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Thread: Bismarck sighting

  1. #11
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    After Briggs headed for home Catalina M-240 trailed the Bismark for over 5 hrs. Navigator Gaynor Williams, then 19 yrs. of age, was the lone Canadian aboard the RAF aircraft and his story remains virtually unknown here in Canada.

    I spoke with Mr. Williams last year as he had a brother who was killed in a training accident at Pennfield Ridge. He sent me material not only on his brother but himself as well.

    Regards,
    G Christian Larsen
    President Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society

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    Default Bismark Sighting

    Malcolm ,et al, further to my earlier posting to this thread i can now add the following ,
    All means available were utilised to find the BISMARK once the intelligence reports of her departure had been confirmed .Shortly before 06.00 hrs on the 24th May 41, the Bismark was engaged by the battle cruiser HMS HOOD in the Denmark stait .The German naval gunners swiftly found their mark and with it ,it is believed , the defensive weakness in the deck armour of the Hood .with a massive explosion the magazines devasted the ship ,killing 92 officers and over 1,400 crew .Only 3 ratings survived .
    Aircraft of coastal command were involvedin the search that followed for the German battlegroup.Weather conditions were in the Germans favour with high winds and extensive cloud cover .
    Three Catalinas of No 210 sqd took off from OBAN at 13.45 hrs on the 25th MAY with orders to provide a search search pattern to cover any possible break by the Bismark
    back to Norway.South of ICELAND

    ABOUT 0120HRS ,on the 26th May ,Catalina "A", AH531 ,flown by F/L BARRY AIKMAN ,reported flying over the wake of a major vessel at position 5403N .2750W,ON A COURSE OF 150 DEGREES.
    The ship did not respond to any recognition signals despite the aircraft circling at 500ft
    .Lack of fuel prevented this unknown ship being shadowed until dawn and its identity
    was not establisheduntil well after the successful conclusion of the hunt for the German raider.(HMS NORFOLK).
    Against all the odds of finding a capital ship in the vastness of the ATLANTIC, the Bismarkwas found again, much further South than had been expected and under full steam for BREST.The aircraft responsible was Catalina "Z-ZEBRA" of 209 sqd then based at LOUGH NEAGH ,Piloted by P/O Denis Alfred Briggs. The a/c had emerged from cloud at a height of 2,000 ft, and found itself engaged by accurate aircraft fire from a large capital shipwas was unmistakeably the Bismark .W/op Alan Martin then transmitted the signal indicating the discovery immediately , as the crew fully expected to be shot from the skies at any moment.
    The estimated position of the German vessel was 690 miles from Brest on the French coast
    . The avoiding action taken by "Z-ZEBRA" Meant that the BISMARK was again lost , this time for 2 hours ,Briggs came across another searching CATALINA "M",OF 240 SQD and signalled to its pilot ,F/O GOOLDEN , by gesture only , the last known course of the german unit .The 240 sqd a/c, again made contact with the Bismark and continued to shadow her
    whilst BRIGGS returned to LOUGH NEAGH . Swordfish of the FLEET AIR ARM ,then relieved GOOLDENS a/c respectfully keeping just out of range of the ships flak.
    It is interesting to note that on board both of the CATALINA Aircraft mentioned the second pilots were both UNITED STATES NAVY VOLUNTEERS . FIVE A/C from 210 sqd were despatched to shadow the BISMARK.
    Catalina W8416 flown by F/L PERCY HATFIELD , made contact with the Bismark at 2350 hrs
    from a height of 4,000 ft,and was immediately engaged by the ships armament .
    Hatfield took violent avoiding action rolling one of the crew ,FITTER/LAC ROY DAVIS , from his bunk. a chain of cannon fire holes almost simultaneously appeared the length of the metal bunk as the a/c was stood on its nose and dived to sea level.the position of the Bismark at 47.45 NORTH 14.48WEST,was transmitted to group and the aircraft remained on station,circling at 15,000 ft ,. Damage had been sustained to the hull, wing and wireless loop.THIS OVERNIGHT FLT SET UP A NEW ENDURANCE RECORD OF 26 HRS 15 MINS DAYLIGHT FLT AND 5 HOURS NIGHT . THESE CATALINA'S were fitted with internal overload fuel tanks , as fitted for the TRANS-ATLANTIC FERRY FLTS . by this stage the R.N had closed with the BISMARK after its 1750 miles run and its fate was sealed.
    a torpedo strike by 15 SWORDFISH BIPLANES from the carrier ARK ROYAL, SEVERLY DAMAGED THE STEERING MECHANISM.Allowing HMS RODNEY and HMS KING GEORGE V TO GET WITHIN RANGE AND ENGAGED THE BISMARK.vengeance for the HOOD was achieved at 1040 hrs on the 27th May 1941,On arrival back at OBAN the crew of F/L HATFIELD'S Aircraft were informed that the BISMARK HAD BEEN SUNK.

