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Xenokkah

The Battle of Denmark Strait, May 24th 1941

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My favorite naval battle in history, by far. What caught my attention is how the Bismarck sunk the HMS Hood in a single shot. Today I'm going to go over the upsides and downsides for each side.

 

 

German Advantages:

Started off with full broadsides firing

Ships were more heavily armored

 

German Disadvantages:

Did not pursue Prince of Wales

Prinz Eugen and Bismarck later separated

 

British Advantages:

Had more guns

Had nearby reinforcements

 

British Disadvantages:

Less armored ships

HMS Hood sunk in one shot

Started off with only aft guns firing

Mistook the Prinz Eugen for the Bismarck

 

Now, going in depth.

I don't understand why the Germans didn't follow the Prince of Wales and finished her off. They would be hailed as heroes if they returned to Germany or Norway or something, and had every right to leave instead of continuing. That was the Admiral's problem.

 

If the Bismarck had stayed with the Prinz Eugen, it might've stood a chance later on. It would've been smarter, and they could do more damage, even though the Prinz Eugen only had an 8 inch cannon.

 

Now, for the British.

 

The British captain on the Hood mistook the Eugen for the Bismarck, and turned to fire. He also did not fire his full broadside. This would prove to be a fatal error, for if more guns were firing, the Bismarck would've taken more damage. He recognized his mistake, but less than five minutes later, his ship was sinking towards the bottom of the Denmark Strait. Their lack of armoring at the funnel caused the explosion. If it had armor like the Bismarck's, it would've stopped at around three decks down.

 

That's all.

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Ok..explain to me ..how the British were only firing thier aft guns at the Germans? I was under the impression that they are heading towards them. I mean if there aft guns are firing..then that mean all there guns should be able to? Or was that an error and you meant forward guns.

 

The Germans had the advantage of being able to fire full broadside at the approaching British.

 

Dont let that "one" shot get to your head...that was pure luck...yeah it was more of a Psychological Advantage over the British but it was more of a Disadvantage to the Germans. What it did was make it target number 1. Revenge is a very powerful desire...and they were to sink the Bismarck not matter the cost. Even if the Bismarck had managed to get to a French Port...she would have been the focus of Bomber Command.

 

Lets not forget that the Prince of Whales was having problems with her guns.

 

Lutjens orders were not to engage capital ships... "avoid engagements with equal or superior forces unless forced to by the enemy"....for the very reason the Bismarck now had to return to a friendly port. He even hesitated to order the attack until Captain Lindemann began to protest.

 

They should have gone after the Prince of Whales, but oh well.

Just like the two British Cruisers nearby should have joined in.

 

How the Prinz Eugen could have helped..is a interesting question...the only thing that she might have done was provide additional AA fire...which might have kept the Bismarck from getting hit, or taken the brunt of the air attack due to misidentification as in the earlier battle.

Edited by Tanz
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"Now, going in depth.

I don't understand why the Germans didn't follow the Prince of Wales and finished her off. They would be hailed as heroes if they returned to Germany or Norway or something, and had every right to leave instead of continuing. That was the Admiral's problem."

 

I enjoyed reading alot about these battles too...And read alot about this one..Its one of the most famous battleship fights ever.

 

You have to remember the Bismark's job was to out run battlehips and make into the shipping lanes...She was a hunter first... Her orders to cripple british shipping lanes and leave the battleships alone if she could.....And its the damage caused by the Hood and Prince of Wales is why she was finaly caught..Plus Germans didn't know it was the new untired Prince of Wales.....They thought it was the King George....And even know German comanders argued over wanting to chase them down...it was not her orders to do so...plus they knew they would take more hits doing it and plus torpedo attacked by the british support ships...Many factors they had to weight in.....Bismark got hurt alot more than most think.. flooded generator room and damaging the bulkhead to an adjoining boiler room, partially flooding it., bow damage cut access to the forward fuel tanks' 1,000 tons of fuel oil... It also caused Bismark to have a oil slick and reduced her speed by 2 kn.. So she had to turn around...And bismark would of made it safe just fine if it wasnt for that one lucky bi plane torpedo attack...It was pretty much bad luck....Bismarks anti aircraft auto tracking was a bit too fast for the slow moving bi planes.

