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Sink the Bismarck

History-World WWII Bismarck Naval Battle

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#1 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 07:10 AM

I thought we’d get another history thread rolling so here goes.  It was this week in 1941that the Royal Navy cornered the Bismarck and sank her in the North Atlantic.  The hunt for the Bismarck and the subsequent naval battle has gone down in history as one of those widely known naval actions of World War II.  

The entire affair started named as Operation Rheinübung and was a planned sortie of the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, and battleship Bismarck.  The intent was that the Bismarck could fight off any convoy escort while the Twins and Prinz Eugen could wreak havoc with the merchantman.  The force would have actually been a fairly substantial one for the Royal Navy and only a few outdated inferior battlecruisers in the Royal Navy would have been able to actually catch the group.  Other actions though led to the dropping of the Twins from the planned sortie.  

Even with the loss of the two battlecruisers the force was still substantial enough to elicit an immediate responses from the Royal Navy in the form of a massive search to locate the Bismarck once they were alerted of her sortie.  The Bismarck was sighted in the Denmark Strait by the cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk.  The battleship Prince Wales and battlecruisers Hood engaged the Bismarck.  In the subsequent battle the Hood was hit and exploded while the Prince of Wales was forced to break off contact following the loss of Hood.  What ensured was a cat and mouse games across the North Atlantic between the Bismarck and a large portion of the Royal Navy.  The Bismarck was eventually crippled at the edge of escaping by a lucky hit, from a torpedo launched in an attack by carrier aircraft, which jammed her rudder.  The battleships King George and Rodney delivered the final blow to the Bismarck in a naval gunnery battle.  
Detailed account of Operation Rheinübung
Tech Data on the Bismarck

Now the most interesting aspect of the situation to me is how the Bismarck has entrenched itself in the public mind.  If you ask the layperson on the street what the greatest battleship ever was they will most likely say Bismarck.  I’m assuming you can find someone who knows what a battleship is and knows the name of at least one.  The Bismarck as a battleship was actually full of several major design flaws and could probably go down as one of the poorest designed of the modern battleships.  The actual design was basically a revamped larger version of a World War I Bayern Class.  In general the Bismarck was suited for knife fighting ranges in bad weather that is prevalent in North Atlantic.  She lacked the protection against long-range plunging fire and actually the communication lines to the turrets ran above the armored deck.  The rudder and propulsion setup of the Bismarck made her more vulnerable to torpedo hits like the one that disabled her.

Perhaps some of the mystique of the Bismarck comes from the devastating loss she dealt the Royal Navy when she sunk their pride the Hood.  The Hood was actually badly outdated having been completed following World War I and had a glass jaw.  Her design emphasized speed over armored protection and she lacked adequate deck protection.  A refit had been planned to rectify the problem but it was never carried out.  

One of the interesting what ifs to me that surrounds the battle is what would have occurred if the Bismarck had escaped being hit during the battle with the Hood/PoW.  During the battle the Bismarck had taken a hit that resulted in the cutting off and contamination of a substantial amount of fuel.  Without this damage the potential exists that in continuing her mission the Bismarck might have managed to evade the Royal Navy and gotten loose in the Atlantic.  The damage she could have done in terms of just disrupting convoy schedules would have been substantial.    

Questions? Comments?  Area of debate or interest?

Edited by CJ AEGIS, 30 May 2003 - 07:10 AM.

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#2 tennyson

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 08:36 AM

Well, my favorite battleships will always be the Iowa class, they don't have the sheer mass of the Yamatos or the uniqueness of the Vanguard but they were balanced, fast and capable and I'd put them up against any battleship ever built and in thier moderized state against any battlecruiser ever built( take that Kirov).
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#3 Banapis

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 08:48 AM

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The Bismarck as a battleship was actually full of several major design flaws and could probably go down as one of the poorest designed of the modern battleships. The actual design was basically a revamped larger version of a World War I Bayern Class.

I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that oft-repeated claim. It seems to me authors tend to overemphasize the similarities in order to grab the reader by the collar and yell:  “Look you silly git, get it out of your head the Bismarck was the end-all be-all of battleship designs!!!  And to beat that claim home I'm gonna say it was nothing more than a glorified WWI retread!"

