Nazi Germany (1941)
Battleship – 2 built
The most formidable battleship in the world, 1941.
Ordered in 1935 to 1937, launched in 1939 and 1941, the Bismarck and Tirpitz were the last battleships of the German history. They were also the first undertaken since the Baden of 1917 and retained its configuration, ie 4×2 380 mm turrets, AB-XY. However, the two ships were of a brand new generation, that of “fast battleships”, a revolution seeing the marriage of the speed of a battle cruiser with the protection of a battleship. This resulted in a new pattern for the design of gigantic warships, reaching non-standard tonnage.
Indeed, with these two first ships of the plan Z class (6 other modified battleships were to follow) officially labelled as 35 000 tonnes to remain within the limits of the Washington Treaty. When in fact, they almost reached 50 000. When Bismarck was admitted in active service on 24 August 1940, after four years of design, it was de facto the most powerful warship in the world. A combination of perfect protection, higher speed than the contemporary British ships, impressive artillery of medium caliber (English battleships were comprised between 356 and 406 mm), but of greater range and a state-of-the-art fire control system, electronically assisted and in every way remarkable. KMS Bismarck was going to do its demonstration with his quite short and decisive duel against the Hood.
KMS Bismarck in service
Bismarck being the first in service, she passed a few months in the Baltic training to prepare for her first major mission in the North Sea in May 1940. Commanded by Admiral Lütjens under the Rheinübung operation, assisted by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, the Bismarck left the Skagerrak and took due north to come to anchor in the fjord of Bergen, facing Scotland. Already informed by his contacts in Sweden, the Admiralty Columbia had the confirmation of its presence in Norway by a spitfire recognition.
Thus a battle plan was developed to block her three possible path to the Atlantic. The rest is history (see movie classic “sink the Bismarck”). The battleship entered in the legend. It was rediscovered in 1989 by prof. Robert D. Ballard (who had previously located and explored the wreck of the Titanic) in the Gulf of Gascony, in great depth. In 2002 the Canadian director James Cameron created a full documentary dedicated to the ship, exploring the hulk and showing that her ultimate fate was caused by torpedoes, not unlike the “official” historical accepted theory for 60 years…
KMS Tirpitz in service
For its part the Tirpitz (tribute to the creator of the imperial navy German in 1890), launched on 1 April 1939 to Whilemshaven and baptized by Hitler and the daughter of Von Tirpitz, was admitted in active service in February 1944 with a consequent additional DCA ( 40 fast pieces of 20 mm). She was sent immediately in Norway, to the Faettenfjord (Trondheim) to take position, so hastily that it remained unfinished…
The teams hastened to carry these completion steps at anchor. Her early carrer was however pretty quiet. A presence which was enough to scare the British convoy supervisors and mobilize a large part of the Home Fleet in this sector.
A dark shadow on the North Sea
Her only rare outings due to increasing shortages of oil, often resulting in failures (convoy signaled by not spotted in time) and quick retreats due to the threat of destroyers and in particular aircraft carriers, casting a shadow on all operations since the loss of the Bismarck. Thus she never ventured deep into the Atlantic. Neither Karl Topp (the commander) or the Grand Admiral Raeder, nor Hitler did not wanted it. Well protected by nets and anti submarine mines, patrols in the fjord and on shore, and substantial AA protection on the heights, the Tirpitz seemed untouchable. But her unbearable presence justified numerous operations to destroy her, like the RAF Bombing raid of April 27, 1942, later on frogmen trying to undermine its hull (Operation Tile), micro-submersible raid (X1-8), unsuccessful although the last raid allowed to damage her seriously enough.
Bombed into oblivion
Due to the fuel shortage, it was decided to move further inland, back to the fjord shoals, on a kind of “platform” dredged and flattened. In case of a leak, it would have fallen into shallow water, and artillery would have remained active. But the plan did not take into account the new Bomber Command ploy to defeat here in November 1944. Lancaster bombers armed with monstrous piercing bomb designed by Barnes Wallis ( “Grand Slam”, 9 tons) designed to break dams in Germany were now deployed against the battleship. An ammunition store was touched, and she tilted and then capsized, resulting in the loss of 971 men and officers. The wreck of the Tirpitz was gradually dismantled after the war by the Norwegians which laid hands on a very valuable metal stock…
|Dimensions||248 x36 x10.6 m|
|Propulsion||3 screws, 3 Brown-Boveri turbines, 12 Wagner boilers, 138 000 cv|
|Speed||30 knots (55.58 km/h; 34.53 mph)|
|Range||8,870 nmi (16,430 km, 10,210 mi) 19 knots (35 km/h, 22 mph)|
|Armament||4×2 380 mm, 12×150 mm (6×2), 8×2 105mm, 8×2 37mm, 12 20mm AA, 4-6 hydroplanes.|
|Armor||Belt 317mm, deck 50mm, torpedo bulkheads 44mm, turrets 362mm, blockhaus 356mm|
James Cameron’s 2002 Documentary about the Bismarck (full)
“Sink the Bismarck” (1960), full movie.