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, 24 June, 1941.
Proceeding concerning the Sinking of the Battleship “Bismarck”.
Matrosengefreiter Otto Maus - 0 2695/40 S - (Battle station: secondary artillery 3, starboard), of the command of the Battleship “Bismarck” testifies thus:
I was in sickbay, tweendeck compartment 16, on the way to recovery from scarlet fever. In the afternoon, it was announced via the loudspeaker system that two hostile cruisers had been sighted and had opened fire. I did not discern any firing from our ship. After about 2 hours I found out from comrades that the enemy's ships had disappeared from sight and that we were doing 29 knots. Thereafter, nothing occurred and the night remained quiet.
Saturday, 24.5. 41:
I awoke on Saturday morning about 0500 hours A.M. as it was being announced via the loudspeaker system that 2 battleships and 2 cruisers were coming into sight. Simultaneously, the alarm sounded. After a few minutes the enemy opened fire. Shortly thereafter, "Bismarck" answered the fire. Several minutes later came [a message] via the loudspeaker system: "An English battleship, probably "Hood" has just been destroyed by explosion. The other battleship has received two hits and is turning away." I did not receive further information concerning the events by midnight, and I did not sense any change in the ship's speed. At about noon, [or] nearing 1130 hours, I was carried by 5 comrades who were with me [as patients] in sick bay to the forward first aid station, compartment 6, 'tweendecks. Upon my arrival, Medical Corporal Wagner told me that we had received two hits. A hit in compartment 21 had filled it with water. The second hit was said to have perforated the starboard launch without causing further damage. We suffered one serious and 4 minor wounded. Staff Physician Krüger told me during his rounds: "Maus, you can return to your battle station. You will have more fun out there". Thereupon, I took my things to my quarters - compartment 10, portside. I went to my battle station after stowing my gear at about 1400 hours, [which was] secondary artillery 3, starboard. During battle stations our duty was to keep a sharp watch for U-boats and aircraft by using the bearing telescope. The weather was clear; [but] towards evening it became hazy. I heard that we were doing 27 knots. From 1600 hours to 1820 hours we were relieved to the combat off-duty sleeping quarters for food and sleep, compartment 10, [which is located] on the starboard side of battery deck. At 1820 hours I was back at my battle station. At around 2000 hours [and lasting] until 2100 hours, [battle] alarms were again sounded. The foretop command tower transmitted that several torpedo aircraft are attacking from port. Thus, we readied proximity detonator ammunition ["Zonenmunition"? proximity detonator ammunition? UR]. Our turret fired at [a bearing] 75º. I saw the downing of a single-decker, that is, double-decker aircraft. Thereafter, all available Flak fired at 90º direction I observed an aircraft drop a torpedo. I believed this torpedo had hit our ship because I felt a slight shock in our proximity. The aircraft battle continued until midnight. I did not observe anything further myself. After the battle ended I heard through the command telephone that the attack was carried out by 18 aircraft which had launched 18 torpedoes. Of these, one hit the armor belt at compartment 8, bounced off, and exploded at (near) compartment 10, starboard side. The air shock wave threw the officer-of-the-watch [W.O. = Wachoffizier], Oberbootsmann Kirchberg, against the aircraft catapult and he was killed. The Flak on the superstructure deck was completely submerged by the [torpedo's] water column.
Sunday, 25.5. 41:
Nothing occurred during the rest of the night's course. Immediately after the battle the command phone announced: "The entire crew congratulates the Chief-of-Fleet for his birthday." I was relieved [from watch] and slept at battle stations until about 0700 hours in the morning. The weather was nice on Sunday morning; [and] we all got out of the turret to catch some fresh air. We had very high seas. The Chief-of-Fleet spoke to the crew this Sunday morning. I had to leave to take care of some [personal] business, so I only heard the final words [of the speech] upon my return: "We will win or die." The comrades appeared depressed and said that the Chief-of- Fleet had spoken beautifully, but one discerned from his words that we had already lost [our last battle. UR]. A second funnel was being built on the flight deck on Sunday noon. I [also] observed attempts that were being made to pump compartment 21 clear. A mechanic told us that we had sufficient oil for the cruise to the coast, but that the oil had to be pumped from forward to aft in order to reestablish [the ship's] balance. I heard from another comrade that we had to abandon both bow tanks. I did not experience anything else on Sunday. Even during the night [and] into Monday [morning] nothing special occurred.
