May

27

1941

The end of the Bismarck

Out of a total complement of 2,200 men on Bismarck, around 800 are believed to have made it into the sea. 115 were saved by HMS Dorsetshire before a U-boat scare ended the rescue.

Finally the probability of explosion became so acute that rescue work was abandoned. Orders were given to flood and the imprisoned men were drowned. In the forward canteen 200 men also became trapped under jammed hatches. At the very moment when a hatch to the upper deck became freed, a direct hit crashed through the deck, transforming the canteen into a charnel house. According to one prisoner, not one man of this group of 200 strong survived, and in making his own escape he was forced to pick his way between “mountains of flesh and bone.”

May

26

1941

Torpedo attack on the Bismarck

The Fairey Swordfish biplane in flight with torpedo

Some torpedoes were avoided by turning the ship, but as a surviving officer explained, whichever way the “Bismarck” turned to evade one torpedo, she was constantly exposed to others. Another prisoner stated that the aircraft came down to the attack at an angle of approximately 50° and darted through the barrage like flashes of lightening, and the courage displayed by the pilots in pressing home their attacks in this fashion was beyond praise. This prisoner added ruefully: “If only Germany actually had sunk the ‘Ark Royal’.”

May

25

1941

Attack and counter-attack on Crete

German paratroopers go forward over the rocky terrain in the blazing heat on Crete 1941

I said to Kippenberger that I’d like first of all to go through the village on my own, so that I could go through at full speed and without infantry with me. And I drove through the village very fast firing on each side of the street and it was just chock-a-block full of Germans – and in coming out my second tank was hit and two of the crew members were wounded, but the tank was still serviceable.

May

24

1941

HMS Hood sunk

The 'Mighty Hood' was the pride of the Royal Navy

As the AA shells continued to rocket around, Captain Kerr ordered the four-inch gun crews to take shelter and the fire and damage control parties to keep away from the area until all the ready-use ammunition had been expended. But the bursting projectiles were making a charnel-house of positions above the upper deck. The screams of the maimed kept up a strident chorus through the voice-pipes and from the flag deck.

May

23

1941

Mountbatten’s HMS Kelly sunk

After their losses in Greece the RAF were unable to maintain a presence on Crete. The Germans had total air superiority and inflicted much damage on the Royal Navy.

As we entered Canea Bay a large caique was sighted loaded with German troops steering towards Crete. Both ships opened fire and sank her very quickly, the wretched Germans jumping into the water in full marching order. In any other circumstances we would have stopped to pick them up, but even at 30 knots it was doubtful if I could get into position to carry out the bombardment in time, so I had to push on.

May

22

1941

Charles Upham wins his first V.C.

A German aerial view of the airfield at Maleme, Crete littered with the wrecks of Ju-52 troop carrying planes.

He was then sent to bring in a company which had become isolated. With a Corporal he went through enemy territory over 600 yards, killing two Germans on the way, found the company, and brought it back to the Battalion’s new position. But for this action it would have been completely cut off.

May

21

1941

The hunt for the Bismarck is on

The confirmation that Bismarck was trying to break out into the open seas. Taken by Flying Officer Michael Suckling from No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit in a unarmed, high altitude, long range Spitfire

It was a secret radio message from B-Dienst headquarters in German, according to which early that morning a British radio transmission had instructed the Royal Air Force to be on the lookout for two German battleships and three destroyers that been reported proceeding on a northerly course.

May

20

1941

Parachute assault on Crete

The airborne invasion of Crete started very badly for the Germans with very heavy casualties amongst the parachute troops and attempting to land by transport plane.

Shortly afterwards a fighter arrived and started to roar up and down the main street of Galatos firing bursts at anything it could see. This struck me as a bit unusual so I hurriedly finished shaving and looked with some caution out of my first-floor window. Other fighters were swooping over the Canea road and there was a great deal of noise from aeroplane engines.

May

19

1941

Sergeant Leakey wins the Victoria Cross

The Duke of Aosta, in command of Italian troops in Ethiopia, requested an 'honourable surrender' for his 19,000 men. South African troops presented arms as they marched into captivity.

With complete disregard for his own safety, and in the face of withering machine gun and rifle fire from the enemy’s ground troops, and from more tanks in front, Sergeant Leakey leaped on top of the tank which was coming in from behind our position and wrenched open the turret. With his revolver he shot the Commander of this tank and the crew with the exception of the “driver whom he forced to drive in to cover. Having failed to get the cannon of this tank to fire he dismounted, calling out ” I’ll get them on foot,” and charged across ground which was being swept by machine gun and shell fire from the other enemy tanks which were advancing and causing casualties to our infantry.

May

18

1941

Petty Officer Sephton wins the Victoria Cross

The Anti-Aircraft guns on a Royal Navy warship

Sephton reported to the Control Officer that he had been hit but could carry on. He continued to carry out his duties admirably, although obviously in great pain. Sephton knew that owing to the cramped space in the director and the difficulty of access he could not be relieved until the end of the action. His heroism in carrying on under these conditions set a magnificent example to A.B. Fisher who was also able to carry on, thus maintaining the efficiency of the director.