The U-boat’s captain was in an impish way of thinking as he put his brand new U-556 through its trials within the Baltic. It was winter 1941 and from his point of view it had been a very good battle. The convoys crossing the Atlantic were sitting targets for Germany’s U-boat packs. Lt. Commander ‘Parsifal’ Wohlfarth’s latest command was the most recent addition to the twenty-5 submarines being produced by German shipyards each month.
Throughout the darkening windswept waves of the Baltic Sea he may clearly make out the superstructure of the Bismarck. At 40,000 tons it was the newest and largest battleship on the earth. It too was finishing up exercises when it obtained a sign from the minuscule 500-ton U-556: ‘personal from captain to captain. A fantastic ship you may have there!’
Wohlfarth’s impertinence didn’t go down too effectively with the commander of the Bismarck, who signalled back: ‘from commander to captain, report title of commanding officer.’
“Oh, Lord!” exclaimed Captain Wohlfarth. “Now I’ve finished it.” He promptly signalled again to the Bismarck. ‘From Captain to Captain – you attempt doing this!’ Inside moments the cheeky skipper submerged his U-boat under the waves.
THE GODFATHER U-BOAT The weeks passed and Lt. Commander Wohlfarth, wishing to make amends for his cockiness, had drawn up an impressive ‘Certificate of Godfatherhood’. It was expressed by way of friendly admiration in which U-556 pledged itself to behave as ‘godfather’ to the Bismarck.
He then known as on the battleship’s commander the place amidst laughter the document was obtained with good grace. The special relationship between the world’s most formidable battleship and the diminutive submarine was born. Weeks later, when the U-556 began out on its first patrol, Captain ‘Parsifal’ Wohlfarth signalled once more to the Bismarck: ‘personal from captain to captain. Once you observe me, don’t fret. I will see that you come to no harm.’
It was a pledge that the U-556’s captain would bitterly regret when months later circumstances precipitated him to fail as a ‘godparent’ to the German battleship.
U-556 was considered one of a U-boat pack patrolling the treacherous and near frozen waters lying between Iceland and South Greenland. Between them their ‘West Group’ had thus far sunk eighteen allied ships. An extra three had been broken but now Lt. Commander Wohlfarth’s command was low on each torpedoes and fuel.
THE KNIGHT’S CROSS BECKONS
It was time to return to Germany and at the similar time decide up his Knight’s Cross from Admiral Karl Doenitz. Making his leisurely manner back throughout the north Atlantic the U-556’s captain attacked yet another convoy and loosed the last of his torpedoes. It one of those unfathomable quirks of fate that this comparatively small action in the greater theatre of struggle may have snatched victory from Germany’s jaws.
Far to the west the Bismarck and the cruiser Prinz Eugen broke by way of the British blockade and sailed out into the Atlantic on a raiding mission.
Aware of the menace they posed all obtainable British forces were ordered to intercept and destroy the 2 marauders. If the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, then being repaired in the French port of Brest, ever joined these formidable warships the impact the three battleships and the cruiser would have on allied shipping can be devastating. Britain could presumably be starved into giving up its battle with Germany. Situated by HMS Suffolk, a squadron composed of HMS Hood and the HMS Prince of Wales made contact with the two German raiders. This brief and bloody encounter resulted in the sinking of the HMS Hood with the lack of ninety five officers and 1,324 seamen. The Bismarck nevertheless had not emerged unscathed and was now headed for the ship restore yards at St. Nazaire leaving the Prinz Eugen to proceed its patrol.
THE RACE TO THE RESCUE
Hoping to lure the pursuing Royal Navy into a entice, the German battleship’s commanding officer, Admiral Lutjens, referred to as for a line of U-boats to be stationed throughout his own line of method, prepared to choose off his Royal Navy tormentors.
Of the six U-boats in a position to answer his name two had no torpedoes and very little gasoline. One among them was Lt. Commander Wohlfarth’s U-556, the ‘godfather’ submarine that had pledged to protect the Bismarck. The German U-boat raced by means of towering seas towards the damaged battleship.
Aboard the pursuing Royal Navy hunters, Admiral Sir John Tovey realising he could not shut with the German battleship unless its speed was decreased, known as up the Gibraltar squadron. The squadron consisted of the battle cruiser HMS Renown, the plane service HMS Ark Royal and the Cruisers HMS Sheffield and HMS Dorsetshire.
Everything nonetheless depended on the Ark Royal’s own aircraft for they alone might attain the Bismarck in time to strike with their airborne torpedoes. If something may forestall the HMS Ark Royal closing with its goal the crippled German raider would make it to St. Nazaire and safety.
