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"The Bismarck was awesome to behold"
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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Veterans mark sinking of Bismarck
The Bismarck: Pride of the German Navy
A German serviceman who survived the sinking of the battleship, the Bismarck, in World War II has joined British veterans commemorating the anniversary.

Heinz Steeg met more than 100 war veterans at London's Imperial War museum to mark the 60th anniversary of one of the war's most dramatic sea battles.

The sinking of the Bismarck, in the Atlantic Ocean on 27 May 1941 - following an eight-day pursuit - marked a turning point in the war.

We had no shells left and no ammunition, so what we did was blow the ship up ourselves

Heinz Steeg
Bismarck petty officer
Launched in 1939 with a displacement of 50,000 tonnes when fully laden, a top speed of 30 knots and several batteries of heavy guns, the Bismarck was seen as the most formidable battleship of its time.

She was sunk after making a dash into the Atlantic to resume attacks on allied supply convoys and sinking British battleship HMS Hood with the loss of 1,416 crew.

'Band of brothers'

All but 115 of the Bismarck's 2,200 crew perished in the encounter.

Bismarck petty officer Mr Steeg told BBC News: "We couldn't fight on any more.

"We had no shells left and no ammunition, so what we did was blow the ship up ourselves."

Harry Cuffling, 82, from the Isle of Wight, was one of the men who dragged Mr Steeg on board the cruiser, the Dorsetshire.

Bismarck takes a direct hit
It took eight days to sink the crippled battleship
"It was a case of dragging Heinz up the side then pushing him away from the area and taking him down below deck. He and the rest of them were in a very cold and confused state.

Mr Steeg said he would always be grateful to the British sailors.

"There is never any great feeling of joy or celebration when a ship is sunk, because a ship is a beautiful thing.

"But I remain thankful that the men of the Dorsetshire could come to my aid," he said.

George Bell, 77, who was a 17-year-old captain's messenger on board the Dorsetshire, described how he watched the Bismarck capsize after it had been struck by three of the ship's torpedoes.

"I remember seeing her turn over completely. All you could see was her huge keel lying in the water before it went under.

I saw men running down the quarter deck and jumping into the sea like lemmings to get away from the horrors in the boat

Sir Ludovic Kennedy
"We all felt it was a very important moment. The Bismarck's only job was to get out into the Atlantic and destroy shipping and we had to stop it."

Tuesday's gathering is expected to be the last of its kind as, with even the younger veterans in their late 70s, many of the ships' associations are being disbanded.

Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a sub lieutenant on HMS Tartar during the battle and author of one of the most detailed accounts of the sinking of the Bismarck, was guest of honour at the reunion.

He paid tribute to his "band of brothers" saying the naval engagement was one of the most "memorable, important and dramatic events" of the war.

Sir Ludovic added that one of his most vivid memories was seeing the German sailors leaping from the stricken battleship as it was consumed by an "inferno of fire".

"I saw men running down the quarter deck and jumping into the sea like lemmings to get away from the horrors in the boat."

At midday two buglers from the Band of the Royal Marines sounded the Last Post in memory of all those who lost their lives in the action.

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Sixty years ago, the British sank the pride of the German NavyMighty battle
The sinking of the Bismarck in pictures
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15 Sep 00 | UK
'Glad those days are gone'
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