This document was translated from the German by Ulrich H. Rudofsky, and edited/reviewed by José M. Rico. Notes by the editors are noted and placed in square brackets [...].
Staff Headquarters, 4 June, 1941.
Proceeding concerning the Sinking of the Battleship “Bismarck”.
The Matrosengefreiter Georg Herzog, - 0 2582/40 S - of the command of the Battleship “Bismarck” testifies:
My battle station was at portside 3rd 3.7 cm gun.
The alarm was sounded at about 1700 hours. An English cruiser was supposed to be ahead to port. The aft turrets "C" and "D" had swung their barrels forward to port, and "Bismarck" delivered a few salvos. Then, I and my comrades took cover (deckhouse). After a short while (an announcement) came via the loudspeaker system that the opponent is shooting at himself [at each other]. I don't know any details about the outcome of this battle. There were no hits sustained aboard. "Bismarck" was making 29 knots. There were no [other] special occurrences throughout my watch to 0400 hours.
I was sleeping in compartment XI when, at 0500 hours, the alarm sounded. We were awakened [by a person] since the alarm device had malfunctioned. I saw a piercing flame (a flash) astern of port as I came topside; I later found out was from the sinking "Hood". While I was proceeding to my gun on the aircraft deck a shell hit a launch's bow and burst through it. I don't know where the shell detonated. Splinters flew about [and] one of them hit Bootsmannmaat Zeidler on the head. I and a gunner's mate, I did not know his name, carried Z. to the cabin, and applied an emergency bandage. I then ran to my gun. I saw smoke trails (of ships) astern from my gun [station]. It was supposed to be from "King George", who was turning away. The whole battle couldn't have lasted more than 30 minutes. It was reported that the ship had only 5 [sailors] who received minor injuries, [and] all were still able to perform their duties. The crew's mood was good. I did not notice any shocks [tremors] in the ship. The hits [we received] were not broadcast. I did not see any hits except the one of the launch. Comrades said that compartments 22 and 17 had each been struck by one hit. Furthermore, I heard that generating stations IV or I went down. The ship listed to port. Toward noon, I heard via the signal transmitter telephone that the forecastle was rather deeply submerged, and that attempts were being made to raise the forecastle by pumping [oil from] the forward oil bunkers aft. For this, divers were to be utilized. The hose connection was probably established by 1400-1500 hours; it was also transmitted that oil is being pumped aft. The ship made 24 knots during this time. Clear weather prevailed and seas were moderate. I myself did not see "Prinz Eugen" again. Comrades said that he is located forward to port, and that at noon he turned away and disappeared from sight. After lunch, I observed surveillance aircraft. I saw a flying boat at first [and] later, an additional biplane that was relieved regularly. They repeatedly tried to approach the ship. Defensive action forced them to turn away every time. [Message] via the signal transmitter telephone: "We are shooting ID". [flashing by blinker light? Not clear about method. ES=Erkennungssignal. UR] Later, "Aircraft responds with correct ID". As the plane came nearer, it was recognized [as an enemy], and immediately fired upon. The plane turned away. Aircraft kept up their surveillance until evening (2300 hours). Thereafter, it was announced via the signal transmitter telephone that an aircraft carrier was presumably in the vicinity. We were constantly under Flak alarm. At about 2300 hours I saw 3 aircraft off to port at approx. 240º. I reported via the signal transmitter's telephone, "240º, 5, 3 aircraft on approach". Half an hour later, I saw aircraft flying toward the ship from all directions. At first, the Flak weapons were deployed. Later, one of the forward 38 cm turrets fired (I don't know how many salvos or barrels). Likewise, the 3rd port 15 cm turret fired. I had the [distinct] feeling that the Englishmen tried their best to home-in their torpedoes during this attack, diving down with unbelievable daring and courage. I felt as though the aircraft flew within 15 meters of the ship and only then broke away. I myself saw 3 shoot-downs.
The Englishmen scored one torpedo hit starboard amidships. The loudspeaker system broadcast that the torpedo hit was insignificant [and] that it had only left a scratch in the paint. The torpedo created a large water column that, according to statements from my comrades who were in the foretop, reached the foretop's height. There was no further damage on board. Oberbootsmann Kirchberg was thrown against the superstructure by the water column [made by the torpedo]; the impact was so severe that he died instantly. Further losses were not reported. I did not observe machine gun fire from the aircraft. It was transmitted that 27 aircraft participated [in the attack]. 5 planes were shot down. The attack lasted 30 minutes. The next day I saw that a white ring had been painted around the left barrel of the port 3rd 15 cm gun; likewise, turret "B" also received a white ring, but I did not see this myself.
Shortly after the battle, I and my comrades saw Morse [code] signals at 240º [from "Bismarck's" direction]. The foretop transmitted that [the signals] were from "Prinz Eugen". 1-2 minutes thereafter, the alarm was sounded. My comrades and I took cover. 2-3 salvos were delivered (from the heavy artillery). Then, through the loudspeaker installation [came the announcement]: "Enemy turns away".
