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.

Battleship Bismarck
Bismarck prow seen in Hamburg harbour, 1940.

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.

Bismarck in the Baltic
Bismarck training in the Baltic

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.

US Navy recoignition drawing about the Tirpitz
US Navy recoignition drawing about the Tirpitz

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…

Links

The Bismarck on wikipedia
The Tirpitz on wikipedia
Visiting Bismarck, Explorers Revise Its Story
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Bismarck specifications

Dimensions 248 x36 x10.6 m
Displacement 42,300t/52,600t FL
Crew 2600
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

Gallery

Bismarck class
3D rendering, Bismarck during Operation Rheinübung.

Tirpitz renditions
Renditions of the Bismarck and Tirpitz (Unknown src.) – the second one is stunning, never seen it before.

Bismarck
Bismarck with its May 1941 camouflage (From trumpeter kit)

xxx
The KMS Tirpitz in juin 1944, in its “Norvegian livery”.

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2 Responses to Bismarck class

  1. mygotbot.org says:

    At the time, France, which had begun a program of naval expansion, was viewed as the most likely threat, not Great Britain.

    • dreadnaughtz says:

      Indeed, you’re right to point that out. However, rather than naval “expansion”, as French Navy as been capped at Washington in 1922 as par with Italy, was obliged to be creative and rationalize the fleet, far from ww1 “collection of prototypes” left by the young school. It was more homogeneous and perhaps the best fleet we ever had, but yes, the Deutschland were designed, after which the Dunkerque answered, on turn dealt with the Scharnhorst, answered in turn by the Richelieu, and so on.

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