Portsmouth bombed, battleship Bismarck commissioned

A view of Portsmouth Harbour (looking to the Portsmouth side) during an air raid of 12th August 1940.

A view of Portsmouth Harbour (looking to the Portsmouth side) during an air raid of 12th August 1940.

Bomb-damaged houses on the corner of Spring Garden Lane and Grove Avenue in Gosport, Hampshire, after a raid on 12 August 1940. The vicarage on the corner itself was completely destroyed.

Bomb-damaged houses on the corner of Spring Garden Lane and Grove Avenue in Gosport, Hampshire, after a raid on 12 August 1940. The vicarage on the corner itself was completely destroyed.

Alongside the RAF airfields the principal German bombing targets included the Royal Navy bases that were expected to play a key part in repulsing any invasion. They had already been the subject of several dive bombing attacks by Ju 87 ‘Stukas’. However, with unsustainable losses of the vulnerable Stukas, the Germans had decided on 19th August to severely limit their use over Britain. RAF Fighter Command were still reserving a proportion of their fighters to deal with them.

David Crook was flying a Spitfire with 609 Squadron:

Certainly it was typical of our English weather that in a normal summer it is quite impossible to get fine weather for one’s holidays, and yet in war time, when every fine day simply plays into the hands of the German bombers, we had week after week of cloudless blue skies.

24th August proved to be no exception to the general rule, and about 4 p.m. we took off with orders to patrol Portsmouth at 10,000 feet. A number of other squadrons were also operating, each at different heights, and on this occasion we were the luckless ones sent low down to deal with any possible dive-bombers.

We hated this — it’s a much more comforting and reassuring feeling to be on top of everything than right underneath. Superior height, as I said before, is the whole secret of success in air fighting.

However, ‘orders is orders’ and so we patrolled Portsmouth. Very soon a terrific A.A. barrage sprang up ahead of us, looking exactly like a large number of dirty cotton-wool puffs in the sky. It was a most impressive barrage; besides all the guns at Portsmouth, all the warships in the harbour and dockyard were firing hard.

A moment later, through the barrage and well above us, we saw a large German formation wheeling above Portsmouth. We were too low to be able to do anything about it, but they were being engaged by the higher squadrons.

They were now releasing their bombs, and I cannot imagine a more flagrant case of indiscriminate bombing. The whole salvo fell right into the middle of Portsmouth, and I could see great spurts of flame and smoke springing up all over the place.

We spent a very unpleasant few minutes right underneath the German formation, praying hard that their fighters would not come down on us.

However, the danger passed and a very disgruntled squadron returned home, having seen so many Huns and yet not having fired a single round.

See David Crook: Spitfire Pilot, one of the classic memoirs of the Battle, published in 1942. D.M. Crook D.F.C. died in 1944 while training for high altitude photographic reconnaissance, it is believed his oxygen failed causing him to crash in the sea off Scotland.

Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour, 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.

Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour, 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.

Sentries on duty near one of the guns on Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.

Sentries on duty near one of the guns on Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.

Other ranks sleeping quarters in Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.

Other ranks sleeping quarters in Horsesands sea fort, in the eastern Solent, one of three guarding the approaches to Portsmouth harbour. 24 August 1940. The forts were manned by Army and Royal Navy personnel.

Meanwhile in Germany the Kriegsmarine were commissioning the ship that they hoped would take the fight to the Royal Navy.

The Bismarck starts sea trails following commissioning. The 50,000 tonne ship was the largest battleship ever built at this time.

Captain Lindemann addresses his crew during the commissioning ceremony
'Only iron can save us. Only blood can set us free.'

Soldiers of the Bismarck!

The thousand year history of our German nation and Reich were written with iron and blood.

Almost every generation had to reach for the sword to fight for the rights of the survival of the Reich and nation or to defend its existence and its freedom against its hostile surroundings. For us the call has come again to join in the great struggle for freedom and the survival of our nation and the existence of the Greater German Reich that was created by Adolf Hitler.

In the words of the ancient poets during the wars of liberation: “Only iron can save us. Only blood can set us free.”

Today, we are being endowed and entrusted with a new and awe-inspiring weapon made from steel and iron, our new ship.

Today, it will be brought to life by our young crew which is empowered to blend iron and blood into a powerful symphony of iron-willed devotion to duty and conviction, and with red-blooded vigor and fighting spirit the highest military goals shall be achieved.

Shipyard workers cheeer the hoisting of the ensign signalling the handover of the ship.

The Bismarck had a crew of 103 officers and 1,989 men


A close up view of the gun turrets - four of the eight 380mm guns.

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