German battleship Bismarck
Overview
 
Bismarck was the first of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine
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 It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine.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...

 during World War II. Named after Chancellor 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...

, the primary force behind the German unification in 1871
Unification of Germany
The formal unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871 at the Versailles Palace's Hall of Mirrors in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor Wilhelm of the German...

, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 in July 1936 and launched nearly three years later in April 1939. Work was completed in August 1940, when she was commissioned into the German fleet. Along with her sister ship Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz
Tirpitz was the second of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial Navy, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and launched two and a half years later in April...

, Bismarck was the largest battleship ever built by Germany, and the heaviest built by any European power.

Bismarck conducted only one offensive operation, codenamed 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...

, in May 1941.
Encyclopedia
Bismarck was the first of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine
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...

 during World War II. Named after Chancellor 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...

, the primary force behind the German unification in 1871
Unification of Germany
The formal unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871 at the Versailles Palace's Hall of Mirrors in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor Wilhelm of the German...

, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 in July 1936 and launched nearly three years later in April 1939. Work was completed in August 1940, when she was commissioned into the German fleet. Along with her sister ship Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz
Tirpitz was the second of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial Navy, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and launched two and a half years later in April...

, Bismarck was the largest battleship ever built by Germany, and the heaviest built by any European power.

Bismarck conducted only one offensive operation, codenamed 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...

, in May 1941. The ship, along with the heavy cruiser
Heavy cruiser
The heavy cruiser was a type of cruiser, a naval warship designed for long range, high speed and an armament of naval guns roughly 203mm calibre . The heavy cruiser can be seen as a lineage of ship design from 1915 until 1945, although the term 'heavy cruiser' only came into formal use in 1930...

 Prinz Eugen
German cruiser Prinz Eugen
Prinz Eugen was an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser, the third member of the class of five vessels. She served with the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down in April 1936 and launched August 1938; Prinz Eugen entered service after the outbreak of war, in August 1940...

, was to break out into the Atlantic Ocean and raid Allied shipping from North America to Great Britain. The two ships were detected several times off Scandinavia, however, and British naval units were deployed to block their route. At the Battle of Denmark Strait, Bismarck engaged and destroyed the battlecruiser
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...

 , the pride 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...

, and forced the battleship to retreat with heavy damage, although Bismarck herself had been hit three times and suffered an oil leak from a ruptured tank.

The destruction of Hood spurred a relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy with dozens of warships involved. Two days later, while steaming for the relative safety of occupied France, Bismarck was attacked by 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 the aircraft carrier ; one hit was scored that jammed the battleship's steering gear and rendered her unmanoeuvrable. The following morning, Bismarck was destroyed by a pair of British battleships. The cause of her sinking is disputed: some in the Royal Navy claim that torpedoes fired by the cruiser administered the fatal blow, while German survivors argue that they scuttled
Scuttling
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...

 the ship. In June 1989, Robert Ballard
Robert Ballard
Robert Duane Ballard is a former United States Navy officer and a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island who is most noted for his work in underwater archaeology. He is most famous for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989,...

 discovered the location of Bismarcks wreck. Several other expeditions have surveyed the sunken battleship in an effort to document more completely the condition of the ship and to determine the cause of the ship's loss.

Construction and characteristics

Bismarck was ordered as Ersatz Hannover as a replacement for the old pre-dreadnought
Pre-dreadnought
Pre-dreadnought battleship is the general term for all of the types of sea-going battleships built between the mid-1890s and 1905. Pre-dreadnoughts replaced the ironclad warships of the 1870s and 1880s...

 , under the contract name "F". The Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 was awarded the contract, where the keel was laid on 1 July 1936. The hull was launched on 1 April 1939; during the elaborate ceremonies, the ship was christened by the granddaughter of Chancellor 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...

, the ship's namesake. Fitting-out
Fitting-out
Fitting-out, or "outfitting”, is the process in modern shipbuilding that follows the float-out of a vessel and precedes sea trials. It is the period when all the remaining construction of the ship is completed and readied for delivery to her owners...

 out work followed her launch, during which time her original straight stem was replaced with a raked "Atlantic bow" similar to the s. Bismarck was commissioned into the fleet on 24 August 1940 for sea trials, which were conducted in the Baltic. 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....

 took command of the ship at the time of her commissioning.

Bismarck displaced 41700 MT (41,041.3 LT) as built and 50300 MT (49,505.4 LT) fully loaded, with an overall length of 251 metre, a beam of 36 metre and a maximum draft of 9.9 metre. She was the largest battleship built by Germany, as well as the heaviest battleship built by a European navy. She was powered by three Blohm & Voss geared steam turbines, which developed a total of 150170 shp and yielded a maximum speed of 30.01 kn (16.3 m/s) on speed trials. Her standard crew numbered 103 officers and 1,962 enlisted men. Bismarck was equipped with three FuMO 23 radar sets, mounted on the forward and stern range-finders and the ship's foretop.

She was armed with eight 38 cm (15 in) L/52 guns arranged in four twin gun turret
Gun turret
A gun turret is a weapon mount that protects the crew or mechanism of a projectile-firing weapon and at the same time lets the weapon be aimed and fired in many directions.The turret is also a rotating weapon platform...

s: two super-firing
Superfire
The idea of superfire is to locate two turrets in a row, one behind the other, but with the second turret located above the one in front so that the second turret could fire over the first...

 turrets forward—Anton and Bruno—and two aft—Caesar and Dora. Her secondary armament consisted of twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) L/55
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, sixteen 10.5 cm (4.1 in) L/65 and sixteen 3.7 cm (1.5 in) L/83, and twelve 2 cm (0.78740157480315 in) anti-aircraft guns. The ship's main 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....

 was 320 mm (12.6 in) thick and was covered by a pair of upper and main armoured decks that were 50 mm (2 in) and 100 millimetre thick, respectively. The 38 cm turrets were protected by 360 mm (14.2 in) thick faces and 220 mm (8.7 in) thick sides.

Service history

On 15 September 1940, three weeks after her commissioning, Bismarck left Hamburg to begin sea trial
Sea trial
A sea trial is the testing phase of a watercraft . It is also referred to as a "shakedown cruise" by many naval personnel. It is usually the last phase of construction and takes place on open water, and can last from a few hours to many days.Sea trials are conducted to measure a vessel’s...

s in Kiel Bay. Sperrbrecher
Sperrbrecher
A Sperrbrecher , was a German auxiliary ship of the Second World War that was intended to serve as a type of minesweeper, by sailing ahead of other vessels through minefields, intending to detonate any mines in their path...

