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Bismarck and Prinz Eugen


By Sakhal

The 18th May 1941 departed from the military port of Gotehafen a combat group formed by two splendid and modern warships, the battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, to start the Operation Rheinubung, a raid against the British supply lines in the Atlantic. Then probably nobody thought that for the Bismarck this one would be her last mission. A week later, of the superb battleship would remain only a pile of scrap and few dozens of shipwrecked mariners. But at the moment, the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen were the pride of the new Germany, powerful and confident. Excessively confident of itself and its powerful armament. Despite of the encrypted order prohibiting the navigation to any military or civil ship in wide sectors of the Baltic, another encrypted message arrived to the British Admiralty, immediately setting into alarm the entire Home Fleet. In that moment it would start a dramatic prosecution that would end with the sinking of the Bismarck little less than 400 miles west of Brest. When the Bismarck, hit by the Swordfish torpedo bombers, resulted with her rudder blocked, she was forced to turn around without being able to maneuver. Practically immobilized, the superb battleship was totally dismantled by the British artillery fire.

Bismarck

The forced interruption that Germany suffered regarding naval projects at the end of the First World War affected all the German ships used during the Second World War. The naval architects could not benefit from the lessons learned during 1914-18. Neither were they capable to give continuity to their experience in designs, essential for the creation of new projects, nor to extract conclusions from the destruction of ships built by other countries as the Allies had done in the early 1920s. Because of this the German experts in naval construction started to work in the late 1920s with a considerable disadvantage in respect of the other nations. Consequently, the Bismarck and Tirpitz were poorly protected ships with problems in their communication systems and deficiencies in the disposition of their secondary and anti-aircraft armaments. And this despite of these ships having a displacement that exceeded the limitations imposed by any former treaties, of which Hitler no longer worried.

The technical studies about battleships started in 1933 and, the 18th June 1935, the Anglo-German Naval Treaty granted to Germany enough supplementary tonnage for battleships as to built three units of 35560 tonnes of standard displacement. The contracts for the construction of two of them were signed in the early 1936. Facing this emergency situation, the German naval architects used as base for the new battleships the Baden class from the First World War. But it was necessary to increase the size to satisfy the current requirements: increase of speed of six knots, large increment of anti-aircraft artillery and installation of anti-torpedo armored protection. This latter was favored by a draught as short as possible to face the agitated waters on the German coasts. As in the Japanese Yamato class, the result was to increase the width of the hull to incorporate an excellent anti-torpedo system. On the other hand, a notable difference in respect of the Tirpitz was the lack of torpedo launchers in the Bismarck.

Albeit the result of these efforts was an undoubtedly powerful battleship, the Bismarck class was not as much as it should have been. The difficulties in the investigation of the protection caused that the communication systems were left practically unprotected at the bottom of the belt armor, while the contemporary battleships of other nations had them installed between the upper part of the belt and the armor of the main deck. This deficiency contributed to the quick and easy destruction of the Bismarck. The maneuvering was excellent thanks to a special type of rudder but this would be precisely the Achilles heel of the Bismarck. The same deficiency in the protection of the rudders that impossibilited the escape of the Bismarck had come to light in the German ships already in the Battle of Jutland, twenty-five years before. The lack of investigation in secondary armament of double purpose caused that the Bismarck had separated anti-ship and anti-aircraft artillery, rendering her unnecesarily large.

The lack of investigation caused as well that the German armor did not surpass the American or British counterparts. Her conning tower, in theory protected against projectiles fired from battleships, was destroyed by a 203-millimeter projectile at the beginning of the last confrontation. Besides, too many German projectiles did not explode. Only one, which hit the Prince of Wales, actually exploded. Still, the design had positive traits. Fire control was excellent in general, specially regarding anti-aircraft artillery. She had been fitted as well with radar for navigation, localization and artillery. Besides, a notable operational range rendered the Bismarck as a fearsome long-range weapon. She was actually extremely difficult to sink, but this trait can lose importance given how easy was to put her out of action. She did not sink until the crew exploded the hull with specially disposed charges and the Dorsetshire launched torpedoes against her. On the other hand, the Tirpitz was very similar to the Bismarck, from which she differentiated mainly for having larger operational range and different cranes and mainmast. She resulted severely damaged by British midget submarines the 22nd September 1943 and never was adequately repaired. She survived to several attacks to finally being sunk near Tromso by the 5.6-ton bombs that fell over her.

