Sunday, 18 April 2010

HMS Dorsetshire, the Bismarck and the truth about Captain Benjamin Martin, Royal Navy.

In May of 2008, I authored a post entitled "HMS Dorsetshire and the ignominy of Benjamin Martin". By clicking the underlined titled of that post you will be taken to what I wrote then.

In that post, I postulated the view that Captain Martin conducted himself in a less than honourable way in leaving so many survivors of the Bismarck to their fate in the Atlantic on that afternoon in late May, 1941. I offered in support of this theory the fact that Captain Martin was relieved of his command upon HMS Dorsetshire's arrival in Newcastle following the dispersal of the fleet returning from battle.

I further offered the colloquial information gathered about Midshipman Joe Brooks and his brutal treatment for attempting to assist Bismarck survivors. Finally, I suggested that Captain Martin's command style was brutal, even cruel on occasion, and suggested his command style was contributory to suicides by crew members in Dorsetshire during her convoy duties that preceded her joining the battle to sink the Bismarck.

That post, more than any other, has generated a polarised discussion in the comments section. It is reproduced for you at the end of this post. Let me conclude, for now, with my words from the end of the most recent comment. I'm hoping they will solicit a return visit here, one month from now.

One month from tomorrow, May 27th, 2010, marks the 69th anniversary of the sinking of the KMS Bismarck by an attack force of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. On that day, I shall publish a post here on my blog that lays bare the entire truth as I have learned it to be.

I am now certain that many of my previously held beliefs are wrong. I will explain myself more fully on May 27th, 2010 here with a brand new post on the subject.

Thank you all, so very kindly, for your continuing interest and for visiting "Nineteen Keys and the Lure of a Furious Sea". It will be an honour, and indeed my duty, to present for you all, my findings in a month and a day from today.

Best wishes until then.

Every Sailor

Anonymous said...

My father was an officer on the Dorsetshire and present when Martin announced he was going after the Bismarck. According to my father, Martin had received no order to go after Bismarck and therefore abandoned his convoy. That is the reason for him being relieved of his functions afterwards.
21 September 2008 17:53

Every Sailor said...

Hello Anonymous, and thank you very much indeed for your comment. I'm afraid, with every respect, that your Father is mistaken. Admiral Sir John Tovey flew his flag in HMS King George V, which was the flagship involved in the pursuit of Bismarck following the Battle of the Denmark Strait which culminated in the tragic loss of HMS Hood. After it was clear Bismarck was done for, Admiral Tovey ordered HMS Dorsetshire, under the command of Captain Benjamin Martin, Royal Navy, to finish her off with torpedoes. This done, his further orders were to recover Bismarck survivors. KGV was very low on fuel and needed to recover to Scapa Flow and left Dorsetshire on scene to carry out these orders. However, Captain Martin used the pretext of U-boats in the area to leave hundreds and hundreds of fellow sailors in the Altantic to die, no doubt informed by the still recent memory of the loss of HMS Hood. His disgraceful actions resulted in him losing his command on arrival in Newcastle days later, and not for the reasons your Father suggests. With best regards, and thanks again for your visit.
21 September 2008 18:13

Anonymous said...

I think we are both right. Dorsetshire was never ordered to leave her convoy and went off to the scene to join the fight without permission. She was then ordered to finish Bismarck off. My father was present when Martin made the decision to abandon his convoy. That is historical fact. I don't think he was relieved of his functions for leaving the survivors in the water, that must be pure speculation, unless you have documented proof.

I'm fascinated by the character of Joe Brooks. Have you got anything on him? It was my father who took him the news that he was accused of leaving the ship without permission. He just said, "Jesus". I know he left the Dorsetshire before she was sunk.

I don't want to sign up on Google. My name is Martin. I live just across the Rhine from you in Alsace.
2 October 2008 14:43

Anonymous said...

Thanks for removing the comment. I'm not condoning Martin's actions. He was a hothead and probably a lot more... All reports I have read back up the story of a submarine alert and he was only following procedure. He may well have been looking for a way to curtail his rescue mission. There was a U-Boot (U27?)somewhere near, but it had no more torpedoes. To give Martin credit, he gave the Bismarck sailors who died on Dorsetshire a full military funeral and allowed fellow sailors to make the Hitler salute.