THE FATEFUL DENIAL
Through the night of 26th Could 1941 the U-556’s watch reported the method of warships. Lt. Commander Wohlfarth crash-dived, then raised his periscope to see what should have been every U-boat commander’s dream. The HMS Renown and the HMS Ark Royal were streaming directly in the direction of him, their massive gray hulls plunging repeatedly into mountainous seas.
Wohlfarth didn’t even must manoeuvre; it was as though they have been steaming straight into his torpedo tubes. All he needed to do was press the firing button to ship the Ark Royal and HMS Renown to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay. The loss would have been calamitous for Britain at struggle. Had he accomplished so, and had the Bismarck made it to safety the odds would have been stacked against Britain’s victory. However he had no torpedoes left. The final of them had been used on a comparatively unimportant service provider ship.
Such a chance would never again present itself; an enemy battleship and aircraft carrier, with out escorting destroyers, passing immediately within the line of fire of a U-boat’s torpedo tubes; tubes that have been empty. Bismarck’s destiny was sealed. Her ‘godfather’ protector that had so recently signalled its pledge of protection was in no position to guard the pride of the German navy. The HMS Ark Royal and HMS Renown, unaware of their good fortune, blithely continued their course of future.
The British plane provider closed on the Bismarck earlier than launching an airborne attack on her. In poor weather circumstances 9 Swordfish plane led by Lieutenant Eugene Esmond found the crippled Bismarck and launched torpedo assaults, which resulted in dented plates, loosened bulkheads and punctured her gasoline tanks. The battleship was now taking in water slowing her progress.
THE CRIPPLING OF THE BISMARCK
Contact was then lost however a Catalina from 209 squadron spotted her the following day and from HMS Ark Royal fifteen Swordfish had been launched which quickly chanced upon HMS Sheffield. Mistaking their very own ‘pride ‘ the fleet’ for the German battleship HMS Ark Royal’s plane launched twelve torpedoes, which the British warship managed to avoid.
Admiral Somerville then ordered a second strike from HMS Ark Royal and in appalling climate conditions Royal Navy flying officer Lieutenant-Commander Jim Coode led Sub-Lieutenant Ken Pattison and Sub-Lieutenant Joey Beal to search out the elusive Bismarck. On finally encountering the German battleship they launched their torpedoes, one among which hit the port boiler room again.
Jim Coode’s ‘tin fish’ then fatally hit the Bismarck’s rudder leaving the large battleship circling helpless within the Bay of Biscay. A Royal Navy pilot who was later to be killed on a coaching flight in North Africa had sealed Bismarck’s fate.
As dawn broke on the twenty seventh Could, the HMS King George V, HMS Rodney, HMS Norfolk and HMS Dorsetshire, positioned themselves and began to fireside salvoes into the stricken German marauder. For three hours the Royal Navy pounded broadside after broadside into the crippled battleship.
Circling, HMS Rodney fired two torpedoes into the Bismarck’s hull however nonetheless the formidable behemoth remained afloat.
At 10.15 a.m. the British Commander-in-Chief ordered the German battleship to be torpedoed again. HMS Dorsetshire fired torpedoes into each the starboard and the port hulls of the Bismarck’s burning shell, and at 10.40am the good battleship rolled silently on her aspect and commenced her descent to the underside of the seas, her battle flag saluting the gray skies.
THE SEA OF DISTRESS In a scene straight from hell many tons of of German seamen discovered themselves tossed helplessly by the seas, swimming vainly of their attempts to remain afloat. Excessive above them the heaving gray superstructure of the HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Maori, their scrambling nets cascading down its sides in compliance with the legislation of the ocean.
Keen palms reached out to offer help however helpless by a combination of exhaustion and the action of the waves few of the stricken men have been in a position to make it as far as the warship’s sea swept decks. On both sides of the tragic battle there were acts of nice heroism. A 17-year old British sailor, Midshipman Brookes, courageously climbed over the warship’s heaving facet. Descending to the heaving waterline he manfully tried to rescue a young German sailor who had lost each his arms and was attempting to hold on to the rope along with his tooth. Sadly by this time naval exercise was said to have been spotted’ in the distance and the rescuing warships have been ordered to get beneath approach; to abandon many a whole bunch of stricken sailors thus condemned to a watery grave. The young British midshipman was positioned underneath arrest for defiantly refusing to give up his rescue try and threatened with execution.
FULL ARMY HONOURS – AND TEARS
Only 115 of the Bismarck’s crew of 2,206 males survived. A number of of those that later died aboard the HMS Dorsetshire have been dedicated to the sea with full military honours. Usually every have been sent to their watery grave as a bugler performed the final post and both German and British sailors stood solemnly to attention. The German survivors were given permission to salute their fallen comrades with the raised arm and the open hand. In the background might be heard the plaintive strains of a borrowed harmonica playing the lament: ‘Ich hatt einen kamaraden.’ (I as soon as had a comrade). As each physique was committed to the waves each German and British sailors wept openly.