At 05:52 and 30 seconds the Hood opened fire from 25,000 yards (22,800 meters ) on Prinz Eugen (which was bearing 337° while on course 300°) executing the first order to open fire on the leading ship to the left. It is possible that because of the very acute angle of approach (around 37° to starboard) only the forward turret group (A and B) opened fire, although the aft ones (X and Y) could bear on the enemy, so probably only 4 shells went out with the first salvo fired by the Hood.
After 30 seconds ( at 05:53) – as agreed previously between the 2 British warships in order to be able to verify correctly the shell splashes independently – the Prince of Wales opened fire from 26,500 yards (24,221 meters) on Bismarck on a bearing of 335°. In this case its certain that only the forward turret group (A and B ) fired, (bearing 35° to starboard ) so 2 + 4 = 6 shells of 356 mm went toward the Bismarck, falling long about 1,500 meters on the right, astern of the German battleship (23).
On Prinz Eugen's command bridge the distance of the Hood and Prince of Wales was estimated long. Their estimate at 05:53 (24) was 31,728 yards (29,000 meters). In reality, the Hood and Prince of Wales were only at 22,000 meters.
The Bismarck increased her speed to 30 knots, decreasing the distance with Prinz Eugen sailing ahead of her at 27 knots. The main artillery was ready to open fire and the First Artillery Officer, Lieutenant Commander Adalbert Schneider, requested from the command bridge permission to do so, but no answer came back to him (25). The Hood's second salvo fell close to Prinz Eugen which probably during this time used her depth charges type WBD in order to confuse enemy spotters (26).
The Prince of Wales second salvo landed close to the Bismarck from 26,000 yards (23,764 meters) on a bearing of 334°; it was again long and with only 5 shells instead of 6 because 1 gun of the quadruple A turret went out of action (from that moment on, the Prince of Wales lost that gun and fired with 5 out of 6 forward 14 inch/356 mm guns).
Lieutenant Burkard von Müllheneim-Rechberg, third artillery officer and in charge of the Bismarck's aft rangefinder, was ordered by Admiral Lütjens to closely watch the movements of the two British heavy cruisers which were stationed aft on each side of the German formation. This order confirms the validity of Admiral Tovey’s theory of the simultaneous attack of the four British ships against the two German ones. Even the German Admiral was expecting that this would probably happen (27).
At 05:54 the British warships changed their course again, turning 20° to port from 300° to 280°. This turn opened the ‘A arcs‘ allowing the Prince of Wales's Y turret to bear toward the enemy and opened further the Hood's aft turrets bearing angles. Now the turrets were firing at 56° to starboard for the Hood and at 54° to starboard for the Prince of Wales and this was allowing both the British battleships to fully utilize their main artillery.
Meanwhile the Hood fired her third salvo on the Prinz Eugen missing the target while the Prince of Wales fired her third salvo from 24,375 yards (22,278 meters) on a bearing of 334° and the fourth from 23,600 yards (21,570 meters) on a bearing of 333°, both with 5 guns.
On board Prinz Eugen, distances started being correctly measured by the First Artillery Officer Lieutenant Paulus Jasper who, based on rangefinder measurements, evaluated the target (Hood) to be at 22,975 yards (21,000 meters), prepared to open fire (28). He waited for permission to do so from the Bismarck. The estimate was accurate and in-line with the measurement of the Hood related to the Prinz Eugen, plus corrected the previous incorrect estimates made on the German cruiser's command bridge at 05:50 and at 05:53 (one can see that the distance between the 2 ships cannot be reduced by 8,000 meters within 1 minute by considering the ships relative position, course and speed ).
On the Bismarck command bridge Captain Lindemann heard thru the interphone, for the second time, Schneider’s request to have “freedom to fire”, while the salvoes of Prince of Wales fell around the German battleship. The engagement was ongoing and the Admiral had not yet given his approval to open fire. His ship was clearly already engaged so he felt that it was his duty to respond immediately to the enemy fire. It has been reported that he said “(Ich lasse mir (doch) nicht mein Schiff unter meinem Arsch wegschiessen! Feuer eroeffnen!)” “I will not let them to shoot my ship from under my ass! Open fire! ”. Immediately thereafter the flag signal “JD” (Jot-Dora = permission to open fire on the enemy when ready ) to target the first ship on the enemy line, the Hood, was seen from Prinz Eugen.