We cannot place ourselves in the context of war. The Doresthire survivors were machine gunned in the water by the very Japanese planes that had sunk the ship. That is also against all the rules of war. It's too easy to condemn people retrospectively. You can even excuse Martin for abandoning his convoy to go and get a bit of action, the number of suicides on Dorsetshire during convoy patrol indicating the desperation caused by the boredom of nothing happening and the constant fear that a torpedo would send you to the bottom in a few minutes.

Let not our fascination for the War blind us into glorifying it.
12 October 2008 16:02

Every Sailor said...

Hello Martin, thanks again for your visits. I haven't removed any comment from this entry and don't know to what you refer. In the time since last writing I was waiting for academic friends to get back to me to confirm my understanding of Captain Martin's motivation and the real reasons for his removal from the command of HMS Dorsetshire, but to date I have no further information, nor do I have any further details of the career of Mid Brooks, although he was received as guest of honour at many Bismarck survivor reunions until well into the 70's. With respect, I think you're wide of the mark in accusing this site of glorifying war. I take the view that war is the apotheosis of vulgarity, hardly glorious, merely an often revisited reminder of our history as savages. My interest here is in ships, and the men who go down to the sea in them. All the very best, Martin, and thanks again for visiting.
12 October 2008 23:27

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I went a bit overboard (sorry about the pun) on my last comment about glorifying the war.
And I could have sworn there was a comment about Martin losing his command for leaving the Bismarck survivors in the water. My mistake. I was not accusing your site of doing anything of the sort. There is just a danger of getting out of touch with the reality. Lots of Brits are fascinated by the War. They tend to get disconnected from the horrors of war.
I'm waiting with baited breath for the information about Martin from your historian friends. I'm also sure Martin used the sub alert to get his revenge on the Bismarck sailors. But is there any historical proof? My father had a few brushes with him. Once my father's Walrus (he was the "observer" (navigator))was left in the middle of the ocean by Martin who suddenly decided to go and look at something. Luckily my father's training taught them to do square searches and he eventually found the ship. My father nearly got into deep trouble when he went at Martin for leaving the agreed position for pick-up.

You can look at my site. Sorry, there's nothing about Dorsetshire.

Greetings, Martin
13 October 2008 11:29

Anonymous said...

I am reading Robert Ballard's book about the Bismarck and just got through with the section about Martin's decision to leave the German survivors scraping at the sides of the Dorsetshire as it sailed away. Surely he didn't believe a German submarine would launch a torpedo at a ship rescuing it's own countrymen. I believe Martin should go to hell for leaving those men to die.
10 November 2008 06:05

Every Sailor said...

Hello anonymous, and thank you for your comment. I agree with you that Captain Martin's decision to leave all those hundreds of Bismarck survivors in the water is difficult to fathom. The impression I have formed of him is that he was, to put it mildly, a difficult man. It should be remembered that the sinking of HMS Hood only days earlier would have been fresh in his mind, though, and so perhaps he abandoned these men to the Atlantic as an act of revenge. No U-Boat ever fired upon a ship recovering survivors. What is certain, though, is that he was relieved of his command upon arrival at Newcastle days later. It is interesting to imagine what was going through the collective mind of HMS Dorsetshire's ship's company when she herself was sunk by the Japanese the following year, with hundreds of sailors spending the night in the water before being rescued!
10 November 2008 13:16

Anonymous said...

My last comment doesn't seem to have appeared on your site. Are you running out of space? I found this link which mentions the presence of U74 during the sinking of the Bismarck. So there was a U-Boot in the area.

Greetings, Martin
10 January 2009 13:13

Anonymous said...

It's my again, Martin.

This video talks about Dorsetshire leaving its convoy "on its own initiative", in other words "abandoning it".

Most likely the reason for Martin's loss of command.
11 January 2009 19:54

Every Sailor said...

