Bismarck (1940)

Bismarck in 1940. Photo in the collection of the German Federal Archives, Bild 193-04-1-26.

Ship Class
Ship Type
Laid Down

Designed as part of Germany's rearmament in the 1930s, Bismarck was officially built to comply with all current naval treaties, but was much larger than allowed. Armed with eight 15in guns, he displaced 6,000 tons more than the treaty limits, and was the first battleship capable of 30 knots. The pride of the Kriegsmarine, Bismarck commissioned 24 August, 1940, and began working up in the Baltic Sea. Trials and fitting out completed in January, and a major raid into the Atlantic was planned. However, due to Allied air attacks, the only ship available to go with Bismarck was the heavy cruiser prinz Eugen. The raid could be postponed, to bring more ships into readiness, but the decision was made to go ahead with just the two. Bismarck was deployed via Norway through the Denmark Strait, where she was located by Royal navy cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk, which vectored in the battlecruiser Hood, and battleship Prince of Wales. After sinking Hood and crippling Prince of Wales, Bismarck detached Prinz Eugen to raid independently, and turned toward France to repair damage done to his fuel tanks during the battle. An air attack on the night or the 24th had no effect, but on 26 May, Bismarck was hit in the rudder by a Swordfish from the carrier Ark Royal. Forced to steam in circles, he was harassed by destroyers during the night, and caught by the battleships King George V and Rodney the next morning. Bismarck had trouble returning fire due to the rudder jam giving him an erratic course, and was only able to near miss the enemy ships. He was reduced to a blazing wreck, by gunfire, and the crew set off scuttling charges. The cruiser HMS Dorcetshire hit Bismarck with two torpedoes, and the ship went down with all but 114 of his 2,261 crew.

Bonus Photos

Survivors from Bismarck being rescued by HMS Dorsetshire. Royal Navy photo in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

Bonus Information

Fun Fact: Bismarck's captain, Ernst Lindemann, requested the crew to refer to the battleship in the masculine, rather than the feminine manner traditionally used for ships by their crews. According to his adjutant, who survived the mission, Lindemann considered Bismarck too powerful to be referred to as a female. A Discovery Channel program once claimed it was in reference to Otto von Bismarck, the ship's namesake.