The crippled German battleship Bismarck was just over the horizon, steaming erratically with two jammed rudders, the result of an earlier attack by ancient fabric-covered British torpedo bombers flying from the deck of the carrier HMS Ark Royal. The date was May 26, 1941.
Leading Seaman Stanley Goode, who lives in Burnt Store Isles, Fla., south of Punta Gorda, could see the ship on the radar scope he was manning aboard the battleship HMS King George V. Adm. Gunther Lutjens, commander of the German battleship, was fighting in the dark without radar. It had been disabled a few days earlier in a duel to the death with HMS Hood, pride of the English fleet. The German captain didn’t realize both the George V and HMS Rodney were lying in wait for him 12 miles away. Fleet Adm. Sir John Tovey planned to attack with his British battleships at dawn.
The Bismarck, the biggest and fastest enemy battleship in the European waters with 15-inch main guns — the most powerful ever mounted on a German ship of war — was about to become history. The mighty leviathan hid for months in Norwegian fjords waiting for a chance to break out into the North Atlantic. Its assignment, to wreak havoc on cargo ships bound for England with food and military equipment from the New World.
England’s fate was hanging by a thread — and that thread was the thin line of freighters supplying the island nation with war materiel from America and Canada. Without this life line England was doomed.
At the time, the British were all alone fighting Adolf Hitler’s seemingly unstoppable war machine. The Fuhrer had been secretly building his German fighting forces for years in violation of the Versailles Treaty it signed two decades earlier ending World War I. The Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe were overrunning Western Europe with their “lightning war.” They had recently defeated English and French troops at Dunkirk.
The United States had not yet entered World War II. That would come six months later when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and sank much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
On May 18, 1941 Adm. Lutjens made good his escape at the helm of the Bismarck. He took the giant battleship through the Denmark Straits between Iceland and Greenland into the North Atlantic undetected.
His first three days at sea went flawlessly. Then the German battleship, along with her consort, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, were spotted by a Royal Air Force photo-reconnaissance plane off the Norwegian coast. This information was relayed to the British Admiralty.
Adm. Sir John Tovey, commander of the British Home Fleet, dispatched the battle cruiser HMS Hood, the British Navy’s best known ship-of-the-line, along with Ark Royal and other elements of the fleet, to sink the Bismarck. At 5:30 a.m. May 24, 1941 the Hood caught up with the enemy battleship and the heavy cruiser accompanying her. A half-hour later, all three ships opened fire at 25,000 yards.
The Hood was hit first by a salvo from the Prinz Eugen. She caught fire. The Bismarck scored moments later with its 15-inch main guns. One of the shells pierced the lightly armored deck and exploded in the English battle cruiser’s powder magazine. The Hood broke in two and sank in three minutes. Its 1,500-man crew all died, except for three sailors who were plucked from the freezing Denmark Straits.
The Bismarck didn’t escape unscathed. Her bow was damaged in the exchange of fire. The German ship was taking on tons of seawater. Even so, it outran the remainder of the pursuing British fleet and escaped.
Two days later, the Bismarck was located again by her English pursuers. Fifteen outdated Swordfish fabric-covered biplanes flying from the British carrier HMS Ark Royal attacked the German battleship. With a maximum speed of 138 mph the three-man torpedo-bombers carried a single external torpedo and were armed with two 7.7 mm machine guns. Only one of the Swordfish was successful. It scored a hit on the Bismarck’s stern. The biplane’s torpedo damaged the German Goliath’s rudders forcing it to steam in circles.
At 8 p.m. on May 26, Goode spotted the Bismarck on his radar scope. He and Seaman Ken Burns had been staring at the radar unit for hours watching for the right blip. When it occurred, Goode reported: “Bismarck, dead ahead 12 miles!”
Adm. Tovey, aboard King George V, immediately ordered his flagship and HMS Rodney, the battleship accompanying George V, to heave to until sunup.
“We waited and waited until the morning. During those hours, I kept seeing my whole life in front of me. I thought about my family. I thought about the things I’d done and the things I should have done,” the Manchester, England, native remembered while telling his tale at his Burnt Store Isles home.
“I didn’t know whether I was going to be alive the next day or not. It was a long night.”
When sunrise came, the only ship Goode could see was the Rodney.
“‘Attack! Full speed ahead, rapid and independent fire,’ was the order the admiral gave,” Goode said. “Our 14-inch main guns were pounding the German battleship. The Rodney had 16-inch guns.”
It was Goode’s skill on the radar, giving range and bearings, that was the key to the King George V gun captains’ marksmanship. Without radar, the two British battleships’ fire would not have been as accurate. Despite the fact the Bismarck would not survive the morning, its massive guns were returning threatening fire at the English dreadnoughts.
“My radar post was on the bridge during the battle. I could see our shells hitting the Bismarck and bouncing off. I thought, ‘My God, what kind of ship is it?’ Then I realized it wasn’t our shells coming back. It was the Bismarck’s shells coming at us.”
Miraculously, neither the George V nor the Rodney took a hit from the enemy battleship.
“One time one of her shells came so close to our side the concussion from its explosion caused my radar to blow up. These shells would send a 200-foot geyser of water into the air when they landed beside us,” Goode said.
By 10 a.m. the British battleships had been firing at the Bismarck for almost two hours.
“Because my radar was knocked out, I came out on the bridge to watch the Bismarck sink,” he said. “I watched it roll over. Several hundred sailors slid down her side and were standing on her bottom before it went under.”
