The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

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Byron Angel
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The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by Byron Angel » Wed May 13, 2020 5:46 pm

The fatal torpedo hit that crippled Bismarck has missed.

Now what?

How does this alter the operational planning to bring Bismarck to bay?
What are the chances of Bismarck reaching Lorient?

Let's revive some interesting discussion here! It has been quiet too long and I have a raging case of cabin fever.

Byron

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by Bill Jurens » Wed May 13, 2020 8:22 pm

A good question. If she had maintained previous course and speed, Bismarck should have been able to make the French coast sometime around midnight on the 27th. Whether she could have actually docked after that is somewhat questionable. That would have given basically all of the 27th for the British to deliver attacks on the ship, and my own feeling -- no more than that -- is that they would have either slowed her and sunk her a bit later, or that they would have launched a series of bombing raids to disable her at her port in France.

It might have been better for the British to actually allow Bismarck to reach France, where they could have, via air raids, successively and sequentially disabled her so that she never became functionally operational again, leaving her in a state where attempted repairs would still represent a drain on the German resources. A 500 pound bomb hit or two every month or six weeks would have done the job neatly.

Watch them fix it, then -- when she's almost operational again -- deliver another air raid...

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by paul.mercer » Thu May 14, 2020 9:38 am

Gentlemen,
She might have attempted the' Channel dash', it seemed that the attacks on the Twins, while causing great inconvenience to the Germans, was very costly in aircraft and their crews and not doing a tremendous amount of damage,as they were not being dropped from a very great height to enable them to penetrate very far. I'm probably wrong, but I'm not sure the RAF had the aircraft or the right type of bomb to do the job properly in 1941
Had Bismarck made Brest it could have been very inconvenient for the RN if she had later sortied with the twins

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by pgollin » Thu May 14, 2020 9:50 am

Were the RN submarine patrols outside Brest at this time ?

Would Bismarck go to Brest or Saint-Nazaire to repair the bow damage ?

What destroyers were based in Portsmouth and Devonport that carried torpedoes and could attack ?

Would Bletchley Park decode the instructions to Luftwaffe units to protect Bismarck's approach to the coast ?

What range did the RAF's torpedo bombers ( ? Beauforts ? and/or Swordfish with Long Range tanks ) have ?

What (if any) "surge capacity" did Bomber Command have to lay mines in the approaches of Brest or St Nazaire ?

At this time the Luftwaffe had stopped the nightly blitz and was in the process of mainly moving to the Eastern Front. Would this mean that the bulk of the Home Fleet could come down to Devonport and maybe even Portsmouth ?

.

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by wadinga » Thu May 14, 2020 7:59 pm

Fellow Contributors,

To be honest I think this belongs in hypotheticals, but I am pleased to see some action. (Any action). Well done Byron.

RN sub patrols - yes they had been alerted see Admiralty war Diary

Bismarck has underwater damage from Victorious' attack- only dry dock big enough is "Normandie" at St Nazaire

Only available destroyers went to screen Tovey

Bletchley was reading Luftwaffe Enigma but detailed tactical info would be too slow to be of much value

Ark's Swordfish were ready to attack again on 27th, Fulmars would have to interfere with Ju88, He 111 and Fw 200 Condors. Bismarck is aiming for Southern Bay of Biscay to maximize range from UK air bases, and then head north inshore with Luftwaffe protection

Very short notice to launch a major RAF "Gardening" campaign. Nailing both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during "Cerberus" was very lucky.

The bulk of the Home Fleet is with Tovey or left behind to the north Repulse, Victorious etc There is no-one to stop Bismarck except Somerville and that is exactly what he did.

Bismarck in the Cancer Ward gets sicker just like the rest. Northern France is no place for Capital ships.

All the best

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by José M. Rico » Sat May 23, 2020 4:40 am

Without the fatal torpedo hit in the evening of the 26th, then Bismarck gains about 10 hours until Ark Royal's Swordfish can launch another strike at first light on the 27th. Difference is that now Bismarck would be about 240 miles closer to Brest (at approx. meridian 10º west) and well within Luftwaffe's reach.
In this scenario, there is no way Tovey can intercept the Bismarck in the morning of the 27th. However, Renown, Sheffield, and the 5 destroyers of the 4th Flotilla may have a chance. Would the Admiralty allow them to engage under Luftwaffe attacks?

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun May 24, 2020 2:28 pm

Regarding the question of how Bismarck may have fared in French Atlantic ports, and the capabilities during 1941 of RAF Bomber Command: During the last few years I have been interested in researching Bomber Command’s operations during 1941. I was surprised by some of the findings.

