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, 2 June, 1941.
Proceeding of Matrosengefreiter Herbert Manthey - 0 2690/40 S - of the command of the Battleship “Bismarck” regarding the sinking of the Battleship “Bismarck”.
The Matrosengefreiter Herbert Manthey - 02690/40 S of the command of the Battleship “Bismarck” testifies herewith:
Friday, 23.5.41 at about 1700 hours a smoke trail was sighted. Subsequently, the alarm was sounded. I was present at that time [and] in my battle station, [at the] starboard 5th 2 cm gun. Immediately thereafter, the hostile cruiser opened fire. The cruiser was abaft. "Bismarck" responded with turrets Cäsar and Dora. I don't know how many salvos were fired [dropped]. The enemy cruiser responded by disengaging, but kept contact. The signals transmitter [B.Ü. , Befehlsübermittler - order/signal transmitter at the gun station. UR] informed us that the hostile cruiser had transmitted a radio message about the "Bismarck's" condition. Half an hour later, the command center announced that the hostile ships had fired on each other. Subsequently, we were relieved of duty. The night remained quiet.
Saturday, 24.5.41 in the morning at about 0600 hours an announcement came via the loudspeaker installation: smoke trails in sight. The alarm was sounded again. Shortly thereafter, the smoke trails could be seen with bare eyes. At that time, I was assigned to the portside 5th 2cm gun. At the alarm, the starboard watch was coming on duty and I had to switch to the starboard 5th 2 cm gun. A few minutes later, the leading hostile ship opened fire. I did not know at that time what enemy ships we were dealing with. Shortly thereafter, "Bismarck" and a second hostile ship opened fire. The bridge gave an order for fire distribution. The forward turrets shot at the "Hood", the aft at "King George V". The names of the ships were transmitted to all after the battle. Three salvos were sent toward "Hood". During this firing, the antiaircraft crew was sent to take cover because of splinter effects and the air pressure from our own artillery. Owing to [our] interest in the fight, many comrades remained on deck amidships and in the superstructures. I myself took cover (deck house). Already after our 2nd salvo at "Hood" [an announcement] came from command central: "Opponent on fire", at the 3rd salvo "Opponent [has] exploded". At that moment, I ran with my other comrades out to the open deck and saw a large black smoke cloud. Many of my comrades saw the explosion; however, I myself did not. During the battle with "Hood", hits were also made on "King George V" by the aft turrets that were directed from the aft fire control station, whereupon "King George V" veered off. This occurred about at the same time that "Hood" was sunk. The general enthusiasm [pride] was immense, [and] became even greater, when Command Central broadcast that the opponent we had been dealing with was England's largest battleship. It was also mentioned that the sunk ship was the "Hood" and that the disengaging [ship] was the "King George V". Now, for the first time, I heard that an additional enemy cruiser had also fired on us. The fighting lasted about 10 minutes. At the end of the fighting, we discovered that "Bismarck" had received 3 hits. In my opinion, these 3 hits were delivered [should be ascribed to] by the latter hostile heavy cruiser. One hit penetrated the forward hull plating (bow); the second hit perforated the starboard launch and detonated in the water. [My] comrades told me that the 3rd hit entered the portside oil bunker, compartment XV-XVII [this hit was actually in compartment XIV. JMR]. I then went there myself and saw oil was leaking out and that the upper deck was sprayed (with it); the damage itself was located below the waterline and there was nothing to observe. This was about 2 hours later: the forecastle was lying noticeably deeper into the water and the ship had a list towards port, but this was slight. I also heard at this time that generating plant IV was out of service, because of flooding. A little later it was said that all battle mishaps had been dealt with by the work of divers and flooding control crew. An ordnance mate who belonged to my gun [crew] told me that the hull plating had been ripped open; others insisted that the projectile transited without detonating.