Prinz Eugen, at 05:55, was the first German ship to open fire; Jasper was quick to fire his guns after receiving the command from Captain Brinkmann on the bridge that Bismarck had signaled "freedom of fire" through the signal "JD" (29).
Prinz Eugen’s first salvo was fired at the Hood from a distance of 20,200 meters on a bearing of 150°, or 70° to port while the German cruiser was sailing on a course of 220°. Immediately after the Bismarck's 380 mm (15 inch) main guns also joined in, firing from 20,100 yards (22,000 meters) on the Hood on a bearing of 150° .
The British immediately noticed that the Germans were alternating fire between the forward and aft turret groups (30), delayed by a few seconds to allow the spotters to better assess the distance through the fall of shells on the enemies. By doing so, the time required to correct the ladder and the range were significantly reduced.
The first 4 Prinz Eugen shells went over the Hood, while the next group of shells straddled the target with a spread of 400 meters, but the target was not hit (31).
Above- Bismarck opens fire on Hood
At 05:55 the Hood fired the fourth salvo on the Prinz Eugen, once again with no hits. Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales fired her fifth salvo on the Bismarck from a distance of 22,100 yards (20,199 meters) and a bearing of 332°. This was the last salvo with 5 forward turret guns working. Another gun of the A quadruple turret went out of action. It was with only 4 guns firing from the forward group (which was made of 4 + 2 guns) that on the sixth salvo fired from 19,331 meters (21,150 yards) on a bearing of 331° that Prince of Wales “found the target”, and hit the Bismarck on the bow – below the capstan wheels on compartments XXI and XX (32). The 14 inch/356 mm shell passed thru the hull from side to side entering from port and exiting on the starboard side at 05:56 (33).
The Norfolk, was still at 24,000 meters from the German ships, the Suffolk was at 29,000 meters and both were still not joining in the engagement (34).
The Bismarck started leaking fuel from the bow (the hole had a diameter of 1.5 meters) and started flooding as well (at the end of the battle she had taken on about 2,000 tons of water). But the Bismarck continued firing at the Hood with other 2 sequences of 4 shells (second salvo) from 20,000 meters which went over the target, between the Hood and the Prince of Wales.
Between the two German ships, the Prinz Eugen was the first to hit the enemy at 05:56: while the first series of 4 guns of the second salvo fell short of the Hood’s bow, the second set of 4 shells hit the target and one shell exploded between the second funnel and the mainmast starting a fire. On the Hood’s amidships a very intense light was observed, first white than reddish (35). In fact, on the area were the Prinz Eugen's shells had exploded there were ready use ammunitions for the anti-aircraft guns (4 inch/102 mm shells) and several UP anti-aircraft rockets (36).
The Hood fired her fifth and sixth salvo on Prinz Eugen with only her forward turrets, but again missed the target.
The Prince of Wales continued firing on the Bismarck and fired her seventh salvo from 19,825 yards (18,120 meters) on a bearing of 330° and afterwards, the eighth salvo from 18,325 meters (20,050 yards), both groups of 4 shells over the target.
The Prinz Eugen fired her third salvo with 2 groups of 4 guns from 18,000 meters, missing the target.
Despite the 20° turn to port ordered by VADM Holland at 05:54 to open the artillery arc of the Prince of Wales aft quadruple turrets and allow the Hood’s to bear better, the two British ships were still firing mainly with the forward turrets. The Norfolk was closing in from the east, now at 23,000 meters, while the Suffolk was still further back at 29,000 meters, north of the German ships.
At 05:57 both the Bismarck and the Hood had suffered hits. The German battleship was speeding up still following the Prinz Eugen which was sailing ahead of her in-line of battle just off her port bow.