Bismarck and Prinz Eugen

The Bismarck as she was just before her last mission. She has installed the fire control system and artillery radar. The camouflage pattern was painted in the early 1941 and it was replaced in May of the same year by a totally grey scheme.

Class: Bismarck (Bismarck and Tirpitz)

Built in: Blohm und Voss Shipyards, Hamburg

Authorized: 1935

Keel laid: 1 July 1936

Launched: 14 February 1939

Completed: 24 August 1940

Fate: Sunk the 27th May 1941

Length (in waterline): 241.5 meters

Length (total): 251 meters

Beam: 36 meters

Draught: 9 meters

Displacement (standard): 42344 tonnes

Displacement (normal): 45951 tonnes

Displacement (full load): 50996 tonnes

Engines: Twelve Wagner boilers; Blohm und Voss steam turbines of simple reduction; three propellers

Power (total): 150170 shaft horsepower

Fuel load: 7461 tonnes

Speed (maximum): 30.1 knots

Operational range: 9280 nautical miles at 16 knots

Armor: 145-323 millimeters in main belt; 50 millimeters in upper deck; 30 millimeters in main deck; 80-120 millimeters in armored deck; 130-360 millimeters in main turrets; 220 millimeters in barbettes; 20-100 millimeters in secondary turrets

Armament: Eight 380-millimeter 47-caliber cannons (4 x 2); twelve 150-millimeter 55-caliber cannons (6 x 2); sixteen 105-millimeter 65-caliber anti-aircraft cannons (8 x 2); sixteen 37 millimeters anti-aircraft cannons (8 x 2); twelve 20-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons (12 x 1); six reconnaissance aircraft

Complement: 2092



Service history

April-May 1941: In the Baltic.

18 May 1941: Navigation along with the Priz Eugen in the Operation Rheinubung.

23 May 1941: Sighted by the British heavy cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk.

24 May 1941: Battle of Denmark Strait; sinks the Hood and mildly damages the Prince of Wales, which in turn hits the Bismarck thrice; the Prinz Eugen leaves and the Bismarck is hit by a torpedo launched by an aircraft from the aircraft carrier Victorious, causing mild damages; finally manages to escape from the prosecutors.

26-27 May 1941: Nocturnal attack from British destroyers which caused no damage.

27 May 1941: Attacked by the British battleships King George V and Rodney; sunk by torpedoes from the British cruiser Dorsetshire.



Prinz Eugen

Until 1935 the Versailles Treaty had limited the German warship construction, but that same year the Anglo-German Naval Treaty allowed Germany to build up to a 35 percent of the total tonnage of the British Navy, hence allowing to build up to five cruisers. Consequently were laid down the keels for the cruisers of the Admiral Hipper class. But since Germany was more interested in building powerful ships than in respecting the conditions of an international treaty, these ships considerably exceeded the limit of 10160 tonnes set. The initial projects had started already in 1934 parallely with the plans for the Bismarck class. They were specifically destined to counteract the French heavy cruisers and prevent the supplies by sea from North Africa to France.

In respect of the first ships, Admiral Hipper and Blucher, the Prinz Eugen had a slightly longer hull and she was completed with four anti-aircraft fire directors, crowned funnel and clipper bow. All the ships of the class had a bulging hull fitted with bow sonar and they were fitted as well with powerful torpedo armament. They were projected when the majority of countries had stopped the construction of cruisers armed with 203-millimeter cannons. In many regards they were superior to the earlier projects. Undoubtedly they were better than the first French cruisers from the Washington Treaty but they would have faced difficulties against the French Algerie class, smaller but better armored, and they were definitely inferior to the American Baltimore class, which carried heavier armament and thicker armor, as well as more aircraft. A poor characteristic of the project was the relatively short operational range, which along the unrealiable machinery supposed a great disadvantage in the utilization against the mercantile convoys, despite the extensive system of petrol deposits that the Germans built in the Atlantic. Apart from this, they were very well adapted to operate on their own with their powerful main battery and a very well controlled anti-aircraft armament.

