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Naval pilot who helped cripple the Bismarck dies aged 97
12 December 2016

Swordfish pilot Jock Moffat – who took part in the torpedo raid which crippled the Bismarck in 1941 – has died at the age of 97.

The Scotsman, who always played down his role in the attack, was a lifelong champion of naval aviation and friend of the Fleet Air Arm.

Visiting the RN Historic Flight in 2008 to get re-acquainted with the Swordfish

2016 ends for Naval aviation as it began – with the loss of one of its greatest heroes.

After the passing of legendary test pilot Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown early in the year, the Fleet Air Arm community now mourns for Lt Cdr John ‘Jock’ Moffat – the man credited with crippling the Bismarck.

The torpedo dropped by one of five Swordfish Moffat attacked with at dusk on May 26 1941 jammed the rudder of Hitler’s flagship.

Despite every effort by its crew, the battleship steamed in circles until the guns of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet arrived the next morning to finish Bismarck off – and avenge the loss of the world-famous battle-cruiser Hood, which the German leviathan had blown up three days earlier.

As guest of honour at the final Taranto Night dinner aboard HMS Ark Royal in 2010

The air strike carried out by the biplanes of HMS Victorious and Ark Royal at last light on May 26 had been Britain’s last hope of slowing or stopping the Bismarck before it reached the relative safety of waters off France.

With his crew of observer Sub Lt ‘Dusty’ Miller, and telegraphist/air gunner Albert Hayman, a 21-year-old Jock Moffat took off in Swordfish L9726 from the deck of Ark Royal and made for Bismarck, fighting against driving rain, low cloud and a Force 9 gale.

He flew in at 50 feet, barely skimming the surface of the waves, in a hail of bullets and shells, to get the best possible angle of attack on the ship and, at 9.05pm, dropped a torpedo.

A Swordfish touches down on the deck of Ark Royal III after a successful sortie

“When Churchill gave the order to sink the Bismarck, we knew we just had to stop her trail of devastation at all costs!” said Jock. 

 “We dived in through the murk, into a lethal storm of shells and bullets. “Bismarck’s guns erupted and in the hail of hot bullets and tracer, I couldn’t see any of the other Swordfish.

“I thought the closer we were to the water the better chance we had of surviving so we flew in bouncing off the tops of the waves – and it worked.

“The great thing about the Swordfish was that the bullets just went straight through. After all, it was only made of canvas. It was like David and Goliath!”

The survivors of Bismarck are picked up by HMS Dorsetshire after the final battle on May 27 1941

Although his memoirs were titled I Sank The Bismarck, Jock always shied away from claiming any glory for himself and always regarded the successful attack on the battleship as a team effort.

John William Charlton Moffat was born in Kelso in June 1919, joining the Navy as a reservist in 1938. After qualifying as a pilot, he was posted to Ark Royal with 759 Naval Air Squadron – one of four squadrons he served with in a Fleet Air Arm career spanning eight years.

After returning to civvy street in 1946, Jock trained as a hotel manager and remained with the profession for decades.

He maintained his love for aviation – he took up flying again in his 60s and flew into his early 90s – and was an avid supporter of the RN Historic Flight, raising nearly £20,000 to keep one of its Swordfish airborne as a tribute to wartime fliers.

Jock was royally hosted by modern-day naval aviators, invited to anniversary events, welcomed aboard subsequent Ark Royals, and he returned the compliment by inviting Fleet Air Arm personnel to his home in Scotland.

He leaves two daughters, Pat and Jan.