The last battle of the German battleship Bismarck took place in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 300 nmi (350 mi; 560 km) west of Brest, France, on 26–27 May 1941. Although it was a decisive action between capital ships, it has no generally accepted name.
Bismarck was the first of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. Named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1936 and launched in February 1939. Work was completed in August 1940, when she was commissioned into the German fleet. Bismarck and her sister ship Tirpitz were the largest battleships ever built by Germany, and two of the largest built by any European power.
A nautical mile is a unit of measurement used in both air and marine navigation, and for the definition of territorial waters. Historically, it was defined as one minute of a degree of latitude. Today it is defined as exactly 1852 metres. The derived unit of speed is the knot, one nautical mile per hour.
Brest is a city in the Finistère département in Brittany. Located in a sheltered bay not far from the western tip of the peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon. The city is located on the western edge of continental Europe. With 142,722 inhabitants in a 2007 census, Brest is at the centre of Western Brittany's largest metropolitan area, ranking third behind only Nantes and Rennes in the whole of historic Brittany, and the 19th most populous city in France; moreover, Brest provides services to the one million inhabitants of Western Brittany. Although Brest is by far the largest city in Finistère, the préfecture of the department is the much smaller Quimper.
On 24 May, before the final action, Bismarck's fuel tanks were damaged and several machinery compartments, including a boiler room, were flooded in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. Her intention was to reach the port of Brest for repair. Late in the day Bismarck briefly turned on her pursuers ( Prince of Wales and the heavy cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk) to cover the escape of her companion, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen to continue further into the Atlantic. Early on 25 May the British forces lost contact with Bismarck, which headed ESE towards France while the British searched NE, presuming she was returning to Norway. Later on 25 May Admiral Lütjens, apparently unaware that he had lost his pursuers, broke radio silence to send a coded message to Germany. This allowed the British to triangulate the approximate position of the Bismarck and aircraft were dispatched to hunt for the German battleship. She was rediscovered in the late morning of 26 May by a Catalina flying boat from No. 209 Squadron RAF and subsequently shadowed by aircraft from Force H steaming north from Gibraltar.
The Battle of the Denmark Strait was a naval engagement on 24 May 1941 in the Second World War, between ships of the Royal Navy and the German Kriegsmarine. The British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood fought the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which were attempting to break out into the North Atlantic to attack Allied merchant shipping.
HMS Prince of Wales was a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy, built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, England. She was involved in several key actions of the Second World War, including the May 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait against the German battleship Bismarck, operations escorting convoys in the Mediterranean, and her final action and sinking in the Pacific in December 1941.
HMS Norfolk was a County-class heavy cruiser of the Royal Navy; along with her sister ship Dorsetshire she was part of a planned four-ship subclass. She served throughout the Second World War. She was also involved in the sinking of the German Navy's battleships Bismarck and Scharnhorst
The final action consisted of four main phases. The first phase late on the 26th consisted of air strikes by torpedo bombers from the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal, which disabled Bismarck's steering gear, jamming her rudders in a turning position and preventing her escape. The second phase was the shadowing and harassment of Bismarck during the night of 26/27 May by British destroyers, with no serious damage to any ship. The third phase on the morning of 27 May was an attack by the British battleships King George V and Rodney supported by cruisers. After about 100 minutes of fighting, Bismarck was sunk by the combined effects of shellfire, torpedo hits and deliberate scuttling. On the British side, Rodney was lightly damaged by near-misses and by the blast effects of her own guns. British warships rescued 111 survivors from Bismarck before being obliged to withdraw because of an apparent U-boat sighting, leaving several hundred men to their fate. The following morning, a U-boat and a German weathership rescued five more survivors. In the final phase the withdrawing British ships were attacked on 27 May by aircraft of the Luftwaffe , resulting in the loss of the destroyer HMS Mashona.
An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, it is currently not possible to land them. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet. One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third party countries, reduce the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.
HMS Ark Royal was an aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy that served during the Second World War.