It was transmitted during the night via telephone that of the 27 aircraft, only one had returned to the carrier. "Bismarck" was still maintaining a cruising speed of 24 knots. Sunday morning was very fine weather (sunshine). Before lunch, the Chief-of-Fleet delivered a speech to the crew via the loudspeaker system. He discussed the following as far as I recollect: "Soldiers of the Battleship "Bismarck". You have earned great glory. The sinking of the "Hood" does not have only military value, but, moreover, moral [significance], because she was the pride of England. The Englishmen will attempt to draw together all available forces and turn them loose on us. I did, therefore, release the "Prinz Eugen" at noon yesterday to wage commerce war on his own responsibility [volition]. He has managed to evade the enemy. We have received an order to head for a French harbor. On the route to this [harbor], the opponent will assemble. In the morning or at night, we will have a fierce battle. The German Nation is with you and we will fire until our barrels are aglow, and until the last shell has left its muzzle."
After the Chief-of-Fleet's address, the crew began to understand the situation's severity and the mood became apprehensive. Although earlier they had recovered their courage [confidence], because throughout the night and morning the ship remained unchallenged by the enemy. I overheard Oberleutnant zur See Dölker saying to Oberstückmeister Wienand: "The Chief-of-Fleet should not have expressed himself so crassly." A second funnel was constructed in the afternoon, but it was never rigged. It was supposed to camouflage "Bismarck" as an English battlecruiser. The order came through the loudspeaker system: "Off-duty watch [report] to the cabin of the Information Officer for the issuing of cigars for smoking in the 2nd funnel". This order caused a lot of laughter and it raised the mood considerably. I did not see nor hear anything about a surveillance vessel. The afternoon and night of 25/26.5 transpired quietly.
I had watch from 0400-0800 hours. Towards 0430 hours, I was [stationed as] signal transmitter [when] there came [a message] through the telephone: "We have passed ¾ of [the coast] Ireland and our location is 56º North and 27º West. By noon we will be within the operational zone of German U-boats and within the reach of German "Kondor" aircraft". This news brought about great joy. No one contemplated a bad outcome for this operation anymore. Furthermore, it was transmitted that "Kondor" aircraft would arrive about 1200 hours (26.5.). I did not see any.
The air raid alarm was sounded between 1400-1500 hours in the afternoon. An aircraft (flying boat) flew across (in the direction of) the aft port [quarter], [but it] was out of Flak range. Later, two surveillance planes were intermittently observed. One flying boat and one biplane [were seen]. About 1800 hours, the order was received to pay close attention to what direction the aircraft fly in when they are relieved so that the aircraft carrier's position could be determined. The aircraft kept up their surveillance until 2200 hours. About 2300 hours came [the telephone announcement]: "Air raid alarm". Then the signal transmitter's telephone reported: "Radio signal [intelligence] reports 16 aircraft". I personally saw 16 aircraft at great height passing over the ship from astern without attacking. After approximately 5 minutes, 2 aircraft approached from astern at low altitude. They were reported [to us] by the signal transmitter's telephone. I personally did not see them.
Some time later, I saw 3 aircraft, at 220º, flying toward the ship at low altitude. Simultaneously, aircraft were reported [coming in] from various directions. All Flak weapons firing. The 38 cm and the 15 cm turrets joined the defense. The 38 cm [guns] fired at torpedo tracks. I saw three aircraft approach from 270º, turn to 180º, and release their torpedoes at a distance of approx. 20 meters from "Bismarck". [The] two torpedoes that ran towards the ship's stern were separated by 4-6 meters [and they] must have hit the rudder machinery. Immediately thereafter, (a message) came through the signal transmitter's phone: "Rudder machinery inoperable. Rudder is jammed to starboard. Ship goes to [reduced speed of] 19 knots." Later, "Ship travels in a circle. Ship down to 17 knots"; a little later: "Ship down to 13 knots. Attempts are being made to clear the rudder machinery". I don't know how often "Bismarck" turned [full] circle. During that time I saw oil on the water's surface forward of portside. [I heard] via the signal transmitter's phone that there was no hit in ship's forward section, but that oil was being dumped to deal with the list. In my estimation, the ship had a 5 degree list at that time. After half an hour came [the message via phone]: "Rudder machinery clear. Ship goes to 19 knot cruising speed". The ship never stopped [never lost forward speed] during this time. Soon after the ship began to run in circles, the air attack had [also] ceased. I estimate that the attack lasted 30-40 minutes.
After the attack it was broadcast via the signal transmitter's telephone that 35 aircraft participated in the attack [and that] 7 were shot down. Nothing was transmitted about [any] hits on board.
