World War II: Bismarck

German Battleship Bismarck
Bismarck. Public Domain

Bismarck - Nationality & Construction:

  • Nation: Nazi Germany
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
  • Laid Down: July 1, 1936
  • Launched: February 14, 1939
  • Commissioned: August 24, 1940
  • Fate: Sunk in action, May 27, 1941

Bismarck - General Characteristics:

  • Displacement: 45,451 tonnes
  • Length: 450.5m
  • Beam (Width): 36m
  • Draft:: 9.3-10.2m
  • Propulsion: 12 High-pressure Wagner boilers powering 3 Blohm & Voss geared turbines at 150,170 horsepower
  • Speed: 30.8 knots
  • Range: 8,525 nautical miles at 19 knots, 4,500 nautical miles at 28 knots
  • Complement: 2,092: 103 officers, 1,989 enlisted

Bismarck - Armament:


  • 8×380 mm/L48.5 SK-C/34 (4 turrents with 2 guns each)
  • 12×150 mm/L55 SK-C/28
  • 16×105 mm/L65 SK-C/37 / SK-C/33
  • 16×37 mm/L83 SK-C/30
  • 12×20 mm/L65 MG C/30 (Single)
  • 8×20 mm/L65 MG C/38 (Quadruple)


  • 4× Arado Ar 196 A-3 seaplanes, using 1 double-ended catapult

Bismarck - Design & Construction:

In 1932, German naval leaders requested a series of battleship designs intended to fit within the 35,000 ton limit imposed on leading maritime nations by the Washington Naval Treaty.  Initial work began on what became the Bismarck-class the following year.  In 1935, the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement accelerated German efforts and bound the Kriegsmarine to the Washington Naval Treaty tonnage restrictions.  Design work moved forward with debates ensuing over the caliber of the main battery, type of propulsion system, and thickness of the armor.

  These were further complicated in 1937 with the departure of Japan from the treaty system and implementation of an escalator clause that increased the tonnage limit to 42,000 tons.

The final design for the Bismarck-class called for a vessel mounting eight 15" (380 mm) guns in four twin turrets with a secondary battery of twelve 5.9" (150 mm) guns.

  Propulsion came from geared turbine engines turning three propellers.  Ordered under the name Ersatz Hannover, Bismarck was laid down at Blohn & Voss in Hamburg on July 1, 1936.  Sliding down the ways on February 14, 1939, the new battleship was sponsored by Dorothee von Löwenfeld, granddaughter of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.  

Bismarck - Early Career:

Commissioned in August 1940, the German Kriegsmarine envisioned using Bismarck as a raider to attack British convoys in the North Atlantic during World War II. With its 15" guns, the battleship would be able to attack from a distance, inflicting maximum damage while placing itself at minimal risk. Sailing in tandem with the cruiser Prinz Eugen, Bismarck departed Norway on May 22, 1941, and headed towards the shipping lanes. Aware of Bismarck's departure, the British Royal Navy had begun moving ships to intercept. Steering north and west, Bismarck headed for the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland.

Bismarck - Battle of the Denmark Straight:

Entering the strait, Bismarck was detected by the cruisers HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk which called for reinforcements. Responding were the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood.

The two intercepted the Germans at the south end of the strait on the morning of May 24. Less than 10 minutes after the ships opened fire, Hood was struck in one of its magazines causing an explosion that blew the ship in half. Unable to take on both German ships alone, Prince of Wales broke off the fight. During the battle, Bismarck was hit in a fuel tank, causing a leak and forcing a reduction in speed.

Sink the Bismarck!:

Unable to continue with his mission, Adm. Günther Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to continue on while he turned the leaking Bismarck toward France. On the night of May 24, aircraft from the carrier HMS Victorious attacked with little effect. Two days later aircraft from HMS Ark Royal scored a hit, jamming Bismarck's rudder. Unable to manuever, the ship was forced to steam in a slow circle while awaiting the arrival of the British battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.

They were sighted the following morning and Bismarck's final battle commenced.

Assisted by the heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and Norfolk, the two British battleships pummeled the stricken Bismarck, knocking its guns out of action and killing most of the senior officers on board. After 30 minutes, the cruisers attacked with torpedoes. Unable to resist further, Bismarck's crew scuttled the ship to prevent its capture. British ships raced in to pick up the survivors and rescued 110 before a U-boat alarm forced them to leave the area. Close to 2,000 German sailors were lost.