 13
escorted the ship to Arcona
Cape Arkona
Cape Arkona is a cape on the island of Rügen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. Cape Arkona is the tip of the Wittow peninsula, just a few kilometres north of the Jasmund National Park....

 on 28 September, and then on to Gotenhafen for trials in the Gulf of Danzig. The ship's power-plant was given a thorough workout; Bismarck made measured-mile and high speed runs. Her stability and maneuverability were also tested; during these tests, a flaw in the ship's design was discovered. While attempting to steer the ship solely through altering propeller revolutions, the crew learned that the ship could be kept on course only with great difficulty. Even with the outboard screws running at full power in opposite directions, they generated only a slight turning ability. Trials lasted until December; Bismarck returned to Hamburg, arriving on 9 December, for minor alterations and the final completion of the out-fitting process.

The ship was scheduled to return to Kiel
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...

 on 24 January 1941, but a merchant vessel had been sunk in the Kiel Canal
Kiel Canal
The Kiel Canal , known as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal until 1948, is a long canal in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.The canal links the North Sea at Brunsbüttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. An average of is saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula....

 and prevented usage of the waterway. Severe weather hampered efforts to remove the wreck, and Bismarck was not able to make the passage to Kiel until March. The delay greatly frustrated KzS Lindemann, who remarked that "[Bismarck] had been tied down at Hamburg for five weeks...the precious time at sea lost as a result cannot be made up, and a significant delay in the final war deployment of the ship thus is unavoidable." While waiting to make the voyage to Kiel, Bismarck hosted a visit by Captain Anders Forshell, the Swedish naval attaché to Berlin. He returned to Sweden with a detailed description of the ship, which was subsequently leaked to Britain by pro-British elements in the Swedish Navy; this gave 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...

 its first full picture of the vessel, although it lacked specificity on important information, including top speed, radius of action, and displacement.
On 6 March, Bismarck received the order to steam to Kiel. While en route, the ship was escorted by several Messerschmitt Bf 109
Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, often called Me 109, was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid 1930s...

 fighters and a pair of armed merchant vessels, along with an icebreaker. At 8:45 on 8 March, Bismarck briefly ran aground on the southern shore of the Kiel Canal, though she was freed within an hour. The battleship reached Kiel the following day, where her crew stocked ammunition, fuel, and other supplies and applied a coat of dazzle paint to camouflage her from aerial observers. British bombers attacked the harbour without success on 12 March. On 17 March, the old battleship , now used as an icebreaker, escorted Bismarck through the ice to Gotenhafen, where the latter continued combat readiness training.

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...

(OKM), commanded by Admiral 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...

, intended to continue the practice of using heavy ships as surface raiders against Allied
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 merchant traffic in the Atlantic Ocean. The two s were based in Brest, France
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...

 at the time, having just completed Operation Berlin, a major raid into the Atlantic. Bismarcks sistership Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz
Tirpitz was the second of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial Navy, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and launched two and a half years later in April...

 rapidly approached completion. Bismarck and Tirpitz were to sortie from the Baltic
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...

 and rendezvous with the two Scharnhorst class ships in the Atlantic; the operation was initially scheduled for around 25 April 1941, when a new moon period would make conditions more favourable.

Work on Tirpitz was completed later than anticipated, however, and she was not commissioned until 25 February; the ship would not be ready for combat until late in the year. To further complicate the situation, Gneisenau
German battleship Gneisenau
Gneisenau was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser, of the German Kriegsmarine. She was the second vessel of her class, which included one other ship, Scharnhorst. The ship was built at the Deutsche Werke dockyard in Kiel; she was laid down on 6 May 1935...

 was torpedoed while in Brest and damaged further by bombs when in the drydock. Scharnhorst
German battleship Scharnhorst
Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser, of the German Kriegsmarine. She was the lead ship of her class, which included one other ship, Gneisenau. The ship was built at the Kriegsmarinewerft dockyard in Wilhelmshaven; she was laid down on 15...

 required a boiler overhaul following Operation Berlin; the workers discovered during the overhaul that the boilers were in worse condition than expected. She would also be unavailable for the planned sortie. Attacks by British bombers on supply depots in Kiel delayed repairs on the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper
German cruiser Admiral Hipper
Admiral Hipper, the first of five ships of her class, was the lead ship of the Admiral Hipper–class of heavy cruisers which served with the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1935 and launched February 1937; Admiral Hipper...

. The two ships would not be ready for action until July–August. 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...

, the officer chosen to lead the operation, wished to delay the operation until at least either Scharnhorst or Tirpitz would be ready. Regardless, the OKM decided to proceed with the operation, codenamed 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...

, with a force consisting of only Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen
German cruiser Prinz Eugen
Prinz Eugen was an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser, the third member of the class of five vessels. She served with the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down in April 1936 and launched August 1938; Prinz Eugen entered service after the outbreak of war, in August 1940...

.

Operation Rheinübung

On 5 May, 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...

, Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

, and a large entourage arrived to view Bismarck and Tirpitz in Gotenhafen. The men were given an extensive tour of the ships, after which Hitler met with Lütjens to discuss the upcoming mission. On the 16 May, Lütjens reported that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were fully prepared for Operation Rheinübung; he was therefore ordered to proceed with the mission on the evening of 19 May. As part of the operational plans, a group of eighteen supply ships would be positioned to support Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Four U-boat
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 would be placed along the convoy routes between Halifax and Britain to scout for the raiders.

By the start of the operation, Bismarcks crew had increased to 2,221 officers and enlisted men. This included an admiral's staff of nearly 65 and a prize crew of 80 sailors, which could be used to crew transports captured during the mission. At 02:00 on 19 May, Bismarck departed Gotenhafen and made for the Danish straits
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...

. She was joined at 11:25 by Prinz Eugen, which had departed the previous night at 21:18, off Cape Arkona
Cape Arkona
Cape Arkona is a cape on the island of Rügen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. Cape Arkona is the tip of the Wittow peninsula, just a few kilometres north of the Jasmund National Park....

. The two ships were escorted by three destroyers—Hans Lody
German destroyer Z10 Hans Lody
Z10 Hans Lody was a built for the German Navy in the mid-1930s.-External links:*...