    F/L HATFIELDS CREW ,

    SGT CADMAN,SGT KINGETT,SGT CLEGG,LAC DAVIS,AC BAIRD,SGT DAVIES,AC WILBY,F/L HANBURY ,ENSIGN CARL RINEHART USN.
    The above taken from ROYAL AIR FORCE STATION OBAN 1939-45
    A HISTORY OF THE FLYING BOAT OPERATIONS PRIV PUBLISHED BY NEIL OWEN .
    phill jones

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    Default The right dope on Lt. Smith

    Quote Originally Posted by Resmoroh View Post
    A number of Googled sites disagree!

    From http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq118-1.htm
    It was not until 1010 on 26 May [1941] that British luck changed. A British Catalina aircraft of No. 209 Squadron [Castle Archdale], piloted by US Navy observer Ensign Leonard B. Smith, USNR (US Naval Reserve), spotted Bismarck at a range of about eight miles. While Ensign Smith flew the aircraft and evaded accurate German antiaircraft fire, his British copilot radioed a report of the enemy warship's location.

    See also http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/65/a4358865.shtml and
    http://www.bismarck-class.dk/bismarck/history/bisdiscovered.html

    The plot thickens!! Who was in the left-hand seat up the Front Office?

    Also (and this is a minor neutrality point), from Lough Erne (in N Ireland) the shortest route to the N Atlantic was across c. 5 miles of Irish (Eire) territory! Every time an RAF Catalina transgressed did the Irish Govt send 'stiff note' of complaint - and the UK Foreign Office send a voluminous apology!! And everybody got on with what they had been doing before??!!!

    And what, one might ask, was Lt L B Smith, USNR, doing in a belligerent a/c a few months before his Boss had included the USA in WW2 subsequent to Pearl Harbour (7 Dec 41)?!!! The Kreigsmarine could have called an international foul!, and demanded a replay!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    An old posting that, hopefully, somebody is still follow.

    FYI, the source provided above does not have the correct details on the American naval pilot in the aircraft - the internet is wrong - oh my God!

    Ensign Smith was regular navy (USN), not a reserve officer (USNR) and "B" is his complete middle name. There were several other USN aviators flying in aircraft that were hunting for Bismarck. As mention below, all were part of the USN technical team instructing the RAF Coastal Command flight crews in proper operations with the new planes. The group consisted of seventeen (17) men, all of whom were regular navy. The others that flew operational sorties patrols during the hunt included:

    Lt. George Ervin Hughes, USNA32 [Catalina AH547: DA-H/210 Squadron, F/O Southwell]
    Lt. Robert John Costley Maulsby, USNA32 [Catalina AH531: DA-A/210 Squadron, F/Lt Aikman, DFC]
    Ens. Joseph Lee Hall, USN [Catalina W8416: DA-O/210 Squadron, P/O Powell]
    Ens. Leonard “B” Smith, USN [Catalina AH545: WQ-Z/209 Squadron, F/O Briggs]
    Ens. Carl Ward Rinehart, USN [Catalina W8416: DA-O/210 Squadron, F/Lt Hatfield - (VLR, endurance 32 hrs)]
    Lt. Johnson USN [Catalina AH546: BN-M/240 Squadron, P/O H. Godden - I need to look up Johnson's details and verify the rank is correct.]