The Bismarck slid beneath the waves at 10:40 a.m. Only a couple hundred men were rescued from its 2,000-man crew.
The HMS Hood had been avenged.
But more than just settling the score for the crew of the Hood, sinking one of Germany’s biggest battleships gave the English a huge morale boost, something it desperately needed right then. England was at a low ebb because of the Dunkirk disaster. In June 1940 some 338,226 British and French soldiers were rescued in 700 vessels that included English Navy ships as well as small private boats that sailed across the English Channel to pluck the defeated Allied forces from the French coast before they could be captured by the Germans.
When the HMS King George V sailed into Scapa Flow, in the north of Scotland, the ships in port gave her a big welcome. They tooted their horns and blew their whistles in honor of her historic victory. The ship had won one of the major sea battles of WWII.
Goode was aboard King George V when it brought Lord Halifax to the U.S. He served as British Ambassador to the United States. The battleship sailed into Chesapeake Bay and on to Annapolis, Md., where she dropped anchor after her Atlantic crossing.
“I had never seen an American before,” Goode recalled. “When I shut my radar off and went out onto the bridge of the battleship I looked down and there stood the President of the United States in the stern of the presidential yacht. I thought it strange that the first American I would see in this country would be Franklin Roosevelt.”
The president had sailed out to greet Lord Halifax.
For the next 18 months, Goode and George V helped protect convoys of ships bringing material from the New World to the Old World to keep the Russian war machine alive. They sailed with the convoy from Iceland, around the cape of Norway and on to Murmansk, Russia.
By 1942, he was promoted to petty officer and attached to the British Admiralty’s office in Washington. Goode was sent to the United States to teach radar technology to Americans.
It was during this tour of duty he met his future wife, Frances, in New York. After they were married, he returned to England. She wanted to join him. This was a major problem during wartime, but the admiral commanding the Admiralty Office interceded for them. He made arrangements for Fran to sail to England aboard HMS Arbiter, an English aircraft carrier.
After the war, the couple returned to the States. Goode became an American citizen. He was an international banker who worked on Wall Street.
For a brief moment years later, in 1960, during the premiere of the Hollywood film “Sink the Bismarck,” Goode and his shipmate, Ken Burns, who also helped sink the German battleship, were famous. While working as an international banker in New York City, a friend in the banking business told him they were making a movie about the sinking of the Bismarck. Twentieth Century-Fox extended an invitation to anyone involved in the epic sea battle to be their guest at Paramount Theater’s Times Square premiere.
“My first inclination was to forget the matter, but having chased the Bismarck for nine days and eventually seeing it go down, I became anxious to see what kind of job the filmmakers had done,” Goode said. “When they learned that on the morning of the sinking I had picked up the Bismarck on the radar set of HMS King George V and given ranges and bearings throughout most of the action, they extended an invitation to me to attend the premier as an honored guest. I told them about my good friend Ken Burns, who lived in New York, who served alongside of me during the action and he, too, was invited.
“On the night of the premiere as Ken and I arrived with our wives at the Paramount Theater, we were greeted by Scottish pipers and escorted through the Broadway premiere crowd between an honor guard of British war veterans. All this happened under bright floodlights. We were being photographed for the newsreels. We then moved to the lobby where we posed for pictures in front of a British Color Guard.
“I have often wondered how the Germans felt about the sinking of the Bismarck. I know how we felt about the Hood being sunk by the enemy. The Admiralty was determined to sink the Bismarck at any cost. So were the men aboard King George V with whom I sailed. We knew that a victory over the German battleship would be welcomed back home,” Goode recalled 60 years later.
Name: Stanley Goode
Age: 85 (at time of interview)
Hometown: Manchester, England
Address: Burnt Store Isles, Fla.
Entered Service: 19 June 1940
Discharged: January 1946
Rank: Able Seaman
Unit: HMS King George V
Commendations: Atlantic Star, 1939-1945 Star, Defense Medal, Overseas Medal, Russian Medal presented for convoy duty.
Married: Frances Lewis
Children: Stephen, Carolyne Alvarez; Grandchildren: Daniel, Heather and Charlotte.
This story was printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. It has been republished with permission.
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Stanley Goode, 88, of Punta Gorda, Fla., died Monday, Oct. 30, 2006 at his residence.
He was born Jan. 22, 1918, in Manchester, England.
Stanley was a veteran of World War II and served in the British Royal Navy on the Battleship HMS King George V, which hunted the Bismarck. He retired as an international banker from Barclays Bank of New York City, and moved to Punta Gorda in 1992 from Seaford, L.I., N.Y. Stanley was an Episcopalian.
He is survived by his loving family, his wife of 64 years, Frances H. Goode of Punta Gorda; a son, Stephen V. Goode of Coconut Creek, Fla.; a daughter, Carolyn (William) Alvarez of Punta Gorda; and three grandchildren, Daniel Alvarez of Punta Gorda, Heath and Charlotte Goode of Boca Raton, Fla.
Visitation will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, 2006, at Roberson Funeral Home, Punta Gorda Chapel. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday Nov. 3, 2006, at The Church of the Good Shepherd-Episcopal, 401 W. Henry St., Punta Gorda. The Rev. Vincent F. Scotto will officiate. Entombment will follow at Restlawn Memorial Gardens, Port Charlotte. Friends may visit online at http://www.robersonfh.com to sign the guest book and extend condolences to the family.
Memorial contributions may be made to TideWell Hospice and Palliative Care, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238.
Arrangements are by Roberson Funeral Home Punta Gorda Chapel.