At this time, calm seas and clear visibility prevailed. The ship reduced speed and a futhering sail [a futhering sail or leak sail made of heavy canvass and/or rubber (reinforced with wire cables) that is slung under the bow or stern and worked to the leak area with port and starboard cables as well as divers to cover the hole, UR] was brought out from the forecastle as well as divers were sent down into the ship for the examination of the damage. I heard that it was very difficult to enter the fully flooded compartments, but the divers accomplished laying a hose connection to the oil bunkers that permitted oil to be pumped from forward to aft [holds]. In the mean time, [the divers] also accomplished sealing the leaks. As far as I remember, the outboard repair work took about 2 hours. The ship then increased speed. During this time, work continued with bilge pumps [Lenzen probably means Lenzpumpen=bilge pumps, UR] forward below deck. This dragged on the entire day and the following night from 24.5. to 25.5. During the course of Saturday morning, one sensed that the forecastle had slowly risen higher from the water. On Saturday, about noon, 1 flying boat appeared. By its construction it was surmised to be a Do 18. From hearsay, I know that an ID [ES, Erkennungssignal, recognition/ID signal. UR] was requested; and that the aircraft answered with the correct ID. This was also broadcast by telephone. As it approached to 4,000 meters, the light Flak leader, Kapitänleutnant Gellert, recognized that [we] were dealing with an American-made machine [plane]. Consequently, fire was opened on the aircraft with the 10.5 cm [guns]. The aircraft veered away, but tried to come closer several times; however, it was always forced to turn away [retreat] by the Flak fire. Then the aircraft stationed itself outside the Flak range, but nevertheless kept up its surveillance.
Toward 2300 hours, three squadrons (27 aircraft), (all) biplanes, approached to attack. First they tried to attack in closed (formation) from the portside. When this did not succeed, single aircraft attacked from the starboard side, from forward and aft. All available calibers, including the 38 cm, participated in the defense. The attack lasted approx. 1 hour. Altogether, 5 (planes) were shot down (according to statements from comrades). This was also verified by the signal transmitter. I don't know how many were really shot down. My Flak leader, Oberleutnant zur See Dölker, told me upon my request (that we had) dealt with 2 squadrons of torpedo and 1 squadron of bomber aircraft. The Flak defense was particularly difficult because of the constant zig-zag sailing [the ship took to avoid torpedoes]. The aircraft could achieve only one torpedo hit on the starboard side below the aircraft catapult. The torpedo detonated on the hull plating and left only a scratch in the paintjob. The air pressure threw Oberbootsmann Kirchberg, who stood at the starboard 10.5 cm gun, against the hangar and he died. This was the first fallen on board. I don't know if other comrades were wounded.
"King George V" opened fire on us shortly after the air attack ended. "Bismarck" answered with 1 or 2 salvos. As far as I know, nothing was hit by either side. We could not see the opponent from deck with [our] bare eyes. According to my recollection, the subsequent night of 24.5. to 25.5. transpired quietly. It was said via telephone that the enemy was maintaining contact. The evening of 24.5, I had gunnery watch from 2000 to 0000 hours.
I saw "Prinz Eugen" for the last time in the morning of 24.5 at about 0600 hours during the battle with "Hood". By noon, nothing was seen of him again.
About 0300 hours in the morning, on 25.5.41, it was announced via telephone by that only one of the 27 attacking aircraft had returned to the carrier. About that time, the forecastle had settled deeper into the water. During the violent maneuvers while undergoing air attacks, the futhering sail was torn and water was again entering the ship's forward section. Speed was reduced, but a fairly heavy seaway was prevalent. The damage control crew worked throughout Sunday until the next attack contact, which occurred Monday evening, 26.5. 41. I don't know if damage control continued working after the attack contact, evening 26.5.
On Sunday, 25.5.41, about 12 o'clock noon, the Chief-of-Fleet spoke to the crew via the loudspeaker system. The Chief-of-Fleet described, among other things, as far as I remember:
"We were not meant [ordered] to fight with opposing warships; rather, we wanted to conduct a prize war [capture or sink merchant vessels, UR]. Through betrayal the enemy managed to challenge us in the Strait of Denmark. We met this challenge, [and] the crew performed magnificently." He expressed his high esteem, [and said]: "Siegen oder sterben, to win or to die ---- victory or death."
After the address by the Chief-of-Fleet, the crew understood the situation and their mood became somber.
