Bismarck class battleship
The Bismarck class was a pair of battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

s built by the German Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

 shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The ships were the largest warships built by the German Navy and the heaviest capital ship
Capital ship
The capital ships of a navy are its most important warships; they generally possess the heaviest firepower and armor and are traditionally much larger than other naval vessels...

s ever completed in Europe. was laid down in July 1936 and completed in September 1940, while her sister s keel was laid in October 1936 and work finished in February 1941. The two ships were broadly similar to the World War I-era , in that they mounted a similar main battery
Artillery battery
In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles so grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems...

 and were protected by a similar armour arrangement.

Both ships had short service careers. Bismarck conducted only one operation, Operation Rheinübung
Operation Rheinübung
Operation Rheinübung was the sortie into the Atlantic by the new German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen on 18–27 May 1941, during World War II...

, a sortie into the North Atlantic to raid supply convoy
A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support, though it may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas.-Age of Sail:Naval...

s sent from North America to Great Britain. During the operation, she destroyed the British battlecruiser
Battlecruisers were large capital ships built in the first half of the 20th century. They were developed in the first decade of the century as the successor to the armoured cruiser, but their evolution was more closely linked to that of the dreadnought battleship...

  and damaged the new battleship in the Battle of the Denmark Strait
Battle of the Denmark Strait
The Battle of the Denmark Strait was a Second World War naval battle between ships of the Royal Navy and the German Kriegsmarine, fought on 24 May 1941...

. After a three-day chase, the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 destroyed the ship; the exact cause of her loss is uncertain, due to claims by survivors from Bismarck that they scuttled
Scuttling is the act of deliberately sinking a ship by allowing water to flow into the hull.This can be achieved in several ways—valves or hatches can be opened to the sea, or holes may be ripped into the hull with brute force or with explosives...

 their ship.

Tirpitzs career was less dramatic; she was sent to Norwegian waters in 1942, where she acted as a fleet in being
Fleet in being
In naval warfare, a fleet in being is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port. Were the fleet to leave port and face the enemy, it might lose in battle and no longer influence the enemy's actions, but while it remains safely in port the enemy is forced to...

, threatening the convoys from Britain to the Soviet Union. She was repeatedly attacked by Royal Navy midget submarines and Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 bombers. Ultimately, Lancaster bombers
Avro Lancaster
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force . It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other...

 hit the ship with three Tallboy bomb
Tallboy bomb
The Tallboy or Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb, was an earthquake bomb developed by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis and deployed by the RAF in 1944...

s, which caused extensive internal damage and capsized the battleship. Tirpitz was broken up for scrap between 1948 and 1957. However, a large portion of the bow remains where it sank in 1944.

Bismarck class design

A series of conceptual designs were begun in 1932 to determine the ideal characteristics of a battleship built to the 35000 LT limit of the Washington Naval Treaty
Washington Naval Treaty
The Washington Naval Treaty, also known as the Five-Power Treaty, was an attempt to cap and limit, and "prevent 'further' costly escalation" of the naval arms race that had begun after World War I between various International powers, each of which had significant naval fleets. The treaty was...

. These early studies determined that the ship should be armed with eight 33 cm (13 in) guns, have a top speed of 30 kn (16.3 m/s), and have strong armour protection. The actual design work for what became the Bismarck class was begun in 1933 and continued until 1936. In June 1935, Germany signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement
Anglo-German Naval Agreement
The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 18, 1935 was a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and German Reich regulating the size of the Kriegsmarine in relation to the Royal Navy. The A.G.N.A fixed a ratio whereby the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to be 35% of the total tonnage...

, which allowed Germany to build battleships at a ratio of 35 percent to the total tonnage of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. At the time, France, which had begun a program of naval expansion, was viewed as the most likely threat, not Great Britain. As a result, Bismarck and Tirpitz were intended to counter the new French battleships being built at the time. A series of questions needed to be answered during the design process, including the calibre of the main battery, the propulsion system, and armour protection.

The deciding factor for the adoption of 38 cm (15 in) guns for Bismarck and Tirpitz was the decision of the French Navy to arm its four Richelieu
Richelieu class battleship
The Richelieu class battleships were the last and largest battleships of the French Navy, staying in service into the 1960s. They still remain to this day the largest warships ever built by France...

 class ships then under construction with 38 cm pieces. It was decided that four twin turrets would provide the best solution to distribution of the main battery, as it would provide equal firepower forward and aft, as well as simplify fire control. The naval constructors examined diesel geared drive, steam drive, and turbo-electric drive engines; the last system was the preferred choice, as it had been extremely successful in the two American s and the French passenger ship Normandie
SS Normandie
SS Normandie was an ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France for the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. She entered service in 1935 as the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat; she is still the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever built.Her novel...


