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DEBRIEFING REPORT FROM BISMARCK SURVIVOR
WALTER LORENZEN

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 [...].


Proceeding concerning the Sinking of the Battleship “Bismarck”.

The Maschinengefreiter Walter Lorenzen, -0 3075/40 - of the command of the Battleship "Bismarck", battle station workshop-damage control group, testifies thus:

Friday, 23.5.41:

I was continuously present at the battle station, where we had 4-hour watch shifts from sea watch to combat readiness night watch to free watch. We noticed that the ship was firing for a short time at about 1900. I don't know the number of salvos or their caliber. The night remained quiet.

Saturday, 24.5. 41:

About 0500 hours in the morning, "alarm" was sounded by alarm gongs, whereupon we secured and cleared [sealed] the ship [for action] according to standard operating procedures. A short while thereafter, our ship's first heavy artillery salvos were dropping. Simultaneously, a message came from central command to the damage control center that we were engaged in battle with two English battleships. Shortly thereafter, it was transmitted that the pair of battleships we were dealing with were the "Hood" and "King George". Then, we sensed a strong shock in the ship. Damage control center made a group call [all-points call]. We ascertained that compartment 21 had been hit. A second shock immediately followed which seemed to us to be less severe than the first. Again, an all-points call was made [by damage control], but we did not obtain any specifics. Then it was announced by central damage control: " 'Hood' has exploded and has sunk. 'King George' has two hits and is aflame." We exclaimed a triple "Hurrah", and a joyful mood prevailed. Firing had stopped. Now we felt the ship's slight list to port. We were cruising at 27 knots. We found out later that the second hit had entered Compartment 13. A 42 cm shell [as stated. UR] had severed the welding seams and several rivet heads near the portside waterline level; which [eventually] resulted in water entering Generating Plant IV. Simultaneously, port Boiler Room II bulkhead was also ripped open by the hit, causing water to fill Generating Plant IV and penetrate into the boiler room. The bulkhead wall was quickly sealed with hammocks and further flooding was prevented. The boiler room was back in operation in a short time. Boiler III ignited, while Boiler IV was salt-encrusted and thus defunct. [The leak] in Generator Plant IV could not be sealed and [the compartment] was therefore abandoned. About 1 hour after the battle, we had to cut out plates with which the leak in compartment 21 was to be sealed. The plate had a diameter of 1 meter. The Master Mechanic told us he believed the holes could be welded shut during [the ship's] periods of reduced speed. The [repair] attempt was dropped because the commander would not reduce the ship's speed. I moved on to the sea watch at 1200. Nothing special [to report] in the afternoon.

The air raid alarm was sounded in the evening via the alarm system. I don't recall the time. Central damage control ordered that the ship be cleared and sealed for action. Shortly thereafter, our firing commenced. We had never experienced such [ferocious] firing. After about a ¼ hour, we felt a shock in the ship. A group call [from all damage control stations; all-points phone call? Not sure what "Gruppenanruf" means here. UR] was received by Central Damage Control. From this group call we gathered that all compartments were clear [not damaged]. Firing ceased after approximately one hour. We learned from conversations with comrades that 18 torpedo aircraft had dropped 18 torpedoes at the ship, but only one [actually] hit. It struck the ship's Compartment 8, starboard side, at the height of Generator Plant I, but caused no damage. The shock wave killed the Oberbootsmann (battle watch officer). He was our first to fall. Meanwhile, it was getting dark. Furthermore, we heard that the shocks from our shooting had enlarged the sealed cracks in the bulkhead wall between Generator Plant IV and Boiler Room II, port. The port Boiler Room II could not be secured and had to be abandoned. The ship traveled 27 knots.

Sunday, 25.5. 41:

The night transpired quietly and without remarkable occurrences. Sunday morning it was announced that the Chief-of-Fleet would address the crew at 1100 hours. In essence, the Chief-of-Fleet said approximately the following:

"The crew should be proud of what they have accomplished. But because of the hits received, we have to sail for a French harbor. Therefore, I had to release "Prinz Eugen" to pursue raids against merchant shipping on his own. Obviously, the Englishmen would do their utmost to prevent us from entering harbor. We would face fierce battles ahead. Forces had already left from Gibraltar. For us this now means: "To win or to die".

The address created a depressed mood among the crew. Although the crew's mood was very good and confident before the speech, it was now the dominant general feeling that it would have been better not to publicize the ship's [precarious] situation.

We received a request to build and rig a second funnel on Sunday afternoon. The entire workshop's crew was employed. We worked until dusk and completed the metal work. The crew's mood had improved. We happily anticipated being able to fool the Englishmen with our second funnel. Nothing else occurred during that evening and night.

