Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

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Vic Dale
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Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Vic Dale » Mon Apr 27, 2009 7:51 pm

The Battle of Denmark Strait - 0550 to 0609 24th May 1941.

By Vic Dale. 27th April 2009.

I have here produced a workable chart, which brings the charts of Prince of Wales and Prinz Eugen into correct alignment and which appears also to do justice to no less than nine important, clearly recogniseable and throroughly documented events. I have lettered these events 'A' to 'H' in blue on the chart and have given a brief outline of what they relate to. Here is a slightly fuller description of these events where times are given in minutes and seconds, according to Double British Summer Time as shown on the chart.

Target information and permission to open fire were signalled by Hood to Pow at 0550:00. Concentration of fire was directed at Bismarck and battle commenced.

A. 0552:30 HMS Hood opens fire in error on Prinz Eugen (PG).
True Range was about 24,500 yards and as Hood's first salvo was observed in PG to have fallen ahead and to port it can be assumed that Hood's gunners were using 24,000 yards as the gun range. At least two more salvoes were fired at PG before the error was discovered and fire was presumable switched to Bismarck after the third salvo. The tracks of the two German ships were relatively close at this time being separated by no more than 600 yards at most, so very likely Hood used the original range whilst firing for line on Bismarck, before subsequently correcting for range. This would be in conformity with Gunnery Policy in force in the Home Fleet at this time, which stipulated that "Line" had to be firmly established before "Ranging Fire" could commence. Shells were sunsequently seen to fall in PG's wake.

B. 0553:10 PoW opens fire on Bismarck.
True range at this time was 25,000 yards but owing to a lack of accurate ranges available from the ship's instruments at the time, a "gull range" was employed by the Senior Gunnery Officer using "horizon cards" to estimate gun-range from the relationship between Bismarck's hull and the horizon. The range obtained by this method and employed in the TS was an over estimate at 26,500 yards, which caused shot to fall well over. A succession of Down Ladders produced a clearly observed straddle at the 6th salvo, which fell at 0556:35. A-Arcs opened after a 20 degree turn to port by Blue Pennant signalled at 0555 and which brought "Y" turret into action when full salvoes commenced. From this straddle and by tracking the target's movements back to 0553 the true range of 25,000 yards at 0553 could be revealed.

C. 0554:00 Bismarck turns 20 degrees to port from her opening course of 212 degrees.
This turn was made after PoW's first salvo fell and was clearly designed to fox PoW's gunners, so they could not settle to their target prediction. Bismarck herself held her own fire in check until she had established herself steady on this new course of 192 degrees. The wait must have been agonising as the turn of necessity would need to be slow, so that the enemy should not spot the alteration. Enemy shot was falling to starboard though the third salvo from PoW would have fallen quite close.

This explains the delay between Hood and PoW opening fire and Bismarck replying. It has nothing to do with a lack of nerve or hesitation on the part of Bismarck's command, but expresses a cool and deliberate attempt to gain the tactical advantage. Small wonder the gunners were getting impatient to cut loose at the enemy. They could no doubt have got quickly on target, but they could not anticipate that Lindemann or Lutjens would order an aggressive 20 degree turn towards the enemy, the quicker to close the range and put him under rapid and accurate fire.

D. 0555:00 Prinz Eugen opens fire at Hood.
The 20.3 cm SKCs of Prinz Eugen were now within effective range at 20,200 m (22,1000 yards). The shot presumably fell over, or was obscured by battle smoke, so a second salvo was ordered and hits were observed. This range fixes the distance between the two opposing squadrons at 0555 and when used in conjunction with the opening True Range between Bismarck and PoW and the bearings on which the first and second salvoes from PoW were fired, plus the separation between the two German ships at 3000m, we can fix the position of PG at any given time along her course of 220 degrees and at the correct range.

