I have to say that I am quite comfortable with the German timetable of the opening of fire. An earlier opening by Bismarck still gives her way too slow a RoF even for Hood's explosion time at 0558, much less 0600. And it knocks out PG's claim of scoring the boat deck hit with her 2nd salvo. There IS a PoW witness who describes more HE falls of shot around Hood. Will try to find that. But STILL I'm puzzled by the plethora of British witnesses who say Bismarck replied immediately. But there are still inconsistencies - some say Hood -> Bismarck -> PoW (incl. Leach), others say Hood -> PoW -> Bismarck (incl. Rowell) as the sequence. Again..the traumatic nature of the entire event for the British may have affected recall....
Just to address the issue of Bismarck's RoF.
PoW fired 18 salvos from 0553 to 0602.
Bismarck fired 93 rounds but probably requested ~104 rnds in 26 x 4 gun salvos.
If Bismarck fired at the same steady salvo rate from 0603 as PoW , 26 salvos would carry through to about 0607. However, Bismarck was not restricted to a time sector and could fire at a faster rate, for a short period of time probably up to four salvos/50 secs when she had a good FC solution. A key factor is that Bismarck used fore and aft groups of 4 guns (all guns per turret) rather than alternating guns per turret as in the RN, and 2 x 4 gun salvos could be fired very closely together and might appear as a single salvo to distant observers. The Baron stated, under interrogation, that Hood was sunk with 5 x 8 gun salvos.
If we assume that Bismarck opened fire at 0553 and fired, on average at the same rate as PoW, that means she would have fired 10 salvos quite easily up to 0558 and possibly up ~14 salvos, then a pause then ~10 more salvos at PoW up to 0603, with 4 to 6 more after 0603, fired more slowly due to poor FC solutions.
From the Blake Board (which only considered evidence from Hood, PoW and Norfolk):
Sequence of Events
The following sequence of events has been arrived at from the sifting of all the evidence available from HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Norfolk.
(a) Ships opened fire in the following order: Hood, Bismarck, Prince of Wales, all within one minute. Bismarck fired 4-gun salvos. Gun range: 23,000 yards (approx).
(b) Opening salvo from Bismarck fell ahead of Hood, as observed from Prince of Wales. It was therefore probably out for line and slightly short.
(c) Second salvo fell between Prince of Wales and Hood. It was therefore probably correct for line, but still short.
(d) Third salvo was a straddle and included at least one hit which apparently burst on the port side just before the mainmast.
(e) Fourth salvo was probably just over, as it appeared to be astern of Hood.
(f) Fifth salvo undoubtedly straddled and hit, and Hood blew up. Gun range: 16,500 yards.
Evidence from Suffolk would have only strengthened their conclusion that Bismarck opened fire shortly after Hood, nearly simultaneous to PoW.
From the RN Walker Board:
The action was fought between H.M.S.HOOD (Captain R. Kerr, C.B.E.,R.N.) wearing the Flag of Vice Admiral L.E. Holland, C.B., H.M.S.PRINCE OF WALES (Captain J.C.Leach, M.V.O., R.N.) and the German battleship BISMARCK in company with the German 8-inch cruiser PRINZ EUGEN. Tracings of the tracks of the British ships (inclusing H.M.S.NORFOLK (Captain A.J.L.Phillips R.N.) wearing the Flag of Rear Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker, C.B., O.B.E, and H.M.S.SUFFOLK (Captain R.M. Ellis R.N.) are attached. (Exhibits "A" and "B").
HOOD opened fire at approximately 0553 on May 24th, her course then being 300 degrees, range about 26500 yards. BISMARCK and PRINCE OF WALES opened fire very shortly afterwards. According to the statements from survivors of BISMARCK, PRINZ EUGEN also fired at HOOD over the BISMARCK (See C.B.4051(24) OF August 1941, page 14)
At 0555 V.A.C.B.S. executed a turn together of 20 degrees to port. It is clear that HOOD's forward turrets only would bear at the beginning of the action, but there is evidence that both X and Y fired after the turn. One or more of HOOD's turrets fired just before the explosion - almost concurrently with it - and the bulk of the evidence shows that it was A and/or B.
We consider it established that the third salvo from BISMARCK hit HOOD on the boat deck with at least one shell. Other shell just short from this salvo may have hit her below the water line.
The bulk of the evidence shows that HOOD was straddled by the fifth or sixth salvo from BISMARCK, one shell of this salvo apparently hitting her on the boat deck somewhere near the mainmast, and others may have hit her below the waterline. Some witnesses stated that they saw other hits on HOOD above the water line and splashes just short from salvoes just before or after the one referred to at the beginning of this paragraph; although this evidence may not be very reliable, the possibility of further hits cannot be ruled out.
There is no very definite evidence of the fall of shot from PRINZ EUGEN, though one salvo was described as falling astern of HOOD.
Very shortly after 0555 a fire was observed somewhere on the port after end of the boat deck of HOOD. We consider it established that this fire was caused by a hit from BISMARCK's third salvo. It burned with a clear flame and appeared to spread and then die down. Just before 0600 V.A.C.B.S. hoisted a signal for a further turn of 20 degrees to port together, (the range at the time being about 16300 yards) but it was never executed as at 0600 HOOD blew up and sank in just under 3 minutes.