Hi Martin, this is your characterization, unsupported by the evidence. Leaving convoy duty in support of a larger action is within the purview of any warship captain in time of war unless he has explicit orders to the contrary. Your use of the words "abandoning it" are emotive, and using them to support what amounts to nothing more than your opinion is not valid. Your long post of some time ago was deleted because it rehashed your points of view made clearly in earlier entries. You're entitled to your opinions, Martin, but I reserve the right to remove them from my blog when, in my view, they offer nothing in pursuit of the truth. Once again, I put it to you that Captain Martin of HMS Dorsetshire was relieved of his command on arrival in Newcastle due, in part, to his dereliction of duty in abandoning (to borrow your word) Bismarck survivors to drown in the north Atlantic, when given explicit orders by Admiral Tovey embarked in HMS King George V to pick them up. If you have evidence to the contrary, I'd be glad to have it.
11 January 2009 20:51

Anonymous said...

Hello Every Sailor and Martin.
I have come across this sit by pure accident and find it quit disturbing. I am the great grandchild of Benjamin Martin, and a serving member of the Royal Navy. I Find this blog very one sided on behalf of yourself Every Sailor and find you do not seem to give credit to Martins opinion.

I am sure there is some form of evidence that reflects both your arguments and mine, though it will be one of those things that will never come to light but just think of these true facts that still ring true to this very day. Leaving your patrol (Convoy) is an act of “abandoning” and is an act that is punishable. At war the ship is first and life is second. Ask yourself this, if you were in the situation my great granddad found himself in, sitting in the water like a sitting duck with a possible U –Boat in the area. Would you not remove yourself to save your ship and the ships company? Or would you stay and risk your men and the fellow men they saved.

Every Sailor you say “No U-Boat ever fired upon a ship recovering survivors” but no one ever sank the Germans pride battle ship the Bismarck. War is a very unpredictable thing. I believe you should watch the link Martin put on your blog as this is view from both sides.

I also find you have not spoken about how the men were treated when they found themselves aboard HMS Dorsetshire. If he was such a heartless man would he have treated the Bismarck’s Crew with as much respect as he did. Please look into the faces about this, as this will show his true character and not a Captain of a ship doing the best for his ships company in the height of war.

Sailors were lost on both side, these men should be remembered. As should the crew of HMS Hood of witch 3 survived of 1418 crew members, of witch the Bismarck did not pick up one.

With Regards

Serving Sailor
8 February 2009 17:50

bob said...

dear sirs

i have read this feed with much interest. the differing opinions are fascinating to say the least.
the comment "Sailors were lost on both side, these men should be remembered. As should the crew of HMS Hood of witch 3 survived of 1418 crew members, of witch the Bismarck did not pick up one." (sic) made by serving sailor ,for instance. the hood sank in 3 minutes after her magazines and stores of her own torpedo's exploded as a result of a hit by one or more shells from the bismarck. . there basically were'nt any survivors to pick up!
as for capt. martin ( there isnt even agrrement as to his first name..benjamin in some articles,john on the history channel program shown on the you tube feed) and his leaving those men in the matter what nationality or political beliefs you may have, it was indeed disgraceful.

there can be no doubt he was relieved of command so as not to be in a position of further embarrassment the royal navy .
with regards,
22 March 2009 08:18

Anonymous said...

Hello Every Sailor
I am the grand daughter of Benjamin C.S. Martin.

With respect to all stories being bantered about, a lot of of the comments made are not true to fact.

My grandfather did not lose his command of Dorsetshire at Tyneside.

Dorsetshire berthed at Tyneside on 30th May 1941. Dorsetshire was handed over to Captain Agar on 8th August 1941 at Scapa Flow. (Captain Martin having spent 2 years as Captain of the Dorsetshire at sea)
Thankyou Bob for your comments, but Captain Martin then went on to become Commadore at the Naval base in Durban South Africa. He was awarded the DSO in Oct 1941, CBE in Jan 1944 KBE in Jun 1946, He was the Admiral in charge of the landing Force in Rangoon in the Burma Campaign. Tell me where in these honours and further commands does it relate that he was a discrace to the Royal Navy. My father received a letter from a Bismarck survivor many years later,having nothing but praise for my grandfther and the way they were treated on board Dorsetshire upon their rescue.

