Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

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

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wadinga
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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by wadinga » Thu Aug 13, 2020 10:25 am

Fellow Contributors,
Nevertheless the [in]effect[iveness] of Bismarcks AA-fire remain a mysterium.
Indeed it does. Despite the suggestion that a non-lethal deterrence was the primary object of AA fire, it remains true that both attacks, by relatively small numbers of aircraft, scored hits on a fast, radically manoeuvring target. Furthermore, due to heavy cloud, it had been impossible to co-ordinate those attacks in the classical, textbook, simultaneous "hammerhead" assault where it was hoped to overwhelm defensive fire with an excess of targets.
Bismarck could repell subflights 5 and 6 (4 airplanes in total) almost completely
These two separate attacks allowed the battleship to deploy her entire armament that would bear against only two targets. Still no splashdowns.

Prince of Wales and Repulse also manoeuvred radically under a far heavier air torpedo attack from more capable aircraft and were hit several times. Although the enormous scale of US AA installations by the time of the Kamikaze attacks makes comparison difficult, official policy then was for battleships to maintain course for best gunnery conditions and only small units to attempt evasion.

The combination of Atlantic swell conditions, Bismarck's rapid motion due to great metacentric height and her radical manoeuvring may have been beyond the synchronisation capabilities of the advanced, but experimental, gyro systems in the Wackelkopf AA directors and stabilised gun mounts. This seems to be Norman Friedman's opinion in his book Naval Anti-Aircraft Guns and Gunnery. In other attacks eg in the Channel Dash, there was no swell but light seas, and constrained waters and supporting screen limited manoeuvring, easing the stress on the system.

It is also surely true that the presence of a defensive screen of reasonably well AA equipped vessels which are not targets themselves, but engage torpedo bombers early, well outside effective torpedo range, is vital. PoW and Repulse had ancient toothless escorts, Bismarck not even this.
crippled by the worst TBD
Actually a very specialised TBD. One that could operate at night, when no others did. One that could operate in weather conditions that kept contemporaries strapped down to the deck. One that deployed radar long before any contemporary. One that often brought its crew home after unbelievable damage.
One of them had 175 holes, a damaged longeron and had to written off after return.
I think the Swordfish was similar in some respects to helicopter use at sea. That is it can do things no fixed wing aircraft can do, but stands no chance in combat against them.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by Steve Crandell » Thu Aug 13, 2020 3:29 pm

Maybe someone has already mentioned this, but weren't Bismarck's 3.7cm an early version which were loaded one round at a time?

I don't think the radar on the Swordfish aircraft was something other aircraft couldn't carry. The fact that is was a biplane didn't really make it possible to carry a radar, did it?

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by wadinga » Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:47 pm

Hi Steve,

The point is Swordfish used ASV II to locate the Bismarck as early as May 1941, and needed radar because unlike the faster, monoplane aircraft of the USA and Japan, as a low speed take off and landing aircraft it could and did operate at night and in bad weather from carriers at that time. They didn't. The technology was provided to the Americans by the British Tizard mission in 1940 allowing Philco to produce the US ASE set based on it, issued to USN Catalinas in late 1940.

Black Cat Catalinas were making night torpedo attacks in mid 1942 using radar at a time when no single engine US aircraft was deploying radar, or attacking at night, and the Avenger only got it much later for ASW purposes. That was a much more compact centimetric system.

So despite being so archaic-looking, the Swordfish was deploying radar to allow night and low visibility attacks when no other single engine carrier based aircraft could.

As for wrangling about whether Bismarck's AA outfit was up to snuff see

http://www.kbismarck.org/forum/viewtopi ... &start=150

from ten years ago. Including one bgile :cool: Even then the observation was effectively that
the worst treaty battleship
with 5.25" DP and her radar/director controlled pom-poms had a better AA outfit than Bismarck. PoW was still lumbered with the PAC mounts.
Other german ships with basically the same AA- and firecontrol suite performed significantly better in terms of aircraft downed - Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen comes to mind.
One of the benefits of the nearly year-long refits whilst trapped in the "cancer ward" in Brest, was that the three ships emerged in 1942 with quad 20mm vierlings to supplement light AA. Whilst the massive Luftwaffe fighter cover provided for the Channel Dash claimed most British aircraft, their AA fire must have done better than Bismarck could nearly a year previously.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by Steve Crandell » Thu Aug 13, 2020 8:24 pm

Yes, I understood your point, except I didn't understand why the Swordfish was the only aircraft capable of operating that radar. I also wasn't aware that the specialized night Catalinas had it. I'm still learning. Do you know by any chance how many ships were torpedoed at night by Swordfish?

Wouldn't fatigue have been a significant factor in the North Atlantic flying an open cockpit aircraft? It seems like there would be a real danger of freezing to death, but I guess not.

