On This Day…May 24th.
The Battle of the Denmark Strait was a short, intense encounter that was a humanitarian disaster for the Royal Navy. In the early hours of May 24th 1941, the HMS Hood was sunk and with 1,418 souls on board, a staggering and scarcely believable total of just three men were to survive.
The Bismarck, escorted by the Prinz Eugen, were spotted and caught off the coast of Iceland on the Germans’ run from Norway to French coast by the Hood and the HMS Price of Wales. Although the battle lasted less than ten minutes from minutes, the resulted in the biggest single loss of life in the history of the British Admiralty.
The Hood opened fire at the Prinz Eugen at 05:52, believing her to be the Bismarck, at a distance of around 14 miles. The Prince of Wales began firing at Bismarck. The Germans held their fire until 05:55 (famously, the German fleet chief, Admiral Lütjens, did not immediately give permission to return fire, to which the Bismarck captain Ernst Lindemann, impatiently responded: “Ich lasse mir doch nicht mein Schiff unter dem Arsch wegschießen. Feuererlaubnis!” – I’m not letting my ship get shot out from under my arse. Open fire!”).
(Bismarck firing at the Prince of Wales)
At 06:00 the Hood was turning to port when she was hit by the Bismarck from a distance of around nine miles. There was an instant fireball and a catastrophic explosion tore the ship apart.
(A photo taken from the Eugen showing the Hood explode in the far distance; the Prince of Wales shows as a dark shape nearby)
Ted Briggs, one of only three survivors, remembers struggling to stay afloat, giving up hope and allowing himself to drown before miraculously being shot to the surface (probably the result of air escaping from the ship). He then recalls, “When I reached the surface, 50 yards away I saw her bows, vertical out of the water. That image would haunt me in nightmares for the next 40 years. When I swam clear of the ship, seconds later I turned back, she was gone.”
(The Hood in her last few moments, as seen from the Prince of Wales)
After the Hood sank, Briggs managed to find and board a raft from the ship and incredibly found the only two other survivors, Bob Tilburn and Bill Dundas. Briggs paddled his raft to the two men stayed by their sides, where they held hands and sang patriotic songs to keep them conscious.
After 3 hours, and almost lost to hypothermia, the three men were rescued by HMS Electra (below).
Jack Taylor, sailor on board the Electra recalled, “We made ready to pick up hundreds of injured and wounded men from the grey cold sea. Blankets, medical supplies, hot beverages and rum were got ready. Scrambling nets were flung over the ship’s side, trailing into the water. Men were lining the side ready with hand lines, eyes straining into the greyness ahead.”
“It was only what seemed like a matter of minutes when we broke out of a mist patch into the clear. And there it was. The place where the Hood had sunk. Wreckage of all descriptions was floating on the surface. Hammocks, broken rafts, boots, clothes, caps. Of the hundreds of men we expected to see there was no sign.”
“We nosed our way slowly amongst all the pitiful remains of books, letters, photos, and other personal effects floating by and a shout went up as a man appeared clinging to a piece of flotsam a little further away. Two more were seen.”
“We searched for a long time among what remained of this once proud ship but there was no one. Not even a body.”
The loss shocked the whole of Britain. Ultimately, it would prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for the Bismarck. Hood’s destruction spurred a relentless and obsessive pursuit by all available Royal Navy warships, which we’ll return to in a few days.
(The Hood, as built by our own Tom Cleaver. Not sure which is the more startling fact; that this is the only ‘Hood’ on iModeler, or the fact it was built by @tcinla )
Captured Italian 21cm mortar on May 24th, 1916.
Source: Flight May 24th 1957.
Messerschmitt Bf 109E3 8.JG1 (B3+~) pilot Karl Scheuermann had a take off accident (all too frequent with the 109) at Signy le Petit on 24th May, 1940.
On 24th of May 1941, this Wellington Bomber was part of a detail to bomb Maleme in Crete, which had been taken by the Germans. Due to last minute changes to targets, the bomber found its fuel load disappearing, and had to ditch.
Terry Norcross, crew member, takes up the story…
“We made an excellent landing on the sea, which proved to be extremely rough , and got out of the plane and onto the wing. We removed the dinghy from its stowage in the port engine nacelle but it had been perished by the sun and could not be inflated. I, being a weak and reluctant swimmer and not looking forward to jumping into water where my feet couldn’t touch the bottom, promptly got mixed up with the trailing aerial which I had not had time to retract.”
“I had a few exciting minutes where I was securely attached to the aircraft by a great length of stainless steel wire and was alternately sucked under the fuselage and washed out again by the tail end slapping up and down through the action of the huge wave movement. With the help of Bert and the others I managed to divest myself of the aerial and the aircraft and we all started to swim towards the ships in our Mae West life jackets.”
“We had not been in the water long when a cheerful boat crew appeared at the top of a wave mountain , picked us up and took us to what turned out to be HMS Coventry” (below).
“We were provided with dry clothes, food and rum and the Coventry crew made us very comfortable on the journey back to Alexandria. As some compensation for the immersion in the sea we spent a delightful 10 days on a houseboat on the Nile near the Gezirah sporting Club in Cairo..”
Lovely shot of P-47D Thunderbolt P-47D -30-RE. During wartime the Jug was part of 131st Fighter Squadron, and was allotted to the Massachusetts Air National Guard on 24 May 1946.
The VS-300 helicopter, created and flown by Russian-American Igor Sikorsky, was first demonstrated on May 24, 1940 in Bridgeport, CT. The first American single main rotor helicopter, it rose 15-20 feet above the ground, travelling 200 feet forward before hovering, backing up, and landing. Truly, a design classic.
US Soldiers examine a Marder III (below, Geir Anderson’s great diorama) on their advance to Rome on May 24th, 1944.
US Navy pilot Lieutenant Commander Lance E. Massey, of Torpedo Squadron 3, in his TBD-1 Devastator aircraft, Naval Air Station Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, 24 May 1942.
Newly converted USS Sable (training aircraft carrier) on her delivery trip to Chicago on Lake St Clair, Michigan, United States. Photo taken from the freighter Joseph Wood. May 24 1943. USS Sable (IX-81) was a training ship of the US Navy during World War II ant these shallow draft ‘fresh water’ flattops have featured several times in ‘OTD…’
Originally built as the ‘Greater Buffalo’, a sidewheel pleasure steamer, she was converted in 1942 to a freshwater carrier to be used on the Great Lakes for advanced training of naval aviators in carrier takeoffs and landings.
Latest ‘soldier and his dog’ photo. Petty Officer 2nd Class Blake Soller and Military Working Dog Rico at the War Dog Cemetery at Naval Base Guam, Santa Rita, US Territory of Guam, 24th of May 2009. Beautiful.
Beautifully shot photo of another ‘OTD…’ favourite, the Battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) on display in San Francisco Bay, California, United States, on the 24th of May 1947. San Francisco Bay Bridge, with Yerba Buena Island in the background.
Gebirgsjäger (literally, a mountain hunter) with an MG 34 (below) in Nordland, Norway, May 27th, 1940.
More diorama bait to finish the set. Spitfire MkIa RAF 92 squadron (GRJ P9374) damaged by Bf 109 and force landed near Calais on the 24th May, 1940.
And some ‘Spitfire porn’ – some photos of her fully restored to flying specs.