'Bismarck receiving first torpedo': Rare photos chronicle race to sink the pride of Hitler's fleet in 1941
Photo archive unearthed after 71 yearsOne image taken from reconnaissance aircraft records moment the enemy battleship was first sighted off GreenlandBismarck had sunk HMS Hood days earlier, killing 1,415 menSwordfish bi-planes and crew are seen on standby on deck of aircraft carrier HMS VictoriousPhotos – made into picture postcards – given to carrier crew as souvenirs
01:44 GMT, 13 December 2012
It was more than just a dark plume of smoke on the horizon – for this was the moment that marked the turning point of World War Two, and the end of a great German battleship's reign of terror.
Just days earlier, in 1941, the Bismarck had sunk HMS Hood during the Battle of the Denmark Strait.
attack, that killed 1,415 men, prompted the Prime Minister to give the
famous order 'sink the Bismarck'.
Now, an archive of photos that document the race to destroy the dreaded vessel – as seen from the crew of a British ship – has been unearthed after 71 years.
The German battleship Bismarck is struck by the first torpedo in a newly unearthed set of rare photos taken in May 1941
The message on the reverse of the above photo – released as picture postcard souvenirs – reveals how aircraft carrier HMS Victorious engaged the enemy off the coast of Greenland
There are numerous pictures showing Swordfish bi-planes and their crew on standby and ready for action on the deck of Victorious
Victorious was one of 42 ships sent by Winston Churchill to find the fearsome German battleship
The snaps were taken from on board the
aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, one of 42 ships sent by Winston
Churchill to find the battleship in May 1941.
The 20 black and white photos show Royal Navy ships steaming through the North Atlantic at great speed during the chase for the pride of Hitler's fleet.
There are numerous pictures showing Swordfish bi-planes and their crew on standby and ready for action on the deck of Victorious.
One image taken from a reconnaissance aircraft records the moment the enemy ship was first sighted off the coast of Greenland.
On the reverse of an image of a plane flying from the aircraft carrier, someone has written across it 'Swordfish taking off from Victorious to have a smack at the Bismarck'.
One image taken from a reconnaissance aircraft records the moment the enemy ship was first sighted
The photos have been owned by an unidentified private collector for more than 50 years and he has now chosen to put them up for sale at auction
The 20 black and white photos show Royal Navy ships – including Victorious (above) – steaming through the North Atlantic at great speed during the chase
THE END OF HMS HOOD
The sinking of the Hood (pictured below) by the Bismarck managed to shock a nation by then used to war. Only three of its 1,418 crew survived the sinking during the Battle of the Denmark Strait.
The fifth salvo from the Bismarck hit the ship's magazine resulting in a catastrophic explosion, which tore it in half, and it sank in less than three minutes.
The flagship of the fleet was part of a force ordered to engage the Bismarck and her escort cruiser Prinz Eugen off Greenland.
And another is of the Bismarck in the distance with a plume of black smoke coming from her.
The back reads: 'Bismarck receiving the first torpedo from aircraft from Victorious.'
After coming under heavy attack, the Bismarck tried to limp to the Nazi-occupied French port of St Nazaire but was attacked again and sunk 600 miles from it on May 27.
Other pictures show King George VI inspecting the crew of Victorious after the historic battle that proved a turning point in the war.
It is believed the photos were printed off months afterwards and made available as souvenirs to the crew of the aircraft carrier.
There is an official stamp on the back of each one which states they are not meant for press publication.
The photos have been owned by an unidentified private collector for more than 50 years and he has now chosen to put them up for sale at auction.
Andrew Aldridge, of Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes, Wiltshire, which is selling the photos, said: 'This is a fascinating archive which catalogues one of the decisive moments of the war.
'The pictures show some of the British ships racing across the sea to find Bismarck, the intense activity on board, the first sighting of her and then the first attack.
'There are several more showing the King inspecting the crew and the ship after they were victorious.
'The pictures are actually postcards and they were not meant to be seen by the wider public.
HMS Aurora behind Victorious near Iceland as they hunt for the Bismarck
There is an official stamp on the back of each one which states they are not meant for press publication
A picture taken from a Swordfish plane off the Ark Royal ahead, with the Victorious behind it (in the foreground)
'I just think they were printed to mark a decisive victory for the Allies at that point of the war.'
HMS Hood was the biggest vessel lost by the Royal Navy in World War II after she was
attacked by the 41,000 ton Bismarck on May 23.