0600:00 Hood is destroyed.
HMS HOOD blew up when a shell from Bismarck found her after magazines, prpbably from a near miss which passed under the main belt. The huge explosion threw smoke and debris far into the air and the resulting funeral shroud which hung over the ship spread out to at least 500 yards from it's epicentre. Captain Leach in PoW, ordered the ship's wheel hard over and turned her out to starboard and away from the wreck of the stricken flagship and the mass of floating debris. In the German squadron observers stood aghast at the sight before them, but the battle was still in progress and now PoW could be seen to have turned hard towards them before turning back to continue her battle with Bismarck. It is thought by some that Hood made a further turn to port by "Blue 2" hoist (turn together) at about 0600, but as the hoist was seen still to be flying when the ship blew up, this is ruled out as execution could only occur when the hoist was hauled down. This is fully documented in the Hood Inquiry. Examination of Hood's wreck shows her rudder to be turned to port, but the extreme angle of 25 to 30 degrees does not conform to battle turns which employ very modest use of the rudder, so as not to announce the alteration to the enemy. Clearly the rudder at that angle is due to damage sustained when the ship blew apart.

E. 0600:00 - 0602:00
After Hood blew up, PoW fired four more centrally directed salvoes at Bismarck, two before the hard turn could take effect and two more as the ship was brought back round to a course which paralleled that of Bismarck. The four salvoes appear to have been fired on a prediction from salvo 13 which was observed as straddling. The spread of the last two salvoes had lengthened to 1000 yards from the 350 yards normally expected - due to the ship turning under full wheel - and this cluster of shot presented a wall of fire through which Bismarck could not pass without being straddled again. All observed shot was seen to fall short though correct for line except that of the last salvo which fell ahead and from this it was concluded in PoW that Bismarck had turned away after 0600 as is shown on the chart.

F. 0602:30.
PoW is struck on the Compass Platform by a shell from Bismarck. This shell killed almost everyone in that position and vast quantities of blood poured into the charthouse below obliterating the chart and the Battle Narrative with it. This hit came in at Green 48 and confirms that PoW was still aggressively engaging the enemy at this time, though her gunners did not manage to get a target, possibly due to Bismarck being obscured by battle smoke blown across the range by the 10 knot wind.

G. 0602:00 - 0604:00.
In PG the 105mm heavy flak fired on PoW after she turned out from Hood's wreck and continued firing until PG was forced to turn away at 0603:45 by a torpedo warning whereupon the range opened rapidly. The minimum range at this time as recorded in PG's War Diary was 14,000 m (15,300 yards).

H. 0602:30 to 0605:00.
PoW sustained a number of hits from 38 cm and 20.3 cm shells and as the ship had not been properly tried in battle and lacked practical damage control experience as a unit under fire, Captain Leach took the decision to disengage and seek the safety of a smoke screen to preserve his ship. PoW might easily have been lost if such punishment was sustained for any length of time.

At 0605:00 PoW turned away and made smoke. As the ship turned away the forward DCT became wooded and control was passed to the after DCT, but due to smoke issuing from the casing of the damaged after funnel which had taken a hit, plus the heavy smoke screen being generated, that DCT now became blinded. The Officer in control of 'X' turret could still see the target under the smoke and on his own initaitive took the turret into local control and loosed off three salvoes firing four more shells in all - two single shots and one two-gun salvo.

Three of these shells can be seen to have fallen in the battle film and the timing of this film shot between 0606:30 and 0608:30 correctly times the firing of these last shells at about 0606 -0607.

This chart fixes 9 clearly documented events and places them in correct relationship to each other as well as making sense of a number of other details such as Prinz Eugen's torpedo spread calculations and the appearance of a Sunderland flying boat which was fired upon by the German flagship just after 0607. Flak-fire from the starboard side of Bismarck, as shown in the cine-footage, could only be directed at an aerial target as no surface targets within range of the 105mm flak were available on that side of the ship.

References;
The Hood Inquiry documents, narratives and personal testimonies
Captain Leach's Battle Narrative.

