Unsinkable Bismarck - The truth?

I ve read that both “Graf Spee” and “Bismarck” were scuttled by their crews after getting hit by numerous british ships. But amazingly none of these pocket battleshpis were in a sinking stage. It was mentioned that crews of these ships scuttled the ships in order to save the building secrets! On the other hand british battle cruiser “Hood” simply exploded and broken in half and went under Bismarck’s salvos…

Did german knew a technologically advanced way of builiding ships that other nations are not aware of at that time? If so , is that technology is available for the current ship builders?

It wasn’t that the Germans were any more advanced, but that they were better. The Hood exploded because of a weak spot in its armor – basically a hole that the shipbuilders were depending that no shell would hit. One did, and the ship went up.

But you don’t have to be particularly more advanced to decide to cover up the weak spots.

While the Graf Spee was a “pocket battleship” and was scuttled just outside the Montevideo harbor, the Bismarck was a full fledged battleship and was sunk by the British.

It was mostly a matter of cost. Germany didn’t have very many ships, but tey had good engineers and gave the Bismark thick, well-placed armor.

That, and very, very good water-tight compartmentation.

Ooh… a nit… picks at it

The weak spot in the HMS Hood’s armor, IIRC, was the entire deck of the ship. Basically, the Hood was a Battlecruiser, a ship that epitomized “Fly like a butterfly, sting like a sledgehammer”. She had the displacement and firepower of a Ship of the Line, but the armor protection of a cruiser, the intention being that she could be used for high-speed hit-and-run attacks against slower targets.

Only problem is, if a Battlecruiser finds herself trading broadsides with a Battleship (or goodness forbid, one of the “Superbattleships” that came about in WWII) then she’ll find herself blown out of the water. This happened to the British at the Battle of Jutland in WWI, and it happened to them with the HMS Hood in WWII. IIRC, they had originally planned for the Hood to be sailing towards the Bismark, instead of paralel, so as to provide a smaller target, but ended up showing their broadside instead. Only took one good shot and she was done.

By the end of WWII, I seem to recall that they had stopped building Battlecruisers in favor of Large Cruisers (basically a big, heavily armed cruiser) and Fast Battleships (Which got their extra speed basically by stripping the armor from non-essential places, ie: Everywhere but the engines, magazines, and guns, while protecting all the important stuff)

And on the subject of who sank the Bismark, I seem to recall some German sailors saying the ship was going to sink, it had taken that much damage, but it would have taken a much longer time, so they finished the job themselves to prevent the British from learning anything from the ship.

IIRC, British ships were designed for a naval empire, where they would be expected to sail super long distances, spending long periods in foreign waters defending British interests (which, well, were pretty much everywhere at the time) while the German navy had no such obligations. So the Brits had relatively roomy ships built for speed and crew comfort (since they’d be crammed in the ships for a very long time) and the Germans built theirs for high-survivability at the sacrifice of crew comfort and speed.

One other point: After the battle, the Bismarck was later crippled by what basically amounted to a crop duster, having scored a lucky shot to the rudder. I don’t think anyone at the time realized that Bismarck, Prinz Eugen/Hood, Prince of Wales battle was a battle between dinosaurs (although I think Prinz Eugen was actually a cruiser), regardless of the armor. The day of the battleship as the main line of battle ship was practically over.

While crew comfort was a factor, cost was a more important factor. High levels of compartmentalization costs a lot of money. The UK had a large fleet to cover their far-flung empire, and any reasonable cost saving measures were employed (such as the battle cruiser concept - all the ‘bang’ of a Dreadnaught, but at a reduced initial and operational cost). The Germans, however, had a rather small capital fleet, and thus had to protect those assets they had in all manners possible. When you can’t afford many major unit losses, you’ll pay the price for superior damage control even if it means slower building and increased per-unit cost.

IIRC, part of what enabled this was that the German’s automated anti-aircraft fire control system simply could not deal with the very slow speed of the Farley Swordfish torpedo bombers - It kept leading the aircraft by too much, and missing.

Heh, so to borrow the dinosaur analogy from earlier in the thread, the Dinosaur was crippled by a Pterasaur?

This is what I heard too. Who would have possibly thought a Swordfish torpedo plane (essentially a WWI holdover) would be sent against a ship-of-the-line like the Bismarck and stand a chance? Like you said the sighting systems to aim the antiaircraft guns assumed faster planes…no modern plane of that era could fly as slow as the Swordfish and still actually be flying (it’d be stalling). Add to that the Swordfish got off the perfect shot hitting Bismarck where it mattered most and it was all over before it had barely begun.

The Hood did indeed have weak deck armor but I do not think anyone mentioned that the plunging shot that went through it hit an ammo storage bunker causing the ship to literally explode. IIRC only 3 people survived the sinking of the Hood. Again it was a helluva shot. While the Hood was really no match for the Bismarck even the Bismarck crew was surprised atthe Hood’s total destruction so quickly. I believe the Hood was actually due for a refit around that time (or shortly afterwards) that would have, among other things, beefed up the deck armor.