After being chased south towards France, the Bismarck was pummelled with torpedoes dropped by the Swordfish planes and from several destroyers.
It was recently claimed that the crew of the Bismarck tried to surrender before the ship was sunk with the loss of 2,000 men.
Her wreck was discovered in 5,000 feet of water 600 miles west of Brest in the Atlantic in 1989.
The photos are expected to sell for 300 at the auction in Devizes on Saturday.
Helping wing: It was the Fairey Swordfish bi-plane which helped sink the German Battleship Bismarck in May 1941
Andrew Aldridge, of Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes, Wilts, which is selling the photos, said: 'This is a fascinating archive which catalogues one of the decisive moments of the war'. Above, a Navy ship searches for its prey
After being chased south towards France, the Bismarck was pummelled with torpedoes dropped by the Swordfish planes and from several destroyers
A Swordfish takes off from HMS Victorious. The photos are expected to sell for 300 at the auction in Devizes on Saturday
It was recently claimed that the crew of the Bismarck tried to surrender before the ship was sunk with the loss of 2,000 men
Other pictures show King George VI inspecting the crew of Victorious after the historic battle that proved a turning point in the war
'I SANK THE BISMARCK… BUT ONLY FOUND OUT 59 YEARS LATER'
Bismarck, the fearsome German battleship which was sunk in the North Atlantic
Every war veteran has a story to tell. But few could rival John Moffat's extraordinary tale.
It was the torpedo he fired that crippled the rudder of the German battleship, leaving it at the mercy of Royal Navy ships which then sank it.
He was piloting one of three Swordfish open-cockpit biplanes that set off from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal to take vengeance.
'What nobody talks about were the conditions – they were unbelievable,' recalled Mr Moffat, speaking in 2009.
Then aged 89, he had written a book, I Sank The Bismarck, about his experiences.
'The ship was pitching 60ft, water was running over the decks and the wind was blowing at 70 or 80mph.
John Moffat is credited with taking off from HMS Ark Royal and launching the torpedo from his Swordfish that disabled the rudder of the Bismarck
'And nobody mentions the deck hands who had to bring the planes up from the hangars – they did something special. After they brought them up they had to open the wings which took ten men for each wing. And then they had to wind a handle to get the starters working.
'I only stopped flying nine months ago and there are no other planes in the world that could have done what the Swordfish planes did that day.
'After take-off we climbed to 6,000ft to get above the really thick cloud and we knew when we were near because all hell broke loose with Bismarck's fire. We got the order to attack and I went down and saw the enormous bloody ship. I thought the Ark Royal was big, but this one, blimey.
'I must have been under 2,000 yards when I was about to launch the torpedo at the bow, but as I was about to press the button I heard in my ear “not now, not now”.
'I turned round and saw the navigator leaning right out of the plane with his backside in the air.
'Then I realised what he was doing – he was looking at the sea because if I had let the torpedo go and it had hit a wave it could have gone anywhere. I had to put it in a trough.
'Then I heard him say “let it go” and I pressed the button. Then I heard him say “we've got a runner” – and I got out of there.
'My navigator was a chap called John “Dusty” Miller and I've spent the last 20 years trying to find out what happened to him or where he is.'
Mr Moffat pulled up before the torpedo hit and didn't see it strike. The following morning he flew to the ship for a second attack but there was no need.
He watched as the Bismarck, which had been under siege from the Royal Navy, rolled over. And he saw hundreds of German sailors leaping into the water as she started to sink. Only 115 of Bismarck's crew of 2,222 survived.
'I didn't dare look any further, I just got back to the Ark Royal and I thought: “There but for the grace of God go I”,' said Mr Moffat, from Dunkeld, Scotland.
He only found out it was his torpedo that crippled the Bismarck when the Fleet Air Arm – the Navy's air force – wrote to him in 2000. He said: 'It gave me a sort of satisfaction.'
The Bismarck was built in August 1940 and was the biggest battleship made by Germany.
She was named after Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor behind the unification of Germany in 1871.
Despite her fearsome reputation, the Bismarck enjoyed just an eight-month career during which time she was involved in one offensive operation, when she destroyed HMS Hood.
Out nearly 3,000 shells fired at Bismarck by the Royal Navy, about 400 hit the ship before she finally sunk.
The Bismarck's sister ship the Tirpitz wreaked havoc among the Arctic convoys until she was sunk while at anchor in a Norwegian fjord.
The Bismarck had a maximum weight of 51,000 tons, was 823ft long and had a top speed of 34mph.