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HMS Nelson vs Bismarck

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Based solely on their design, armor, firepower and speed, as of 1941, which do you believe is the more powerful battleship?

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Circumstances rule; Bismarck has the speed to control the engagement range, but Rodney’s guns did hideous work on Bismarck when she got close.

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Bismarck was a flawed battleship, while Nelson got the appropriate correction in the late 30's. Bismarck could run away, but if forced to engage Nelson would have shred it.

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Bismarck penetrates Nelson at your average Atlantic engagement range, if Nelson does the same is up to debate due to how complex decapping is. Assuming that the cap never leaves the shell body Nelson will struggle to penetrate the vitals at the engagement ranges that would be expected (and which Bismarck would also try and keep, against the Nelson-class that would be 12-16km).

Nelson hits harder, but Bismarck is more likely to survive the hits. What remains is the question who would hit more shells. The only data on that question that I have access to is a German estimation from 1940ish, in which they conclude that at a range of around 15km Bismarck would land ~20% more shells than Nelson would on her.

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As great a ship the Nelson was I believe in a one on one duel the Bismarck triumphs. However, the German BB  would likely suffer heavy damage in the process. 

If the Bismarck could hold distance and speed, it could, possibly, kite the Nelson.

Though the specific captains could play a massive role in the fight, as well. 

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Going by the fact that HMS Rodney limped into the battle against Bismarck, then that presents a problem: those Nelson-class Battleships were very old and in dire need of an overhaul.  Much like HMS Hood and we all know how that went.  In this case, I give it to Bismarck because she was brand-spanking new.  HMS Rodney's engines could have failed just trying to reach the crippled Bismarck given the engineers had to push the boilers over the edge.

Then you have the problem of role, the Kriegsmarine were using Bismarck as a commerce raiders, which means she'd run away at the first sight of those 16" guns, and the Nelson's couldn't catch her.  This means the Nelson class would have no "power" over the Bismarcks in trying to engage one.  Really, the Royal Navy just used HMS Rodney's as Bismarck's executioner with her 16" guns and 24.5-inch torpedoes.  An executioner may have impressive weapons, but they aren't fit for frontline battle.

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Speed makes no difference tactically.  Once one is in range of the other, both are in range.  The Bismarck's higher speed is only valuable for running away from a fight, not getting into it.

Armor.  Both are well protected, but I'd bet the Bismarck would take far more of a pounding than Nelson.

Nelson has an advantage in firepower.  One more tube and 16" guns makes a difference.

I'd say in a one-on-one (almost zero chance of it happening as the RN, like the USN, recognized that you don't operate battleships singularly), it really comes down to who puts the first hurt on the other.  History shows that the side / ship that gets smacked hard first almost always loses the fight when it comes to WW 2 naval warfare.

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The Nelson and Bismarck are both armed heavily enough that I'd say the winner of that engagement would be the first one to get a good hit in. The difference would be that the Bismarck's armor scheme would probably protect her engineering spaces (barring a golden torpedo that jams the rudder :Smile_trollface:) such that she could disengage even after all her teeth have been knocked out while the Nelson is a sitting duck if the Bisquick gets the drop on her.

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12 minutes ago, Murotsu said:

Speed makes no difference tactically. 

I disagree.  If HMS Rodney's engines failed during combat and the ship came to a stop, she'd be at a massive disadvantage.

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It's an interesting confrontation, and the matchup is far from lopsided. That being said I'd be inclined to favor Bismarck, as she's simply a much more modern (laid down 14 years later), and larger (by about 9,000 tons), combatant.

 


Guns on Armor:

Nelson is no slouch in raw armor thickness, with a well-protected citadel. Her main armor belt is 356mm abreast the magazines and inclined at 18º, with a 159mm thick armor deck. The armor deck could resist the German 38cm shells out to almost 35,000 yards, so effectively this makes the magazine deck immune to German fire. The main armor belt should only be penetrable, with a flat broadside, at ranges of less than 24,000 yards. The machinery section is thinner in protection - 330mm at the same incline with a 95mm deck, you're looking at roughly 26,000 yards for the armor belt to be penetrated and 27,000 yards for the deck armor. Turret barbettes are 381mm on the beam (within 26,000 yards for penetration), while the turrets have a 406mm thick face (24,000 yards or less) and a 184mm thick roof (immune at practical combat ranges).

