In their naval battles with the German and Italians the Royal Navy had their victories that began with the defeat of the Graf Spee, albeit somewhat fortuitously, and in later naval battles in the Mediterranean such as the Battle of Taranto and the Battle of Cape Matapan. In those battles the Italians had lost a number of their surface fleet ships in port and at sea.
However, in none of those battles had Britain's navy come up against a battleship comparable to the Bismarck. This was the 50,000 ton German battleship that eclipsed anything Britain's navy had at their disposal. The Bismarck left its port in Gotenhafen in May 1941 with orders to strike at British merchant shipping in the Atlantic. Once the battleship's sailing was detected, the Admiralty were duly informed from their contacts.
Sink the Bismarck! The orders were clear enough for the fleets at Scapa Flow that the Royal Navy sent out to intercept the battleship and the escorting Prinz Eugen. The HMS Hood battlecruiser and Prince of Wales left Scapa Flow soon after RAF aircraft had detected the battleship at sea. Among the other Royal Navy ships sent were the Norfolk and Suffolk, which intercepted the Bismarck within the Denmark Strait.
Neither the Norfolk or the Suffolk could defeat the Bismarck without further naval support. They reported the battleship's relative position back to the Admiralty. Britain's ships soon closed in on the Bismarck within the Denmark Strait.
Once the Royal Navy ships moved to within range of Germany's battleship, they fired an opening salvo from their turrets. Both the Prinz Eugen and then the Bismarck came within range of the Royal Navy's ships. The Prince of Wales had the most impact as its shells struck the Bismarck's hull causing minor flooding. In addition, they also penetrated the ship's fuel tanks, which ensured a fuel leakage from the battleship.
The repercussions of this were not immediately apparent. The British ships had their best chance of the battle, and now the Germans followed with a return salvo. The HMS Hood was the target ship, and at least one shell struck it. A large explosion aboard the Hood followed that split the stern away from the rest of the ship. Within a matter of minutes it slipped beneath the sea, and most of its crew were lost.
This left the Prince of Wales as the primary target for the German ships. Fortunately for its crew this battleship was somewhat more durable than the Hood as shells from the German ships showered down. The shells did not detonate, and the battleship was able to make smoke and withdraw from the Denmark Strait intact.
After the Prince of Wales evaded the Germans, the Battle of Denmark Strait came to a close. The Suffolk remained in the Bismarck's proximity, but its salvos had little impact. The German ships slipped away from the British, and the Suffolk later lost radar contact with them.
With the Bismarck leaking oil, the ship's captain aborted its original commerce raiding mission. The German battleship headed for Saint-Nazaire for required repairs. Now the Germans could boast a genuine surface fleet victory against Britain's navy with the demise of the HMS Hood battlecruiser. However, their great battleship did not remain at sea for much longer before the Royal Navy intercepted and sank it.