    Of course, the RAF had no rank of Ensign, and as regular officers they were universally referred to "Lieutenants" and written up as such in the ORBs. Correct ranks and complete names come from USN records.

    Mark E. Horan

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    Default ENS Smith and Other Americans

    With respect to the discussion thread on Ensign Smith and his PBY-5 Catalina, I will add some background to the fine comment posted by @CharlesRollinsWare. By way of introduction, I am a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the following is drawn from research I conducted at the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States as part of a forthcoming book on U.S.-Iraqi foreign relations.

    The question was raised regarding Ensign Leonard B "Tuck" Smith (whose middle name was, in fact, just the letter, "B"), "Why was an American naval officer at the controls of a Coastal Command Catalina?" One proposed answer was that he was assigned to help convert R.A.F. crews to the Catalina. That is true, if incomplete.

    In addition to the Catalina crews listed below, there were other Americans directly involved in the engagement with Bismarck besides Ensign Smith; there were two American Chief Petty Officers and one officer, Lieutenant Commander Joseph H. Wellings, embarked in HMS Rodney. Smith and the other Americans were part of a technical advisory team attached to the American Embassy in London to help transition RAF aircrew to the Catalina; the petty officers and Wellings were assigned to the Embassy on other duties, and, at the time of the engagement, were aboard HMS Rodney in expectation of sailing to Boston.

    All four were part of a then-classified program of assigning "naval observers" to British forces worldwide in order to share technical and tactical knowledge and learn the tactics, techniques, and procedures in place for combat against the Germans. Each was assigned a diplomatic title: "Naval Air Attaché" for Smith, "Naval Attaché" for Wellings, and "Special Naval Observer" for the two petty officers. Another naval observer was U.S. Marine Captain James "Jimmy" Roosevelt (FDR's son), who was in the Anglo-Iraqi War of 1941 as part of KingCol, the strike force dispatched from Palestine and Transjordan to Baghdad in the wake of the Rashid Ali uprising. Another -- and the original focus of my research, which is how I came to acquire this information -- died in the crash of an Airspeed Oxford (P. 1942) assigned to No. 4 Flying Training School at RAF Habbaniya during the Rashid Ali uprising in spring 1941.

    Smith's after-action report was included in Wellings' report to the Department of the Navy, which is included in Wellings' papers in the Naval Historical Collection at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. Excerpts were published in Joseph H. Wellings, On His Majesty's Service: Observations of the British Home Fleet from the Diary, Reports, and Letters of Joseph H. Wellings, ed. John B. Hattendorf (Newport, R.I.: Naval War College Press, 1983).

    It is also available here: http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq118-3.htm

    * Smith took off from Lough Erne at 0325 on 26 May 1941

    * PBY-5 AH545 was equipped with 4 depth charges rather than bombs or torpedoes because (Smith wrote) "the British felt it a waste of time and effort to remove them before this flight."

    * The aircraft arrived at its search area at 0945

    * "We started leg EG of area at 1000 and at 1010 I sighted what was first believed to be Bismarck, bearing 345º at 8 miles. Definite recognition was impossible at the time due to visibility. I immediately took control from 'George' (automatic pilot); started slow climbing turn to starboard, keeping ship sighted to port, while the British officer went aft to prepare contact report.

    "My plan was to take cover in the clouds, get close to the ship as possible; make definite recognition and then shadow the ship from best point of vantage. Upon reaching 2000' we broke out of a cloud formation and were met by a terrific antiaircraft barrage from our starboard quarter.