, Friedrich Eckoldt
German destroyer Z16 Friedrich Eckoldt
Z16 Friedrich Eckoldt was a built for the German Navy in the mid-1930s. At the beginning of World War II, the ship was initially deployed to blockade the Polish coast, but she was quickly transferred to the German Bight to lay minefields in German waters...

, and Z23
German destroyer Z23
Z23 was a built for the Kriegsmarine in the late 1930s.-External links:*...

—and a flotilla of minesweepers. The Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 provided air cover during the voyage out of German waters. At around noon on 20 May, Lindemann informed the ship's crew via loudspeaker of the ship's mission. At approximately the same time, group of ten or twelve Swedish aircraft flying reconnaissance encountered the German force and reported its composition and heading, though the Germans did not notice the Swedish aircraft.

An hour later, the German flotilla encountered the Swedish cruiser ; the cruiser shadowed the Germans for two hours in the Kattegat
Kattegat
The Kattegat , or Kattegatt is a sea area bounded by the Jutland peninsula and the Straits islands of Denmark on the west and south, and the provinces of Västergötland, Scania, Halland and Bohuslän in Sweden on the east. The Baltic Sea drains into the Kattegat through the Øresund and the Danish...

. Gotland transmitted a report to naval headquarters, stating: "Two large ships, three destroyers, five escort vessels, and 10–12 aircraft passed Marstrand
Marstrand
Marstrand is a seaside locality situated in Kungälv Municipality, Västra Götaland County, Sweden. It had 1,432 inhabitants in 2005. It has held city privileges since 1200. The most striking feature about Marstrand is the 17th century fortress Carlsten, named after King Carl X Gustav of Sweden. The...

, course 205°/20'." The OKM was not concerned about the security risk posed by Gotland, though both Lütjens and Lindemann believed operational security had been lost. The report eventually made its way to Captain Henry Denham, the British naval attaché to Sweden, who transmitted the information to the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

. The code-breakers at Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park is an estate located in the town of Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, England, which currently houses the National Museum of Computing...

 confirmed that an Atlantic raid was imminent, as they had decrypted reports that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had taken on prize crews and requested additional navigational charts from headquarters. A pair of Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

s were ordered to search the Norwegian coast for the German flotilla.

German aerial reconnaissance confirmed that one aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

, three battleships, and four cruisers remained at anchor in the main British naval base at Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow
right|thumb|Scapa Flow viewed from its eastern endScapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. It is about...

, which confirmed to Lütjens that the British were at that point unaware of his operation. On the evening of 20 May, Bismarck and the rest of the flotilla reached the Norwegian coast; the minesweepers were detached and the two raiders and their destroyer escorts continued north. The following morning, radio-intercept officers on board Prinz Eugen picked up a signal ordering British reconnaissance aircraft to search for two battleships and three destroyers northbound off the Norwegian coast. At 7:00 on the 21st, the Germans spotted four unidentified aircraft, though they quickly departed. Shortly after 12:00, the flotilla reached Bergen
Bergen
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway with a population of as of , . Bergen is the administrative centre of Hordaland county. Greater Bergen or Bergen Metropolitan Area as defined by Statistics Norway, has a population of as of , ....

 and anchored at Grimstadfjord. While there, the ships' crews painted over the Baltic camouflage with the standard "outboard gray" worn by German warships operating in the Atlantic.
While in Norway, a pair of Bf 109 fighters circled over Bismarck to protect her from British air attacks. Nevertheless, Flying Officer Michael Suckling managed to fly his Spitfire directly over the German flotilla at a height of 8000 m (26,246.7 ft) and snap several photos of Bismarck and her consorts. Upon receipt of the information, Admiral John Tovey ordered the battlecruiser , the newly commissioned battleship , and six destroyers to reinforce the pair of cruisers patrolling the Denmark Strait
Denmark Strait
The Denmark Strait or Greenland Strait |Sound]]) is an oceanic strait between Greenland and Iceland...

. The rest of the Home Fleet was placed on high alert in Scapa Flow. Eighteen bombers were dispatched to attack the Germans, but weather over the fjord had worsened and they were unable to find the German warships.

Bismarck failed to replenish her fuel stores while anchored in Norway, as her operational orders did not require her to do so. She had left port 200 MT (196.8 LT) short of a full load, and had since expended another 1000 MT (984.2 LT) on the voyage from Gotenhafen. Prinz Eugen, meanwhile, took on 764 MT (751.9 LT) of fuel. At 19:30 on 21 May, Bismarck, Prinz Eugen, and the three escorting destroyers left Bergen. By midnight, the force was in the open sea and headed toward the Arctic Ocean. At this time, Admiral Raeder finally informed Hitler of the operation, who reluctantly gave his consent to continue the raid. The three escorting destroyers were detached at 04:14 on 22 May, while the force steamed off Trondheim
Trondheim
Trondheim , historically, Nidaros and Trondhjem, is a city and municipality in Sør-Trøndelag county, Norway. With a population of 173,486, it is the third most populous municipality and city in the country, although the fourth largest metropolitan area. It is the administrative centre of...

. At around 12:00, Lütjens ordered his two ships to turn toward the Denmark Strait to attempt the breakout into the open waters of the Atlantic.

By 04:00 on 23 May, Lütjens ordered Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to increase speed to 27 kn (14.7 m/s) to make the dash through the Denmark Strait. Upon entering the Strait, both ships activated their FuMo radar detection equipment sets. Bismarck led Prinz Eugen by about 700 m (765.5 yd); mist reduced visibility to 3000 to 4000 m (3,280.8 to 4,374.5 yd). The Germans encountered some ice at around 10:00, which necessitated a reduction in speed to 24 kn (13.1 m/s). Two hours later, the pair had reached a point north of Iceland. The ships were forced to zigzag to avoid ice floes. At 19:22, hydrophone and radar operators aboard the German warships detected the cruiser at a range of approximately 12500 m (13,670.2 yd). Prinz Eugens radio-intercept team decrypted the radio signals being sent by Suffolk and learned that their location had indeed been reported.

Admiral Lütjens gave permission for Prinz Eugen to engage Suffolk, though the captain of the German cruiser could not clearly make out his target and so held his ship's fire. Suffolk quickly retreated to a safe distance and shadowed the German ships. At 20:30, the heavy cruiser joined Suffolk, but approached the German raiders too closely. Lütjens ordered his ships to engage the British cruiser; Bismarck fired five salvoes, three of which straddled Norfolk and rained shell splinters on her decks. The cruiser laid a smoke screen and fled into a fog bank, ending the brief engagement. The concussion from the 38 cm guns firing disabled Bismarcks FuMo 23 radar set; this prompted Lütjens to order Prinz Eugen to take station ahead so she could use her functioning radar to scout for the formation.

