German battleship Bismarck

From Academic Kids

Career Image:Kmensign.png
Ordered: 16 November 1935
Laid down: 1 July 1936
Launched: 14 February 1939
Commissioned: 20 August 1940
Fate: Sunk on 27 May 1941
General Characteristics
Displacement: 41,700 t standard; 50,900 t full load
Length: 241.5 m waterline
251 m overall
Width: 36.0 m
Draft: 8.7 m standard
10.2 m full load
Armament: 8 x 380 mm (15 in) (4×2)
12 x 150 mm (5.9 in) (6×2)
16 x 105 mm (4.1 in) (4×2)
16 x 37 mm (8×2)
12 x 20 mm (12 x 1)
Aircraft: 4, with 1 double-ended catapult
Propulsion: 12 Wagner superheaded boilers; 3 Brown-Bovera geared turbines; 3 three-blade propellers, 4.85 m diameter
150,170 hp (110 MW) = 30.1 knots (54 km/h) Trials
Range: 9280 nautical miles @16 knots
Complement: 2,092 (103 officers, 1962 enlisted, 27 prize crew)

Bismarck was a German battleship during World War II. She was named after Otto von Bismarck and is famous for sinking HMS Hood in 1941, and for the subsequent pursuit which ended with her destruction just three days later.



Design of the ship started in 1934. The construction of the second French Dunquerque class battleship made redesign necessary, and Bismarck's displacement increased to 42,600 tons, although officially her tonnage was still only 35,000 tons in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty. She was primarily intended as a commerce raider, having fuel stores as large as those of battleships intended for opeations in the Pacific ocean, but was also capable of engaging enemy warships. Her keel was laid down at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg on 1 July 1936, she was launched on 14 February 1939, and commissioned in August 1940 with Kapitn zur See Ernst Lindemann in command.

Combat history

Breakout into the Atlantic

Bismarck sailed on her first and last mission, codenamed Rheinbung, on 18 May 1941, accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Other German capital ships that were to have participated in the sortie were unavailable because of mechanical problems and war damage, but the mission went ahead under the command of Admiral Gnther Ltjens. The Germans had various objectives, they wished to compensate for their weak submarine presence in the Atlantic and divert British naval forces from the Mediterranean to reduce the risks of the planned invasion of Crete and to allow Rommel’s forces to cross to Libya.

The British Admiralty learnt of Bismarck's departure from deciphered Enigma code messages, from Allied spies who noted her passing the Skagerrak between Denmark and Norway, and from contacts in Sweden. Three days later, she was spotted by Allied reconnaissance aircraft while refueling in a Norwegian fjord. She was then detected and shadowed by the radar-equipped heavy cruiser Suffolk and later a second heavy cruiser Norfolk.

Battle of the Denmark Strait

On 24 May 1941, as the German squadron was leaving the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland, they were engaged by a British force consisting of the battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Hood under the command of Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland. Prince of Wales had only recently been completed and was still being worked up (indeed, she sailed to meet Bismarck with dockyard workmen still on board completing her fitting out). Hood had been built as a fast battlecruiser and modified to give her protection more like a battleship but still had relatively weak deck armour.

Mistakenly believing the Bismarck to be in the lead, Admiral Holland ordered fire to be concentrated on Prinz Eugen although fortunately for the British, the captain of Prince of Wales had realized the error. The British charged straight towards the German ships in an attempt to reduce the range. Closer in, the Hood would be less vulnerable to plunging fire and the advantage of superior German gunnery control would be neutralized. The disadvantage was that during the dash, eight of the eighteen British heavy guns could not be brought to bear and spray severely hampered accurate fire control. Hood was hit by Prinz Eugen and fire broke out then she took one of the Bismarck's first salvos amidships. Moments later she was split in two by a huge explosion. Only three of her 1,418 crew survived.

Prince of Wales had also been hit a number of times and mechanical failures left her with all but one of her main guns out of action, so she turned and escaped behind a smokescreen. Nevertheless, Bismarck had received three hits, one of which caused water to be introduced into fuel storage. From then on, she had to reduce speed to conserve fuel, and left an oil slick trail. Admiral Ltjens decided to head for St Nazaire's dry dock in France for repairs. The British continued to shadow her, the Prince of Wales ordered despite her state to continue to trail. The Bismarck rounded briefly on her pursuers which gave the Prinz Eugen the opportunity to detach.


Missing image
Bismarck firing at Prince of Wales on 24 May 1941, photographed from Prinz Eugen

Determined to avenge the sinking of Hood, the British committed every possible unit to hunting down the Bismarck. An attack was made by a scant group of Swordfish biplane torpedo planes from 825 Naval Air Squadron from the aircraft carrier Victorious during the early evening of 24 May. One hit was scored, but caused only superficial damage to Bismarck’s armoured belt. The chase continued, with both sides running low on fuel, but the Germans getting ever closer to France and protective air cover and destroyer escort. The British lost contact for over six hours, but the Germans never realized this; they continued to detect the British radar but did not know that the return signals were too weak to be detected by the trailing ship. Despite Capitain Lindemann's objections, Admiral Ltjens foolishly transmitted a half-hour radio message. This message was intercepted but at first the British incorrectly calculated Bismarck’s position by using the wrong kind of chart.

A Coastal Command Catalina reconnaissance aircraft from Number 209 Squadron flying out of Northern Ireland to search for the Bismarck spotted her and contact was regained.