The Prinz Eugen fired in rapid sequence her fourth (turrets A+B and C+D ) and fifth (turrets A+B and C+D) complete salvoes from 17,000 meters on a bearing of 150°. The Bismarck fired her third complete salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) from around 18,500 meters on a bearing of 150°.
Two shells hit the Hood. A shell from the Bismarck hit the fire control tower killing most of the people in the tower. This left the Hood without central fire control.
Immediately after another shell fired by Prinz Eugen hit near the base of the forward superstructure entering a room where about 200 sailors were, killing them all. This hit caused a local fire on the forward part of the ship which added to the one burning aft (37).
Distances were now quickly decreasing and at around 18,000 meters the secondary gun turrets joined in. The three 150 mm turrets on Bismarck’s port side (which fired on the Prince of Wales) and the four twin 133 mm starboard side of Prince of Wales which fired on the Bismarck from 18,600 yards (17,000 meters).
The Hood fired her seventh salvo probably still with the 4 forward 380 mm guns on Prinz Eugen, while the Prince of Wales fired her ninth salvo from 18,250 yards (16,680 meters) on a bearing of 330°. Finally she started using her aft turret for the first time (turret Y with 4 guns of 356 mm). The target was still the Bismarck which was hit under the waterline on compartment XIV. The shell exploded against the torpedo bulkhead and opened also some fuel tanks located there causing fuel to leak from this area as well (38).
Admiral Lütjens decided that it was no longer possible to leave the Prince of Wales firing against the Bismarck unopposed and at 05:58 ordered Prinz Eugen to change target and fire on the left ship of the British formation (“Wechsel auf linken gegner = change to left enemy ” ), Prince of Wales (39). The Prinz Eugen First Artillery Officer Lieutenant P. Jasper wrote in his battle report that consequently the change of target caused the two German ships fire lanes to cross each others (40).
The Bismarck fired her fourth complete salvo ( turrets A+B and C+D) on the Hood from 17,000 meters which fell short but with correct ladder, while Prinz Eugen fired her sixth salvo still on the Hood (turrets A+B and C+D). The target was changed per orders and the seventh salvo was fired on the Prince of Wales (turrets A+B and C+D) from 17,000 meters on a bearing of 150° trying to find the correct range and ladder. Both German ships were still on a course of 220° with the Bismarck following the Prinz Eugen on her starboard side astern at around 2,000 meters distance.
The tenth Prince of Wales salvo was fired from 17,150 yards (15,675 meters) on a bearing of 330° and the eleventh from 15,629 meters (17,100 yards); both were short of the Bismarck. Now the Prince of Wales was using the aft Y turret too, but one gun of the available 4 went out of action during the eleventh salvo.
On board the Hood there was fire in two places, just as reported by a "Sunderland" reconnaissance plane (RAF Z/201 - Pilot Flight Lieutenant R.J. Vaughn) arrived at that moment from Iceland and was flying above the battle area. One fire was observed at the base of the bridge superstructure (probably a Bismarck hit) and the other further aft ( probably a Prinz Eugen hit ).
In spite of those problems (41), the Hood fired her eighth salvo followed by the ninth from 16,000 meters on a bearing of 330° probably with the forward turrets (A+B ) on Prinz Eugen, but again missed the target.
Both British ships were now on a course of 280°. The Prince of Wales had successfully brought her entire fire power to bear using all turrets and main guns available, while the Hood was still mainly using the forward turret group.
At 05:59 the Prinz Eugen fired on the Prince of Wales, which was now her target at only 16,000 meters: 4 series of shells in rapid sequence, her eighth salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) and her ninth salvo (turrets A+B and C+D ) which were fired at the British battleships but did not hit the target.
The Prince of Wales fired her twelfth salvo with only 3 guns from 17,100 yards (15,629 meters) on a bearing of 330° but it fell short. Soon after, firing the thirteenth from 16,150 yards (15,035 meters) which “found the target ” and for the third time hit the Bismarck but only causing light damage. The impact occurred on centre ship, under the mainmast: the bow of a service boat was hit and splinters fell all over (seriously damaging the catapult system used to launch the Arado reconnaissance aircraft), than the shell emerged on the starboard side without exploding.
