Follow US:

Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Sinking Of The Unsinkable German WW2 Battleship Bismarck

Normal
(0)
Difficulty: 0

It's 2 AM on May 19th, 1941, and under the cover of darkness the mighty battleship Bismarck

slips free of her moorings and heads out to sea. The ship is impressive, largest in the

German fleet, with a displacement of over 50,000 tons, packing 64 guns, with foot-thick

armor protecting her from enemy fire. She's headed for the Danish straits, where she'll

be joined by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and her three destroyer escort. Overhead,

the fearsome Luftwaffe provides air cover, watching over the convoy of ships until they

are out of range. Their mission is to slip past British defenses and make for open water

in the Atlantic, where they will raid allied shipping and cripple Britain's ability to

continue its war effort.

A few days later though the German convoy encounters the Swedish cruiser Gotland- Sweden

is a neutral nation and thus the Germans aren't concerned about being attacked by Swedish

coastal defenses, but unbeknownst to the Germans, the Captain of the Swedish ship radios a report

back to naval headquarters, which is passed along to the British naval attache to Sweden

by Swedish officers with sympathies to England. Royal Navy Captain Henry Denham immediately

transmits the information to the British Admiralty, who review a report by Allied code-breakers

that a raid on the Atlantic was imminent and realize this is the flotilla enroute to wreck

hell on British shipping. A pair of Supermarine Spitfires are quickly ordered into the air

over the Norwegian coast to search for the German ships- they must be found immediately,

and the ships of the convoy, to include the mighty Bismarck, must be sunk at all costs-

the very fate of Britain hangs in the balance.

The now legendary Bismarck had her keel laid on the 1st of July, 1936 in Hamburg, Germany.

She was to be a replacement for the old pre-dreadnought SMS Hannover, and a counter to the french

Richelieu-class of battleships. Though on paper she was within the 35,000 ton limit

imposed by international treaty that governed battleship construction in the period between

World War I and World War II, in reality she far exceeded those limits- though by the time

she was completed the treaty system had fallen apart due to Japan's withdrawal and was not

enforced. She would come to displace over 50,000 tons and measure 823 feet (251 m),

immediately becoming the largest battleship in Europe until the commissioning of the HMS

Vanguard by Britain after the end of the war. Her complement included 1,962 enlisted men

overseen by 103 officers, and she could carry 4 Arado floatplanes for scouting and spotting

fire. She had a cruising range of 8,870 nautical miles (16,430 km) and could move along at

19 knots, putting much of the Atlantic at risk for the Allies.

One of the most formidable ships ever built at the time, the Bismarck sported eight 15

inch (38 cm) guns arranged in four twin gun turrets, with two stationed forward, and two

aft. Her secondary armament was made up of twelve 5.9 inch (15 cm) guns, sixteen 4.1

inch (10.5 cm) guns, sixteen 1.5 inch (3.7 cm) guns, and twelve anti-aircraft guns. Her

sides were protected by a belt of armor a foot thick, and her upper and main decks were

armored with 2 inches (50mm) and 3.9 to 4.7 inches (100 to 120mm) of armor plating respectively.

Not only could the Bismarck dish out one hell of a pounding, but she could take it in return

and keep on firing.

On the 5th of May, 1941, the Bismarck is ordered on a mission to raid Atlantic shipping. German

U-boats had been very successful to date, but the British had begun moving their merchant

ships in large convoy fleets protected by destroyers and small aircraft carriers. The

losses against German U-boats were growing exponentially, but with the Bismarck and her

destroyers to support them, the Germans could wreak havoc on British shipping- potentially

even ending the war by forcing Britain's surrender. Eleven days later, the Bismarck leaves her

port in Poland and makes for the Danish straits were she is joined by the Prinz Eugen and

three destroyers, along with a small flotilla of minesweepers.

The German mission is so secret that even its crew is unaware of their destination or

assignment, and it isn't until noon on May 20th that the crew is told over loudspeaker

of the ship's mission. At about the same time though a group of swedish aircraft flying

reconnaissance come across the German fleet, radioing their composition and heading while

remaining unseen by the Germans. One hour later, the Swedish cruiser Gotland intercepts

the fleet and shadows it for two hours as it passes by Swedish territorial waters. The

Germans are unconcerned by the Swedish ship, though privately Captain Ernst Lindemann,

commanding officer of the Bismarck, fumes that operational secrecy was effectively lost.

The Swedes may be neutral, but any stray radio chatter reporting their position could be

picked up by Allied spies- and the Germans always suspected that the Swedes harbored

many Ally sympathies and could simply give the ship up to the British. Captain Lindemann

orders the convoy increase speed and get out to open water as fast as possible, the quicker

they reach the atlantic, the safer they will be.

