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This Day in History: 05/27/1941 - Bismarck Sunk

This Day in History: 05/27/1941 - Bismarck Sunk

In This Day in History video clip: On May 27, 1941, the British navy sinks the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic near France. The German death toll was more than 2,000. On February 14, 1939, the 823-foot Bismarck was launched at Hamburg.


Bismarck: why was the WW2 German battleship so feared? Plus 9 things you didn’t know about its only mission

Named after the ‘Iron Chancellor’ who masterminded the unification of Germany in 1871, the battleship Bismarck was intended to be a national icon – but it had a short life at sea. Iain Ballantyne reveals nine lesser-known facts about the ship and its sole mission…

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Published: May 22, 2021 at 9:33 am

Launched on Valentine’s Day 1939 at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, the battleship Bismarck inspired love in many of those watching her go down the slipway.

A powerful representation of Germany’s rise from the ashes of the First World War, it was a fearsome combination of size, swiftness and firepower. Bismarck was nominally meant to be 35,000 tons to meet the stipulations of the Washington Naval Treaty [which placed limits on the size of battleships]. That treaty lapsed, allowing naval architects of the major maritime powers to add a further 5,000 tons, but then the Germans secretly pushed it even further. Bismarck’s true displacement when fully laden was 50,933 tons – a fact the Allies only discovered when they acquired secret German naval documents after the Second World War.

With a top speed of 29 knots, Bismarck (and her sister vessel Tirpitz, launched in April 1939, were faster than any the Royal Navy could send to war. Its eight 15-inch main guns were of a bigger calibre than those of Britain’s new King George V-class battleships – and though Britain did possess warships with larger guns, they were built in the 1920s and couldn’t match Bismarck for speed.

By May 1941, with the battle of the Atlantic in full swing, Bismarck was a latent threat. British naval forces were spread thin, tasked with protecting Atlantic convoys, fighting the Italians and Germans in the Mediterranean, and watching a belligerent Japan. Could the overstretched British stop Bismarck from breaking out of the Baltic and into the Atlantic to join forces with U-boats?

The vessel’s long-awaited first deployment was expected to be a severe trial of Britain’s national will and the Royal Navy. And so it proved, though for the Germans it was a major test of nerve that ultimately ended with the sinking of the Bismarck.

Here Iain Ballantyne, author of Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom, reveals nine lesser-known facts about the battleship and its one and only sortie…

The Kriegsmarine was afraid to tell Hitler that Bismarck had gone to war

For all Bismarck’s power, the top brass of the Kriegsmarine still feared the Royal Navy. So they did not give Adolf Hitler advance notice of Bismarck’s deployment in case he banned them from doing so. They knew the Führer was anxious about the humiliation Germany would face if she lost a ship named after its first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.

When Kriegsmarine boss Grand Admiral Erich Raeder finally confessed to having sent Bismarck out, Hitler asked if it and her consort – the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen – could be called back. He was especially worried about what British aircraft carriers might do to cripple Bismarck and leave her at the mercy of enemy battleships.

Bismarck almost sank a second Royal Navy ship during its sortie

For the Germans, the breakout into the Atlantic got off to a good start. During a clash in the Denmark Strait on 24 May, Bismarck managed to sink the pride of the Royal Navy, HMS Hood, when a cataclysmic explosion ripped the elderly battlecruiser apart. All but three of her 1,418-strong crew were lost.

The new Royal Navy battleship, HMS Prince of Wales, almost suffered a similar fate. Bismarck hit Prince of Wales close to its ammunition compartments, but in that instance Bismarck’s shell fragmented and did not explode. However, Prince of Wales did land three hits on Bismarck, one of which punctured a fuel-oil tank, forcing plans for Bismarck to attack convoys to be abandoned – the ship was forced to make for port for repairs.

Bismarck may have escaped had it not been for loose German tongues

Still reeling from the loss of Hood, in the early hours of 25 May the British lost track of Bismarck. During the 31 hours following Bismarck’s disappearing act, Royal Navy warship commanders mostly kept their radio silence – unlike the Germans, who were wireless signal blabbermouths.

Admiral Günther Lütjens, who was aboard Bismarck and was the mission’s commander, made frequent progress reports to German naval headquarters. It was a huge error. Although Germany’s naval Enigma signal codes were still hard to crack, the Bismarck’s transmissions enabled British Radio Direction Finding (D/F) stations to identify the battleship’s general location and heading.

This was allied with intelligence gleaned from elsewhere, allowing the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC) in London to ultimately confirm Bismarck was heading for a French Atlantic coast port. It was information crucial to turning the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet around to head southeast.

Bismarck’s crew were offered a ‘last supper’ on the eve of their final battle

After being found by an RAF Catalina flying boat and later attacked by Swordfish biplanes from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal – with a torpedo crippling the ship’s steering and halting her escape – the morale of Bismarck’s crew was shattered. Officers fell into a state of deep depression and the battleship’s captain told his men they could take whatever they wanted from the stores, including watches, cheese, cigarettes and alcohol.

This proved to be a poor idea the night before battle. It plunged many of the men into despair and meant they performed their jobs poorly.

The only U-boat that reached Bismarck couldn’t help to save it

In the absence of readily available Kriegsmarine battleships or battlecruisers to sail over the horizon, any rescue of Bismarck came down to U-boats being ordered to abandon plans for ambushing the British fleet.

It was an impossible task for slow, tiny submarines that, due to stormy seas and threat of enemy attack, had to crawl along submerged on battery power.

U-556 got the closest, but had no torpedoes left when some of Bismarck’s pursuers came into view of her periscope. On the night of 26/27 May, it was relegated to sending reports to Kriegsmarine headquarters while watching the British attack Bismarck.

Hitler was furious

When it became clear Bismarck was at the mercy of the Britain’s naval forces, Hitler asked why it wasn’t possible for the Luftwaffe to inflict the same kind of pain on the British battleships.

He was told that the only way to do that properly, with a co-ordinated torpedo-bomber attack, would have been to have an aircraft carrier at sea. The Germans had started building one, the Graf Zeppelin, but it lay incomplete in a Baltic shipyard.

Some Bismarck crew tried to surrender

When the final battle came on the morning of 27 May, the Royal Navy battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, along with heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Norfolk, swiftly incapacitated Bismarck. Hundreds of officers and men were killed on the German vessel, and there was evidence that some people aboard tried to surrender – using semaphore flags and light signals – even as Bismarck’s surviving guns carried on firing.

As for actually taking the surrender of a still defiant enemy, it would have been time-consuming and complex. Also, the British capital ships were running out of fuel and were expecting hundreds of Luftwaffe bombers to come over the horizon at any moment. Had Britain lost either Rodney or King George V to air attack, the blow would have been severe, especially in the wake of Hood’s loss.

Bismarck proved hard to sink

Despite being utterly destroyed as a fighting vessel, Bismarck was hard to sink, a product of it being a new warship, but one still based on First World War-era design principles.

Her armoured citadel enclosed her engine room spaces and ammunition magazines, but not other vital areas of the battleship, and hence she stayed afloat even after being utterly destroyed as a fighting vessel.

British torpedoes and shell hits would have slowly taken Bismarck down, but the final blow was levied by the German vessel’s own crew, who detonated the scuttling charges when they abandoned ship.

The Royal Navy rescued some of the surviving Bismarck crew

The men of the Royal Navy wanted to sink Bismarck – there was a desire for some measure of retribution for the loss of the Hood and the fire-bombing blitz of Plymouth (the homeport for Rodney, Dorsetshire and other warships) by the Luftwaffe in March-April 1941, which had seen many loved ones made homeless, injured or killed. Destroying a symbol of the Nazi regime on the high seas was likewise a major motivation. But once the guns fell silent on 27 May 1941, the men of the Royal Navy just saw fellow sailors struggling to stay alive.

In the end, 110 Bismarck survivors were rescued by the Dorsetshire and Maori despite heavy seas. Dorsetshire was forced to withdraw – leaving behind hundreds survivors in the water – after a possible U-boat sighting, but its crew dropped floats over the side for those left behind. Maori too had to leave the scene as it was running low on fuel, there were concerns about it being sunk by an enemy air attack.

After the war, sailors from the cruiser Dorsetshire and destroyer Maori – themselves both sunk in 1942 – enjoyed reunions in the UK and Germany with the Bismarck survivors they had rescued. The former foes had forged strong bonds of friendship.

Iain Ballantyne is a journalist, editor, and author who has written several military history books on the Second World War and the Cold War, including Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom. Buy it now on Amazon, Waterstones or Bookshop.org

This content was first published by HistoryExtra in 2021


This Day in WWII History: May 27, 1941: Bismarck sunk by Royal Navy

On May 27, 1941, the British navy sinks the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic near France. The German death toll was more than 2,000.

On February 14, 1939, the 823-foot Bismarck was launched at Hamburg. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler hoped that the state-of-the-art battleship would herald the rebirth of the German surface battle fleet. However, after the outbreak of war, Britain closely guarded ocean routes from Germany to the Atlantic Ocean, and only U-boats moved freely through the war zone.

In May 1941, the order was given for the Bismarck to break out into the Atlantic. Once in the safety of the open ocean, the battleship would be almost impossible to track down, all the while wreaking havoc on Allied convoys to Britain. Learning of its movement, Britain sent almost the entire British Home Fleet in pursuit.

On May 24, the British battle cruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales intercepted it near Iceland. In a ferocious battle, the Hood exploded and sank, and all but three of the 1,421 crewmen were killed. The Bismarck escaped, but because it was leaking fuel it fled for occupied France. On May 26, it was sighted and crippled by British aircraft, and on May 27 three British warships descended on the Bismarck and finished it off.