The Hood fired her tenth salvo apparently using also the aft guns on the Prinz Eugen from 14,000 meters on bearing 330°, still with no hits; soon after VADM Holland decided to turn again to port to open further the artillery arcs of Hood and Prince of Wales aft turrets, so signaled a turn to port of 20° from course 280° to 260°.
The Norfolk was closing in and now was at 21,500 meters from the German ships while the Suffolk was still far back at 29,000 meters to the north.
The Bismarck fired her fifth salvo from 15,700 meters (16,200 yards) on a bearing of 155° with the two groups in sequence; the first 4 shells fired by turrets A and B fell in the water, but the next 4 of turrets C and D “found the target” and straddled the Hood (42) in the mainmast area. One shell hit the Hood in that area and entered the hull.
A few moments later, the ’’Mighty Hood’’, proud ship of the Royal Navy for more than 20 years exploded: it was 06:00. The ship was hit just as she had executed the 20° turn to port ordered by VADM Holland; only 8 minutes had passed from the when she had opened fire and only 5 from the when the Bismarck started firing on her (43).
Captain Leach of Prince of Wales, from a distance only 750 meters (4 cables) from the British battlecruiser reported what he saw :
[…] I happened to be looking at the Hood at the moment when a salvo arrived and it appeared to be across the ship somewhere about the mainmast. In that salvo there were, I think, two shots short and one over, but it may have been the other way round. But I formed the impression at the time that something had arrived on board the Hood in a position just before the mainmast and slightly to starboard. It was not a very definite impression that I had, but it was sufficiently definite to make me look at the Hood for a further period. I in fact wondered what the result was going to be, and between one and two seconds after I formed that impression an explosion took place in the Hood which appeared to me to come from very much the same position in the ship. There was a very fierce upward rush of flame the shape of a funnel, rather a thin funnel, and almost instantaneously the ship was enveloped in smoke from one end to the other. […]
The explosion (most likely a very fast conflagration of main gun charges) was silent with a very high (around 400 meters) column of fire. First the fire was very clear then yellowish and reddish, then immediately became a grey mushroom of smoke, dark and very dense. Debris was thrown all over as the explosion broke the ship into two separate pieces around the mainmast area; large quantities of oil started burning on the sea emitting a very dark grey smoke.
The Hood stopped and heeled heavily to starboard, than righted herself to start heeling heavily to port, never to come back, and started sinking. The broken hull caused the stern section to sink first and very fast, while the bow began to swing sharply upwards pointing to the sky at a 45° angle, also started sinking very fast. German witnesses reported that while she was sinking the ’Mighty Hood’ launched her last proud message, as the forward turrets were reported to have fired (44) just as the forepart was going down (45).
The RAF “Sunderland” was still flying in the battle area above the German formation which opened a very intense anti-aircraft fire.
The Prinz Eugen fired her tenth and eleventh salvoes (turrets A+B and C+D) at the Prince of Wales from 14,000 meters obtaining no hits.
The Prince of Wales fired on the Bismarck her fourteenth salvo, probably with only 3 guns of the forward turrets, from 14,898 meters (16,300 yards) on a bearing of 330°, then the fifteenth from 13,710 meters (15,000 yards) on a bearing of 329° , while with the sixteenth fired from 13,801 meters (15,100 yards) on a bearing of 329° a gun previously loaded and out of action came back and fired, so 4 shells departed from the forward turrets. All salvoes fell short of the Bismarck.
Everything happened so fast that Bismarck continued firing on the to Hood even when the British battlecruiser was sinking under a very dark grey smoke, so the sixth salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) from 15,000 meters were fired on the presumed position of the Hood and the shells all fell in the water.
The Norfolk was still closing in but turned to port at 21,000 meters from the German position just after the Hood explosion, the Suffolk remained at 28,000 meters.
