In May 1942, when the German Kriegsmarine pocket battleship Bismarck completed her sea trials in the Baltic, she represented a potent threat, being the fastest, most heavily armored warship in the world. Escorted by the Prinz Eugen, the Bismarck slipped into the North Sea unnoticed, although the British naval attaché in
Stockholm heard from his Norwegian counterpart that two unidentified enemy warships had been spotted in the Skagerrak. The Admiralty soon found the pair as they headed for the Atlantic, and a force was detached from the Home Fleet’s anchorage at Scapa Flow to intercept them. At this first encounter, HMS Hood was sunk, and the Bismarck headed for the open ocean, maintaining radio silence. There followed a debate about the surface raider’s intentions, but an indiscreet signal to the Luftwaffe’s chief of staff in Italy, whose son was aboard the Bismarck, advised him that the ship was bound for the French port of Brest. Tipped off to this, a British naval group succeeded in finding the elusive Bismarck, slowing her down with an air-launched torpedo and then finishing her off with gunfire.