A tribute to Scottish War Blinded member John Moffat

Posted: 13/12/2016 | Scottish War Blinded

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Scottish War Blinded member John Moffat, who was highly respected and greatly admired by his fellow members and staff. John is credited as the Fleet Air Arm pilot whose torpedo destroyed the rudder of the Bismarck during World War II.

It was on 26 May 1941, that Lieutenant Commander John Moffat took off in his Swordfish L9726 biplane from HMS Ark Royal in search of the German warship Bismarck. The squadron’s mission was to stop the formidable warship as it headed for the relative safety of France, having sustained damage after engaging and sinking the battlecruiser HMS Hood.

We were honoured to meet John late last year, who shared his recollections of that momentous day in the history of World War II:

“There was a tremendous storm that particular day and what people don’t realise is the deck of the Ark Royal was moving up and down by 60ft as a result of the waves. Therefore, taking off was not going to be easy in a plane composed entirely of canvas and metal.

“We linked up with HMS Sheffield who was shadowing the Bismarck using radar. We received communications through light flashes as we had no intercom. That’s how we received the Bismarck’s bearing and we ascended to 6000 feet to get above the clouds. By that point, ice was beginning to form on the wings and any pilot will tell you that’s when an aircraft can become unstable.

“Within five minutes of reaching that altitude all hell broke loose, the Bismarck had started to fire at us using radar and shells were bursting all around us. I remember the Commanding Officer signalling by hand to descend and I become increasingly worried. I was worried about the shells obviously but I would only have 600 feet to come out of the dive through the cloud before hitting the water with an armed torpedo and two crew. I remember looking my starboard (right) side and there was this huge grey ship which was belching fire and smoke as well as leaking oil, it was very surreal.

“I remember trying to fly as low as I could, I’m convinced that’s what saved me that day. It was very difficult to achieve the correct approaching angle to release the torpedo as the Bismarck was bobbing up and down through the waves. I reached the point where I believed we were at the right angle and was about to release the torpedo when my observer, leaning out with his head under the fuselage, said ‘not yet, not yet.’ I was wondering what was going on but suddenly heard him say ‘let her go’ and I released the torpedo. I then heard him saying ‘well done, we’ve got a runner’ through the Gosport Tube and my instant thought was, good, let’s make a runner.

“I was preoccupied with making our escape but our observer saw an explosion towards the rear of the Bismarck. I am credited with hitting the rudder, but I can’t be sure and never claimed credit for doing so.”

A true gentleman, who remained ever modest about his heroic actions during World War II.

Our thoughts are with John’s family during this sad time.