On Sunday afternoon, a second [camouflage] smoke stack was being erected. At that moment the mood of the crew became upbeat again. It was piped: "All off-duty watch personnel to the second funnel for smoking!"
Sunday, 25.5.41, there were no other special occurrences.
After the air raid of 24.5, both watches ate and slept at their stations. Until the sinking, battle stations were never left [unmanned]. Since Monday morning (as of 10 -11 o'clock), hostile surveillance aircraft (2) kept contact and attempted to come nearer, but every time, [our] Flak defense forced them to turn away. As far as I know, there was no exchange of ID signals. There were two biplanes. In the evening between 2100 and 2200 hours the Flak station reported 16 enemy aircraft at high altitude above the ship. Therefore, the air raid alarm was sounded. They attempted no attack (and) rather (swiftly) departed. After that (the planes' departure), it was ordered: "Flak arms at the guns at ease". Approx. 10 minutes later I myself saw at about 200º from the ship's course 3 enemy aircraft dropping out of the clouds toward our ship (3 biplanes). Immediately, further aircraft dove down toward us from out of the clouds to attack from all angles. There was a fairly heavy cloud cover. I do not know the exact number of aircraft. All Flak weapons opened fire. At that time, I felt two severe shocks in the ship.
According to comrades, 3 depth charges were dismounted from the poop and flung overboard by the air shock of the 38 cm, which had fired at a torpedo track. I don't know if the tremors came from the depth charges.
[Wabos = Wasserbomben = water bombs = depth charges. The Battleship "Bismarck" Artillery Munitions Inventory Overview (1.2.1941) lists additional munitions such as signal flares, rifle ammunition, demolition charges, aerial bombs, and water bombs (as pointed out by Malte Gaak several months ago these were aboard): There is an inventory entry titled "Sperrwaffen Munition" and a column at the extreme left is labeled: "WB Mun. zu 2 Stück". This means to me that pairs of depth charges were aboard. It also states that 9 (pairs) are to be loaded and that there was stowage for 9, and that stowage was starboard between frame 127.2 - 129.2 meters. UR]
The air raid was halted after approx. 30 minutes by intense defensive fire.
The attacks consisted of flights diving out of the clouds to 10-20 meter heights above the water. Overall, we got the impression that the attacks were flown very daringly. In this [action] 7 aircraft were shot down. From the main Flak battle station came the announcement: "Rudder stuck hard to starboard". "Ship sails in circle". I don't know how many torpedoes had hit. In my opinion, 1 hit was aft in the rudder assembly and another was followed in the vicinity of compartment VII-VIII. There were wounded at the port - IV gun. I heard via telephone that divers tried to switch the rudder connection assembly [to manual operation]. After approx. 20-30 minutes, came through the ship's telephone: "Manual rudder connected". Shortly thereafter, a second report: "Rudder completely clear". During the rudder fouling, an attempt was made to steer the ship with the screws. According to my recollection, the ship's 24-knot cruising speed dropped considerably after the hit. It sailed in a circle, and by the use of reverse steering with the screws the ship was laid against the seaway (head-to-wind). After the manual rudder was engaged, the ship increased speed first to 13 knots and later to 24 knots. When the 24-knot cruising speed was attained, an attack by enemy destroyers occurred (according to memory 2400 hours). Alarm was sounded. At first I did not know if the attack occurred on the starboard or port sides; however, I subsequently remembered that it initially occurred on port, followed by abaft, and shortly thereafter on the starboard side. I did not notice a change in course of "Bismarck". At this time a message was broadcast by the ship's telephone that 1 destroyer [is] sinking and 2 more are burning. I myself did not see this. During the battle, which dragged on until Tuesday 27.5.41 to about 0700 hours, the enemy constantly fired flare grenades. During [some] intervals it became as bright as daylight. Monday night various congratulatory telegrams were received, such as that from the Führer [awarding] the decoration of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for the First Artillery Officer (I. A.O.). These telegrams were broadcast by the Commander to the ship's crew [via the ship's loudspeaker system]. Furthermore, the prospect of assistance by 81 aircraft was contemplated for the next day. One U-boat was supposed to be in the vicinity and others had been put on alert. 1 Tanker and 2 ocean tugs were also on the way to lend assistance. The mood of the crew was very much elevated by these proclamations. There was singing. Otherwise, no further occurrences.