I belong to H.M.S.Dorsetshire Association where a lot of the remaining survivors of the Dorsetshire's sinking still meet up every Easter to remember those they lost in 1942. One was his messenger boy and another his steward who also went on with him to South Africa.

I have read a lot of the memoirs that these wonderful gentlemen have written. They say my grandfather was a hard task master and didn't stand for any nonsence, but they say he was a fair Captain and had nothing but respect for him, they believe that had he still been their Captain in 1942, they probably wouldn't have been sunk by the Japanese as sailing into the sun was the worst senario. They went through hell when they lost their ship and still they were fired upon by the Japanese in the water.

By all accounts Dorsetshire saved as many as she safely could and Brooks' comments are probably a touch of 'sour grapes' because he had been reprimanded. War is a terrible and has many casualties, decisions have to be made that are not liked by all, but have to be made all the same for the safety of your crew. U boat or no U boat, if there had been one, what would the argument have been, Dorsetshire could have been crippled or even lost then and many more lives could have been lost and the brave and often forgotten men of this conflict wouldn't be alive today to tell the tale.
9 April 2010 03:28

Every Sailor said...

Dear Lady,

Thank you very much indeed for your kind visit and for your words in memory of a beloved Grandfather, Captain Martin of HMS Dorsetshire. I am deeply moved by what you have written and will respond appropriately in due course.

With sincere, best regards,

Every Sailor.
9 April 2010 06:44

Anonymous said...

The reason for his relief notwithstanding, Captain Martin got what he deserved. Frankly, I would not have promoted that man. As I recall, A midshipman on the Dorsetshire attempted to rescue a Bismarck crewman who lost his arms and was literally hanging onto the rope on the side of the ship with his teeth. The midshipman was placed under arrest by Martin and confined to his cabin, while the German sailor the midshipman bravely attempted to rescued fell into the Atlantic and perished with over 1,000 of his shipmates. Yes, that speaks volumes about Martin. And WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, none of you good people out there are going to change my perception of that man. I would have had him thrown out of the Navy or assigned to a bloody supply depot in a remote area of what was then known as the British Empire and kept him there until he had to retire for serving the maximum amount of time on active duty as a Captain.
25 April 2010 18:38

Richard said...

I respectfully disagree with Martin's Granddaughter. With all due respect to the lady, she can be perceived as someone who is lacking objectivity in assessing what her Grandfather did. Martin's actions can be construed by some as a War Crime. I would not go that far, but on the other hand I hardly consider him an admirable sort. Also, I agree with the previous comment: Martin should have been passed over for promotion. Furthermore, Martin's arrest of a Midshipman who bravely tried to save a Bismarck Sailor who lost his arms was absolutely shameful and reprehensible. He should have been brought before a court of inquiry and reprimanded.
25 April 2010 18:48

Every Sailor said...

Thank you to you both, Anonymous and Richard for your kind visit to the site and for your comments.

Since posting about Captain Martin and his involvement in the sinking of Bismarck, I have gone to great lengths in researching the truth. After such a long time, though, it is inevitable that the truth fades and is replaced, in varying degrees, by legend and myth. So it is with the Bismarck.

Searching the service records of Her Majesty's Public Records Office in Kew is a long and thankless task, but I was determined to learn the truth, no matter what that may be.

As a German, I was keen, even after all this time, to prove that Captain Martin was a beast. I wanted to establish, above all, that his refusal to collect all those boys and young men, the survivors of the Bismarck's sinking, from the sea was an inhuman act. I wanted very much to prove that he used the pretext of a submarine sighting to abandon those boys to their Atlantic deaths as one man's vengeance for Bismarck's sinking of HMS HOOD in very recent days.

