The Pursuit and Sinking of the
CDR John Sorenson
12 OCT 2007
• Keel was laid on 01
July 1936 at Blohm &
Voss Shipyard in
• Commissioned 24
The Pride of the German Fleet
Displacement: 41,700 tonnes standard
50,900 tonnes full load
Length: 251 metres (823.5 ft) overall
241.5 metres (792.3 ft) waterline
Beam: 36.0 metres (118.1 ft) waterline
Draft: 9.3 metres (30.5 ft) standard
10.2 metres (33.5 ft) full load
Propulsion: 12 Wagner high-pressure;
3 Blohm & Voss geared turbines;
3 three-blade propellers, 4.70 m diameter
150,170 hp (121 MW)
Speed: 30.8 knots
Range: 8,525 nm at 19 knots
Complement: 2,092: 103 officers 1,989 men (1941)
Armament: 8×380 mm/L48.5 SK-C/34 (4×2)
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)
Armor: Belt: 145 to 320 mm
Deck: 50 to 120 mm
Bulkheads: 220 mm
Turrets: 130 to 360 mm
Barbettes: 342 mm
Conning tower: 360 mm
Aircraft carried: 4×Arado Ar 196 A-3, with 1 double-ended catapult
Operation Rheinuburg Overview
May 21, 0800,
British spy reports
sighting two large
off the Swedish
through the Danish
May 21, Bismarck was
Spotted in Grinstad Fjord,
south of Bergen by British
Spitfire Recon planes.
The First Plan
• Send Bombers from Coastal Command to
attack the Bismarck that night (May 21).
• Send Torpedo planes over at dawn to
attack while the Bismarck is at anchor in
• Low clouds and fog prevented the
bombers from finding the Bismarck.
Bismarck last seen early afternoon in
Grinstad Fjord in German controlled Norway.
Weather is poor visibility.
What would you do?
Admiral John Tovey’s Response:
Dispatched battle squadron consisting of 2 battleships
(HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales) to intercept
Bismarck, which was assumed to be making a break for the
The HMS Suffolk and
HMS Norfolk were
patrolling the gap
and Iceland. The
Suffolk had radar.
First Ship to Ship Contact
• During the evening of May 23rd, the HMS
Suffolk made RADAR contact with the
Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen.
• Short Gun Fight until Norfolk and Suffolk
backed off, out of range, to shadow the
Bismarck until larger British ships arrived.
Hood Gets Sunk
• At 0530 on May 24th, the HMS Hood and HMS
Prince of Wales caught up to the Bismarck and
• The British initially concentrated their fire on the
Prinz Eugen. This error was soon corrected.
• Gun battle at ranges of 10 to 12 miles.
• Hood sunk in 3 minutes, only 3 survivors
• Bismarck was hit and (unknown to the British) it
leaked oil (fuel) and its RADAR was broken.
• Water was leaking into one of Bismarck’s fuel
tanks, contaminating the fuel.
• With the Hood
sunk and the
Prince of Wales
on the run the
decided not to
Prince of Wales.
orders were to
convoys, not to
• Bismarck was
leaking fuel oil.
• Bismark’s speed
was reduced to
May 24, Bismarck sends Prinz Eugen south
to get fuel from German oiler.
HMS Victorious Attacks
• British (Suffolk, Norfolk, and Prince of Wales) shadow Bismarck for
remainder of day, May 24.
• HMS Victorious launches Swordfish torpedo bomber biplanes to attack
Bismarck during the evening of May 24. No substantial damage.
• British had to zig-zag because of German
• At 0300 on May 25, the Bismarck turned
east then southeast during a British turn,
which caused the British lose their contact
with the Bismarck.
• The Germans did not know that the British
had lost their track.
• Germans broke radio silence.
• British HQ determined Bismarck position
and sent calculation input data to HMS
King George V.
• The Navigator on the King George V
miscalculated the Bismarck’s position and
• British fleet mistakenly headed North in
search for the Bismarck.
• Bismarck headed southeast for Brest,
• Shore based planes form Coastal Command in
Northern Ireland, not mislead by the fleet’s
miscalculation, spotted the Bismarck on May 26.
• Adm. Tovey ordered a recalculation of the
positioning fix for the Bismarck and discovered
• Tovey determined that they would not be able to
catch up the Bismarck unless torpedo bombers
from the Ark Royal could slow it down.
May 26, 1941
1. Ark Royal approaching from South, released
from convoy duty.
2. Bismarck headed for Brest
3. King George V, Repulse, and Victorious behind
trying to catch up from the rear.
Ship Spotted, May 26
• Swordfish from the Ark Royal spotted the Bismarck, but reported it as a
cruiser, Prinz Eugen.
• 10 Minutes later a second Swordfish spotted it an reported it as a
• SWOs interrogated pilots by radio and determined that it was the Bismarck.
• More sorties sent out in early afternoon to confirm identification of ship.
• King George V and Rodney were 50 mile
• Bismarck would reach land based Bomber
protection by next morning (27 May)
• Tovey did not know Bismarck’s speed was
• Two chances to slow Bismarck:
1. Destroyer torpedo attack
2. Swordfish torpedo attack
• Destroyers were detached from protecting troop
transport at 2 AM, May 26, to intercept Bismarck.
• Ark Royal shadow plane lost contact with
Bismarck in clouds and fog.
• Sheffield dispatched to find and shadow
• At 1430 the Ark Royal launched all of its aircraft
(15 Swordfish) armed with torpedoes.
• Rough weather for flight ops.
• Ark Royal plans attack Sheffield.
• Ark Royal launches 2nd attack on Bismarck at
• Adm. Luetjens felt safe as darkness approached.
2054, May 26, 1941
Last Torpedo dropped at 2130, no apparent hits were reported.
Bismarck Turns North After Attack
• Adm. Tovey received report of Bismarck
turning North, did not believe report.
• Aircraft verified Bismarck heading North.
• Sheffield Verified Bismarck heading North.
• Why was Bismarck heading North, away
from Brest and German bomber protection
and towards British strength?
Night of May 26, 1941
Scout plane reported that it saw Bismarck steaming in
• Conclusion: A swordfish torpedo had hit the rudders
and/or propellers. The Bismarck was not under
command. Tovey could close in and attack at will. He
waited until morning’s light.
• During the night the British destroyers kept the Bismarck
occupied with gun fire while the Battleships arrived.
• Luetjens sent message to Fuehrer at 2358, “we will fight
to the last shell”
• Bismarck launched its 3 scouting planes with ships log
and final letters from each sailor.
• At 0153 Bismarck received a message from Hitler, “I
thank you in the name of the German people.”
British Battleships opened fire on
the Bismarck at 0847.
• Bismarck had full use of her 15 inch guns, but
could not maneuver.
• Shortly before 1000 the Bismarck lost the use of
her guns and all of her ability to fight back.
The British battleships were dangerously low on fuel and had calculated
that they would have to head for port at 1000. So with the Bismarck still
afloat, the King George V and the Rodney headed for port, leaving the
heavy cruisers to finish her off.
1040 AM on
May 27, 1941
was sunk and