Monday, 26.5. 41:

We did not succeed in erecting the second funnel on Monday morning because there were constant "air raid alarms" (reconnaissance aircraft). The afternoon remained quiet. Towards evening, the "alarm" was again given to establish clearing and sealing the ship for action. The firing commenced immediately and we heard that we were engaged in battle with hostile destroyers and cruisers. During the firing we experienced a shock [concussion] within the ship, and we debated amongst ourselves if this was caused by a hit or from the shocks of firing our heavy artillery. I later discovered that a torpedo hit the rudder machinery and that the port drive shaft tunnel was drowned [flooded]. The ship reduced speed while still in battle, and, [more] specifically, immediately after the shock [that we felt]. As far as I heard, the port turbine had been extinguished, but it was restarted later. After the battle ended, it was broadcast that the upper deck and crosswalks were not to be entered with a lit flashlight. It had become quite dark. I don't recall the time. It might have been midnight. We found out that the engine was clear for 24 knots; however, the ship could not hold course and would travel in a circle due to its [rudder] damage. The rudder machinery's compartment could not be entered because of severe flooding in the adjacent compartments.

Tuesday, 27.5.41:

During the night's progress nothing further occurred. On Tuesday morning I was awakened by the "alarm". It may have been between 0600-0700 hours. [An order] came by all-points telephone to establish secure-ship-for-action. Fierce artillery fire commenced instantly. We learned nothing about the opponent, since from this moment on nothing was transmitted [anymore]. Intermittently, there were watch checks [Parole=watch check, watch report or pass word check. UR], [however], [but situational] information was not given. After an interval of about 1-1 ½ hours we felt impacts on the upper deck. The ship had a severe list to port at that time, although it maintained 24 knots; heavy seas dominated. Shortly thereafter, a sailor machinist called upon me to bring a wounded [comrade] to the aft battle station sick bay station, section 5. Since section 6 on the 'tweendeck's starboard side was on fire, we had to retreat to section 10 in order to attempt reaching the bandaging (surgical) station via the battery deck. However, the battery deck was also already on fire at section 6. So we went back to section 10 and proceeded to the upper deck crosswalk. There, an assistant litter bearer applied an emergency bandage to the wounded (sailor). This is where pushing comrades forced me outside [the crosswalk area and onto the weather deck]. I sought cover near the 3rd 15 cm turret's starboard side. I sat there for about 10 minutes and clearly saw the English battleship. I judged [sic] the [ship's] distance [to be] 3-4 km. There were many wounded and dead on the upper deck at that time because increasingly more comrades pushed [their way] toward this turret. After about 10 minutes I ran to the poop and sought protection by turret "C". At that time, I saw that the officers' quarters were aflame and I [also] noticed that the superstructures around the funnel were severely shot up. I saw that turret "D" no longer trained nor fired. The upper deck around the turret was shot to pieces. Hit after hit followed, landing mostly amidships. The port list further increased. Approximately 200 men stood around turret "C", of which [a] continuing [number] jumped into the water [under their own volition] or were forced [pushed or crowded] overboard. I sensed the ship had lost all headway and that smoke [from fires] was steadily increasing, so I jumped overboard from the port side. In my estimation, it must have been 1100 hours. I managed to reach a nearby drifting raft after swimming for about half an hour. There was one man in the raft while 30-40 comrades grabbed on to it [for dear life]. As I reached the raft I saw our ship one more time and then no more. I did not perceive an explosion or any further firing. I saw two more rafts that were as severely crowded as ours at an interval of about 100 meters. In addition, I observed many single swimmers and drifting corpses. Slowly but surely, more and more comrades let go of the raft and drowned. Late in the afternoon there were only about five of us men [left]. All five of us got into the raft. But the raft repeatedly capsized, whereby two more comrades drowned - one from the staff (officer) and one of the mechanics. We three drifted along during the night. Sometime during the middle of the night as I was woken from drowsing by a breaker (hitting the raft). I noticed that the comrade from the prize command's head was lying backwards [face up] in the water. He had drowned. We took the dead [sailor's] life vest off and cast out the corpse. Now I was alone on the raft with my comrade, Matrosengefreiter Maus. In the morning, we again saw, at a distance of 200 meters, a raft occupied by 2 men - evidently, it was the same raft we had been alongside the previous evening. But the raft soon disappeared once again from [our] view. My comrade woke me up with the scream: "A steamer!" We fired flares. The steamer instantly veered toward us and took us aboard. It was the German steamer "Sachsenwald". I found out the following day that we had been picked up about 2300 hours.

I wish to present further testimony about the raft:
There were two soldered-shut tin cans and two signal flags in the rubber bag [stored] in the raft. One of the cans contained a flare pistol and ammunition, the other [contained] 1 bottle of Schnaps [an alcoholic liqueur], 1 bottle of seltzer water, cookies, chocolate, cigarettes, and matches. Our joy was great when we opened the tins. But we were to be disappointed. The charged water bottle had burst and the entire contents were wet. We [decided] to deal very frugally with the Schnaps. After a short time we discovered that the contents (of the Schnapps container) had leaked out because the seal was defective (simple bottle capping). The soldered cans have the disadvantage of not being able to be resealed after they are opened, and, therefore, get soaked with seawater and become unpalatable unless they are consumed immediately. The flare gun and ammunition became wet for the same reason; although they worked.

I do not know anything about the Dete instrument and I did not hear anything about it on board.

Signed: Wallter Lorenzen

Signed: Westphal
Fregattenkapitän and Adjudant
Naval Group Command West.


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