I wanted to prove that life in HMS Dorsetshire under his command was horrendously brutal and that Captain Martin drove men to suicide through frustration at his command style in a time of war. I wanted to establish that Benjamin Martin was a cruel man; one who willfully disobeyed orders to seek the aggrandisement that lay in the Bismarck engagement. I wanted to prove that he was relieved of his command on arrival at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for dereliction of duty and for failing to carry out the orders of Admiral Tovey, that HMS Dorsetshire should rescue the Bismarck’s survivors.

I wanted all of this and more to be true. I wanted it very much.


There is nothing more important to me than the actual truth. The truth of what happened and why. It has been my privilege in very recent days to have struck research gold in my quest for the truth of HMS Dorsetshire and the command of Captain Martin.

I must report to you now, that much of what I have learned has been personally explosive because it has compelled me to reassess long-held views and to re-examine that which, to my mind, was established as correct to a moral certainly.

However, in the interests of truth, and in order to more respectfully honour the memories of those no longer with us, on both sides of the war at sea, I am duty bound to faithfully report what I have learned about Captain Martin, HMS Dorsetshire, Midshipman Brooks and a lot more besides.

One month from tomorrow, May 27th, 2010, marks the 69th anniversary of the sinking of the KMS Bismarck by an attack force of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. On that day, I shall publish a post here on my blog that lays bare the entire truth as I have learned it to be.

I am now certain that many of my previously held beliefs are wrong. I will explain myself more fully on May 27th, 2010 here with a brand new post on the subject.

Thank you all, so very kindly, for your continuing interest and for visiting "Nineteen Keys and the Lure of a Furious Sea". It will be an honour, and indeed my duty, to present for you all, my findings in a month and a day from today.

Best wishes until then.

Every Sailor.
26 April 2010 15:30


Anonymous said...

I haven't been on this site for a long time. I am very interested about the new information and will be waiting for the post on 27th May, especially if there's something about Joe Brooks.

I would however like to react to Cptn Martin's granddaughter's post, where it was insinutated that if he had still been commander of Dorsetshire he would not have made Agar's fatal mistake. That is impossible to say and I find it unworthy of naval etiquette to smudge the reputation of one man to save another's.

I would like to relate the account of when Martin announced his decision to go after the Bismarck. My father was present and has repeated the same version on numerous occasions.

Martin summoned all officers and announced that Bismarck had been spotted further north. He asked (my father has always put this part in direct speech),"Where's she heading for?" "Probably Brest, Sir". Martin's answer was: "Then full speed ahead for Brest!"

At that point Bismarck was a perfectly operational battleship and had not been crippled by the torpedo from John Moffat's Swordfish.

So basically Captain Martin was heading straight for a confrontation with Bismarck, which probably would have sent Dorsetshire to the bottom a year early.

All of Dorsetshire's crew, especially Captain Martin, can be very thankful to John Moffat for having saved their ship.

Another example of Martin's sense of the reasonable is a little known event that happened in the Seychelles earlier on in 1941. Captain Martin agreed to use the Walrus as a dive bomber to test the anti-aircraft defences of the islands. The Walrus disintegrated in its dive, which is hardly surprising, and all three crew members were killed.

I'll leave you to make up your own opinion.

One good thing about Captain Martin confining Joe Brooks to his cabin, was that it gave Brooks, who was quite an accomplished artist, enough time to draw what he had seen of the end of Bismarck. They were published later in the "Illustrated London News". I can't remember the date, the magazine is with my father.

Martin Smith, son of Allon Smith, observer on the Dorsetshire's Walrus.

Anonymous said...

Just another thought that crossed my mind. If Dorsetshire had been sunk by Bismarck, would the latter have stopped to pick up survivers? Obviously not, because she had the Royal Navy on her tail. The North Atlantic being somewhat colder than the Indian Ocean I don't know how many would have survived by the time the Navy had found them, presumably having to divert a ship from the Bismarck chase to pick them up.


Every Sailor said...

Hello again Martin,

Nice to hear from you again after so long and as always, it is a pleasure to have your views expressed.

I hope my post later this month will explain the reason why my views have changed on the subject of Captain Martin. Indeed, I have discovered an astonishing collection of new information, gained principally from an unimpeachable source and I’m very excited about it.

