Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

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

Moderator: Bill Jurens

Felix C
Junior Member
Posts: 4
Joined: Tue Dec 17, 2013 8:04 pm

Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by Felix C » Tue Dec 17, 2013 8:16 pm

I searched and went back to 2009 to find posts on this pardon me if previously mentioned but was Bismarck's main battery gunnery much poorer in the final battle compared to the Denmark Straits action? Was it due to the main FC being hit early in the battle? Crew fatigue? Yawing of the ship due to the jammed rudder?

User avatar
José M. Rico
Administrator
Posts: 933
Joined: Sat Oct 16, 2004 10:23 am
Location: Madrid, Spain
Contact:

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Q

Post by José M. Rico » Wed Dec 18, 2013 12:46 am

It was a combination of everything. Still when considering the hopeless position the ship was, Bismarck's fire was not that bad at all, and even managed to straddle the Rodney during the early stages of the battle. However, very soon turrets Anton and Bruno were put out of action and after that it was all downhill. That Lieutenant Müllenheim-Rechberg later straddled the King George V with the after turrets is a good indication of the effectiveness of Bismarck's artillery.

alecsandros
Senior Member
Posts: 4349
Joined: Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:33 pm
Location: Bucharest, Romania

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Q

Post by alecsandros » Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:45 am

Another factor was geometry of the battle. KGV and ROdney approached the Bismarck from the front. Bismarck could not steer in order to bring her aft turrets to bear. SO she was using only the 4 forward turrets in the first 25 minutes of the battle. The frontal artillery of the British battleships was 15 main guns.

Felix C
Junior Member
Posts: 4
Joined: Tue Dec 17, 2013 8:04 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Q

Post by Felix C » Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:56 pm

Recommended reading on which book provides the most detail regarding gunnery in the last battle? Quite a few Bismarck books have been printed since the last one I read about the Mullenheim-Rechberg book.

Thorsten Wahl
Senior Member
Posts: 771
Joined: Mon Apr 27, 2009 4:17 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Q

Post by Thorsten Wahl » Thu Dec 19, 2013 7:48 pm

HMSHood.com provides a lot of stuff
primary sources and reconstruction of the events around May 25th 1941

http://www.hmshood.com/reference/records.htm

http://www.hmshood.com/history/denmarks ... source.htm
Meine Herren, es kann ein siebenjähriger, es kann ein dreißigjähriger Krieg werden – und wehe dem, der zuerst die Lunte in das Pulverfaß schleudert!

Felix C
Junior Member
Posts: 4
Joined: Tue Dec 17, 2013 8:04 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Q

Post by Felix C » Thu Dec 19, 2013 7:49 pm

Thanks. But I meant Bismarck's last battle.

paul.mercer
Senior Member
Posts: 967
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by paul.mercer » Wed Sep 30, 2020 4:49 pm

Gentlemen,
In a moment of idleness I dug up this topic from 2013 on the question of the seemingly poor shooting by Bismarck in the final battle.
While I can understand that the officers and crew were probably exhausted but I would have thought that as soon as the alarm bell started to ring the adrenalin would kick in and revitalize them. Also, as Alecsandros stated, KGV and Rodney approached from head on meaning Bismarck could only use her forward turrets -, but surely not as long as the first 25 minutes of the battle?
In her engagement of Hood and PoW I presume Bismarck was moving and maneuvering at something close to her maximum speed, yet she hit and sank Hood with only a few salvos and very quickly ranged on and hit PoW forcing her to withdraw, so my question is this: during the last battle Bismarck was travelling much slower and turning in a large circle at about 10 knots or so, surely it would not have taken 25 minutes to turn and bring all her guns to bear even for a while and had she speeded up surely she would have turned even quicker to unmask her rear turrets?
I realise she achieved a couple of near misses on the RN ships, but even allowing for all the problems on board, it seems that her shooting was not as good as it was in her first engagement.

