Bismarck refuels and does repairs

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by Vic Dale » Wed May 22, 2013 2:47 pm

Bismarck was not losing a great deal of oil. The perforated bunkers only accounted for about 500 tons. The major concern over this was it was making the ship highly visible from the air. That is why PG was ordered to steer through the wake to disperse it. It would not take long to empty the bunker and forget about it. The main concern was ingress of water into the ship, and I believe this was brought under control the next day, though not before the boiler room had had to be shut down.
So you're saying that a single battleship, damaged and leaking oil, would survive better in hostile waters than if it were escorted by a heavy cruiser ?
I have said no such thing.

If you would take the time to re read what I have written you'll see that I am saying that PG could not protect Bismarck with her flak, but as an additional target would be a liability. Any ship under heavy air attack runs the risk of taking damage. Bismarck could take a fair pounding having been built to take it, but PG would not be so fortunate. Bismarck took five torpedo hits without coming near to sinking. PG would be lucky to survive if she took one under such circumstances. It would probably stop her and then the escorting aircraft would be faced with a choice, leave her to fend for herself and concentrate on the primary task of protecting the main asset or divide their defense and try to protect both. Alternatively they could leave Bismarck to fend for herself, she being much sturdier and concentrate their efforts on PG. Whichever way you look at it, PG would be a liability.

If Bismarck had headed north, it is unlikely that she would have escaped at all.

Let us examine the scene after Hood was sunk. If Lutjens had chosen to go back the way he came, Tovey would most certainly have been alerted and as he was somewhere to the south of Iceland with Victorious in company, he would have turned about ready to intercept at the eastern end of the Strait. Catalinas from Scotland would have been sent to cover both ends of the Strait in a continuous patrol, so that Bismarck would have been constantly shadowed from the moment she entered the Strait. Mine laying aircraft would be sent to stopper both ends, at the narrowest choke points formed by the mine fields and destroyers would be lying in wait outside. The ship could expect heavy attacks from Wellington bombers deployed from Scotland.

If Bismarck had turned east, to pass through the Iceland- Faroes/route she would have run slap into KGV and Victorious, plus a number of cruisers and destroyers. The same would apply if she tried the Faroe/Shetland route. With heavy and sustained air attacks and with scant chance of any intervention from the Luftwaffe on either route.

Bismarck's only advantage in the break out, lay in the fact that she held the initiative and Tovey could only follow and try to respond to her movements. If she turned back, Tovey would hold the initiative, because he would be ahead and be able to get everything into place fairly quickly, for an engagement, instructing his commanders to converge on a predictable point. In the open Atlantic such a task would be extremely complex.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by tommy303 » Wed May 22, 2013 4:08 pm

Plus, going north goes back into long hours of daylight with scarcely anything remotely resembling night in which to hide. Going south and one has longer periods of darkness.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by Vic Dale » Wed May 22, 2013 9:48 pm

Good point Tommy

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by alecsandros » Thu May 23, 2013 6:20 am

Vic Dale wrote:Bismarck was not losing a great deal of oil. The perforated bunkers only accounted for about 500 tons. The major concern over this was it was making the ship highly visible from the air. That is why PG was ordered to steer through the wake to disperse it. It would not take long to empty the bunker and forget about it. The main concern was ingress of water into the ship, and I believe this was brought under control the next day, though not before the boiler room had had to be shut down.
The oil leak was the reason Rheinubung was cancelled.
If you would take the time to re read what I have written you'll see that I am saying that PG could not protect Bismarck with her flak, but as an additional target would be a liability.
This is becoming tiresome:
PE yielded considerable AA power, and having her besides Bismarck during the 2 air attacks may have saved the battleship. The approach of the Swordfishes was bad enough even under the inconsistent fire from Bismarck, so the addition of PE's firepower could have made a difference.