In defence of Captain Martin’s granddaughter, though, I must take issue with you. Captain, then Lieutenant Agar, won the Victoria Cross for his actions in command of HM Coastal Motor Boat 4, in sinking the Russian Cruiser Oleg in Kronstadt harbour on June 17th, 1919 after she had been commandeered by Bolsheviks following the Russian revolution. His career thereafter followed a predictably stellar trajectory, as you might expect after winning the Empire’s highest award for valour. He married an aristocrat, Baroness Furnivall, was jimmy of HMS Chatham, Captain of HMS Philomel, both ships of the New Zealand squadron sailing the south seas, free of torment and, crucially, combat experience.

On the first day of 1924, at the request of the King himself, Agar was appointed Captain of the Royal Yacht, HMS Victoria and Albert. Minor commands and staff jobs followed. I CAN tell you with certainty that the ship’s company in HMS Dorsetshire much preferred Captain Martin to Captain Agar, and thought so highly of his ability as a warship commander, they advanced the “lower deck theory” that the HMS Dorsetshire may well have survived the Japanese bombing of Easter 1942 if “Pincher” Martin was still in command, rather than the “show pony” Agar. Such subjective assessments are charming, but hardly factual. They do help to form a view of the man Captain Martin was, in truth. To this extent, it is useful. Beyond that, it is not.

My problem with your observation is that, in the case of Captain Martin’s granddaughter, I don’t for a moment accept that she can be fairly ascribed the fault you’ve attributed to her. She was merely repeating the view of the lower deck at the time, a view that I have heard with my own ears. Naval etiquette has nothing to do with it. You go on to hypothesize that Martin steamed toward Bismarck with great dispatch, “which probably would have sent Dorsetshire to the bottom a year early” had Bismarck’s steering not been disabled subsequently. In doing so, you’re as guilty of logical fallacy as anyone else, myself included, who seeks to glean fact from conjecture.

As to your example of the Walrus, I’m afraid you’re as guilty as I have been in using the slightest scintilla of negative information in constructing an equivalently negative opinion of Captain Martin that joined the dots in a satisfying way. Truth eclipses desire, though, and I hope the post to come later this month will help to change your mind too, in the same way as it has mine.

Until then, Martin, my very best regards, and thank you again for your kind visit.

Every Sailor.

Anonymous said...

Hello again,

Thanks for the speedy reply. It's rather ironical that the rôles have changed, you putting me rightly in my place for making suppositions like with the Walrus dive bombing incident, and letting prejudice marr my judgment.

I have been influenced by my father's accounts. Martin was for him a b****** of the first order, especially after the incident when Martin failed to turn up at the rendez-vous point for picking up the Walrus.

Imagine the Walrus crew's feelings realising they were alone in the North Atlantic and their ship had disappeared. Let's say Martin lacked at least a certain empathy for others.

On the other hand I feel myself perfectly in my right to speculate on what might have happened if Bismarck had not been crippled. Historians are always asked questions on what might have happened if... Take the numerous attempts on Hitler's life and the speculations on what might have happened if they had succeeded. That is a perfectly defendable historical approach, because you can formulate hypotheses from historical fact.

No one knows what Martin would have done had Bismarck escaped. He was on course to intercept her. On top of that in those conditions Martin would have had to respect radio silence, otherwise they would have been even more sitting ducks than they were already.

In any case, for my father that meeting remains one of the most traumatic events of the war, others being left to his own devices by Martin in the above mentioned incident; having to land on an accompanying aircraft carrier with his Walrus because of bad weather and going straight over the other end because there was no arrester hook,being sunk and machine-gunned by the Japanese and suffering kamakaze attacks on Formidible, I think.

In the eyes of my father Martin was prepared to intercept Bismarck. Let's not forget that nearer Brest the Luftwaffe would have probably done the job to avoid Bismarck bothering with such small fry. That is all speculation, but speculation that Martin must have put through his mind himself while making that decision.

Thanks for the info about Agar. Interesting. All I know is that my father appreciated the man much more than he did Martin. "Upper deck" v "Lower deck" probably.