German Naval engineering necessarily evolved from previous experience, which would include the WWI Baden class, but I see the Bismarck more as a natural evolution of the design process that began with the German “pocket battleships.”  

There’s no disputing, however, that the class had serious design flaws.  

OTOH, the internal compartmentalization was excellent, and in no small way contributed to her mystique as it took an enormous amount of punishment to sink her, which includes by some reports of her German crew working to scuttle her… and her wreck still looks quite splendid on the seabed!

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Perhaps some of the mystique of the Bismarck comes from the devastating loss she dealt the Royal Navy when she sunk their pride the Hood.

Or did she…? ;)

Ron Vielicka’s article, Blut Und Eisen:  Who sank the Hood?, reprinted in the 1995 Sea Classics Magazine special “Germany’s Big Gun Navy at War!” postulates (based on actual observed hits and shell trajectories) that it’s more likely the Prinz Eugen delivered the fatal blow to the Hood.

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The Hood was actually badly outdated having been completed following World War I and had a glass jaw. Her design emphasized speed over armored protection and she lacked adequate deck protection.

Yes, you gotta love the Jackie Fisher design philosophy… or maybe not. ;) :D

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A refit had been planned to rectify the problem but it was never carried out.

Some photomanipulated pictures as to what a refitted Hood might have looked like:

http://www.hmshood.c...ir/Refit42.html

One other factor you might have overlooked in considering the Bismarck mystique:  wartime propaganda.  The British had a vested interest in exaggerating the invincibility of the German battleship in order to make their destruction of it more impressive in the eyes of the public and inflate their morale.

Banapis

Edited by Banapis, 30 May 2003 - 08:54 AM.


#4 Delvo

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 09:20 AM

What makes the story of the Bismarck interesting to me is the drama in it. The full story is like a novel; almost too many wacky twists and turns to fit in a movie, some due to unlikely human errors and some dealt by odd chance

#5 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 09:58 AM

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Banapis: I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that oft-repeated claim. It seems to me authors tend to overemphasize the similarities in order to grab the reader by the collar and yell: “Look you silly git, get it out of your head the Bismarck was the end-all be-all of battleship designs!!! And to beat that claim home I'm gonna say it was nothing more than glorified WWI retread!"

I think the similarities to the Bayern class are sufficient though to warrant an acknowledgement that the two classes hold a similar ideology.  The design just had never shown to me the uniqueness or ingenuity of the Twins.      

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Banapis: OTOH, the internal compartmentalization was excellent, and in no small way contributed to her mystique as it took an enormous amount of punishment to sink her, which includes by some reports of her German crew working to scuttle her… and her wreck still looks quite splendid on the seabed!

Indeed the internal compartmentalization and her side protection were good enough to make the task of killing the Bismarck very hard.  Achieving a soft kill on the Bismarck wasn’t very hard especially if you could direct plunging fire down on her light armored decks.  For knife fighting at close ranges in bad weather the Bismarck could do an excellent job with guns that were powerful at short ranges, good side protection, and a stable gun platform.  If you start opening up the range though she’d be very vulnerable to that plunging fire and the weaknesses in her design would start to catch up with her.

    

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Banapis: Or did she…?

Well popular conception is that the Bismarck destroyed her. ;)  Though the ultimate irony is a battle cruiser designed to destroy cruisers may have been taken down by a cruiser.  

I tend to myself to favor the theory that a 15” round impacted the 4” magazine and then spread to the 15” magazine.  The 8” hit that caused the fire on the Hood would have given the Germans a good location to aim for and improved their accuracy.  Witnesses on the PoW and PE viewed only enough shell splashes from the Bismarck’s salvo around the Hood that at least two shells hit her.  

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Banapis: One other factor you might have overlooked in considering the Bismarck mystique: wartime propaganda. The British had a vested interest in exaggerated the invincibility of the German battleship in order to make their destruction of it more impressive in the eyes of the public and inflate their morale.

Excellent point.  

