Adalbert Schneider (10 March 1904 – 27 May 1941) was the First Gunnery Officer on board the battleship Bismarck, and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for the sinking of HMS Hood on 24 May 1941 in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. Less than a week later, on 27 May 1941, Schneider and the majority of Bismarck's crew were killed in action during Bismarck's last battle.
Adalbert Schneider was born on 10 March 1904 in Halle (Saale) in the Province of Saxony, at the time a province of the Kingdom of Prussia. He joined the German navy on 30 March 1922. He received his first infantry training in the 3rd Company of Coastal Defence Department 3 (3. Kompanie Küstenwehr-Abteilung (K.W.A) III). On 4 October 1922 Schneider went on board Hannover, the first of his ship based trainings. Following Hannover, he went on board SKS Niobe on 4 April 1923 and Berlin on 2 July 1923. He was promoted to Leading Seaman (Matrosengefreiter) on 1 April 1923. Schneider then attended an officer candidate (Fähnrich) course at the Naval Academy Mürwik in Flensburg-Mürwik on 30 March 1924, and was shortly after promoted to midshipman (Fähnrich zur See) on 1 April 1924.
After the officers candidate training, Schneider attended a torpedo course for midshipmen at the Torpedo and Communication School (Torpedo- und Nachrichtenschule) at Flensburg-Mürwik on 1 April 1925, followed by a pathfinder course for midshipmen (Fähnrichs-Sperr-Lehrgang) at the experimental pathfinder and demonstration command (Sperrversuchs- und Lehrkommando) at Kiel-Wik on 3 June 1925.
The goal of the Operation Rheinübung (Rhine Exercise) was for Bismarck, under the command of Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann, and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, under the command of Kapitän zur See Helmuth Brinkmann, to break into the Atlantic and attack Allied shipping. Großadmiral Erich Raeder's orders to the Chief-of-Fleet Admiral Günther Lütjens were that "the objective of the Bismarck is not to defeat enemies of equal strength, but to tie them down in a delaying action, while preserving the combat capacity as much as possible, so as to allow Prinz Eugen to get at the merchant ships in the convoy" and "The primary target in this operation is the enemy's merchant shipping; enemy warships will be engaged only when that objective makes it necessary and it can be done without excessive risk."
At 02:00 on 19 May 1941, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen left Gotenhafen (now Gdynia) and proceeded through the Baltic Sea and out towards the Atlantic. Unbeknownst to Lütjens, the British had intercepted enough communications to infer that a German naval operation might be about to occur in the area. Bismarck and Prinz Eugen passed the Great Belt on 20 May, and around noon the next day the task force dropped anchor in the Grimstad fjord () at Bergen, Norway. There Prinz Eugen took on fuel from the tanker Wollin. Schneider's brother, Oberfeldarzt (Field Doctor) Dr. Otto Schneider, who was stationed in Norway, briefly visited his brother on board Bismarck. Dr. Schneider was one of the last men to leave Bismarck on the evening of 21 May at around 22:00. Dr. Schneider later claimed that his brother was convinced that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were being sent on a suicide mission.
On the evening of 23 May at 19:22, the German force was detected by the heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk that had been patrolling the Denmark Strait in the expectation of a German breakout. The alarm was sounded and Bismarck fired five salvos without scoring a direct hit. The heavily outgunned British cruisers withdrew to a safe distance and shadowed the enemy until their own heavy units could draw closer. However, Bismarck's forward radar had malfunctioned as a result of the vibration from the heavy guns firing during this skirmish, and Lütjens was obliged to order Prinz Eugen to move ahead of Bismarck in order to provide the squadron with forward radar coverage.
