View Full Version : The Bismarck

20th Apr 2012, 19:08
A while back I read that in 1941 when The Bismarck was trying to evade the RN Fleet, she was spotted from a patrolling Catalina, partly piloted (pre-US entry into WW2) by an instructor ensign USN. I mentioned that here.

Some say the ensign spotted the ship. My memory from PPRuNe is that one of its authorities (ORAC, perhaps?) contributed: "Not so! It was really P/O or F/O X, RAF" who had first seen the great ship.

I took a note which I have mislaid.

Now in another book ("The Road Past Mandalay", by John Masters) I read that the Bismarck was picked up by a Chesty Jennings of the USAAF (as I read this text), tail gunner in said Catalina.

Please may I again pick the authoritative minds from the past? Who was/were that RAF host and American guest pilot/gunner or whatever?

This time I'll put it in my note-book of paper, not this electronic nonsense.

20th Apr 2012, 19:53
There is a lot of conjecture that the spotting was a bit of a "put up" job. I've read an account of Bletchley Park operations which claims that we knew all along where the great ship was, but had to make it look as if we'd found her the old fashioned way instead of by code breaking.

20th Apr 2012, 20:04
The American Who Helped Sink the Bismarck | Defense Media Network (http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-american-who-helped-sink-the-bismarck/)
Ensign Smith writes in the first person.
Here's a putative crew list.No.209 Sqn
Catalina I AH545 WQ-Z

P/O D A Briggs
Ens L B Smith USN
P/O Otter
F/O Lowe
Sgt Edmonds
Sgt Burton
Sgt Leigh
Sgt Dunning
Sgt Stenning
LAC Martin

And then there is this of course.

I Was There! - How Our Catalina Shadowed the Bismarck - The War Illustrated (http://www.thewarillustrated.info/94/i-was-there-how-our-catalina-shadowed-the-bismarck.asp)

I suppose that it could be said that had the US not provided the Catalinas and the quite illegal and neutrality breaking Ensigns to train the British pilots then the Bismark would have eluded the enormous British fleet sent to ensure her destruction and gone on to a glorious and destructive career.
Another victory for the British provided by their trusty allies the Americans!

tony draper
20th Apr 2012, 20:07
Dont see how Bletchley Park could have known her exact position at any given time unless Bismark was sending her position back to Berlin every few hours,which seems unlikely,hmmm,tiz possible I suppose,I know they went to great lengths to conceal the fact that they could read the Naval Enigma stuff.

Loose rivets
20th Apr 2012, 20:17
Just a part of one of my rambles way back when. I wanted to believe it then, but more recently, I've heard it was true.

I've no doubt once the Enigma code had been broken, there was a lot of play-acting to convince the enemy we didn't know.

I was being checked out in a Tiger by Wing Commander Percy Hatfield (steely eyed, square jawed, silver mustachioed ) flying instructor / crop-sprayer and airfield operator...Oh, and one luckless learner driver and his instructor in a perpendicular Popular. They thought they were in drivers heaven on n square miles of empty simulated motor-way.

There were two things that Percy would not tolerate, people messing with his Aston Martin, and anyone having the temerity to drive on his airfield....and anyone looking in a funny way at his stunningly beautiful and absurdly young girlfriend. Three! Three things that this............. but now there was the sound of creaking leather coming down the Gosport tube. His helmet, stretched by his bulging blood vessels, was as tight now as the day that he spotted the Bismark.
"I have control!"

I'll never know if he actually intended to hit it. He wasn't the sort of chap that you could ask What I do know is that there was a sudden change of pitch-attitude and a very soft gerdoing! As we circled to emphasize the point, I could clearly see a black mark on the beige roof. I can just imagine the faces of the drivers, one of whom had probably just finished saying something like "we are lucky to have all this space to ourselves" before having their roof lowered. They wobbled their way to the nearest gap in the tank defenses, wipers at full tilt in an attempt to see through the mist of oil and urea from our not quite empty nozzles. Flight training 50's style.

20th Apr 2012, 20:18
Gunther Lutjens broke radio silence at 07.00 and 09.00 on May 25th but thereafter maintained radio silence. Bletcheley Park got an approximate fix from the second of those transmissions.

20th Apr 2012, 20:19
Just done a bit of research TD.....it seems we intercepted the messages to the Luftwaffe, concerning their operations to give air cover to the Bismarck as she steamed towards France, and worked out her position from that. The detection by air was either fortuitous or contrived, it seems.