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Tennyson: Well, my favorite battleships will always be the Iowa class,

Agreed the Iowa class is the epitome of designing a ship that had all the right compromises to make her a real winner.  Though I do have a special fondness for the South Dakotas.  The design was a more compact smaller target with good overall protection.  The class wasn’t as fast as an Iowa and the 16”/45s were inferior to the 16”/50s but altogether the South Dakotas were another excellent design.  

One of the great what ifs for the Bismarck in my eyes is if FDR had committed the USN to an attempt to sink her assuming she escaped the RN.  North Caroline would have been the logical choice to send after her and probably could have done the task pretty readily.  Except there is the small problem that she was still playing Showboat with a host of problems and bugs to work out.  You’d have to worry about North Carolina vibrating apart before reaching the battle.  That leaves Texas and New York left and well assuming Bismarck stood around to fight them…
"History has proven too often and too recently that the nation which relaxes its defenses invites attack."
        -Fleet Admiral Nimitz
"Their sailors say they should have flight pay and sub pay both -- they're in the air half the time, under the water the other half""
        - Ernie Pyle: Aboard a DE

#6 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 06:46 PM

CJ AEGIS, on May 29 2003, 08:14 PM, said:

Perhaps some of the mystique of the Bismarck comes from the devastating loss she dealt the Royal Navy when she sunk their pride the Hood.  The Hood was actually badly outdated having been completed following World War I and had a glass jaw.  Her design emphasized speed over armored protection and she lacked adequate deck protection.  A refit had been planned to rectify the problem but it was never carried out.
My understanding is that the armour on the Hood was pretty decent; although deck protection was very bad.

I do recall that the British usually prefered closer ranges because, at short ranges,  it was less likely that a shell will plunge into the lower hull where the ammo spaces are. Obviously this would affect both the British and their opponents, but since the British felt they would usually have numerical superiority, they wanted to minimize the chance of a single lucky hit evening the numbers.

Destroying Hood before she and PoW got within 'slugging distance' was a lucky shot from the Bismark- then again, so was the torpedo that knocked out Bismark's rudder.
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#7 Ilphi

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 03:09 AM

It’s kind of a thing that evolved from Britain’s naval heritage. During the wars with the French, even when aiming sites were being fitted onto cannons (granted they were nothing more than little knobs) Admiral Nelson always gave orders to disregard them. The British policy was always rate of fire above all else, get in close then pound them into submission and force them to take in their flag.

The French, on the other hand, tried to be a lot more methodical; take out the riggings so the ship couldn’t maneuver, and then lash round the bowsprit and board them. Now, invariably, the British were able to win their engagements because of their sheer rate of fire. The tactics displayed even at this point in history have roots that can be traced back.
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#8 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 01:25 PM

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Talkie Toaster: My understanding is that the armour on the Hood was pretty decent; although deck protection was very bad.

Tend to agree on this one.  Hood’s greatest flaw was that she was a battlecruiser ;-)  Now I should run before the ghost of Fisher hunts me down.  


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Talkie Toaster: I do recall that the British usually prefered closer ranges because, at short ranges, it was less likely that a shell will plunge into the lower hull where the ammo spaces are.

It makes an interesting contrast to the USN that preferred long range gunnery duels with late war emphasis on radar controlled gunnery.  


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It’s kind of a thing that evolved from Britain’s naval heritage. During the wars with the French, even when aiming sites were being fitted onto cannons (granted they were nothing more than little knobs) Admiral Nelson always gave orders to disregard them. The British policy was always rate of fire above all else, get in close then pound them into submission and force them to take in their flag.

You can really see that trend showing up in the War of 1812 especially in the battle involving the President Class Frigates.  The US vessels were larger, better gun platforms, featured a stronger construction, and had better trained crews whose emphasis was often on gunnery and aiming.  In conjunction with the heavier cannons of the US frigates it was a bad combination for the Royal Navy.  It was only with superior numbers and/or bottling up the frigates that the Royal Navy was able to contain them.  Well there was that one case of a stupid CO...
"History has proven too often and too recently that the nation which relaxes its defenses invites attack."
        -Fleet Admiral Nimitz
"Their sailors say they should have flight pay and sub pay both -- they're in the air half the time, under the water the other half""
        - Ernie Pyle: Aboard a DE



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