Bismarck was damaged and his crew did not have enough AA training (which was cut short during the AVKS tests for need of setting up Rheinubung).
Let us examine the scene after Hood was sunk. If Lutjens had chosen to go back the way he came, Tovey would most certainly have been alerted and as he was somewhere to the south of Iceland with Victorious in company, he would have turned about ready to intercept at the eastern end of the Strait. Catalinas from Scotland would have been sent to cover both ends of the Strait in a continuous patrol, so that Bismarck would have been constantly shadowed from the moment she entered the Strait. Mine laying aircraft would be sent to stopper both ends, at the narrowest choke points formed by the mine fields and destroyers would be lying in wait outside. The ship could expect heavy attacks from Wellington bombers deployed from Scotland.
...
Victorious had 12 Swordfishes on board. With BS+PE working together, I doubt they would manage to hit anything.
Wellington bomber attacks against naval targets in 1941 was a waste of ammo. Not even in 1942, with improved sights and aiming methods, they weren't effective at all in the Mediteranean.
Mine laying aircraft ? Seriously ? In 12 hours to cover both ends of the strait ? [about 12 hours would be needed to return through the strait and arive in the north of Iceland]
Catalinas covering everything ? Realy ?
Bismarck's only advantage in the break out, lay in the fact that she held the initiative and Tovey could only follow and try to respond to her movements. If she turned back, Tovey would hold the initiative, because he would be ahead and be able to get everything into place fairly quickly, for an engagement, instructing his commanders to converge on a predictable point. In the open Atlantic such a task would be extremely complex.
Bismarck lost the element of surprise, and the initiative, when it was spotted and tracked by Suffolk + Norfolk. Convergent movements by the Home Fleet around the most likely route (into BRest) was obvious. It would have been only logical for British forces to include fleet carriers, thus greatly reducing chances of escaping undetected.

If Bismarck would head back north, it could reach NOrway by May 26th 18:00. THe only real opposition would be Victorious, as the surface ships would be unlikely to manage an interception. And with PE's AA support, the ship could at least have had a chance against air attack.
Last edited by alecsandros on Thu May 23, 2013 6:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by alecsandros » Thu May 23, 2013 6:24 am

tommy303 wrote:Plus, going north goes back into long hours of daylight with scarcely anything remotely resembling night in which to hide. Going south and one has longer periods of darkness.
What is even weirder is that Lutjens observed and acknowledged the threat posed by British surface - search radars [he mentioned them in one of the transmissions]. Thus, prolonging his cruise hoping to remain undetected is even a greater blunder, as he already knew the British possessed powerfull search equipment.
He should have headed north, as it was very unlikely to escape detection anyway.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by Vic Dale » Thu May 23, 2013 8:19 am

Bismarck's chances of surviving the operation were not brilliant and Lutjens had warned about this. He knew the Atlantic had become much hotter since the slap in the face he had given the enemy two months earlier. A good Admiral should be well aware of the technological advances an enemy might make in such a time and be aware also that the tactics by which success may have been won in the past would be unlikely to work again, because the enemy would be aware of them and plug the gaps.

Lutjens has been accused of a great many poor traits from timidity, hesitancy and dithering to being stern and inflexible - all of it hyperbole from journalists and the like who are used to wringing the neck of a good story. The fact is he was a calculator, a technician and a master tactician and he was extremely flexible when it came to tactics. He would use all weapons at his disposal and his scouting and recconaisance forces worked at full stretch. If a convoy was sighted, he assessed the situation carefully, if a battleship was present, he sent U-Boats to deal with it, if there was no battleship the force went in rapidly and dealt the death blow. His was the most successful fleet war cruise in Germany's history and he brought his ships safely to a French port, changing the strategic balance in the Atlantic.

There is no way that the mighty British navy would not respond to this shift in the balance of power and new measures were quickly put into place to deal with marauding German squadrons. Lutjens was well aware of this change, as recconaisance reports from long range aircraft will have shown him what was happening, how the enemy was deploying his forces and also what ships he could now expect to face. Not only that, his supply ships would very likely come under attack as they began to shape up to play their part in the up coming operation. Such an operation would be difficult to conceal, as ships and aircraft were seen to be moving into place to support the deployment of a heavy naval force. Even the tempo and type of recconaisance mission would be giving Tovey clues as to what was going on. Bismarck completing her work up would also raise alarms in the Admiralty.