After the signing of the Russo-German Pact in 1939 it was proposed to Russia to exchange the three last ships of the class (which were still incomplete) for raw materials. However only the Lutzow, which was the one farther from completion, was transferred. The Prinz Eugen was completed as she had been projected and it was proposed to reconvert the Seydlitz into an aircraft carrier. Germany had already launched the Graf Zeppelin of 23570 tonnes of standard displacement and laid the keel of her twin, but it had not been appreciated the vital importance of an integral air force in the sea, so the construction continued in an intermittent way. When the loss of the Bismarck made clear the importance of a maritime air force, were retaken the works in the Graf Zeppelin and the Seydlitz started her transformation. However, the Allies already had a too large superiority in the sea and none of them was completed. The Admiral Hipper took part in operations in Norway and in the Atlantic and she remained in the Baltic from 1944. In the last days of the war in Europe she was damaged during an air attack and subsequently sunk by her own crew, whereas the Blucher had been sunk in the fjord of Oslo by the Norwegian coastal artillery in so early date as April 1940. Neither the Lutzow nor the Seydlitz (whose hull was rescued by the Russians) were completed and both were later scrapped.

Bismarck and Prinz Eugen

The Prinz Eugen as she was in 1941-1942 with stripped camouflage scheme, an Arado 196 aircraft and the extra anti-aircraft cannons installed in February 1942. Like the Bismarck, the Prinz Eugen had a swastika painted in the forecastle for the purpose of aerial reconnaissance.

Class: Admiral Hipper (Admiral Hipper, Blucher and Prinz Eugen)

Built in: Germania Shipyards, Kiel

Authorized: 1936

Keel laid: 1936

Launched: 22 August 1938

Completed: 1 August 1940

Fate: Sunk the 22nd December 1947

Length (in waterline): 199.5 meters

Length (total): 210.4 meters

Beam: 21.9 meters

Draught: 7.9 meters

Displacement (standard): 14707 tonnes

Displacement (normal): 16490 tonnes

Displacement (full load): 18694 tonnes

Engines: Twelve Wagner boilers; Brown-Boveri steam turbines of simple reduction; three propellers

Power (total): 132000 shaft horsepower

Fuel load: 4320 tonnes

Speed (maximum): 33.4 knots

Operational range: 6500 nautical miles at 18 knots

Armor: 70-80 millimeters in main belt; 12-30 millimeters in upper deck; 20-50 millimeters in armored deck; 70-105 millimeters in main turrets

Armament: Eight 203-millimeter cannons (4 x 2); twelve 105-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons (6 x 2); eighteen 40-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons (in 1945); twelve 37-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons, later removed; eight 20-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons, later increased to twenty-eight; twelve 533-millimeter torpedo tubes (4 x 3); three reconnaissance aircraft

Complement: 1600



Service history

August-December 1939: Negotiations for being sold to Russia.

1-2 July 1940: Hit by two bombs.

23 April 1941: Damaged by a mine.

18 May 1941: Navigates along with the Bismarck.

23 May 1941: Prosecuted by the British heavy cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk; the Prinz Eugen places herself before the Bismarck.

1 June 1941 - 11 February 1942: In Brest.

11-13 February 1942: In the English Channel along with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau; causes damages to the British destroyer Worcester.

21-23 February 1942: Towards Norway.

23 February 1942: Hit by a torpedo launched from the British submarine Trident, which caused severe damages in the stern.

February-March 1942: Emergency reparations in Norway.

May-October 1942: Definitive reparations in Kiel; installation of a new stern.

May 1943 - May 1944: In the School Fleet.

June 1944 - April 1945: Gives land support during the operations in the Baltic.

April 1945: Towards Copenhagen.

4 May 1945: Surrender in Copenhagen.

13 December 1945: Transferred to United States.

January 1946: Towards United States.

17 June 1946: Used as target ship for nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll.

22 December 1947: Sunk in Kwajalein Atoll.



Categories: Ships, World War Two, 20th Century

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-10-21




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