Thursday, May 27, 2010

Today In History - The Sinking of the Bismark

If you know anything about the history of naval battles during WWII then you will realize that one of the most sought after ships of all times was the Bismark. Named after Otto von Bismark, a one time chancellor of Germany, it was, to my limited knowledge, one of only about seven German battleships of WWII and it was formidable. Yet, despite it being the largest warship of WWII, and despite an early victory in an unintended battle (at least by the Germans) of Operation Rheinübung, specifically the battle of The Denmark Strait, its life upon the open seas was short; very short indeed.

On May 18, 1941 the Bismark and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen attempted to break out of the North Sea into the Atlantic. They were spotted and reported to the British who assembled a sizable force to intercept them. On May 24, after having been shadowed by a smaller British ships, the heavy cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk, the Bismark and Prinz Eugen were sought out and engaged by the British in the form of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood along with a destroyer escort. Their destroyer escort proved almost useless in aiding the Brits because of extremely rough seas. In addition, the two cruisers, that had been shadowing the Germans, had temporarily lost contact with the German battleships and were now far from the battle. The Hood opened fire on the Prinz Eugen, at about 0552 hours, mistakenly with the belief that it was the Bismark. Shortly thereafter it engaged the Bismark. At 0600 the Bismark fired a salvo at the Hood and a 15 inch shell fired from a distance of 9 miles (get that - 9 miles) hit the Hood and apparently ignited one of her magazines. It caused a huge explosion and parts of the Hood rained down on another British ship about 1/2 mile away. The Hood actually broke in two and sank about 3 minutes after being hit, she took with her 1,415 men, including Vice-Admiral Holland who was the commander of the British attack forces. Then the Prinz Eugen and the Bismark targeted the Prince of Wales and that ship was fairly to heavily damaged before it turned and retreated under cover of a smoke screen. After news of this attack reached British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he gave the order: "Sink the Bismark". As the HMS Hood was one of the prides of, if not the pride of, the British navy, this resulted in the great majority of England's available naval and air forces searching out the Bismark.

Bismark and Prinz Eugen were also damaged in the battle of The Denmark Strait. The Bismark taking some pretty hard hits, one resulting in a serious leak of fuel. When the Captain of the Bismark, Ernst Lindemann, requested permission from Admiral Gunther Lutjens to pursue and destroy the Prince of Wales, Lutjens denied it. After a repeated stronger request, Lutjens again denied it apparently following orders to avoid unnecessary contact with warships and risk of damage in order to fulfill Bismark's intended mission of hunting down and destroying enemy merchant ships. What happened though was not that. Instead, the Bismark turned toward Brest, France for sanctuary because of the fuel leak, it was a serious one. She was shadowed by the two British cruisers and the damaged prince of Wales. The Prinz Eugen, not badly damaged, was then ordered to continue on its hunt for merchant ships and the Bismark, at about 1830 that night turned on the British ships allowing the Prinz Eugen to slip away. Later that night, at about 2200 hours, HMS Victorious (an aircraft carrier) sent several Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers at Bismark. They engaged her but did little damage with only one torpedo hitting the Bismark in its heavy armor. The Brits, both their ships and aircraft lost contact with Bismark but it was regained on May 26 and Bismark was still too far off for Luftwaffe cover. HMS Ark Royal now took over and launched an attack on the Bismark that was almost catastrophic for the Brits in that the planes attacked one of their own ships. Luckily they missed with many torpedoes and the others failed, exploding prematurely, due to unreliable detonators. Ark Royal soon launched another attack on Bismark in terrible weather and this time the torpedoes were equipped with much more reliable detonators. Two or three torpedoes found their mark and a critical hit was registered on the steering mechanisms of the Bismark.

With her steering out she was not maneuverable. The British took advantage of this on May 27 and attacked Bismark with battleships HMS Rodney and HMS King George V. They inflicted heavy damage causing Bismark to list severely but the Bismark did not sink. The British battleships, low on fuel, retreated and the HMS Doretshire, a heavy cruiser, then attacked with torpedoes. Despite three torpedo hits, the Bismark still did not sink but did sustain very heavy casualties. At 1040 hours, in an irony of ironies, the Germans scuttled the Bismark and she sank. Only 111 German sailors were rescued by the British who soon fled the area upon receiving reports of U-Boats operating nearby. One of those survivors died of his wounds while on the British ship. A German U-boat later rescued 3 more and another German ship later rescued 2 more. There were, in total, only 115 survivors; in all 2,085 of Bismark's crew perished. Churchill was very pleased with this result but I would guess that he never, not for even a moment, thought it would be the Germans who would be the ones to follow his order to "Sink The Bismark".

The above post heavily relied on the Wikipedia article about
Operation Rheinübung.


To read an interview with a survivor of the Bismark, click on this link:

All the best,
Glenn B

Hermann's Tortoises - Got a New One...

...and that means my female of several years now has a potential mate because the new one is a male (click the pic to enlarge). He has not shown one bit of interest in her mating-wise since I got him a few weeks ago from Gary B of upstate NY. That is okay for now. They can get used to each other this season, then will be hibernated for the winter, and I am hopeful that once they emerge from hibernation next spring they will be cycled, ready and eagerly willing to do their thing. For now they are getting lots of good food and a lot of exercise, a few days a week in the backyard and a few walking around freely in the finished part of my basement. They sleep inside the house in their enclosure each night. While outside they have to be watched because the fence between our and our neighbor's house is literally falling apart. She is having a new fence erected next month and after that these two will be out much more often, probably daily.