The design staff were also required to provide sufficient range to the new battleships; they would have to make long voyages from German ports to reach the Atlantic, and Germany had no overseas bases where the ships could refuel. Due to the numerical inferiority of the German fleet and the assumption that naval battles would take place at relatively close range in the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

, the Bismarck design placed great emphasis on stability and armour protection. Very thick vertical belt armour was adopted, along with heavy upper-citadel armour plating and extensive splinter protection in the bow and stern of the ships.

The displacement of Bismarck and Tirpitz were limited by the capabilities of existing infrastructure in Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

 and Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal. On 11 February 1937, the Construction Office informed Grossadmiral Erich Raeder
Erich Raeder
Erich Johann Albert Raeder was a naval leader in Germany before and during World War II. Raeder attained the highest possible naval rank—that of Großadmiral — in 1939, becoming the first person to hold that rank since Alfred von Tirpitz...

 that the ships could not displace more than 42000 LT due to the constraints of the harbour and canal depths. The Office also expressed a preference for building a third vessel and remaining within the 35,000-ton treaty limit. Admiral Werner Fuchs
Werner Fuchs
Werner Fuchs was a German football player and trainer.-Playing career:The centre forward began his professional career in 1967 with a professional contract at 1. FC Kaiserslautern, where is older brother Fritz also played professionally...

, the head of the General Command Office of the Oberkommando der Marine
Oberkommando der Marine
The Oberkommando der Marine was Nazi Germany's Naval High Command and the highest administrative and command authority of the Kriegsmarine. It was officially formed from the Marineleitung of the Reichswehr on 11 January 1936. In 1937 it was combined with the newly formed Seekriegsleitung...

, advised Raeder and Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 that a series of modifications would be necessary to reduce the displacement to ensure the new ships met the legal requirements of the London Naval Treaty
London Naval Treaty
The London Naval Treaty was an agreement between the United Kingdom, the Empire of Japan, France, Italy and the United States, signed on April 22, 1930, which regulated submarine warfare and limited naval shipbuilding. Ratifications were exchanged in London on October 27, 1930, and the treaty went...

. Japan, however, refused to sign the new treaty, and so on 1 April 1937 an escalator clause
Escalator clause
An escalator clause is a clause in a lease or contract that guarantees a change in the agreement price once a particular factor beyond control of either party affecting the value has been determined....

 permitting treaty signatories to build ships up to a limit of 45000 LT went into effect. The final design displacement of 41400 LT was well within this limit, so Fuchs's modifications were discarded.

General characteristics

The Bismarck class battleships were 251 m (823.5 ft) long overall and 241.6 m (792.7 ft) long at the waterline. The ships had a beam
Beam (nautical)
The beam of a ship is its width at the widest point. Generally speaking, the wider the beam of a ship , the more initial stability it has, at expense of reserve stability in the event of a capsize, where more energy is required to right the vessel from its inverted position...

 of 36 m (118.1 ft), and a designed draft
Draft (hull)
The draft of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull , with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draft outline would be obtained...

 of 9.3 m (30.5 ft); the draft at standard displacement
Displacement (ship)
A ship's displacement is its weight at any given time, generally expressed in metric tons or long tons. The term is often used to mean the ship's weight when it is loaded to its maximum capacity. A number of synonymous terms exist for this maximum weight, such as loaded displacement, full load...

 was 8.63 m (28.3 ft), and 9.9 m (32.5 ft) at a full load. The ships had a designed displacement of 45,950 metric tons; their standard displacement was 41,700 metric tons, and when fully laden, the ships displaced 50,300 metric tons. The ships had a double bottom
Double bottom
A double bottom is a ship hull design and construction method where the bottom of the ship has two complete layers of watertight hull surface: one outer layer forming the normal hull of the ship, and a second inner hull which is somewhat higher in the ship, perhaps a few feet, which forms a...

 for 83 percent of the length of the hull, and twenty-two watertight compartments. The ships were 90 percent welded construction. The stern, however, was weakly constructed; this would have significant consequences on Bismarcks only combat mission.