The arrival of S&G at Brest coincided with an expansion of RAF commitments into the Med. and N. Africa. Bomber Command was forced to give up many of the experienced personal at home to Coastal Command abroad. This draft of personal was a matter of expediency as the high command thought it as an opportunity to put pressure on a perhaps over extended enemy. Besides, Bomber Command was still far from being ready to take up its mission of strategic bombing. Bomber Command in 1941 is described as “small, ill equipped, and poorly trained.”

The air marshalls were dead set against using Bomber Command assets against the German warships in French ports. They described it as a waste of time and considered it an unwelcome diversion from their primary mission, which at the time they were certain was bringing a quick end to the war by bombing German cities. But first they needed to develop the equipment and the expertise to begin the campaign against Germany itself. The Admiralty of course wanted the ships bombed heavy and often. I was surprised that Churchill often came down on the side of air marshalls and against the admirals in the conflicts of priorities.

Nonetheless, the biggest problem facing Bomber Command during 1941 was training new crews. The main weapon they had was the Wellington medium bomber plus a handful of Manchester heavy bombers by March 1941. They were just beginning operational training of the first few Halifax heavy bombers. The presence of the German heavy ships in the nearby French ports gave them the opportunity to give green crews on the job training, without running the risk of losing too many of them, or losing many new heavy bombers just as they came available.

This meant night bombing for the most part, as daylight operations over Luftwaffe controlled airspace was considered for the most part out of the question. Besides, they planned a night bombing campaign against German cities, so operational training at night was a must. Later analysis determined that night operations against the French ports had an average loss rate of 2.2% per mission. This compared to a horrendous loss rate of 17.8% during daylight operations against the French Atlantic ports during 1941.

However, bombing at night posed its own set of problems. During the night operations that followed, it was found that ability to locate the target area was only achieved by an average of 52% of the bombers on any given mission. An Aug 1941 independent audit determined that only 1 in 5 bombs actually dropped during night operations during June and July 1941 hit within 5 miles of the target. On moonless nights the ratio worsened to 1 in 14. The same audit determined that there was less than 1% chance of hitting a precision target, such as a large warship in port, with a bomb at night.


One of the big problems was locating the target at night. Moonlight helped by highlighting coastlines and landmarks, as well the targets. However, too much moonlight also highlighted the bombers for the enemy defenders. Operations against the German warships was usually planned during ¼ Moon phases. Cloud cover and bad weather meant that the probability of a successful mission that particular night was practically nil. Another limiting factor for the frequency of operations against the warships was the availability of armor piercing bombs.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun May 24, 2020 2:31 pm

The first raid against S&G occurred on the night of March 30/31. 109 bombers were sent. They scored no hits. Examination of the bomb fragments indicated the use of armor piercing bombs, leaving no question of the intentions.
April raids on Brest:
April 3/4 90 bombers. Target area not found. 3 lost.
April 4/5 54 bombers. Targets located. No hits. 1 lost.

The April 4/5 raid produced no hits but it prompted the Germans to make a mistake. They moved Gneisenau out of the dry dock into the outer harbor where it was more vulnerable to torpedo attack. Such an attack by Coastal Command materialized the next day, April 6. Only one torpedo bomber got close enough to deliver a torpedo, and the crew of the torpedo bomber paid with their lives, but the damage was severe. Gneisenau was moved back to the dry dock.

Bomber command came again that same night:
April 6/7 71 bombers. 14 bombers did not find target area. No hits. 1 lost.
April 11/12 53 bombers. 4 hits scored on Gneisenau. 1 lost
April 13/14 66 bombers. 37 located targets. No hits.

After the bomb damage to Gneisenau, the Germans increased their defenses by simply taking away their enemy’s ability to precisely locate the target. The Germans employed thick smokes screens, and reduced the use of search lights. The bombers usually bombed on estimated target locations anyway, but on occasion they diverted to alternative targets.

April 22/23 24 bombers. Target area obscured. No hits. 1 lost.
April 28/29 25 bombers. Target area obscured. No hits.

May 3/4 97 bombers. Target area obscured. No hits.
May 7/8 89 bombers. Target area obscured. No hits. 1 lost. 15 bombers set to St. Nazaire to bomb the dry dock. Target not hit.
June 10/11 104 bombers. Targets not located. No hits.
June 13/14 110 bombers. Targets not located. No hits.
June 18/19 57 bombers. Target area obscured. No hits.

On June 20/21 Bomber command went to Kiel to bomb Tirpitz. Most German home ports were part of the nightly target rotation now, indicating that the risk of bomb damage to a major warship in a home port was as great as in a French port. 115 bombers were sent. Target located. No hits. 2 lost.

