-History of H.M.S. Hood-
Letter Written by Colin McMullen
Updated 18-Mar-2007

The following text is an extract from a letter written by the late Colin McMullen (Gunnery Officer of H.M.S. Prince of Wales during the Battle of the Denmark Strait) to author Ludovic Kennedy in the early 1970s. Apparently, this was for Kennedy's excellent book, "Pursuit." Special thanks to Bruce Taylor for sharing this with us.

Chainbar divider

Start of Transcription

"Bismarck Battle

Arthur Skipwith has forwarded on your letter dated 7th November and the following main points may be of interest. I am afraid I cannot now remember some of the details, but briefly "Prince of Wales" had two radar sets capable of feeding range into the 14 inch gunnery system. The main set purely designed to feed into the 14 inch system, had an aerial which was attacned to the main Director Control Tower; as a result it was trained directly on to the target by the Main Director Trainer. Unfortunately the limiting range on the "Tube" was 24,000 yards.

The second set was the air warning system, the aerial of which was situated on top of the mainmast. Although primarily an air warning set, it was possible to feed ranges from a surface target into the 14 inch Transmitting Station.

This set had a more or less unlimited range.

"Prince of Wales" had the following optical range finders feeding range directly into the 14 inch Transmitting Station:- Two very large range finders, (about 45 feet I think) one at the back of A Turret and one at the back of Y Turret. One "Duplex" range finder (about 35 feet I think) at the back of B Turret (2 separate range finders inside one instrument). One "Duplex' range finder (15 feet) under my feet in the 14 inch Director Control Tower. (Total 6 range finders). These fed automatically into the range "Plot" in the Transmitting Station a small letter being automatically typed showing the range of the range finder concerned, whenever a "cut" was obtained.

I think the ranges from the radar sets were not plotted automatically but were plotted by pencil under the direction of the T. S. Officer, Mr. Murphy, Commissioned Dagger Gunner, from range repeaters.

The ship, although suffering from teething troubles in her 14 inch mountings, had done several shoots and fire control exercises including opening fire runs firing one gun "thrown-off" at a target ship to exercise the open fire procedure.

It was therefore sad that only the scantiest information was available on this particular occasion to obtain an accurate open fire range.

The story as far as I can remember is as follows.

Y Turret was "wooded" as "A " arcs were not open. A rough sea and strong wind on the starboard bow together with our high speed resulted in a continuos stream of spray and water over A and B Turrets, and inspite of their window washing gear neither obtained any ranges before opening fire.

Both radar sets had been switched off to maintain Radar Silence and were switched on at the order "enemy in sight".

The main gunnery set due to its technical limitation was unable to pass ranges until the range was reduced to 24,000 yards.

 As far as I can remember the range on opening fire was about 26, 000 yards.

No range was obtained before opening fire from the air warning radar set; I think (but am not certain} due to baving been switched-off and slowness in becoming operational after being switched-on again.

That left the 15 foot 14 inch Director Control Tower Duplex Range finders which were high up and clear of spray but the range was every extreme for such small range finders.

"Hood and "Prince of Wales" fired in their own time sectors, each controlling their own gunfire.

This procedure although independant, laid down that gun ranges be interchanged between ships before opening fire but we received no gun ranges from Hood and I was unable to pass any to her, so I expect she suffered the same trouble, being also a "wet" ship with her main optical range finders low down on the back of the Turrets.

We actually opened fire with a gull range obtained from one range from the 15 foot Director Control Tower Duplex range finders "meaned" with my estimated range. This latter was done, if you remember, with "Block Sketch Cards" where the height of the enemy's upper deck is observed relative to the horizon.

Once the range was down to about 20,000 yards the T. S. had a good Range Plot including radar ranges from the 14 inch Director Tower set and continual optical range finder ranges, certainly from "B" Turret.

It is of interest that having the "windward berth" was even in comparatively modern days an advantage where spray was concerned.

I also remember noticing the large range finders "high-up" in Bismarck (as they were in all large German ships}.

The procedure at that time was for the "Spotting Officer" (Lt. Cdr . Skipwith, R.N. ) (on my right} to give the routine orders, "enemy in sight" etc., "bearing and description"; for the "Rate Officer" Lieut. Buxton RNVR (on my left), to give Enemy's Inclination and speed while the G.O. in the middle, communicated with the Captain, kept an overall view and then, being in direct touch with the T.S. Officer (Mr. Murphy) discussed the range plot and arising therefrom the open fire range.

 Thus on this occasion I remember almost "imploring" Mr. Murphy for ranges and his reply "No Ranges".

 I can also remember asking the W/T operator (by my left foot) for ranges from Hood, also negative. Then Mr. Murphy's report of one range from D. C. T. and my "estimation by card"; then Hood opening fire and we following as per drill in our "time sector" on a mean of two ranges. (One from a 15 foot range finder and one estimated).

 I hope this gives a picture of the opening range picture; a sorry story in the vital "opening fire" stage but a good range plot as the range was reduced.

What was "dramatic" at the start was the speed with which everything happened, with both squadrons steaming at about 27 knots and a very-high closing rate.

I remember Skipwith and I discussing the leading ship, and either he or I said "Looks like Strasburg" in other word"Prince Eugen" looked like a "big ship" but "Bismarck" even at that range looked much bigger, hence our disregard of Hood's original concentration signal to engage the "left hand ship".

On this point, Hood had an old fashioned open spotting top with the wind probably roaring through it whereas we had a modern enclosed Director Control Tower with the most modern large optical instruments."

End of Transcription