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2162
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by wadinga » Thu Oct 01, 2020 10:30 am

Hello Paul,

Thank goodness, signs of life. I was beginning to think the forum had been wiped out by the virus. :shock: Let's get some lively debate going to dispel "idleness" and cheer ourselves up! :D

As has been noted, and cannot be overstated, the weather was absolutely terrible that morning, and a vessel's ability to decouple from sympathetic synchronization with waves depends on forward motion at some speed. Bismarck was flooding and listing to port after torpedo damage, was uncontrollable as a result of the rudder damage and thus wallowed helplessly in the waves, probably rendering even her sophisticated fire control completely ineffective.

Her survivors noted this:
I cannot say of how long the ship maintained forward speed. As the morning twilight came, "Bismarck" lay motionless with the seas abeam. A strong seaway prevailed at the time. During this period the ship had a marked list to port so that the 15 cm turrets were in the water and the crews of the 10.5 guns were washed overboard by the breakers. In my opinion, the ship listed up to 40º during the rolls [in the waves]. From my battle station I watched gun crew personnel on the port side 10.5 cm being washed overboard by breakers. (Otto Höntzsch)
The ship was abeam to the sea [almost broaching UR], [and] breakers crashed over the portside. The ship showed considerably more list (approx. 10º). (Georg Herzog)
The ship had a severe list to port at that time, although it maintained 24 knots; heavy seas dominated. (Walter Lorenzen)
The battle commenced shortly thereafter. We had [to face] the battleship on the port side, [while] on the starboard [was] a cruiser with three funnels. I did not feel any hits. After a while there was a slight knock [shock, punch], the [turret] hatch popped open, and I saw a 10.5 cm Flak mount standing [at an] oblique [angle]. We now noticed that the ship had considerable list to port. At about 9 o'clock (A.M.), an ordnance mate came into our turret and reported to the turret leader that our munitions chamber was on fire and had to be flooded. (Otto Maus)
The gale force winds and heavy seas made gunnery conditions for the British ships extremely difficult, limiting the number of hits even at short ranges, and they could manoeuvre to minimise weather effects on their motion. The Bismarck that faced her pursuers that morning was a shadow of the ship she had been several days earlier and was incapable of serious resistance. In calm weather, with her motion less violent, who can tell what might have occurred?

In the Age of Fighting Sail there would have been no dishonour in hauling down the flag after a token effort and relying on the chivalry and mercy of one's opponents. Langsdorff had effectively chosen this option in 1939, sadly, such an option did not exist in 1941 for Bismarck's crew.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

paul.mercer
Senior Member
Posts: 967
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by paul.mercer » Thu Oct 01, 2020 5:08 pm

Thanks for your reply Wadinga,
I have used part of your post in the 'Hypothetical' part of the Forum on another topic - I hope that's OK with you.
As you say the weather was terrible on that day, but if Bismarck's engines were not damaged, could she not have speeded up a bit and not only reduced the rolling but turned quicker so to bring her aft guns into play, the 25 minutes quoted by Alecsandros seems an awful long time.
That said, for an already demoralized crew, the sight of two large battleships approaching over the horizon must have seemed like a slow execution.
Thanks again.
Paul

Steve Crandell
Senior Member
Posts: 697
Joined: Wed Feb 05, 2014 7:05 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by Steve Crandell » Thu Oct 01, 2020 7:02 pm

Wadinga's post implies that Bismarck was completely incapable of fighting, and yet:

She straddled Rodney early on, with one shell coming very close.

The Baron in his book reports taking KGV under fire and straddling her. He had just ordered "good rapid" fire when his position was put out of action.

People report that morale was definitely terrible. I remember someone saying that when the captain was asked permission to take some damage control measure he replied something to the effect of "do what you want".

Apparently they did fight effectively in the beginning, however.

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2162
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by wadinga » Fri Oct 02, 2020 1:11 am

Hi Steve,

I just quoted what the survivors said. If your gun crews are being washed overboard even before the fight starts, it suggests you have something of a handicap. The RN Admiralty interrogation of the Baron says two of the 5.9" turrets were knocked out by the sea, not by enemy fire.

I have seen a chunk of shrapnel from Bismarck's shell which was picked up aboard Rodney (Liverpool Maritime Museum) but there were no actual hits. On anything, at all.