The next Brest raid on July 1/2 scored the hit on Prinz Eugen. The action reports indicate that the visibility was excellent and all three targets were located and bombed. German KTB entries might explain this aberration. The alarm was given 0:44 hours, but the raid did not commence until 1:40 hours. It may be that the smoke screen dissipated by the time the bombing started. 52 bombers. 1 hit. 2 lost.
July 4/5 88 bombers. Target area obscured. No hits. 1 lost.
July 6/7 109 bombers. Target area obscured. No hits. 1 lost.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun May 24, 2020 2:34 pm

July 23. The location of Scharnhorst had been confirmed by a recon flight on July 23 in La Pallice, 200 miles to the south. Scharnhorst was running machinery trials there. Some secondary sources claim that the scheduled night raid on Brest was moved to the next day to ensure hits in an attempt to sink the Scharnhorst in a less secure, relatively deep-water, port. This is not correct. The day light raid had been in the works for some time. Additionally, there were now several examples of the new very large Sterling 4 engine bombers coming on line.

Nonetheless, six Sterling bombers were dispatched at once to bomb Scharnhorst before dark on the 23rd. (the Moon was in the new Moon phase) They scored no hits. 1 of the new Sterling bombers was lost to fighters. 30 bombers were dispatched to La Pallice to bomb Scharnhorst that night as well. They also scored no hits.

July 24. The scheduled daylight raid was modified so that 50 bombers, including 15 Sterling bombers, would bomb Scharnhorst, while 100 bombers with escort fighters would bomb Brest. No hits were scored at Brest, and overall bomber losses were heavy.

Hits were scored on the Scharnhorst at La Pallice. The British were probably aware of the damage, or soon would be, through Ultra. However, the fact that Scharnhorst steamed back to Brest that same night at 27 knots, even fending off a night RAF torpedo bomber attack, indicated that it was hardly crippled as many secondary sources infer.

The air marshalls were not happy about the loss of several of the 4 engine bombers and their crews. The cost benefit ratio was poor from their perspective. Attacks on the warships were temporarily suspended.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun May 24, 2020 2:38 pm

It was not until September that attacks on the German warships were resumed with each quarter moon phase, obviously only at night. The attacks were much larger in scale with about 150 bombers per raid, and included more and more four engine heavy bombers carrying more and/or larger bombs. Moreover, prototype versions of electronic aids to help the bombers locate the target area began being employed. 140 bombers went the night of September 3/4. A further 147 bombers were sent the night of September 13/14. Nonetheless, no hits were scored. Neither were not a single hit scored in the Autumn raids hence forth.

By late Nov. it was becoming apparent that that any of the three warships could resume operations anytime. December would bring a renewed effort to render the warships unfit for operations or perhaps destroy them. Even to the point of conducting daylight raids. Bomber Command now had significant numbers of heavy bombers, as well as heavier armor piercing bombs. A major daylight bombing operation was planned for December 18th.

On the night of 17/18 104 bombers were sent to Brest. They score no hits. During the late morning of the next day 18 Sterling bombers, 18 Halifax bombers, and 11 Manchester bombers formed up and headed for Brest. The heavies were armed with armor piercing bombs. They were instructed to release the bombs from no less than 16,000 feet. The Sterling bombers went in first, followed by the Halifax bombers, then the Manchester bombers. No hits were scored. Losses were heavy.

Pressure was not relented with heavy night raids following up during the remainder of December. January 5/6 saw 203 tons of armor piercing bombs expended. Raids continued into February. February 6/7 saw 140 bombers sent, followed by a heavy raid on the night of 10/11. 50 medium bombers were sent on the night of 11/12, but the ships were gone by the time the bombs fell.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by wadinga » Sun May 24, 2020 9:33 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Dave has splendidly exceeded in depth and detail the outline description of the RAF's effort in trapping the three major warships in Brest for much of 1941 already included in the hypothetical "Bismarck in Brest" thread. However a little more detail on the damage sustained might be in order.

The result of the four hits on Gneisenau briefly mentioned for April 11/12th are described thus in Koop & Schmolke (albeit 2nd source)
78 dead and 84 wounded B turret jammed and the flak switching and report centre, the forward compass e-gear and part of the command relay system in the command centre were all put out of action, The armour deck was distorted at the site of the blast. The kitchens and bakehouse were destroyed. All accommodation decks forward of compartment XII were uninhabitable owing to the effects of explosion and fire
Together with the previous torpedo damage meant this ship was unavailable for most of the rest of the year.