    "Immediately jettisoned the depth charges and started violent evasive action which consisted of full speed, climbing and 'S' turns. The British officer [Flying Officer Briggs] went aft again to send the contact report. When making an 'S' turn I could see the ship was a BB and was the Bismarck, which had made a 90º starboard turn from its original course...and was firing broadside on us. The A.A. fire lasted until we were out of range and into the clouds. It was very intense and were it not for evasive action we would have been shot down...The fitter came forward to pilots compartment saying we were full of holes."

    * Smith returned to base, landing at 2130 with approximately 250-300 gallons of fuel on board (about 14% of his morning load)

    Smith spent 40 years in the U.S. Navy and had, it would seem, a knack for being in the "right place at the right time" -- on December 7-8, 1941, he was on Midway Island when it was attacked by the Japanese. He fought in the Korean War and in the early years of the Vietnam War, finishing his aviation career at the controls of an F-4B Phantom II.

    He recounted his story in "The American Who Helped Sink the 'Bismarck,' _People Magazine_, June 3, 1974. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20064121,00.html

    Wellings narrowly avoided being killed when a salvo from Bismarck hit Rodney just forward of her bridge. He retired as a Navy Rear-Admiral after distinguished service in the Pacific as commanding officer of the destroyer USS Strong -- sunk at New Guinea in 1943, during which Wellings was seriously wounded -- and then as Commander, Destroyer Group TWO at Lingayen Gulf.

    In one respect, Wellings was instrumental in the sinking of Bismarck; reading the signals from HMS Victorious and HMS Prince of Wales, Wellings shared a hunch with Lieutenant Commander G.G.O. Gatacre (Royal Australian Navy), HMS Rodney's navigator -- Bismarck was headed for Brest -- a hunch that Rodney's skipper, Captain Dalrymple-Hamilton was all-too-happy to acknowledge after the engagement.

    In addition to the above links, there are several others that may be of interest to the board:

    This YouTube ("Consolidated PBY Catalina with the RAF") includes an interview with Flying Officer Briggs about the engagement (starts at 0:34): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNqHENNmChU

    Here is a photograph of Briggs in the cockpit of his Catalina: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205093788

    There are 2 known photographs of AH545 WQ*Z:

    http://ww2today.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Catalina-Flying-boat-at-Lough-Erne.jpg

    http://www.seawings.co.uk/images/Flying%20Boat%20Bases%20&%20Places/Castle%20Archdale%20Flying%20Boat%20base%20-%20Lough%20Erne%20-%20ex%20John%20Rogers%20%28Paddy%20R%29/New%20pics%20ex%20J-Christophe%20Polet/10.jpg

    For scale modelers, the camouflage and markings of AH545 WQ*Z are shown here:
    http://www.markstyling.com/pby.02.htm

    Regards,

    Russell B in Los Angeles, USA
    Last edited by RussellB_in_LA; 16th March 2012 at 09:45.

  5. #15
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    Default Bismark sighting

    My memory may be somewhat short about
    the Bismark sinking, but here is what I
    remember:


    A year or so ago there was a program on TV
    about the destruction of the Bismark.
    LT[N] Smith was interviewed, and he looked
    to me like he would be someone's favourite
    uncle. Soft spoken and modest.


    He was indeed in the USN. He was aboard an RAF
    PBY. He was in the right hand seat,[co-pilot's]
    and he may have been checking out the RAF crew.
    He may have been seconded to the RAF/RN to gain
    experience for the upcoming conflict.
    IIRC when the Bismark was found again, it was LT.
    Smith that spotted it.

    Finding the Bismark.