At dusk on 26 May and in worsening weather conditions, Swordfish from Ark Royal launched an attack. The first attack mistakenly attacked the cruiser Sheffield that was shadowing it. In a subsequent attack, one torpedo hit jammed Bismarck’s rudder and steering gear, rendering her largely unmanoeuvrable, and now heading back towards her enemies, though the she was able to make some steerage by adjusting the revolution speed of her propellors. The reality was, however, that the largest and most powerful warship in the world had been rendered close to impotent by a tiny aircraft. After extensive efforts to free the jammed rudders, the fleet command finally acknowledged their by-now impossible position in several messages to Naval Headquarters.

Throughout the following night, Bismarck was the target of incessant torpedo attacks by the Tribal class destroyers Cossack, Sikh, Maori and Zulu, with the Polish Piorun, but neither side scored any hits.

Last battle

The two British battleships, King George V and Rodney had been sailing to approach Bismarck from the west, and on the morning of 27 May 1941 they neared her. The morning sun was behind her and she was well illuminated. Rodney steered to the north so that her gunfire would work the length of Bismarck while King George V took the side. They opened fire just before 0900 hrs. Bismarck returned fire, but her inability to steer and her list to port affected her shooting capacity. Her low speed also made her a sitting duck and she was soon hit several times, with Norfolk, and Dorsetshire adding their firepower. One salvo destroyed the forward control post killing most of the senior officers. Within half an hour, Bismarck's guns were all but silent and she was even lower in the water. Rodney now closed to point blank (approx 3 km) to strike the superstructure while King George V fired from further out.

Bismarck continued to fly its ensign. With no sign of surrender, despite the unequal struggle, the British could not leave the Bismarck though their fuel supplies were low. The destroyers were sent home as they had no further torpedoes. Similarly, Rodney and King George V turned back to base. Norfolk had used its last torpedoes so Dorsetshire was ordered to finish the Bismarck off. Although the upper works were almost completely destroyed, the hull was still sound, so rather than let her be captured, Captain Lindemann gave the order to scuttle and then abandon ship. Shortly after the charges had blown, Dorsetshire put three torpedoes into her and she sank a few minutes later.

Dorsetshire and Maori stopped to rescue survivors but a U-boat alarm caused them to sail off with only 110 sailors. The next morning a U-boat and the German weathership Sachsenwald picked up 5 more. No crew from the lower engine spaces got out alive. Over 2,200 men had lost their lives.

The British then systematically hunted down and destroyed all Bismarck's support vessels. The Germans would never risk their capital ships in the North Atlantic again.

Missing image


Over the years, the ship achieved near mythological status, and popularized in the 1960 Johnny Horton hit song, Sink the Bismarck. The wreck of Bismarck was discovered on 8 June 1989 by Dr. Robert Ballard, the marine archaeologist also responsible for finding the Titanic. Bismarck rests at a depth of approximately 4,700 m (15,500 ft) about 650 kilometres west of Brest, France. Analysis of the wreck showed extensive damage to the superstructure by shelling and some minor damage to the hull by torpedo hits, but also suggested that the Germans scuttled the ship to hasten its sinking, though this has never been confirmed by marine investigators (but confirmed by survivors). Ballard has kept the location of the wreck a secret to prevent other divers from taking artifacts from the ship. Ballard considers that practice, which happened to Titanic, a form of grave robbing.

The documentary film Expedition: Bismarck (2002), directed by James Cameron, reconstructs the events leading to the sinking of Bismarck.

Nearly a hundred ships of all kinds were deployed to operate with, against, or because of Bismarck:


See also


  • Kennedy, Ludovic Pursuit: The Sinking of the Bismarck
  • Ulrich Elfrath and Bodo Herzog, The Battleship Bismarck: A Documentary in Words and Pictures (Schifer Publishing; Atglen, Pennsylvania; 1989) (originally published in German as Schlachtschiff Bismarck, Ein Bericht in Bildern und Dokumentation, Pldzun-Palles Vertag, Friedberg, 1975). Includes pictures of the ship under construction and interior pictures, detailed descriptions of fittings and equipment, and biographies of the principal admirals.

Further Reading

  • Burkhard Baron von Mullenheim-Rechberg, Battleship Bismarck, A Survivor's Story, new and expanded edition (United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, 1990), the story of the senior surviving officer of the Bismarck.
  • Paul J. Kemp, Bismarck and Hood: Great Naval Adversaries (Arms and Armor Press, London, 1991)
  • Siegfried Breyer, Battleships and Battlecruisers 1905-1970 (Doubleday and Company; Garden City, New York, 1973) (originally published in German as Schlachtschiffe und Schlachtkreuzer 1905-1970, J.F. Lehmanns, Verlag, Munchen, 1970). Contains various line drawings of the ship as designed and as built.
  • David J. Berguson and Holder H. Herwig The Destruction of the Bismarck (Stoddart Pulishing, Toronto, 2001). Includes personal accounts of the Battle Off Iceland and the Final Battle.
  • Graham Rhys-Jones The Loss of the Bismarck: An Avoidable Disaster (Cassell & Company, London, 1999). Includes a description of the planning for Exercise Rheinubung.
  • Robert D. Ballard The Discovery of the Bismarck (Madison Publishing, Toronto, 1990). Describes the search effort for the wreck of the Bismarck, and includes pictures of the wreck.

External links

de:Bismarck (Schlachtschiff) fr:Bismarck (cuirass) he:ביסמרק (ספינה) nl:SMS Bismarck II ja:ビスマルク (戦艦) no:DKM Bismarck pl:Bismarck pt:Couraado Bismarck sv:Bismarck (slagskepp) zh:俾斯麦级战列舰


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