At around 22:00, Lütjens ordered Bismarck to make a 180-degree turn in an effort to surprise the two heavy cruisers shadowing him. Although Bismarck was visually obscured in a rain squall, Suffolks radar quickly detected the manoeuvre, allowing the cruiser to evade Bismarck. The cruisers remained in their stations through the night, continually relaying the location and bearing of the German ships. The harsh weather broke on the morning of 24 May, revealing a clear sky. At 05:07 that morning, hydrophone operators aboard Prinz Eugen detected a pair of unidentified vessels approaching the German formation at a range of 20 nmi (37 km), reporting "Noise of two fast-moving turbine ships at 280° relative bearing!".

Battle of the Denmark Strait

At 05:45, lookouts on the German ships spotted smoke on the horizon; these turned out to be from Hood and Prince of Wales, under the command of Vice Admiral
Vice Admiral
Vice admiral is a senior naval rank of a three-star flag officer, which is equivalent to lieutenant general in the other uniformed services. A vice admiral is typically senior to a rear admiral and junior to an admiral...

 Lancelot Holland
Lancelot Holland
Vice Admiral Lancelot Ernest Holland, CB commanded the British force in the Battle of Denmark Strait in May, 1941 against the German battleship Bismarck. Holland was killed during the battle.-Early life:...

. Lütjens ordered his ships' crews to battle stations. By 05:52, the range had fallen to 26000 m (28,433.9 yd) and Hood opened fire, followed by Prince of Wales a minute later. Hood engaged Prinz Eugen, which the British thought to be Bismarck, while Prince of Wales fired on Bismarck. Adalbert Schneider
Adalbert Schneider
Adalbert Schneider was the first Gunnery Officer on board the battleship Bismarck, and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for the sinking of HMS Hood on 24 May 1941 in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. The Knight's Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or...

, the first gunnery officer aboard Bismarck, twice requested permission to return fire from Lütjens, who hesitated. Lindemann intervened, muttering "I will not let my ship be shot out from under my ass." He demanded permission to fire from Lütjens, who relented and at 05:55 ordered his ships to engage the British.
The British ships approached the German ships head on, which permitted them to use only their forward guns, while Bismarck and Prinz Eugen could fire full broadside
Broadside
A broadside is the side of a ship; the battery of cannon on one side of a warship; or their simultaneous fire in naval warfare.-Age of Sail:...

s. Several minutes after opening fire, Holland ordered a 20° turn to port, which would allow his ships to engage with their rear gun turrets. Both German ships concentrated their fire on Hood; about a minute after opening fire, Prinz Eugen scored a hit with a high-explosive 20.3 cm (8 in) shell; the explosion detonated Unrotated Projectile
Unrotated Projectile
The Unrotated Projectile, or UP, was a short range rocket-firing anti-aircraft weapon developed for the Royal Navy to supplement the 2 pounder Pom-Pom gun due to a critical lack of close-range anti-aircraft weapons. It was used extensively by British ships during the early days of World War II...

 ammunition and started a large fire, which was quickly extinguished. After firing three four-gun salvos, Schneider had zeroed in the range to Hood; he immediately ordered rapid-fire salvos from Bismarcks eight 38 cm guns. He also ordered the ship's 15 cm secondary guns to engage Prince of Wales. Holland then ordered a second 20° turn to port, to bring his ships on a parallel course with Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to shift fire and target Prince of Wales, to keep both of his opponents under fire. Within a few minutes, Prinz Eugen scored a pair of hits on the battleship and reported a small fire to have been started.

Lütjens then ordered Prinz Eugen to drop behind Bismarck, so she could continue to monitor the location of Norfolk and Suffolk, which were still some 10 nautical mile to the east. At 06:00, Hood was completing the second turn to port when Bismarcks fifth salvo hit. Two of the shells landed short, striking the water close to the ship, but at least one of the 38 cm armour-piercing
Armor-piercing shot and shell
An armor-piercing shell is a type of ammunition designed to penetrate armor. From the 1860s to 1950s, a major application of armor-piercing projectiles was to defeat the thick armor carried on many warships. From the 1920s onwards, armor-piercing weapons were required for anti-tank missions...

 shells struck Hood and penetrated her thin deck armor. The shell reached Hoods rear ammunition magazine and detonated 112 MT (110.2 LT) of cordite
Cordite
Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance...

 propellant. The massive explosion broke the back of the ship between the main mast and the rear funnel; the forward section continued to move forward briefly before the in-rushing water caused the bow to rise into the air at a steep angle. The stern similarly rose upward as water rushed into the ripped-open compartments. Schneider exclaimed "He is sinking!" over the ship's loudspeakers. In only eight minutes of firing, Hood had disappeared, taking all but three of her crew of 1,419 men with her.
Bismarck then shifted fire to Prince of Wales. The British battleship scored a hit on Bismarck with her sixth salvo, but the German ship also found her mark with her first salvo. One of the shells struck the bridge on Prince of Wales, though it did not explode and instead exited the other side. Regardless, everyone in the ship's command center was killed, save Captain John Leach, the ship's commander, and one other man. The two German ships rained shells on Prince of Wales, causing serious damage. Guns malfunctioned on the recently commissioned Prince of Wales, which still had civilian technicians aboard. Despite her problematic main battery, Prince of Wales scored three hits on Bismarck in the engagement. The first struck her in the forecastle
Forecastle
Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters...

 above the waterline, but low enough to allow the crashing waves to enter the hull. The second shell struck below the armoured belt and exploded on contact with the torpedo bulkhead
Torpedo bulkhead
A torpedo bulkhead is a type of armor common on the more heavily armored warships, especially battleships and battlecruisers of the early 20th century. It is designed to keep the ship afloat even if the hull was struck underneath the belt armor by a shell or by a torpedo...

, inflicting minimal damage. The third shell passed through one of the boats carried aboard the ship and then went through the float plane catapult without exploding.