During the breakout, Bismarck was sighted by the neutral Gotland and was reported to the Admiralty. B-Dienst picked this signal up and Lutjens reacted to it, sending both ships into Grimstadt Fiord. He had intended going direct to the Arctic to await favourable weather and oil form his tanker. On leaving Grimstadt the ship headed north as per the plan, but on receiving a favourbale weather report, Lutjens decided to chase the weather and get out into the Atlantic quickly. He held the initiative and Tovey did not know exactly what to do about. Bismarck's whereabouts was not known due to the weather, so he was forced to divide his force, sailing Hood and PoW to seal the exit from the Denmark Strait and stationed Norfolk and Suffolk in the Strait. In the event this proved to be the correct response. It becomes clear to those who want to see it, how Lutjens maintained the initiative as well as he could with quite modest means.

The interception by Hood and PoW is history and suddenly Bismarck is flavour of the month and the whole of the Home Fleet is after her. Not only that, ships tasked to guard convoys are leaving them in response to alerts sending them to concentrate in an area to where Bismarck might be heading. The routes back would now be sealed and the mid Atlantic would be full of ships milling about, trying to get into the best position to intercept her.

The chase is now on and Lutjens cannot do anything about it until he has shaken off his shadowers. His flagship has taken damage which will need a dockyard to put right and he is ordered to put into a French port so as to make use of the large dock at St Nazaire. Eluding his shadowers will be easiest if he has only the one ship to think about and also, the undamaged PG can continue the operation so that it is not a total right off. He rounds on Suffolk trying to damage her and perhaps slow her down, whilst PG makes her escape. This has the additional effect of encouraging the shadowers to keep their distance, a key factor in his managing to escape during the night. From this point he has the ability to choose his next move.

If there was allowance for him to decide to go back to Germany for repairs, Lutjens would know he would have to fight his way through - against what? He has already been attacked by carrier born aircraft, so he knows a carrier is near and he has encountered a new type of surveillance radar, with far greater range than was thought. Also to the north of him is the rest of the Home Fleet. His worst predictions are being born out, but having sunk the Hood, he knows the enemy will try and quadruple his efforts to get this single ship. Not for nothing was this to become the greatest sea chase of all time. His radio interceptors and his B-Dienst teams are intercepting and decoding enemy radio traffic which has rapidly increase in tempo. Clearly a vast number of enemy warships are converging on him and he must do all he can to evade detection and this he did until 1030 on the morning of the 26th.

The only reason Bismarck was detected at that time was was an RAF officer in Coastal Command, used his brains and experience and sent two patrols to look for an enemy battleship entering the Biscay. But for that decision, relocating the German would have been a matter of chance and the closer Lutjens got to France, the more his enemy's surface forces were concentrated behind him. The Admiralty realised that unless Bismarck was slowed, Tovey would not be able to catch her.

Had Lutjens decided the go north, he would have faced the same situation, though in more restricted waters. Ships and aircraft will have concentrated their efforts at the various pinch points and I have no doubt that had Lutjens been successful in getting through that blockade, he would have been forced up into the Arctic, to hide there and wait for the heat to die down. He would have had to wait a good long time though, because the British were extremely angry about the loss of the Hood. Force will have concentrated to the point where Bismarck would be forced to seek the shelter of a Russian port. With every possibility of a Graf Spee situation brewing.

It should not be forgotten that operation Barbarossa - the invasion of Russia had been planned for the 15th of May, though had had to be put back a month to 22nd of June and Rhine Ubung had also been set back a month. The German High command had set up a number of deception raids against Britain and operations designed to convince the Russians that despite the build up of troops on their border, that Britain was the ultimate target. So a secondary aspect of Rhine Ubung may well have been playing it's part in that deception. Bismarck pitching up in the Arctic or even being forced into a Russian port could have been embarrassing and may not have been the best outcome for the operation.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by RF » Thu May 23, 2013 8:29 am

Vic Dale wrote: Churchill's political position was far from secure in 1941and the loss of the Hood without sinking the Bismarck could have brought his government down.
Incorrect.

Churchill's position was secure by the time of the Battle of Britain, with Halifax and Chamberlain no longer of any substantive influence and having the full backing of Attlee.

The security of Churchill's position was assured by the lack of a credible alternative to him as Prime Minister. The only time that the House of Commons considered replacing him was after the fall of Tobruk and Churchill fairly easily survived for that reason.
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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by alecsandros » Thu May 23, 2013 8:38 am

Vic Dale wrote: The routes back would now be sealed and the mid Atlantic would be full of ships milling about, trying to get into the best position to intercept her.
Sealed how ? With what ships ?

