Skip to comments.The Bismarck Was a Waste
Posted on 01/17/2020 10:52:34 AM PST by ProtectOurFreedom
In May 1941, the new German battleship Bismarck was a huge, state-of-the-art warship, equipped with the latest long-range heavy cannon, new stereoscopic range-finders that promised unprecedented accuracy, new ship-based radar, and an intricate system of armor-plating and honey-combed water-tight compartments that rendered her virtually unsinkable. If Bismarck broke out into the vast, indefensible shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, it could wreak catastrophic havoc with the war-sustaining convoys coming across the ocean [from the U.S.]
In 1941 England, it was believed that this single weapon might determine the very course of the war in Europe. Where the entire Luftwaffe had been unable to cripple Britains warfighting capability with its aerial assault in the summer of 1940 and bring her to the negotiating table, nowin the spring of 1941a single warship was threatening to do that very thing.
As the Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen headed towards the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean through the Denmark Strait, they were intercepted by the British battleships Hood and Prince of Wales. Those two ships were all that stood between Britains invaluable but vulnerable shipping lanes and what they thought was national survival. In the next few minutes, perhaps the most famous and consequential surface engagement of all time occurred. The big ships fired on each other, their 14- and 15-inch guns booming.
Hood the pride of the British navy was struck by a perfectly-aimed salvo from Bismarck and exploded violently, breaking in two and sinking with just three survivors out of a crew of more than 1,400. After 10 minutes of fighting, "The Mighty Hood" was gone. Prince of Wales, despite suffering significant damage herself from Bismarcks guns, scored some telling blows of her own, such that Bismarck was forced to disengage and head to home for repair.
(Excerpt) Read more at realclearhistory.com ...
Yet Bismarck's final undoing came at the hands of an embarrassingly obsolete weapon, one that no one could have predicted in advance would play the telling role that it did: the carrier-based Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber. This was a biplane aircraft that looked more like Snoopys Sopwith Camel WWI fighter plane than a sleek modern attack aircraft. Wobbling unsteadily towards the Bismarck at barely 100 MPH, the Swordfish flew so slowly that the Bismarcks modern, sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons could not track their motion slowly enough to get an accurate bead on them and shoot them down. The Swordfish was too slow for the Bismarck to hit them accurately. Amazing.
And like Achilles and his vulnerable heel, so too was the Bismarck critically unprotected: Its rudder, which controlled its steeringwas exposed and easy to damage. A Swordfish-launched torpedo struck the Bismarck in the rudder, leaving her impossible to steer. So ended her dash for safety and the British fleet caught her the next day and finished her off.
Neither the Bismarck nor the Tirpitz ever sank even a single merchant ship, which was their primary mission. The Bismarcks ocean-going fighting career lasted eight days. The Tirpitz career was effectively zero days.
For the same amount of raw materials and factory bandwidth that went into making these seven large ships (all of which were manufactured in the 1930s, either before the war or just shortly after its commencement), hundreds of additional U-boats and thousands of additional tanks and aircraft could have been produced. These kinds of weapons were much more in keeping with the style of warfare with which Germany had the most success.
But battleships like Bismarck quite possibly the most beautiful large warship ever built, with its dramatically swept bow and elegantly angled single stack held an undeniable emotional appeal to maniacally-egotistical, ambitious heads of state with dreams of worldwide domination, and the visceral appeal of wielding ones battle fleet in grand surface combat obviously overcame the more measured approach of leveraging the countrys industrial/military capabilities for maximum advantage.
In the end, the civilized world should be thankful for the Bismarcks existence. A WW II Germany with thousands more Focke-Wulf fighters, and Tiger tanks, and hundreds more U-boats would have been that much more deadly and difficult to defeat. The combined industrial capability and manpower reserves of Britain, America and the Soviet Union would have defeated Germany eventually in any case, but victory was achieved sooner and at less cost to the Allies because of the Bismarck.
Wonder how many more Uboats Germany would of had if they had not build a useless surface fleet?
If Hitler hadn’t declared war on the US, he stood a chance of beating the Soviet Union, or at least securing a negotiated truce. Once he declared war, all bets were off.