At 06:13, Leach gave the order to retreat; only two of his ship's ten 14 in (35.6 cm) guns were still firing and his ship had sustained significant damage. Prince of Wales made a 160° turn and laid a smoke screen to cover her withdrawal. The Germans ceased fire as the range widened. Though Lindemann strongly advocated chasing Prince of Wales and destroying her, Lütjens obeyed operational orders to shun any avoidable engagement with enemy forces not protecting a convoy, firmly rejected the request, and instead ordered Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to head for the open waters of the North Atlantic. In the course of the engagement, Bismarck had fired 93 armour-piercing shells and had been hit by three shells in return. The forecastle hit allowed 1000 metric ton of water to flood the ship, which contaminated fuel oil stored in the bow. Lütjens refused to permit a reduction in speed to allow damage control teams to repair the shell hole, and so the hole widened and allowed more water into the ship. The second hit caused some flooding and splinters damaged a steam line in the turbo-generator room, though Bismarck had sufficient generator reserves that this was not problematic. The flooding from these two hits caused a 9-degree list to port and a 3-degree trim by the bow.

The chase

After the end of the engagement, Lütjens reported that a "Battlecruiser, probably Hood, sunk. Another battleship, King George V or Renown, turned away damaged. Two heavy cruisers maintain contact." At 08:01, he transmitted a damage report and his intentions to OKM, which were to detach Prinz Eugen for commerce raiding and to make for St. Nazaire for repairs. Shortly after 10:00, Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to fall behind Bismarck to discern the severity of the oil leakage from the bow hit. After confirming that "broad streams of oil on both sides of [Bismarcks] wake", Prinz Eugen returned to the forward position. About an hour later, a British Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland
The Short S.25 Sunderland was a British flying boat patrol bomber developed for the Royal Air Force by Short Brothers. It took its service name from the town and port of Sunderland in northeast England....

 flying boat
Flying boat
A flying boat is a fixed-winged seaplane with a hull, allowing it to land on water. It differs from a float plane as it uses a purpose-designed fuselage which can float, granting the aircraft buoyancy. Flying boats may be stabilized by under-wing floats or by wing-like projections from the fuselage...

 reported the oil slick to Suffolk and Norfolk, which had been joined by the damaged Prince of Wales. Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker
Frederic Wake-Walker
Admiral Sir Frederic Wake-Walker CB CBE was a British admiral who served in the Royal Navy during World War I and World War II, taking a leading part in the destruction of the German battleship Bismarck, and in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation at Dunkirk.-Early days:Born William Frederic...

, the commander of the two cruisers, ordered Prince of Wales to remain behind his ships.

The Royal Navy issued calls to all warships in the area to join the pursuit of Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Admiral Tovey's Home Fleet was steaming to intercept the German raiders, but on the morning of 24 May, was still over 350 nmi (648.2 km) away. The Admiralty ordered the light cruiser
Light cruiser
A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck...

s , , and to patrol the Denmark Strait in the event that Lütjens attempted to retrace his route. The battleship , which had been escorting RMS Britannic
RMS Britannic (1929)
RMS Britannic was an ocean liner of the White Star Line, the company's third ship to bear the name. She was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast. She was launched on 6 August 1929. Like her running mate , Britannic was a motorship powered by diesel engines. She measured 26,943 gross tons and was ...

 and was due for a refit in the Boston Navy Yard
Boston Navy Yard
The Boston Navy Yard, originally called the Charlestown Navy Yard and later Boston Naval Shipyard, was one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in the United States Navy. Established in 1801, it was officially closed as an active naval installation on July 1, 1974, and the property was...

, was ordered to join Tovey. Two old s, and , which were in Halifax and escorting convoy HX 127, respectively, were ordered to join the hunt. In all, six battleships and battlecruisers, two aircraft carriers, thirteen cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers were committed to the chase. By around 17:00, the crew aboard Prince of Wales restored nine of her ten main guns to working order, which permitted Wake-Walker to place her in the front of his formation to attack Bismarck if the opportunity arose.

With the weather worsening, Lütjens attempted to detach Prinz Eugen at 16:40. The squall was not heavy enough to cover her withdrawal from Wake-Walker's cruisers, which continued to maintain radar contact. Prinz Eugen was therefore recalled temporarily. The cruiser was successfully detached at 18:14. Bismarck turned around to face the Wake-Walker's formation, forcing Suffolk to turn away at high speed. Prince of Wales fired twelve salvos at Bismarck, which responded with nine salvos, none of which hit. The action diverted British attention and permitted Prinz Eugen to slip away. After Bismarck resumed her previous heading, all three of Wake-Walker's ships took up station on Bismarcks port side.
Although Bismarck had been damaged in the engagement with Hood and Prince of Wales and forced to reduce speed, she was still capable of reaching 27 knot, the same maximum speed of Tovey's . Unless Bismarck could be slowed, the British would be unable to prevent her from reaching St. Nazaire. Shortly before 16:00 on 25 May, Tovey detached the aircraft carrier and four light cruisers to shape a course that would position her to launch her torpedo bombers. At 22:00, Victorious launched the strike, which comprised six Fairey Fulmar
Fairey Fulmar
The Fairey Fulmar was a British carrier-borne fighter aircraft that served with the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. A total of 600 were built by Fairey Aviation at its Stockport factory between January 1940 and December 1942...

 fighters and nine 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. The inexperienced aviators nearly attacked Norfolk on their approach; the confusion alerted Bismarcks anti-aircraft gunners. Bismarck even used her main and secondary batteries to fire at maximum depression to create giant splashes in the paths of the incoming torpedo bombers. Nevertheless, none of the attacking aircraft were shot down. Bismarck evaded eight of the nine torpedoes launched at her. The ninth struck amidships on the main armoured belt and caused minor damage. The concussive shock threw one man into a wall and killed him; five others were injured.

The explosive shock from the torpedo hit caused some minor damage to electrical equipment, though it was the high speed, erratic maneuvers to evade the torpedoes that inflicted more serious damage. The rapid shifts in speed and course loosened collision mats stemming the flood from the forward shell hole. Flooding increased, and eventually the port side number 2 boiler room had to be abandoned. The loss of now two boilers on the port shaft, coupled with decreasing fuel levels and the increasing bow trim, forced a reduction in speed to 16 kn (8.7 m/s). Divers were sent into the bow to repair the collision mats, after which speed was increased to 20 kn (10.9 m/s). The command staff had determined that this was the most economical speed for the voyage to occupied France.