He knew from radio communications that Scapa Flow was quiet, and with Hood gone (the only surface capital ship theoreticly capable of moving faster than BS)
Had Lutjens decided the go north, he would have faced the same situation, though in more restricted waters. Ships and aircraft will have concentrated their efforts at the various pinch points
What ships ? What concentrations ?
Scapa FLow was still full with warships [and Lutjens knew about that], and the only real threat was Victorious.

Taking the southern route exposed a single, damagedbattleship for 3 days against the entire Home Fleet.
and I have no doubt that had Lutjens been successful in getting through that blockade
What blockade ?
Where ? How ? With what ships ?

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by Vic Dale » Thu May 23, 2013 9:43 am

At 0600 on the morning of the 24th when Hood was sunk; about 200 miles to the south of Iceland was the flagship KGV hesding west, with Victorious and Repulse in company and 300 miles further south was the battleship Rodney - Rodney was riding shotgun on the liner Britannic and would have left her to try and join the flagship. The cruisers Manchester Birmingham and Arethusa were formed into a patrol line across the Iceland Faroes route and could have been ordered to form on the flagship.

Lutjens made his dash through the Denmark Strait once more because of the heavy air patrols between Scapa Flow and Iceland, so that would have been his major concern. Had he decided to turn east to head back after sinking Hood, he would have had KGV, Victorious and Repulse plus three cruisers ahead of him and PoW with two cruisers astern. They would be radioing his position every 20 minutes, so that the C-in-C could bring his forces nicely to bear. That would be some concentration of force for one battleship to try and deal with.

Heading south, Lutjens maintained the initiative and Tovey could only try to respond to him. After Lutjens shook off his pursuers, it becomes much clearer just how precarious Tovey's position actually was, when his fleet was sent in all directions chasing down duff leads from fictitious DF fixes.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by alecsandros » Thu May 23, 2013 11:13 am

Vic Dale wrote:At 0600 on the morning of the 24th when Hood was sunk; about 200 miles to the south of Iceland was the flagship KGV hesding west, with Victorious and Repulse in company and 300 miles further south was the battleship Rodney - Rodney was riding shotgun on the liner Britannic and would have left her to try and join the flagship. The cruisers Manchester Birmingham and Arethusa were formed into a patrol line across the Iceland Faroes route and could have been ordered to form on the flagship.
Exactly.

Rodney was doing 21kts and had no hope of arriving in the Denmark Strait.
The 3 cruisers would have been brushed aside just as swiftly as Norfolk and Suffolk were on the 23rd of May.

From the point were Hood was sunk, Bismarck could sail back north some 1200km, along the eastern side of Greenland, following the ice sheet, and then some 750km north-north-east, towards Jan Mayen Island.
At 25kts, the German squadron would require some 10 hours to get out of the strait, 12 more hours to reach the eastern tip, and a further 15 hours to Jan Mayen island.

The western portion of the strait was difficult to monitor, due to adverse weather conditions, and very long distance to travel from Scotland.
But even if they would have been spotted [or monitored by PoW and the 2 cruisers], the only intervention could only have come from Victorious aircraft, as all surface ships were simply to far away to converge there in time [even at 28kts, KGV would require over 25 hours to enter the strait ! - and Tovey could not afford that, as the ship did not have enough fuel for such a prolonged high-speed ]

Moreover, at 6:00 on May 24th, Victorious was still at extreme range, and if Lutjens had opted to return to the north at 7:00, even mantaining cotinous tracking, Victorious could not launch her aircraft due to the extreme range.

With Bismarck at 25kts, and Victorious at 30kts, the closing speed would simply not be enough to launch the Swordfishes.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by José M. Rico » Wed May 29, 2013 5:33 pm

This thread has been splitted.
You may continue discussing the case of Bismarck returning to Norway after sinking the Hood by clicking on the link below:


viewtopic.php?f=1&t=5835

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by Vic Dale » Wed May 29, 2013 11:35 pm

I was wondering when the Norway bit would become a separate thread

The problem with the notion of Bismarck hiding in the wastes of the Atlantic and making repairs, does not lie so much with her hiding, as making those repairs. Certainly the holes in the bow could have been patched up. She had a welded hull, so welding a suitably sized plate in place would make her fully seaworthy as far as that was concerned. The biggest problem was the hole below the main belt and the ripped up tanks and holes in the double bottom and outer shell plating. She was taking water and a lot of the damage was deep, so a dockyard would have been needed. I think it would have required an extreme careening to get at the holes in the ship's bottom, if that were at all possible. In such a condition, if sighted, she would not be able to right herself properly for an hour or more and that would render her completely helpless. Her guns would not be able to train and if sighted by even a destroyer, she could be shelled in her soft bottom and possibly burned out. So careening would not be a very safe option, unless she managed to hide in the Pacific.