At 06:01 the Hood sank in two separate pieces, with both pieces completely sunk within 2-3 minutes. The Prince of Wales was executing the manoeuvre ordered by VADM Holland (a turn of 20° to port side) and in doing so was on a collision course with the sinking British battlecruiser. To avoid the collision, Leach ordered an emergency turn to starboard, temporarily directing his ship towards the enemy.
On board the Prinz Eugen, First Artillery Officer Lieutenant P. Jasper, noted the Prince of Wales manoeuvre in his battle report. Also, the German Heavy cruiser commander Captain H. Brinkmann, saw what had happened and having realized that he was coming close to the launching range of its 533mm torpedoes (range 12,000 meters at 30 knots) ordered his Torpedo Officer, Lieutenant Ernst Reimann, to get ready to launch torpedoes as soon as the enemy was within range. Captain Brinkmann had expected that moment to come very soon due to the two ships' relative courses and speeds (46).
The Bismarck meanwhile had changed its target to the Prince of Wales. Since the British battleship was very close to the wreckage of the Hood, the corrections required were very minimal. The seventh salvo of the German battleship (turrets A+B and C+D) was fired to acquire range and ladder from around 15,000 meters. The Prinz Eugen which was still in the lead of the German formation, ahead by about 1,500-1,800 meters, fired her twelfth salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) and soon after her thirteenth (turrets A+B and C+D) from around 14,500 meters.
The RAF “Sunderland” (Z/201 - Pilot Flight Lieutenant R.J. Vaughn) flew into the clouds because of the very intense anti-aircraft fire from both German ships.
The Prince of Wales found herself in big trouble with both German ships targeting her with main and secondary guns, while the British battleship forced by the turn to avoid the wreckage of the Hood, could only bring her forward guns to bear. In addition, this manoeuvre and the consequent turns made it difficult for her artillery to keep the salvoes on target. The Prince of Wales fired her seventeenth salvo with 4 guns from 12,887 meters (14,100 yards) on a bearing of 328° and the eighteenth from 13,253 meters (14,500 yards) on a bearing 328°, both against the Bismarck. Both salvoes fell very short of the German battleship.
The situation was becoming tense on board the Prince of Wales; at 06:02, the Bismarck fired her eighth complete salvo from 14,000 meters and hit the British battleship on the command tower (compass platform), the shell passed thru not exploding but killing almost all of the men within(47). The Prince of Wales ceased fire(48). Luckily her Captain, J.C. Leach, was still alive and, after a few moments, desperately worked to bring his ship out of that dangerous position. He completed the turn around the sinking Hood and started an evasive manoeuvre, turning to port to disengage.
The Prinz Eugen fired her fourteenth complete salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) on the Prince of Wales from less than 14,000 meters.
At this point the Norfolk opened fire on the Bismarck, with three 8 inch/203mm main gun salvoes from 21,800 yards (20,000 meters) that all fell short. Meanwhile, the Suffolk was still too far to the north at 28,000 meters.
By 06:03 the Hood was totally sunk, with oil fires still burning with a very dark grey smoke from 2 different places. The oil kept on burning for a very long time after the British battlecruiser had sunk (49).
The Bismarck fired her ninth complete salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) from less than 14,000 meters, and hit the Prince of Wales with two shells: one shell under the waterline (but the shell did not explode) and one shell that hit the starboard 5.25 inch/133 mm secondary guns fire control station which put it out of action.
The Prinz Eugen, which was still leading the line ahead of Bismarck by some 1,500 meters, fired her sixteenth salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) and soon after her seventeenth salvoes (turrets A+B and C+D) from 13,000 meters and this time hit the Prince of Wales under the waterline on the stern.
The Prinz Eugen Torpedo Officer, Lieutenant Reimann, at this point wrongly analysed the distances. He did not realize that for a short time he had been inside his port side 3+3 torpedo tubes launching range(50) and despite the second order he received from his ship commander to do so, at he did not launch any torpedo on the British battleship this time. This occurrence was the reason an Official Navy Board of Commission was convened by the Kriegsmarine after the arrival of the Prinz Eugen in France (51).