The sinking of the Bismarck: a cat and mouse chase across the Atlantic

The battleship Bismarck was one of the gems of the Kriegsmarine, bristling with fearsome weaponry. Nick Hewitt explains how Britain sank this behemoth, and how its brutal loss would undermine Hitler's confidence in German sea power

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Published: April 23, 2021 at 10:37 am

On 27 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire sent the following signal to the commander-in-chief of the Home Fleet: “Torpedoed Bismarck both sides before she sank. She had ceased ring, but her colours were still flying.”

So ended the German battleship Bismarck’s only operational sortie, which had begun from the Polish coastal city of Gotenhafen (modern-day Gdynia) just over a week before. The dramatic story has been told and retold in books, documentaries, a feature film – and even a country and western song. But the truth remains, perhaps, the most compelling account of all.

Bismarck was launched in February 1939. Weighing in at over 50,000 tons when fully loaded, she displaced more than any other European battleship in service she was fast, well-protected and heavily armed. When Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg joined Bismarck in June 1940 as fourth gunnery officer and personal adjutant officer to the ship’s captain, Ernest Lindemann, he was fully trusting of her capabilities. “I had supreme confidence in this ship,” he wrote in his memoirs. “How could it be otherwise?”

Commissioned on 24 August 1940, by March 1941 she was ready for her first mission, Operation Rheinübung: a raid on the Atlantic convoy routes which merchant ships used to transport vital supplies to Britain from North America. Accompanied by the new heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and under the overall command of Admiral Günther Lütjens, Bismarck departed Gotenhafen early on 19 May.

The British watched Bismarck’s progress apprehensively. Between January and May in that year, 277 British and Allied merchant ships totalling almost 1.5 million tons had been sunk, mostly by German U-boats in the Atlantic. Putting merchant ships into convoys was the answer, but a powerful German surface force could spell disaster, as Bismarck could overwhelm any convoy escort, forcing the merchant ships to scatter and leaving them vulnerable to submarines.

Bismarck: the feared German battleship

Builders | Blohm & Voss, Hamburg

Laid down | 1 July 1936

Launched | 14 February 1939

Commissioned | 24 August 1940

Ships in class | Two (including Tirpitz)

Displacement | 53,000 tons (max)

Length | 251m

Maximum speed | 30 knots (35 mph) during trials

Armaments | Eight x 380mm, 12 x 150mm, 16 x 105mm (anti-aircraft), 16 x 370mm (anti-aircraft), 18 x 20mm (anti-aircraft)

Armour thickness | Belt 320mm, turrets 360mm, main deck 120mm (maximum)

Aircraft | Four Arado Ar 196 floatplanes

Crew | 2,065 (though more than 2,200 were on board during the Atlantic sortie due to the inclusion of the Admiral’s staff, prize crews and war correspondents)

Lütjens’ route took him through the Kattegat (a sea area between Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and along the Norwegian coast to Bergen. His squadron was spotted twice, once by a Swedish cruiser and once by members of the Norwegian resistance, and by 20 May, London knew that Bismarck was at sea. On 21 May RAF reconnaissance pilot Michael ‘Babe’ Suckling photographed the two ships refuelling in the fjords near Bergen. He hand-delivered the developed prints from his base at Wick, in northern Scotland, to London.

In response, Admiral Sir John Tovey, commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, sent cruisers to patrol the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland, and the Iceland-Faroe Gap to the south-east. The battlecruiser HMS Hood and the brand-new battleship HMS Prince of Wales raced to Iceland, while the rest of the fleet waited at Scapa Flow, its Orkney base, ready to depart at short notice. For now, there was nothing else to do but wait. Winston Churchill cabled US president Franklin D Roosevelt a worrying message: “Tonight they [Bismarck and Prinz Eugen] have sailed. We have reason to believe a formidable Atlantic raid is intended.”

The chase begins

Early in the morning of 23 May, while dodging ice floes and battling through rain, fog and occasional snowfall, Lütjens began his dash through the Denmark Strait. Despite the foul weather and Lütjens’ efforts to stay concealed, at 7.22pm Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were sighted by the British cruisers HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk.

Neither side sought a battle. The outgunned British wanted to ‘shadow’ the Germans, reporting their position until more powerful reinforcements arrived, while Lütjens wanted to shake off his pursuers and vanish. Twice, the admiral turned towards the enemy vessels to try and drive them away (and once Bismarck even opened fire, narrowly missing Norfolk), but the British cruisers hung on until reinforcements arrived at dawn the following day.

“It must have been around 5.45am, the rising sun having already lit up the horizon, when the smoke plumes of two ships and then the tips of their masts came into view on our port beam,” recalled Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg. “The silhouettes of the ships below them became visible… I heard Albrecht [Bismarck’s second gunnery officer] shout, ‘The Hood!’”

Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland – second-in-command of the home fleet, who was sailing on Hood – faced significant challenges. Hood had a formidable reputation, but she was old, and to ensure that she could reach high speeds and boast big guns, her designers had sacrificed deck armour. Conversely, Prince of Wales was so new that she had left port with civilian technicians aboard to work on her unreliable four gun turrets. Trying to close the range and overcome these serious handicaps, Holland drove his formation towards the enemy, which meant the British ships could only fire their forward guns against the Germans’ full broadsides when the action began at 5.52am.

Bismarck sinks the Hood

Within minutes, Holland realised his mistake and started to turn his ships to bring their aft (rear) turrets into action, as shells from both German ships began to drop around Hood and smash into her superstructure. But it was already too late.

“[She] disappeared into a big orange ash and a huge pall of smoke,” Leading Sick Berth Attendant Sam Wood recalled. “Time seemed to stand still. I just watched in horror… the Hood had gone.” 1,415 men died there were only three survivors. The entire battle lasted just nine minutes.

Bismarck and Prinz Eugen now turned their fire on Prince of Wales, and the ship’s commander, Captain John Leach, narrowly escaped death after a large shell from Bismarck smashed into the battleship’s bridge, killing or wounding everyone else there. He wisely withdrew under cover of a smoke screen, and for the rest of the day, Prince of Wales and the two cruisers, now under the command of Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker in Norfolk, continued to shadow from a distance.

Lütjens had his victory, but Prince of Wales had hit Bismarck twice. One exploding shell flooded a boiler room, reducing her speed, while the other penetrated an oil tank, contaminating her fuel and causing it to leak into the sea. Lütjens signalled Berlin, stating that he intended to detach Prinz Eugen to continue the raid and take Bismarck to the French port of Saint-Nazaire for repairs. To cover the cruiser’s escape, at 6.14pm Lütjens traded salvoes with Prince of Wales.

In London, Winston Churchill spent an anxious night considering the consequences of the day’s action. He later wrote in his 1950 book, The Grand Alliance: “What if we lost touch in the night? Which way would she go? She had a wide choice, and we were vulnerable almost everywhere.”

And if Bismarck did manage to escape, the damage to British prestige would be incalculable, particularly in the still-neutral United States. Admiral Tovey’s fleet was already on the way, but now every ship that could be mobilised rushed to the Atlantic. More cruiser patrols were ordered out, extra battleships were detached from convoy escort duties, and Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville’s Force H raced north from Gibraltar with the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and battlecruiser HMS Renown.

Desperate to slow Bismarck, Admiral Tovey, moving south from Scapa Flow but still about 330 miles away, pushed his aircraft carrier HMS Victorious ahead at high speed to launch an air strike. Victorious flew off her aircraft just after 10pm, when she was 100 miles from Bismarck. After a nightmarish journey though darkness, low cloud and rain, the Swordfish torpedo bombers attacked into a storm of shell fire Lindemann even red his ship’s 380mm main guns into the water to create huge splashes ahead of the attacking biplanes. Bismarck dodged eight torpedoes, but the ninth struck the centre of the vessel. Violent manoeuvring worsened the German battleship’s flooding and eventually cost her another boiler, further slowing her speed. All the Swordfish returned safely.

British celebrations were short-lived, however. At 3am, Wake-Walker, concerned about U-boat attacks, ordered his shadowing warships to zigzag. As the British ships temporarily turned away from him, Lütjens increased speed, broke radar contact and slipped away. “The day,” wrote Churchill, “which had begun so full of promise, ended in disappointment and frustration.”

Hunting the Bismarck

By dawn on 26 May, the situation was bleak. Bismarck had vanished, and although the navy’s best guess was that she was making for the French port city of Brest, nobody was sure. The frantically searching warships were running out of fuel when, at 10.30am, a patrolling Catalina flying boat piloted by a US Navy pilot on secondment to the RAF picked up Bismarck steaming east.

She was just under 750 miles – less than a day’s steaming – from safety. The only hope of stopping her lay with Somerville’s Force H, which was under 70 miles away.

Somerville pushed his only cruiser, HMS Sheffield, up ahead to shadow the wounded German behemoth and launched an air strike. In the confusion, the Swordfish pilots accidentally attacked Sheffield, fortunately missing her, but the mistake cost time, as the aircraft had to return to Ark Royal and rearm. With every minute lost, Bismarck drew nearer to Luftwaffe air cover. The second strike launched at 7.10pm and attacked at 8.47pm. John Moffat, who flew one of the Swordfish during the attack, recalled: “I felt that every gun on the ship was aiming at me… I do not know how I managed to keep flying into it every instinct was screaming at me to duck, turn away, do anything.” However, Moffat didn’t succumb to his nerves. “I held on, and we got closer and closer… I pressed the button on the throttle. Dusty [Miller, Moffat’s observer] yelled, ‘I think we’ve got a runner!’”

Then, two torpedoes – possibly including Moffat’s – hit Bismarck. Catastrophically, one ripped a hole in her stern and flooded the steering gear compartment, jamming her rudder in a 12-degree turn to port and leaving her unmanoeuvrable. All night, German sailors tried to repair the damage while fending o torpedo attacks by pursuing British destroyers, but at dawn she was still steaming in a circle.