 

Holland, captain of the Hood was a gunnery expert...He knew the Hood had weak deck armor...So he tried to close the gap and put himself in a spot where the Bismarks guns would be flatter and hit the side instead of going down into the deck.....And as for the Hood targeting the wrong ship...They first both targeted the wrong ships...but corrected....Holland is said to have changed the firing orders...But its still not total sure on every account...He did put his ship in a bad spot by targeting the wrong ship...So not all his guns would get on the Bismark after he changed targets...And im sure he didnt think his ship would go down that easy and would atleast take a hit....but even with a little extra armor...Who knows if she would of survived the hit...Cause even the retreating Prince of wales took a shot below the water line right on the armor belt...It went in over 13 feet into the hull....anti-torpedo bulkhead stopped it...And it was only by luck "or the grace of God" that it didnt explode and take her down too....I dont think any major mistakes was made...just the roll of the dice...Some times it works in your favor and against....This battle is he perfict exsample of that.

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View Post2nd_Lt_Cody, on 24 September 2012 - 01:02 AM, said:

It also didn't help the the Hood was a WW1 battlecruiser with a weakly armored deck.

Battlecruiser =/= Battleship

It's more that Hood is up against something that far exceeds her design specs. Hood is bigger than all WWI or interwar battleships and more heavily armored than most of them. But she was not designed around high velocity 15" or 16" opposition and it shows. If you look at an immunity zone chart, Hood had no immunity to Bismarck at all. It is entirely possible for the same fatal plunging hit to occur through the belt instead of the deck. At the range Hood was fatally hit, Bismarck can penetrate almost 17" of vertical armor, which is thicker than anything on the Hood; at 22,000m, the Bismarck could still penetrate either the thickest horizontal or thickest vertical armor on Hood.

Bismarck can Swiss Cheese Hood, and the British would not have known the specifics of this at the time. Hood is worse off at long range because her own guns are ineffective against most WWII-grade armor at that range, but getting in close does not help her all that much.

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The british went high risk sending in those 2 particular ships. The "Hood" was an outdated design in urgent need of modernisation (ironically the Bismarck's gun crews used to train in the Baltic with "Hood" being the imaginary target ship). "Prince of Wales" was so new, it's weapons weren't fully functional when she left port (right after the first salvo fired, one fwd gun malfunctioned and couldnt be repaired during the engagement).

On the german side Admiral Lütjens, was strangely cautious with his decisions, holding back fire permission for 3 long minutes after the engagement began. Finally, Captain Lindemann stated: "I'm not letting my ship get shot out from under my [edited]. Open fire!".

Lütjens didn't allow Lindemann to finish off the wounded Prince of Wales, after she turned away from the german ships. Probably because he was afraid of getting booted for not following the instruction of Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, who had told him that his main goals were to raid convoys and avoid encounters with enemy warships whenever possible.

Norfolk and Suffolk couldn't join the engagement, they were out of range and couldn't close in on Bismarck and Prinz Eugen fast enough to be able to help.

About the luck: A lot of successes and defeats in those days, were merely based on luck. Take Pearl Harbor, the US Navy was lucky the CVs weren't there that day. The "Swordfish" that dropped the torpedo that hit Bismarcks rudder, skillfull aiming or luck? (I doubt one could really aim for anything but general directions in these WWI style airplanes). The Catalina that respotted the Bismarck after the british pursuing force completely lost her, pure lucky coincident.

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View PostTanz, on 24 September 2012 - 03:18 AM, said:

Ok..explain to me ..how the British were only firing thier aft guns at the Germans? I was under the impression that they are heading towards them. I mean if there aft guns are firing..then that mean all there guns should be able to? Or was that an error and you meant forward guns.

The Germans had the advantage of being able to fire full broadside at the approaching British.

