Bismarck: Scuttled or Sunk?

Discussions about the history of the ship, technical details, etc.

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Bismarck: Scuttled or Sunk?

Post by mike kemble » Mon Oct 18, 2004 12:24 pm

It was always a dilemma until James Cameron filmed those never to be forgotten images of Bismarck and I think that he proved, once and for all, that Bismarck went down due to being scuttled. The torpedoes from Dorsetshire did not exactly do all that much damage due to the double skin design, these torpedoes succeeded only in wrecking some water tanks!

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Scuttled or Sunk

Post by scaleshipyard » Tue Oct 19, 2004 12:48 am

It has been as far back as I can remember, that Bismarck was scuttled once it was realized below decks that the ship was finished as an effective fighting unit.
As far as what damage was inflicted by the final torpedoes that hit the ship, that will never really be known.
When the Bismarck hulk slid down the mountain that she is resting on, massive damage was done to the hull in the areas where the torpedos struck, also I believe that the rudder was jammed into the center propellor at that time, I have read in several accounts that the Bismarcks screws were turning almost up to the end.
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Post by mike kemble » Tue Oct 19, 2004 12:53 pm

The rudder was jammed by the torpedo hit by the Ark Royal's Fairey Swordfish causing the ship to turn back towards the pursuers. Whether Bismarck went down due to the torpedo damage or scuttling was never really conclusively proven one way or the other.

In the light of the evidence now known, I would think the latter, scuttled before she could be finally sunk.

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Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Tue Oct 19, 2004 11:14 pm

“Selbstversenkung” [self-inflicted sinking or scuttling of one’s own ship] is a frightening and recurrent theme in German naval history. This last ditch heroic effort of defiance and of depriving the opponent of the ship was very explicit in the mortal battle of the Bismarck. It was considered a German naval tradition since the Falklands by many officers and historians, but there are some good examples where modified, well-planned scuttles such as executed at Scapa Flow, or chosen by Captain Langsdorff of the Graf Spee to save most of his crew, did the honorable deed with less loss of life. It seems quite rational to deprive the enemy of a priceless ship at any cost, but some chose the life of their crew over the value of the ship, an equally honorable deed in the captain’s duty to his crew and his nation. It is, therefore, of interest to read in the war diary of the Prinz Eugen and in Captain Helmut Brinkmann’s later commentary that indicates to me, at least, that if once he had run out of fuel after the separation from the Bismarck (he had enough to go only 125 nm farther under reduced speed when meeting up with the tanker), he would probably have chosen to surrender his ship dead-in-the-water [totgelaufen] and fully armed to save his crew rather than to follow Bismarck’s example. As far as I can tell, Brinkmann never contemplated to scuttle the Prinz Eugen in May 1941, even if had run out of fuel or had become unmaneuverable because of his evolving powerplant problems. One cannot fully dismiss the attitude and rumors that Lütjens thought this was going to be his final mission.
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Post by José M. Rico » Wed Oct 20, 2004 12:44 am

The only reason the Bismarck was not scuttled earlier in the morning of 27 May was because, although unable to manoeuvre, she was still capable to defend herself and inflict damage on the enemy. From a message to Group West sent at midnight on 27 May: “[The] ship is weaponry-wise and mechanically fully intact; however, it cannot be steered with the engines [alone]." Fleet” (See Bismarck’s War Diary entry for 27 May, 0034 hours).

Scuttling was only carried out during the final engagement with the British battleships, once all of Bismarck’s guns were put out of action and the ship defeated. There is no doubt that without the scuttling procedure, the Bismarck would have sunk anyway sooner or later (there were even 12 Swordfish flying over the area), but certainly not at the time she did (1040 hours). According to Admiral's Tovey's Official Dispatch included on ADM 234/509: “By 1015 the Bismarck was a wreck, without a gun firing, on fire fore and aft and wallowing more heavily every moment. Men could be seen jumping overboard, preferring death by drowning in the stormy sea to the appalling effects of our fire. I was confident that the Bismarck, could never get back to harbour and that it was only a matter of HOURS before she would sink.” I can’t say when Bismarck would have sunk but Tovey himself admits it could have taken hours!

