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
    21

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,049
Italy, Lago Maggiore
And we have to keep in mind that Germany had to deal with an evident limitation: its coasts!

Great Britain is a wide isle, Italy is a wide peninsula, France has got long coasts, Spain ... the same, Portugal idem ... Germany, even in the 40's when it prolonged its territory in the North East, had a quite concentrated access to the sea.

They didn't need a great fantasy to imagine from where the German Fleet came out.

Not only this: the German coasts were [and are] on a close sea [the North Sea] with not a lot of "mouths" to go elsewhere. If you want to reach the Atlantic Ocean starting from the German coasts [even making a pit stop in Norway] there aren't many possible routes.

Germans tried and improve the situation after the conquest of continental Europe, but it worked for naval bases of passage, sure not for Naval yards. German battleships begun their life in the North Sea.
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,958
And we have to keep in mind that Germany had to deal with an evident limitation: its coasts!

Great Britain is a wide isle, Italy is a wide peninsula, France has got long coasts, Spain ... the same, Portugal idem ... Germany, even in the 40's when it prolonged its territory in the North East, had a quite concentrated access to the sea.

They didn't need a great fantasy to imagine from where the German Fleet came out.

Not only this: the German coasts were [and are] on a close sea [the North Sea] with not a lot of "mouths" to go elsewhere. If you want to reach the Atlantic Ocean starting from the German coasts [even making a pit stop in Norway] there aren't many possible routes.

Germans tried and improve the situation after the conquest of continental Europe, but it worked for naval bases of passage, sure not for Naval yards. German battleships begun their life in the North Sea.
@Luke,

All of which is why German strategy should have been focused virtually in toto on the Continent. German geography is not positively positioned for naval strategy. It never has been. The German navies of the Second and Third Reichs were drains on resources that would have been much better used on other armed forces.

As this thread is about a German battleship, the limitations of German resources, and the failure of German strategy are necessary components.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,049
Italy, Lago Maggiore
@Luke,

All of which is why German strategy should have been focused virtually in toto on the Continent. German geography is not positively positioned for naval strategy. It never has been. The German navies of the Second and Third Reichs were drains on resources that would have been much better used on other armed forces.

As this thread is about a German battleship, the limitations of German resources, and the failure of German strategy are necessary components.
It's clear. Only getting the total control of North Sea, Germany had some possibilities to develop a functional and effective naval warfare. The little problem to solve, to get such a goal, was the presence of the Royal Navy. Without controlling the North Sea the only valid strategy was to make U-boats slip through the enemy lines. Probably, instead of giant battleships [to try and break through the enemy lines], they had to keep on investing in the production and development of better and better U-boats.
 
Apr 2019
9
520025
When I was a lad, as they say, I had a load of airfix ships. The anti aircraft arrangements on these ships were incredible, especially all the pom pom type things. But of course they didn't really do much.

I later read that in 1939 the entire Home Fleet (including Hood, Rodney, Nelson and many others) did an exercise in the Skaggerack where a target drone was towed around for 2 hours without any hit being landed on it. I wouldn't have thought the Germans had made any rapid advancements on that in a year
Entire fleet firing on a drone towing around for 2 hours without any hit landing on it!
 
Apr 2019
9
520025
Sea and weather conditions ... on board of Bismarck they had their problems to aim with accuracy to those planes flying among clouds under the rain, while the ship faced high waves and a bad sea.

The real right decision [and I would add that it was a brave decision] was to attack in those weather conditions using those light planes. It was the key decision.

To make things clear: the first group of swordfishes which left the Ark Royal attacked the Sheffield, thinking it was the Bismarck [at 14:50].

An other lucky coincidence is that a German U-Boat intercepted the English convoy, but it had no more torpedoes to lunch [20:39, U-556].

And during the attack on the swordfishes they didn't realize to have been able to hit the Bismarck ...
How could the first group of swordfishes friendly fired the Sheffield? No British flag sighted? The design of Sheffield and Bismarck looks very similar?
 
Apr 2019
9
520025
Yes, it's one of the greatest ironies of the war that an aircraft that was obsolete and gets described as a piece of junk was also one of the most successful naval aircraft of the war. It....

Sank or crippled 3 battleships for the loss of 2 Swordfish at Taranto;
Was responsible for the crippling of the Bismark;
Sank more than 300,000 tons of Axis shipping (claimed as the highest tonnage sunk by any allied aircraft);
Accounted for 20 U-boats including;
The first U-boat kill by an allied aircraft as well as the first kill of a U-boat using rockets:
Proved to be an outstanding aircraft for use on small carriers (especially in rough weather such as found in the Atlantic);
and outlasted their replacement (Swordfish continued to be used on Merchant Carriers until 1945).