Nelson has quite good protection around her magazines & main battery in general, and has a rather wide immune zone in that area. Staying outside of 24-26k yards keeps her fairly safe, since her deck armor and turret roofs are too thick for Bismarck to penetrate at any practical combat range. However, this sort of falls apart as you move aft. Her machinery protection is significantly less (namely in terms of deck armor), leaving her with a narrow 'immune zone' in the range of 1,000 to 2,000 yards. Furthermore, her secondary battery forms a massive vulnerability with what amounts to splinter protection over the turrets and barbettes (25mm), and nothing in the way of protection for the 152mm magazines.

As long as Nelson deals with Bismarck from a forward angle, she's 'ok', but the rear half of the ship is quite vulnerable, and the exposed secondary battery is the ship's Achilles heel -unlikely to sink it, but well-positioned to cripple it.

On the other hand, we have an aggravatingly complicated situation of what happens when Nelson fires at Bismarck - namely, because no one agrees on the performance of Nelson's guns, and Bismarck's armor scheme is complicated.

That being said, Bismarck's protection varies against these guns. The 320mm armor belt could be penetrated anywhere from under 20,000 yards to 31,000 yards, depending on the source (I tend to find the latter doubtful given the shell mass and velocity). That being said, unless Bismarck is caught on a bad roll with shipping thousands of tons of water (as in her final action), Nelson shouldn't be able to penetrate her turtleback armor. That being said, Bismarck's deck armor is far from great, and although her 145mm upper belt and 50mm upper deck should guarantee that any 406mm shell impacting it is already decapped, homogenous deck armor doesn't have the same shatter affect as FH or Cemented armor does on shell bodies, and the 50mm deck armor will likely yaw the shell down and help normalize angle of impact, which is a disadvantage. Range against machinery might be 24-25,000, and again magazines, 30,000 yards? I'm not sure. Bismarck's barbettes could be penetrated anywhere from between 15-20k yards, our out to 29k yards, depending on the source, and turret faces at 15,000 or 27,000 yards, again, depending on the source (navweaps page of the guns vs FACEHARD tables). The sloping turret roof, though, is vulnerable at any range.


In pure guns on armor, Bismarck is facing her classic dilemma - her citadel is very protected, but the citadel is a very small volume, and the rest of the ship is quite vulnerable to battleship fire. Given the FACEHARD tables seem to severely over-credit Nelson's guns, it's probably safe to say Bismarck's armor belt and turret faces offer decent protection, although the turret slopes remain a major issue. Nelson, on the other hand, is quite vulnerable to Bismarck's fire. Given that any confrontation is in the Atlantic or North Sea, it's very likely the fight will boil down to close range, easily 24,000 yards or less (Hood was fatally struck at 14,000 to 15,000 yards), where Nelson's armor deck doesn't help her, and nor does her main battery armor. Granted, Bismarck is quite vulnerable across most of her hull as well, which means she's easily vulnerable to the type of damage that disabled her in her final action. That being said, Nelson is arguable worse off since her citadel can be penetrated. 


 

Guns and Gunlaying:

In terms of the shell performance - regardless of penetrative performance, Nelson is still slinging heavier shells (929 kg vs 800 kg), and ones with greater explosive mass - 23.2 kg of TNT versus 18.8 kg. Any given hit Nelson scores is easily liable to do more damage.

In terms of rate of fire, Bismarck's guns easily surpass Nelson's in this regard. Bismarck's minimum rate of fire is one round every 26 seconds, or 2.3 rpm (not 20 sec/3 rpm as Navweaps mistakenly states). That being said, this pushes the shell hoists to their limit and is very inadvisable, as it almost certainly would result in a breakdown that would force the turret offline until repaired. Still, the guns should be good for your typical 30-second firing cycle, and since salvo fire is usually slower anyways, I'd expect a steady rate of fire. In contrast, Nelson isn't really competing. Theoretically, a 50 second/1.2 rpm RoF should have been possible, but in practice it's more like ~1 rpm, and as a result salvo fire rate was rather slow even at close ranges. The guns were also rather failure-prone - for example, at the final battle of Bismarck,  Rodney had a failure rate in the order of 23 to 38% - about a quarter to a third of all rounds failed to fire. Whereas we might expect Bismarck to output 60-80 rounds over 5 minutes... Rodney is more looking at 40 to 54 rounds.

In terms of fire control, as a system Bismarck likely has an edge. Nelson suffered from the classic British weakness of a too-small director rangefinder (15-ft iirc), hampering gunnery, while Bismarck enjoys a much larger and more accurate 10.5-meter rangefinder in her director. Her fire control computer is more modern (C/38S vs AFCT Mk.I), and she has RPC for her gun elevation, while Nelson lacks any RPC. Both have radar capable of getting reasonably accurate range information on the enemy, but neither is accurate enough in bearing for anything approaching blindfire. 


