- Patterson, W.R, Captain, RN
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Commander-in-Chief, having received information that the Bismarck had put to sea, made suitable disposition of the forces at his disposal and sailed in HMS King George V, accompanied by other units, on the evening of Thursday, the 22nd May.
On Friday afternoon, we passed a large homeward-bound convoy. It was such a convoy as this that the enemy wished to find; had he been able to do so, the loss of valuable ships and cargoes and the even more valuable lives of the seamen would have been immense.
That evening the news arrived that the Norfolk and Suffolk had sighted the enemy ships Bismarck and Prince Eugen in the Denmark Straits. All that night, skirting the edges of the ice, in varying visibility and amidst frequent snow-storms, the two cruisers continued to shadow the enemy. It was most fitting that these two cruisers by this work should be able to repay the enemy for the bombs so frequently dropped on East Anglia.
During this night, the King George V and the other units steamed at 27 knots to intercept the enemy at the earliest opportunity. Early on Saturday (24th May) an enemy report was made by HMS Hood and we knew that she and the Prince of Wales would soon be in action. At this moment our feeling of satisfaction that our heavy ships had made contact was spoilt by the probability that the Bismarck might be destroyed or turned back without the King George V having a hand in the matter. Ever since the Prime Minister had spoken to us at Rosyth we had all looked on the Bismarck as our own particular target.
All too soon the tragic news arrived that the Hood had been blown up by an unlucky hit. The loss of this fine old ship and her gallant crew was a sad blow to us all.
The Prince of Wales also received damage from several hits and her speed reduced, but not before she and Hood had scored hits on the Bismarck; this was one of the reasons which later caused the enemy to change his plans.
The Bismarck and Princ Eugen continued their flight to the southward, shadowed continually by the Norfolk and Suffolk, supported by the Prince of Wales.At eight o’clock that evening (Saturday, 24th May) HMS King George V was in a position 450 miles south-west of Reykjavik; the enemy was to the west-ward; distance 180 miles, and it was hoped we should bring him to action early in the forenoon of the 25th.
During the whole chase the time kept on board was British Summer time, i.e. two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. As we were now in 30° West, sunset on the 24th did not take place until 0031 on the 25th, and dawn broke at 0600. The Captain’s order book on that night said:
“Course 2120, speed 27 knots. Call me in accordance with standing instructions. Pass enemy reports down the voicepipe as they come in. Call me at once if cruisers lose touch with enemy and at 0530. 14″ turrets to close up at 0200. “
During the first watch, the Commander-in-Chief detached Victorious to carry out a torpedo bomber attack on the enemy. The attack was delivered with great gallantry and pressed home under heavy fire, and the enemy was hit by one torpedo. The enemy was further damaged and about this time must have made up his mind to return.
In the middle watch, in the dark and in the rain squalls, the enemy eluded our cruisers, who had for some thirty-six hours given a classic example of shadowing under the most difficult conditions, which will rank with that of the Gloucester in 1914.
Our disappointment at not meeting the enemy during the forenoon could only have been surpassed by that in the cruisers and Prince of Wales, who had been doing such magnificent work for such a long period.
The Commander-in-Chief immediately took the necessary steps to dispose his forces to meet the various possible movements of the enemy.
We, wherever we may be, in the engine-room, the switchboards, a turret or on the Compass Platform, working in comparative monotony, rarely realise the responsibility and burden which rest on one man’s shoulders, or the team work which is necessary, and which the whole of this operation so well showed, between the Commander-in-Chief afloat and the Admiralty at Whitehall.