All this talk makes me think about time and its passing. When I was growing up the war was all about me - on television, on the radio, in peoples' conversations. It seemed like ancient history to a young child, and it was only when I was in my twenties when time began to accelerate that I appreciated how shortly after the war I was born. If I had lived through a war only thirteen years ago I'd be thinking of it as happening yesterday. Sweet rationing only ended in 1953, the year before my brother was born. Meat came off the rationed list in 1954.
|Catalina flying boat|
Huge pressure was put on Eamonn DeValera and his government from both the British and the Americans to allow British military aircraft to pass through Irish air space, and eventually a secret agreement between DeValera and Sir John Maffey, Britain’s representative to Ireland, brought into being the Donegal Corridor, a strip of Irish air space between Lough Erne and the Atlantic. Catalinas and Sunderlands changed their course, and possibly the course of the War. It was a Catalina that spotted the Bismarck, the formidable German battleship.
|Photo taken by the Spitfire on 21 May 1941. The Bismarck is on the right.|
Their hopes to pass undetected were frustrated: they were spotted both by members of the Norwegian resistence and the Swedish cruiser Gotland. The German warships stopped briefly in the Korsfjord on 23 May to wait for darkness, but a British Spitfire sent out to look for the fleet discovered and photographed them here. That evening they headed north along the coast, the Bismarck and Prince Eugen splitting from the three destoryers to set a northwest course in worsening weather to continue their mission.
At first shadowed by British ships and attacked by aircraft launched from the aircraft carrier Victorious, Bismark changed course to allow Prince Eugens to escape, then changed course again under darkness to lose its stalkers. On 26 May Bismark was well on the way to port in France and receiving congratulations for sinking Hood when two Catalina flying boats took off from Castle Archdale to continue the search. One of them was successful. At the controls as co-pilot was Leonard ‘Tuck’ Smith from Higginsville, Missouri who was not supposed to be there at all: it would be six months before the USA would officially enter the war. Smith was on loan to the British to oversee the pilots who would be flying the US-made Catalinas, given to the British as part of a Lease-Lend programme.
The weather was atrocious with gale force winds, Bismarck was closing on the French shore, there were no British ships within range of the German battleship and it was getting dark. The only chance was to disable Bismarck with aircraft fire to reduce her speed. An aerial attack was launched from the Ark Royal. Torpedo strikes hit and damaged both rudders: Bismarck was unable to manoeuvre and British destroyers closed in. Bismarck kept them off all through the night until the arrival next morning of British battleships Rodney and King George V. They were joined by heavy cruiser Devonshire and more fighter aircraft. At 10.30 am Bismarck capsized and sank.