Battlecruisers were good on paper but never really lived up to their promise. The idea was they could waste most anything on the seas and run away from the few things (pretty much battleships) that could waste them back. Unfortunately, from what I have read, admirals of the time kept viewing them more like battleships and thus placed them in positions they probably shouldn’t have been in.

Also mentioned earlier was the the Graf Spee in the same sentence as the Bismarck. It was already pointed out but bears rerpeating that the Graf Spee was a packet battleship and the Bismarck was a full blown battleship. What needs clarity is the HUGE difference between the two types of ships. Do not let the word “battleship” fool you into thinking they were in the same class. Bismarck was on the order of 3-4x as big as the Graf Spee. Huge difference between the two.

Do not minimize the importance of the battleship in WWII. Yes, the airplane showed how vulnerable such monsters were to gnats but the battleship still was a very feared opponent. Just look at how ape s**t the British went going after Bismarck. I forget the total order of battle but the British threw what seems like the better part of the Atlantic fleet to chase down Bismarck…it was just too scary a ship to leave out there. Further, the battleship played a vital role in the Pacific as an artillery platform to support marine landings as well as a very good floating hospital as well as a floating machine shop. By no means were they worthless boats. IIRC even in the Vietnam (Korean?) war we once got the Vietnamese (or Koreans) to the negotiating table by parking two battleships offshore of them. They all of a sudden were willing to talk but ONLY if the battleships were withdrawn. In the first Desert Storm Iraqi’s surrendered to an unmanned spy plane. They knew the spy plane was used as a spotter for the battleship’s guns and those guns were so feared they actually surrendered to what amounted to little more than a model airplane.

Perhaps the battleship has no place in the modern world but it certainly was not a useless ship.

More or less, yeah.

Understanding, of course, that the Bismark wasn’t yet a dinosaur, just fast on the way to becoming one.
One lesson from this is that obsolescent =! obsolete. Elderly, outdated platforms can still do serious damage, if they’re used intelligently and courageously.

The Graf Spee was a heavily armed and armored ship somewhere between a battleship and a heavy cruiser. She carried 11 in. guns. In the original battle she was fighting a British heavy cruiser, the Exeter with 8 in. guns and two light cruisers (one was Ajax and I don’t remember the other) with 6 in. guns.

The Exeter was set afire fairly early on and the battle then was against the two 6 in. gun cruisers. Graf Spee’s guns outranged the British by quite a margin and she could have stood off and destroyed them without a lot of trouble. She didn’t do that and was finally forced to take refuge in Montevideao, Uraguay. By the time the Uraguay government forced her to leave quite a British force awaited, including the battleship Barham, and she was scuttled rather than go out and be sunk. Graf Spee was far from a super ship and in fact was most valuable as a commerce raider. In a formal naval battle with battleships involved she would have really been just a heavier than heavy cruiser.

If a battleship was prepared for battle, with all it’s compartments sealed and watertight doors closed- it was almsot impossible to sink. When you read about battleships being sunk easily, they were almost always caught by suprise- such as at Pearl harbor. This goes for just about all the “modern” Dreadnaughts- but yes, the germans took this to an extreme.

The Graf Spee used up most of her ammo in that battle, and the Captain really thought there were major British forces waiting just outside.

Even at Pearl Harbor, the battleships that were able to get their AA guns into the fight held their own to varying degrees. Where their troubles got really bad was when they’d loose fire coordination, ie: when the gunnery officer would get killed or they’d loose communcations between the gunners due to battle damage. Once they stopped coordinating their fire with eachother, the AA became increasingly ineffective against their attackers.

This was before they refitted the battleships later on in the war to become floating AA platforms bristling with .50 calibre, 20mm, 40mm, and 5 inch guns capable of building a wall of steel in any direction they wanted (Except, in the case of the Iowa class battleships, straight ahead :smack: )

Nowadays, when you can cram anti-ship missiles onto something as small as a fighter jet and hit the enemy from hundreds of miles away from your fleet, the raw firepower of a battleship just isn’t valid to the battlefield, just as the introduction of the powered turret and steam engine made ships with hundred-gun broadsides unnecessary.

So you’re saying it was a type of Batship. :smiley:

There’s been some debate over the fate of the Bismarck. The British claimed they sunk it, and the Germans claimed they scuttled it. Ballard (the same guy who found the Titanic) found evidence to support the German claim but I don’t believe that the research team ever came out and claimed that it was certain that the ship was scuttled. There’s also some evidence that even if they did scuttle the ship, there’s a good chance it was going to sink anyway, just not as fast.

This is only tangetial to the thread, but here is a link to the Virtual Tour site of the HMS Belfast. She’s the last of the WWII cruisers and is currently moored on the south bank of the Thames near the Tower Bridge.


From here

and From HMS Hood .com

(bolding and underlining mine)

Both statements may be literally true - A slowly sinking ship sped to the bottom by scuttling, or a scuttled ship sped to the bottome by guns and torpedoes.

The exact sequence of events will likely never be known.