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david leigh-smith
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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 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 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 -1 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 ', 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. MkIa RAF 92 squadron (GRJ P9374) damaged by and force landed near Calais on the 24th May, 1940.

And some ‘Spitfire porn' - some photos of her fully restored to flying specs.

Reader reactions:
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12 responses

  1. Another great post, David. Thanks!

    I admit to being really surprised that my Hood is the only model of the ship here. First ship I had built since 1961. So of course I chose one of the most complicated. I guess it is like riding a bicycle.

  2. You are welcome, Tom. I thought I’d have a few Hoods to choose from when I did a quick search; when I saw the only one there, I thought, “wow, we have two Tom Cleavers on the site...”

    Great ship for a flyboy.

  3. Sink The Bismark was one of my favorite books in junior high - found it at a family friend's lake cabin one summer and got hooked! Read it through at least 3 times before I graduated high school.

  4. We’ll be revisiting the Bismarck very soon, Greg.

  5. A nice set as usual, David.

  6. "We gotta sink the Bismarck" was the battle sound
    But when the smoke had cleared away, the mighty Hood went down

    • “In May of nineteen forty-one the war had just begun
      The Germans had the biggest ship that had the biggest guns
      The Bismarck was the fastest ship that ever sailed the seas
      On her deck were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees”

      “Out of the cold and foggy night came the British ship the Hood
      And ev'ry British seaman, he knew and understood
      They had to sink the Bismarck, the terror of the sea
      Stop those guns as big as steers and those shells as big as trees”

      “We'll find that German battleship that's makin' such a fuss
      We gotta sink the Bismarck cause the world depends on us
      Hit the decks a-runnin' boys and spin those guns around
      When we find the Bismark we gotta cut her down”

      “The Hood found the Bismarck and on that fatal day
      The Bismarck started firin' fifteen miles away
      "We gotta sink the Bismarck" was the battle sound
      But when the smoke had cleared away, the mighty Hood went down”

      “For six long days and weary nights they tried to find her trail
      Churchill told the people "Put ev'ry ship a-sail
      'Cause somewhere on that ocean I know she's gotta be
      We gotta sink the Bismarck to the bottom of the sea"

      “We'll find that German battleship that's makin' such a fuss
      We gotta sink the Bismarck cause the world depends on us
      Hit the decks a-runnin' boys and spin those guns around
      When we find the Bismarck we gotta cut her down”

      “The fog was gone the seventh day and they saw the mornin' sun
      Ten hours away from homeland the Bismarck made its run
      The admiral of the British fleet said "Turn those bows around
      We found that German battleship and we're gonna cut her down"

      “The British guns were aimed and the shells were comin' fast
      The first shell hit the Bismarck, they knew she couldn't last
      That mighty German battleship is just a memory
      "Sink the Bismarck" was the battle cry that shook the seven seas”

      “We found that German battleship was makin' such a fuss
      We had to sink the Bismarck 'cause the world depends on us
      We hit the deck a-runnin' and we spun those guns around
      Yeah, we found the mighty Bismarck and then we cut her down”

      “We found that German battleship was makin' such a fuss
      We had to sink the Bismarck 'cause the world depends on us
      We hit the deck a-runnin' and we spun those guns around
      We found the mighty Bismarck and then we cut her down.”


      Universal Music Publishing Group

  7. The whole Hood/Bismarck saga tells like a Greek tragedy. The doomed crews were fated brothers to each other in the epic sense. It's one of those stories that just rings and rings and rings, with Hood's end being so instantaneous and summary, and the Bismarck's being so drawn out and inevitable. Mirror images, one of the other, really.

  8. I agree David, even in the moment of victory Bismark is winged by Prince of Wales, starting a chain of events which ultimately leads to her destruction.
    One of the most compelling stories of the battle of the Atlantic.
    Nice work David@dirtylittlefokker

  9. I remember building the Hood as a 7 year old from an Airfix kit my parents bought out of a second hand store for me. I only read she came to a catastrophic end a few years later in my life. I thought the Hood was a beautiful ship because despite her length, she had a beam giving her a very elegant shape in fact. Years later I build the HMS Nelson in wood, scaling up the like Airfix kit times four to install motors and RC.

    This OTD story brought back these memories for the Weekend. Thanks a lot David!

  10. You are welcome, Michel. Glad you still have time to read between the baby changing, feeding, trying to get some sleep...

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