Monday, 26.5. 41:
Monday morning we received orders to paint the top of the turret yellow. The breakers washed off the paint in a short time, and an attempt for a second coat was abandoned. The paint adhered only to the main turrets. I went to the portside poop for a moment to get some air. While there I saw an enemy flying boat approach from astern, but it was immediately forced to turn away by our Flak's fire. Nothing special occurred in the afternoon. At about 2100 hours in the evening, "Air raid alarm, attack by torpedo aircraft," was broadcast. The Flak fired and then ceased after a while. Shortly thereafter, a new attack commenced. We felt two severe shocks in short succession after approximately 1 hour. [A message] was transmitted via the command telephone that [announced] a torpedo had hit compartment 2; [and] thereafter, that the second torpedo hit compartment 8 and the computing office was now defunct. We received the order via command telephone: "Occupy and secure starboard manual rudder [steering] room". We went from our battle station to compartment 2 and opened the armored hatch. We could not enter, because about 50 cm of [flood] oil stood in the compartment. We closed the hatch and returned to our battle station. We made a report to the forward tower [foretop command post] and to the computing office that we could not access the manual rudder because of oil influx. I took back the command telephone [from a comrade] and resumed my post as look-out. Thereupon, the order was given that starboard [watches] 2 and 3 were to rig an astern futhering leak sail at the poop. High seas made this procedure impossible, and we were sent back to our battle station. At about midnight it was announced that 1 enemy cruiser and 1 destroyer were attacking. A battle was being fought on the portside; I heard via the command telephone that a cruiser and a destroyer were sunk, and that another destroyer was set aflame. The battle dragged on until morning. We were informed via the command telephone that 81 Ju 88 [Junker 88 aircraft] would arrive by dawn for support, as well as 4 U-boats, a tanker, and a tug for towing. [There was] great joy; there was singing. Our turret leader promised us that he would personally insist that we would be granted furlough at arrival. He would sign the leave permits even if it took [all] day and night. -
At 0700 hours, it was announced by command phone that one English battleship and one cruiser were coming into sight. I heard that the speed of the [our] ship on that morning was 19 knots. The battle commenced shortly thereafter. We had [to face] the battleship on the port side, [while] on the starboard [was] a cruiser with three funnels. I did not feel any hits. After a while there was a slight knock [shock, punch], the [turret] hatch popped open, and I saw a 10.5 cm Flak mount standing [at an] oblique [angle]. We now noticed that the ship had considerable list to port. At about 9 o'clock (A.M.), an ordnance mate came into our turret and reported to the turret leader that our munitions chamber was on fire and had to be flooded. The munitions men came up to the gun platform. Then the turret leader ordered the munitions men to leave the turret and to proceed on deck. As ordered by the turret leader, we ceased fire for a short moment to put on our life vests. We fired the last two charges and went on deck according to the turret leader's orders. The water was 20 cm deep there. I observed a large number of dead and wounded near our turret. The ship was still making minimal headway. The opponent continued firing, hits landing most often amidships. I ran to the quarterdeck, but my comrades and I had to quickly seek cover because all our heavy [artillery] turrets still fired, with the exception of turret Dora. We were now on the upper deck near the officers' billets level. The officers' billets themselves burned. Five minutes later we ran to the quarterdeck [and sought cover] around turret Dora, which had already stood down [ceased to fire] by that time. Several 100 comrades stood there with a single officer, Oberleutnant Kühn, the commander of turret Dora among them. Many were wounded and there was a fair number of fallen [sailors]. We remained there for about 1 to 1 ½ hours. In the meantime, several comrades jumped over the starboard side and into the water with an inflatable boat; Oberleutnant Kühn tried in vain to hold them back.
Towards 1100 hours, large numbers of comrades were [being] washed overboard every time the ship heeled to port; I was among these. At that time the ship had already stopped, although it kept firing. I was driven aft rapidly. After a short time I reached a raft which was [already] occupied, [while being] respectively grabbed onto by 40-60 comrades; [I, too,] grabbed on. A lot of oil floated on the water. I met the ordnance mate from our turret there. We conversed with each other. We could still see the [our] ship which still fired. We could no longer discern the ship after about an hour. The last time I looked, I would estimate that the distance between our ship and the cruiser was about 3-4 km. Many comrades became unconscious and let go of the raft as a result of swallowing oily water and among them [was] my turret's ordnance mate. I drifted with 5 men for about 2 more hours. The air and the water appeared warm to us. In my estimation the raft capsized about 1700 hours. Two comrades (Maschinengefreiter Lorenzen and one from the prize crew command) and I managed to reach the raft again, while the others (a machinist Gefreiter and a staff Gefreiter) both drowned. We discovered a second raft occupied by 5 men [that was] 200-300 meters away. We did not succeed in reaching this raft. I saw that raft for the last time at dusk, [but it was now] occupied by only two men. I awoke from a brief nap and noticed that the prize crew command Gefreiter was leaning far over the stern, and [and saw he] had drowned. We took off his life vest and removed the corpse from the raft. We drifted throughout the night and following day. I noticed a smoke trail toward evening and fired signal flares. I had already done this during the previous night, but in vain. [But this time] the steamer turned toward us immediately and picked us up. It was the steamer "Sachsenwald". We were told it was 2245 hours while we were being picked up. I alerted the captain about the second raft. It was found the following evening. The raft, however, was empty.
Signed: Otto Maus