You are again guilty of over generalisation about how the "the ship’s company in HMS Dorsetshire much preferred Captain Martin to Captain Agar". First of all my father was part of the ship's company. Secondly you have to specify the "ship's company that survived" and take into account that the Dorsetshire reunions are mainly "lower deck", according to my father, who stopped going to them beacuse he didn't really know anyone at them.

This exchange we are having is very interesting from a philosophical point of view, about how much that is in the history books is actual fact and how much is interpretation, sometimes unfounded.

I hope you have found some juicy bits in your researches. I'm looking forward to that.

You didn't say whether you had seen Joe Brooke's drawings of the sinking. I haven't got them with me,but I could always scan them the next time I go to England.

Grüsse aus'm Elsass,


Anonymous said...

I was wondering... My dad was watching the Bismark movie the other day and do you think the British had a right to leave the saloirs to die in the ocean? I mean they had heard that a U-boat was coming so they left...right? Also if a German U-boat was near (and if I am getting this wrong please let me know)why then didn't the Germans save their own people?

Anonymous said...

I have just read this very interesting thread and whilst I sympathise with the author who is highly critical of the commanding officer of the Dorsetshire, I fear that this hatred is grossly unfair!

We are talking about a WAR-ship a ship whose sole being is to carry out acts of war which sadly are not pleasant. YES we can all recall the FACTS of how the Admiral Graf Spee picked up the crews of the Merchant ships they sunk and I commend the captain for doing this, BUT this humanitarian act was done in the full knowledge that there were NO enemy warships in the area. Would he have done something similar if there was a threat from any enemy warships be they on the water or under it? Of course not any quite understandably, if that ship got damaged, its fate would be sealed. Captain Langsdorff was a true gentleman in EVERY sense of the word and no way would he have recklessly endangered the lives of his men.

In war a captain's decisions are always decisions where men will live or die!! Are we all conveniently forgetting these 'boring' convoys that operated in the North Atlantic and even worse those Russian Convoys?? If merchant ships were sunk then the other ships were under STRICT orders not to stop and pick up survivors!! Yes some did disobey those orders but the submission that a U-boat would NOT torpedo any ship carrying out a rescue is sheer and utter poppycock... It is make-belief and someone living in a World full of fairey tales and make-belief. It was common knowledge that a submarine would lay in wait in the hope it might take advantage of a second juicy target that was foolish enough to stop and attempt to pick up survivors. I would like to think that NEITHER side would attack a Hospital Ship as long as it complied with the Geneva convention, but a commanding officer that failed to sink legitimate enemy shipping would not be doing their duty!! It might sound harsh but we are talking about total war!! (Hitler's terminology) The captain has to give the orders not just to fire on the enemy, but also to leave survivors behind, be they friend, or be they foe. They have to give that order and then live with it for the rest of their lives!! Thanks but no thanks...

The instant Captain Martin received information that there MIGHT be enemy U-boats in the area then he was duty bound to look after not just his ship but also the crew!

The way the Bismark was finished off was not pleasant, it was not nice and we can all discuss how that ship was dead in the water and no longer a threat but... It was war and sadly Bismark had to be sunk! I would have hated to leave those survivors in the water. I cannot begin to imagine how they must have felt when Dorsetshire left them but IF there had have been a U-boat in the area then only a fool would suggest it would not try to sink this ship that had helped sink the pride of the German Navy.

None of us have the right to judge these brave men that fought for their countries, be they German or British. They did what they had to do and hopefully did their duty to the best of their ability.

To remove a commanding officer from their ship might I respectfully suggest they would face a Court Martial where EVIDENCE would be heard and the senior officers hearing the case would then make a decision regarding the officer's fate!! Was there a Court Martial or is this all just rumour and speculation?

It does NO ONE any credit to try and ruin the reputation of someone that cannot defend themselves.. It is over, it is in the past and my respects to the grand child who is defending the good name of her grand father.

