Bismarck Battleship - Is it a wrong choice for Kriegsmarine to send it to Atlantic in May 1941

Will you take the risk and send Bismarck to Atlantic in May 1941?


  • Total voters
    13
Jul 2009
9,559
#21
So you are arguing that the Bismarck should never have been built. I might agree with you, but I don't think that is the question asked. I interpreted the question as "Given that the Germans had a battleship in May 1941, should they have used it as they did?" The only alternative was to use it as a fleet in being.
The fleet-in-being would have been more logical. Germany was never able to develop a naval strategy that worked in either WW I or WW II. Trying to meet the Royal Navy at sea with surface fleets was a fool's errand. The U boat was more effective in the first war than in the second. However, in neither was it in any way decisive. Germany repeated failed naval strategies and had the same results.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,642
Dispargum
#22
I think that is where he is going. Tirpitiz mark2
I thought of that also, but in May 1941 there was no mission for a fleet in being. Barbarosa was still in the future, and there was no indication that Britain or the US would ever ship supplies to Murmansk, so putting the fleet in Norway in May 1941 makes no sense. After the Murmansk convoys start sailing, then yes, I can see some value in a second Tirpitz.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,665
Stockport Cheshire UK
#23
However German designs assumed they would be facing significantly faster aircraft, so when the gunners were trying to lead the target. They were firing to far in front of their targets. On the heavier caliber guns the firing solutions also suffered the same problem. Essentially everyone assumed they would be facing faster aircraft.
The torpedo bombers were flying almost directly towards the ship, deflection should have not been major issue. Also why didn't the designers check on the likely top speed of the naval aircraft the ship was likely to face?

Fatigue was also a major issue. The crew had been at action stations from the movement the ship disengaged from Prince Of Wales. So pretty much sleeping eating and living at their stations at I believe about 48 or 72 hours before the Swordfish attack
The Bismarck was also attacked by Swordfish before she disengaged from the POW and cruisers, they also suffered no losses and scored a hit, though it caused only minor damage.
 
Mar 2019
512
Kansas
#24
The torpedo bombers were flying almost directly towards the ship, deflection should have not been major issue. Also why didn't the designers check on the likely top speed of the naval aircraft the ship was likely to face?
Here is a video from a professional historian who breaks the question down in minute details.

 
Jul 2009
9,559
#25
I thought of that also, but in May 1941 there was no mission for a fleet in being. Barbarosa was still in the future, and there was no indication that Britain or the US would ever ship supplies to Murmansk, so putting the fleet in Norway in May 1941 makes no sense. After the Murmansk convoys start sailing, then yes, I can see some value in a second Tirpitz.
In post #21 I mentioned that the Fleet-in-being would have been most logical for the Kriegsmarine. I think that would have been the better use of resources even before the Murmansk Run.

Keeping a fast strike force at, say Kiel (able to transfer by the canal to the North Sea) would be a threat that the R.N. would have to consider. The German ships could also use the Skagerrak off Denmark to enter the North Sea from a different direction (and would still be positioned in the Baltic for necessary operations there). It was never advisable for the Kriegsmarine to send any major units far from the coast as they lacked air cover, or the scouting potential (too few float planes aboard) to operate in that way.

I am thinking here of a basic strategy (pre-war) to best utilize the naval resources that the Germans had in hand. Contingencies like the costly Norway campaign might not have been foreseen, but they had to be dealt with. After the losses in surface ships in that campaign it became more essential to concentrate naval forces, and the later "Channel Dash" resulted in both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau being seriously damaged.

Rather than the use of Brest, or Cherbourg, as a base for surface units, keeping the fleet at Kiel would concentrate its potential rather than spreading it all over the Atlantic/North Sea coast. It is somewhat in the realm of speculative history, but WTH? The bases along the French coast, and remote from Germany, could still be used for U boat operations (that strategy would still have failed IMO).

Such a strategy might have minimized, or at least reduced, the losses of the Kriegsmarine in surface units which it could not afford to lose.
 
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Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,642
Dispargum
#26
In post #21 I mentioned that the Fleet-in-being would have been most logical for the Kriegsmarine. I think that would have been the better use of resources even before the Murmansk Run.

Keeping a fast strike force at, say Kiel (able to transfer by the canal to the North Sea) would be a threat that the R.N. would have to consider. The German ships could also use the Skagerrak off Denmark to enter the North Sea from a different direction (and would still be positioned in the Baltic for necessary operations there). It was never advisable for the Kriegsmarine to send any major units far from the coast as they lacked air cover, or the scouting potential (too few float planes aboard) to operate in that way.

Rather than the use of Brest, or Cherbourg, as a base for surface units, keeping the fleet at Kiel would concentrate its potential rather than spreading it all over the Atlantic/North Sea coast. It is somewhat in the realm of speculative history, but WTH? The bases along the French coast, and remote from Germany, could still be used for U boat operations (that strategy would still have failed IMO).

