On the day that the Hood was blown apart, everyone was shocked, not least the German sailors on board Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. But for one man – Winston Churchill – it was more than shock, it was an outrage. He issued three brief, immortal words – “Sink the Bismarck!”
Within forty-eight hours the Bismarck was under attack, not from battleships, but by 15 lumbering, obsolete Fairey Swordfish bi-planes from the carrier HMS Ark Royal. After destroying the Hood with such ease surely there was nothing Bismarck could fear from these ancient “String-bags.” What the men of the Kriegsmarine hadn’t reckoned on was the guts and determination of the Fleet Air Arm crews flying the Swordfish.
In atrocious weather conditions they had set out with a single torpedo apiece in a desperate attempt to halt the German battleship before it escaped. It was touch and go as the “String-bags” launched their attack into the murderous barrage of fire thrown up by the Bismarck. One torpedo was all it took. Hitting the steering gear, the explosion irreparably damaged Bismarck’s rudder, jamming it at 12 degrees sealing the fate of the mighty warship. Bismarck could only steer an erratic circle, she could run, but she couldn’t hide. As Prinz Eugen fled the scene the Bismarck was left to her fate as the Home Fleet closed in for the kill. Within hours she was battered into a burning hulk and sunk.
This dramatic painting, which now hangs in the Fleet Air Arm Museum, depicts the Swordfish, in deteriorating weather, perilously struggling for height having just left the heaving deck of HMS Ark Royal.
Each print is individually numbered an signed by the artist. As a fitting tribute to the aviators who took part in that attack against the Bismarck, the prints are also personally autographed by four Fleet Air Arm aircrew from HMS Ark Royal and HMS Victorious who flew Fairey Swordfish biplanes against the Bismarck in May 1941:
Lieutenant (A) LESLIE “BILL” BAILEY – Observer / 825 Squadron FAA / HMS Victorious
Lieutenant Commander JOHN “JOCK” MOFFAT – Pilot Aircraft ‘5C’ / 815 Squadron FAA / HMS Ark Royal
Rear Admiral PHILIP “PERCY” GLICK CBE, OBE, DSC – Pilot Aircraft ‘F’ / 825 Squadron FAA / HMS Victorious
Commander PATRICK “PAT” JACKSON – Pilot Aircraft ‘H’ / 825 Squadron FAA / HMS Victorious
To illustrate the strength of character these men possessed, it’s worth remembering that when the prints were signed at RNAS Yeovilton over 20 years ago, one of the veterans, then aged 80 and still with a pilot’s license, flew his own single-seat light aircraft all the way from Scotland to Yeovilton, met his old comrades, signed the prints and then returned solo the same way!