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World War II: Bismarck


World War II: Bismarck

Bismarck, August 1940

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

Bismarck - Nationality & Construction:

  • Nation: Nazi Germany
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
  • Laid Down: July 1, 1936
  • Launched: February 14, 1939
  • Commissioned: August 24, 1940
  • Fate: Sunk in action, May 27, 1941

Bismarck - General Characteristics:

  • Displacement: 45,451 tonnes
  • Length: 450.5m
  • Beam (Width): 36m
  • Draft:: 9.3-10.2m
  • Propulsion: 12 High-pressure Wagner boilers powering 3 Blohm & Voss geared turbines at 150,170 horsepower
  • Speed: 30.8 knots
  • Range: 8,525 nautical miles at 19 knots, 4,500 nautical miles at 28 knots
  • Complement: 2,092: 103 officers, 1,989 enlisted

Bismarck - Armament:


  • 8×380 mm/L48.5 SK-C/34 (4 turrents with 2 guns each)
  • 12×150 mm/L55 SK-C/28
  • 16×105 mm/L65 SK-C/37 / SK-C/33
  • 16×37 mm/L83 SK-C/30
  • 12×20 mm/L65 MG C/30 (Single)
  • 8×20 mm/L65 MG C/38 (Quadruple)


  • 4× Arado Ar 196 A-3 seaplanes, using 1 double-ended catapult

Bismarck - Early Career:

Commissioned in August 1940, the German Kriegsmarine envisioned using Bismarck as a raider to attack British convoys in the North Atlantic during World War II. With its 15" guns, the battleship would be able to attack from a distance, inflicting maximum damage while placing itself at minimal risk. Sailing in tandem with the cruiser Prinz Eugen, Bismarck departed Norway on May 22, 1941, and headed towards the shipping lanes. Aware of Bismarck's departure, the British Royal Navy had begun moving ships to intercept. Steering north and west, Bismarck headed for the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland.

Bismarck - Battle of the Denmark Straight:

Entering the strait, Bismarck was detected by the cruisers HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk which called for reinforcements. Responding were the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood. The two intercepted the Germans at the south end of the strait on the morning of May 24. Less than 10 minutes after the ships opened fire, Hood was struck in one of its magazines causing an explosion that blew the ship in half. Unable to take on both German ships alone, Prince of Wales broke off the fight. During the battle, Bismarck was hit in a fuel tank, causing a leak and forcing a reduction in speed.

Sink the Bismarck!:

Unable to continue with his mission, Adm. Günther Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to continue on while he turned the leaking Bismarck toward France. On the night of May 24, aircraft from the carrier HMS Victorious attacked with little effect. Two days later aircraft from HMS Ark Royal scored a hit, jamming Bismarck's rudder. Unable to manuever, the ship was forced to steam in a slow circle while awaiting the arrival of the British battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney. They were sighted the following morning and Bismarck's final battle commenced.

Assisted by the heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and Norfolk, the two British battleships pummeled the stricken Bismarck, knocking its guns out of action and killing most of the senior officers on board. After 30 minutes, the cruisers attacked with torpedoes. Unable to resist further, Bismarck's crew scuttled the ship to prevent its capture. British ships raced in to pick up the survivors and rescued 110 before a U-boat alarm forced them to leave the area. Close to 2,000 German sailors were lost.

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