Dont let that "one" shot get to your head...that was pure luck...yeah it was more of a Psychological Advantage over the British but it was more of a Disadvantage to the Germans. What it did was make it target number 1. Revenge is a very powerful desire...and they were to sink the Bismarck not matter the cost. Even if the Bismarck had managed to get to a French Port...she would have been the focus of Bomber Command.

Lets not forget that the Prince of Whales was having problems with her guns.

Lutjens orders were not to engage capital ships... "avoid engagements with equal or superior forces unless forced to by the enemy"....for the very reason the Bismarck now had to return to a friendly port. He even hesitated to order the attack until Captain Lindemann began to protest.

They should have gone after the Prince of Whales, but oh well.
Just like the two British Cruisers nearby should have joined in.

How the Prinz Eugen could have helped..is a interesting question...the only thing that she might have done was provide additional AA fire...which might have kept the Bismarck from getting hit, or taken the brunt of the air attack due to misidentification as in the earlier battle.

The Hood AND the Prince of Wales did actually start the battle going straight towards the Bismarck, and they DID get to only fire their forward guns (Thank you for noticing my error!). The Wales still did have Civillian mechanics on board, and didn't really get a chance to test the ship's guns before they left port. The Prinz Eugen did only have eight inch cannons, but that AA fire could've saved the Bismarck. And the cannons could've done at least SOME damage...

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Eyewitnesses put the Hood in a turn to bring her full broadside to bear when she was hit and the wreck on the bottom the rudder is hard over so they figured that Holland started his turn.

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View PostXenokkah, on 24 September 2012 - 12:58 AM, said:

Now, going in depth.
I don't understand why the Germans didn't follow the Prince of Wales and finished her off. They would be hailed as heroes if they returned to Germany or Norway or something, and had every right to leave instead of continuing. That was the Admiral's problem.



You didn't add Lutjens to German Disadvantages.
He wasn't creative commander, he was the man that strictly obeyed orders and his orders were "avoid RN". so he didn't pressed after Prince of Wales.
After Bismarck's rudder had been damaged his responses to almost anything were "do what you want" - that's legendary and tells something about the man.

It's true that Bismarck was damaged in this battle and one important thing i can't see that anybody mentioned was partial damage of its fire control.

Anyway, i can't see any other result of this raid than Bismarck being sunk at the end, whether it got Prince of Wales first or not.
Edited by nixxxie
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View Postnixxxie, on 05 December 2012 - 08:42 PM, said:

It's true that Bismarck was damaged in this battle and one important thing i can't see that anybody mentioned was partial damage of its fire control.

Because the fire control was not dammaged. The Bismark used optical rangfinders and its FuMO 23 search radar set was damaged before hand with the breif engagement with HMS Norfolk and Suffolk from the concussion from the Bismark main guns, During the battle of the Denmark straight Prince of Wales only landed 3 hits "The first struck her in the forecastle above the waterline, but low enough to allow the crashing waves to enter the hull. The second shell struck below the armoured belt and exploded on contact with the torpedo bulkhead, inflicting minimal damage. The third shell passed through one of the boats carried aboard the ship and then went through the float plane catapult without exploding"

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Even if Bismark had not sank, she would have been just like her sister Tirpitz, Hidden and usless to the end.

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I think this is one thats been wargammed and simmed dozens if not hundreds of times, if the Hood and PoW got closer and it turned into a full on slugging match then its probable that the Hood would have been crippled and forced to withdraw and the PoW would have gone with but the Bismark would have probably been pounded into a wreck and either scuttled or sunk later.

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Its interesting reading some of the comments and replies on here. Fact of the matter is, Hood was sunk by a very lucky shot, Bismarck did not pursue Prince of Wales.

 

It was Admiral Holland, not Captain Holland who mistook Prinz Eugen for Bismarck, but I dont think it was a major mistake, nor would it have had any bearing on the outcome of the battle in my opinion. Hood was sunk at a range of 16,500 yards, whilst in the middle of a 20 degree turn to port which would have brought her aft guns to bear. The Royal Navy's heirarchy knew of Hoods achillies heel, and Holland had factored this in to his battle plans. the original intention was to engage Bismarck at around 3am, with Holland attacking from the South shrouded in darkness, and Bismarck lit up by early morning light on the horizon, which would have meant Bismarck would have been firing in to the dark, but Norfolk and Suffolk lost contact just after midnight and didnt reaquire until around 3am. during this time Hood was forced to turn on a southerly course to avoid falling behind the German group.