    From: ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORER CLOSELY
    BY
    CORRELLI BARNETT

    Chapter 10,
    "THE BISMARK MUST BE SUNK AT
    ALL COSTS"
    Pages:306-307:

    When late on the 25th, 1941 the Admirality
    liaison officer with Coastal Command, Capt. Charles Meynell, took
    the Admiraltry opperation staff's proposals for the morrow's
    air searches to Air Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill, the AOC-IN-C,
    Coastal Command, Bowhill, that one-time sailor, *rightly guessed*
    (as Pound and Phillips had not) that Lutjens would not steer
    straight for Brest , but take a diversionary course south before
    bearing east. He therefore urged that there should be an extra
    patrol flown to cover a more southrtly area than provided for in the
    Admiralty's existing plans. (63)

    It was therefore entirely thanks to Bowhill that at 10:30 on the 26th
    a Catalina of 15 Group, Coastal Command, from Iceland (piloted
    by Flying Officer Dennis Briggs, and with a neutral American
    "Special observer", Ensign Leonard Smith USN as co-pilot), sighted
    the Bismark through a gap in the cloud, placing her at 49 deg 30'N
    21 deg. 55' W-some 690 miles 96 deg. from Brest. With Bismark putting up
    a storm of fire that peppered the Catalina with shrapnel holes, Briggs
    and Smith found close shadowing a hazardous business, and
    at 11;25 they lost her again.
    But almost at the same time two Swordfish from Ark Royal fitted with
    long range tanks sent earlier at Sommerville's order and guided by the
    Catalina's report also found the Bismark, placing her some 25 miles
    further to the west than had the Catalina's crew. At noon Ark Royal
    flew off long-range shadowers and these regularly relieved during the
    day, were to send back a constant flow of precise reports until
    they were recalled at22:30.

    Captain Charles Meynell made it all happen.


    I am curious about what his status would have been
    been if he and/or the PBY RAF crew had been captured.
    I do not think that he would have been treated any
    differently than the RAF crew, but I wouldn't
    make any bets.


    63-Ludovic Kennedy op cit, pp 151-2

  6. #16
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    Default Dennis Alfred Briggs

    1. Dennis Briggs appears to have enjoyed a successful career in the RAF.

    He joined the RAF as a Direct Entry Airman (Pilots, Observers) Cadets, in August 1935 (Service Number 580000) and was promoted from Sgt to P/O (SN 45465) on 11 March 1941. This suggests that on 26 May 1941 he was an experienced pilot despite his junior officer rank. His promotion to F/O was on 11 March 1942, by which time he had been awarded a DFC; can't find a citation, but I guess it could have been for the Bismark operation. Promotion to Flt Lt followed on 11 March 1943 and six months later, on 10 September, by which time he was an Acting Sqn Ldr with 202 Squadron, he was awarded a Bar to his DFC (no citation).

    He appears to have survived the war (not listed by CWGC) but I've not been able find any reference to him in the London Gazette after the 10 September entry.

    2. I'm a little confused about Smith's description of events for he describes Briggs as twice going aft to send a contact report. Surely there would have been no need to do that, the crew must have been in voice communication and it would have been the responsibility of the navigator to give a fix and the wireless operator to send the message. I can't understand why one of the pilots would leave his seat when the aircraft was under 'intense' AA fire, surely both should have remained in position in case one was hit - after all as Smith says

    "The fitter came forward to pilots compartment saying we were full of holes."

    Could someone explain please?

    Does anyone have the 209 Sqn ORB which would name which man was the aircraft captain?

    Brian

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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Lyffe View Post
    2. I'm a little confused about Smith's description of events for he describes Briggs as twice going aft to send a contact report. Surely there would have been no need to do that, the crew must have been in voice communication and it would have been the responsibility of the navigator to give a fix and the wireless operator to send the message. I can't understand why one of the pilots would leave his seat when the aircraft was under 'intense' AA fire, surely both should have remained in position in case one was hit - after all as Smith says

    Could someone explain please?
    The GO-9 transmitter sent Morse; more than likely Briggs would have wanted to ensure the information was sent correctly given the importance of the sighting. After all, Bismarck had already been lost and CinC Home Fleet sent an incorrect message to the Fleet at 1047 on 25 May identifying Bismarck's position at 57 north, 33 west, and directed Home Fleet vessels to search accordingly. Captain Dalrymple-Hamilton in HMS Rodney took Wellings' hunch and ignored the order, continuing on a course to intercept if Bismarck were en route to Brest.