Towards 0200 hours in the morning more hostile destroyers had closed to within 3,000 meters. [We] fired with 38 cm, 15 cm, and 10.5 cm [guns]. 3.7 cm and 2 cm were to await special permission to open fire. One of these destroyers was hit and caught fire; I witnessed this myself, since it [the action] was starboard abeam. Before the destroyer attack, i.e., even before 2200 hours, there was an attack by an aircraft diving out of the clouds. It was forced to turn away by Flak fire. The battle with the destroyers dragged on until about 0600 in the morning. No torpedo or artillery hits were scored. "Bismarck" cruised until this time (0600 hours). The speed is not known to me.
Thus, towards 6 AM a pause in battle was ordered. The ship was dead in the water, the reasons not being known to me. It had somewhat of a list to the port side. [There was] strong seaway. The waves hit the upper deck. During the night an unsuccessful attempt was made to launch a ship's aircraft. Cause of failure: No compressed air, too much rolling. 1 aircraft was thrown overboard. It drifted away on the water, pontoons facing up.
During the battle pause it was whistled: "Officers of the off-watch to the chart house." Immediately thereafter the alarm was sounded. Nothing was seen of the opponent, but rumor was that smoke trails had been spotted. Even before our artillery fired, impacts from the enemy's shells could be seen in close proximity. After approximately 1 hour the first hits were scored on our ship. I myself was wearing a phone, but the connection was severed. I hung up the phone. No further orders were forthcoming from the Flak direction to my gun. The Flak crew took cover, because the heavy hits became more frequent. One had the impression that we were being shot at from all sides. [At] first, I congregated with a group of 20 men in the aft artillery station. After a few hits we fled [from] behind turrets Cäsar and Dora to the upper deck. Before that, we had thrown 5-6 rafts one deck down and had taken them and ourselves behind the [heavy] artillery turrets [for protection]. A hit destroyed all but 1 or 2 rafts. We had now several wounded.
Turret Dora still fired to all sides at that time. We stayed as close as possible to the turrets for protection. At that time my comrade Herzog came to me. We saw an inflatable boat between turret Cäsar and Dora. This we untied with the aid of several comrades. We dragged the inflatable boat behind us to turret Dora. There several comrades left us. Due to a hit [landing] in the water [nearby], i.e., a wave was created by the hit, the inflatable boat and three of us were swept off the deck. No one was in the inflatable and we three tried swimming to it. We accomplished this after approximately 15 minutes after the hit that landed in the water [and threw us overboard]. Nearby, a raft drifted along that contained a wounded [man] and approx. 5-6 other comrades. We three where driven astern. We saw the ship only when a wave heaved us upward. One time I saw that the "Bismarck's" stem was listing to port. It appeared that the ship [still had] some headway to port. Shortly thereafter, I did not see "Bismarck" again, only a smoke trail. I did not hear explosions. Not far from us I saw two cruisers which went to the spot where "Bismarck" was. These cruisers fired, I saw the muzzle flashes. We had nothing to eat or drink in the boat. The raft that had been in our proximity, disappeared from sight. I do not know the time we were washed overboard. As the sun rose directly above us and we had just about given up hope of a rescue, we sighted a "Kondor" aircraft i.e., an FW 200. We waved at it, but could not tell if we were recognized.
We felt exhausted. My comrade Herzog had a wounded foot.
In the evening, shortly before 1900 hours, a U-boat suddenly surfaced in our vicinity. We were picked up, immediately bundled up in bunks, and fed. The U-boat, it was "U-74", searched for two more days for survivors. Only bodies and debris were sighted.
I do not know what a Dete apparatus is. I did not hear anything about it on board.
Damage to the radiotelegraph and report installation is not known to me. I also did not see that the antennae were shot up.
Signed: Herbert Manthey