The ships were very stable, primarily because of their wide beam. The ships suffered from only slight pitching and rolling, even in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic. Bismarck and Tirpitz were responsive to commands from the helm; they were capable of manoeuvring with rudder deflections as small as 5°. With the rudder completely over, the ships heeled only 3°, but lost up to 65% of their speed. However, the ships handled poorly at low speeds or when travelling in reverse. As a result, tugs were necessary in confined areas to avoid collisions or grounding. The ships had a standard crew of 103 officers and 1,962 enlisted sailors. The ships carried a number of smaller boats, including three picket boats, four barges, one launch
Launch (boat)
A launch in contemporary usage refers to a large motorboat. The name originally referred to the largest boat carried by a warship. The etymology of the word is given as Portuguese lancha "barge", from Malay lancha, lancharan, "boat," from lanchar "velocity without effort," "action of gliding...

, two pinnace
Pinnace (ship's boat)
As a ship's boat the pinnace is a light boat, propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a "tender" for guiding merchant and war vessels. In modern parlance, pinnace has come to mean a boat associated with some kind of larger vessel, that doesn't fit under the launch or lifeboat definitions...

s, two cutters, two yawl
A yawl is a two-masted sailing craft similar to a sloop or cutter but with an additional mast located well aft of the main mast, often right on the transom, specifically aft of the rudder post. A yawl (from Dutch Jol) is a two-masted sailing craft similar to a sloop or cutter but with an...

s, and two dinghies
A dinghy is a type of small boat, often carried or towed for use as a ship's boat by a larger vessel. It is a loanword from either Bengali or Urdu. The term can also refer to small racing yachts or recreational open sailing boats. Utility dinghies are usually rowboats or have an outboard motor,...



The Bismarck class ships both had three sets of geared turbine engines; Bismarck was equipped with Blohm & Voss turbines, while Tirpitz used Brown, Boveri, and Co.
Brown, Boveri & Cie
Brown, Boveri & Cie was a Swiss group of electrical engineering companies.It was founded in Baden, Switzerland, in 1891 by Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown and Walter Boveri who worked at the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon. In 1970 BBC took over the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon...

 engines. Each set of turbines drove a 3-bladed screw
A propeller is a type of fan that transmits power by converting rotational motion into thrust. A pressure difference is produced between the forward and rear surfaces of the airfoil-shaped blade, and a fluid is accelerated behind the blade. Propeller dynamics can be modeled by both Bernoulli's...

 that was 4.7 m (15.4 ft) in diameter. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of Bismarck, noted that the adoption of the three-shaft arrangement caused serious problems for Bismarck. The centre shaft weakened the keel, especially where it emerges from the hull. Ballard stated that a four-shaft arrangement would have allowed a greater ability to steer the ship using only propeller revolutions than the three-screw system.

At a full load, the high and medium-pressure turbines ran at 2,825 rpm
Revolutions per minute
Revolutions per minute is a measure of the frequency of a rotation. It annotates the number of full rotations completed in one minute around a fixed axis...

, while the low-pressure turbines ran at 2,390 rpm. The ships' turbines were powered by twelve Wagner ultra high-pressure oil-burning boilers. The two ships had different fuel stores; Bismarck was designed to carry 3,200 tons of fuel oil, but could store up to 6,400 tons of fuel in a normal configuration; with extra fuel bunkers, the fuel carried could be increased up to 7,400 tons. Tirpitz was designed to carry 3,000 tons of fuel, and with additional bunkers, was able to store up to 7,780 tons. The powerplant had a full power specific fuel consumption
Brake specific fuel consumption
Brake Specific Fuel Consumption is a measure of fuel efficiency within a shaft reciprocating engine.It is the rate of fuel consumption divided by the power produced. It may also be thought of as power-specific fuel consumption, for this reason...

 of .325 kg of fuel per hour; at 19 knots, Bismarck could steam for 8525 nautical miles (15,788.3 km), and Tirpitz had a maximum range of 8870 nautical miles (16,427.2 km).

The turbines were initially intended to use electric transmission, and would have produced 46000 hp apiece. However, the geared turbines were lighter, and as a result had a slight performance advantage. The geared turbines also had a significantly more robust construction. The ships mounted eight 500 kW diesel generators arranged in four pairs, five 690 kW turbo-generators, and one 460 kW, the last of which was connected to a 400 kVA
A volt-ampere is the unit used for the apparent power in an electrical circuit, equal to the product of root-mean-square voltage and RMS current. In direct current circuits, this product is equal to the real power in watts...

Alternating current
In alternating current the movement of electric charge periodically reverses direction. In direct current , the flow of electric charge is only in one direction....

 generator. Another 550 kVA diesel generator provided additional AC power. The electrical plant provided a total 7,910 kW at 220 volts.