Just to give an idea of what careening might mean. HMS Albion during an exercise was given an 8 degree list to starboard, to lend realism to the task of damage control. It took a full 20 minutes to right the ship again.

Bismarck was such a high prestige weapon that the hunting groups would never stop searching for her and the Atlantic now had such a concentration of ships it could be combed from top to bottom. Bismarck's supply ships were quickly rounded up and sunk, so she would quickly run out of logistical support.

Exercise Rhine was the last time a German raider sortied to the Atlantic. A good many plans were laid, but did not get past that stage. The Atlantic was now an impossible area for surface raiders to operate in. Notably, when it was decided to move the fleet north, they chose the Channel instead of the Denmark Strait. That shows just how dangerous it had become. In sinking the Hood, Bismarck had scuppered any chance of the surface fleet operating as it had in the past. I don't think even Lutjens would have been able to influence that.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by Vic Dale » Mon Aug 05, 2013 5:29 pm

Since writing my last post on this topic, I have taken in a great deal of information which is new to me and I believe now, that a complete repair to the hole in the ship's side would have been entirely possible. If the ship made for a sheltered location, divers could be put over the side to weld a plate over the hole. Careening might not even be necessary, though it might help in using the plate's weight to keep it against the hull whilst it was being welded. Once the hole was sealed the flooding chamber (Flutzell) adjacent to the ruptured fuel tank would be pumped out and adequate framing welded in place to back the newly fitted shell plate.

It seems the damage from this hit was not as bad as it might otherwise have been as the shell only partially detonated against the Torpedo Bulkhead inside a fuel bunker, distorting the bulkhead it and starting rivets. The only double bottom tanks would be the ones directly below the side bunkers, so loss of fuel would not be as much as we might previously have thought. I have estimated the capacity of one of these side tanks to be in the region of 100m³, so not more than 200m³ will have been lost and then only that amount if the ruptured tanks were full at the time of penetration.

The main problem from this hit was water seepage into the hull which caused flooding in two boiler rooms. So once flooding had been stopped it would not be a problem to leave the hole as it was and carry on with the operation. The hole would not case any appreciable drag and the weight of water in the flooded bunker and the airspace outboard of it, would be compensated for by use of fuel as the operation continued. The over all effect would be a very slight reduction in the ship's maximum fuel capacity.

As it now seems almost certain that the holes in the bow were welded shut on the afternoon of the 25th, the operation could have continued. However, the tactical situation in the Atlantic had changed dramatically in just a few days. Where once there were convoys guarded by Battleships and cruisers, they were now denuded of such protection and Prinz Eugen would be able to attack at will. In getting herself chased across the Atlantic, Bismarck had achieved her main purpose during the operation; keeping the heavy escorts interested in her and not the convoys. The two ships would continue to operated under Lutjens' control, but would operate far apart, as long as the Admiralty maintained the hunt for the German Flagship. If the hunt was called off and the heavy escorts went back to their respective convoy duties, the hunt would be back on the minute Bismarck struck.

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Re: Bismarck refuels and does repairs

Post by Stefan7litre » Sun Jan 12, 2014 4:45 am

I would have not refueled or attempted repairs at sea. Time was crucial here. It was a big mistake for the Admiral to break radio silence. Shifting the weight of supplies and etc to mid ship and stern would have raised the bow somewhat, maybe enough to slow down leak. Doing repairs in the open Atlantic would not be the best idea (rough waters & sitting target). Again, time and regaining speed was of the most importance. Getting to waters that were reachable by German air support bombers/fighters was the best hope that they had. When near air support, then I would have broke radio silence and requested assistance from any U-Boat or the Prinz Eugen for she too had impressive speed. The Bismarck had 20 water tight compartments (unlike the poor design of the Titanic) so it would have not sunk from the bow damage.

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