Bismarck’s last battle

Bismarck’s last battle began just before 9am on 27 May, when Admiral Tovey approached the slowly circling giant with the battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, as well as the cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire.

Tovey’s four ships pummelled Bismarck at a progressively closer range for over an hour, ring nearly 3,000 shells and scoring hundreds of hits. Unable to manoeuvre, Bismarck could barely land a blow in return, and by 10am the German battleship was a wreck. Allied sailor Eric Flory was watching from King George V. “There was the Bismarck away to starboard,” he remembered, “listing to port, guns pointing in all directions… Fires were raging, and the steel plates were showing red hot.”

The Scottish writer and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy was serving in the destroyer HMS Tartar, and he recalled how he “had never seen a more magnificent warship, and she sat squarely in the water taking terrible, terrible punishment”.

At about 10.20am, Tovey sent Dorsetshire in to finish Bismarck off with torpedoes. Unchallenged, the cruiser manoeuvred around the crippled giant, methodically putting a torpedo into each of her sides. Following these hits, Bismarck rolled over to port and sank by the stern. Subsequent examination of the wreck indicates that the crew may have been flooding the ship at the same time to keep her from the British.

From the original crew of over 2,200, 110 survivors were rescued by HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Maori they then left the scene and abandoned hundreds of survivors following a U-boat warning. Five more survivors were subsequently found by German warships searching the scene after the British had left. Lütjens had died earlier in the battle, but Lindemann seemingly chose to go down with his ship and was last seen standing on deck, his arm raised in a salute. Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg was one of the few that were rescued, and he recalled rousing his fellows to action: “‘A salute to our fallen comrades,’ I called. We all snapped our hands to our caps, glanced at the flag, and jumped.”

The fate of Bismarck cast a long shadow. Hitler, never confident about his navy, “radically restricted the movements of these major units”, recalled Kriegsmarine chief Grand Admiral Erich Raeder. “The success we had had, even with our inferior forces, through bold initiative and the taking of calculated risk, was to be a thing of the past.”

The British remained haunted by the huge effort and considerable luck required to catch Bismarck, and they expended enormous resources ensuring her sister ship, Tirpitz, never broke out. In June 1942, a brief sortie by Tirpitz led to the scattering of Arctic Convoy PQ 17, and its wholesale slaughter by U-boats and the Luftwaffe.

However, Britain’s battle against Bismarck had ultimately proved a success. It fell to Churchill to announce the news to the House of Commons. “A slip of paper was passed to me,” he recalled. “I asked the indulgence of the House and said, ‘I have just received news that the Bismarck is sunk.’ They seemed content.”

Nick Hewitt is an author and naval historian. He is head of collections and research at the National Museum of the Royal Navy

This content first appeared in BBC History Magazine‘s Great Battles of World War Two, Volume Two: War at Sea special edition


Contents

The two Bismarck-class battleships were designed in the mid-1930s by the German Kriegsmarine as a counter to French naval expansion, specifically the two Richelieu-class battleships France had started in 1935. Laid down after the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, Bismarck and her sister Tirpitz were nominally within the 35,000-long-ton (36,000 t) limit imposed by the Washington regime that governed battleship construction in the interwar period. The ships secretly exceeded the figure by a wide margin, though before either vessel was completed, the international treaty system had fallen apart following Japan's withdrawal in 1937, allowing signatories to invoke an "escalator clause" that permitted displacements as high as 45,000 long tons (46,000 t). [3]

Bismarck displaced 41,700 t (41,000 long tons) as built and 50,300 t (49,500 long tons) fully loaded, with an overall length of 251 m (823 ft 6 in), a beam of 36 m (118 ft 1 in) and a maximum draft of 9.9 m (32 ft 6 in). [1] The battleship was Germany's largest warship, [4] and displaced more than any other European battleship, with the exception of HMS Vanguard, commissioned after the war. [5] Bismarck was powered by three Blohm & Voss geared steam turbines and twelve oil-fired Wagner superheated boilers, which developed a total of 148,116 shp (110,450 kW) and yielded a maximum speed of 30.01 knots (55.58 km/h 34.53 mph) on speed trials. The ship had a cruising range of 8,870 nautical miles (16,430 km 10,210 mi) at 19 knots (35 km/h 22 mph). [1] Bismarck was equipped with three FuMO 23 search radar sets, mounted on the forward and stern rangefinders and foretop. [6]

The standard crew numbered 103 officers and 1,962 enlisted men. [7] The crew was divided into twelve divisions of between 180 and 220 men. The first six divisions were assigned to the ship's armament, divisions one to four for the main and secondary batteries and five and six manning anti-aircraft guns. The seventh division consisted of specialists, including cooks and carpenters, and the eighth division consisted of ammunition handlers. The radio operators, signalmen, and quartermasters were assigned to the ninth division. The last three divisions were the engine room personnel. When Bismarck left port, fleet staff, prize crews, and war correspondents increased the crew complement to over 2,200 men. [8] Roughly 200 of the engine room personnel came from the light cruiser Karlsruhe, which had been lost during Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway. [9] Bismarck ' s crew published a ship's newspaper titled Die Schiffsglocke (The Ship's Bell) [10] this paper was only published once, on 23 April 1941, by the commander of the engineering department, Gerhard Junack. [11]

Bismarck was armed with eight 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns arranged in four twin gun turrets: two super-firing turrets forward—"Anton" and "Bruno"—and two aft—"Caesar" and "Dora". [c] Secondary armament consisted of twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) L/55 guns, sixteen 10.5 cm (4.1 in) L/65 and sixteen 3.7 cm (1.5 in) L/83, and twelve 2 cm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft guns. Bismarck also carried four Arado Ar 196 reconnaissance floatplanes in a double hangar amidships and two single hangars abreast the funnel, with a double-ended thwartship catapult. [7] The ship's main belt was 320 mm (12.6 in) thick and was covered by a pair of upper and main armoured decks that were 50 mm (2 in) and 100 to 120 mm (3.9 to 4.7 in) thick, respectively. The 38 cm (15 in) turrets were protected by 360 mm (14.2 in) thick faces and 220 mm (8.7 in) thick sides. [1]

Bismarck was ordered under the name Ersatz Hannover ("Hannover replacement"), a replacement for the old pre-dreadnought SMS Hannover, under contract "F". [1] The contract was awarded to the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, where the keel was laid on 1 July 1936 at Helgen IX. [13] [14] The ship was launched on 14 February 1939 and during the elaborate ceremonies was christened by Dorothee von Löwenfeld, granddaughter of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the ship's namesake. Adolf Hitler made the christening speech. [15] Fitting-out work followed the launch, during which time the original straight stem was replaced with a raked "Atlantic bow" similar to those of the Scharnhorst-class battleships. [16] Bismarck was commissioned into the fleet on 24 August 1940 for sea trials, [7] which were conducted in the Baltic. Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann took command of the ship at the time of commissioning. [17]

On 15 September 1940, three weeks after commissioning, Bismarck left Hamburg to begin sea trials in Kiel Bay. [18] Sperrbrecher 13 escorted the ship to Arcona on 28 September, and then on to Gotenhafen for trials in the Gulf of Danzig. [19] The ship's power-plant was given a thorough workout Bismarck made measured-mile and high speed runs. As the ship's stability and manoeuvrability were being tested, a flaw in her design was discovered. When attempting to steer the ship solely through altering propeller revolutions, the crew learned that Bismarck could be kept on course only with great difficulty. Even with the outboard screws running at full power in opposite directions, they generated only a slight turning ability. [20] Bismarck ' s main battery guns were first test-fired in late November. The tests proved she was a very stable gun platform. [21] Trials lasted until December Bismarck returned to Hamburg, arriving on 9 December, for minor alterations and the completion of the fitting-out process. [18]

The ship was scheduled to return to Kiel on 24 January 1941, but a merchant vessel had been sunk in the Kiel Canal and prevented use of the waterway. Severe weather hampered efforts to remove the wreck, and Bismarck was not able to reach Kiel until March. [18] The delay greatly frustrated Lindemann, who remarked that "[Bismarck] had been tied down at Hamburg for five weeks . the precious time at sea lost as a result cannot be made up, and a significant delay in the final war deployment of the ship thus is unavoidable." [22] While waiting to reach Kiel, Bismarck hosted Captain Anders Forshell, the Swedish naval attaché to Berlin. He returned to Sweden with a detailed description of the ship, which was subsequently leaked to Britain by pro-British elements in the Swedish Navy. The information provided the Royal Navy with its first full description of the vessel, although it lacked important facts, including top speed, radius of action, and displacement. [23]

On 6 March, Bismarck received the order to steam to Kiel. On the way, the ship was escorted by several Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and a pair of armed merchant vessels, along with an icebreaker. At 08:45 on 8 March, Bismarck briefly ran aground on the southern shore of the Kiel Canal she was freed within an hour. The ship reached Kiel the following day, where her crew stocked ammunition, fuel, and other supplies and applied a coat of dazzle paint to camouflage her. British bombers attacked the harbour without success on 12 March. [24] On 17 March, the old battleship Schlesien, now used as an icebreaker, escorted Bismarck through the ice to Gotenhafen, where the latter continued combat readiness training. [25]

The Naval High Command (Oberkommando der Marine or OKM), commanded by Admiral Erich Raeder, intended to continue the practice of using heavy ships as surface raiders against Allied merchant traffic in the Atlantic Ocean. The two Scharnhorst-class battleships were based in Brest, France, at the time, having just completed Operation Berlin, a major raid into the Atlantic. Bismarck ' s sister ship Tirpitz rapidly approached completion. Bismarck and Tirpitz were to sortie from the Baltic and rendezvous with the two Scharnhorst-class ships in the Atlantic the operation was initially scheduled for around 25 April 1941, when a new moon period would make conditions more favourable. [26]