Main battery

Bismarcks and Tirpitzs main battery consisted of eight 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in four twin turrets, Anton and Bruno in a superfiring pair forward of the superstructure
A superstructure is an upward extension of an existing structure above a baseline. This term is applied to various kinds of physical structures such as buildings, bridges, or ships...

 and Caesar and Dora aft. The turrets allowed elevation to 30°, which gave the guns a maximum range of 36520 m (39,938.8 yd). The guns fired 800 kg (1,763.7 lb) projectiles at a muzzle velocity
Muzzle velocity
Muzzle velocity is the speed a projectile has at the moment it leaves the muzzle of the gun. Muzzle velocities range from approximately to in black powder muskets , to more than in modern rifles with high-performance cartridges such as the .220 Swift and .204 Ruger, all the way to for tank guns...

 of 820 meters per second (2,690 ft/s). The main battery was supplied with between 940–960 shells total, for approximately 115–120 shells per gun. As with other German large-calibre naval rifles, these guns were designed by Krupp and featured sliding wedge breech blocks, which required brass cartridge cases for the propellant charges. Under optimal conditions, the rate of fire was one shot every 18 seconds, or three per minute. The gun turrets were electrically trained and the guns were hydraulically elevated. Gun elevation was controlled remotely. The turrets required each gun to return to 2.5° elevation for loading. Tirpitz was eventually provided with time-fuzed shells to combat the repeated Allied bombing attacks.

Secondary battery

The ships' secondary battery consisted of twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) SK C/28
15 cm SK C/28
The 15 cm SK C/28 was a German medium-caliber naval gun used during the Second World War. It served as the secondary armament for the Bismarck class and Scharnhorst-class battleships, Deutschland-class pocket battleships and the Graf Zeppelin class aircraft carrier...

 guns mounted in six twin turrets. The 15 cm gun turrets were based on the single-gun turrets used aboard the Scharnhorst class. They could elevate to 40° and depress to −10°; they had a rate of fire of around six shots per minute. The 15 cm guns fired a 45.3 kg (99.9 lb) shell at a muzzle velocity of 875 m/s (2,871 ft/s). At maximum elevation, the guns could hit targets out to 23000 m (25,153.1 yd). As with the main battery guns, Tirpitzs 15 cm guns were later supplied with time-fused shells.

The decision to mount low-angle 15 cm guns has been criticized by naval historians, including Anthony Preston, who stated that they "imposed a severe weight penalty", while American and British battleships were being armed with dual-purpose guns. Naval historians William Garzke and Robert Dulin note that "the use of dual-purpose armament would have possibly increased the number of anti-aircraft guns, but might have weakened the defense against destroyer attack, which German naval experts deemed more important."

Anti-aircraft battery

As built, Bismarck and Tirpitz were equipped with an anti-aircraft battery of sixteen 10.5 cm (4.1 in) C/32 65-calibre guns in eight twin mounts, sixteen 3.7 cm (1.5 in) C/30 guns in eight dual mounts, twelve 2 cm (0.78740157480315 in) guns in individual mounts. The 10.5 cm guns were the same weapons as used aboard the Scharnhorst class, and were mounted on the first superstructure deck. After Bismarck was sunk in 1941, two amidships guns on Tirpitz were moved forward so as to provide them with better fields of fire. The sixteen guns were guided by four fire-control directors, two just aft of the conning tower
Conning tower
A conning tower is a raised platform on a ship or submarine, often armored, from which an officer can con the vessel; i.e., give directions to the helmsman. It is usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility....

, a third positioned aft of the main mast, and the fourth directly behind turret Caesar. Tirpitzs directors were covered by protective domes, though Bismarcks were not.

The ships' 37 mm 83-calibre guns were twin mounted and placed in the superstructure. The mounts were hand-operated and automatically stabilized for roll and pitch. These guns were supplied with a total of 32,000 rounds of ammunition. Bismarck and Tirpitz were initially armed with twelve 20 mm guns in single mounts, though these were augmented over time. Bismarck received a pair of quadruple gun mountings, for a total of twenty 20 mm guns. Over the course of her career, Tirpitzs 20 mm battery was increased to 78 guns in single and quadruple mountings.