Once I get a new turtle pen constructed they will be out there all day long each and every day. My old pen got destroyed by termites and even though it looked solid and sound it surely was one heck of a mess as I discovered much to my chagrin. That is a project I hope to get done by mid June at the latest and I do not dare leave the torts out overnight if not penned because of raccoons and possums. I am not worried they could be eaten but that they could be injured and catch a disease so as I said, they sleep inside for now. Once the pen is done, they will share it with three Red Foot Tortoises (who will only be out there during warmer months as they come from warmer climes in SA).

All the best,
Glenn B

Surgery... all over with and I am still alive and kicking. In the hospital at 0700, in the operating room about 8:58 (my doctor was 58 minutes late supposedly due to meetings during which he told me the other doctors liked to hear themselves while he just sat there and sipped coffee (while I waited for him of course). Right after that, as he was writing down a synopsis of what would be the procedure, saying it out loud as he did so, he said he would be removing a cyst from the left side of my neck instead of right side. I was about to correct him but he was then immediately questioned by the male nurse. I had already told the nurse it was on the right side (which was right). I sort of figured the doc should have have had more coffee at that meeting, or figured maybe he ought to have had a better night's sleep at a Holiday Inn. In my experience (3 other surgeries by him) he is a good doctor. As is always the case though, even a good doctor can goof but you can bet I am extremely happy they did not wind up cutting up both sides of my neck. Then again, I have to wonder if he was goofing around because he has a great sense of humor but he was so straight faced and seemed genuinely surprised by his apparent mistake that I think it really was just that - a mistake. Anyway, it was caught right away and corrected. The doc soon marked off the correct area with a purple magic marker and they took me to the operating room, gave me a shot of a sedative, had me lay down on the table - but first I asked them if the newspaper laying on it was for me to read and they moved it (how sterile). After that I remember about 5 seconds and remember no more until just about 1 hour after I got to the first recovery room. I was awake when I got there according to a nurse and told her I would need a few pillows under my head, as per doctor's orders, but I have no memory of that - she told me about it later.

Then wide awake at about 1050 and I asked some questions. Surgery was probably about 45 minutes to 55 minutes long. The surgery was done on the right side (whew). Soon after that I was off to the second recovery room. The doc saw me there and set me up for an exam on this coming Tuesday. here I got some juice, some water, some jello (what would a hospital be without jello) more water, hit the head, had a headache (no I did not hit my head and then get a headache), had a sore throat, had a bit of pain in the neck, WAS ASKED IF I WANTED A PAIN KILLER TO WHICH I PROMPTLY SAID YES NOT WANTING THE THEN VERY BEARABLE PAIN TO GET WORSE (HEAD IT OFF AT THE PASS SORT OF A THING), got a couple of Percocet, and started to feel amazingly good in about a half hour after the second one. Sill feel the edge cutting effects of the Percocet even though I took one of the pills at about 1130 and another at about 1245. Good stuff, wish I had more in case the pain returns but got a scrip for Vicodin instead. Oh well, I will have to settle for that even though I do not like it and it does not work as well. I suppose it will work well enough with some whiskey (only kidding).

I am hopeful they did a good job inside and got it all out so that it does not return. I am also hopeful that the biopsy will come out negative or benign for any really nasty stuff, as it is expected to be negative. I am happy the incision must be about 1/2 to 3/4 the size that the surgeon explained to me it would be when he went over the procedure with me in his office. I was told it would go from below the corner of the right jawbone down to the middle of the front of my neck. The only downside to that is that the scar will not look as much like someone slashed my throat so it will be less effective as a yarn spinning prop for future stories told to numbskulls in bars in hopes of a free round or two of drinks for me. I think though, I still maybe able to get some mileage out of it this way though. Time will tell. Think of it, that scar, me having had a career as a federal agent and having worked along both borders and in Haiti, and Jamaica, having arrested numerous drug smugglers, money launders, and even suspected (so called anyhow) terrorists by the scores, having been on several other agency details such as to the Secret Service and as an Air Marshal right after 9/11, all added to my actual scuffles such as my off duty shooting that got me the Ballseye nickname, and real on the job injuries - it could be a productive scar. I may not even have to weave into any of the stories the fact that it was the day of a full moon when I got cut (actually the full moon would be the day after the surgery but who will be telling these tales and which sounds better in a tale meant to get me a free beer or Irish Whiskey). When I think of it, I can just imagine any stories I tell, about that scar, being even better than the story telling competition in the movie Jaws. That was when they compared scars aboard the Orca when they were tossing a few back below deck while fishing for the big shark. Yep, I think my new scar (or the scar sure to develop) will likely be good for at least a few rounds at several bars sometime in my future, probably also will be good around a campfire when telling tall tales, and most definitely will be good to flash like a shiny lure to get the attention of, and awe struck looks from, some fishing buddies on my next shark fishing trip (okay I'll settle for my next bluefishing or seabass trip).

I gotta go to do the ice pack thing. Later for all of you.

All the best,
Glenn B