Battle of the Denmark Strait
At the Battle of the Denmark Strait on 24 May 1941, HMS Hood was sunk, probably by Bismarck. The hydrophones on Prinz Eugen detected the sounds of an unknown ship to port at 05:00. The Germans sighted the smoke stacks of two ships at 05:45, which triggered the alarm on Bismarck. Schneider initially reported them as two heavy cruisers. The first British salvo revealed them as battleships, but not until the British task force turned to port were their precise identities revealed. The British ships started firing at the German force at 05:53. Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland planned on targeting Bismarck first, but due to the reversed battle order, Prince of Wales and Hood opened fire on the Prinz Eugen instead. The commander of the Prince of Wales, Captain John Leach, detected this error and directed his guns to fire on Bismarck. The German task force was still waiting for the order to commence firing. The commander of the German task force, Admiral Lütjens, did not give this order immediately. Two minutes into the battle and after multiple inquiries by Schneider, "Frage Feuererlaubnis"? (Question. Open fire?) an impatient Lindemann responded: "Ich lasse mir doch nicht mein Schiff unter dem Arsch wegschießen. Feuererlaubnis"!. (I'm not letting my ship get shot out from under my arse. Open fire!). This Lindemann quotation is cited by Burkard Freiherr von Müllenheim-Rechberg who at the time was in the after gun director keeping a watch out for Suffolk and Norfolk and listening to Schneider's commands over the gunnery intercom. This conversation most likely was passed down by a surviving crew member who overheard the conversation between Schneider and Lindemann. Von Müllenheim-Rechberg, Lindemann's personnel adjutant, would become the highest-ranking officer to survive the Bismarck's last battle on 27 May 1941. A lot of what we know today about the final days of Bismarck is attributed to his account as a witness.
Bismarck fired its first salvo at 05:55, first firing Anton and Bruno turrets and after a while Cesar and Dora turrets, referred to as a "demi salvo". These shells were reported to have fallen short of the target, so Schneider corrected the range and lateral displacement and ordered a 4 hectometres (400 m; 440 yd) bracket, observing the long salvo to be "over" and judging the short salvo to be on target. Schneider then ordered a full salvo (broadside), followed by two more broadsides in rapid fire. This fifth salvo of 38 centimetres (15 in) shells fired at 06:01 at a range of about 180 hectometres (18,000 m; 20,000 yd), was seen to hit Hood near her mainmast, and one shell probably struck somewhere between Hood's mainmast and "X" turret, aft of the mast. There was no immediately visible explosion, and Schneider was heard to remark: "Nanu, war das ein Blindgänger? Der hat sich wohl reingefressen." (Was that a dud? It definitely chewed its way in.) Then a huge jet of flame burst out of Hood from near the mainmast, followed by a devastating magazine explosion that destroyed the after part of the ship. This explosion broke the back of Hood, and the last sight of the ship, which sank in only three minutes, was her bow, nearly vertical in the water.
Following the explosion HMS Prince of Wales was targeted by both German ships. She disengaged from combat at about 06:09, after seven direct hits; four by Bismarck and three by Prinz Eugen. However, during this brief engagement Prince of Wales had also hit Bismarck three times. One shot struck the commander's boat and put the seaplane catapult amidships out of action. The second shell passed right through the bow from one side to the other. The third struck the hull plates underwater and burst inside the ship, flooding a generator room and damaging the bulkhead to an adjoining boiler room, partially flooding it also. These last two hits allowed 2,000 metric tons (2,000 long tons; 2,200 short tons) of water into the ship.
|Time||Salvo fired by turrets||Target||Result|
|05:55||1st Anton and Bruno
1st Cesar and Dora
|05:56||2nd Anton and Bruno
2nd Cesar and Dora
|05:57||3rd Anton and Bruno
3rd Cesar and Dora
|Hood||Hit the fire control tower|
|05:58||4th Anton and Bruno
4th Cesar and Dora
|05:59||5th Anton and Bruno
5th Cesar and Dora
|Hood||Hit, Hood explodes|
|06:00||6th Anton and Bruno
6th Cesar and Dora
|06:01||7th Anton and Bruno
7th Cesar and Dora
|Prince of Wales||Miss|
|06:02||8th Anton and Bruno
8th Cesar and Dora
|Prince of Wales||Hit on compass platform|
|06:03||9th Anton and Bruno
9th Cesar and Dora
|Prince of Wales||Two hits, one on ship's stern under the waterline and one on the 133 mm secondary fire control director on the starboard side|
|06:04||10th Anton and Bruno
10th Cesar and Dora
|Prince of Wales||Hits the Supermarine Walrus aircraft crane|
|06:05||11th Anton and Bruno
11th Cesar and Dora
|Prince of Wales||Miss|
|06:06||12th Anton and Bruno||Prince of Wales||Miss|
|06:07||12th Cesar and Dora||Prince of Wales||Miss|
|06:08||13th Anton and Bruno||Prince of Wales||Miss|
|06:09||13th Cesar and Dora||Prince of Wales||Miss|
The Bismarck was sunk less than a week later after a concentrated effort by Britain's Royal Navy. At 23:30 (local time 19:30) on 24 May an attack was made by a group of nine Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers of 825 Naval Air Squadron led by Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. One hit was scored, causing only superficial damage to the Bismarck's armoured belt, but killing Oberbootsmann Kurt Kirchberg. In mid-morning at 10:30 on 26 May a Coastal Command Catalina reconnaissance aircraft from 209 Squadron RAF spotted Bismarck roughly 700 nautical miles (1,300 km) west of St. Nazaire. The British battle group Force H, under the command of Admiral James Somerville, whose main units were the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, the First World War era battlecruiser HMS Renown and the cruiser HMS Sheffield was ordered to stop Bismarck. At 19:15 that evening, 15 Swordfish from Ark Royal took off to launch an attack. The air raid alarm was sounded on Bismarck at 20:30. Roughly 15 minutes into the attack Bismarck was potentially hit by a torpedo, and at around 21:00 a single torpedo jammed Bismarck's rudder.
