An unsung hero airman who spent five hours following the German battleship Bismarck while the Royal Navy closed in and sank it is to be revealed on new TV series Trading History.
“Trading History uncovers some amazing stories which put the heart in history, and which Yesterday channel viewers will love. Deep in the collections of some of the UK’s more hidden auction houses there are real gems to discover, telling the lesser known history of ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives. We have tapped into a network of auction houses, and it’s wonderful to be able to bring to life tales of heroes such as Flight Sergeant Davis more than 70 years on.” – Adrian Wills, general manager for the Yesterday channel
Flight Sergeant Frederick Cecil Davis was one of the first airmen to spot the fearsome vessel from the sky as it fled the devastating sinking of HMS Hood, the pride of the British Royal Navy, in 1941 – and this fascinating story is among those told in the brand new series next Wednesday (16 Nov), at 7pm on the Yesterday channel.
Trading History investigates history through the prism of the auction house – taking viewers on an investigative and genealogical journey, with each of the six episodes uncovering fascinating stories from auction houses across the UK, and Flt Sgt Davis’ story appears in the first episode.
Following major losses to the British fleet after the Bismarck’s offensive in the North Atlantic, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the famous order to ‘sink the Bismarck’. More than 50 navy ships joined in the chase to stop the huge battleship reaching the sanctuary of a German-occupied French port but lost it in thick fog.
A small squadron of Catalina seaplanes was assembled to hunt down the 820ft long ship. The first Catalina to spot the ship had to return to base after being shot by anti-aircraft fire. It was at this point that Flt Sgt Davis’ flying boat took over and, as navigator, he had to use all his skills to track the ship for five hours while evading constant gunfire.
British ships and bomber planes caught up with Bismarck and relentlessly bombed it before it sunk with the loss of about 2,000 crew.
Flt Sgt Davis was Mentioned In Dispatches for his part in the pursuit that led to the morale-boosting victory, but remained largely unknown thereafter – and his navigational feat will now be told for the first time in Trading History.
Before he died in 2009 aged 88, Flt Sgt Davis passed on his war medals and RAF logbook to his son, Raymond Davis. With nobody else to hand them on to, 70-year-old Mr Davis sold them at a recent auction and the sale will feature on the programme.
After the battle, Flt Sgt Davis wrote in his RAF logbook in a matter-of-fact manner: “At 0410 Catalina AH546 located German Battleship Bismarck, attacked by anti-aircraft fire, contacted three enemy aircraft shadowed Bismarck 5 hours.”
The Bismarck posed a huge threat to Allied shipping and Arctic convoys bringing foodstuffs, fuel and armour to the UK in the Second World War. On May 24th, 1941 three Royal Navy ships were ordered to intercept the German ship in the Denmark Strait but the exchanges resulted in HMS Hood being sunk and Bismarck being slightly damaged. During the early hours of May 26th , the squadron of Catalinas based in Northern Ireland were called to find the ship.
The squadron received a telegram afterwards from their commanding officer which read ‘Well done, you have done a great day’s work.’ Flt Sgt Davis’ six campaign medals and logbook sold for £850 at the Cotswold Auction Company. After he left the RAF following over 20 years’ service, Flt Sgt Davis and his wife Joyce ran pubs in Reading and Monmouthshire and a corner shop in Bournemouth before retiring to Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset.
“I remember dad telling me that a number of Royal Navy ships had been chasing Bismarck for a day or two when they lost it in a big bank of fog. His plane was one of three or four Catalinas tasked with finding it. Dad’s plane followed it for five hours and he was the navigator so he had a pretty crucial job. He was very lucky to keep on its trail for all that time. The Bismarck had a few shots at them but they stuck to their task and got their reward, if you could call it that.” – Mr Davis, of Tewkesbury, Glos
Trading History will be shown on the Yesterday channel over six weeks every Wednesday at 7pm, starting November 16th.