    Best record of the crew I have found is:

    P/O Briggs
    ENS Smith
    F/O Lowe
    P/O Otter
    Sergeants Burton, Dunning, Edmonds, Leigh, Stenning
    Leading Aircraftman Martin

  8. #18
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    Hello,

    Briggs did not go aft to "send" the contact report, he went aft to "prepare" the contact report. Briggs was a qualified pilot/navigator, with an above average rating. This might help:

    A.
    The Catalina had broken cloud on the port beam of the battleship which immediately opened fire and the aircraft was holed in several places by shrapnel. Briggs' concern was that he'd be shot down before getting off a sighting report, and in a conversation with me (Hendrie), he stressed his respect for his wireless operator, LAC Martin, who wished to gain promotion only by merit.

    B.
    Distinguished Flying Medal.
    MARTIN, Arundel Campbell. 570641 Corporal, No.209 Sqn.
    L.G. 25/7/1941. Wireless Operator. Air2/8896.

    This airman joined this squadron in August, 1939, and was first employed in his basic trade on the ground. Soon after the outbreak of war, he volunteered and was accepted for aircrew training. He has since flown 440 operational hours. He was Wireless Operator in a Catalina of this squadron which sighted and reported the "Bismark" on the morning of 26th May, 1941. Though the aircraft came under severe gunfire, he carried out his duties on that occasion as courageously and efficiently as on all his flights.
    7th June, 1941.

    Remarks by Station Commander.
    This airman rendered invaluable service on the morning of 26th May, 1941, by quickly and efficiently transmitting all his signals in connection with the "Bismark" sighting and shadowing although sometimes under heavy fire. For his courage and efficiency, he is strongly recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

    A.
    Flying Cats:The Catalina Aircraft in World War II.
    Hendrie,Andrew.
    Shrewsbury:Airlife Publishing,1988.
    p.23
    B.
    The Distinguished Flying Medal Register for the Second World War with Official Recommendation Details. Vol.II. K-Z.
    Tavender,Ian.
    Forest Hill:Savannah Publications,2000.
    p.228

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 18th March 2012 at 11:02.

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    Default

    Thanks Col, although I'm still unclear as to why Briggs had to go aft to prepare the message - why didn't he use the inter-com? The aircraft had been airborne over a featureless ocean for nearly 7 hours so the only person who knew its position (and hence that of the Bismark) with any certainty would have been the anonymous navigator, which, together with the ship's course was surely all that needed to be transmitted.

    Ah well, one of life's mysteries.

    Does Hendrie say which of the pilots was the aircraft captain?

    Brian

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    Default

    Hi Brian,

    Catalina AH545 was now destined to become part of history. AH545 of No.209 Squadron coded WQ-Z was airborne from Lough Erne in Northern Ireland at 03:45 hours on 26 May (1941), captained by Dennis A. Briggs, who had been detailed for a cross-over patrol.

    Furthermore, Hendrie states that:

    The rank of Pilot Officer belied Briggs' experience and ability, as at that time in his service he had completed about 1,500 hours' flying and was rated by his CO as an 'above average pilot-navigator'.

    There is a reproduction of the relevant page from Dennis Briggs' Log Book, clearly showing him (Self), as Pilot, or 1st Pilot.

    I might add:

    After flying south-west for six hours the Catalina reached its search area where the wind was reported as 40kt. At 10:30 hours they sighted the enemy battleship.
    Of this Capt Leonard B. Smith now writes: 'The weather was ideal for the mission, reasonably good visibility below 1,500ft altitude and plenty of nice clouds to hide in if one had encountered air opposition.
    'After the original sighting, Briggs turned the controls over to me and went aft to prepare the contact report. The general idea was to take cover in the clouds and close the range somewhat in order to make positive identification. While in the clouds I misjudged the wind rather badly, and as the record shows, got much too close - right over the ship.'

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 18th March 2012 at 12:41.

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