 

Conclusion:

Even putting aside the superior speed of Bismarck - she carries far too many advantages in this fight. She is plenty vulnerable to Nelson's 16" guns, but not in a fatal manner - the opposite isn't really true. Her shell output is significantly greater than Nelson, and her fire control is likely to see her scoring hits sooner and, as a consequence of the higher rate of fire, more frequently. Bismarck simply is the superior warship.

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Nelson, because the Royal Navy will bring its might to the fight that the Kriegsmarine will lack the capability in contesting.

 

It's like the Yamato vs Iowa threads.  It wouldn't matter, because the USN by the time Iowa-class entered service, entered the Pacific, was a gigantic juggernaut that would bury the IJN.

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4 hours ago, Royeaux said:

I disagree.  If HMS Rodney's engines failed during combat and the ship came to a stop, she'd be at a massive disadvantage.

I was using the criteria of the OP:  Guns, armor, and propulsion.  Ship's material state, fire control, etc., were not being included-- just the basics.

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3 minutes ago, Murotsu said:

I was using the criteria of the OP:  Guns, armor, and propulsion.  Ship's material state, fire control, etc., were not being included-- just the basics.

Rereading the OP, I see I was wrong.

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I see no reason it would go any differently than the "duel" between HMS Rodney and Gneisenau.

Well... minus the bold-faced "I am ze HMS Emerald" lie.

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On 6/21/2019 at 11:04 AM, Phoenix_jz said:

It's an interesting confrontation, and the matchup is far from lopsided. That being said I'd be inclined to favor Bismarck, as she's simply a much more modern (laid down 14 years later), and larger (by about 9,000 tons), combatant.

 


Guns on Armor:

Nelson is no slouch in raw armor thickness, with a well-protected citadel. Her main armor belt is 356mm abreast the magazines and inclined at 18º, with a 159mm thick armor deck. The armor deck could resist the German 38cm shells out to almost 35,000 yards, so effectively this makes the magazine deck immune to German fire. The main armor belt should only be penetrable, with a flat broadside, at ranges of less than 24,000 yards. The machinery section is thinner in protection - 330mm at the same incline with a 95mm deck, you're looking at roughly 26,000 yards for the armor belt to be penetrated and 27,000 yards for the deck armor. Turret barbettes are 381mm on the beam (within 26,000 yards for penetration), while the turrets have a 406mm thick face (24,000 yards or less) and a 184mm thick roof (immune at practical combat ranges).

Nelson has quite good protection around her magazines & main battery in general, and has a rather wide immune zone in that area. Staying outside of 24-26k yards keeps her fairly safe, since her deck armor and turret roofs are too thick for Bismarck to penetrate at any practical combat range. However, this sort of falls apart as you move aft. Her machinery protection is significantly less (namely in terms of deck armor), leaving her with a narrow 'immune zone' in the range of 1,000 to 2,000 yards. Furthermore, her secondary battery forms a massive vulnerability with what amounts to splinter protection over the turrets and barbettes (25mm), and nothing in the way of protection for the 152mm magazines.

As long as Nelson deals with Bismarck from a forward angle, she's 'ok', but the rear half of the ship is quite vulnerable, and the exposed secondary battery is the ship's Achilles heel -unlikely to sink it, but well-positioned to cripple it.

On the other hand, we have an aggravatingly complicated situation of what happens when nelson fires at Bismarck - namely, because no one agrees on the performance of Nelson's guns, and Bismarck's armor scheme is complicated.

That being said, Bismarck's protection varies against these guns. The 320mm armor belt could be penetrated anywhere from under 20,000 yards to 31,000 yards, depending on the source (I tend to find the latter doubtful given the shell mass and velocity). That being said, unless Bismarck is caught on a bad roll with shipping thousands of tons of water (as in her final action), Nelson shouldn't be able to penetrate her turtleback armor. That being said, Bismarck's deck armor is far from great, and although her 145mm upper belt and 50mm upper deck should guarantee that any 406mm shell impacting it is already decapped, homogenous deck armor doesn't have the same shatter affect as FH or Cemented armor does on shell bodies, and the 50mm deck armor will likely yaw the shell down and help normalize angle of impact, which is a disadvantage. Range against machinery might be 24-25,000, and again magazines, 30,000 yards? I'm not sure. Bismarck's barbettes could be penetrated anywhere rom between 15-20k yards, our out to 29k yards, depending on the source, and turret faces at 15,000 or 27,000 yards, again, depending on the source (navweaps page of the guns vs FACEHARD tables). The sloping turret roof, though, is vulnerable at any range.