I felt a severe shock in the ship during the detonation of both torpedoes. I [also] saw a high water column off the astern portside [at that time]. "Bismarck" was cruising at 19 knots head-to-sea. The torpedo hits caused an even greater list. As far as I recall, "alarm" was transmitted while "Bismarck" was still traveling in a circle. The heavy artillery opened fire [at destroyers]. I was under cover. [It was] transmitted via the signal transmitter's phone: "1 opponent is sinking, 1 opponent is aflame". About 15 minutes later it was announced: "1 more opponent aflame". The artillery fire ceased shortly thereafter. I and my comrades went to the starboard side and [we] recognized smoke clouds at 160º (starboard astern). About 2400 hours the opponent fired flare shells that surrounded the entire ship. The flare shells were very bright, so that the ship could be viewed from stem to stern.
The destroyer attacks subsided at about 0100 hours. I surmised that the enemy had lost contact with us. First, the Chief-of-Fleet addressed the crew between 0100-0200 hours. I did not hear his speech. My comrades told me the Chief-of-Fleet said: "We will fire until the last shell". I did hear the speech wherein the commander said: "A telegram with the following content was sent to the Führer: 'We will fight until the last. All for you, my Führer'."
I later heard by loudspeaker that the Führer had awarded the Knight's Cross to the 1st Artillery Officer for sinking the Battle cruiser "Hood". Furthermore, in addition to the Führer's telegram, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Navy's message was also broadcast. Moreover, it was broadcast that every available U-boat has been put on high alert, and that 80 aircraft, two ocean tugs, and 1 tanker were proceeding with all haste [towards us]. There was great joy among the crew, but the mood had been good all along. The "Bismarck" hymn and other seamen's ballads were sung.
[I have taken the liberty to add this text to the translation. This may have been the song. UR]
Das Bismarck Lied:
Bismarck Heil! Dem einzig Einen,
Deutsche Treue, deutsche Liebe,
Kaiser Wilhelm's Werkgenosse,
As far as I know, the destroyers did not score a torpedo hit. The ship still maintained at least 19 knots. There was no combat encounter until the morning (27.5). I slept in the deckhouse until approximately 0500 hours. I was [abruptly] awakened by the pipe command: "Oberleutnant Kardinal to the computing station". A little later, it could have been 0510, the pipe whistled: "Free watch officers [off-duty watch report] to the chart house at 0645 hours". Shortly thereafter, the alarm sounded. I saw that the ship had ceased to make headway as I emerged from my battle station. The ship was abeam to the sea [almost broaching UR], [and] breakers crashed over the portside. The ship showed considerably more list (approx. 10º).
All the 38 cm turrets swung to port while I was still outside [on deck]. Then, I went to take cover. Enemy [shell] splashes landed 100 meters ahead of the ship. Then, our guns opened fire. I felt shocks in the ship that must have resulted from hits. I left the deckhouse with my comrades. I observed white smoke ascending from the funnel. The antennae were shot to pieces [and] I saw hits on the ship's forward section. Splinters and ship parts were flying about. I did not notice further hits. Several comrades tossed life saving rafts from the deckhouse to the upper deck [and] I assisted them with this. I then went to the upper deck, where the majority of the Flak crew was. We sought protection behind turret "C". Other comrades were standing in the descending gangway to the battery deck. There were already chunks of the superstructure lying on the poop. I do not know where the individual hits occurred. The funnel was torn open on the starboard side. The 2 Oberbootsmann and 2 Obergefreiter were readying the rescue rafts and laid them on the upper deck. There were at least 15 rescue rafts. Later, I went down the ladder to the battery deck. I observed from here that comrades tossed inflatable boats over the side and jumped in after them. I personally, [along] with several comrades, tried to toss an inflatable boat overboard. But we did not succeed because a hit struck in our vicinity and splinter effects made the inflatable boat useless. I received a splinter (flesh wound in the calf of the left leg). We then sought shelter behind turret "D". There was an inflatable boat behind turret "D". We untied this boat. Then we tossed the boat over the starboard side and jumped after it. I had luck on my side in immediately grabbing hold of the raft. Other comrades tried to swim to the raft. Only comrades Matrosengefreiten Manthey and Höntzsch made it to the raft. All our efforts to fish out even more comrades were unsuccessful.
After this, we drifted off very rapidly. I was still able to observe that other rafts were tossed overboard from amidships and that comrades dove after them. After we had drifted for some time, we saw a 2nd raft with approx. 7 men, but we quickly lost track of this raft. We could see "Bismarck" only when our raft was atop the crest of a mountainous wave. Firing continued. I did not hear an explosion. It became [very] silent after an hour [had passed]. I did not see "Bismarck" again. An English cruiser with 3 funnels passed within approx. 200 meters after we went overboard. The cruiser was on course for "Bismarck". I did not see if the cruiser fired. It must have been 0930 hours when we went overboard. During the day we only saw a single "Kondor" plane. In the twilight, we were seen by U-boat ("U-74") and taken on board.
In our circle of comrades it was said that the Dete instrument had to be turned off because the enemy would otherwise be able to home in on us. It was stated on Sunday, 25.5.41 that the Dete instrument had been damaged, but that it was now again operational.
I did not hear that the radio signal room and the transmission center had been damaged.
Signed: Georg Herzog