The Prinz Eugen’s port side heavy anti-aircraft guns (3 twin turrets of 105 mm ) also joined in at this time and fired on the Prince of Wales, which confirms the very short distance between the two ships.
The situation had gotten worse for the British battleship, which received hits while trying to disengage(52). Suddenly, on the Prinz Eugen an alarm signal was transmitted to the Bismarck, an incoming torpedo was detected on a course of 279° (53). The alarm which was initially issued from the sound listening room (G.H.G. - Gruppen-Horch-Gerät of the Prinz Eugen) was immediately confirmed by the Prinz Eugen commander Captain H. Brinkmann who went out on the command bridge and verified the two torpedo tracks approaching and noted them in his German heavy cruiser war diary (54).
The torpedo origin was not identified with certainty, but it was assumed they could have been launched either by the Hood before sinking (the British battlecruiser was equipped with torpedo launching tubes on both sides close to her stern ) or by the airplane that suddenly appeared in the sky above the German formation (but the plane was a “Sunderland” and they should have realized that it was not torpedo equipped).
The Bismarck immediately turned to starboard 50°, now on a course of 270°, sailing away and consequently out of any torpedo range. By doing this it appears to have confirmed that the torpedo origin was assumed to have been the Hood (55) and that the torpedoes were at their maximum range. The Prinz Eugen, which had just missed an opportunity to launch her own set of torpedoes on the enemy (an opportunity she had for at least 2 minutes), prepared for the turn to starboard of 50° to a course of 270° in order to avoid the incoming torpedoes (56).
This occurrence gave the Prince of Wales a momentary pause from battle. She kept on sailing away covering herself with a smoke screen and firing while she was turning to port. The nineteenth salvo from Prince of Wales was fired on local control by the aft quadruple Y turret but again only 2 guns fired and the salvo fell very short of the Bismarck (as well evident by an existing photo).
The Hood was sunk; the Norfolk ceased fire from 20,500 meters while the Suffolk was still north of the German ships by 28,000 meters.
At 06:04 the Prince of Wales was still within clear range but the German units were sailing away. Her gunnery, which was on target when the torpedo alarm was issued by Prinz Eugen, now needed to be re-adjusted because of the evasive turn. The smoke screen from the Prince of Wales had been effective and was progressively covering her from the enemy's view. Distance was quickly increasing since the two groups were now sailing in opposite directions and was soon once again more than 14,000 meters. No torpedoes had been launched by the Prinz Eugen (even if the course change of 160° by the Prince of Wales would have cleared any danger from that initiative); the British battleship could sail away to south east more safely.
The Bismarck fired her next complete salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) while sailing on a course west (270°) from 15,500 meters, and hit for the fourth and last time the Prince of Wales in the centre, destroying the port side crane and splintered some boats, making a hole on the second funnel and damaging the Walrus airplane that was there from the beginning of action.
After having turned to starboard on a course of 270°, the Prinz Eugen fired her eighteenth complete salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) from 14,500 meters, and hit the Prince of Wales with 2 shells. One on the stern below the waterline, and the other on the fourth 133 mm turret ammunition depot on port side, but luckily for the British battleship, this shell had not exploded either.
The Prince of Wales fired the twentieth salvo from 15,000 meters with the Y turret on local control but that turret had another gun going out of action so only 1 gun fired out of the 4 the turret had. The shell fell short to the stern of the Bismarck (as it is possible to be seen in a photo and in the available film ).
Meanwhile the Norfolk and the Suffolk continued their shadowing from 21,000 and 28,000 meters.
Distances were increasing and at 06:05 the Prince of Wales was more than 15,000 meters from the Prinz Eugen and more than 16,000 meters from the Bismarck, while her smoke screen had been very effective. The German battleship fired her eleventh complete salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) from over 16,000 meters with no more hits and the Prinz Eugen, while turning to port, fired her own nineteenth (turrets A+B and C+D) from over 15,000 meters also with no more hits (57).