Prinz Eugen
52 bombers. 1 hit. 2 lost.
but the one hit completely destroyed Prinz Eugen's fire control centre, killed 60 crew members and the splinters penetrated the double bottom causing flooding. Not operational until 1942.
Hits were scored on the Scharnhorst at La Pallice. The British were probably aware of the damage, or soon would be, through Ultra. However, the fact that Scharnhorst steamed back to Brest that same night at 27 knots, even fending off a night RAF torpedo bomber attack, indicated that it was hardly crippled as many secondary sources infer.
Because the German ships were in harbour using secure land lines there was no Enigma warning about Scharnhorst reaching trials status, but this was unnecessary as agent Phillipon was providing detailed info. He thought Scharnhorst had "got away" but the the daylight Halifax raid, made with extreme gallantry under heavy fighter attack scored five hits. Three though and throughs went through the double bottom causing thousands of tons of flooding and other sources say only a 20 knot return to Brest and on arrival the stern was flooded down until the after portholes were under water. Four months of repair. Pretty crippling. Phillipon's heroic radio operator Bernard Antequil, tortured by the Gestapo, paid with his life for getting this information to the UK. One luckless Coastal Command patroller bumped into the enemy force, I can find no record of a torpedo attack.

Assessing how much of the time the German ships were trapped in Brest by battle damage and how much was spent in apparently necessary refits is difficult. But a "fleet in being" has to be capable of operations when required and for much of the 1941 it wasn't , due to RAF harrying. Bombing "Salmon and Gluckstein" , despite losses, was regarded as a "night off" compared with the Ruhr. A distraction from the "Strategic Mission" of trying to kill German civilians in their beds. There is no reason to imagine Bismarck would have fared any better than the other ships if she had made it in.

U Boats could hide in their bunkers but French west coast ports were just untenable for heavy ships. As Bill said:
Watch them fix it, then -- when she's almost operational again -- deliver another air raid...
Just a drain on Doenitz' stretched resources.

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by paul.mercer » Mon May 25, 2020 9:13 am

José M. Rico wrote:
Sat May 23, 2020 4:40 am
Without the fatal torpedo hit in the evening of the 26th, then Bismarck gains about 10 hours until Ark Royal's Swordfish can launch another strike at first light on the 27th. Difference is that now Bismarck would be about 240 miles closer to Brest (at approx. meridian 10º west) and well within Luftwaffe's reach.
In this scenario, there is no way Tovey can intercept the Bismarck in the morning of the 27th. However, Renown, Sheffield, and the 5 destroyers of the 4th Flotilla may have a chance. Would the Admiralty allow them to engage under Luftwaffe attacks?
Gentlemen,
If the torpedo had missed Bismarck I would think the RN were in very deep poo as there was no ship that could catch her.Rodney had apparently passed within 50 miles of her but was far too slow to intercept and even if she had it is unlikely that Lutjens would have accepted battle with another powerful ship when all he had to do was put on a bit of speed and leave old Rodney trailing behind him
Renown was fast enough bearing in mind that Bismarck probably could not make her full speed due to the hit on her bow, but I believe that Repulse had already been told earlier not to engage unless Bismarck was fully occupied with other ships and it is unlikely the RN would risk Renown to go up against her without other heavy support, personally I think that if she had, even with Sheffield and the destroyers there would have been a very good chance that had Bismarck chosen to fight it out she could quite conceivably sunk the lot even without support from the Luftwaffe.
I suppose in reality, the only ship that the RN had that was capable of taking on Bismarck in terms o firepower and speed and with a fair chance of defeating her would be KGV, so the RN best choice was to let her make Brest and then try to disable he by bombing, a very risky choice bearing in mind the aircraft and bombs were not particularly good at that time.

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by wadinga » Mon May 25, 2020 10:32 am

Fellow Contributors,
but I believe that Repulse had already been told earlier not to engage unless Bismarck was fully occupied with other ships
No it was actually Renown which was so instructed, and only after Bismarck started circling, meaning that Tovey would catch her anyway and there was no need for "Do or Die" heroics. Renown and her sister were the last "true" battlecruisers with thin, limited area, belt armour. (Unlike fast battleship Hood.) A one on one battle by Somerville against Bismarck would have been a real roll of dice weighted heavily against him, based on raw courage and not on any kind of material equality.

The 4th flotilla destroyers would have been very unlikely to have caught up with an un-slowed Bismarck since they were only detached from Rodney relatively late and even with a slowed quarry were eventually so low on fuel they were later operating at reduced speed and were easier Luftwaffe targets. Piorun was ordered home early due to fuel shortage, but disobeyed.

British submarines were deployed as a last line of attack off Lutjens' hoped-for havens and during the war tagged Lutzow, Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau so had a good record against major German warships. Maybe they would have hit Bismarck too.