Bismarcks fire control radar was indeed knocked out when it opened fire on Norfolk which earlier had exited a fog bank suicidely close to Bismarck.

 

The original battle plan was for Hood and Prince of Wales to attack Bismarck from the South, while Norfolk and Suffolk attacked the trailing ship which was believed to be Prinz Eugen, but unbeknown to the British, Bismarck had changed places with Prinz Eugen during the night because of Bismarck's inactive radar.

 

Someone mentioned earlier that the probable outcome had the Hood not sunk would have been a slugging match, and quite frankly I would tend to agree. Bearing in mind it took nearly 2 hours of pounding by KGV and Rodney to actually sink the Bismarck, I would think it would have gotten very messy. Bismarck was definately outgunned (10 x 14inch and 8 x 15inch Vs 8 x 15inch and 8 x 8inch) I think the Bismarck would have been so severly damaged that it would have to have been scuttled, or it would have been sunk by the KGV and Repulse which were closing in from the East either later that day, or early the next day.

 

The 3 hits she received from the Prince of Wales obviously put an early finish to the sorte anyway, the worst hit being the one that contaminated the fuel oil in the forward tanks which also gave her a list to starboard and down slightly by the bow. Imagine if she had received another few hits in a slugging match. She would have stood no chance against the KGV and Repulse.

 

Bismarcks gunnery was excellent, in reality she despatched the Hood in minutes, and during her final battle with KGV and Rodney, her first salvo she fired straddled the Rodney. The way Battleships engaged in battle was to fire a salvo, followed by another salvo, by another and all the time watching the falling shot and adjusting to suit. Since modern projectiles were designed to penetrate armour, you wouldnt neccesarily see a an obvious hit. What the gunnery officers were looking for was a straddle. Once a straddle was obtained, broadsides would be fired to pump as many shells as possible in to the target.

I am fortunate to have the full Prinz Eugen film, i run a small video production company and therefore have the ability of slow motion, zoom in etc, and as I watched it in a controlled environment, I noticed a few things.

1. Bismarck never fired a full broadside.

2. I can clearly see the pall of smoke, all that is left of the Hood, and i can see a 15 inch straddle of the Prince of Wales, quickly followed by a big flash. The flash is either Prince of Wales shooting, or taking a hit.

3. the cameraman should have used a tripod :)

 

We can talk all day long about what if scenarios, and I have to say they are fascinating to think what could have happened. my belief is that HMS Hood would be guarding the Tower of London now instead of HMS Belfast had she survived the war, because in her day, she was as famous as Lord Nelsons victory, she was everything that epitomised the Royal Navy. What a beautiful ship she was.

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I don't necessarily fully agree with your theory, but it was well explained, hence a (+1).

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People always say that Hood was up against a better ship and the Germans had the advantage but if you think about it, the British had a Battlecruiser and a Battleship going up against a Battleship and a Heavy Cruiser so really the Royal Navy should and I stress should have had the advantage. As I have said in previous threads, everything went wrong for the British that day. The original British plan called for them to cross Bismarcks T but they couldnt make the intercept in time and so they had their own T crossed. Further more, both the PoW and Hood mistook Prince Eugen for the Bismarck so the British wasted valuable time re-adjusting their shots at Bismarck. Bismarck on the other hand managed to find the range very quickly. Prince of Wales being a new ship was having problems with her quadruple turrets so her fire power was drastically reduced.