In pure guns on armor, Bismarck is facing her classic dilemma - her citadel is very protected, but the citadel is a very small volume, and the rest of the ship is quite vulnerable to battleship fire. Given the FACEHARD tables seem to severely over-credit Nelson's guns, it's probably safe to say Bismarck's armor belt and turret faces offer decent protection, although the turret slopes remain a major issue. Nelson, on the other hand, is quite vulnerable to Bismarck's fire. Given that any confrontation is in the Atlantic or North Sea, it's very likely the fight will boil down to close range, easily 24,000 yards or less (Hood was fatally struck at 14,000 to 15,000 yards), where Nelson's armor deck doesn't help her, and nor does her main battery armor. Granted, Bismarck is quite vulnerable across most of her hull as well, which means she's easily vulnerable to the type of damage that disabled her in her final action. That being said, Nelson is arguable worse off since her citadel can be penetrated. 


 

Guns and Gunlaying:

In terms of the shell performance - regardless of penetrative performance, Nelson is still slinging heavier shells (929 kg vs 800 kg), and ones with greater explosive mass - 23.2 kg of TNT versus 18.8 kg. Any given hit Nelson scores is easily liable to do more damage.

In terms of rate of fire, Bismarck's guns easily surpass Nelson's in this regard. Bismarck's minimum rate of fire is one round every 26 seconds, or 2.3 rpm (not 20 sec/3 rpm as Navweaps mistakenly states). That being said, this pushes the shell hoists to their limit and is very inadvisable, as it almost certainly would result in a breakdown that would force the turret offline until repaired. Still, the guns should be good for your typical 30-second firing cycle, and since salvo fire is usually slower anyways, I'd expect a steady rate of fire. In contrast, Nelson isn't really competing. Theoretically, a 50 second/1.2 rpm RoF should have been possible, but in practice it's more like ~1 rpm, and as a result salvo fire rate was rather slow even at close ranges. The guns were also rather failure-prone - for example, at the final battle of Bismarck,  Rodney had a failure rate in the order of 23 to 38% - about a quarter to a third of all rounds failed to fire. Whereas we might expect Bismarck to output 60-80 rounds over 5 minutes... Rodney is more looking at 40 to 54 rounds.

In terms of fire control, as a system Bismarck likely has an edge. Nelson suffered from the classic British weakness of a too-small director rangefinder (15-ft iirc), hampering gunnery, while Bismarck enjoys a much larger and more accurate 10.5-meter rangefinder in her director. Her fire control computer is more modern (C/38S vs AFCT Mk.I), and she has RPC for her gun elevation, while Nelson lacks any RPC. Both have radar capable of getting reasonably accurate range information on the enemy, but neither is accurate enough in bearing for anything approaching blindfire. 


 

Conclusion:

Even putting aside the superior speed of Bismarck - she carries far too many advantages in this fight. She is plenty vulnerable to Nelson's 16" guns, but not in a fatal manner - the opposite isn't really true. Her shell output is significantly greater than Nelson, and her fire control is likely to see her scoring hits sooner and, as a consequence of the higher rate of fire, more frequently. Bismarck simply is the superior warship.

@Phoenix_jz very nice breakdown and argument. Nice info on the rate of fire as well. Thanks for the well-writen thoughts, sir. :Smile_honoring:

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Just a opinion.

If at range where the Bismarck could use speed and maneuverability. I predict it would triumph. It would be the most likely to survive regardless. If the Nelson landed a early haymaker. I believe the Bismarck would disengage and run. I don't think the Nelson would have that option.

If it turns into a in close brawl. The tide would turn more into a pitched battle. probably the best chance the Nelson would have.

I have a feeling the  Bismarck would be like a young in prime boxer vs a older brawling Nelson. The Bismarck would dictate the fight.

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1 hour ago, Capt_Ahab1776 said:

If at range where the Bismarck could use speed and maneuverability.

That actually doomed the Bismarck in her final fight.  Captain Lindemann kept making small course adjustments in between incoming salvos in an attempt to dodge them, however this constantly threw off the aim of her guns and caused the Bismarck to fail to score a single hit.

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43 minutes ago, Royeaux said:

That actually doomed the Bismarck in her final fight.  Captain Lindemann kept making small course adjustments in between incoming salvos in an attempt to dodge them, however this constantly threw off the aim of her guns and caused the Bismarck to fail to score a single hit.

In that instance the crew of the Bismarck was under massive incoming fire from multiple ships. Capt. Lendemann was doing the best he could. More concerned about trying to becoming a harder target to hit than trying to sail steady to get a good shot off. He couldn't really do much maneuvering. They knew it was the end.

