Why Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to sink the Bismarck – Retro

The sinking of the Bismarck 1941 by artist Charles E Turner.
The sinking of the Bismarck 1941 by artist Charles E Turner.
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The battlecruiser HMS Hood was sunk by gunfire from the German battleship Bismarck on May 24, 1941. It was the biggest shock to the British nation, up to that time, in the Second World War. 

‘The Mighty Hood’ was believed to be unsinkable; she was everybody’s favourite, and thousands of civilians from many countries had walked her decks when visiting her.

Sailors recovering in the surgical ward of the Haslar Royal Hospital. Picture: Barry Cox postcard collection.

Sailors recovering in the surgical ward of the Haslar Royal Hospital. Picture: Barry Cox postcard collection.

In retaliation, Winston Churchill gave a chilling signal to the Royal Navy: ‘Sink the Bismarck.’

Three days later the signal was obeyed when Bismarck was sunk by gunfire from HM Ships Rodney and King George V (KGV), to name but two.

HMS King George V and HMS Rodney fired shells which straddled the Bismarck with smoke from the hull rising above her. She sank shortly after 10.39am and the revenge of the Hood was complete.

Haslar Royal Hospital opened in 1753 and became the last military hospital in the UK.  It was renamed the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in 1954.

Some smiling, others in deep thought; soldiers walk along South Parade Pier to embark for Normandy.

Some smiling, others in deep thought; soldiers walk along South Parade Pier to embark for Normandy.

In 1996 it became a tri-service hospital for all three branches of the British armed forces. In 2007 the last military staff left when it fell under the control of the NHS. It closed its doors, with much regret, in 2009.

In the photograph we see First World War casualties recovering in a surgical ward. Some have moustaches, others beards, so they might be soldiers, sailors or Royal Marines.

In a fortnight’s time Portsmouth will be at the centre of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 

Pictured we see soldiers walking along South Parade Pier to join their transport to take them to bigger ships for the voyage across the Channel to the eventual landings on the Normandy beaches.

The naval signal school, HMS Mercury, closed in 1993 but razor wire still encloses the site.

The naval signal school, HMS Mercury, closed in 1993 but razor wire still encloses the site.

I wonder if they all came home? Most are smiling and a few are in deep thought, perhaps for the families they are leaving behind.

In the background is the Royal Beach Hotel which at that time had been taken over by the navy. It would be another year before the pier was reopened to the public.

It may look like the old perimeter fence of a German PoW camp but this is the barrier, complete with razor wire, that still encloses parts of the former HMS Mercury near Petersfield. Little remains of the former signal school which opened in 1941 after moving from the blitzed Portsmouth Dockyard.

It was an ‘open’ camp until the IRA killed 10 Royal Marine bandsmen at Deal, Kent, in 1989 so this security fencing was put up. The road is now part of the South Downs Way long distance walk from Eastbourne to Winchester.

HMS Mercury closed in 1993.