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Tributes to man who sank the Bismarck

Leslie Daniel Sayer MBE DSM
5th June 1915 - 1st November 2008
"Sink the Bismarck"
The famous order given by Winston Churchill in May 1941

A gallant warrior in freedom's cause, whose aircrew fired the torpedo that marked the beginning of the end for Germany's most feared battleship, has died at the age of 93.
Les Sayer

Leslie Sayer and his brother Victor were brought up in Bures, Suffolk where they were fostered as Barnardo's boys after the death of their mother. Leslie attended the Watts Naval School, Norfolk from the age of 9 to 16 years following which he joined the Royal Navy as a boy seaman at HMS Ganges at Shotley in 1931.

A bright lad Leslie was selected for signalman and having served in two cruisers, transferred to the Fleet Air Arm as a Telegraphist Air Gunner or TAG. He joined his first Squadron, No. 811, of Fairey Swordfish biplanes onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Furious in 1937.
The Fairey Swordfish Mark 1 biplane was built as a carrier based three seat Torpedo Bomber, first introduced in 1934, and affectionately nicknamed the "Stringbag".

It had an open cockpit for the crew of a Pilot, an Observer and the TAG who had to be able to work the Morse hand key-operated radio and the Vickers 0.303 gun. The
Swordfish proved to be one of the most versatile aeroplanes under the rigors of modern warfare. Leslie was promoted to petty officer and qualified as a TAG instructor before a posting to 825 Squadron and the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.

Les at 19 in the Navy

It was a major setback for the country when the battle cruiser HMS Hood, was sunk, and the battleship HMS Prince of Wales damaged by the German ships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

With the loss of so may lives, Winston Churchill, issued the famous order "Sink the Bismarck"

The two German warships had disappeared into the vast wastes of the North Atlantic but after many hours of air reconnaissance the Bismarck was located and HMS Victorious was in the vicinity on her way to Malta loaded with Spitfires and a small number of 825 Squadron's Swordfish and crew

<<<<<< Les at 19 in the Navy


The Swordfish Torpedo bomber, piloted by Lieutenant Percy Click (later Rear Admiral) senior pilot of the Squadron, with Sub-Lieutenant V. K. Norfolk as his observer and Petty Officer Leslie Sayer as the air gunner, was the lead aircraft of nine Swordfish of 825 Squadron sent for a midnight attack from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. This was the first carrier-borne aircraft attack on the Bismarck in one of the most dramatic sea chases of all time. In appalling weather conditions and with the nine aircraft skimming just above the waves none of the torpedo's launched hit the target.

Les' medals including the M.B.E. (far left) and the Distinguished War medal (2nd left)

Lt Gick decided to take his aircraft round for a second attack and under very heavy gun fire, which ripped away some of the fuselage linen fabric of the aircraft, he was able to score a hit on the armoured belt amidships of the Bismarck which inflicted damage and caused an oil leak and a subsequent slick which reconnaissance aircraft and ships could sight and follow.

Les saw the strike and was able to report back the damage. In a second wave of attacks by Swordfish from HMS Ark Royal 48 hours later, the Bismarck was hit by a single torpedo launched by Sub-Lt. John Moffat that jammed the German vessel's rudder and steering gear, leaving it prey for the British Home Fleet battleships, HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, to close and pound her mercilessly into a wreck that was sunk by torpedoes with the loss of 1,995 lives about 30 miles west of the coast of France.

Later Petty Officer Leslie Sayer was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his role in this epic sea battle.

Les accompanied Lt Gick and 825 Squadron to the carrier HMS Ark Royal in the Mediterranean and took part in several convoy and land attack operations. He was on board when HMS Ark Royal was torpedoed by a U-Boat and sank. After being re-formed, 825 Squadron was based at RAF Mansion, Kent when in February 1942 six Swordfish were dispatched to attack the heavily defended German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with the Prinz Eugen, making their "Channel dash" from Brest to ports in Germany. Although more than 300 British aircraft were engaged in support of the attacks by Dover-based torpedo boats and a squadron of antiquated destroyers, this powerful force escaped unscathed until Scharnhorst was damaged by a mine off the Netherlands.

Led by Lt. Commander E. Esmonde, who was posthumously awarded the VC, all six Swordfish were shot down and only five of the eighteen aircrew were recovered. Les Sayer was due to be Esmonde's air gunner but changed with Clinton who did not survive. He later flew anti-U-boat patrols from an escort carrier on convoys to Russia. His final posting was to 837 Squadron on board the newly built light fleet carrier HMS Glory to the Far East just as war was terminated by the dropping of the atom bombs.

After the war Leslie flew as navigator for British European Airways for many years. In 1947 he became the first chairman of the Telegraphist Air Gunner's Association and was appointed MBE for his services


The Fairey Swordfish was a torpedo bomber used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
Its most spectacular success was the famous crippling of the Bismarck after the battleship had sunk the HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy.

On Winston Churchill's order to Sink the Bismarck, the Swordfish torpedoed the German ship and jammed its rudder, allowing heavy British units to catch up and sink it.