Pilot who helped sink the Bismarck only learned of his place in history 59 years late

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by syscom3, Jun 24, 2009.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    By Daily Mail Reporter
    Last updated at 2:06 PM on 09th June 2009

    The brave Navy pilot who launched the torpedo that eventually led to the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in 1941 has told his story for the first time.

    John Moffat, 89, only learned that he had made history 59 years later when new research led the Fleet Air Arm to get in touch.

    The Scots-born hero had taken off from HMS Ark Royal in his open-cockpit Swordfish biplane to carry out his mission on May 26, 1941.

    Days before, Bismarck had sunk the flagship of the British home fleet, HMS Hood, with the loss of 1,416 souls.

    Churchill sent out the order: 'Sink The Bismarck.'

    If Sub-Lieutenant Moffat had not crippled the pride of the German fleet she would have reached the shipyards at Saint-Nazaire in occupied France and the sinking of the Hood could not have been avenged.

    Now in a new book, the pilot reveals the details of one of the war's most famous episodes in which the Bismarck was found, chased and finally sunk off the French coast.

    He recalls how the sea was so rough that the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was pitching 60 feet, with waves crashing over the decks.

    In a formation with two other planes, he flew at 6,000 feet above the clouds towards the target and knew he was near when the air was filled with the ship's fire.

    John swooped down and when he was fewer than 2,000 yards from the battleship he launched his torpedo, but before it hit he pulled up and didn't see it strike.

    The following morning John again flew to the ship and was about to launch another torpedo when he watched the 50,000 ton Bismarck roll over after a battering from the Royal Navy.

    The German battleship Bismarck was named after the 19th century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. At 50,000 ton fully loaded, it was the largest warship then commissioned


    Formidable: The Bismarck only took part in one operation during her brief career, when she hwlpws sink HMS Hood in the Denmark Strait

    He then saw hundreds of sailors leaping into the water as she started to sink.

    The pilot, who only gave up flying last year, decided to write the book after finding out that it was his torpedo that had hit the ship's rudder, leaving her stranded.

    Mr Moffat, who became a lieutenant commander, said: 'What nobody talks about were the conditions - they were unbelievable.

    'I was on HMS Ark Royal and the captain didn't want us to go, but in the end he turned into the wind and dropped the speed to five knots.

    'The ship was pitching 60 feet, water was running over the decks and the wind was blowing at 70 or 80mph.

    'And nobody mentions the deck hands who had to bring the planes up from the hangars - they did something special.

    'After they brought them up they had to open the wings which took ten men for each wing. And then they had to wind a handle to get the starters working.

    'And they had to get all the planes in again after we got back.

    Revenge: The attack was ordered by Churchill after the Bismarck sank HMS Hood, above, flagship of the Home Fleet and pride of the Royal Navy

    'I only stopped flying nine months ago and there are no other planes in the world that could have done what the Swordfish planes did that day.

    'After take-off we climbed to 6,000 feet to get above the really thick cloud and we knew when we were near because all hell broke loose with Bismarck's fire.

    'One chap's plane was hit in the centre of his prop, but he was able to carry on. The fire was very accurate although they couldn't have seen us apart from on radar.

    'We got the order to attack and I went down and saw the enormous bloody ship. I thought the Ark Royal was big, but this one, blimey.

    'I must have been under 2,000 yards when I was about to launch the torpedo at the bow, but as I was about to press the button I heard in my ear "Not now, not now".

    'I turned round and saw the navigator leaning right out of the plane with his backside in the air.

    'Then I realised what he was doing - he was looking at the sea because if I had let the torpedo go and it had hit a wave it could have gone anywhere. I had to put it in a trough.

    'Then I heard him say 'let it go' and I pressed the button then I heard him say 'we've got a runner' - and I got out of there.

    'My navigator was a chap called John 'Dusty' Miller and I've spent the last 20 years trying to find out what happened to him or where he is.

    'It was only later we found out we'd hit the Bismarck and the next morning we went out again.

    'We were told by the ship King George V not to attack, but we decided to anyway and as I came in and was about to launch another torpedo the Bismarck turned over.

    A formation of Fairey Swordfish fly over HMS Ark Royal. The aircraft carrier sank after being torpedoed by a German submarine five months after the Bismarck attack

    'I saw hundreds and hundreds of sailors jumping into the water and fighting for their lives.

    'I didn't dare look any further, I just got back to the Ark Royal and I thought: "There but for the Grace of God go I".

    'I only found out it was my torpedo that crippled the ship in 2000 when the Fleet Air Arm wrote and told me. It gave me a sort of satisfaction.

    'I learned the torpedo had hit the rudder because the Bismarck had turned to sharply to starboard.'

    Great grandfather John, a widower, was born in the Borders in Scotland and lives now in Dunkeld. He served through the war on four carriers.

    • I Sank The Bismarck by John Moffat, Bantam Press, £16.99.
     
  2. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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    :salute: :salute: :salute: Better late than never I suppose. Great story syscom. Thanks for posting.:thumbright:
     
  3. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Wow, to have been a major part of history and never have known. :salute:

    Excellent post syscom.
     
  4. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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    #4 wheelsup_cavu, Jun 24, 2009
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2010
    I think I saw him interviewed on the Military Channel recently.
    The story in Syscom's post and the interview are identical but I don't remember the participants names.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Wheelsup
     
  5. Thorlifter

    Thorlifter Well-Known Member

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    very cool story. :salute:
     
  6. johnbr

    johnbr Well-Known Member

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    What a lot of people do not no is a Uboat found the Ark Royal about a week before the Bismark and Hood Battle.The Uboat Captain said it would have been a easy kill but he was at the end of a long patrol and had no torpedo's left and so he had let it go.
     
  7. Doughboy

    Doughboy Member

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    Great story.:salute:
     
  8. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Great story sys, thanks for sharing.

    :salute:
     
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