Thus far the flight had been mercifully uneventful. A quick transit over the North Sea and then a succession of visits to assorted Fjords in the hope of finding a large warship. Nothing. Not even any anti-aircraft fire for his troubles. The whole coastline seemed to be asleep. He was just entering the final Fjord of his journey when he noticed something. Below him was a very small fishing village with the usual array of small craft moored up safely in the harbour. He was just thinking how picturesque it looked when he saw a very large tanker berthed alongside the edge of the Fjord with what looked like a long and snake-like boom in the water. This had to be it, he thought. Why would a small fishing village need a tanker and a boom? His mind pondered this discovery. Refuelling a large ship - that had to be it! In any event he was getting close to the time he would need to return home and so he throttled back, banked and turned for a second look. There it was, a huge tanker that was riding high in the water, meaning only one thing - it was empty. He was convinced that he had found the lair of the beast and so headed out to the open sea at full throttle to report. With a sense of urgency he switched on his radio. "Rhubarb control this is Pot Roast 5, do you read me? Over".
R.A.F Glenfiddich, Northern Scotland....
The nasally clipped tones of the pilot of a lone reconnaissance Spitfire crackled into life in the radio room of the R.A.F. base. The air within was stale with sweat, cigarette smoke and the occasional waft of aviation exhaust fumes. Tension permeated the very fabric of the small wooden hut and assumed an almost physical form. It had been a long night and for little result. The duty officer switched on the mike. "Pot Roast 5, this is Rhubarb control, reading you loud and clear, over". The junior aircraft man made some fine adjustments on the bank of dials in front of him. The sound of static crackled on, the volume dwindling and increasing in response to the turn of the dials. "Rhubarb control, I arrived too late for the party and narrowly avoided taking part in the cleaning up"...."The cloud is low and so am I - I am returning home, over and out". The crackling stopped and silence once again reigned supreme. The duty officer sighed. He turned to his subordinate, his face a mask of stony resolve. "Get me the Admiralty and quickly, we have missed her in the bad weather so the ball is with them now!"
On the bridge of H.M.S. Renown, somewhere off Northern Norway....
Meanwhile, one hundred or so miles north of the where the Spitfire had passed, H.M.S. Renown continued with her patrol. Her captain was aware that the newest German battleship, Bismarck, had supposedly sortied and that it was his job to try and pin her down. He was not concerned about the finding of her but he was very concerned about becoming drawn into a fire fight against 15" shells with little more than light cruiser level armour for protection. As he scanned the horizon to the south through his binoculars he considered once again the dictum of Jackie Fisher about "Hitting first, hitting hard and keeping on hitting". He silently prayed to himself that should his path cross with the mighty Bismarck that his ship would be able to do just that. The alternative, being involved in long and drawn out gunnery duel, would leave only one winner and he doubted if it would be his ship.
On the bridge of K.M. Bismarck, somewhere off Northern Norway....
Her captain was troubled. So many things had been rushed concerning this operation. His ship was alone, without any escort, not even a cruiser. Her orders were contradictory - avoid action but engage with full power if needed - and even the mission itself was vague. Essentially he was to take the Bismarck around Iceland and home. This was purely for propaganda purposes, to demonstrate the impotence of the Royal Navy in the face of German naval might. As a student of military history he was reminded of Jeb Stuart's ride around the Union Army during the American Civil War. It made for great headlines but added little or nothing to the war effort. He was also reminded of how it ended for the Confederacy as well.
His ship was powerful one and he was confident it would give a good account of itself if it came to battle. The only problem was that he could ill afford a pyrrhic victory. By a strange coincidence he found his mind wandering back to what he had read about Jackie Fisher and something half remembered about "Hitting first, hitting hard and keeping on hitting". If his officers and men were to ever see their homes again he would need to live up to that mantra.
The Norwegian Bend, 300 miles off Tromso in the Norwegian Sea....
H.M.S. Renown plunged on through the icy seas in a south westerly direction on the final leg of her sweep. Thus far she had come across nothing at all. Despite this her captain had the nagging feeling that he had overlooked something vital and so was about to order a minor change of course to double back when a shout from the radar room was heard.
"Contact heading North West!"
Everything seemed to happen at once as a flurry of bearings and speeds were urgently passed to the bridge. It was not one of theirs for certain and so could only be the missing German battleship.
"Sound Action Stations Number 1, ready all weapons and prepare to engage!" The Executive officer saluted crisply and barked out a succession of orders. H.M.S. Renown was going to war.
Dismay was the overriding emotion on the bridge of the Bismarck as she simultaneously discovered she was not alone. The enemy warship was not supposed to be there and was between her and home so would have to be engaged and dealt with, and quickly as well. Actions stations sounded and the great ship swung about to identify and engage her unexpected adversary. her captain pondered the identity of the enemy warship and hoped it would be an older ship rather than one of the new King George class battleships.
Almost simultaneously the two ships opened fire....
K.M. Bismarck - Battleship, Heavy Armour, Speed 4, Flotation points 45 (Critical 25 - this is high due to reluctance to sustain irreparable damage), 4 x Heavy Gun Dice, 6 x Light Gun Dice (3 on a broadside) and 8 x Light-1 Gun Dice (4 on a broadside).
H.M.S. Renown - Battle Cruiser, Light Armour, Speed 4, Flotation points 30 (Critical 10), 3 x Heavy Gun Dice and 5 x Light Gun Dice (3 on a broadside).
The Battle of the Norwegian Bend, somewhere off Tromso in the Norwegian Sea....