minutes she had sunk. The Prince of Wales sent the signal ‘Hood sunk’ which was received by the destroyer HMS Electra at 0600, and she and the rest of the escort instantly went in search for survivors. HMS Prince of Wales had to withdraw under cover of smoke after being damaged, but was able to continue to shadow the German ship. The Bismarck had also been hit and had sustained a fuel leak and headed for St Nazaire.

Tovey with HMSs King George V, Repulse and Victorious, were still 300 miles away but were intent on intercepting the Bismarck. The Admiralty diverted various ships to come under Tovey’s command. These included HMSs Ark Royal, Rodney and Ramillies. Late on 24th May, torpedo reconnaissance bombers from HMS Victorious found the Bismarck, and attacked it scoring a hit, but she managed to escape yet again. Due to shortage of fuel in his ships, Tovey decided that if the Bismarck had not been slowed down by midnight on 26th May, he would be compelled to break off the chase.

At 8.47 pm on 26th May, in deteriorating weather conditions, aircraft from HMS Ark Royal launched a torpedo attack. They managed to score a hit that damaged Bismarck’s propellers, jammed the rudder, and effectively stopped the ship. She began to turn helplessly in circles and trailing oil. Just before midnight, the Commanding Officer, Admiral Lutjens sent a message saying "Ship incapable of manoeuvring. Will fight to the last shell. Long live the Fuhrer"

At 0800 of the 27th May 1941, the Bismarck, floundering helplessly, faced the combined fire of HMSs King George V and Rodney and sustained heavy damage within an hour, although she was able to continue to return fire. Tovey ordered that the ship be sunk with torpedoes, which were fired from HMS Dorsetshire. It still took two hours before the German battleship sank below the sea a few hundred miles off Brest.

110 men out of 2,200 of the Bismarck’s crew were later picked up.

Only 3 men out of the 1,421 crew of HMS Hood survived - Able Seaman Ted Briggs, Able Seaman Robert Tilburn and Midshipman William Dundas. The loss of the ship was a bitter blow to the Admiralty, but in reality, she had been overtaken by technology and not the invincible ship she had been thought of. This was summed up by Admiral Chatfield in The Times, in that she ‘was destroyed because she had to fight a ship 22 years more modern than herself. This was not the fault of the British seamen. It was the direct responsibility of those who opposed the rebuilding of the British Battle Fleet until 1937, two years before the Second Great War started.’

Able Seaman Neil H. Douglas and Mark R. Douglas a Boy 1st Class, lost their lives when the Hood sank.

When HMS Ark Royal joined the battle, Lieutenant-Commander James Sholto Douglas was on board commanding 807 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm, the squadron consisting 12 Fulmars.  He was subsequently awarded the DSO. he was a descendant of the Douglas family of Fingland, and, earlier, of Morton Castle.



See also:
•    Sale of Douglas JS Douglas medals with full history



Any contributions will be gratefully accepted



Errors and Omissions

The Forum

What's new?

We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


2 Minute Survey

To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

Help with costs

Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!
Temporarily withdrawn.



Back to top


The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

Contact Us

Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024