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Battleship Bismarck
A painting by Alan Fearnley of Swordfish attacking  Bismarck
820 Swordfish
Aircraft ranged on deck of HMS Ark Royal before the Bismarck attack
A 820 Swordfish before the Attack and HMS Ark Royal


Published: 28 May 2016

Seventy Five years ago this week (23 - 27 May 1941) the Fleet Air Arm took part in the pursuit and destruction of the German Battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic.


Bismarck was one of the most famous warships of the Second World War. Displacing more than 50,000 tonnes fully loaded, she was the largest warship then commissioned. On the morning of 19 May 1941, the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen attempted to break out into the Atlantic, but were discovered by the Royal Navy and brought to battle in the Denmark Strait. During the short engagement, the British battleship HMS Hood, flagship of the Home Fleet and pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk after only several minutes of firing. In response, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the order to "Sink the Bismarck", prompting a relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy.


820 Naval Air Squadron is today based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose but back in 1941 the Squadron was embarked in HMS Ark Royal flying the Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance Swordfish biplane, on convoy escort duty in Gibraltar when they were diverted to join the hunt for the Bismarck. On 26th May, the Bismarck had almost reached the safer waters of the French coast, when its escape was halted by an attack of 15 Swordfish aircraft, including seven from 820 NAS, launched from the carrier HMS Ark Royal. The attack was successful with a torpedo striking the ship and jamming her rudder. This allowed the Royal Navy to catch up and in the ensuing battle on the morning of 27 May 1941, Bismarck was attacked for nearly three hours by surface ships before sinking.


To celebrate the 75th anniversary, RNAS Culdrose held a gala dinner attended by personnel from the Air Station and Rear Admiral Graeme MacKay, Director Carrier Strike, former Senior Observer of 820 NAS and Commanding Officer RNAS Culdrose, as guest of honour.


“The Squadron is immensely proud of the brave and successful actions of their forebears exactly 75 years ago today” says 820 NAS Commanding Officer, Commander Jon Holroyd. “The hunt for and destruction of the German Battleship Bismarck is one of the most famous confrontations on the high seas and one which we, the Fleet Air Arm, can claim to have turned the tide in favour of the Allies.  Tonight, I raise a glass to the eternal memory and self-sacrifice of those who did not return from their mission and to the great achievement of 820 NAS on the 26th May 1941.”


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