Gunnery Events in Prince of Wales.
Battle Damage to HMS Prince of Wales
Charts produced in Prince of Wales.
Prince of Wales' Salvo Plot.

Prinz Eugen's Battle Chart.
Prinz Eugen's War Diary including battle reports from the ship's
1st Artillery Officer, 2nd Artillery Officer and Torpedo Officer

Other documents;
Battleship Bismarck - Mullenheim Rechburg.
The Bismarck Episode - Russell Grenfell.
Prinz Eugen - Fritz-Otto Busch.

The Schmalenbach Film (actual battle footage shot from Prinz Eugen).

Vic Dale
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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by RF » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:18 am

This is an interesting and detailed account.

Having read it for the first time, and before rereading it to digest the detail, one question comes to my mind based on your previous posts about Hood shifting fire. Does your plot identify what happened to Hood's gunnery after the third salvo fired at PG? The only reference thereafter was a salvo landing in the wake of PG?
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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Vic Dale » Wed Apr 29, 2009 2:43 pm

To RF.

There is no reliable documentation as to Hood's fire after shifting away from PG, though there are certain known facts from which we can perhaps make some deductions.

Firstly, Bismarck was hit three times during this action and generally PoW is given credited for them. PoW managed to get off just 53 shells, so this would mean that she, an untried weapon just out of work-up, managed to outdo the best hit percentage of the Fleet which stood at around 2% strikes for total shells fired.

Secondly, the British sqaudron's output was reduced due to the after guns being wooded for the first 4 minutes, meaning that only 2 to three guns maximum could fire in each salvo. PoW did not acheive an observed straddle until the 6th salvo, so very likely her chances of acheiving hits on Bismarck during this period were extremely low. Hood was firing on PG during most of this time, but having shifted target to concentrate the squadron's fire on Bismarck, will herself have stood as good a chance of hitting as PoW.

Thirdly, Hood was the Fleet's best gunnery ship and it is unlikely in the extreme that the green PoW would be able to out do her, so gunnery results should in all probability be shared equally between the two ships, though as there were three hits, one ship will have scored higher than the other. This could just as easily be Hood as PoW.

There were witness accounts given to the Hood Inquiry concerning Hood's output, but considering that there was no real responsibility in PoW for accounting for Hood's fire, it is unlikely that the true picture has been established. The witnesses were called not knowing what questions they would be asked, so it is most unlikely that there was anything prepared in documentary form on which the inquiry could rely.

The most detailed account came from a very junior rating who probably had very little battle experience and may have been given the task simply to take his mind off his nerves as is the custom. At any rate he will have had to wait almost 3 months before testifying and in that time, with only his memory and what scant idea he could get of what was going on, it is likely that his account by that time was not all that accurate.

An instructive exercise here would be to try and remember how may times Bismarck fired during the battle footage shown in the Schmalenbach film. I am sure we have all watched it many times. Just counting the number of main battery salvoes is a task in itself.

It should be remembered also that the battle was expected to last a very long time and was cut short by Hood blowing up. What could be gained by counting Hood's salvoes when a far more accurate record would be kept in the flagship? Certainly Hood blowing up was the last thing on anybody's mind as they went into battle that morning.

In my own mind I am satisfied that Hood managed output which was to be expected of her that morning and that would probably mean she fired almost the same number of salvoes as PoW, allowing for the loss of at least one salvo whilst fire was being shifted to Bismarck. This would mean she fired 10 to 12 salvoes before she blew up, 6 to 7 half-salvoes and 4 to 5 full salvoes. Reports detailing less output than this are probably due to the view of Hood being masked by enemy fall of shot and the effects of the boat deck ammunition fire, plus normal observation failures, which are to be expected when ships are under fire as PoW was after 0557 to 0558.

I don't think it is possible to get more accurate than this very rough assessment of Hood's output. There is mention of 30 second timeslots for the ships to fire alternate salvoes, but it does not seem that PoW held to this in any disciplined manner.

