Updated: 22 May 2010
Bismarck's livery 1940 - 1941
Royal Navy Ships Involved
Bismarck Was Scuttled!
The American film director, James Cameron, took an expedition on board a Russian Survey ship to the site of the sinking of the Bismarck. This survey ship is the largest of its kind and is equipped with two manned submersibles, Mir 1 & 2. These in turn were equipped with Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV's) and were equipped with specially designed cameras and 8kw searchlights. Along with 2 survivors of the Bismarck, they arrived on site, to the day, 61 years later, that Bismarck sank. Just before dawn on the anniversary, the survivors were woken up to conduct their remembrance service for their dead comrades and then the dive began in earnest. On February 16th 2003; the resulting documentary was shown on Discovery TV. The first dive took 3 hours to reach the site, a journey which took Bismarck 10 minutes! The first piece of wreckage sighted was that of the Admiral's Bridge which was as big as a 4 storey building! This was lying upside down on the ocean floor, having been sheered off by the pressure of water as Bismarck fell to her grave. Also sheered off was the entire stern section from the armoured bulkhead aft; about 50 metres of stern. Captain Lindermann and Admiral Lutjens were actually on the bridge proper during the ships last moments. When the Bismarck turned turtle, the 4 main gun turrets, held in place only by gravity, dropped out of their mountings and dropped straight to the bottom, landing with such an impact that the turrets disappeared into the silt, leaving the massive multi level below deck sections pointing to the surface. Bismarck hit, and hit hard, on the side of a volcanic slope, she landed bow first, buckled and then landed keel first. The resulting impact sent shock waves out causing an avalanche down the slopes taking Bismarck with it a distance of about 2/3rds of a mile. As she slid down the slope, she hit the already landed Admirals Bridge, sliding it to one side and turning it completely upside down. Finally, the Bismarck slewed around and came to rest.
Whilst the two Radio Room survivors watched topside on monitors, one of the ROV's entered through a shell impact hole directly into the Radio Room where the desks etc where these men sat could clearly be seen. As the submersibles conducted their minute survey of the hull they found only about half a dozen penetrations through the actual armour plated sides of the ship. Most the the damage done to the Bismarck was to her superstructure. The Captain never lived to see his ship lose her fight for life. A direct hit from the Rodney (16" guns) on the main bridge, covered by 14 inches of armour, caused the door to be blasted from its hinges and the tremendous impact and concussion killed all inside instantly. At the same time the Admiral was killed.
Why did the Royal Navy fail to actually "Sink the Bismarck"? First we must go back to the encounter with HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood. When the Hood was hit by a direct hit on her magazines; the Prince of Wales was severely damaged and was preparing to withdraw. As she turned to withdraw, she fired one last salvo from her main guns. Two of these shells hit the Bismarck in the bow, but passed straight through the un-armoured section and into the sea beyond. However, the resulting entry hole and ripped out exit hole caused tons of sea water to eventually find its way onboard, thereby making the Bismarck sluggish and to lose some speed. As the Hood broke in two and began to sink, the aft turrets fired one last departing salvo before sinking into the abyss seconds later.
Next attack upon the Bismarck involved some extremely heroic pilots who flew old, slow, Fairey Swordfish torpedo launching, biplanes off Ark Royal. Under an intense anti aircraft barrage they pressed home their attacks in bad weather and in a hail of bullets. They had already been in the air a few hours enroute to the Bismarck. The Bismarck successfully evaded all the torpedoes but one torpedo caught the rudder and blew a hole in the steerage section. Film footage from James Cameron's dives clearly show that the rudder not only jammed on the turn, but had actually embedded itself into the central of the three propellers. The result of this unrepairable damage was that the Bismarck was stuck in a wide circulating path, now unable to speed away from the closing pack of Royal Naval hunters. And close they did. Captain Lindemann announced to the crew that they were stuck and that "they could help themselves" to the stores. An attempt was made to launch one of her Arado seaplanes packed with Bismarck's war diaries and papers; but they could not get the catapult to work and the pilot was not amongst the survivors. A request was made to Berlin for a U Boat to race to the scene to take off Bismarck's papers. It was this U Boat, arriving hours later, that spooked the British ships into making a withdrawal thus condemning over a thousand men to their deaths, having only had time to rescue about 100. Here we must bear in mind that capital ships such as Rodney, King George V and the heavy cruisers were not equipped to go chasing U Boats. As the Royal Navy is an honourable Service, to leave sailors to die, must have been a very difficult call to make, but it was survive or be killed.