Work on Tirpitz was completed later than anticipated, and she was not commissioned until 25 February the ship was not ready for combat until late in the year. To further complicate the situation, Gneisenau was torpedoed in Brest and damaged further by bombs when in drydock. Scharnhorst required a boiler overhaul following Operation Berlin the workers discovered during the overhaul that the boilers were in worse condition than expected. She would also be unavailable for the planned sortie. [27] Attacks by British bombers on supply depots in Kiel delayed repairs to the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper. The two ships would not be ready for action until July or August. [28] Admiral Günther Lütjens, Flottenchef (Fleet Chief) of the Kriegsmarine, chosen to lead the operation, wished to delay the operation at least until either Scharnhorst or Tirpitz became available, [29] but the OKM decided to proceed with the operation, codenamed Operation Rheinübung, with a force consisting of only Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. [27] At a final meeting with Raeder in Paris on 26 April, Lütjens was encouraged by his commander-in-chief to proceed and he eventually decided that an operation should begin as soon as possible to prevent the enemy gaining any respite. [30]

Operation Rheinübung Edit

On 5 May 1941, Hitler and Wilhelm Keitel, with a large entourage, arrived to view Bismarck and Tirpitz in Gotenhafen. The men were given an extensive tour of the ships, after which Hitler met with Lütjens to discuss the upcoming mission. [31] On 16 May, Lütjens reported that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were fully prepared for Operation Rheinübung he was therefore ordered to proceed with the mission on the evening of 19 May. [32] As part of the operational plans, a group of eighteen supply ships would be positioned to support Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Four U-boats would be placed along the convoy routes between Halifax and Britain to scout for the raiders. [33]

By the start of the operation, Bismarck ' s crew had increased to 2,221 officers and enlisted men. This included an admiral's staff of nearly 65 and a prize crew of 80 sailors, who could be used to crew transports captured during the mission. At 02:00 on 19 May, Bismarck departed Gotenhafen and made for the Danish straits. She was joined at 11:25 by Prinz Eugen, which had departed the previous night at 21:18, off Cape Arkona. [34] The two ships were escorted by three destroyers—Z10 Hans Lody, Z16 Friedrich Eckoldt, and Z23—and a flotilla of minesweepers. [35] The Luftwaffe provided air cover during the voyage out of German waters. [36] At around noon on 20 May, Lindemann informed the ship's crew via loudspeaker of the ship's mission. At approximately the same time, a group of ten or twelve Swedish aircraft flying reconnaissance encountered the German force and reported its composition and heading, though the Germans did not see the Swedes. [37]

An hour later, the German flotilla encountered the Swedish cruiser HSwMS Gotland the cruiser shadowed the Germans for two hours in the Kattegat. [38] Gotland transmitted a report to naval headquarters, stating: "Two large ships, three destroyers, five escort vessels, and 10–12 aircraft passed Marstrand, course 205°/20'." [36] The OKM was not concerned about the security risk posed by Gotland, though both Lütjens and Lindemann believed operational secrecy had been lost. [38] The report eventually made its way to Captain Henry Denham, the British naval attaché to Sweden, who transmitted the information to the Admiralty. [39] The code-breakers at Bletchley Park confirmed that an Atlantic raid was imminent, as they had decrypted reports that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had taken on prize crews and requested additional navigational charts from headquarters. A pair of Supermarine Spitfires was ordered to search the Norwegian coast for the flotilla. [40]

German aerial reconnaissance confirmed that one aircraft carrier, three battleships, and four cruisers remained at anchor in the main British naval base at Scapa Flow, which confirmed to Lütjens that the British were unaware of his operation. On the evening of 20 May, Bismarck and the rest of the flotilla reached the Norwegian coast the minesweepers were detached and the two raiders and their destroyer escorts continued north. The following morning, radio-intercept officers on board Prinz Eugen picked up a signal ordering British reconnaissance aircraft to search for two battleships and three destroyers northbound off the Norwegian coast. [41] At 7:00 on the 21st, the Germans spotted four unidentified aircraft, which quickly departed. Shortly after 12:00, the flotilla reached Bergen and anchored at Grimstadfjord, where the ships' crews painted over the Baltic camouflage with the standard "outboard grey" worn by German warships operating in the Atlantic. [42]

When Bismarck was in Norway, a pair of Bf 109 fighters circled overhead to protect her from British air attacks, but Flying Officer Michael Suckling managed to fly his Spitfire directly over the German flotilla at a height of 8,000 m (26,000 ft) and take photos of Bismarck and her escorts. [43] Upon receipt of the information, Admiral John Tovey ordered the battlecruiser HMS Hood, the newly commissioned battleship HMS Prince of Wales, and six destroyers to reinforce the pair of cruisers patrolling the Denmark Strait. The rest of the Home Fleet was placed on high alert in Scapa Flow. Eighteen bombers were dispatched to attack the Germans, but weather over the fjord had worsened and they were unable to find the German warships. [44]

Bismarck did not replenish her fuel stores in Norway, as her operational orders did not require her to do so. She had left port 200 t (200 long tons) short of a full load, and had since expended another 1,000 t (980 long tons) on the voyage from Gotenhafen. Prinz Eugen took on 764 t (752 long tons) of fuel. [45] At 19:30 on 21 May, Bismarck, Prinz Eugen, and the three escorting destroyers left Bergen. [46] At midnight, when the force was in the open sea, heading towards the Arctic Ocean, Raeder disclosed the operation to Hitler, who reluctantly consented to the raid. The three escorting destroyers were detached at 04:14 on 22 May, while the force steamed off Trondheim. At around 12:00, Lütjens ordered his two ships to turn toward the Denmark Strait to attempt the break-out into the open Atlantic. [47]

By 04:00 on 23 May, Lütjens ordered Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to increase speed to 27 knots (50 km/h 31 mph) to make the dash through the Denmark Strait. [48] Upon entering the Strait, both ships activated their FuMO radar detection equipment sets. [49] Bismarck led Prinz Eugen by about 700 m (770 yd) mist reduced visibility to 3,000–4,000 m (3,300–4,400 yd). The Germans encountered some ice at around 10:00, which necessitated a reduction in speed to 24 knots (44 km/h 28 mph). Two hours later, the pair had reached a point north of Iceland. The ships were forced to zigzag to avoid ice floes. At 19:22, hydrophone and radar operators aboard the German warships detected the cruiser HMS Suffolk at a range of approximately 12,500 m (13,700 yd). [48] Prinz Eugen ' s radio-intercept team decrypted the radio signals being sent by Suffolk and learned that their location had been reported. [50]

Lütjens gave permission for Prinz Eugen to engage Suffolk, but the captain of the German cruiser could not clearly make out his target and so held fire. [51] Suffolk quickly retreated to a safe distance and shadowed the German ships. At 20:30, the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk joined Suffolk, but approached the German raiders too closely. Lütjens ordered his ships to engage the British cruiser Bismarck fired five salvoes, three of which straddled Norfolk and rained shell splinters on her decks. The cruiser laid a smoke screen and fled into a fog bank, ending the brief engagement. The concussion from the 38 cm guns' firing disabled Bismarck ' s FuMO 23 radar set this prompted Lütjens to order Prinz Eugen to take station ahead so she could use her functioning radar to scout for the formation. [52]

At around 22:00, Lütjens ordered Bismarck to make a 180-degree turn in an effort to surprise the two heavy cruisers shadowing him. Although Bismarck was visually obscured in a rain squall, Suffolk ' s radar quickly detected the manoeuvre, allowing the cruiser to evade. [53] The cruisers remained on station through the night, continually relaying the location and bearing of the German ships. The harsh weather broke on the morning of 24 May, revealing a clear sky. At 05:07, hydrophone operators aboard Prinz Eugen detected a pair of unidentified vessels approaching the German formation at a range of 20 nmi (37 km 23 mi), reporting "Noise of two fast-moving turbine ships at 280° relative bearing!" [54]

Battle of the Denmark Strait Edit

At 05:45 on 24 May, German lookouts spotted smoke on the horizon this turned out to be from Hood and Prince of Wales, under the command of Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland. Lütjens ordered his ships' crews to battle stations. By 05:52, the range had fallen to 26,000 m (28,000 yd) and Hood opened fire, followed by Prince of Wales a minute later. [55] Hood engaged Prinz Eugen, which the British thought to be Bismarck, while Prince of Wales fired on Bismarck. [d] Adalbert Schneider, the first gunnery officer aboard Bismarck, twice requested permission to return fire, but Lütjens hesitated. [57] Lindemann intervened, muttering "I will not let my ship be shot out from under my ass." [58] He demanded permission to fire from Lütjens, who relented and at 05:55 ordered his ships to engage the British. [58]

The British ships approached the German ships head on, which permitted them to use only their forward guns Bismarck and Prinz Eugen could fire full broadsides. Several minutes after opening fire, Holland ordered a 20° turn to port, which would allow his ships to engage with their rear gun turrets. Both German ships concentrated their fire on Hood. About a minute after opening fire, Prinz Eugen scored a hit with a high-explosive 20.3 cm (8.0 in) shell the explosion detonated unrotated projectile ammunition and started a large fire, which was quickly extinguished. [59] After firing three four-gun salvoes, Schneider had found the range to Hood he immediately ordered rapid-fire salvoes from Bismarck ' s eight 38 cm guns. He also ordered the ship's 15 cm secondary guns to engage Prince of Wales. Holland then ordered a second 20° turn to port, to bring his ships on a parallel course with Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. [60] Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to shift fire and target Prince of Wales, to keep both of his opponents under fire. Within a few minutes, Prinz Eugen scored a pair of hits on the battleship that started a small fire. [61]

Lütjens then ordered Prinz Eugen to drop behind Bismarck, so she could continue to monitor the location of Norfolk and Suffolk, which were still 10 to 12 nmi (19 to 22 km 12 to 14 mi) to the east. At 06:00, Hood was completing the second turn to port when Bismarck ' s fifth salvo hit. Two of the shells landed short, striking the water close to the ship, but at least one of the 38 cm armour-piercing shells struck Hood and penetrated her thin deck armour. The shell reached Hood ' s rear ammunition magazine and detonated 112 t (110 long tons) of cordite propellant. [62] The massive explosion broke the back of the ship between the main mast and the rear funnel the forward section continued to move forward briefly before the in-rushing water caused the bow to rise into the air at a steep angle. The stern also rose as water rushed into the ripped-open compartments. [63] Schneider exclaimed "He is sinking!" over the ship's loudspeakers. [62] In only eight minutes of firing, Hood had disappeared, taking all but three of her crew of 1,419 men with her. [64]

Bismarck then shifted fire to Prince of Wales. The British battleship scored a hit on Bismarck with her sixth salvo, but the German ship found her mark with her first salvo. One of the shells struck the bridge on Prince of Wales, though it did not explode and instead exited the other side, killing everyone in the ship's command centre, save Captain John Leach, the ship's commanding officer, and one other. [65] The two German ships continued to fire upon Prince of Wales, causing serious damage. Guns malfunctioned on the recently commissioned British ship, which still had civilian technicians aboard. [66] Despite the technical faults in the main battery, Prince of Wales scored three hits on Bismarck in the engagement. The first struck her in the forecastle above the waterline but low enough to allow the crashing waves to enter the hull. The second shell struck below the armoured belt and exploded on contact with the torpedo bulkhead, completely flooding a turbo-generator room and partially flooding an adjacent boiler room. [67] The third shell passed through one of the boats carried aboard the ship and then went through the floatplane catapult without exploding. [68]

At 06:13, Leach gave the order to retreat only five [69] of his ship's ten 14 in (360 mm) guns were still firing and his ship had sustained significant damage. Prince of Wales made a 160° turn and laid a smoke screen to cover her withdrawal. The Germans ceased fire as the range widened. Though Lindemann strongly advocated chasing Prince of Wales and destroying her, [70] Lütjens obeyed operational orders to shun any avoidable engagement with enemy forces that were not protecting a convoy, [71] firmly rejecting the request, and instead ordered Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to head for the North Atlantic. [72] In the engagement, Bismarck had fired 93 armour-piercing shells and had been hit by three shells in return. [64] The forecastle hit allowed 1,000 to 2,000 t (980 to 1,970 long tons) of water to flood into the ship, which contaminated fuel oil stored in the bow. Lütjens refused to reduce speed to allow damage control teams to repair the shell hole which widened and allowed more water into the ship. [73] The second hit caused some additional flooding. Shell-splinters from the second hit also damaged a steam line in the turbo-generator room, but this was not serious, as Bismarck had sufficient other generator reserves. The combined flooding from these two hits caused a 9-degree list to port and a 3-degree trim by the bow. [74]

Chase Edit

After the engagement, Lütjens reported, "Battlecruiser, probably Hood, sunk. Another battleship, King George V or Renown, turned away damaged. Two heavy cruisers maintain contact." [75] At 08:01, he transmitted a damage report and his intentions to OKM, which were to detach Prinz Eugen for commerce raiding and to make for Saint-Nazaire for repairs. [76] Shortly after 10:00, Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to fall behind Bismarck to determine the severity of the oil leakage from the bow hit. After confirming "broad streams of oil on both sides of [Bismarck ' s] wake", [77] Prinz Eugen returned to the forward position. [77] About an hour later, a British Short Sunderland flying boat reported the oil slick to Suffolk and Norfolk, which had been joined by the damaged Prince of Wales. Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker, the commander of the two cruisers, ordered Prince of Wales to remain behind his ships. [78]

Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered all warships in the area to join the pursuit of Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Tovey's Home Fleet was steaming to intercept the German raiders, but on the morning of 24 May was still over 350 nmi (650 km 400 mi) away. The Admiralty ordered the light cruisers Manchester, Birmingham, and Arethusa to patrol the Denmark Strait in the event that Lütjens attempted to retrace his route. The battleship Rodney, which had been escorting RMS Britannic and was due for a refit in the Boston Navy Yard, joined Tovey. Two old Revenge-class battleships were ordered into the hunt: Revenge, from Halifax, and Ramillies, which was escorting Convoy HX 127. [79] In all, six battleships and battlecruisers, two aircraft carriers, thirteen cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers were committed to the chase. [80] By around 17:00, the crew aboard Prince of Wales restored nine of her ten main guns to working order, which permitted Wake-Walker to place her in the front of his formation to attack Bismarck if the opportunity arose. [81]

With the weather worsening, Lütjens attempted to detach Prinz Eugen at 16:40. The squall was not heavy enough to cover her withdrawal from Wake-Walker's cruisers, which continued to maintain radar contact. Prinz Eugen was therefore recalled temporarily. [82] The cruiser was successfully detached at 18:14. Bismarck turned around to face Wake-Walker's formation, forcing Suffolk to turn away at high speed. Prince of Wales fired twelve salvos at Bismarck, which responded with nine salvos, none of which hit. The action diverted British attention and permitted Prinz Eugen to slip away. After Bismarck resumed her previous heading, Wake-Walker's three ships took up station on Bismarck ' s port side. [83]

Although Bismarck had been damaged in the engagement and forced to reduce speed, she was still capable of reaching 27 to 28 knots (50 to 52 km/h 31 to 32 mph), the maximum speed of Tovey's King George V. Unless Bismarck could be slowed, the British would be unable to prevent her from reaching Saint-Nazaire. Shortly before 16:00 on 25 May, Tovey detached the aircraft carrier Victorious and four light cruisers to shape a course that would position her to launch her torpedo bombers. [84] At 22:00, Victorious launched the strike, which comprised six Fairey Fulmar fighters and nine Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers of 825 Naval Air Squadron, led by Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde. The inexperienced aviators nearly attacked Norfolk and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Modoc on their approach the confusion alerted Bismarck ' s anti-aircraft gunners. [85]

Bismarck also used her main and secondary batteries to fire at maximum depression to create giant splashes in the paths of the incoming torpedo bombers. [86] None of the attacking aircraft were shot down. Bismarck evaded eight of the torpedoes launched at her, but the ninth [85] struck amidships on the main armoured belt, throwing one man into a bulkhead and killing him and injuring five others. [87] The explosion also caused minor damage to electrical equipment. The ship suffered more serious damage from manoeuvres to evade the torpedoes: rapid shifts in speed and course loosened collision mats, which increased the flooding from the forward shell hole and eventually forced abandonment of the port number 2 boiler room. This loss of a second boiler, combined with fuel losses and increasing bow trim, forced the ship to slow to 16 knots (30 km/h 18 mph). Divers repaired the collision mats in the bow, after which speed increased to 20 knots (37 km/h 23 mph), the speed that the command staff determined was the most economical for the voyage to occupied France. [88]

Shortly after the Swordfish departed from the scene, Bismarck and Prince of Wales engaged in a brief artillery duel. Neither scored a hit. [89] Bismarck ' s damage control teams resumed work after the short engagement. The sea water that had flooded the number 2 port side boiler threatened to enter the number 4 turbo-generator feedwater system, which would have permitted saltwater to reach the turbines. The saltwater would have damaged the turbine blades and thus greatly reduced the ship's speed. By morning on 25 May, the danger had passed. The ship slowed to 12 knots (22 km/h 14 mph) to allow divers to pump fuel from the forward compartments to the rear tanks two hoses were successfully connected and a few hundred tons of fuel were transferred. [90]

As the chase entered open waters, Wake-Walker's ships were compelled to zig-zag to avoid German U-boats that might be in the area. This required the ships to steam for ten minutes to port, then ten minutes to starboard, to keep the ships on the same base course. For the last few minutes of the turn to port, Bismarck was out of range of Suffolk ' s radar. [91] At 03:00 on 25 May, Lütjens ordered an increase to maximum speed, which at this point was 28 knots (52 km/h 32 mph). He then ordered the ship to circle away to the west and then north. This manoeuvre coincided with the period during which his ship was out of radar range Bismarck successfully broke radar contact and circled back behind her pursuers. Suffolk ' s captain assumed that Bismarck had broken off to the west and attempted to find her by also steaming west. After half an hour, he informed Wake-Walker, who ordered the three ships to disperse at daylight to search visually. [92]

The Royal Navy search became frantic, as many of the British ships were low on fuel. Victorious and her escorting cruisers were sent west, Wake-Walker's ships continued to the south and west, and Tovey continued to steam toward the mid-Atlantic. Force H, with the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and steaming up from Gibraltar, was still at least a day away. [93] Unaware that he had shaken off Wake-Walker, Lütjens sent long radio messages to Naval Group West headquarters in Paris. The signals were intercepted by the British, from which bearings were determined. They were wrongly plotted on board King George V, leading Tovey to believe that Bismarck was heading back to Germany through the Iceland-Faeroe gap, which kept his fleet on the wrong course for seven hours. By the time the mistake had been discovered, Bismarck had put a sizeable gap between herself and the British ships. [94]

British code-breakers were able to decrypt some of the German signals, including an order to the Luftwaffe to provide support for Bismarck making for Brest, decrypted by Jane Fawcett on 25 May 1941. [95] The French Resistance provided the British with confirmation that Luftwaffe units were relocating there. Tovey could now turn his forces toward France to converge in areas through which Bismarck would have to pass. [96] A squadron of Coastal Command PBY Catalinas based in Northern Ireland joined the search, covering areas where Bismarck might head in the attempt to reach occupied France. At 10:30 on 26 May, a Catalina piloted by Ensign Leonard B. Smith of the US Navy located her, some 690 nmi (1,280 km 790 mi) northwest of Brest. [e] At her current speed, she would have been close enough to reach the protection of U-boats and the Luftwaffe in less than a day. Most British forces were not close enough to stop her. [98]