The Bismarck class ships had an armoured belt
Belt armor
Belt armor is a layer of heavy metal armor plated on to or within outer hulls of warships, typically on battleships, battlecruisers and cruisers, and on aircraft carriers converted from those types of ships....

 that ranged in thickness from 220 to 320 mm (8.7 to 12.6 in); the thickest section of armour covered the central portion, where the gun turrets, ammunition magazines, and machinery spaces were located. This portion of the belt was capped on either end by 220 mm thick transverse bulkheads. The ships had an upper deck that was 50 mm (2 in) thick, and an armoured deck that was between 100–120 mm (3.9–4.7 in) thick amidships, and tapered down to 60 mm (2.4 in) at the bow and 80 mm (3.1 in) at the stern. The deck was mounted low in the hull, however, which reduced the volume of internal space protected by the armoured citadel. This contrasted with contemporary British and American designs that featured a single thick armoured deck mounted high in the ship.

The forward conning tower
Conning tower
A conning tower is a raised platform on a ship or submarine, often armored, from which an officer can con the vessel; i.e., give directions to the helmsman. It is usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility....

 had a 200 mm (7.9 in) thick roof and 350 mm (13.8 in) thick sides, while the range finder had an armoured roof 100 mm (3.9 in) thick and 200 mm (7.9 in) thick sides. The aft conning tower had much lighter armour: the roof was 50 mm (2 in) thick and the sides were 150 mm (5.9 in), while the aft range finder had a 50 mm (2 in) thick roof and 100 mm (3.9 in) sides. The main battery turrets were reasonably well-protected: the turret roofs were 130 mm (5.1 in) thick, the sides were 220 mm (8.7 in) thick, and the faces were 360 mm (14.2 in) thick with 220 mm (8.7 in) thick shields. However, these armour thicknesses were less than those of contemporary British (King George V
King George V class battleship (1939)
The King George V-class battleships were the most modern British battleships used during World War II. Five ships of this class were built and commissioned: King George V , Prince of Wales , Duke of York , Howe , and Anson .The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 limiting all of the number,...

) and French (Richelieu
Richelieu class battleship
The Richelieu class battleships were the last and largest battleships of the French Navy, staying in service into the 1960s. They still remain to this day the largest warships ever built by France...

) designs. Conversely, the secondary battery was better-protected than most rivals. The 15 cm (5.9 in) gun turrets had 35 mm (1.4 in) thick roofs, 40 mm (1.6 in) sides, and 100 mm (3.9 in) fronts. The 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns had 20 mm (0.78740157480315 in) shields.


Bismarck was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard on 1 July 1936. The ship was assigned construction number 509, and the contract name Ersatz Hannover, as a replacement for the old battleship . The ship was launched
Ship naming and launching
The ceremonies involved in naming and launching naval ships are based in traditions thousands of years old.-Methods of launch:There are three principal methods of conveying a new ship from building site to water, only two of which are called "launching." The oldest, most familiar, and most widely...

 on 14 February 1939, with Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 in attendance. The granddaughter of the ship's namesake, Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

, christened the ship. As with other German capital ships, Bismarck was originally built with a straight bow. Experiences with other ships, however, revealed the necessity of a clipper
A clipper was a very fast sailing ship of the 19th century that had three or more masts and a square rig. They were generally narrow for their length, could carry limited bulk freight, small by later 19th century standards, and had a large total sail area...

 bow, which was installed on Bismarck during the fitting-out process. The ship was commissioned into the fleet on 24 August 1940, with Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann
Ernst Lindemann
Otto Ernst Lindemann was a German naval captain. He was the only commander of the battleship during its eight months of service in World War II....

 in command. Three weeks later, the ship left Hamburg for trials in the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

, before returning in December for final fitting-out work. Further trials and tests were conducted in the Baltic in March and April; Bismarck was placed on active status the following month.

Tirpitzs keel was laid at the Kriegsmarine dockyard
Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven
Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven was the naval shipyard in Wilhelmshaven, Prussian Hanover, between 1918 and 1945 in the German Navy's extensive base located there.-History:...

 in Wilhelmshaven on 20 October 1936, under construction number 128. She had been ordered under the contract name Ersatz Schleswig-Holstein to replace the obsolete battleship . Tirpitz was named for Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz was a German Admiral, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, the powerful administrative branch of the German Imperial Navy from 1897 until 1916. Prussia never had a major navy, nor did the other German states before the German Empire was formed in 1871...

, the architect of the High Seas Fleet
High Seas Fleet
The High Seas Fleet was the battle fleet of the German Empire and saw action during World War I. The formation was created in February 1907, when the Home Fleet was renamed as the High Seas Fleet. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was the architect of the fleet; he envisioned a force powerful enough to...

 before World War I. His daughter, Frau von Hassel, christened the ship on 1 April 1939. Fitting out work lasted until February 1941; Tirpitz was commissioned into the fleet on the 25 February. A series of trials were then conducted, first in the North Sea and then in the Baltic.