HMS King George V was the lead ship of the five British King George V-class battleships of the Royal Navy. Laid down in 1937 and commissioned in 1940, King George V operated during the Second World War in all three major theatres of war, the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific, as well as part of the British Home Fleet and Pacific Fleets. In May 1941, along with HMS Rodney, King George V was involved in the hunt for and pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck, eventually inflicting severe damage which led to the German vessel's sinking. On 1 May 1942 the destroyer HMS Punjabi sank after a collision with King George V in foggy conditions. King George V took part in Operation Husky and bombarded the island of Levanzo and the port of Trapani. She also escorted part of the surrendered Italian Fleet, which included the battleships Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio, to Malta. In 1945 King George V took part in operations against the Japanese in the Pacific.
Bismarck's second sea battle was made unavoidable by the decisions of the Fleet Commander (Günther Lütjens), taken well before the encounter with Hood and Prince of Wales.
Johann Günther Lütjens was a German Admiral whose military service spanned more than thirty years and two world wars. Lütjens is best known for his actions during World War II and his command of the battleship Bismarck during its foray into the Atlantic Ocean in 1941. In its aftermath, the episode entered into naval legend.
Even before the breakout into the North Atlantic, Lütjens had decided against conducting an underway refuelling in the Greenland Sea with Weissenburg,one of the pre-positioned German tankers, before his ships entered the Denmark Strait. And when, as a result of the battle with Hood and Prince of Wales, Bismarck lost access to several thousand tons of fuel in her forecastle due to a shell hit from Prince of Wales (aft of the forecastle, in her anchor locker), Lütjens had to order his ships to slow down to conserve fuel. The decrease in speed made Force H’s airborne torpedo attacks inevitable, and those attacks led directly to the final encounter with the Home Fleet.
The Denmark Strait or Greenland Strait is an oceanic strait between Greenland to its northwest and Iceland to its southeast. The Norwegian island of Jan Mayen lies northeast of the strait.
The forecastle is the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters. Related to the latter meaning is the phrase "before the mast" which denotes anything related to ordinary sailors, as opposed to a ship's officers.
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 removed by the French armistice with Nazi Germany. The force occupied an odd place within the naval chain of command. Normal British practice was to have naval stations and fleets around the world, whose commanders reported to the First Sea Lord via a flag officer. Force H was based at Gibraltar but there was already a flag officer at the base, Flag Officer Commanding, North Atlantic. The commanding officer of Force H did not report to the Flag Officer but direct to the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.
Determined to avenge the sinking of the "Pride of the Navy" HMS Hood in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, the British committed every possible unit to hunting down Bismarck. The old Revenge-class battleship HMS Ramillies was detached from convoy duty southeast of Greenland and ordered to set a course to intercept Bismarck if she should attempt to raid the sea lanes off North America.
The Revenge class, sometimes referred to as the Royal Sovereign class or the R class, were a group of five superdreadnought battleships built for the Royal Navy in the 1910s. All of the ships were completed to see service during the First World War. There were originally to have been eight of the class, but two were later redesigned, becoming the Renown-class battlecruisers, while the other, which was to have been named HMS Resistance, was cancelled outright. The design was based on that of the preceding Queen Elizabeth class, but with reductions in size and speed to make them more economical to build.
HMS Ramillies was one of five Revenge-class super-dreadnought battleships built for the Royal Navy during the First World War. The ships were developments of the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships, with reductions in size and speed to offset increases in armour protection whilst retaining the same main battery of eight 15-inch (381 mm) guns. Completed in late 1917, Ramillies saw no combat during the war as both the British and German fleets had adopted a more cautious strategy by this time owing to the increasing threat of naval mines and submarines.
Prince of Wales and the cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk were still at sea in the area and tailing the German ships. A British force, the battleship King George V, the carrier Victorious and their escorts, had set sail from Scapa Flow before the loss of the Hood. The battleship Rodney was detached from escort duties on 24 May.
During the early evening of 24 May, an attack was made by a small group of Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers of 825 Naval Air Squadron under the command of Eugene Esmonde from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. One hit was scored, but caused only superficial damage to Bismarck's armoured belt.
