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The End of the 'Bismarck'

Discussion in 'Britain at Sea!' started by Dave War44, Oct 22, 2006.

  1. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    [​IMG]

    The following text is from another old aircraft book I have acquired: Britain's Air Power by R.A. Saville-Sneath, published in 1942. I trawled the net for the photos, and thanks to Kelly for providing an excellent link for the Bismarck on another forum. Follow this link for a hugely detailed account of the life and times of the Bismarck:
    http://www.navweaps.com/index_inro/INRO_Bismarck_p1.htm

    I am reproducing the following short account as it stresses the roles played by different aircraft in the drama.


    End of the 'Bismarck'

    The sinking of the battleship Bismarck - the pride and boast of the German Navy - is a good example of combined action by units of Coastal Command, the Fleet Air Arm and the Navy. The Bismarck was first spotted by a reconnaissance patrol of Lockheed Hudsons which bombed it in Bergen harbour. The battleship, with its escorting cruiser Prinz Eugen, did not wait for a heavier attack to develop, but bolted for the blue.

    Lockheed Hudsons:

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Touch was momentarily lost, but while Coastal Command Sunderlands searched the seas, British battleships and cruisers steamed at high speed in the hope of intercepting the fleeing Germans.

    Sunderland Flying Boat:

    [​IMG]

    HMS Hood and Prince of Wales sighted the two ships on the morning of May 24th, 1941. They at once engaged, but after a short action one of Hood's magazines was hit and she blew up. HMS Prince of Wales was also damaged and the Bismarck, although observed to be on fire, was able to escape....
    [/SIZE]
     
  2. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    ....The same evening Prince of Wales had a brief brush with the warship, which was also struck by a torpedo during the night by aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm. [more than likely Fairey Swordfish]

    SwordFish Torpedo Bomber:

    [​IMG]

    After these inconclusive actions the Bismarck disappeared, aided by darkness.

    Bad visibility throughout the following day was in her favour and all trace seemed lost when, on the morning of May 26th - two days after the sinking of HMS Hood - she was spotted and shadowed by a Catalina flying boat of Coastal Command.

    Catalina Flying Boat:

    [​IMG]

    The Bismarck had become separated from the Prinz Eugen, and now about 550 miles West of Land's End, was apparently making for Brest. The Catalina was heavily attacked, both by gunfire and by aircraft catapulted from the battleship. Holed by shellfire, the flying boat was compelled to take cover in clouds and contact was lost again. But not for long. At 11.15 the same morning the Bismarck was sighted once more by aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm. Continuously bad weather held up further torpedo attacks. Late in the day, however, torpedos launched by aircraft so seriously damaged the battleship's stern that she was compelled to reduce speed. Further torpedo attacks delivered by destroyers under cover of night ended the chase. Claimed to be unsinkable, the Bismarck was in fact still afloat, in spite of very considerable damage. On the morning of 27th she was sunk by gunfire and torpedos from heavier warships which had arrived on the scene.
    The Prinz Eugen took refuge in Brest, along with the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. Aggressive RAF action made Brest useless as a base, and the carefully concerted escape of the three warships to home ports, after nearly a year of enforced inactivity, is now a matter of history.


    The last moments of the "Mighty Hood"

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Some photos of the Bismarck's end.

    This photo was taken from a Swordfish that had been attacking the warship:

    [​IMG]

    Continuing pounding by British ships:

    [​IMG]

    One of the last photos of the Bismarck, taken from HMS Dorsetshire:

    [​IMG]

    This photograph shows a sea of heads floating in the oily water just after the Bismarck sank. For some reason the British censor has blotted out most of the faces.

    [​IMG]

    Survivors from the Bismarck struggled to reach the safety of the Dorsetshire. Most of the survivors didn't make it as the Dorsetshire suddenly left the area because of a possible U-boat sighting.
    [​IMG]
     
  4. Kelly War44

    Kelly War44 New Member

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    I've watched the documentaries about the Mighty Bismark and I'm still amazed by the fact she was hit by 400+ shells and stayed afloat. She was scuttled by her Captain, Ernst Lindemann.:D
     
  5. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Great thread Dave, Great Britain went all out to sink her, as they felt she was a massive threat. There was a very big party the day she went down, she could have done some real damage if left to roam. Also i would love to have known how the German sailors felt sailing on her knowing that it was only a matter of time before they were taken out. :)
     
  6. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Thanks for comments chaps.