Junack's article "Last Hours of the Bismarck" on this site contains the following:
Two minutes later, Bismarck replied, and her third volley straddled the Rodney, but this accuracy could not be maintained: because of the continual battle against the sea,
For me this is further confirmation that perhaps even before the demolition of the forward and after fire control posts, vessel motion due to slow speed, the list from flooding somewhere on the port side, and the inability to hold a steady heading (ie yaw) due to the heavy weather were making Bismarck's gunnery ineffectual.

British tracks for Bismarck show her zigzagging into the weather, presumably attempting to balance the force of wind and wave pushing her bow one way with the unwanted thrust of the remaining rudder under power opposing it. This unsuccessful attempt at maintaining some kind of stable course was to try and give her gunners some chance of tracking a target, but it just wasn't enough.

The final battle was fought in a gale of wind where aircraft handlers in Ark Royal had to hold the Swordfish steady to stop them being blown sideways across the deck as the ship turned into wind to launch another strike. Once airborne from the wildly pitching carrier these aircraft were "warned off" from a further torpedo attack as Tovey wanted his guns to sink Bismarck not FAA torpedoes. As we know they couldn't before he turned for home, and a testy Winston had to admit it in the House of Commons, after forcing Pound to send the ridiculous "run out of fuel signal".

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

Steve Crandell
Senior Member
Posts: 697
Joined: Wed Feb 05, 2014 7:05 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by Steve Crandell » Fri Oct 02, 2020 3:55 am

So you think the Baron was lying when he said he was firing at KGV? Because if the ship was listing 40 deg it would not be possible to shoot at anything.

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2162
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by wadinga » Fri Oct 02, 2020 9:18 am

Hi Steve,

As a post war submariner, I'm sure you tried to avoid all that inconvenient and uncomfortable pitching and rolling at the surface, and stayed in the stable depths as much as possible. I actually believe Otto Höntzsch probably exaggerated a bit, but if the Baron timed his shots on the roll, there is no exclusion between the accounts and I have not suggested anybody lied. Even Otto says rolled 40 degrees not listed.

Lieutenant-Commander Hugh Guernsey's account on this site
A little later I heard the first whine of her 15-inch shell—it was a straddling shot over our foc'sle, one short and three overs.


confirms KG V was straddled and specifically attributes this to the after turrets, presumably under the Baron's control.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

Steve Crandell
Senior Member
Posts: 697
Joined: Wed Feb 05, 2014 7:05 pm

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by Steve Crandell » Fri Oct 02, 2020 3:18 pm

Being at periscope depth in heavy seas is difficult, especially when the planes are on the "sail". It's easy to lose depth control and broach.

But yes, if you can stay deep it's more comfortable. Unfortunately intelligence gathering often requires sticking masts out of the water.

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2162
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Bismarck final battle and German main battery accuracy Qs.

Post by wadinga » Fri Oct 02, 2020 6:38 pm

Fellow Contributors,

This business of the list and when it developed is interesting. The Baron complains about the description in the reconstructed KTB for Bismarck (based apparently on these survivor's description) of a heavy list to port at the time when the attempt to get an aircraft away was happening. Having gone to watch the effort he says:
it is true the ship was listing to port


but then goes on to say there was no possibility of people being washed overboard or turret flooding and such extreme conditions only occurred 20 minutes before the ship sank. His visit was his was about 05.00-06.00. He later visits the Wardroom where the officers present only offer the occasional "hopeless, laconic" remark. He notes
As I went in, for the first time I became strongly aware that we were listing to port. It was strange how much more pronounced the effect was in this closed room than elsewhere.
Without a visible horizon he must have used other clues to sense the list. Maybe the list was just getting worse?

It seems surprising to me that AA crews would still be at their posts (so as to be washed away) until only 20 minutes before the ship sank.

There is description of flooding occurring through the prop shaft glands after the rudder torpedo hit, but in view of the oft repeated description of undamaged operations below the armoured deck during the cannonade, it would be surprising if shell hits caused flooding leading to an increasing list to port. PoW's hit had struck below the waterline and had caused a 9 degree list. Counterflooding had reduced this, but did the violent hull whipping as a result of the rudder hit which also shut off the starboard engine safety valves, cause renewed flooding on the portside, perhaps unrecorded as the main damage control effort was trying to clear the rudder?

Any thoughts?

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

Post Reply