Back at the British embassy in Sweden, Captain Henry Denham receives an urgent report by

a Swedish officer with sympathies to the Allies- exactly as feared by the Germans. Though the

Bismarck is not named in the report, what is clear is that a large German force is making

for open water, and there can only be two conclusions: the Germans are preparing for

a cross-channel invasion of England, or they are moving forces out into the Atlantic in

order to cut Britain off from America and the vital war supplies the US is providing.

Either possibility spells disaster, and Captain Denhan immediately contacts the British Admiralty

with his information. Back in England an intelligence officer confirms that his code breakers at

Bletchley Park had decrypted reports that the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had taken on

prize crews- crews of sailors meant to take over damaged enemy ships and sail them back

to friendly waters for repairs- and that their Captains had requested additional navigational

charts. This could mean only one thing: the long-awaited German push into the Atlantic

was finally coming, and leading the offensive was the most feared battleship in Europe.

A pair of Supermarine Spitfires are immediately ordered into the air to search for the German

flotilla off the coast of Norway, while at the same time the Germans launch their own

aerial reconnaissance mission over the British naval base at Scapa Flow. The Germans discover

that one aircraft carrier, three battleships, and four cruisers are still anchored at Scapa

Flow, which confirms their belief that the British are unaware of the Bismarck and her

battle group's mission. That night, the Bismarck reaches the Norwegian coast where her minesweepers,

two raiders, and their destroyer escorts break off and continue north without her. The next

morning, the Prinz Eugen intercepts radio broadcasts ordering British recon aircraft

to search for two battleships and three destroyers northbound off the Norwegian coast, and at

0700 hours the Germans spot four unidentified aircraft believed to be British planes which

immediately depart the area. Shortly after noon the German destroyers, minesweepers and

raiders reach Bergen and anchor at Grimstadfjord. The Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen meanwhile

are taking on supplies and fuel while a pair of luftwaffe BF 109 fighters fly overhead

to provide air cover.

Despite the air cover though, British Flying Officer Michael Suckling flies his Spitfire

directly over the German flotilla at a height of 26,000 feet (8,000 m) and takes photos

of the Bismarck anchored alongside her remaining escorts. Managing to break away from the defending

German fighters, Suckling makes it back to base where the pictures are immediately analyzed

and a report sent to the Admiralty. The British battlecruiser HMS Hood, the battleship Prince

of Wales, and six destroyers are ordered to reinforce a lone pair of cruisers that are

currently the only force patrolling the Denmark Strait. Meanwhile the British Home Fleet is

put on high alert in Scapa Flow and puts out to sea. The greatest naval battle of the European

theater is in the making, with the fate of Britain in the balance.

The British immediately dispatch 18 bombers to attack the anchored ships, though as luck

would have it the weather over the fjord where the ships are sheltering worsens considerably

and the bombers are unable to locate the German fleet. The next day at 1930 hours, the Bismarck,

Prinz Eugen, and their three destroyer escorts all leave Bergen and put out to sea once more,

and it wouldn't be until midnight when the force was already well out to sea that Hitler

is informed of the raid on the Atlantic. By this time it has become clear to the German

senior command staff that Hitler was no master strategist, despite his proclivity for personally

overseeing every aspect of the war effort. Thus the choice had been made to not let the

Fuhrer know of the Bismarck's mission until it was far too late for him to stop it, thus

grudgingly, Hitler consents and the Bismarck continues on her way.

The next day at 0410 hours, the three escorting destroyers are detached from the fleet as

the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen attempt to dash through the Denmark Strait and break

out into the open Atlantic. Speed is increased to 27 knots and both ships radars are activated-

potentially giving them away to Allied forces but also allowing them to monitor any threats

bearing down on them. The move is risky, but mists have reduced visibility to between 3,000

and 4,000 meters- which suits the Germans as it provides them cover from air attack,

but could also give that same cover to British ships lying in wait to ambush the two German

vessels. The mood is tense aboard the Bismarck, if they can break past Iceland they'll be

out into the open Atlantic and safe from British attack. But they're so close to Britain now

that at any moment these mists could be hiding a British fleet waiting to pounce.

At 10:00 hours the Germans encounter ice floes which force them to reduce speed and adopt

a zigzag route through the dangerous icebergs. This further slows their break-out to the

north Atlantic. At 19:22, hydrophone and radar operators raise the alarm after detecting

the HMS Suffolk at a range of approximately 12,500 meters, and the Prinz Eugen's radio-intercept

team confirms their worst fears: their location has been reported.