    Aye Jim, a living hell for every sailor I'm sure. The expression dead men's boots springs to mind.


    He heh ! Here's a quote from that NavWeaps link of yours Kelly :

    :D ;)
     
  7. Kelly War44

    Kelly War44 New Member

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    That torrent I sent, Dave, for Sink The Bismarck, goes into that very question, Royal Navy or Her Captain??? Well the answer the programme gives is The Bismarck was in fact 'Mortally Damaged' beyond any hope of staying afloat by the Torpedoes fired by the circling pack of ENGLISH destroyers etc.
    Yet Wiki says this:-
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_battleship_Bismarck
    Check out 'Aftermath & Controversey':cool2:
     
  8. James Stewart

    James Stewart Active Member

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    The never-ending views on who sank her are in the main academic, most likely a combination of both damage and belated action by her crew, when they started this Bismarck was already a sinking ship and if anything it added pace to an event which was already in progress.
    The whole chase was punctuated by luck, bad luck, misguided decisions and an operation which in the first instance was poorly advised and compromised from almost the very start.
    The hit by Prince of Wales reducing the fuel available to Bismarck , putting her down at the bows and reducing her speed. The loss of contact by the shadowing cruisers, the long and repeated signal made by Lutjens which found her again, the plotting error made by Tovey, the skilfully deployed searches by Coastal Command to locate Bismarck, the torpedo hit to her rudders, part skill, part good fortune.
    Had she survived into night she would have been safe and Tovey already critically low on fuel would have been forced to break off the chase.
    Ludovic Kennedy in his 1970 BBC documentary summed her up as being "like a floating town, with a difference." he described her last hours as only a sailor could, " the midshipmen in training who would never sail again, the prize crews who would never take a prize, the bandsmen, their instruments lying silent in their lockers - in the morning they all knew they were going to die".
    The mistaken submarine sighting which condemned so many men to die in the water , all such a waste.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2020
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  9. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Why was Lutjens such an ass that he sent a long message to Hitler even if he thought he was lost with his ship. Such poor judgement.
     
  10. James Stewart

    James Stewart Active Member

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    Lutjens seemed to have convinced himself or been overly influenced by what he perceived as being superior British radar and he somehow believed that they were still in contact with him even though his staff argued and evidenced that the character of British radio traffic had changed indicating that they had given the shadowing cruisers the slip. It was certainly a poorly judged decision to send a lengthy signal and then to repeat it.
    The British then made their own mistake by misplotting the location of Bismarck and heading off in the wrong direction before noticing their mistake and turning to take up the chase.
    In the "Hood" maneuvering the Bismarck and Tovey's ships came close to each other, from memory as close as 30 miles before their respective course put distance between then the British ships crossing astern of Bismarcks at one stage.
     
  11. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Also the torpedo by the swordfish attack hitting the end of Bismarck was lucky and the battleship started going round and round if I recall correctly. However I believe as the RoyalNavy caught Bismarck it was the end for it without the propeller problem or not.
     
  12. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Not just round and round, Bismarck actually spent her last night steaming towards her pursuers. The wind and seas were from the northwest. As @James Stewart mentioned, Bismarck was down by the bow, creating a weather-vane effect, blowing the stern downwind. Her crew tried various combinations of ahead and astern power to try to turn the ship, but the weather always brought her back to a NW heading. She actually travelled about a hundred miles in the wrong direction in the course of the night.

    Like most warships, Bismarck had more freeboard forward than aft, and a larger superstructure. In normal trim, even without steering control, she would have been blown bow downwind, onto a SE course, towards the French coast where she needed to go. Even at reduced speed, she would have been 200 miles or more ahead of her pursuers at daybreak and under Luftwaffe cover long before they could catch up.

    Ultimately Bismarck was done in by a combination of damage from Ark Royal's planes and Prince of Wales' guns.

    In her final battle, Bismarck was not only unable to maneuver, she could not even steer a straight course, part of the reason she scored no hits on her opponents.

    The Bismarck and Scharnhorst classes were unusual in having three propellers - most battleships of the time had four - making the German ships less able to steer by engines alone. 1/3 of their power was on the centerline, and the other two shafts were about where the inboard shafts would be on a four-prop ship. Steering by engines was a normal exercise, and it had been noticed during Bismarck's trials that she was not very maneuverable that way.
     
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  13. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Btw some Authors claim the RN was forced to leave doe to fuel shortage Even if the Bismarck was totally destroyed even if it was not sinking per se??
     
  14. James Stewart

    James Stewart Active Member

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    Tovey turned his heavy units for home when he was sure Bismarck was destroyed asking any ships with torpedoes to close and sink her.
    The hit on her rudder was a combination of good fortune and the determination by the crew which delivered the fatal hit. Apparently one of the crew was leaning over the side of the aircraft and signalled when the drop would land in a trough and run as intended.
    Bismark made a turn, had she held her course she would have been hit but not on her rudder, she lost one and the other was bent and jammed up on a propellor.
    Had she made it into night Tovey would have had to break off and head for home, certainly the hits from Prince of Wales were more telling than was appreciated at the time.
    The outcome was always in the balance right up to the last.
     
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  15. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Towards the end of the final battle, when Bismarck was crippled but not yet sinking, twelve Swordfish from Ark Royal showed up but were unable to attack due to the volume of low-trajectory shellfire. They might have been just the thing to finish the job if the gunnery ships had been willing to take a break.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2020
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  16. James Stewart

    James Stewart Active Member

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    Yes, the Homefleet was not going to let up on the gunnery, the torpedoes would certainly have made a difference.
     
  17. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Did the RN destroy the command bridge and its ability to shoot sharp against the enemy with its first fire?. also the BismarckĀ“s big guns in the first deck were unabled?
     
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  18. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Most of the hits early in the battle were in the forward part of the ship, mainly by chance, although Bismarck's inability to maintain a straight course meant that at times her bow swung towards her opponents. These included hits disabling the two forward turrets. Her senior surviving officer, von Mullenheim-Rechberg in the aft gunnery control position, lost communication with the forward stations and took control of the after turrets on his own initiative, directing four salvos at King George V before his fire-control instruments were disabled. The aft turrets fired a few more times in local control before they were also knocked out.
     
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  19. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Member

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    Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde, VC, DSO
    Eugene Esmonde - Wikipedia

    The main armament and also the seniors officers were killed early on so the control and command system disappeared.

    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 the main fire control position 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.

    This may explain why the main structure of the ship lasted so long and that there was a necessity to scuttle her. Its wholly possible that with enough torpedo's fired at her she would have eventually been sunk, but we will never know
    Armour:
    Belt: 320 mm (12.6 in)
    Turrets: 360 mm (14 in)
    Main deck: 100 to 120 mm (3.9 to 4.7 in)

    TD
     
  20. James Stewart

    James Stewart Active Member

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    David Mearns from his examination of the wreck concluded that Bismarck was sinking be it slowly, counter flooding had made the ship unstable and the damage inflicted had destroyed her. It would certainly appear that the order to scuttle would have speeded up a process that was already in progress when the tipping point was reached the ship sank rapidly.
    Ballard's initial views on looking at the wreck might not have been fully correct as when Mearns looked at Bismarck and Hood in 2001 technology had moved on considerably and although no disrespect is meant towards Dr. Ballard Mearns has considerable expertise in the forensics of examination of shipwrecks.
    His book "The Shipwreck Hunter" is an excellent read.
    The internet and " (un)Social Media" abound with discussions on was Bismarck sunk or was she scuttled, sometimes very unnecessary arguments and nasty comments being made (a good reason to avoid FB) a combination of actions seem reasonable. Tovey's signal " Cannot sink her with guns" has perhaps been taken much to literally as at the time he was unaware of her exact condition and could only comment on what he could see from a distance under the conditions which existed at the time, Bismarck being a listing burning wreck into which and around which his shells were landing.
    A recent book on Bismarck ( last summer) came to the same conclusion."Battleship Bismarck" (Garzke/Dulin/Jurens). Seaforth Publishing.
    Attached from Mearns "The Shipwreck Hunter".
    It begs the question that after the Denmark Strait had the battle damage been fully appreciated would Lutjens still have headed for France, perhaps at that early stage, he felt himself having to run in front of potentially superior forces which he felt were closing on him. IMG_9124.JPG IMG_9125.JPG IMG_9126.JPG
     
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