At 02:17 on the morning of 27 May 1941, Group West received a transmission from Bismarck recommending Schneider for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. At 03:51 a reply confirmed that the medal had been awarded by Hitler. Matrosengefreiter Adolf Eich later witnessed Admiral Günther Lütjens and Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann shaking his hand after the award was made. The news that Adalbert Schneider had received the award was announced in the German press on 5 June 1941.
Bismarck's alarm sounded for the last time at 08:00 on the morning of 27 May 1941. Norfolk sighted the Bismarck at 08:15 and the British battleship Rodney opened fire on Bismarck at 08:47. Bismarck returned fire at 08:49. Further involved in the final battle were the battleship HMS King George V and the cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire. Torpedo bombers did not participate in the final battle. Bismarck's forward command position was hit at 08:53 and both forward gun turrets were put out of action at 09:02. The after command position was destroyed at 09:18 and turret Dora was disabled at 09:24. Bismarck received further heavy hits at 09:40, resulting in a fire amidships. Turret Caesar was put out of action at 09:50. All weapons went silent at 10:00. Rodney and King George V had to disengage prior to Bismarck's sinking due to lack of fuel. The Germans started preparing for the self destruction of Bismarck when three torpedoes fired by Dorsetshire hit Bismarck's side armour. Bismarck sank at 10:36 at position , roughly 300 nautical miles (560 km; 350 mi) west of Ouessant (Ushant). The cruiser Dorsetshire saved 85 men, the British destroyer Maori 25 German sailors. A further five sailors were saved by the German submarine U-74 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat and the weather observation ship Sachsenwald.
Burkard Freiherr von Müllenheim-Rechberg was monitoring the gunnery intercom, and reports on the last minutes of Schneider's life. Schneider reported the heavy and middle guns ready for combat, and gave the order to open fire. The first salvo was fired by Rodney at 08:47 followed by King George V at 08:48. Schneider fired a partial salvo at Rodney since the Bismarck rear turrets could not fire at the appropriate angle. Schneider's aim was good, and he reported the first three salvos as short, on target and over. Schneider continued firing at Rodney. King George V and a little later Rodney turned to pass Bismarck's port side, a maneuver which Bismarck couldn't counter due to the damaged rudders. Bismarck started oscillating around her center axis which threw Schneider's aim off and necessitated continuous lateral displacement corrections of the guns. Bismarck started receiving heavy hits. The main gun director was destroyed, then turrets Anton and Bruno malfunctioned. Schneider was killed at 09:02 when an 8-inch shell from HMS Norfolk hit his combat position in the main gun director. Schneider was posthumously promoted to Senior Commander (Fregattenkapitän) with an effective date of 1 May 1941. However this promotion is not on his personal file.
- Dienstauszeichnung 4th Class (2 October 1936)
- Dienstauszeichnung 3rd Class (2 October 1936)
- Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary (20 August 1938)
- Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd Class (30 July 1940)
- 1st Class
- High Seas Fleet Badge (1941)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 27 May 1941 as Korvettenkapitän and 1st Gunnery Officer on the battleship "Bismarck"
|1 April 1923:||Matrosengefreiter (seaman 2nd class)|
|1 April 1924:||Fähnrich zur See (Midshipman)|
|1 October 1926:||Leutnant zur See (Second Lieutenant at sea)|
|1 July 1928:||Oberleutnant zur See (First Lieutenant at sea)|
|1 October 1934:||Kapitänleutnant (Captain Lieutenant)|
|1 August 1938:||Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain)|
|1 May 1941:||Fregattenkapitän (Frigate Captain), not in his personnel file|