The Prinz Eugen is immediately ordered to engage the Suffolk, but through the fog the

Germans are unable to clearly make out their target. Rather than light themselves up and

give the British an easier target to spot and fire back at, the Germans hold their fire

while the Suffolk retreats to a safe distance, continuing to shadow the Germans ships. At

2030 hours, the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk joins the Suffolk, but strays too close to

the Germans who immediately open fire. The Bismarck fires five salvos from her main gun,

three of which score hits on the Norfolk but cause superficial damage. The Norfolk responds

by laying down a smoke screen and fleeing into a fog bank to lick its wounds- the opening

salvo of Europe's greatest naval battle has officially been fired.

The concussion from the big guns of the Bismarck though have knocked out her radar set, and

the Prinz Eugen is ordered to take point so she can use her own radar to find the British

formation. Hoping to surprise the British ships shadowing them, the Germans wait until

the Bismarck has been overtaken by a rain squall and then put the ship through a 180

degree turn, steaming full speed ahead at the two British ships. The surprise attack

however is defeated by the Suffolk's radar, which easily detects the Bismarck's maneuver

despite its heavy rain cover, and the British ships evade the pending attack. The British

cruisers remain on station throughout the night, continually relaying the German position

to the rest of the British fleet. The Germans know a fight is coming, and try to get what

rest they can through the stormy weather.

The weather finally breaks early on the morning of the 24th of May, as hydrophone operators

aboard the Prinz Eugen detec t a pair of unidentified vessels approaching at high speed. A half

hour later German lookouts spot smoke on the horizon, and a few minutes later the ships

are revealed to be the Hood and Prince of Wales. Alarms ring and klaxons sound as the

men rush to battle stations, the Bismarck training her big guns on the approaching threats.

At 0552 hours, the Hood opens fire at extreme range, and a salvo of shells explodes in the

water around the Prinz Eugen, which the British have mistaken for the Bismarck. The Prince

of Wales responds a minute later, firing her own salvo at the Bismarck, though its shells

too fall short of their mark. As the British ships approach, they continue raining down

fire around the Germans, though the Germans don't respond. Inside the bridge of the Bismarck,

first gunnery officer Adalbert Schenider requests permission to return fire twice, but is denied

twice by Admiral Gunther Lutjens, fleet chief of the Kriegsmarine. After a few more close

calls, Captain Lindemann can no longer bear it and mutters, “I will not let my ship

be shot out from under my ass!” and formally requests permission to return fire from Lutjens,

who at last relents.

The British ships are approaching head on, which only lets them use their forward guns.

The Germans meanwhile are able to bring all of their guns to bear on the British and fire

full broadsides. British Vice Admiral Holland orders his ships to turn 20 degrees to port,

allowing them to close the distance to the Germans while bringing their rear gun turrets

into the fight.

Rather than split their fire like the British, the Germans concentrate their fire on the

Hood, and almost immediately after being freed to return fire, the Prinz Eugen scores a direct

hit with a high explosive shell, starting a large fire. British damage control crews

rush to put out a fire that threatens ammo stores and manages to put out the flames before

the entire ship goes up in one giant explosion. Unfortunately for the British though, the

Germans have found their range to the Hood, and the Bismarck immediately opens fire with

rapid salvoes from its main guns. Its secondary guns are ordered to engage the Prince of Wales,

scoring one or two hits with fail to penetrate her heavy armor plating.

The Prinz Eugen is then ordered to shift her fire onto the Prince of Wales, in order to

keep both enemy vessels under fire, and a few minutes later the Prinz Eugen scores two

direct hits on the British ship which set off several small fires. The Prinz Eugen then

drops behind the Bismarck so that she can use her radar to monitor the location of the

Norfolk and Suffolk, which have been shadowing the battle. At 0600 hours, the Bismarck scores

a direct hit on the hood with an armor piercing shell which penetrates deep into the bowels

of the ship and detonates 112 tons of explosives stored below. A massive explosion immediately

breaks the back of the Hood, splitting her into two pieces. The battle for the Atlantic

has lasted only eight minutes so far, and already the British have lost one ship and

1.419 men.

The Bismarck immediately shifts her fire to the Prince of Wales. The British ship is now

outnumbered two to one, and the Bismarck manages to score a direct hit with its first salvo,

striking the bridge. The round does not explode on impact but instead passes through the bridge

and out the other side, though it kills everyone inside save for Captain John Leach and one

other officer. Hurt and limping, the Prince of Wales nonetheless returns fire and scores

several direct hits on the Bismarck, hitting her on the forecastle and above the torpedo

bulkhead and flooding a turbo-generator room. A third round passed straight through a lifeboat

and the float plane catapult, though it too fails to explode on impact.