The only possibility for the Royal Navy was Ark Royal with Force H, under the command of Admiral James Somerville. [99] Victorious, Prince of Wales, Suffolk and Repulse were forced to break off the search due to fuel shortage the only heavy ships remaining apart from Force H were King George V and Rodney, but they were too distant. [100] Ark Royal ' s Swordfish were already searching nearby when the Catalina found her. Several torpedo bombers also located the battleship, about 60 nmi (110 km 69 mi) away from Ark Royal. Somerville ordered an attack as soon as the Swordfish returned and were rearmed with torpedoes. He detached the cruiser Sheffield to shadow Bismarck, though Ark Royal ' s aviators were not informed of this. [101] As a result, the Swordfish, which were armed with torpedoes equipped with new magnetic detonators, accidentally attacked Sheffield. The magnetic detonators failed to work properly and Sheffield emerged unscathed. [102]

Upon returning to Ark Royal, the Swordfish loaded torpedoes equipped with contact detonators. The second attack comprised fifteen aircraft and was launched at 19:10. At 20:47, the torpedo bombers began their attack descent through the clouds. [103] As the Swordfish approached, Bismarck fired her main battery at Sheffield, straddling the cruiser with her second salvo. Shell fragments rained down on Sheffield, killing three men and wounding several others. [104] Sheffield quickly retreated under cover of a smoke screen. The Swordfish then attacked Bismarck began to turn violently as her anti-aircraft batteries engaged the bombers. [105] One torpedo hit amidships on the port side, just below the bottom edge of the main armour belt. The force of the explosion was largely contained by the underwater protection system and the belt armour but some structural damage caused minor flooding. [106]

The second torpedo struck Bismarck in her stern on the port side, near the port rudder shaft. The coupling on the port rudder assembly was badly damaged and the rudder became locked in a 12° turn to port. The explosion also caused much shock damage. The crew eventually managed to repair the starboard rudder but the port rudder remained jammed. A suggestion to sever the port rudder with explosives was dismissed by Lütjens, as damage to the screws would have left the battleship helpless. [107] [108] At 21:15, Lütjens reported that the ship was unmanoeuvrable. [109]

Sinking Edit

With the port rudder jammed, Bismarck was now steaming in a large circle, unable to escape from Tovey's forces. Though fuel shortages had reduced the number of ships available to the British, the battleships King George V and Rodney were still available, along with the heavy cruisers Dorsetshire and Norfolk. [110] Lütjens signalled headquarters at 21:40 on the 26th: "Ship unmanoeuvrable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer." [111] The mood of the crew became increasingly depressed, especially as messages from the naval command reached the ship. Intended to boost morale, the messages only highlighted the desperate situation in which the crew found itself. [112] As darkness fell, Bismarck briefly fired on Sheffield, though the cruiser quickly fled. Sheffield lost contact in the low visibility and Captain Philip Vian's group of five destroyers was ordered to keep contact with Bismarck through the night. [113]

The ships encountered Bismarck at 22:38 the battleship quickly engaged them with her main battery. After firing three salvos, she straddled the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun. The destroyer continued to close the range until a near miss at around 12,000 m (39,000 ft) forced her to turn away. Throughout the night and into the morning, Vian's destroyers harried Bismarck, illuminating her with star shells and firing dozens of torpedoes, none of which hit. Between 05:00 and 06:00, Bismarck ' s crew attempted to launch one of the Arado 196 float planes to carry away the ship's war diary, footage of the engagement with Hood, and other important documents. The third shell hit from Prince of Wales had damaged the steam line on the aircraft catapult, rendering it inoperative. As it was not possible to launch the aircraft, it had become a fire hazard, and was pushed overboard. [114]

After daybreak on 27 May, King George V led the attack. Rodney followed off her port quarter Tovey intended to steam directly at Bismarck until he was about 8 nmi (15 km 9.2 mi) away. At that point, he would turn south to put his ships parallel to his target. [115] At 08:43, lookouts on King George V spotted her, some 23,000 m (25,000 yd) away. Four minutes later, Rodney ' s two forward turrets, comprising six 16 in (406 mm) guns, opened fire, then King George V ' s 14 in (356 mm) guns began firing. Bismarck returned fire at 08:50 with her forward guns with her second salvo, she straddled Rodney. [116] Thereafter, Bismarck ' s ability to aim her guns deteriorated as the ship, unable to steer, moved erratically in the heavy seas and deprived Schneider of a predictable course for range calculations. [117]

As the range fell, the ships' secondary batteries joined the battle. Norfolk and Dorsetshire closed and began firing with their 8 in (203 mm) guns. At 09:02, a 16-inch shell from Rodney struck Bismarck ' s forward superstructure, killing hundreds of men and severely damaging the two forward turrets. According to survivors, this salvo probably killed both Lindemann and Lütjens and the rest of the bridge staff, [118] although other survivors stated that they saw Lindemann on the deck as the ship sank. [119] The main fire control director was also destroyed by this hit, which probably also killed Schneider. A second shell from this salvo struck the forward main battery, which was disabled, though it would manage to fire one last salvo at 09:27. [120] [121] Lieutenant von Müllenheim-Rechberg, in the rear control station, took over firing control for the rear turrets. He managed to fire three salvos before a shell destroyed the gun director, disabling his equipment. He gave the order for the guns to fire independently, but by 09:31, all four main battery turrets had been put out of action. [122] One of Bismarck ' s shells exploded 20 feet off Rodney ' s bow and damaged her starboard torpedo tube—the closest Bismarck came to a direct hit on her opponents. [123]

With the bridge personnel no longer responding, the executive officer CDR Hans Oels took command of the ship from his station at the Damage Control Central. He decided at around 09:30 to abandon and scuttle the ship [124] to prevent Bismarck being boarded by the British, and to allow the crew to abandon ship so as to reduce casualties. [125] Oels ordered the men below decks to abandon ship he instructed the engine room crews to open the ship's watertight doors and to prepare scuttling charges. [126] Gerhard Junack, the chief engineering officer, ordered his men to set the demolition charges with a 9-minute fuse but the intercom system broke down and he sent a messenger to confirm the order to scuttle the ship. The messenger never returned, so Junack primed the charges and ordered his men to abandon ship. They left the engine spaces at around 10:10. [127] [128] Junack and his comrades heard the demolition charges detonate as they made their way up through the various levels. [129] Oels rushed throughout the ship, ordering men to abandon their posts. On the battery deck a huge explosion killed him and about a hundred others. [130]

By 10:00, Tovey's two battleships had fired over 700 main battery shells, many at very close range. [131] Rodney closed to 2,700 m (3,000 yd), point-blank range for guns of that size, and continued to fire. Tovey would not cease fire until the Germans struck their ensigns or it became clear they were abandoning ship. [132] Overall the four British ships fired more than 2,800 shells at Bismarck, and scored more than 400 hits, but were unable to sink Bismarck by gunfire. The heavy gunfire at virtually point-blank range devastated the superstructure and the sections of the hull that were above the waterline, causing very heavy casualties, but it contributed little to the eventual sinking of the ship. [133] Rodney fired two torpedoes from her port-side tube and claimed one hit. [134] According to Ludovic Kennedy, "if true, [this is] the only instance in history of one battleship torpedoing another". [123]

The scuttling charges detonated around 10:20. By 10:35, the ship had assumed a heavy port list, capsizing slowly and sinking by the stern. [133] [135] At around 10:20, running low on fuel, Tovey ordered the cruiser Dorsetshire to sink Bismarck with torpedoes and ordered his battleships back to port. [136] Dorsetshire fired a pair of torpedoes into Bismarck ' s starboard side, one of which hit. Dorsetshire then moved around to her port side and fired another torpedo, which also hit. By the time these torpedo attacks took place, the ship was already listing so badly that the deck was partly awash. [129] Bismarck had been reduced to a shambles, aflame from stem to stern. She was slowly settling by the stern from uncontrolled flooding with a 20 degree list to port. [131] It appears that the final torpedo may have detonated against Bismarck ' s port side superstructure, which was by then already underwater. [67] Bismarck disappeared beneath the surface at 10:40. [135]

Junack, who had abandoned ship by the time it capsized, observed no underwater damage to the ship's starboard side. [128] Von Müllenheim-Rechberg reported the same but assumed that the port side, which was then under water, had been more significantly damaged. [119] Some survivors reported they saw Captain Lindemann standing at attention at the stem of the ship as she sank. [119] Around 400 men were now in the water [128] Dorsetshire and the destroyer Maori moved in and lowered ropes to pull the survivors aboard. At 11:40, Dorsetshire ' s captain ordered the rescue effort abandoned after lookouts spotted what they thought was a U-boat. Dorsetshire had rescued 85 men and Maori had picked up 25 by the time they left the scene. [137] A U-boat later reached the survivors and found three men, and a German trawler rescued another two. One of the men picked up by the British died of his wounds the following day. Out of a crew of over 2,200 men, only 114 survived. [135]

In 1959, C. S. Forester published his novel Last Nine Days of the Bismarck. The book was adapted for the movie Sink the Bismarck!, released the following year. For dramatic effect the film showed Bismarck sinking a British destroyer and shooting down two aircraft, neither of which happened. [138] That same year, Johnny Horton released the song "Sink the Bismark". [139]

Discovery by Robert Ballard Edit

The wreck of Bismarck was discovered on 8 June 1989 by Dr. Robert Ballard, the oceanographer responsible for finding RMS Titanic. Bismarck was found to be resting on its keel at a depth of approximately 4,791 m (15,719 ft), [140] about 650 km (400 mi) west of Brest. The ship struck an extinct underwater volcano, which rose some 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above the surrounding abyssal plain, triggering a 2 km (1.2 mi) landslide. Bismarck slid down the mountain, coming to a stop two-thirds down. Ballard kept the wreck's exact location a secret to prevent other divers from taking artefacts from the ship, a practice he considered a form of grave robbing. [141]