Swordfish | Royal Navy

As for why the Bismark's AA was ineffective:

Neither of Britain’s main enemies in Europe - Italy and Germany - had any aircraft carriers, so the Royal Navy knew every time it sent Swordfish into the sky it would have total air supremacy. This reduced the equation to enemy AA fire and the Swordfish’s ability to carry and drop torpedoes. In both aspects, the Swordfish found itself more than adequate, and, in the latter, perhaps uniquely skilled.

Remember the two things an aircraft needs to evade enemies? Speed and height? Well, it’s absolutely vital for torpedoes to be dropped at low altitude from slow-moving aircraft. The Americans, in their rush to avoid a repeat of the massacres of their pilots that happened in the early battles against Japan, had ignored or overlooked this. American torpedo bombers needed to slow down considerably as they reached dropping range, which left the aircraft unstable and under-powered, not to mention sitting ducks for enemy fighters and AA. Unlike in ground vehicles, when reducing speed in the air there is not a corresponding increase in handling ability - indeed, the reverse. Everything works better at higher speeds.

This wasn’t a problem for the Swordfish, which had a theoretical top speed of 140 mph. The Fleet Air Arm pilots could go like the clappers and still find themselves within the torpedo-dropping speed range. With their aircraft more capable at low speeds, they were also confident enough to fly closer to the water.

This mattered. Against an unprepared and unresponsive enemy, such as at Taranto, or a virtually helpless battleship in the dark, such as Bismarck, the Swordfish’s unique frame meant they could carry heavier torpedoes than the American torpedo bombers in the Pacific, they could deliver them with more precision, and they could be surer that their torpedoes would reach the target. Plus, as many commentors have pointed out by now, the Swordfish was too slow for many of the predicting mechanisms used by AA guns. The Germans hadn't thought about aircraft that ungainly being sent into attack.

https://www.quora.com/Why-was-the-British-Swordfish-plane-so-strong-at-sinking-ships-even-the-Bismarck

They were also able to take massive amounts of damage due to their fabric construction - there are tales of one plane returning from the attack on the Bismark with more than 300 holes in the fabric caused by shrapnel, so a 'near miss' wasn't good enough.

In other words all the AA failed because it was slow, obsolescent and at the same time a superb platform for dropping torpedos. Again, Irony.
more than 300 holes caused by shrapnel but the plane was still not down??
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,049
Italy, Lago Maggiore
How could the first group of swordfishes friendly fired the Sheffield? No British flag sighted? The design of Sheffield and Bismarck looks very similar?
Nice question. This was the Sheffield : HMS Sheffield (C24) - Wikipedia

Note the comment [HMS Sheffield (C24) - Wikipedia]: "The reaction of Sheffield's crew "has not made its way into the official records". "

As for I can guess, it was a problem of low visibility [the swordfishes were flying in bad weather conditions].

This was the Bismarck : German battleship Bismarck - Wikipedia

Sure the dimensions of the two units were different!
 
Apr 2019
9
520025
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.

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
Guns moving too fast so the bullets were fired far in front of targets; making me think of having a mouse too moving too fast so I can't play the shooting or age of empire games smoothly clicking the right target when microing
 
Apr 2019
9
520025
Knowing what the Germans knew at the time, Yes.
In February 1941 Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had a very successful raid into the North Atlantic. The Germans were largely unaware of what the British Admiralty had done to improve their control of the sea in the intervening months. When Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had penetrated the Denmark Strait there were no cruisers on patrol to spot them. In May, the Denmark Strait was being watched. The PBY patrol plane that located Bismarck on May 26 was a new acquisition from the US via Lend Lease. The Germans did not know that Prince of Wales was already operational (barely) so they thought they would be facing one less battleship. The British were far more prepared in May than they had been in February.

One thing I will fault the Germans on is for failing to appreciate the effects of daylight in May vs February. At those northern latitudes in February there are 16-18 hours of darkness. In May there are 16-18 hours of daylight per day. It was easier for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to hide and disengage in all of that darkness. It was more difficult for Bismarck because there was so little darkness. At least two Swordfish attacks on Bismarck (one by Victorious, one by Ark Royal) could not have been made in February because at the times they were made it was daylight in May but would have been darkness in February. At Denmark Strait the British were reluctant to fight a night battle against Bismarck so they waited until dawn. In February they would have had to fight at night or let Bismarck escape. In a perfect world, the Germans should have sent Bismarck earlier in the year or waited until late autumn to take advantage of the longer nights.
I totally agree with you that the long daylight in May gave a lot less chance for Bismarck to hide and a lot more chances for British to pursue.
 
Apr 2019
9
520025
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.
A great victory if Bismarck returned to Norway with Hood dead, and Prince of Wales heavily damaged