Shortly after the Swordfish departed from the scene, Bismarck and Prince of Wales engaged in a brief artillery duel. Both ships failed to score any hits. Bismarcks damage control teams resumed work after the short engagement. The sea water that had flooded the number 2 port side boiler threatened to enter the number 4 turbo-generator feedwater system, which would have permitted saltwater to reach the turbine engines. The saltwater would have then destroyed the turbine blades and thus greatly reduced the ship's speed. By morning on 25 May, the danger had passed, however. The ship slowed to 12 kn (6.5 m/s) to allow divers to pump fuel from the forward compartments to the rear tanks; two hoses were successfully connected and a few hundred tons of fuel was transferred.

As the chase entered the open waters of the North Atlantic, Wake-Walker's ships were compelled to zig-zag to avoid any German U-boat
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 that might be in the area. This required the ships to steam for ten minutes to port, then ten minutes to starboard, to keep the ships on the same base course. For the last few minutes of the turn to port, Bismarck was out of range of Suffolkss radar. At 03:00 on the morning of 25 May, Lütjens ordered the ship increase to maximum speed, which at this point was 28 kn (15.2 m/s). He then ordered the ship to circle away to the west and then north. This maneuver coincided with the period in which his ship was out of radar range; Bismarck successfully broke radar contact and circled back behind her pursuers. Suffolks captain assumed that Bismarck had merely broken off to the west, and so he took his ship west in an attempt to locate the battleship. After half an hour, he informed Wake-Walker of the situation, who ordered the three ships to disperse as soon as daylight broke in order to conduct a visual search.

The Royal Navy now embarked on a frantic search for Bismarck. Victorious and her escorting cruisers were sent west, Wake-Walker's ships continued to the south and west, and Tovey continued to steam toward the mid-Atlantic. The situation was compounded by the fact that many of the British ships were low on fuel. Force H
Force H
Force H was a British naval formation during the Second World War. It was formed in 1940 to replace French naval power in the western Mediterranean that had been removed by the French armistice with Nazi Germany....

, centered on the aircraft carrier and steaming up from Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

, was still at least a day's steaming out from the area. Unaware that he had shaken off Wake-Walker, Lütjens sent long radio messages to Naval Group West, based in Paris. These signals were intercepted by the British, from which bearings were determined. They were erroneously plotted, however, which kept Tovey's fleet on wrong courses for seven hours. By the time the mistake had been discovered, Bismarck had left the area.

British code-breakers were able to decrypt some of the German signals, including an order for Lütjens to make for the port of Brest, France
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...

. The French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

 provided the British with confirmation, as Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 units were being relocated to Brest to provide support. Tovey could now turn his forces toward France to converge in areas through which Bismarck would have to pass to reach port. A squadron of 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...

s based in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

 were committed to the search, covering areas where Bismarck might be headed in her attempt to reach occupied France. At 10:30 on 26 May, a Catalina piloted by Ensign Leonard B. Smith
Leonard B. Smith
Leonard B. Smith was an American pilot who spotted the German battleship Bismarck prior to its being sunk by British naval and air forces. Smith is sometimes considered the first American to be directly involved in World War II for his actions....

 of the US Navy located Bismarck, some 690 nmi (1,277.9 km) northwest of Brest. At her current speed, she would have been close enough to reach the protection of U-boats and the Luftwaffe in less than a day. There were no British forces close enough to stop her.

The only possibility for the Royal Navy was Ark Royal with Force H, under the command of Admiral James Somerville
James Somerville
Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Fownes Somerville GCB, GBE, DSO was one of the most famous British Admirals of World War II.-Early career:...

. Victorious, Prince of Wales, Suffolk, and were forced to break off the search due to fuel concerns; the only heavy ships remaining apart from Force H were King George V and Rodney, but they were too far away to intercept Bismarck. Ark Royals Swordfish were already searching the area in which Bismarck was steaming when the Catalina made the discovery. Several of the torpedo bombers also located the battleship, which was about 60 nmi (111.1 km) away from Ark Royal. Somerville ordered an attack as soon as the Swordfish returned and were rearmed with torpedoes. He detached the cruiser to shadow Bismarck, though Ark Royals aviators were not informed of this. As a result, the Swordfish, which were armed with torpedoes equipped with new magnetic detonators, accidentally attacked Sheffield. The magnetic detonators failed to work properly, and Sheffield emerged unscathed.

Upon returning to Ark Royal, the Swordfish were armed with torpedoes equipped with contact detonators. Fifteen aircraft comprised the second attack, which was launched at 19:10. At 20:47, the torpedo bombers began their attack descent through the clouds. While the Swordfish approached, Bismarck fired her main battery at Sheffield, straddling the cruiser with her second salvo. Shell fragments rained down on Sheffield, killing three men and wounding several others. Sheffield quickly retreated under cover of a smoke screen. The Swordfish then launched their attack; Bismarck began to turn violently while her anti-aircraft batteries attempted to destroy the incoming bombers. She evaded most of the torpedoes launched, though two found their mark. One hit amidships on the port side, just below the bottom edge of the main armour belt. The force of the explosion was largely contained by the underwater protection system and the belt armour, but some structural damage was effected, which allowed minor flooding.

The second torpedo struck Bismarck in her stern on the port side, near the port rudder shaft. The explosion caused serious damage to the port rudder assembly; the coupling was badly damaged and the rudder was then unable to be disengaged. The rudders were now locked in a 12° turn to port. The explosion also caused major shock damage to the ship. The crew repeatedly attempted to regain steering control. They eventually managed to repair the starboard rudder, but the port rudder remained badly jammed. A suggestion to sever the port rudder with explosives was dismissed by Lütjens, who stated "We cannot endanger the ship with measures of that kind." He felt that the danger of damaging the screws, which would have left the battleship helpless, was too great. At 21:15, Lütjens reported that the ship was unmaneuverable.

Sinking

With the port rudder jammed, Bismarck was now steaming in a large circle, unable to escape from Tovey's forces. Though fuel shortages had reduced the number of ships available to the British, the battleships King George V and Rodney were still available, along with the heavy cruisers Dorsetshire and Norfolk. Lütjens signaled headquarters at 21:40 on the 26th: "Ship unmaneuverable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer." In the growing darkness, Bismarck briefly fired on Sheffield, though the cruiser quickly fled at high speed. Sheffield lost contact in the low visibility; Captain Philip Vian
Philip Vian
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Louis Vian, GCB, KBE, DSO & Two Bars was a British naval officer who served in both World Wars....

's group of five destroyers were now tasked with keeping contact with Bismarck throughout the night.