After Bismarck joined the fleet, plans were drawn up for a sortie into the North Atlantic. The operation initially called for a force composed of Bismarck, Tirpitz, and the two s. Tirpitz was not yet ready for service by May 1941, and was being overhauled. The force was reduced to Bismarck, , and the heavy cruiser . Gneisenau, however, was damaged by a British bombing raid on the port of Brest
Brest, France
Brest is a city in the Finistère department in Brittany in northwestern France. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the Breton peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon...

, so it was decided that only Bismarck and Prinz Eugen would conduct the operation. Admiral Günther Lütjens
Günther Lütjens
Günther Lütjens was a German Admiral whose military service spanned almost 30 years. Lütjens is best known for his actions during World War II, primarily his service as admiral of the squadron comprising and her consort, , during the Operation Rheinübung sortie.-Early career:Günther Lütjens was...

 was placed in command of the pair of ships.

Early on the morning of 19 May, Bismarck left Gotenhafen, bound for the North Atlantic. While on the trip through the Danish Belt
Danish straits
The Danish straits are the three channels connecting the Baltic Sea to the North Sea through the Kattegat and Skagerrak. They transect Denmark, and are not to be confused with the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland...

, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen encountered the Swedish cruiser ; the sighting was passed through the Swedish Navy to the British naval attaché in Stockholm. The British Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 conducted aerial reconnaissance of the Norwegian fjord in which Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had stopped to confirm the sighting. While in Norway, Admiral Lütjens inexplicably failed to replenish the approximately 1000 LT of fuel Bismarck had spent on the first leg of the voyage.
By 23 May, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had reached the Denmark Strait
Denmark Strait
The Denmark Strait or Greenland Strait |Sound]]) is an oceanic strait between Greenland and Iceland...

. That evening, the British cruisers and briefly engaged Bismarck before dropping back to shadow the German ships. At 06:00 the following morning, observers aboard Bismarck spotted the masts of the battlecruiser and the new battleship . The British ships steamed directly towards Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, before attempting a turn to bring the two forces on a roughly parallel course. During the turn, at least one of Bismarcks 38 cm shells penetrated one of the aft ammunition magazines aboard Hood, which caused a catastrophic explosion and destroyed the ship. There were only three survivors from Hoods crew of 1,421. The German ships then concentrated their fire on Prince of Wales, which was forced to withdraw. Bismarck, however, did not emerge unscathed; a direct hit on her bow from Prince of Wales caused Bismarck to take in some 2000 LT of water. The ship was also leaking oil, which made it easier for the British to track her.

After retreating, Prince of Wales joined Norfolk and Suffolk; the ships briefly engaged Bismarck at around 18:00 that same day. Neither side scored a hit. By this time, 19 warships were involved in the chase. This included six battleships and battlecruisers and two aircraft carriers, along with a number of cruisers and destroyers. After the second engagement with Prince of Wales, Lütjens detached Prinz Eugen to continue the operation while Bismarck sailed for port. Shortly before midnight on the 24 May, a group of Fairey Swordfish
Fairey Swordfish
The Fairey Swordfish was a torpedo bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company and used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during the Second World War...

 torpedo bombers from 825 Naval Air Squadron
825 Naval Air Squadron
825 Naval Air Squadron was a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm carrier-based squadron formed on 8 October 1934 from the aircraft and personnel of 824 Naval Air Squadron...

 on attacked Bismarck. One torpedo struck the ship amidships, though without doing any serious damage. The shock from the explosion, coupled with Bismarcks manoeuvring at high speed, did damage the temporary repairs that had stopped the flooding from the earlier battle damage. Her speed was reduced to 16 kn (8.7 m/s) to slow the flooding while repair teams fixed the reopened wounds.

Early on the 25 May, Bismarck doubled back past her pursuers in a wide circle. The manoeuvre successfully shook off the British ships, which turned west in an attempt to find the ship. Despite the manoeuvre, Admiral Lütjens was unaware that he had evaded the British, and so sent a series of radio transmissions, which were intercepted by the British and used to gain a rough fix on his position. Due to the damage his ship had sustained, Lütjens decided to make occupied France rather than continue his mission. On the morning of 26 May, a Coastal Command PBY Catalina
PBY Catalina
The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used multi-role aircraft of World War II. PBYs served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other...