As for Dorsetshire’s three torpedoes- I think that Bismarck would have sunk more or less at about the same time she actually did, even without these torpedoes being fired. Keep in mind that the first two torpedoes struck Bismarck’s starboard side at about 1022, but Bismarck rolled over and sank to port not to starboard, which means that not even the counter-flooding caused on the starboard side was enough to prevent the ship from sinking to port. This seems ironic, but the flooding on the starboard side may have even caused the opposite effect and delayed the sinking!! The effects of the third and final torpedo fired at 1036 hours are almost irrelevant, because by the time it struck Bismarck’s port side at about 1037-38 hours, the ship was already sinking. Set at a depth of 16 ft (4.87 meters), the Mark VII torpedo probably hit Bismarck's main belt (or maybe even the 50-mm upper deck that was partially under water) due to the fact that the battleship had already a very prominent list to port and was very low in the water.

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Scuttled or Sunk

Post by Steve Campbell » Fri Nov 12, 2004 3:03 am

As a college student with for my, “Historiography” research topic Bismarck, and rely on source documents for my research. Can you assist with a couple of questions I have?

I am summarizing that there were three reasons the Germans scuttled the Bismarck:
1.) Prevent the onboard technologically advanced equipment from the British, but what kind of equipment (guns, radar) that was so precious that they did not want to get into British hands. (Enigma decription codes)
2.) From a naval honor code standpoint not to allow the ship’s Allied capture.
3.) Save as many sailors as possible by ordering an abandon ship order.

When all is said and done, I am coming to the conclusion that the Bismarck was defeated by the allied Forces, because of the damage inflicted in the conflict, and the continued attack- scuttling was a last ditch effort to

Would scuttling explosive charges been set; would there have been visual damage to the integrity of the ship?

Will researching this paper, I am paralleling my other class research paper for “Origins and Appeasements of WWII,” and focusing n Winston Churchill’s Naval Decisions. The wartime propaganda surrounding the defeat of the Bismarck surely represented a great victory for the Allied forces to capitalize on. In high school, I was taught that Allied forces torpedoed and thereby sunk the Bismarck, scuttling was not mentioned and was not really a consideration for me until I started the research for this assignment. I now wonder if there is an Americans version taught which praises the successes of the British Navy, the Allied forces, and are European students taught that the German’s responded honorably and sunk their own ship?

The discovery and videotaping of the ship from technological advancements in underwater explorations opens a new opportunity for learning the truth by accessing actual evidence, and creates a great topic for reassessing history.

Would this be pinpointed as the single most decisive victory that turned the tides of war in favor of the Allied forces … would it be considered in the top five major events?

Steve

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Scuttled or Sunk: "Watershed"

Post by Patrick McWilliams » Fri Nov 12, 2004 12:31 pm

Hi Steve,

Previous polls on this site indicate that many believe the sinking of the Bismarck marked the end of the battleship era. There were certainly very few head-to-head confrontations between evenly matched* big-gun ships after this episode, as supremacy at sea passed from the mighty BB to the aircraft-carrier.

In that sense it was a defining moment, even if Bismarck showed what a BB was still capable of (and how!).

Moreover, after the sinking Germany did not send its remaining big ships out on convoy-hunting operations in the Atlantic and relied instead on U-boat operations. Even then, the German Navy suffered desperately from competition for oil and from Hitler's insistence on stationing boats in the Mediterranean and Norway. The large warships spent the rest of the war in often futile operations in Norway or undergoing repairs in Germany. The few that survived relentless bombing raids from the Allies were employed late in the war in bombarding the advancing Red Army or in making feasible evacuations of personnel and civilians in the Eastern Baltic.

* I do not consider Duke of York v Scharnhorst or Hirishima v Washington as evenly matched contests.

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Re: Scuttled or Sunk?