The ships encountered Bismarck at 22:38; the battleship quickly engaged them with her main battery. After firing three salvos, she straddled the Polish
Polish Armed Forces in the West
Polish Armed Forces in the West refers to the Polish military formations formed to fight alongside the Western Allies against Nazi Germany and its allies...

 destroyer Piorun
ORP Piorun (G65)
ORP Piorun was an used by the Polish Navy during the Second World War. The name is Polish for "Thunderbolt".-History:The ship was built by John Brown & Company of Clydebank, Glasgow. She was laid down in July 1939, launched on 7 May 1940 and completed on 4 November 1940...

. The destroyer continued to close the range until a near miss at around 12000 m (39,370.1 ft) forced her to turn away. Throughout the night and into the morning, Vian's destroyers continually harried Bismarck, illuminating her with star shells and firing dozens of torpedoes, none of which hit. Between 05:00 and 06:00, Bismarcks crew attempted to launch one of the Arado 196
Arado Ar 196
-See also:-Bibliography:* Dabrowski, Hans-Peter and Koos, Volker. Arado Ar 196, Germany's Multi-Purpose Seaplane. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1993. ISBN 0-88740-481-2....

 float planes to carry away the ship's war diary, footage of the engagement with Hood, and other important documents. The third shell hit from Prince of Wales, which had hit the captain's motor launch, had damaged the steam line on the aircraft catapult, rendering it inoperative. Unable to launch the aircraft, the crew simply pushed it overboard.
After daybreak on 27 May, Tovey, in King George V, led the attack against the crippled Bismarck. Rodney followed off her port quarter; Tovey intended to steam directly at Bismarck until he was about 8 nmi (14.8 km) away. At that point, he would turn south to put his ships on a parallel course with his target. At 08:43, lookouts on King George V spotted Bismarck, some 23000 m (25,153.1 yd) away. Four minutes later, Rodneys two forward turrets, a total of six 16 in (40.6 cm) guns, opened fire. Almost immediately after, King George Vs 14 in (35.6 cm) guns began firing. Bismarck returned fire at 08:50 with her forward guns; with her second salvo, she straddled Rodney.

As the range fell, the ships' secondary batteries joined the battle. Norfolk and Dorsetshire closed and began firing with their 8 in (20.3 cm) guns. At 09:02, a 16-inch shell from Rodney struck Bismarcks forward superstructure
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...

, killing hundreds of men and severely damaging the forward two turrets. According to survivors, this salvo probably killed both Lindemann and Lütjens and the rest of the bridge staff. The forward main battery was now effectively disabled, though it would manage to fire one last salvo at 09:27. The main gunnery control station was quickly destroyed. Lieutenant von Müllenheim in the rear control station took over firing control for the rear turrets. He managed to fire three salvos before a shell destroyed the gun director, disabling his equipment. He gave the order for the still active guns to fire independently, but by 09:31, all four main battery turrets had been neutralized.

By 10:00, Tovey's two battleships had fired over 700 main battery shells, many at very close range; Bismarck had been reduced to a shambles, aflame from stem to stern. She suffered from a 20° list to port and was low in the water by the stern. Rodney closed to 2700 m (2,952.8 yd), point-blank range
Point-blank range
In external ballistics, point-blank range is the distance between a firearm and a target of a given size such that the bullet in flight is expected to strike the target without adjusting the elevation of the firearm. The point-blank range will vary with the firearm and its particular ballistic...

 for guns of that size, and continued to hammer away at the battered hulk. Tovey could not cease fire until the Germans struck their ensigns or it became clear they were abandoning ship. Rodney fired two torpedoes from her port-side tube (a shell from Bismarck had exploded 20 feet off the bow and rendered the starboard tube useless — the closest Bismarck came to a direct hit on Rodney) and claimed one hit — a claim which, according to Ludovic Kennedy
Ludovic Kennedy
Sir Ludovic Henry Coverley Kennedy was a British journalist, broadcaster, humanist and author best known for re-examining cases such as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the murder convictions of Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley, and for his role in the abolition of the death penalty in the United...

, "if true, [is] the only instance in history of one battleship torpedoing another". Hans Oels, the First Officer ordered the men below decks to abandon ship; he instructed the engine room crews to open the ship's watertight doors and prepare scuttling charges. Oels rushed throughout the ship, ordering men to abandon their posts. After reaching the deck, a massive explosion killed him and about a hundred other men.

At around 10:20, Tovey ordered Dorsetshire to close and fire torpedoes into the ship. The cruiser fired a pair of torpedoes into Bismarcks starboard side, one of which hit. Dorsetshire then moved around to her port side and fired another torpedo, which also hit. Around 10:35, the port list worsened significantly; Bismarck capsized and slowly sank by the stern, disappearing from the surface at 10:40. Hundreds of men were now in the water; Dorsetshire and the destroyer moved in and lowered ropes to pull the survivors aboard. At 11:40, however, Dorsetshires captain ordered the rescue effort abandoned after lookouts spotted what they thought was a U-boat. Dorsetshire had rescued 85 men and Maori had picked up 25 by the time they left the scene. A U-boat later reached the survivors and found three men, and a German trawler rescued another two. One of the men picked up by the British died of his wounds the following day. Out of a crew of over 2,200 men, only 114 survived.

Discovery by Robert Ballard

The wreck of Bismarck was discovered on 8 June 1989 by Dr. Robert Ballard
Robert Ballard
Robert Duane Ballard is a former United States Navy officer and a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island who is most noted for his work in underwater archaeology. He is most famous for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989,...

, the oceanographer also responsible for finding the Titanic. Bismarck rests upright at a depth of approximately 4,791 m (17,500 ft), about 650 km (403.9 mi) west of Brest, France
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...

. The Bismarck struck an extinct underwater volcano, which rose some 1000 m (3,280.8 ft) above the surrounding abyssal plain
Abyssal plain
An abyssal plain is an underwater plain on the deep ocean floor, usually found at depths between 3000 and 6000 metres. Lying generally between the foot of a continental rise and a mid-ocean ridge, abyssal plains cover more than 50% of the Earth’s surface. They are among the flattest, smoothest...

, triggering a 2 km (1.2 mi) landslide. Bismarck slid down the mountain, coming to a stop two-thirds down.

Ballard's survey found no underwater penetrations of the ship's fully armoured citadel
Citadel
A citadel is a fortress for protecting a town, sometimes incorporating a castle. The term derives from the same Latin root as the word "city", civis, meaning citizen....