 flying boat spotted Bismarck some 690 nmi (1,277.9 km) to the north-west of Brest; she was steaming at a speed that would put her under the protective umbrella of German aircraft and U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

s within 24 hours. The only British forces close enough to slow her down were the aircraft carrier and her escort, the battlecruiser . At approximately 20:30, a flight of fifteen Ark Royals 820 Naval Air Squadron
820 Naval Air Squadron
820 Naval Air Squadron is a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm carrier based squadron formed in April 1933 with the transferral of the Fairey III aircraft from 405 Flight Royal Air Force to the Fleet Air Arm...

s Swordfish torpedo bombers launched an attack on Bismarck. Three torpedoes were believed to have struck the ship; the first two torpedoes failed to do serious damage to the ship, but the third hit jammed Bismarcks rudders hard to starboard. The damage could not be repaired, and the battleship began turning in a large circle, back towards her pursuers.

An hour after the Swordfish attack, Lütjens transmitted the following signal to Naval Group Command West: "Ship unable to manoeuvre. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer." At 08:47 the following morning, the battleship opened fire, followed directly by . Bismarck replied three minutes later, though at 09:02 a 16 inch shell from Rodney destroyed the forward turrets. A half an hour later, Bismarcks rear turrets were silenced as well. At around 10:15, both British battleships had ceased fire, their target a burning wreck. The British were running dangerously low on fuel, but Bismarck had not yet been sunk. The cruiser fired several torpedoes into the crippled ship, which then took on a severe list to port. At approximately the same time as Dorsetshires attack, engine room crew detonated scuttling charges in the engine rooms. There is still significant debate as to the direct cause of Bismarcks sinking. Regardless, only 110 men were rescued by the British before reports of U-boats forced them from the scene. A further five men were rescued by German vessels.


Tirpitzs first action following her commissioning into the Kriegsmarine was to act as a deterrent to a possible Soviet attempt to break out their Baltic Fleet
Baltic Fleet
The Twice Red Banner Baltic Fleet - is the Russian Navy's presence in the Baltic Sea. In previous historical periods, it has been part of the navy of Imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union. The Fleet gained the 'Twice Red Banner' appellation during the Soviet period, indicating two awards of...

 following the German invasion of the Soviet Union
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

. The ship was joined by the heavy cruiser and the light cruisers , , and . The force patrolled off the Aland Islands
Åland Islands
The Åland Islands form an archipelago in the Baltic Sea. They are situated at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia and form an autonomous, demilitarised, monolingually Swedish-speaking region of Finland...

 for a few days before returning to Kiel. On 14 January, Tirpitz left German waters for Norway, arriving on the 17th.

On 6 March, Tirpitz, escorted by three destroyers, launched a raid on the British convoys to the Soviet Union
Arctic convoys of World War II
The Arctic convoys of World War II travelled from the United Kingdom and North America to the northern ports of the Soviet Union—Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. There were 78 convoys between August 1941 and May 1945...

. The Germans attempted to intercept convoys PQ-12 and QP-8, but the inclement weather prevented them from finding the convoys. The British, however, managed to locate Tirpitz. The aircraft carrier Victorious launched a strike composed of twelve Fairey Albacore
Fairey Albacore
The Fairey Albacore was a British single-engine carrier-borne biplane torpedo bomber built by Fairey Aviation between 1939 and 1943 for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and used during the Second World War. It had a three-man crew and was designed for spotting and reconnaissance as well as delivering...

 torpedo bombers. The aircraft were repulsed without having scored any hits on the German ships. Tirpitz and the destroyers were back in port by 12 March. The close call prompted Hitler to mandate that Tirpitz was not to attack another convoy unless its escorting aircraft carrier were sunk or disabled.

Over the next two months, the British RAF launched a series of unsuccessful bombing raids against Tirpitz while she was moored in the Faettenfjord. The first, composed of 34 Handley Page Halifax
Handley Page Halifax
The Handley Page Halifax was one of the British front-line, four-engined heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. A contemporary of the famous Avro Lancaster, the Halifax remained in service until the end of the war, performing a variety of duties in addition to bombing...

 bombers, took place on 31 March. Two followed closely in succession a month later, on 28 and 29 April. The first attack was conducted by 43 Halifax and Avro Lancaster
Avro Lancaster
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force . It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other...

 bombers, the second by 34 Halifax and Lancaster. A combination of heavy German anti-aircraft fire and poor weather caused all three missions to fail. Over the summer and into late 1942, Tirpitz underwent a refit in the Faettenfjord, which lacked dockyard facilities of any type. As a result, the work was done incrementally; a large caisson
Caisson (engineering)
In geotechnical engineering, a caisson is a retaining, watertight structure used, for example, to work on the foundations of a bridge pier, for the construction of a concrete dam, or for the repair of ships. These are constructed such that the water can be pumped out, keeping the working...

 was built to allow the rudders to be replaced. Naval historians William Garzke and Robert Dulin stated that "the repairs to this ship were one of the most difficult naval engineering feats of World War II."