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by dunmunro » Fri Aug 14, 2020 2:04 am

Steve Crandell wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 8:24 pm
Yes, I understood your point, except I didn't understand why the Swordfish was the only aircraft capable of operating that radar. I also wasn't aware that the specialized night Catalinas had it. I'm still learning. Do you know by any chance how many ships were torpedoed at night by Swordfish?

Wouldn't fatigue have been a significant factor in the North Atlantic flying an open cockpit aircraft? It seems like there would be a real danger of freezing to death, but I guess not.
Other aircraft could carry ASV radar, just not other carrier aircraft, except for the Fairey Albacore.

Both the Albacore and Swordfish preferred a steep diving approach to the target, and when they were able to use a diving approach, this also made them difficult targets for AA.

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by wadinga » Fri Aug 14, 2020 12:16 pm

Fellow Contributors,
Do you know by any chance how many ships were torpedoed at night by Swordfish?
Well, three battleships at Taranto is quite a good start. And then there is Bismarck of course, although poor visibility and the weird zone time used for the operation slew this a little.
It seems like there would be a real danger of freezing to death, but I guess not.
A very great danger of this especially when operating on Russian convoys in the Arctic, but that is also true of the aircraft handling crews, especially in Merchant Aircraft Carriers where there were no hangars and lifts and maintenance was done in the open. Truly Iron men in fabric airplanes.

Returning to the Bismarck, that US evaluation highlights the lack of "airmindedness" in the design. The 5.9" secondary armament and separate heavy AA instead of a dual-purpose harks back to the design rationale of the British Nelsons, employing both 6" and a few 4.7" AA ie 20 years out of date. Bismarck's contemporaries are an interesting mix with British and US designers going for all DP secondaries, but the Littorios had two separate calibres. (Conditions in the secondary turrets nestled close to B and Y turret muzzles must have been unpleasant.) The Richelieus were designed to have an all 6" DP armament featuring 90 degree elevation loading at all angles and elevations. It didn't work, (Gallic shrug) so the numbers were reduced and tertiary AA installed. If you are designing a Yamato you have plenty enough space to have as many calibres as you like.

Bismarck could have had all 4.1" simplifying F/C and replaced the manual load 37mm with an outfit of all fully auto 20mm. She had received some vierling 20mm quad mounts already. However the Dopp L C 37mm twin was a sophisticated gyro stabilised mount and rate of fire really depends on ammunition supply system. Campbell and Skwiot both say theoretical 80 rpgm but realistically 30 but how long they could keep this up depends on supply. The same was true for the 40mm Bofors where you need a chain of men supplying the ammunition clips. Again the question arises did the gyro stabilisation keep up with vessel motion? Perhaps more of simple mounts is better than fewer, cleverer ones.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by Steve Crandell » Fri Aug 14, 2020 3:09 pm

wadinga wrote:
Fri Aug 14, 2020 12:16 pm
Fellow Contributors,
Do you know by any chance how many ships were torpedoed at night by Swordfish?
Well, three battleships at Taranto is quite a good start. And then there is Bismarck of course, although poor visibility and the weird zone time used for the operation slew this a little.
Agree that three at once is a good start, but that and Bismarck was apparently it for the entire war. Three of those were stationary. That doesn't sound to me like the radar equipped Swordfish night torpedo attack was necessarily a complete game changer for CVs in general. Of course, the USN didn't fly off of carriers at night really much at all, and still managed to do fairly well.

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by Mostlyharmless » Fri Aug 14, 2020 4:40 pm

I have been searching with limited success for details of the night attacks by Swordfish torpedo bombers in the Mediterranean. These were mostly on merchant ships and Italian destroyers. Describing operations from Malta http://www.aviation-history.com/fairey/swordfish.html has "Although Swordfish numbered no more than 27 aircraft, they sank an average 50,000 tons (50,800 MT) of shipping every month. During one month, they sank a record 98,000 tons (99,572 MT). Swordfish attacked enemy convoys at night although they were not equipped with night instrumentation. " Air Power and the British Anti-Shipping Campaign in the Mediterranean during the Second World War. by Richard James Hammond, Air Power Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2013, p. 50-69 at https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/bitstream/243 ... lltext.pdf has "From June 1940 up to and including March 1941, air power sank 24 merchant vessels of all types, at total of 68,872 GRT. The FAA accounted for almost all of the sinkings that occurred at sea in this period, as well as several vessels sunk in port." After noting that radar was fitted from mid 1941, the article notes "The period from June to November 1941 saw a marked and sustained increase in the number of sinkings by the FAA and RAF. Between seven and 11 merchant vessels were sunk in each month and these were often of a significant tonnage. In the greatest single month of the campaign so far, 11 vessels of 35,196 GRT were sunk in August." The FAA aircraft were initially Swordfish although some Albacores may have arrived later. It is hard to find out how many ships were sunk by torpedo as bombs were also used and Swordfish also mined harbours.