20th Apr 2012, 20:33
The following month he was engaged in the search for and shadowing of the Bismarck.
Lifting Catalina O off the water at Oban soon after midday on the 26 May, with, as co-pilot the American Special Observer, Ensign Carl Rinehart, Hatfield was quite probably wondering how earlier sorties by Coastal Command had fared.
In point of fact, a Catalina from No. 209 Squadron had moments before spotted the elusive Bismarck heading at full steam from Brest.
Lucky to survive the resultant barrage of gunfire, she was able to radio in the enemys latest position.
Such intelligence was not available to the crew of Catalina O and in any case she would still be required to guide and observe for any future engagement.
Meanwhile, his navigator, Frank Cadman, patiently plotted new grid searches until, after nearly twelve hours on patrol, the Bismarck was spotted.
Sweeping in for a closer look, Catalina O suddenly emerged out of a protective bank of cloud right above her quarry.
The crew stared horrified as Bismarcks multi-coloured tracer came homing in on their air space, Rinehart vividly comparing the experience to driving home at night in a snow storm, when flakes look as though they are going to hit the windscreen but suddenly dart sideways.
Hatfield and Rinehart grappled over the wheel, each pulling in opposite directions, but thankfully both pushed forward the throttle and managed to get clear. However, this was by no means the end of their mission and they remained in the area to witness the gun flashes which heralded the commencement of the historic duel between the Bismarck and the assembled ships of the Royal Navy.
Soon afterwards Cadman took an Astro Fix over the Bismarck, again under heavy fire, but with icing problems and nearing the end of their operational limit, it was thankfully time to turn for home.
Their spirits up, the crew of Catalina O engaged a hovering Blomm & Voss aircraft but were unable to destroy it.
By the time Hatfields Catalina arrived back at Oban, the Bismarck was history, and their 26 hour, 45 minute flight had established a new record.From:- Dix Noonan Webb: Medals: Auction Archive: : Lot 453, 11 Jun 96 (http://www.dnw.co.uk/medals/auctionarchive/viewspecialcollections/itemdetail.lasso?itemid=9927)

20th Apr 2012, 21:07
Thank you all.

Putting two and two together, and reflecting on those here who I know flew what, and speculating on the closed-mouths of PPRuNe warriors, and Loose Lips Sink Ships, I wonder inwardly: Where was pigboat in May 1941? Just asking!

20th Apr 2012, 22:08
Putting two and two together, and reflecting on those here who I know flew what, and speculating on the closed-mouths of PPRuNe warriors, and Loose Lips Sink Ships, I wonder inwardly: Where was pigboat in May 1941? Just asking!

If we told you, we would have to kill you

Union Jack
20th Apr 2012, 22:54
Putting two and two together, and reflecting on those here who I know flew what, and speculating on the closed-mouths of PPRuNe warriors, and Loose Lips Sink Ships, I wonder inwardly: Where was pigboat in May 1941? Just asking! - Davaar

If we told you, we would have to kill you - Lomapaseo

Well, my lips are definitely sealed about the part played by Enigma, but the attached obituary confirms exactly who sent the signal confirming that BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN were at large in the Atlantic, thus setting the hunt in motion:

Lieutenant-Commander Willie Armstrong - Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/naval-obituaries/6190053/Lieutenant-Commander-Willie-Armstrong.html)

I'm also glad to say that I had the privilege of knowing Willie many years later, but I only discovered from someone else how he won his DSM.:ok:


20th Apr 2012, 23:03
After the war P/O Briggs joined BOAC. Throughout his career in BOAC/BA he was known as "Bismark" Briggs.


20th Apr 2012, 23:28
Where was pigboat in May 1941? Just asking.
He was but a gleam in his daddy's eye. :p

sea oxen
20th Apr 2012, 23:35

unless Bismark was sending her position back to Berlin every few hours

wiegehts hatte schlacht mit der* Hood they waren like whatevar stop Gonna break up signal rly bad bt shld b dort abt 48 hrs lol. OMFG einkkaufstute dropping torps GTG X


Schiff is feminine, I hope

midnight retired
20th Apr 2012, 23:48
Due credit is given to Sir Frederick Bowhill , AOC Coastal Command whose shrewd guess as to the precise course that Bismark would take resulted in the Catalina finally sighting her some 700 miles West of Brest.

Cryptanalysis , Bletchley Park , played a minor part,suggestions that signals to and from Bismark were decrypted at this time are without foundation.Equally the G.A.F. activities on the 26th ,the Athens message and the instructions to U Boats were all received too late to influence results but they did add confirmation of the appreciation made by O.I.C ,at 0730 on the 25th based on the Scarborough Controlling D/F Stations 0700 bearings on the big ships frequency ,followed by a further signal 1 hour later,

The Author credits the O.I.C (RN Operational Intelligence Centre) skilled interpretation of the D/F bearings of her long signals which at the eleventh hour provided the clue to her interception and destruction.

Loose rivets
21st Apr 2012, 03:56
Now this leaves me very confused.

I happen to know Percy married an American. I think he had a son. I recall being very frustrated I didn't know about this auction. Such an interesting and stimulating part of my life.

Note the Name Hatfield in an earlier post.

Lot 453: A fine Coastal Command D. F. C., A. F. C. group of eight awarded to Wing Commander Percy Hatfield, Royal Air Force, who played a prominent part in - Dix and Webb | Artfact (http://www.artfact.com/auction-lot/a-fine-coastal-command-d.-f.-c.,-a.-f.-c.-group-o-1-c-bkfws237c8)

21st Apr 2012, 07:26
Dennis Briggs joined Gulf Air after he retired from BOAC/BA, which was where I met him, just the once. Dennis didn't talk about the Bismark much, as far as I know, but on one occasion when he did it was my understanding that the American involvement was deliberately escalated as part of the ongoing efforts to try and get the USA to enter WW2. The Bismark was more or less on their nose when it was spotted and being at the front Dennis was the first to see it.

21st Apr 2012, 08:12
I read that although there was an intercept and D/F bearings taken, when plotted on the fleet, they got the position wrong because they plotted on a Mercator chart, rather than a gnomic projection.

Later on in the war, a number of B17s sent to Hawaii ran out of fuel because they were not flying a great circle - Mercator projection charts again - and so ended up in the wrong place. An FCC engineer built at his own expense an Adcock HF D/F which enabled them to be given proper courses to steer. He was, so they say, reimbursed after the war.