Ballard's survey found no underwater penetrations of the ship's fully armoured citadel. Eight holes were found in the hull, one on the starboard side and seven on the port side, all above the waterline. One of the holes is in the deck, on the bow's starboard side. The angle and shape indicates the shell that created the hole was fired from Bismarck ' s port side and struck the starboard anchor chain. The anchor chain has disappeared down this hole. [142] Six holes are amidships, three shell fragments pierced the upper splinter belt, and one made a hole in the main armour belt. [143] Further aft a huge hole is visible, parallel to the aircraft catapult, on the deck. The submersibles recorded no sign of a shell penetration through the main or side armour here, and it is likely that the shell penetrated the deck armour only. [144] Huge dents showed that many of the 14 inch shells fired by King George V bounced off the German belt armour. [145] Naval historians William Garzke and Robert Dulin noted that the British battleships were shooting at very close range the flat trajectory of the shells made it difficult to hit the relatively narrow target represented by the belt armour above the waterline, as shells that fell short would either ricochet up into the superstructure or explode on striking the water. [146]

Ballard noted that he found no evidence of the internal implosions that occur when a hull that is not fully flooded sinks. The surrounding water, which has much greater pressure than the air in the hull, would crush the ship. Instead, Ballard points out that the hull is in relatively good condition he states simply that "Bismarck did not implode." [147] This suggests that Bismarck ' s compartments were flooded when the ship sank, supporting the scuttling theory. [148] Ballard added "we found a hull that appears whole and relatively undamaged by the descent and impact". They concluded that the direct cause of sinking was scuttling: sabotage of engine-room valves by her crew, as claimed by German survivors. [149]

The whole stern had broken away as it was not near the main wreckage and has not yet been found, it can be assumed this did not occur on impact with the sea floor. The missing section came away roughly where the torpedo had hit, raising questions of possible structural failure. [150] The stern area had also received several hits, increasing the torpedo damage. This, coupled with the fact the ship sank "stern first" and had no structural support to hold it in place, suggests the stern detached at the surface. In 1942 Prinz Eugen was also torpedoed in the stern, which collapsed. This prompted a strengthening of the stern structures on all German capital ships. [149]

Subsequent expeditions Edit

In June 2001, Deep Ocean Expeditions, partnered with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, conducted another investigation of the wreck. The researchers used Russian-built mini-submarines. William N. Lange, a Woods Hole expert, stated, "You see a large number of shell holes in the superstructure and deck, but not that many along the side, and none below the waterline." [151] The expedition found no penetrations in the main armoured belt, above or below the waterline. The examiners noted several long gashes in the hull, but attributed these to impact on the sea floor. [151]

An Anglo-American expedition in July 2001 was funded by a British TV channel. The team used the volcano—the only one in that area—to locate the wreck. Using ROVs to film the hull, the team concluded that the ship had sunk due to combat damage. Expedition leader David Mearns claimed significant gashes had been found in the hull: "My feeling is that those holes were probably lengthened by the slide, but initiated by torpedoes". [151]

The 2002 documentary Expedition: Bismarck, directed by James Cameron and filmed in May–June 2002 using smaller and more agile Mir submersibles, reconstructed the events leading to the sinking. These provided the first interior shots. [151] Although around 719 large caliber shells were fired at Bismarck that morning, Cameron’s thorough survey of the entire hull noted only two instances where the 320 mm main side belt armour had actually been penetrated. These were both on the starboard side amidships. One hole is actually forward of the 320 mm displaced armour belt. In the second case the explosion actually dislodged a rectangular segment of the 320 mm armour. The close-range shelling was largely ineffective in damaging the vitals of the ship. [152] An inspection inside the hull revealed that the underside of the armour deck, including its outboard slope, was virtually intact. [153]

Cameron also found that all the torpedoes fired at the Bismarck were almost completely ineffective in the effort to sink the ship, and that some of the claimed hits were torpedoes that exploded prematurely due to the heavy seas. [154] Using small ROVs to examine the interior, Cameron discovered that the torpedo blasts had failed to shatter the torpedo bulkheads. [151] Cameron saw large pieces of the lower hull lying within the "slide scar" which marked the progress of the ship down the sloping seabed, and he concluded that the extensive damage to the underside of the hull had been caused by the impact of the hull with the ocean floor, rather than torpedo or shell explosions. This disproved the conclusion of David Mearns from the 2001 ITN Expedition that torpedo hits tore the hull open during the battle, and that the torpedo hits were more than enough to have caused the ship to sink. [155]

Despite their sometimes differing viewpoints, these experts generally agree that Bismarck would have eventually foundered if the Germans had not scuttled her first. Ballard estimated that Bismarck could still have floated for at least a day when the British vessels ceased fire and could have been captured by the Royal Navy, a position supported by the historian Ludovic Kennedy (who was serving on the destroyer HMS Tartar at the time). Kennedy stated, "That she would have foundered eventually there can be little doubt but the scuttling ensured that it was sooner rather than later." [149] When asked whether Bismarck would have sunk if the Germans had not scuttled the ship, Cameron replied "Sure. But it might have taken half a day." [151] In Mearns' subsequent book Hood and Bismarck, he conceded that scuttling "may have hastened the inevitable, but only by a matter of minutes." [151] Ballard later concluded that "As far as I was concerned, the British had sunk the ship regardless of who delivered the final blow." [156]


10. An error ended up ensuring Bismarck was ultimately disabled

The torpedo bombers of Ark Royal were sent to attack Bismarck but mistook the British ship HMS Sheffield for the German battleship. They dropped 11 torpedoes. Thankfully their magnetic tips malfunctioned and the ship was spared. The malfunction of the torpedoes meant that the crews loaded torpedoes with contact fuses for the next attack, when they did find and disable Bismarck.

A Fairey Swordfish from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal returns at low level over the sea after making a torpedo attack on the German battleship Bismarck.

Image Credit: Photograph A 4100 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums / Public Domain


Contents

Bismarck ' s second sea battle was made unavoidable by the decisions of the Fleet Commander (Günther Lütjens), taken well before the encounter with Hood and Prince of Wales.

Even before the breakout into the North Atlantic, Lütjens had decided against conducting an underway refuelling in the Greenland Sea with Weissenburg, [7] one of the pre-positioned German tankers, before his ships entered the Denmark Strait. And when, as a result of the battle with Hood and Prince of Wales, Bismarck lost access to several thousand tons of fuel in her forecastle due to a shell hit from Prince of Wales (aft of the forecastle, in her anchor locker), Lütjens had to order his ships to slow down to conserve fuel. The decrease in speed made Force H’s airborne torpedo attacks inevitable, and those attacks led directly to the final encounter with the Home Fleet.

Determined to avenge the sinking of the "Pride of the Navy" HMS Hood in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, the British committed every possible unit to hunting down Bismarck. The old Revenge-class battleship HMS Ramillies was detached from convoy duty southeast of Greenland and ordered to set a course to intercept Bismarck if she should attempt to raid the sea lanes off North America.

Prince of Wales and the cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk were still at sea in the area and tailing the German ships. A British force, the battleship King George V, the carrier Victorious and their escorts, had set sail from Scapa Flow before the loss of the Hood. The battleship Rodney was detached from escort duties on 24 May.

During the early evening of 24 May, an attack was made by a small group of Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers of 825 Naval Air Squadron under the command of Eugene Esmonde from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. One hit was scored, but caused only superficial damage to Bismarck ' s armoured belt.

For some time, Bismarck remained under long-distance observation by the British. At about 03:00 on 25 May, she took advantage of her opponents' zig-zagging to double back on her own wake Bismarck made a nearly 270° turn to starboard, and as a result her pursuers lost sight of the battleship, thus enabling her to head for German naval bases in France unnoticed. Contact was lost for four hours, but the Germans did not know this. For reasons that are still unclear, Admiral Günther Lütjens transmitted a 30-minute radio message to HQ, which was intercepted, thereby giving the British time to work out roughly where he was heading. However, a plotting error made onboard King George V, now in pursuit of the Germans, incorrectly calculated Bismarck ' s position and caused the chase to veer too far to the north. Bismarck was therefore able to make good time on 25/26 May in her unhindered passage towards France and protective air cover and destroyer escort. By now, however, fuel was becoming a major concern to both sides.

The British had a stroke of luck on 26 May. In mid-morning a Coastal Command Catalina reconnaissance aircraft from 209 Squadron RAF had flown over the Atlantic from its base on Lough Erne in Northern Ireland across the Donegal Corridor. [8] It was piloted by British Flying Officer Dennis Briggs [9] and co-piloted by US Navy observer Ensign Leonard B. Smith, USNR. [10] Smith was at the controls when he spotted Bismarck [ citation needed ] (via a trailing oil slick from the ship's damaged fuel tank) and reported her position to the Admiralty. From then on, the German ship's position was known to the British, although the enemy would have to be slowed significantly if heavy units hoped to engage outside the range of German land-based aircraft. All British hopes were now pinned on Force H, whose main units were the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, the battlecruiser HMS Renown and the light cruiser HMS Sheffield. This battle group, commanded by Admiral James Somerville, had been diverted north from Gibraltar.