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Allot of people forget that the PoW had 10 360mm main guns to the Bismarks 8 380mm main guns, if PoW had been fully operational we might have seen Germanies great defeat and the Hood elevated to god like status on May 24th 1941

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Actually with regards to Hood mistaking the Prinz eugen for Bismarck and firing on the wrong ship, when Prince of Wales received the order to target the lead ship, Captain Phillips realised the Admirals mistake and disregarded the order, opting to target the trailing ship (Bismarck). Hood had fired 2 salvos at Prinz Eugen before the mistake was realised and the order was given to 'shift target right' It took over a minute for Bismarck to retalliate after Lindemann's famous quote someone mentioned earlier ("I will not have my ship shot out from under my [edited]"). By the time Bismarck opened fire, Hood had already shifted her targetting to the Bismarck. (firing advantage lost by the British imo)

The British knew where Bismarck was due to the continuing reports being sent from Norfolk and Suffolk, and were therefore ready at action stations. To say Bismarck was surprised at the appearence of Hood and Prince of Wales is actually correct. Latest intelligence from Germany had suggested the British Home fleet was still at Scapa Flow. However, Prinz Eugen had reported to Bismarck very soon after 5am  that her hydrophones had picked up high speed propellors off the port bow, so it wasnt a surprise to see two ships coming at them, though at first the Germans thought they were more British cruisers. It was the second gunnery officer Paul Schmalenbach that identified them as Hood and 'King George V' (mistaking Prince of Wales as KGV)

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View PostWindhover118, on 22 December 2012 - 05:27 AM, said:

Further more, both the PoW and Hood mistook Prince Eugen for the Bismarck so the British wasted valuable time re-adjusting their shots at Bismarck.
I can't find any info about hits scored on Prinz Eugen - so, did it really matter? If there weren't any, why assume that there would have been more on Bismarck?


Another interesting fact on Lutjens:

Quote

The Germans held fire until 05:55, when both German ships targeted Hood. Admiral Lütjens did not immediately give the order to commence firing. After multiple inquiries by Bismarck's first gunnery officer Korvettenkapitän Adalbert Schneider, "Frage Feuererlaubnis"? (Permission to open fire?) did the commander of Bismarck Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann impatiently respond: "Ich lasse mir doch nicht mein Schiff unter dem [edited] wegschießen. Feuererlaubnis!" (I'm not letting my ship get shot out from under my [edited]. Open fire!)

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View Postnixxxie, on 22 December 2012 - 10:09 AM, said:

Another interesting fact on Lutjens:

Lutjens held fire not because he was a horrible commander but because he knew what the operation had turned into. He knew that was the Hood on the Horizon, if he went into battle against it, he might win, after all that's what the crew had trained for but he would have the entire Royal Navy on him and be destroyed, if he did nothing then they would be destroyed as well. Either way he realized that from that point on the operation was in trouble.

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View PostCrag_r, on 22 December 2012 - 10:12 AM, said:

Lutjens held fire not because he was a horrible commander but because he knew what the operation had turned into. He knew that was the Hood on the Horizon, if he went into battle against it, he might win, after all that's what the crew had trained for but he would have the entire Royal Navy on him and be destroyed, if he did nothing then they would be destroyed as well. Either way he realized that from that point on the operation was in trouble.

Give me one advantage of not opening fire - it will support Lutjens as not horrible commander  :Smile_sceptic: .

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As far as i know, Lutjens was under strict orders not to engage the Royal Navy's capital ships and one does not simply go into Hitler's orders. Which was -i think- why he was hesitant to engage them.

Lindemann was much more practical: when being shot at - SHOOT BACK!

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That's true, but Lutjens was also the man to blindly obey orders - his previous operations prove so. And during this one he was indecisive all the time (do i need to look for quotes?).

By giving him command Hitler screwed up himself, and that's lucky for all of us.

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View Postnixxxie, on 22 December 2012 - 06:51 PM, said:

By giving him command Hitler screwed up himself, and that's lucky for all of us.
He tended to do that a lot...lucky for us.. :Smile_smile:

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View PostJeeWeeJ, on 22 December 2012 - 07:09 PM, said:

He tended to do that a lot...lucky for us.. :Smile_smile:

Yeah, that too  :Smile_smile: .

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View Postnixxxie, on 22 December 2012 - 12:10 PM, said:

Give me one advantage of not opening fire - it will support Lutjens as not horrible commander  :Smile_sceptic: .

Point been is he realized that the entire operation had just failed at that point

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