For some time, Bismarck remained under long-distance observation by the British. At about 03:00 on 25 May, she took advantage of her opponents' zig-zagging to double back on her own wake; Bismarck made a nearly 270° turn to starboard, and as a result her pursuers lost sight of the battleship, thus enabling her to head for German naval bases in France unnoticed. Contact was lost for four hours, but the Germans did not know this. For reasons that are still unclear, Admiral Günther Lütjens transmitted a 30-minute radio message to HQ, which was intercepted, thereby giving the British time to work out roughly where he was heading. However, a plotting error made onboard King George V, now in pursuit of the Germans, incorrectly calculated Bismarck's position and caused the chase to veer too far to the north. Bismarck was therefore able to make good time on 25/26 May in her unhindered passage towards France and protective air cover and destroyer escort. By now, however, fuel was becoming a major concern to both sides.
The British had a stroke of luck on 26 May. In mid-morning a Coastal Command Catalina reconnaissance aircraft from 209 Squadron RAF, which had flown over the Atlantic from its base on Lough Erne in Northern Ireland across the Donegal Corridor, a small corridor secretly provided by the Irish government, Renown and the light cruiser HMS Sheffield. This battle group, commanded by Admiral James Somerville, had been diverted north from Gibraltar.piloted by British Flying Officer Dennis Briggs and co-piloted by US Navy observer Ensign Leonard B. Smith, USNR, Smith was at the controls when he spotted Bismarck (via a trailing oil slick from the ship's damaged fuel tank) and reported her position to the Admiralty. From then on, the German ship's position was known to the British, although the enemy would have to be slowed significantly if heavy units hoped to engage outside the range of German land-based aircraft. All British hopes were now pinned on Force H, whose main units were the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, the battlecruiser HMS
At dusk that evening, and in atrocious weather conditions, Swordfish from Ark Royal launched an attack. The first wave mistakenly targeted Sheffield which had been detached from Force H under orders to close and shadow Bismarck. Although precious time was lost by this incident, it proved beneficial to the British in that the magnetic detonators on the torpedoes used against Sheffield were seen to be defective and for the following attack on Bismarck were replaced by those designed to explode on contact. Despite the lateness of the day, it was decided to try again. The attack commenced in near darkness at around 21:00 but once again the Swordfish torpedo bombers found Bismarck with their ASV II radars. 's rudder and steering gear 12° to port. This resulted in her being, initially, able to steam only in a large circle. Repair efforts by the crew to free the rudder failed. Bismarck attempted to steer by alternating the power of her three propeller shafts, which, in the prevailing force 8 wind and sea state, resulted in the ship being forced to sail towards King George V and Rodney, two British battleships that had been pursuing Bismarck from the west. At 23:40 on 26 May, Admiral Lütjens delivered to Group West, the German command base, the signal "Ship unmanoeuvrable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer."A hit by a single torpedo from a Swordfish, hitting her port side, jammed Bismarck
Throughout that night, Bismarck was the target of intermittent torpedo attacks by the Tribal-class destroyers HMS Cossack, Sikh, Maori and Zulu, and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun. Neither side scored a hit, but the constant worrying tactics of the British helped wear down the morale of the Germans and deepened the fatigue of an already exhausted crew.
The morning of Tuesday 27 May 1941 brought a heavy grey sky, a rising sea and a tearing wind from the northwest. Because of this northwesterly gale, Admiral Tovey concluded an attack on Bismarck from windward was undesirable. He decided to approach on a northwesterly bearing. Provided the enemy continued steering northward, he would deploy to the south on an opposite course at a range of approximately 15,000 yd (14,000 m). Bismarck was sighted bearing 118° at a distance of 25,000 yd (23,000 m).
Rodney and King George V drew closer to Bismarck in line abreast, their enemy well illuminated by the morning sun in the background. Rodney steered to the east so that her gunfire would work the length of Bismarck, while King George V took the side. They opened fire at 08:47. Bismarck returned fire, but her inability to steer and her list to port severely affected her shooting accuracy. Her low speed of 11 kn (13 mph; 20 km/h) also made her an easy target and she was soon hit several times by the large guns of the British battleships, with the heavy cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire adding their firepower later, after Bismarck's heavy guns had all been put out of action. One 16-inch (406 mm) salvo from Rodney destroyed the forward control post, killing most of the senior officers, while other salvoes destroyed all four gun turrets. Within 30 minutes, Bismarck's guns had all been silenced, and the ship was even lower in the water. Rodney now closed to point-blank range (approximately 3 km (1.9 mi)) to fire into the superstructure while King George V fired from further out; so her fire would strike Bismarck from a more vertical angle and be more likely to penetrate the decks.
