On this day in 1941, Germany’s largest battleship, the Bismarck, sinks the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood.
The Bismarck was the most modern of Germany’s battleships, a prize coveted by other nation’s navies, even while still in the blueprint stage (Hitler handed over a copy of its blueprints to Joseph Stalin as a concession during the days of the Hitler-Stalin neutrality pact). The HMS Hood, originally launched in 1918, was Britain’s largest battle cruiser (41,200 tons)-but also capable of achieving the relatively fast speed of 31 knots. The two met in the North Atlantic, northeast of Iceland, where two British cruisers had tracked down the Bismarck. Commanded by Admiral Gunther Lutjens, commander in chief of the German Fleet, the Bismarck sunk the Hood, resulting in the death of 1,500 of its crew; only three Brits survived.
During the engagement, the Bismarck‘s fuel tank was damaged. Lutjens tried to make for the French coast, but was sighted again only three days later. Torpedoed to the point of incapacity, the Bismarck was finally sunk by a ring of British war ships. Admiral Lutjens was one of the 2,300 German casualties.
On this day in 1941, Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, second cousin of King George VI of Britain and the only man other than the king to hold rank in all three military services simultaneously, is among those thrown into the Mediterranean Sea when his destroyer, the HMS Kelly, is sunk.
Mountbatten’s ship was among several British cruisers, destroyers, and battleships sunk off Crete by German dive-bombers. The Kelly was attacked by 24 bombers alone; 130 crewmembers were killed. Mountbatten was still on the bridge of the ship when it finally flipped over; nevertheless, he managed to swim to shore and take control of the rescue operation. He would ultimately accept, as senior Allied officer present, the surrender of Japanese land forces within Southeast Asia by General Sieshiro Itagaki.
Side note: Just a day before the sinking of the Kelly, the battleship Valiant was damaged but not sunk during an equally vicious German air attack, also off Crete, which succeeded in sinking two cruisers and four destroyers. Among the crewmen of the Valiant was Lord Mountbatten’s nephew, Prince Philip of Greece.
Mountbatten survived the terror of war against the Axis powers, only to be killed by an Irish Republic Army bomb, planted on his boat, on August 26, 1979.
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