Night of 26/27 May Edit

At dusk that evening, and in atrocious weather conditions, Swordfish from Ark Royal launched an attack. The first wave mistakenly targeted Sheffield which had been detached from Force H under orders to close and shadow Bismarck. Although precious time was lost by this incident, it proved beneficial to the British in that the magnetic detonators on the torpedoes used against Sheffield were seen to be defective and for the following attack on Bismarck were replaced by those designed to explode on contact. Despite the lateness of the day, it was decided to try again. The attack commenced in near darkness at around 21:00 but once again the Swordfish torpedo bombers found Bismarck with their ASV II radars. [11] A hit by a single torpedo from a Swordfish, hitting her port side, jammed Bismarck ' s rudder and steering gear 12° to port. [12] This resulted in her being, initially, able to steam only in a large circle. Repair efforts by the crew to free the rudder failed. [13] Bismarck attempted to steer by alternating the power of her three propeller shafts, which, in the prevailing force 8 wind and sea state, resulted in the ship being forced to sail towards King George V and Rodney, two British battleships that had been pursuing Bismarck from the west. [14] At 23:40 on 26 May, Admiral Lütjens delivered to Group West, the German command base, the signal "Ship unmanoeuvrable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer." [15]

Throughout that night, Bismarck was the target of intermittent torpedo attacks by the destroyers HMS Cossack, Sikh, Maori and Zulu, and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun. One of Bismarck ' s shells sheared off Cossack ' s antenna and three other shells straddled Zulu wounding three men. The British destroyers didn’t score any hits, but the constant worrying tactics of the British helped wear down the morale of the Germans and deepened the fatigue of an already exhausted crew.

The final action Edit

As the British units converged on Bismarck ' s location, Tovey instructed the commander of Rodney to close to within 15,000 yd (14,000 m) as quickly as possible, and that while he should in general conform to King George V ' s movements, he was free to manoeuvre independently. [16] The morning of Tuesday 27 May 1941 brought a heavy grey sky, a rising sea and a tearing wind from the northwest. Because of this northwesterly gale, Tovey concluded an attack on Bismarck from windward was undesirable. He decided to approach on a northwesterly bearing before deploying. [17] For her part, Bismarck was still unmanoeuvrable her crew made what preparations they could for the inevitable engagement, including pushing her Arado floatplane overboard to reduce the risk of fire. [18]

At 08:43, lookouts on King George V spotted Bismarck, some 25,000 yd (23,000 m) away Rodney opened fire first at 08:47, followed quickly by King George V. Bismarck was unable to steer due to the torpedo damage, and this was further complicated by the gale-force storm. The consequent unpredictable motions made the ship an unstable gun platform and created a difficult gunnery problem. [19] However Bismarck returned fire at 08:50 with her forward guns, and with her second salvo, she straddled Rodney. This was the closest she came to scoring a hit on any British warship in the engagement, [20] because at 09:02, a 16-inch (406 mm) salvo from Rodney struck the forward superstructure, damaging the bridge and main fire control director and killing most of the senior officers. The salvo also damaged the forward main battery turrets. The aft fire control station took over direction of the aft turrets, but after three salvos was also knocked out. With both fire control positions out of action, Bismarck ' s shooting became increasingly erratic, allowing the British to close the range. Norfolk and Dorsetshire closed and began firing with their 8 in (203 mm) guns. [21] [22]

By 09:31, all four of Bismarck ' s main battery turrets were out of action, allowing Rodney to close to around 3,000 yd (2,700 m) with impunity to fire her guns at what was point-blank range into Bismarck ' s superstructure. King George V remained at a greater distance to increase the possibility that her shells would strike Bismarck ' s decks. During this period, Rodney launched a pair of torpedoes at Bismarck, claiming one hit. The two battleships quickly reduced their German opponent to a shambles, aflame from stem to stern, though the Germans refused to surrender. The ship was settling by the stern due to uncontrolled flooding and had taken on a 20 degree list to port by 10:00. By that time, the two British battleships had fired some 700 large-caliber shells at Bismarck. [23] All told, King George V, Rodney, Dorsetshire and Norfolk collectively fired some 2,800 shells, scoring around 400 hits. [24]

At around this time, First Officer Hans Oels, the senior surviving officer, issued the order to abandon ship. He also instructed the engine-room crews to open the ship's watertight doors and prepare scuttling charges. [25] Gerhard Junack, the chief engineering officer, ordered his men to set the demolition charges with a 9-minute fuse but the intercom system broke down and he sent a messenger to confirm the order to scuttle the ship. The messenger never returned and Junack primed the charges and ordered the crew to abandon the ship. [4]

Meanwhile, Tovey's battleships were running low on ammunition and fuel at 10:20, he ordered Dorsetshire to close and torpedo the crippled Bismarck while King George V and Rodney turned for port. [24] Dorsetshire fired a pair of torpedoes into Bismarck ' s starboard side, one of which hit. Dorsetshire then moved around to her port side and fired another torpedo, which also hit. By the time these torpedo attacks took place, the ship was already listing so badly that the deck was partly awash. Based on subsequent examination of the wreck, the last torpedo appears to have detonated against Bismarck ' s port side superstructure, which was by then already underwater. [26] [27] The ship began capsizing at about 10:35, and by 10:40 had slipped beneath the waves, stern first. [28]

Survivors Edit

Dorsetshire and Maori attempted to rescue survivors, but a U-boat alarm caused them to leave the scene after having rescued only 111 Bismarck sailors, leaving the majority of Bismarck ' s survivors from the 2,200-man crew (around 800) to the rough Atlantic waters. The next morning, U-74, dispatched to try to rescue Bismarck’s logbook (and which heard sinking noises from a distance), picked up three survivors in a raft (Herzog, Höntzsch, and Manthey) and the German weather ship Sachsenwald picked up two survivors in another raft (Lorenzen and Maus) before finding another raft that was empty.

After the sinking, Admiral John Tovey said, "The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy, and she went down with her colours flying."

The Board of the Admiralty issued a message of thanks to those involved:

Their Lordships congratulate C.-in-C., Home Fleet, and all concerned in the unrelenting pursuit and successful destruction of the enemy's most powerful warship. The loss of H.M.S. Hood and her company, which is so deeply regretted, has thus been avenged and the Atlantic made more secure for our trade and that of our allies. From the information at present available to Their Lordships there can be no doubt that had it not been for the gallantry, skill, and devotion to duty of the Fleet Air Arm in both Victorious and Ark Royal, our object might not have been achieved. [29]

Unaware of the fate of the ship, Group West, the German command base, continued to issue signals to Bismarck for some hours, until Reuters reported news from Britain that the ship had been sunk. In Britain, the House of Commons was informed of the sinking early that afternoon. [30]

After the battle, the British warships returned to the United Kingdom with 111 Bismarck survivors. One died later of his wounds. After a period of interrogation and processing, the survivors spent the rest of the war as prisoners. No British ship was sunk during this action, but the destroyer HMS Mashona was sunk by the Luftwaffe during the withdrawal the following day.

Several Bismarck survivors spoke afterwards of a sailor on Dorsetshire, Midshipman Joe Brooks, who leapt into the water in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a German sailor who had lost both his arms. In a 1989 National Geographic documentary on Bismarck, one of the survivors said, "the name Joe Brooks meant something to us our government should've given that man a medal for humaneness." [ citation needed ]


Bismarck sunk by Royal Navy

On February 14, 1939, the 823-foot Bismarck was launched at Hamburg. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler hoped that the state-of-the-art battleship would herald the rebirth of the German surface battle fleet. However, after the outbreak of war, Britain closely guarded ocean routes from Germany to the Atlantic Ocean, and only U-boats moved freely through the war zone.

In May 1941, the order was given for the Bismarck to break out into the Atlantic. Once in the safety of the open ocean, the battleship would be almost impossible to track down, all the while wreaking havoc on Allied convoys to Britain. Learning of its movement, Britain sent almost the entire British Home Fleet in pursuit. On May 24, the British battle cruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales intercepted it near Iceland. In a ferocious battle, the Hood exploded and sank, and all but three of the 1,421 crewmen were killed. The Bismarck escaped, but because it was leaking fuel it fled for occupied France. On May 26, it was sighted and crippled by British aircraft, and on May 27 three British warships descended on the Bismarck and finished it off.


Bismarck sunk in 1941.

This 26 page newspaper has five column headline on the front page: "CRIPPLED BISMARCK LOCATED TODAY IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC AND SUNK BY BRITISH AIRCRAFT, NAVAL UNITS" with subheads and nice photo of the Bismarck also on the front page. (see)

Other news of the day throughout. Minor spine wear, otherwise in nice condition.

wikipedia notes:
The German battleship Bismarck was one of the most famous warships of the Second World War. The lead ship of her class, named after the 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Bismarck displaced more than 50,000 tonnes fully loaded and was the largest warship then commissioned.

Bismarck took part in only one operation during her brief career. She and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen left Gotenhafen on the morning of 19 May 1941 for Operation Rheinübung, during which she was to have attempted to intercept and destroy convoys in transit between North America and Great Britain. When Bismarck and Prinz Eugen attempted to break out into the Atlantic, the two ships were discovered by the Royal Navy and brought to battle in the Denmark Strait. During the short engagement, the British battlecruiser HMS Hood, flagship of the Home Fleet and pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk after several minutes of firing. In response, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the order to "Sink the Bismarck, spurring a relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy.

Two days later, with Bismarck almost in reach of safer waters, Fleet Air Arm Swordfish biplanes launched from the carrier HMS Ark Royal torpedoed the ship and jammed her rudder, allowing heavy British units to catch up with her. In the ensuing battle on the morning of 27 May 1941, Bismarck was heavily attacked for almost two hours before sinking.


TDIH: May 27, 1941. World War II: The German battleship Bismarck is sunk in the North Atlantic killing almost 2,100 men. Photo: HMS Dorsetshire picking up survivors.

Bismarck was the first of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. Named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1936 and launched in February 1939. Work was completed in August 1940, when she was commissioned into the German fleet.

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Maybe because of this fella called Otto van Bismarck? The iron chancellor? The mastermind of German unification? A bulwhark of conservative forces and monarchists through his entire reign? One of, if not the driving force of European politics throughout a 20 year period? One of greatest political minds in history?

But what would I know compared to the revered opinion of 'gapingdoganus420'. You fucking clown.


Watch the video: Schlachtschiff Bismarck versenkt Schlepper RC ; (December 2021).