This seemed like a fatal flaw with the Wermacht - the fascination with big, bad weaponry. The Maus and Gustav to name two more. Both epic failures.
Bismarck and Tirpitz have to be the most overrated battleships in history. They were just an updated version of the World War I era Bayern class battleship. One problem with the ships was the lack of a dual purpose secondary battery. Weight and space were wasted on having to use two systems.
The Fairey Swordfish was so flimsy an aircraft it was nick named “The Stringbag’’.
That’s precisely the entire point of the article. The author concludes by throwing out loose numbers like “thousands” and “hundreds” and conjecturing how that would have changed the outcome of the war. He says the Allies would have still defeated the Axis with its greater industrial might, but it would have taken longer.
Germany only had a handful of U-Boats at the start of the war. Germany might have been able to starve Britain in 1939/40 if it had a large U-Boat fleet as Britain was desperately short of convoy escort ships.
“Sink the Bismark” - pretty good song by Johnny Horton.
I disagree with the premise of the article. If one reads Churchill’s History of WW2, he said that the Germans would have been better served to keep Bismark hanging around as a threat as it caused the British to retain massive forces in place just to counter the threat of a sortie. If it had ever sortied with the Tirpitz, that would have required 4 battleships to be certain of victory and those would have to be available at all times. Factoring in needed maintenance, refueling, convoy escort, etc. They could have tied down most of the heavy units of the British fleet. That’s what Mahan called a “fleet in being”.
The Hand of God guided that biplane, its torpedo and its pilot.
David and Goliath........................
“Once he declared war, all bets were off.”
On June 1, he was fighting only Britain, which after a year of fighting alone had accomplished little except to remain alive.
Six months later, without defeating Britain, he had added both the USSR and the USA to his list of enemies.
So much for his political acumen...
Johnny Horton - Sink the Bismarck
Perhaps if the Brits would have shared their torpedo technology with us, things might have turned out differently in the early years of the Pacific War. Their torpedos seem to work.
Interesting stat I came across years ago. Germany produced around 1300 Tiger I tanks. The USA produced about 1400 naval vessels whose displacement exceeded 1000 tons. People today have little understanding of the enormity of our production capacity during the war.
Hitler had already invaded Russia the summer of 1941, prior to declaring war on the US in December of that same year. He was never going to be equipped to fight a long war, especially through the harsh winters of Russia. The U.S. had already been out-producing Germany with weapons of war that were being sent to our allies before we even entered the war. Germany and Japan were never able to keep up with war production by the U.S. and Great Britain...and because Hitler was never able to get control of the necessary fuel supplies he needed for his war machines, his plans to conquer Russia were never going to come to fruition. Hitler didn’t count on the Russians being as tough as they were, and his troops weren’t equipped properly to fight in that kind of weather.
“Hood the pride of the British navy was struck by a perfectly-aimed salvo from Bismarck and exploded violently, breaking in two and sinking with just three survivors out of a crew of more than 1,400. After 10 minutes of fighting.”
There’s some renewed debate about what & who actually sank the “Hood”. There’s an intriguing alternate theory that has some evidence for it — that the “Prinz Eugen” actually landed the first hits on Hood.
The explanation lies in the fact that Hood was actually already inside the “immune zone” with respect to Bismark. The “immune zone” is defined by lower arc shots coming in at your heavy side armor as opposed to longer range plunging fire which would have hit the Hood’s notoriously thin deck armor.
There were also some hints that “Bismark’s” 15” AP rounds were malfunctioning or not fused correctly.
Finally, the Eugen had the range and her lighter guns where firing at — what for her — was extreme range. Eugen’s shots were dropping on top of Hood’s deck and starting fires. She was also mostly firing HE rounds rather than AP. The thinking is that the only way Eugen could have gotten a kill shot firing HE was to have dropped a shot right down Hood’s stack. The ensuing explosion below decks would have been vented under the Q-turret where everyone agrees the major explosion occurred.
Personally, I still go with a fluke shot from Bismarck. As statistically unlikely that shot was, believing an even less likely shot from Eugen did it just beggars belief.
Did anybody do a Youtube video of Hitler finding out about the sinking?
And here I was preparing a spirited defense of jelly doughnuts.
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