Lost sailors haunt pilot who helped sink "Bismarck"

Wed Dec 29, 2010 5:10pm EST
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By Dave Graham

BLAINSLIE, Scotland (Reuters Life!) - John Moffat's sparkling eyes grow dim when he remembers the 2,000 sailors swallowed up by the Atlantic after his torpedo bombers consigned the German battleship Bismarck to its doom nearly 70 years ago.

"That still haunts me. It was a terrible sight. All these heads bobbing up and down in the huge waves, and not a chance in hell of being saved," Moffat, 91, told Reuters in an interview.

Moffat is one of the last survivors from the biplane bombers that on May 26, 1941, crippled what was then the world's biggest warship, enabling the British Navy to destroy the Bismarck.

The sinking showed battleships could not match air power and put an end to Hitler's dreams of challenging British superiority on the Atlantic, forcing Germany to focus on submarine warfare.

Moffat's tales of his career as a pilot are peppered with laughter and smiles, and the retired Scottish hotelier is still amazed that he survived his date with the Bismarck. Only when recalling the human cost does he become somber and serious.

Two days before Moffat's raid, the ship shook Britain by destroying the pride of the Royal Navy, HMS Hood, prompting Winston Churchill to issue his order to "sink the Bismarck."

A hit from Moffat's force of Fairey Swordfish planes then jammed the Bismarck's rudder, allowing the British to catch it.

"The weather was horrendous. To get an aircraft carrier pitching 60 feet, you need big seas, huge waves," said Moffat. "And you need a gale force wind. And that's just what we had."   Continued...

<p>Retired navy pilot John Moffat, 91, discusses his role in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck during World War II, near the Scottish village of Blainslie December 22, 2010. REUTERS/David Graham</p>