. Eight holes were found in the hull, one on the starboard side and seven on the port side, all above the waterline. One of the holes is in the deck, on the starboard side of the bow. The angle and shape indicates it was fired from Bismarck's port side and struck the starboard anchor chain. The anchor chain has disappeared down this hole. Six holes are amidships, three shell fragments pierced the upper splinter belt, and one made a hole in the main armour belt. Further aft a huge hole is visible, parallel to the aircraft catapult, on the deck. It is unclear whether this was a result of an internal magazine explosion due to a shell penetration of the ship's armour. The submersibles recorded no sign of a shell penetration through the main or side armour that could have caused this; it is likely that the shell penetrated the deck armour only. Huge dents showed that many of the 14 inch (356 mm) shells fired by King George V bounced off the German belt armour.

Ballard noted that he found no evidence of the internal implosions that occur when a hull that is not fully flooded sinks. The surrounding water, which has much greater pressure than the air in the hull, would crush the ship. Instead, Ballard points out that the hull is in relatively good condition; he states simply that "Bismarck did not implode." This suggests that Bismarck's compartments were flooded when the ship sank, supporting the scuttling theory. Ballard has kept the exact location of the wreck a secret to prevent other divers from taking artefacts from the ship, a practice he considers a form of grave robbing
Grave robbing
Grave robbery, grave robbing, or tomb raiding is the act of uncovering a tomb or crypt to steal artifacts or personal effects. Someone who engages in this act is a grave robber or tomb raider...

.

On discovering the wreck, it was found that the whole stern had broken away; as it was not near the main wreckage and has not yet been found, it can be assumed this did not occur on impact with the sea floor. The missing section came away roughly where the torpedo had hit, raising questions of possible structural failure. The stern area had also received several hits, increasing the damage caused by the torpedo. This, coupled with the fact the ship sank "stern first" and had no structural support to hold it in place, suggests the stern became detached at the surface. In 1942 Prinz Eugen was also torpedoed in the stern, which subsequently collapsed. This prompted a strengthening of the stern structures on all German capital ships.

Ballard estimated that Bismarck could still have floated for at least a day when the British vessels ceased fire and could have been captured by the Royal Navy, a position supported by the historian Ludovic Kennedy
Ludovic Kennedy
Sir Ludovic Henry Coverley Kennedy was a British journalist, broadcaster, humanist and author best known for re-examining cases such as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the murder convictions of Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley, and for his role in the abolition of the death penalty in the United...

 (who was himself a participant in the hunting of the Bismarck, as he was serving on the destroyer HMS Tartar at the time). Kennedy stated that "That she would have foundered eventually there can be little doubt; but the scuttling ensured that it was sooner rather than later." Ballard found the hull to be sound, adding: "we found a hull that appears whole and relatively undamaged by the descent and impact". They concluded the direct cause of sinking was due to scuttling: sabotage of engine-room valves by her crew, as claimed by German survivors.

Subsequent expeditions

In June 2001, Deep Ocean Expeditions, partnered with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, conducted another investigation of the wreck. The researchers used Russian-built mini-subs to examine Bismarck. William N. Lange, a Woods Hole expert, stated that "You see a large number of shell holes in the superstructure and deck, but not that many along the side, and none below the waterline." The expedition found no penetrations in the main armoured belt, above or below the waterline. The examiners noted several long gashes in the hull, but explained these as having been caused by the impact on the sea floor.

A third, Anglo-American expedition in July 2001 was funded by a British TV channel. The team used the information that Bismarck was resting at the foot of the only undersea volcano in that area to locate the wreck. Using ROVs to film the hull externally, the team concluded that the ship sank due to combat damage, having received numerous artillery and torpedo hits. Expedition leader David Mearns
David Mearns
David Louis Mearns, born circa 1958, is a United States-born marine scientist and deep water search and recovery expert, long resident in the United Kingdom. He is famous for locating the wrecks of several ships lost during World War II...

 claimed significant gashes were found in the hull: "My feeling is that those holes were probably lengthened by the slide, but initiated by torpedoes". In the subsequently published book Hood and Bismarck, Mearns stated that scuttling "may have hastened the inevitable, but only by a matter of minutes."

The 2002 documentary film Expedition: Bismarck
Expedition: Bismarck
Expedition: Bismarck is a 2002 documentary film produced for the Discovery Channel by Andrew Wight and James Cameron, directed by James Cameron and Gary Johnstone, and narrated by Lance Henriksen. The film follows an underwater expedition to the German battleship Bismarck and digitally reconstructs...

, directed by James Cameron
James Cameron
James Francis Cameron is a Canadian-American film director, film producer, screenwriter, editor, environmentalist and inventor...

 and filmed in May–June 2002 using smaller and more agile MIR submersibles
MIR (submersible)
Mir is a self-propelled Deep Submergence Vehicle. The project was initially developed by the USSR Academy of Sciences along with Design Bureau Lazurith. Later two vehicles were ordered from Finland...

, reconstructed the events leading to the sinking of Bismarck. These provided some interior shots of Bismarck for the first time, which were transmitted on the National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel, also commercially abbreviated and trademarked as Nat Geo, is a subscription television channel that airs non-fiction television programs produced by the National Geographic Society. Like History and the Discovery Channel, the channel features documentaries with factual...

. His findings were that there was not enough damage below the waterline of the ship to confirm that she was actually sunk by shells and torpedoes. In fact, upon close inspection of the wreckage, it was confirmed that none of the torpedoes or shells penetrated the second layer of the inner hull.

Cameron put forward a theory to explain the large gashes observed by the Anglo-American expedition: he suggested that Bismarck suffered a "hydraulic outburst" when it hit the bottom. Cameron said the belt held, but inner forces caused the sides to bulge out and break in places. Using small ROVs to examine the interior of the ship, Cameron discovered that the torpedo blasts had failed to shatter the torpedo bulkhead
Torpedo bulkhead
A torpedo bulkhead is a type of armor common on the more heavily armored warships, especially battleships and battlecruisers of the early 20th century. It is designed to keep the ship afloat even if the hull was struck underneath the belt armor by a shell or by a torpedo...

s. The torpedo explosions had only destroyed the voids placed between the outer wall of the hull and interior sections of the ship; the purpose of these voids was to act as additional fuel storage and to absorb underwater explosions. "The inner tank walls are untouched by any explosive force...So the armor worked." Cameron concluded that the torpedoes caused "no significant flooding".

Footnotes

Notes
Citations
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