The Germans Break Out Into the Atlantic

After the Hood was sunk, a rarely furious Churchill told the Admiralty “I don’t care how you do it, you must sink the Bismarck.”. By the evening of 24 May 1941, every British warship in the Western Hemisphere was converging on the North Atlantic. That evening, aircraft from the carrier Victorious put a torpedo into the Bismarck, but all it did was slow it down a few knots.

That night, the Bismarck turned on her pursuers and in the confusion, the Prinz Eugen escaped. After midnight, Lutjens ordered the Bismarck to zig zag (to avoid submarines) which forced the Suffolk and Norfolk to do the same. In the early morning hours of 25 May, the Bismarck sprinted off and got behind their forward looking radar before the cruisers knew what happened. The Bismarck was gone.

Greece was a disaster. Crete was lost. Iraq was a mess. Turkey made overtures to Germany. Rommel was at Halfaya Pass in Egypt. The Royal Navy suffered horrible losses in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Hood was sunk. In his memoirs, Churchill said the the 24th and 25th of May was the “worst weekend of my life”.

However, the Bismarck didn’t breakout as thought. The shell from the Prince of Wales that pierced the fuel tanks proved much more problematic. It couldn’t be fixed at sea, and the Bismarck, only four days into its journey, was already down to 35% of its fuel. Lutjens decided to send the Prinz Eugen on into the convoy lanes, and make for the French port of St. Nazaire to repair.

And then try again with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

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