Vic Dale

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Karl Heidenreich » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:34 pm

How does this match (or not) Antonio Bonomi´s account and map? :think:
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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by JtD » Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:36 pm

Interesting and good work, Vic. I could go on and argue details, but I'd rather give a thumbs up for the overall picture. :ok:

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Bgile » Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:00 pm

Vic,

Where did you get the information that Hood was the best gunnery ship in the British Fleet? I'd always heard that was Renown.

I believe PoW's gunnery dept would have seen splashes from Hood's gunfire if they had been anywhere near Bismarck. This would have come out in the inquiry.

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Vic Dale » Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:15 pm

To Bgile

As far as I know it was a matter of a long running dispute and as there never was a shoot-off to prove who was best I doubt we shall ever know for sure.

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Bgile » Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:01 pm

Edit: Removed off topic comment about Hood's FC position.

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Vic Dale » Wed Apr 29, 2009 11:17 pm

Karl Heidenreich wrote:How does this match (or not) Antonio Bonomi´s account and map? :think:
There is no real comparison between my work and Antonio's as we each have an entirely different approach to the problem.

As far as I can gather, Antonio has chosen to base himself on photos to draw his chart and this is something which I feel is impossible, because the captioning cannot be relied upon and the actual timing of each shot cannot be found. The best we could get is the chronological order, if the shots came from the same roll of film, which clearly they don't.

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Karl Heidenreich » Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:23 am

Vic,

With due respect Antonio´s account is widely accepted in this webpage (it´s published) and also in the HMS Hood webpage. That speaks a bit of it´s reliability. This doesn´t means I mistrust yours but I think I will establish some parallels and see what comes out of it.

Best regards,

Karl
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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Vic Dale » Thu Apr 30, 2009 5:12 am

Karl Heidenreich wrote:Vic,

With due respect Antonio´s account is widely accepted in this webpage (it´s published) and also in the HMS Hood webpage. That speaks a bit of it´s reliability. This doesn´t means I mistrust yours but I think I will establish some parallels and see what comes out of it.

Best regards,

Karl
Rob Winklareth's chart was published too. That didn't make it right though.

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by JtD » Thu Apr 30, 2009 8:12 am

How can you be so dismissive? I haven't read a single witness report from PG that contains your statements wrt fall of shot of Hood's fire. So instead of disregarding other people work you might want to use it to improve your own, as it isn't perfect.

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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Vic Dale » Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:24 pm

My work is original and owes it's existence to the gunnery results and observations from the battle. I do not work with anybody else and I certainly do not consider myself to be in competition with anyone. Nor am I obliged to accept that with which I disagree. Antonio has produced his chart and I have produced mine, so happily our interests will not conflict as we disagree.

Oddly, despite assertions that it cannot be done, the British Navy also produced a battle track showing Bismarck's turns and they worked it out from gunnery results. That is what I have based myself on. I do not consider photos and their captions to be evidence of events, they are simply snap-shots covering milli-seconds and serve only to illustrate, though some are definitely identifiable as being taken during the battle. The captions seem to vary with each new publication, so they cannot be considered as evidence of anything. The battle film supplies important information as to how the German flagship steered during the final phase of the battle, once it is correctly timed.

When Prinz Eugen's Navigating Officer produced her battle chart, Admiral Schmundt went ballistic and told him to redraw using the information from the ship's gunnery computing station. So he seems to agree that a workable chart can be drawn from gunnery results.

My chart is backed up by at least nine confirmed and well documented observations. I don't consider it definitve at this stage and there will be refinements according to further observations, but for the time being it does work and also supports a number of photos which I will later nominate for placement on the timeline.

Antonio produced an objection saying that my chart conflicted with observations from Norfolk at 0600, but on comparing the position of Norfolk to the German sqaudron the visual separation between the German ships at the time matches what is shown in my chart. Norfok's chart does not give accurate ranges and it is clearly stated not to have been drawn to scale. It simply states the distances in nautical miles as being; from Norfolk to Hood and Norfolk to Bismarck at 10 miles and 11 miles respectively and shows the distance between Hood and Bismarck as 8.5 miles.