Post by Tiornu » Sat Nov 13, 2004 7:26 am

This scuttle/sunk question has been a mystery to me for many years. Why do people give such close scrutiny to Bismarck but not to the multiple dozens and dozens and dozens of other ships in WWII that were also scuttled after battle damage? Scuttling is a standard practice. If your mortally wounded ship is not going down fast enough on its own, you help it.
Last edited by Tiornu on Thu May 05, 2005 9:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Scuttled or Sunk discussion

Post by SteveCampbell » Sat Nov 13, 2004 2:22 pm

From the young college student aspect- the demise of Battleship Bismarck, wartime propaganda, “Avenging the Hood” and the glimpse of hope that the Germans can be overcome provided the momentum for the allied forces to forge forward and not give up even though they had been pummeled sensationalizes the battle. The controversy as far as, the ship being taken down by her own crew, adds the … yeah, but it was really sunk by … conclusion to the battle. Through reading the postings in this forum, I am learning that scuttling was not an unusual occurrence. I did not know that before. People rarely delve into actual historical writings and do not scrutinize first hand accounts of the events, so much of what people believe comes through movies, song, political rhetoric, and newspaper writings, which all contain a bias slant.

Technological advancements in underwater video photography, along with the media exposure surrounding the expedition puts the ship back into the limelight. Hopeful that new evidence could be retrieved from exploring the wreck and finally settle the debate, we find that conclusive evidence still evades us.

I am drawing towards the conclusions that she was defeated, heavily damaged, and “mortally wounded” by the British. How she sunk was the ends, if the attacks on her had not been fatal, scuttling obviously would not have occurred. I think the events, which led to her sinking: the hunt, psychological hype of striking fear in an opponent, and technological resources and ability to build such an impressive battleship are more critical. Ultimately, the idea of the prey overcoming the predator aspect holds the fascination.

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Post by Javier L. » Sat Nov 13, 2004 8:28 pm

I think the cause of the actual sinking might have been because the Bismarck was scuttled but we can't forget the fact that the British had practically destroyed the ship from stem to stern. If the Bismarck hadn't been scuttled she would have been sunk sometime later anyway.

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Post by Heinz Dziurowitz » Sun Nov 14, 2004 8:01 am

My father served on the Prinz Eugen during this time. He passed away in 1985 and at the time I had little interest in really asking a lot of questions about the subject. He did say that the Bismarck wasn't anything special except for the fact it had plenty of fire power. As far as the Bismarck being scuttled he never mentioned anything about it, and was not overly impressed with it.

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scuttling

Post by Larue » Sat Nov 27, 2004 2:36 pm

all this talk of scuttling is just bs. i have seen James Cameron's movie, and all he seemed interested in was taking the credit for the sinking away from the British. maybe he wants to make a movie showing how it was really the American navy which sank the Bismarck!

after all, Hollywood seems to want America to have the credit for winning ww2 all by itself.

i will always acknowledge the decisive role the the USA played in ww2, but trying to belittle Britain's contribution, is totally wrong.

the fact of the matter is this: the Bismarck sank as a direct result of the actions of the Royal Navy. not Hollywood or the American navy. if the German crew hastened the end so what? the Bismark was finished, that's why the Royal Navy stopped shooting at it.

the British did not want the Bismarck, they wanted it SUNK, because of the threat it presented to the atlantic convoys.

they did not want it's technology either, the Royal Navy had better.

who invented the cavity magnetron, to make centimetric radar possible, the Germans? wrong! the Americans? guess again... it was little old Britain. embarrasing isn't it?

come on guys, do not be afraid to give credit where it is really due.

regards

larue 8)

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Post by Javier L. » Sat Nov 27, 2004 5:03 pm

I don't think Cameron has a hidden agenda or interest in proving the British couldn't sink the Bismarck. But there is one thing that I agree with you: "the Bismarck sank as a direct result of the actions of the Royal Navy", no matter if the Germans scuttled their ship or not.

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Re: scuttling

Post by Tiornu » Sat Nov 27, 2004 8:45 pm

Unlike some supposedly more academic expeditions, the Cameron expedition showed little interest in skewing their findings to make them more spectacular. Cameron didn't need to fudge his findings; he was more than capable of juicing up his work via creative production.
And actually, the cavity magnetron was invented by an American (Arthur Samuel, 1936). It just wasn't a very good one.

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Post by Larue » Sun Nov 28, 2004 4:04 am

I meant the cavity magnetron that worked. sorry, I should have explained myself better.

Regards

larue

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