Bismarck continued to fly her ensign. The battleship's upper works were almost completely destroyed and although her engines were still functioning, she was slowly settling by the stern from uncontrolled flooding with a 20-degree list to port.She no longer had any functioning guns, so First Officer Hans Oels 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. Gerhard Junack, the chief engineering officer, primed the charges and ordered the crew to abandon the ship. Junack and his comrades heard the demolition charges detonate as they made their way up through the various levels. Most of the crew went into the water, but few sailors from the lower engine spaces got out alive.
With no sign of surrender, despite the unequal struggle, the British were loath to leave Bismarck. Their fuel and shell supplies were low – a demonstration of how difficult it was for a battleship to sink a similar unit even in an unbalanced engagement. However, when it became obvious that their enemy could not reach port, Rodney, King George V and the destroyers were sent home. Norfolk had used her last torpedoes; therefore, Dorsetshire launched three torpedoes at a comparatively short range, at least one of which impacted on the superstructure as Bismarck was already largely underwater. Bismarck went under the waves at 10:39 that morning.
Dorsetshire and Maori attempted to rescue survivors, but a U-boat alarm caused them to leave the scene after having rescued only 111 Bismarck sailors, abandoning the majority of Bismarck's survivors from the 2,200-man crew (around 800) to the mercy of the water. The next morning, U-74, dispatched to try to rescue Bismarck’s logbook (and which heard sinking noises from a distance), picked up three survivors in a raft (Herzog, Höntzsch, and Manthey) and the German weather ship Sachsenwald picked up two survivors in another raft (Lorenzen and Maus) before finding another raft that was empty.
After the sinking, Admiral John Tovey said, "The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy, and she went down with her colours flying."
The Board of the Admiralty issued a message of thanks to those involved:
Their Lordships congratulate C.-in-C., Home Fleet, and all concerned in the unrelenting pursuit and successful destruction of the enemy's most powerful warship. The loss of H.M.S. Hood and her company, which is so deeply regretted, has thus been avenged and the Atlantic made more secure for our trade and that of our allies.
From the information at present available to Their Lordships there can be no doubt that had it not been for the gallantry, skill, and devotion to duty of the Fleet Air Arm in both Victorious and Ark Royal, our object might not have been achieved.
Unaware of the fate of the ship, Group West, the German command base, continued to issue signals to Bismarck for some hours, until Reuters reported news from Britain that the ship had been sunk. In Britain, the House of Commons was informed of the sinking early that afternoon.
After the battle, the British warships returned to the United Kingdom with 111 Bismarck survivors. One died later of his wounds. After a period of interrogation and processing, the survivors spent the rest of the war as prisoners. No British ship was sunk during this action, but the destroyer HMS Mashona was sunk by the Luftwaffe during the withdrawal the following day.
Several Bismarck survivors spoke afterwards of a sailor on the Dorsetshire, Midshipman Joe Brooks, who tried to jump into the water to rescue a German sailor who had lost his arms. In a 1989 National Geographic documentary on the Bismarck, one of the survivors said, "the name Joe Brooks meant something to us; our government should've given that man a medal for humaneness."[ citation needed ]
A cruiser is a type of warship. Modern cruisers are generally the largest ships in a fleet after aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, and can usually perform several roles.
The Kriegsmarine was the navy of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It superseded the Imperial German Navy of the German Empire (1871–1918) and the inter-war Reichsmarine (1919–1935) of the Weimar Republic. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches, along with the Heer (Army) and the Luftwaffe of the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces from 1933 to 1945.
Yamato (大和) was the lead ship of her class of battleships built for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) shortly before World War II. She and her sister ship, Musashi, were the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tonnes at full load and armed with nine 46 cm (18.1 in) Type 94 main guns, which were the largest guns ever mounted on a warship.
HMS Dorsetshire was a heavy cruiser of the County class of the Royal Navy, named after the English county, now usually known as Dorset. The ship was a member of the Norfolk sub-class, of which Norfolk was the only other unit; the County class comprised a further eleven ships in two other sub-classes. Dorsetshire was built at the Portsmouth Dockyard; her keel was laid in September 1927, she was launched in January 1929, and was completed in September 1930. Dorsetshire was armed with a main battery of eight 8-inch (200 mm) guns, and had a top speed of 31.5 knots.