There is still the matter of Lutjens' unexplained, unexpected "urgent" demand for fuel which led the luckless crew of the tanker Ermland being readied for a suicide mission to resupply him "at sea" somewhere in Biscay. This conundrum awaits resolution.

My apologies to the memory of Jean Philippon for spelling his name incorrectly. A French naval officer who despite the memory of Oran, and the continuing sufferings of Brest's civilians under the RAF's wayward bombings, continued to supply the British with with invaluable intel, staying in post, even when he knew Antequil could have betrayed him under torture. A true French hero.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by HMSVF » Mon May 25, 2020 1:13 pm

wadinga wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 10:32 am
Fellow Contributors,
but I believe that Repulse had already been told earlier not to engage unless Bismarck was fully occupied with other ships
No it was actually Renown which was so instructed, and only after Bismarck started circling, meaning that Tovey would catch her anyway and there was no need for "Do or Die" heroics. Renown and her sister were the last "true" battlecruisers with thin, limited area, belt armour. (Unlike fast battleship Hood.) A one on one battle by Somerville against Bismarck would have been a real roll of dice weighted heavily against him, based on raw courage and not on any kind of material equality.

The 4th flotilla destroyers would have been very unlikely to have caught up with an un-slowed Bismarck since they were only detached from Rodney relatively late and even with a slowed quarry were eventually so low on fuel they were later operating at reduced speed and were easier Luftwaffe targets. Piorun was ordered home early due to fuel shortage, but disobeyed.

British submarines were deployed as a last line of attack off Lutjens' hoped-for havens and during the war tagged Lutzow, Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau so had a good record against major German warships. Maybe they would have hit Bismarck too.

There is still the matter of Lutjens' unexplained, unexpected "urgent" demand for fuel which led the luckless crew of the tanker Ermland being readied for a suicide mission to resupply him "at sea" somewhere in Biscay. This conundrum awaits resolution.

My apologies to the memory of Jean Philippon for spelling his name incorrectly. A French naval officer who despite the memory of Oran, and the continuing sufferings of Brest's civilians under the RAF's wayward bombings, continued to supply the British with with invaluable intel, staying in post, even when he knew Antequil could have betrayed him under torture. A true French hero.

All the best

wadinga

Mmm,I don't think I would have liked to have been on HMS Renown if she had been allowed to engage...
Im sure I read that at Jutland belt penetrations were quite rare and that turret and deck penetrations were more likely. Wouldn't like to have put that to the test. I suppose it would have been a case of whether she could have hit Bismarck quickly enough to make a difference before receiving heavy damage. A sort of hit and run scenario perhaps.

As a matter of interest, just say the Swordfish's initial (magnetic triggered) torpedoes had worked (and potentially sunk or damaged Sheffield). Would the damage Bismarck have been compared to historical? Would the torpedo have completely wrecked the stern?


Best wishes HMSVF

(glad be able to post - thought id been blacklisted!)

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Re: The Swordfish's Torpedo misses Bismarck

Post by Bill Jurens » Tue May 26, 2020 7:01 am

It's interesting -- but probably in the final analysis, futile -- to speculate as to what might have occurred if the torpedo that struck Bismarck had exploded in a slightly different place. The detailed effects of explosions, particularly in areas of the hull that vary fairly dramatically from place to place, are probably impossible to predict with any accuracy. This will, at least in the case of Bismark, probably always be true; by the time an ordinary user has sufficient computer power available to numerically integrate the explosion processes, the precise details of the construction will probably have been lost. In many or all of these problems, the devil really does reside in the details.

That being said, it's hard to picture a torpedo hit that might have caused worse results aft; knocking off BOTH rudders might actually have improved the situation. It's also possible that a hit in another spot might have disabled all three propeller shafts, leaving Bismarck perhaps able to steer but motionless. The only 'answer' if one might call it that, was to have had the designers adopt a different geometry, e.g. a four-shaft arrangement, which of course would have perhaps improved the situation aft at some additional cost, e.g. heavier and larger machinery spaces, forward.


Sorry to hear you thought you might have been 'blacklisted'. As many correspondents will note, you have to behave pretty badly and pretty consistently badly to be banned. Bans (though rarely applied) are always announced, reasons given, and begin with very short -- e.g. one day -- demonstrative warnings. Further, should a number of correspondents suggest a ban was inappropriate, I'd be only too happy to reconsider, and quite likely rescind, it.

So, if you can't get on the forum, it's almost certain that it represents something with the hardware rather than yourself.

To all, welcome back to the forum....

Bill Jurens

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