Sequence of events leading to the sinking of the Bismarck
By Gerald Arthur Keating, R.N. (HMS Rodney)

2250/26th: Action Stations - Bismarck reported leading towards Rodney. Ark Royal has already carried out two unsuccessful torpedo attacks. Only one hit scored.

2325: Sheffield shadowing - Renown in close vicinity astern. D4 & 5 destroyers is keeping her in sight. KGV with 2 destoyers are ahead.

0005/27: Visibility decreasing range 10,000yds.

0020: Enemy speed reduced to 12 knots distance 20-30 miles.

0040: Enemy steering 230 - Rodney 040.

0200: All positions relax - signal from C-in-C 'Intend to attack at Dawn'. D4 (Capt. Philip Vian) still shadowing. One hand from each position to galley for cocoa.

0300.: Report from D4. Cossack despatched ten 'fish' into Bismarck, set focsyle afire. Maoui has followed leaders example. C-in-C hopes to attack before dawn breaks. Cruiser previously accompanying enemy battleship is assumed to be in the vicinity, also Hipper. Hope to engage them.

0730: Closing in to launch an attack. Three cryptic words from Captain over the loudspeaker - 'Just going in'. Enemy visible to destoyers - not yet to us.

0825: Enemy will be in sight in ten minutes time. Sunday remark from block-room personal eg 'So mine a minor', 'Enemy will be shite in 10 mins time', 'Match cancelled' - weather unfit for play'. The lads are very keen to come to grips.

0845: Course 104 - range 25,000 yds.

0850: 16" salvoes - KGV opened up - again Rodney. Enemy fired first salvoes which fell short on port side. Rodney altering course to port - further salvoes from Bismarck, fall short. Wipe! Rods again.

0900: Enemy altering course to Starboard coming towards. After guns elevated and apparently stayed there. Enemy salvoes still falling short. "Norfolk" now opened fire on the common foe - shells dropping over.

0910: Port 6" battery opened fire first hits registered on enemy come from this source bridge suffered damage. 16" straddled - forward turrets out of action - another straddle. Rodney just fired two 'tin-fish' - second one scored a hit.

0920: Check check check.

0921: Order from control - "Find how much ammunition expended". Reply: P1 - 48 rds per gun, P2 -44 rds per gun, P3 - 40 rds per gun. Bismarcks's masts and superstructure shot away. Port 6" stand-by. 0926. German on fire. Rodney's X turret doing fine work. 16" Broadsides - X's fell in line. Starboard 6" opened up again - fell short. Enemy now firing at KGV. No answering salvoes from latter. Bismarck now coming straight for Rodney firing on beam - we have registered hits upon foremost Q deck. Spatting top carried away by Starboard 6" fire. Praise from Captain 'You are doing well'.

0929: Enemy's guns crew of surviving turret still at their posts although remainder are diving overboard. Funnels and bridge in flames. Enemy ceased firing. Loud cheers from the pits (turrets).

0940: Out to sink her now. Two direct hits from 16". Last one hit open remaining turret. Bodies flung everywhere or what is left of them. Port Battery stand-by. Bismarck opened fire again with 5.9" at same time altering course towards with intention of having last thump at us. By Jimminy they're game! Water-logged forward, every time waves lift her water cascades from holes in the sides. 16" opening up again. Enemy's 'Y' turret & Q deck on fire. Also fore-castle.

1001: Another fire started on Germans B turret. Blimey, masses falling off everywhere. She is settling in the water now.

1022: Unidentified aircraft approaching. Stbd battery stand-by for close damage. Port 6" up. HE shell. Bismarck finally sunk with torpedoes. Captain thanked us and in same breath warned us of imminent air attacks. These did not materialize due to weather conditions. Strong gale blowing now. Now it is all over we feel frayed and nothing to eat since 6pm yesterday. No sleep since five-o'clock Sunday morning - not likely to get any until midnight tonight (Tues). Messdecks in shambles - lights out - lockers overturned - plates smashed - water flowing like a miniature fordan. Shafts broken - stanchions bent. Half a projectile lodged in the Meteorological Office. Shrapnel holes - guard-rails down - paintwork scorched & blackened by gun flashes. Incredible, but there are no fatalities.
-Gerald Arthur Keating
(HMS Rodney)

My father, Gerald Arthur Keating, served on HMS Rodney from 4 March 41 until Dec 43. My mother died recently and I came across some photos and interesting commentary in some boxes in the loft with the above timeline. He was a Wireman on torpedoes and during the Bismarck event. Quite fascinating. He told me about it often as a youngster, but I didn't quite understand until much later. This is my attempt at typing up my father's hand-written record of the Bismarck attack. It covers the event from sighting to sinking.
Philip Kenneth Keating, R.A.F.
12 May 2013

(Click here to view the Gerald Arthur Keating, R.N. Collection)

Page published May 13, 2013