The well publicised triple torpedo hit from the Dorsetshire did not cause the ship to go down, as the torpedoes detonated against the outer shell, rupturing it but water tanks behind the area, cushioned the impact and the inner shell remained intact. Again, these were clearly seen on film in the documentary. Admiral Tovey, the British Commander, had ordered his capital ships in close to finish off Bismarck, as a consequence, the direct hits caused by these ships, did not have the impact required and did little damage to the main hull. The shells, being fired almost horizontally, lacked the necessary punch. An example of this is the shot that hit HMS Hood, fired from 14 miles away! Apparently, proximity does not necessarily mean, deadliness. The survivors always maintained that they had heard the orders to scuttle the ship, but the Royal Navy, hell bent of revenge for the Hood, did not wish to accept this. HMS Hood had been the flagship of the Royal Navy and her loss was felt right down to the man in the street. If the Royal Navy had announced to the world, "We caught Bismarck but she scuttled herself"; the public would have felt cheated as with the earlier incident with the Graf Spee, at the River Plate.
I have always been "in love" with the Bismarck. She was an enemy ship which killed hundreds of my fellow countrymen but she was also a marvel of engineering and a beautiful ship to behold. The almost indisputable fact that she "committed suicide" rather than be killed lends more to her legend and majesty. May she rest in peace.
I received on 3rd March 2003, an email from a gentleman, Bill Garzke, an expert on the Bismarck and author of "Battleships, Axis & Neutral Battleships of World War 2" published by the Naval Institute Press. He is currently writing a book, which I shall read, on Bismarck. In this email he thanks me for reaching the conclusion that the Bismarck was scuttled. It was not exactly brain power on my behalf, I just took in what was said on the James Cameron documentary along with the video evidence. But he also goes on to say that bow damage caused on the Bismarck by the Prince of Wales is untrue. "I have been researching the Bismarck operation for 43 years and can tell you that hit came in her 9th salvo (I believe). The 6th salvo produced the hit on the boats and the 13th produced the hit near the bridge. This was a diving shell that had an underwater trajectory". Thanks you Bill for your email. I am not an historian, just someone who has loved the Bismarck since a child and does research as a hobby. I do not think that there is anyone who agrees with everyone 100% on matters that sank so long ago. I also referred to eye witness reports from Bismarck survivors who do not necessarily have to be 100% right in their memories of what was a frightening, scary fight for survival in a flame riddled ship and icy seas.
TV Documentary: May 22nd 2010. In a television programme I watched tonight, May 22nd 2010, a rerun of a 2001 expedition to the Bismarck, they spoke to an officer who was the one who hit the rudder with a torpedo, thus disabling Bismarck. But his name was not that of the officer named on page 3 (Moffat?) so I am now a little puzzled as to who actually fired the fateful torpedo. Also on board the Russian search vessel were three survivors from Bismarck who, with the experts, watched live highly detailed video from the sea bed 4700 metres down. It was for them very emotional. A plaque was laid on the Bismarck and one of the survivors was able to follow his escape route on video when he was able to jump ship back then. Another of the survivors also confirmed that the sea cocks had been opened. According to some experts this only hastened, by some 30 minutes, the sinking of the Bismarck, as she was a blazing inferno and taking on water anyway. So a compromise, yes she was scuttled, but she would have sunk anyway but later. The Bismarck was reported as being approx 1 nautical mile from the position given by Ballard, the original discoverer of the wreck.
This is an excellent site to visit http://www.bismarck-class.dk
HMS Hood has been found and filmed by an expedition which also "re-found" the Bismarck on the same trip. Bismarck's location was kept secret by its original finders. HMS Hood, never before looked for, has been found where expected, lying at the bottom of the Denmark Straits near Iceland. She is lying in only 3 main pieces, with about 2 miles separating the pieces. The bow section lies on her side, the central section lies upside down and the stern lies pointing to the surface. The sole survivor of the Hood disaster, Signalman Ted Briggs, laid a plaque on the bow section at the invitation of the expedition leader. Only 3 sailors survived the massive explosion that ripped the Hood apart. It is thought that a shell, coming down on the Hood from the guns of the Bismarck, hit an area of thin deck armour, penetrated the decking and went straight into the magazine, detonating the entire ship in a second!
Interesting item of news in March 2004, is the retrieval of parts of the Graf Spee, which is lying in the River Plate, Uruguay where she was scuttled in 1939 to avoid being blown up by the waiting Royal Navy. See this site for information: