The Sinking of the

Battleship Bismarck

What was the Bismark, and why does it matter? As its name implies, the Bismarck was a battleship under German command. It was built during World War II during Germany's struggle with

England for naval dominance. Due to Great Britain's isolated nature, she relied upon shipments of supplies to sustain herself, making her trade routes the source of German attention. Hence, Hitler ordered the construction of a battleship to rival all others. Its mission: destroy supply shipments to England, forcing her to her knees and forcing her surrender. The Battleship Bismarck was commissioned August 1940 with the intention of becoming the largest, strongest Battleship in the world. The construction was spared no expense, giving the Bismarck only the best in terms of speed, armor plating, maneuverability, and firepower. Although it was far larger, the Bismarck was almost as fast as smaller destroyers. It's largest weapons were eight 15-inch guns on 4 turrets. Each of the barrels could propel a 1,700 pound projectile 23.6 miles. Smaller eight inch guns also provided close range protection and a small scouting plane was included with a slingshot and crane for takeoff and pick-up, respectively. Additionally, the armor plating was over 14 inches thick throughout the ship and thicker on the main guns. (Jack Brower, 31) Considering the sheer scope of such a project, it was inevitable that England would find out eventually. Great Britain did indeed know about the Bismarck, but they were unprepared when it set sail for the first time, weeks ahead of schedule, on May 19 1941. Soon, British spy planes spotted the Bismarck and with the help of land spies, were able to determine its location. The Bismarck was still in the Baltic, but Britain knew what the consequences on their trade routes would be if it escaped to the Atlantic. The Battleship Hood and Prince of Whales were dispatched to deal with the new threat. The Hood was a well-known English ship, and was a symbol of British naval might. On May 24, the fore mentioned ships encountered the Bismark and her escort, Prinz Eugen and engaged. (“Seeking The Bismarck”) The battle between the Hood and Bismarck was almost pathetically short. Within six minutes, the Hood lay at the bottom of the sea. The Bismarck sustained relatively minor damage, and the Prince of Whales fled. This came as a huge shock to England. It was described as 'almost as shocking as Pearl Harbor was to the Americans'. Ecstatic about their victory, the Prinz Eugen returned to their mission,

and the Bismarck continued towards the Atlantic. To keep track of the Bismarck's location, the Prince of Whales tailed the Bismarck, where it was soon joined by the cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk. On multiple occasions, the Bismarck attempted to lose her perusers by either destroying them or running, but the faster ships were able to stay out of range of the Bismarck's weapons. That night, Admiral Lutjens finally managed to lose his pursuers and set course for France to refuel and repair. The three English ships desperately scoured the area for traces of the Bismarck, but were headed in the wrong direction. (“Seeking The Bismarck”) A few days later, British aircraft spotted the Bismarck and reported her position. British command knew that this was their best opportunity to sink the Bismarck, but all their battleships were scattered and unable to reach her in time. Only one craft was close enough to stall her: the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. The Ark Royal prepared a squadron of 15 Swordfish, armed with one torpedo a piece and scrambled their fighters. At 1500, the Swordfish spotted and engaged the Bismarck. Out of the 15 torpedoes, only two hit. The first caused minimal damage. The second struck the starboard quarter, disabling the steering gear. Frantic repairs were made, but navigation was severely impaired and her speed was reduced from 37 knots to 10-15 knots. The captain was quoted commenting about his machinery: "Do what you like; I am through with it." The Bismarck was effectively dead in the water. (“The Bismarck Story”) On May 27, British battleships and heavy cruisers moved in to intercept. After over 2 hours of constant fire, the Bismarck's offensive capabilities were completely annihilated. Cruisers moved in close and fired torpedoes. The Bismarck, the strongest battleship in the world, sank 20,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean, where its wreckage can still be found. Out of the 2,100 sailors on the ship, only 115 survived. (“German Battleship Bismarck: Sinking Of”) Naturally, Adolph Hitler was not pleased at the destruction of his prize ship and in a fit of rage, forbid the development of further battleships without his specific permission. This effectively led to a far more cautious approach to German approach in the Atlantic, leaving the vast majority of the fight to

Germany's infamous U-boats. This loss of moral and strategic options began to turn the tide of the war towards England, bringing the allies a major step closer to Germany and VE day. (“The Sinking of the Battleship Bismarck”) In conclusion, the Bismarck was the most powerful battleship in the world with the potential to wreak untold havoc upon England's vital shipping industry. The Bismarck took down Britain's prize ship in record time, and was eventually defeated by a single lucky torpedo. In turn, this led to Germany's cautious approach to the Atlantic front, crippling their war effort. The legendary Bismarck deserves to be remembered as a testament to the brutal lessons and needless wastes of World War II.

Works Cited

Brower, Jack. The Battleship Bismarck: Anatomy of the Ship. US Naval Institute Press, 2005.

“The Bismarck Story” 17 May 2008 <>. “The Battle of Hood and Bismarck” 17 May 2008 <>. “Bismarck sunk after 1.750-mile chase” 17 May 2008 <>. “Seeking the Bismarck” 17 May 2008 <>. “Surviving the Bismarck's Sinking” 17 May 2008 <>. “German Battleship Bismarck, sinking of.” 17 May 2008 <>. “German Battleship Bismarck, sinking of.” 17 May 2008 <>. “German Navy Ships--Bismarck (1940-1941).” 17 May 2008 <>. “The Sinking of the German Battleship Bismarck as Described in the B.d.U. [Commander U-boats] War Log, 24-31 May 1941.” 17 May 2008 <>.