There is no distance figure for Prinz Eugen and this is not surprising as a degree of mirage was hampering distant observations from bearings astern and on the quarter of the Germans that morning due to air temperature boundaries at sea level.

It now seems that my chart is backed up by 10 clear and documented observations instead of the nine which I originally nominated, once Norfolk's evidence is properly considered..

I am happy engage in discussion about all aspects of the battle, providing contributions are given in a positive and informative manner and not presented as personalised attacks.

Vic Dale
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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by Karl Heidenreich » Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:40 pm

Vic,

There are several issues that must be plain clear in order to accept, or not, your chart analysis. The first one is your assertion that photographs are not valid to forensic purposes. Which is far from the thruth. People has gone to jail, even to the electric chair I think, or freed upon the use of photographs as forensic evidence. You can cheat your memory or the versions of witness but a photograph is what it is, objective. I agree that it needs more than that to be sure of certain facts, but it´s one of the most reliable.

Second, there are many statements that you do in such a way that are done not as a theory or proposition but as facts:

1. Hood has the best gunnery of the RN.
2. Hood stop firing on PE and aimed Bismarck
3. How PoW´s running away turns out to be a bold manouver to outsmart the Germans
4. Lutjens´ cunning 20° manouver and countermanouver and holding fire.

Amongst others, that, sincerely it´s the first time I have read about in this forum, in the Hoos forum and in the books I have from Bismarck and the battle, including Bruce Taylor´s book of Hood, which, believe, he could be the first one to hurray if Hood could have been considered a good shooter.

1. Hood wasn´t a good shooter. The Dreyer Table make it sure that it wans´t. Another objective evidente: it hit nothing at DS. Everybody could talk about straddles and such, but at the end it was the first ship to fire, so the one with the advantage of fire correction, and at the end finished as the only one without any hit.
2. From all I have read Hood shoot PE until it was too late. No firing upon Bismarck has ever been proved.
3. PoW turn away because she was being hammered. Since the PE corrected her fire to aim PoW and Bismarck blew RN´s best gunnery BB sky high Leach´s ship didn´t hit anything but water. And he was receiving quite a pounding because in less than three minutes both German ships had landed on it several hits. Some more time on that drill and PoW would have been at the bottom of the Ocean seven month´s earlier than she did.
4. Lutjens, as it seems from every account was as cunning as General Meade in Gettysburg. Mullenheim Rechberg´s, who was in Bismarck at the time and had the opprtunity to talk with people that died a couple of days later, accounts of Lutjens in the most diplomatic way but with emphasize on his lack of confidence in the mission and, above, all, the way he behaved at DS. All the facts surrounding Bismarck and her sinking leads to a weak commander, not confident and without any initiative. What happened at DS, positive to the German side, was the work of a damn good German ship, an excelent and profesional crew, a magnificent firing direction (Schneider) and, of course, the courage and determination of Lindemann. Lutjens failed miserably to order fire against it´s enemies and call off the shots too early only to head his squadron to interception and doom.

So, with all due respect, I stay with Mullenheim´s account, Bruce Taylor´s book, José Rico´s book and Antonio Bonomi´s superb work which uses, in a very professional way, what is called photographic forensic analysis.

Best regards,
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
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Re: Battle Tracks at Denmark Strait

Post by JtD » Thu Apr 30, 2009 4:44 pm

Vic, I have a question as well. You quote Mühlheim-Rechenberg as one of your sources. He states that the range at which Hood was destroyed to be 18000meters. In your chart it appears to be less. Why did you decide against M-R's number?

And for someone who's never paid much attention to the charts of this engagement, what would be the biggest differences to other charts? Is there something fundamentally new on your chart or is it just a summary of your opinion that differs in various details with various other charts?

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