My respects to you regarding the loss of all those VERY brave German sailors, it was not the Royal Navy's proudest moment but we needed every warship we had and the reputation the U-boats had were not earned by unsubstantiated rumours. The U-boat was a very much feared weapon.

My best wishes

Charlie LeBlanc said...

Tuesday, May 28, 2012

Call me "USMC". I've read both series of comments back and forth. I have NOT found any absolute proof either way simply because I've just this evening watched the National Geographic special regarding Dr. Ballard's search for the Bismark and, thereby, learned how the Dorsetshire recovered some German sailors, but left hundreds of others supposedly based on a report of a U-boat in the area.

MY perspective is this: had those men in the water been BRITISH sailors and report of a U-boat lurking around, would Captain Martin still have callously left them to die, or would he have risked his ship and his men in hopes of saving them all???

AND: Has anyone researched the written records of radio traffic to find out if there really was such a message sent for Dorsetshire to hear?

No matter how anyone else feels about this, I believe that Captain Martin's order to leave the scene was despicably obscene and inhuman.
I may try to research this further on my own. If I do and I find anything relevant, I will let all know.

Every Sailor said...

Hello Charlie, and thank you for your kind visit. Whilst I agree with you that it is interesting to speculate as to Captain Martin's decision making on that cold May morning, were the men in the water British and not German, I don't think it serves any useful purpose beyond theorising. Certainly, the memory of HMS Hood's shocking sinking only days earlier will have been fresh in everyone's memory in HMS Dorsetshire, but the only perspective that matters is the one in place in late May, 1941, not the values we hold today, seventy years later, and in a time of (relative) peace. The fact of the matter is that a Bridge Officer reported to Captain Martin a sighting of what he thought was a u-boat. I know this from an eye witness who recently passed away. Faced with this information, and in view of the fact that escorting vessels both on and beneath the surface were rushing to the aid of Bismarck, Captain Martin simply had no choice but to move his ship to safety. You must remember, Charlie, that a warship captain's principal responsibility is to the safety of his own ship and crew. Everything else, absolutely everything, is subordinate to this ultimate burden. Thank you for your views.

Anonymous said...

As my family and I approach the 30th anniversary of my father's passing, I have found great comfort from reflection on his many years in the Royal Navy. He was a radio operator on the Dorsetshire from the 1930s up until her sinking in 1942. Naturally, his stories enthralled me as a small boy, yet with the passing of time, the true horrors of war became much clearer. My father helped to save those from the Bismarck who made it safely up the grab ropes and received a dedication from the senior surviving German officer in both of his books. Indeed, he continued to write to my mother up until his own passing in the 1990s.

He remained steadfast till the end, that whilst it was a tragedy so many German sailors were left to their fate, Captain Martin did the right thing. Let us not forget the words of Sir Winston Churchill; "Sink the Bismarck". As for Captain Martin seeking a "piece of the action", this was hardly a playground scrap. My father always maintained that there were those in the Admiralty who were irked by Martin's speedy action and "torpedoed" him in retaliation, though other posts on here would suggest he did, indeed, enjoy a continuing successful career in the Royal Navy. RIP all who were involved in this epic engagement.

Patrick said...

The fact is that U-Boats have fired torpedoes and indeed sunk vessels picking up survivors from sunken vessels. You only need refer to the accounts of the sinking of the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue from World War One, an action which left the Royal Navy with a great paranoia of stopping to rescue survivors anywhere that hostile submarines could be present.

How could anyone know that the U-Boat reported to be in the vicinity had already expended all of it's torpedoes?

lindsey neve said...

I have been reading the emails about Midshipman Joe Brooks and his experiences on board HMS Dorsetshire on the day that the Bismark was sunk in 1941. I cannot however find your post of late May 2010, which you had indicated would give further information of the facts of what happened regarding the actions of Joe Brooks and the decision of Captain Martin to leave so many of the survivors of Bismark in the sea on that dreadful day.

I knew Joe Brooks and shortly before he died in 1994, he told me of his feelings about that day in 1941. He said it influenced his life to a great degree. I would be interested in the further information that you had intended to write on this site in late May.
Lindsey Neve