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. This operation to block Allied shipping to the United Kingdom culminated with the sinking of Bismarck.
The King George V-class battleships were the most modern British battleships in commission during World War II. Five ships of this class were built: HMS King George V (1940), HMS Prince of Wales (1941), HMS Duke of York (1941), HMS Howe (1942) and HMS Anson (1942).
HMS Rodney was one of two Nelson-class battleships built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. The ship was named after Admiral Lord Rodney. The Nelsons were unique in British battleship construction, being the only ships to carry a main armament of 16-inch (406 mm) guns, and the only ones to carry all the main armament forward of the superstructure. As her superstructure was located aft of midships like RN fleet oilers whose names carried the ...'ol' suffix, she was sometimes derisively referred to as "Rodnol". Commissioned in 1927, Rodney served extensively in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War.
Prinz Eugen was an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser, the third of a class of five vessels. She served with Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down in April 1936, launched in August 1938, and entered service after the outbreak of war, in August 1940. She was named after Prince Eugene of Savoy, an 18th-century Austrian general. She was armed with a main battery of eight 20.3 cm (8.0 in) guns and, although nominally under the 10,000-long-ton (10,000 t) limit set by the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, actually displaced over 16,000 long tons (16,000 t).
The sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse was a naval engagement in the Second World War, part of the war in the Pacific, that took place off the east coast of present-day Malaysia, which was then known as Malaya, near Kuantan, Pahang, where the Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by land-based bombers and torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy on 10 December 1941. In Japanese, the engagement was referred to as the Naval Battle of Malaya.
Sink the Bismarck! is a 1960 black-and-white CinemaScope British war film based on the book The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck by C. S. Forester. It stars Kenneth More and Dana Wynter and was directed by Lewis Gilbert. To date, it is the only film made that deals directly with the operations, chase and sinking of the battleship Bismarck by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Although war films were common in the 1960s, Sink the Bismarck! was seen as something of an anomaly, with much of its time devoted to the "unsung back-room planners as much as on the combatants themselves." Its historical accuracy, in particular, met with much praise despite a number of inconsistencies.
The Bismarck class was a pair of fast battleships built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The ships were the largest and most powerful warships built for the Kriegsmarine; displacing more than 41,000 metric tons normally, they were armed with a battery of eight 38 cm (15 in) guns and were capable of a top speed of 30 knots. Bismarck was laid down in July 1936 and completed in September 1940, while her sister Tirpitz's keel was laid in October 1936 and work finished in February 1941. The ships were ordered in response to the French Richelieu-class battleships and they were designed with the traditional role of engaging enemy battleships in home waters in mind, though the German naval command envisioned employing the ships as long-range commerce raiders against British shipping in the Atlantic Ocean. As such, their design represented strategic confusion that dominated German naval construction in the 1930s.
Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship or battlecruiser, of Nazi Germany's 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 June 1935 and launched a year and four months later on 3 October 1936. Completed in January 1939, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm (11 in) C/34 guns in three triple turrets. Plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets were never carried out.
Gneisenau was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser, of Nazi Germany's 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 and launched on 8 December 1936. Completed in May 1938, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm (11 in) C/34 guns in three triple turrets, though there were plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets.
Tirpitz was the second of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine (navy) during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Kaiserliche Marine, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and her hull was launched two and a half years later. Work was completed in February 1941, when she was commissioned into the German fleet. Like her sister ship Bismarck, Tirpitz was armed with a main battery of eight 38-centimetre (15 in) guns in four twin turrets. After a series of wartime modifications she was 2000 tonnes heavier than Bismarck, making her the heaviest battleship ever built by a European navy.
The Action off Lofoten was a naval battle fought between the German Kriegsmarine and the British Royal Navy off the southern coast of the Lofoten Islands, Norway during World War II. A German squadron under Vizeadmiral Günther Lütjens consisting of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau met and engaged a British squadron under Admiral Sir William Whitworth consisting of the battlecruiser HMS Renown and 9 destroyers. After a short engagement, Gneisenau suffered moderate damage and the Germans withdrew.