By 0613 though most of the Prince of Wale's guns are out of commission, and she's taken

very heavy damage. Captain Leach orders the ship to retreat and she immediately lays out

a smoke screen to cover her withdrawal, with the Germans firing the entire way until at

last she's out of range. Aboard the Bismarck Captain Lindemann insists on giving chase

and finishing off the heavily wounded British battleship, but Admiral Lutjen refuses and

quotes operational orders that state the ships must not actively engage any forces not protecting

a convoy.

At first the Bismarck does not seem to be seriously damaged, but after the Prinz Eugen

spots heavy streams of oil on both sides of her wake, the Bismarck is ordered to make

for Saint-Nazaire in occupied France for repairs. The Prinz Eugen is ordered to detach and commence

its attacks on allied shipping, leaving the Bismarck to steam back to port alone.

The Prince of Wales meanwhile has joined the Suffolk and Norfolk which are still shadowing

the Germans, though it is ordered to the rear of the formation given her extensive battle

damage. A British flying boat spots the oil slick being left behind by the Bismarck and

reports it to the British ships, who report it back to the British Admiralty. Seeing a

chance to destroy Germany's most powerful ship, the British order all available ships

to give chase, and in total six battleships and battlecruisers, two aircraft carriers,

thirteen cruisers, and twenty one destroyers all begin the hunt for the Bismarck.

At 1814 hours, the Bismarck suddenly turns on the three British ships and opens fire.

The Suffolk, well out of range of its own smaller guns, breaks away at high speed, though

the Prince of Wales, which has repaired nine of its ten damaged guns, fires twelve salvos

in response. No hits land on either side, though the brief action diverts British attention

and allows the Prinz Eugen to finally break away and head out into the Atlantic. With

the Eugen away, the Bismarck turns back and resumes its course to port. She's been damaged

and slowed, but is still steaming along at 28 knots, the maximum speed of the chasing

British ships. If she can't be slowed down, the British won't be able to stop her from

reaching port, and once under cover from the Luftwaffe, any attempt to sink her would be

suicidal.

In desperation, the British launch a nighttime strike from the nearby aircraft carrier Victorious,

which launches six fighters and nine torpedo bombers. As they approach their target though

the inexperienced air crews almost attack the Norfolk and a US Coast Guard cutter by

accident, and the confusion alerts the German's to their approach. As the torpedo bombers

finally spot the correct target, the Bismarck lowers her guns to maximum depression and

opens fire, creating huge splashes of water in the path of the incoming bombers, which

must fly low in order to release their torpedoes. None of the aircraft are hit, but only one

of the nine torpedoes finds it mark, striking amidships along the armored belt that protects

the ship. The damage is light, but the stress of evading the incoming torpedoes has caused

flooding from the forward shell hole scored earlier by the Prince of Wales. The flooding

forces the crew to abandon the port number 2 boiler room and slows the Bismarck down

to a speed of 16 knots.

By morning of the 25th of May though the damage has been largely repaired by damage control

crews and the Bismarck is once more able to steam along at 28 knots. Entering waters known

to be prowled by German U-boats, the British are forced to zig-zag in order to avoid the

lurking threats, which further adds to the Bismarck's growing lead. Successfully breaking

radar contact, the Bismarck circles away to the West and then North, confusing the British

who by this point are low on fuel and desperate to make contact again.

Unaware that she has successfully shaken off her pursuers though, the Bismarck sends a

radio message to Naval Group West in Paris, asking for Luftwaffe air support. British

code-breakers decrypt the messages and successfully triangulate the location of the Bismarck-

though a mistake by the pursuing British puts them on a wrong course for seven hours, adding

even more distance to the Bismarck's lead. The British immediately order every available

ship and plane to search for the Bismarck, but it's not until 1030 hours on the 26th

of May that she's spotted again by a US Navy pilot northwest of Brest. If the Bismarck

isn't stopped soon, she'll be in range of friendly U-boats and the Luftwaffe in less

than one day- yet most of the British forces were not close enough to stop her.

