How did most of the 686 men from the Bismarck die in the water?

Sep 2013
896
Chattanooga, TN
#1
On May 27, 1941, the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the British Battleships King George V and Rodney severely damaged the German Battleship Bismarck in a battle. Then the crew of the Bismarck scuttled the Bismarck. The crew of the Bismarck was 2200 men. According to Wikipedia, there were approximately 800 survivors from the Bismarck in the water when the Bismarck was scuttled. Apparently the other 1,400 men of the crew of the Bismarck had perished by the time the Bismarck was scuttled. I'm surprised that most of the crew of the Bismarck had died by the time the Bismarck was sunk, but 800 survivors is still a lot of people.

The British ship Dorsetshire and the British ship Maori moved in and lowered ropes for survivors from the Bismarck to come aboard. Dorsetshire and Maori rescued about 110 men from the Bismarck before a lookout on the Dorsetshire spotted what he thought was a U-boat and the rescue effort was abandoned. A U-boat later picked up three men in the water. A German trawler rescued two more men from the Bismarck in the water. 114 men in the water from the Bismarck were rescued. If the figure of 800 survivors of the Bismarck in the water is correct, that means that close to 700 men from the Bismarck died in the Atlantic ocean after the Bismarck was sunk.

What would most of these 686 or so of the men from the Bismarck in the water have eventually died of? None of them were able to swim back to land. How do I know that none of them swam back to land? The sources I've read about this mention how all the survivors were able to survive, and none of the sources I have read mention that any of the crew from the Bismarck swam all the way back to land. They must have all died in the water.

Of these 686 men, probably all or most of them who did not know how to swim would have drowned. However, what would have happened to the men who did know how to swim?

Would most of the men who knew how to swim have likely eventually been too tired to continue swimming and drown eventually (even though they know how to swim)?

Or would most of them have likely died from being killed and eaten by sharks or other aquatic life such as jellyfish, pirannas, etc.?

The Bismarck was sunk on May 27, 1941, which is late spring. Would most of them have died of hypothermia?

Or would most of them have died of dehydration or starvation?

Please speculate on what would have caused the most of the 686 deaths and even what would have been the second most common cause of death of most of these men.
 
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Oct 2018
53
Minneapolis, MN
#2
Just taking a shot here, but looking for temps in the Atlantic Ocean in may, and this is the closest I can find that has a good temp, which is a few hundred miles due east. Looking at overall Atlantic temps, they seem to be in the same zone.

Penzance Sea Temperature May Average, United Kingdom | Sea Temperatures

So based on that, low to mid 50's water temperature.

Hypothermia Table

And based on this handy dandy little table, 1-6 hours for survival.


So I'd say drowning for the initial deaths for those who were not able to tread water or had something to hold on to and hypothermia got the rest..

Not sure if there are any stories about how rough the seas were that day but that might make drowning more likely.
 
Sep 2013
896
Chattanooga, TN
#3
Good response, Mortari. Your reasoning and your conclusions seem plausible to me.

If the same situation happened in, say, July, what do you think that most of the 686 men would have died of?
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,779
Stockport Cheshire UK
#4
So I'd say drowning for the initial deaths for those who were not able to tread water or had something to hold on to and hypothermia got the rest..

Not sure if there are any stories about how rough the seas were that day but that might make drowning more likely.
There was a strong wind (force 8) and the sea state was rough.

One of the last photos of the Bismarck during the battle, the rough sea is clearly visible.

bismfinalbattle3.jpg .
 
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redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,779
Stockport Cheshire UK
#6
So was it the deliberate scuttling of the ship that led to many deaths? In that case they were prepared to sacrifice their lives to ensure Bismarck was not captured intact?
The order to set scuttling charges was given at the same time as the order to abandon ship. The scuttling charges were on a timer designed to give the men setting them a chance to reach the upper decks and abandon ship
 
Sep 2013
896
Chattanooga, TN
#7
So was it the deliberate scuttling of the ship that led to many deaths? In that case they were prepared to sacrifice their lives to ensure Bismarck was not captured intact?
I created the "Why did the Germans scuttle the Bismarck" thread for this topic.

Most experts agree that if the Bismarck was not scuttled, the Bismarck would have sank anyway.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the British ships Dorsetshire and Maori stopped picking up survivors and left the area because a U-boat was spotted in the area. However, the Germans did not know that was going to happen at the time. The Germans who scuttled the ship had to know that scuttling the ship would probably cause some German sailors to die in the water who would not have otherwise died if the Germans raised the white flag and did not scuttle the ship.
 
Aug 2015
2,359
uk
#8
The thing is, why scuttle in the first place? Bismarck was likely good for scrap only, and unlikely to make port in any case. Unless there was secret technology aboard; but could not that have been otherwised destroyed, and could the RN really learn much from Bismarck? My guess is that it was for prestige, perhaps on the basis that most sailors would be picked up, but accepting a certain percentage would still lose their lives.
 
Mar 2014
1,951
Lithuania
#10
A while ago I watched documentary about diving expedition to Bismark's wreck. Ship was in much better condition than expected, so it was far from being a wreck. Most of the ships sunk in Hawai were raised and repaired, so one of the best battleship of that time would have been repaired and used against Germany for sure.