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On 6/21/2019 at 6:04 PM, Phoenix_jz said:

Given that any confrontation is in the Atlantic or North Sea, it's very likely the fight will boil down to close range, easily 24,000 yards or less (Hood was fatally struck at 14,000 to 15,000 yards)

And then one has to add on top that the German Naval Command suggested a 12-16km engagement range for a Bismarck class vs a Nelson class, so Bismarck would approach Nelson and Nelson is unlikely to turn away and run (and if she did, she‘d fare worse given the armor layout). The range would decrease rather quickly to the range where Bismarck can get crippled, but unlikely to eat fatal hits to machinery and magazines, while Nelson would be open for fatal hits at basically every place that matters.

On 6/21/2019 at 6:04 PM, Phoenix_jz said:

Bismarck's minimum rate of fire is one round every 26 seconds, or 2.3 rpm (not 20 sec/3 rpm as Navweaps mistakenly states). That being said, this pushes the shell hoists to their limit and is very inadvisable, as it almost certainly would result in a breakdown that would force the turret offline until repaired. Still, the guns should be good for your typical 30-second firing cycle, and since salvo fire is usually slower anyways, I'd expect a steady rate of fire

Don‘t forget Bismarck‘s WW2 version of a Main Battery Reload booster in the form of ready ammunition racks in every turret :p

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16 hours ago, BTed72 said:

@Phoenix_jz very nice breakdown and argument. Nice info on the rate of fire as well. Thanks for the well-writen thoughts, sir. :Smile_honoring:

The most detailed thing I have read in long time! 

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The thing about tjese types of scenario is nothing is ever 1v1 even Hood v Bismarck was Hood had other combantaints with them.

I wonder if people could put threads about how a task force v task fprce would fair?

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11 hours ago, jags_domain said:

The thing about tjese types of scenario is nothing is ever 1v1 even Hood v Bismarck was Hood had other combantaints with them.

I wonder if people could put threads about how a task force v task fprce would fair?

As someone who enjoys tabletop wargaming, I can confirm this.  Try as I might, it's extremely difficult to find battles that place both parties on a relatively equal footing.  Mostly, this is because ships are valuable assets with hundreds if not thousands of lives aboard.  Commanders were historically reluctant to force an engagement unless they had a decisive advantage, with the result being that the vast majority of engagements were incredibly lopsided.

The Royal Navy, in particular, knew they had enough ships to play the numbers game wherever and whenever they were able, and did so habitually.

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On 6/22/2019 at 3:00 PM, BTed72 said:

@Phoenix_jz very nice breakdown and argument. Nice info on the rate of fire as well. Thanks for the well-writen thoughts, sir. :Smile_honoring:

Thanks!

 

On 6/23/2019 at 12:10 AM, SireneRacker said:

And then one has to add on top that the German Naval Command suggested a 12-16km engagement range for a Bismarck class vs a Nelson class, so Bismarck would approach Nelson and Nelson is unlikely to turn away and run (and if she did, she‘d fare worse given the armor layout). The range would decrease rather quickly to the range where Bismarck can get crippled, but unlikely to eat fatal hits to machinery and magazines, while Nelson would be open for fatal hits at basically every place that matters.

Pretty much - if a Bismarck wants to come out and fight, there's precious little a Nelson is going to be able to do to stop it, and the closer the range, the more the fight favors Bismarck.

 

On 6/23/2019 at 12:10 AM, SireneRacker said:

Don‘t forget Bismarck‘s WW2 version of a Main Battery Reload booster in the form of ready ammunition racks in every turret :p

 

To a degree - since the propellant hoists can't managed more than 2.5 rpm, you have a 'hard' limit at a 2.5 rpm/24 sec reload, but that's still significantly better than what you'd have otherwise - the shell hoists can theoretically do 2.3 rpm, but that puts the system at great risk of failure, so you're unlikely to ever see such a rate of fire in combat unless it's coming from the ready racks - which was, iirc, 5 rounds per turret?

 

On 6/23/2019 at 10:02 AM, jags_domain said:

The thing about tjese types of scenario is nothing is ever 1v1 even Hood v Bismarck was Hood had other combantaints with them.

I wonder if people could put threads about how a task force v task fprce would fair?

If it's a scenario where task forces are involved... generally speaking the Royal Navy had more ships and a greater variety of options available, so I'd expect things to favor them. It would really depend on what bumps into what, though. Ex, a task force centered around King George V is probably going to stand up to a German TF with a Bismarck far better than one with Renown.

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The fact that a 14 year newer, 7,000t greater displacement battleship is even being compared to Nelson says something...

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