The only possibility to stop the Bismarck lay with the Royal Navy's Ark Royal, a small

aircraft carrier equipped with antiquated Swordfish torpedo bomber biplanes. The odds

couldn't have been longer, but the chance to sink Germany's most powerful ship and break

the back of the German navy would quickly pass, and so the Swordfish are ordered into

the air. Armed with magnetic detonator torpedoes, the Swordfish proceed on a bearing to the

Bismarck, but instead encounter the heavy cruiser Sheffield which had been ordered to

shadow the Bismarck- though the pilots were never told. Believing they were at their target,

the Swordfish proceed to attack the Sheffield, though the magnetic detonators on the torpedoes

fail and the Sheffield is unscathed. Returning to the Ark the Swordfish are rearmed with

contact detonator torpedoes. At 1910 hours, a flight of 15 Swordfish take to the air,

and at 2047 the attack on the Bismarck begins.

Plunging through the growing cloud cover, the small biplanes are raked with anti-aircraft

fire even as the Bismarck fires its main guns on the Sheffield, which has moved in range

hoping for a critical hit from a torpedo attack. The first few salvos manage to score hits

on the Sheffield though, and the cruiser is forced to retreat under a cover of smoke.

The torpedo bombers meanwhile avoid incoming anti-aircraft fire and loose their torpedoes

against the Bismarck, which by now is zig-zagging violently to avoid their attack. Torpedo after

torpedo misses the giant ship, until finally two manage to hit- the first doing minor structural

damage, but the second explodes on the Bismarck's stern, near the port rudder shaft. The rudder

becomes locked in a twelve degree turn, and the Bismarck is no longer able to sail straight,

instead sailing in large circles, utterly helpless versus approaching British forces.

Whether miracle, or luck, the antiquated biplane torpedo bombers have managed to do what the

most modern British ships couldnt, and now the Bismarck's fate is sealed.

Aboard the Bismarck, Admiral Lutjens sends a radio dispatch to fleet headquarters at

2140. The message reads simply: Ship unmaneuverable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live

the Fuhrer. Her crew, fully cognizant of their fate, grow increasingly depressed- yet remain

committed to fight to the last.

At 2238 a group of five British destroyers encounter the Bismarck, only to be greeted

with heavy fire form her main guns. The Polish destroyer ORP Piorun takes a direct hit yet

continues to close defiantly until a near miss at 12,000 meters forces her to turn away.

Stuck making slow circles, the Bismarck is unable to maneuver, and throughout the night

the British destroyers dart in and out, harassing her with fire until day break.

At sunrise, the British battleship King George V leads the final attack on the Bismarck.

Within minutes the King George is exchanging fire with the Bismarck, its big 16 inch (406

mm) guns raining fire down around her. For her part though the Bismarck immediately scores

several hits on the British destroyer Rodney, though the increasingly heavy seas and her

inability to steer is making it difficult to aim her guns properly. Closing in, the

attacking ship's secondary batteries open fire, joining their 8 inch (203 mm) guns to

the fight. At 0902 hours, a 16 inch shell from the Rodney strikes the Bismarck's forward

superstructure, immediately killing hundreds of men and severely damaging the two forward

turrets. Captain Lindemann and Admiral Lutjens, along with the rest of the bridge staff, are

instantly killed. The Bismarck is now without a captain, and with her two main guns severely

damaged. Moments later another salvo strikes the forward main battery, and it is unable

to fire again save for one final salvo at 0927 hours. By 0931 all four main batteries

are severely damaged and out of action, smoke and fire pouring over her deck.

By 1000 hours the British are at point-blank range and have fired over 700 shells. The

Bismarck has been reduced to a mangled smoking mess of steel wreckage, yet the British continue

firing. They have been ordered not to stop until the ship strikes her colors- or lowers

her flag in surrender- or it becomes clear that the men are abandoning ship. Orders are

given by the surviving officers to scuttle the Bismarck, and scuttling charges are planted

in the depths of her hull. By 1020 hours the British have now fired over 2,800 shells at

the Bismarck, most at close range, and yet still failed to sink her. With the British

ships running low on fuel, the cruiser Dorsetshire is ordered to sink the Bismarck with torpedoes

and the rest of the ships are sent back to port. The Dorsetshire scores two direct hits

with its torpedoes on the Bismarck's starboard side, and two more hits on its port side,

and at last, the incredible ship slips beneath the waves.

Out of a crew of over 2200 men, only 114 would survive, but the Bismark itself would endure

as a testament to German engineering and combat prowess. Struck over 700 times it took four

direct hits by torpedoes at close range to at last send the mighty ship to the bottom,

and after such a staggering combat action it becomes clear why the British feared what

would happen if the Bismarck had ever made it to the open Atlantic and been let loose

upon their merchant shipping fleet.

If you managed to get all the way, congrats. Now go watch our other video: The Most Intense

Tank Battle In History: The Battle of 73 Easting

The Description of Sinking Of The Unsinkable German WW2 Battleship Bismarck