In January 1943, Tirpitz emerged from the lengthy overhaul, after which she was transferred to Altafjord
Altafjord is a fjord in the municipality Alta in Finnmark county, Norway, and is about 38 kilometres long. In the inner southern part of the fjord, near the town of Alta, is the outlet of the 200 kilometre long river Altaelva...

. Here, she participated in extensive training operations with Scharnhorst and the heavy cruiser Lützow, which lasted until the middle of the year. In early September, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and ten destroyers bombarded the island of Spitzbergen, which served as a British refuelling station. The two battleships destroyed their targets and returned safely to Altenfjord; this was the first time Tirpitz fired her main guns in anger. On 22–23 September, however, six British midget submarines
Operation Source
Operation Source was a series of attacks to neutralise the heavy German warships – Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lutzow – based in northern Norway, using X-class midget submarines....

 attacked Tirpitz while at anchor. Two of the submarines successfully planted explosive charges against the battleship's hull, which did serious damage. Tirpitz had been successfully neutralized. Over the next six months, a workforce of some 1,000 men effected the needed repairs, which were finally finished by March 1944.
The British resumed the series of air attacks almost immediately after repairs were completed. On 3 April, the Royal Navy launched Operation Tungsten, during which 40 fighters and 40 Barracuda
Fairey Barracuda
The Fairey Barracuda was a British carrier-borne torpedo- and dive bomber used during the Second World War, the first of its type used by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm to be fabricated entirely from metal. It was introduced as a replacement for the Fairey Swordfish and Fairey Albacore biplanes...

 bombers from six carriers attacked the ship. They scored 15 direct hits and two near misses, which caused heavy damage, killed 122 men, and wounded 316 more. The Royal Navy attempted to repeat the attack three weeks later on the 24th, but had to call the operation off due to inclement weather. Operation Brawn, another carrier-launched attack, followed on 15 May, but again weather interfered. Another carrier strike was attempted on 28 May, but it too was canceled due to poor weather conditions. Operation Mascot, which was to be conducted by Victorious, Furious, and on 17 July, was canceled due to heavy fog.

The Royal Navy launched the Operation Goodwood series in late August. Goodwood I took place on 22 August, with 38 bombers and 43 fighters from five carriers. The attackers failed to score any hits, however. Goodwood III followed two days later, with 48 bombers and 29 fighters from , Furious, and Indefatigable. The bombers made two hits on the ship, which did only minor damage. The last Royal Navy operation, Goodwood IV, followed on 29 August. Thirty-four bombers and 25 fighters, launched from Formidable and Indefatigable, attacked the ship, though fog prevented them from scoring any hits.

The task of sinking Tirpitz now fell to the RAF, which performed three airstrikes armed with new 5400 kg (11,905 lb) Tallboy bomb
Tallboy bomb
The Tallboy or Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb, was an earthquake bomb developed by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis and deployed by the RAF in 1944...

s. The first attack, Operation Paravane, came on 15 September, when a force of 27 Lancasters dropped a single Tallboy each; the bombers succeeded in hitting Tirpitz directly in the bow with one of the bombs. The bomb completed penetrated the ship and exploded directly under her keel. This caused some 1500 MT (1,476.3 LT) of water to flood the ship; Tirpitz had again been disabled. A month later, on 15 October, Tirpitz was moved to Haaköy Island off Tromsø
Tromsø is a city and municipality in Troms county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the city of Tromsø.Tromsø city is the ninth largest urban area in Norway by population, and the seventh largest city in Norway by population...

to be used as a floating artillery battery. Two weeks later, on 29 October, the British launched Operation Obviate, which consisted of 32 Lancaster bombers. Only a near miss was achieved, though it caused Tirpitz to take in more water. The last attack, Operation Catechism, took place on 12 November. Thirty-two Lancasters attacked the ship and scored a pair of direct hits and a near miss. The bombs detonated one of Tirpitzs ammunition magazines and caused the ship to capsize. Casualties were high: 1,204 men were killed in the attack. Another 806 men managed to escape the sinking ship, and a further 82 were eventually rescued from the capsized hulk. The wreck was gradually broken up for scrap between 1948 and 1957.
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