The Prince of Wales fired her last salvo, the twenty-first, from over 16,000 meters on local control with Y turret which had only 1 gun left working. The last shell fell ahead of the Bismarck bow (as seen in the photo and film). After three terrible minutes (06:02-06:04) in which she received 7 hits (3 from Bismarck and 4 from Prinz Eugen ) no more shells hit her and the damaged British battleship was now retreating to the south-east under her own smoke screen.
Fire from westward sailing German ships had became progressively less accurate by the turning sequences made by them as well as by the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales again turned twice under her own smoke screen after the initial 160°and made it very difficult for the Bismarck and for the Prinz Eugen to hit the British battleship again.
This allowed the Prince of Wales at 06:06 to be 16,000 meters from Prinz Eugen and 17,000 meters from Bismarck increasing distances very fast while heading in the opposite direction. The smoke screen was now very effectively covering the Prince of Wales when the Bismarck turned 50° to port back on a course heading of 220°. The German heavy cruiser did the same.
The Bismarck fired against the retreating Prince of Wales the first group of her twelfth salvo (only turrets A+B) so the forward group from 17,000 meters. The Prinz Eugen fired her twentieth complete salvo (turrets A+B and C+D) from 16,000 meters, than executed another turn to starboard back on a 270° course due to another torpedo alarm (58).
This turn was the reason why the two Prinz Eugen forward turrets (A and B) could not be brought to bear on the enemy anymore and ceased fire (59). At this time the Prinz Eugen artillery direction passed from Lieutenant Jasper, on the top rangefinder that was obscured by the tunnel smoke and could not see, to the Lieutenant Albrecht in the secondary artillery station located in the aft rangefinder (60).
The Prince of Wales continued sailing away to the south-east and at 06:07 she was at 17,000 meters from Prinz Eugen and 18,000 from Bismarck. The smoke screen now very effectively covered her and the Prinz Eugen, because of the last turn to starboard, passed ahead of Bismarck bow firing only with the aft turrets (turrets C+D) her own twenty-first salvo from 17,000 meters (61).
The Bismarck fired on the Prince of Wales the second group (turrets C+D) of her twelfth salvo only with the aft turrets from 18,000 meters. The Prinz Eugen, passed from port to starboard side of the Bismarck on her bow, than turned to port back on a course of 220° while continuing to fire at the Prince of Wales only with her aft turrets and for the first time was no longer the closest German ship to the British battleship (62).
From the Bismarck the manoeuvre executed by Prinz Eugen was noticed as she passed on the bow from port to starboard while firing the aft turrets, and consequently at 06:08 the Bismarck signaled to the Prinz Eugen not to shoot over the flagship (63); the Bismarck soon after crossed the Prinz Eugen’s wake, now on the port side of the heavy cruiser that was turning to port to come back on a 220° course, parallel to the German battleship.
The Prince of Wales was now successfully disengaging to the south-east well covered by her own smoke screen, she was more than 18,000 meters when the Prinz Eugen fired her twenty-second salvo (turrets C+D) and the Bismarck fired her first group (turrets A+B) of her own thirteenth salvo with the forward group.
At 06:09 the Prince of Wales was at 18,500 meters from Bismarck and more than 19,000 meters from Prinz Eugen. The Prinz Eugen fired her twenty-third salvo (turrets C+D), the two German ships were now sailing a parallel course of 220° with the Bismarck faster - probably 30 knots against 27. The Bismarck passed ahead of the Prinz Eugen on her port side. The Bismarck fired her second group (turrets C+D) of her own last thirteenth salvo from 18,500 meters and soon after Admiral Lütjens ordered both ships to cease fire.
Captain E. Lindemann on board Bismarck was not in agreement with his Admiral and wanted to pursue the Prince of Wales to finish her off. But Admiral Lütjens, followed the orders he had received for the operation which prohibited any engagement by his units unless it was necessary to sink merchant ship convoys. Following the Prince of Wales could have further exposed his ships and he was concerned that the Royal Navy was probably converging on the battle area (64).
Continued in Part 3