'I sank the Bismarck but only found out 59 years later': British pilot learns of his place in history
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 10:04 AM on 10th June 2009
Every war veteran has a story to tell. But few could rival John Moffat's extraordinary tale.
Now 89, Mr Moffat had a ringside seat to the sinking of the Bismarck, one of the most dramatic sea battles of the Second World War.
But it was relatively recently that the pilot, who gave up flying only last year, found out just how pivotal his role was.
It was the torpedo he fired that crippled the rudder of the German battleship, leaving it at the mercy of Royal Navy ships which then sank it in the Atlantic off the west coast of France on May 27, 1941.
He was piloting one of three Swordfish open-cockpit biplanes that set off from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal to take vengeance on the Bismarck, which days before had destroyed the British warship Hood with the loss of 1,416 lives.
'What nobody talks about were the conditions - they were unbelievable,' recalled Mr Moffat, who has written a book, I Sank The Bismarck, about his experiences.
The German battleship Bismarck was named after the 19th century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. At 50,000 ton fully loaded, it was the largest warship then commissioned
Formidable: The Bismarck only took part in one operation during her brief career, when she helped sink HMS Hood in the Denmark Strait
'And nobody mentions the deck hands who had to bring the planes up from the hangars - they did something special. After they brought them up they had to open
the wings which took ten men for each wing. And then they had to wind a handle to get the starters working.
'I only stopped flying nine months ago and there are no other planes in the world that could have done what the Swordfish planes did that day.
'After take-off we climbed to 6,000 feet to get above the really thick cloud and we knew when we were near because all hell broke loose with Bismarck's fire. We got the order to attack and I went down and saw the enormous bloody ship. I thought the Ark Royal was big, but this one, blimey.
Revenge: The attack was ordered by Churchill after the Bismarck sank HMS Hood,
Amazing tale: John Moffat
'I must have been under 2,000 yards when I was about to launch the torpedo at the bow, but as I was about to press the button I heard in my ear "not now, not now".
'I turned round and saw the navigator leaning right out of the plane with his backside in the air. Then I realised what he was doing - he was looking at the sea because if I had let the torpedo go and it had hit a wave it could have gone anywhere. I had to put it in a trough.
'Then I heard him say "let it go" and I pressed the button. Then I heard him say "we've got a runner" - and I got out of there.
'My navigator was a chap called John "Dusty" Miller and I've spent the last 20 years trying to find out what happened to him or where he is.'
Mr Moffat pulled up before the torpedo hit and didn't see it strike. The following morning he flew to the ship for a second attack but there was no need.
He watched as the Bismarck, which had been under siege from the Royal Navy, rolled over. And he saw hundreds of German sailors leaping into the water as she started to sink. Only 115 of Bismarck's crew of 2,222 survived.
'I didn't dare look any further, I just got back to the Ark Royal and I thought: "There but for the grace of God go I",' said Mr Moffat, who now lives in Dunkeld, Scotland.
He only found out it was his torpedo that crippled the Bismarck when the Fleet Air Arm - the Navy's air force - wrote to him in 2000. He said: 'It gave me a sort of satisfaction.