Such a strategy might have minimized the losses of the Kriegsmarine in surface units which it could not afford to lose.
The problem I have with the fleet in being at Kiel is that they pose too small a threat. A fleet in being is supposed to tie down enemy naval assets by threatening to attack something. What could the Germans attack from Kiel? What must the Royal Navy be on guard against? In Norway, Tirpitz threatened the Murmansk convoys. The British always had to give those convoys a strong escort, thereby tying down many ships that could have been used elsewhere. If the Kriegsmarine stayed in Kiel the whole war, I see the Royal Navy deploying more ships to the Mediterranean and against Japan.
 

Vaeltaja

Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
3,682
#27
While i personally think that the sortie by Bismarck and Prinz Eugen was foolish i have wondered what would have happened had Bismarck turned back immediately after sinking Hood. It could have succeeded in sinking PoW as well. Regardless had Bismarck managed to reach Trondheim or other German controlled ports of that time the whole sortie would likely have been viewed as a major German victory instead.
 
Jul 2009
9,559
#28
The problem I have with the fleet in being at Kiel is that they pose too small a threat. A fleet in being is supposed to tie down enemy naval assets by threatening to attack something. What could the Germans attack from Kiel? What must the Royal Navy be on guard against? In Norway, Tirpitz threatened the Murmansk convoys. The British always had to give those convoys a strong escort, thereby tying down many ships that could have been used elsewhere. If the Kriegsmarine stayed in Kiel the whole war, I see the Royal Navy deploying more ships to the Mediterranean and against Japan.
Just thinking in terms of a pre-war strategy. As said, contingencies like the Norway debacle, and the Murmansk Run were unforeseen at that time. Had the fleet stayed in the Baltic, the damage to two capital ships in the Channel Dash might have been mitigated. Whatever the developments, before the war the fantasy of Plan Z would have made the fleet at Kiel far more of a factor. As mentioned, the canal allowed the fleet to move between the Baltic and the North Sea; it could enter into the North Sea and the Denmark Strait by way of the Skagarrak, and, as also mentioned, still support German operations along the Baltic coast as the army moved eastward.

Look, this is all a bull session. Plan Z was not realistic. Adm Raeder never had any clue as to where the oil for this bigger navy was going to come from even if they could build it, and the Kriegsmarine was always going to be terminally short in dealing with the R.N. All a German surface fleet could hope to do was hit and run sorties, at least with enough escorting warships and whatever air cover was available, to do some damage. Staying in harbor, as had been done in WW I, still presented a threat that the R.N. had to deal with.

All I am saying is that with the minimal resources available to the Germans - if they wanted a surface fleet that might be of some use - a fleet-in-being was always their best approach. That had worked for Austria-Hungary in WW I. The navy was at Pola and Cattaro for the whole war. It used hit and run operations that denied the Adriatic to Italy, Britain and France, and it protected an important flank of A-H operations in the Balkans. The other powers' navies never established the allies in any of the islands or estuaries along the Dalmatian coast, and the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine's losses were relatively small.

That wasn't very glamorous but it was sensible and it was effective. Any weaker naval power has to conserve itself with a strategy of the fleet-in-being.
 
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tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,112
#29
So you are arguing that the Bismarck should never have been built. I might agree with you, but I don't think that is the question asked. I interpreted the question as "Given that the Germans had a battleship in May 1941, should they have used it as they did?" The only alternative was to use it as a fleet in being.
Not necessarily... Could be used in combined operations with proper air cover

when the Bismarck was built , the picture was not so clear... but arguably it was a waste of resources to complete the Tirpitz

But sending a battleship alone out in the open seas to face not only ennemy capital ships, but also air power and submarines is a folly.... and the germans had already lost the Graf Spee in 1939, so its not like they could not know this....
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,642
Dispargum
#30
Not necessarily... Could be used in combined operations with proper air cover

when the Bismarck was built , the picture was not so clear... but arguably it was a waste of resources to complete the Tirpitz

But sending a battleship alone out in the open seas to face not only ennemy capital ships, but also air power and submarines is a folly.... and the germans had already lost the Graf Spee in 1939, so its not like they could not know this....
Tirpitz was only a few months behind Bismarck in construction. She was undergoing sea trials already in the spring of '41 and went operational that summer. That's a very small window to say "Bismarck yes, Tirpitz no."

Aircraft had never sunk a battleship underway prior to PoW and Repulse. Taranto showed that planes could sink stationary battleships in port. Bismarck herself only proved that planes could damage a moving battleship. We can't fault the Germans for not knowing what had never been done before. Graf Spee got cornered 10,000 miles from home. Bismarck was operating much closer to a friendly port. Graf Spee was under armored and slow. Bismarck was neither. As I stated above, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had recently completed a very successful raid in which they sank 22 merchant ships. But for a lucky torpedo hit on her rudder Bismarck would have escaped. It's not so cut and dry when you look at what the Germans knew at the time.

Now, if Bismarck's raid had gone exactly the same except for the lucky torpedo hit so that Bismarck was still able to steer and she made it into Brest, would I send I send her back out? No. The PBY had shown that there was nowhere to hide in that part of the Atlantic. I would have transferred Bismarck to Norway to operate against Murmansk convoys because that part of the ocean was far enough from Allied bases that Bismarck would not be found by land-based aircraft.