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by paul.mercer » Fri Aug 14, 2020 5:01 pm

wadinga wrote:
Fri Aug 14, 2020 12:16 pm
Fellow Contributors,
Do you know by any chance how many ships were torpedoed at night by Swordfish?
Well, three battleships at Taranto is quite a good start. And then there is Bismarck of course, although poor visibility and the weird zone time used for the operation slew this a little.
It seems like there would be a real danger of freezing to death, but I guess not.
A very great danger of this especially when operating on Russian convoys in the Arctic, but that is also true of the aircraft handling crews, especially in Merchant Aircraft Carriers where there were no hangars and lifts and maintenance was done in the open. Truly Iron men in fabric airplanes.

Returning to the Bismarck, that US evaluation highlights the lack of "airmindedness" in the design. The 5.9" secondary armament and separate heavy AA instead of a dual-purpose harks back to the design rationale of the British Nelsons, employing both 6" and a few 4.7" AA ie 20 years out of date. Bismarck's contemporaries are an interesting mix with British and US designers going for all DP secondaries, but the Littorios had two separate calibres. (Conditions in the secondary turrets nestled close to B and Y turret muzzles must have been unpleasant.) The Richelieus were designed to have an all 6" DP armament featuring 90 degree elevation loading at all angles and elevations. It didn't work, (Gallic shrug) so the numbers were reduced and tertiary AA installed. If you are designing a Yamato you have plenty enough space to have as many calibres as you like.

Bismarck could have had all 4.1" simplifying F/C and replaced the manual load 37mm with an outfit of all fully auto 20mm. She had received some vierling 20mm quad mounts already. However the Dopp L C 37mm twin was a sophisticated gyro stabilised mount and rate of fire really depends on ammunition supply system. Campbell and Skwiot both say theoretical 80 rpgm but realistically 30 but how long they could keep this up depends on supply. The same was true for the 40mm Bofors where you need a chain of men supplying the ammunition clips. Again the question arises did the gyro stabilisation keep up with vessel motion? Perhaps more of simple mounts is better than fewer, cleverer ones.

All the best

wadinga
Gentlemen,
In film taken during an air attack one often sees multiple 'pom poms' being usd, how effective were they?

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by wadinga » Fri Aug 14, 2020 5:49 pm

Hi Steve,
was apparently it for the entire war.
Hardly.

As Mostlyharmless confirms (I'll buy you a drink at Milliways :cool: )

830 squadron Swordfish flying from Malta (yes I know its not a carrier) sank 500,000 tons of enemy shipping by torpedo mostly at night, denying a considerable quantity of stores and personnel to Rommel in North Africa. Including damaging cruiser Duca del Abruzzi. There are numerous examples of carrier Swordfish attacking and sinking U boats during convoy duty, often in the dark, and the wikipedia page has plenty of detail.

When Admiral Somerville played a deadly game of Blind Man's Buff with Nagumo's carriers in the Indian Ocean, the only card he had was the unique ability to launch a night torpedo attack (with radar equipped biplane Albacores) when the Japanese aircraft were incapable of operating in the dark. Unfortunately, actually probably fortunately, he never got close enough to try, as any surviving Japanese air groups would have slaughtered him the following day.

Unfamiliarity with operating and landing at night contributed to the loss of some of the 80 aircraft returning to American carriers at the end of the Phillipine Sea battle. High landing speeds and lack of night practice resulted in many crashes, blocking flight decks and causing other orbiting aircraft to run out of fuel.

As it says in the Wikipedia article
U.S. counterattack

TF 58 sailed west during the night to attack the Japanese at dawn. Search patrols were put up at first light.
If the commander had radar equipped night operating carrier aircraft he might have fixed the enemy's location in the dark and launched his strike at dawn. Also Admiral Lee might have been less concerned about blundering into the Japanese surface forces in the dark.

Specialist night operations on USN carriers were based around defensive operations against Betty night bomber torpedo attacks. USN fighter ace Butch o'Hare lost his life during an early attempt in November 1943 see
when USS Enterprise was designated as a "night carrier".

For Paul; Pom-pom shells were much like the later 40mm but with a shorter barrel, lower velocity and thus less accurate than a Bofors gun not as good. The 8 gun "Chicago Piano" was deadly at short range.

Anybody got any thoughts on better AA for Bismarck?

All the best

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by Steve Crandell » Fri Aug 14, 2020 7:03 pm

Thanks to wadinga and mostlyharmless for the good date on the Med. I am a bit confused though because one of you said 50K tons shipping and the other 500K tons, which is absolutely huge. Putting it in perspective, it's about 10% of the total USN submarine tonnage in WWII and over a much smaller period. In any case, they obviously made a significant contribution.

Wadinga, are you suggesting the USN abandon the TBF/TBM and switch to manufacturing Swordfish for the US carriers in the Pacific? It would provide night attack and reconnaisance, but it would be really problematic in the daytime because of the big difference in speed between all the other aircraft and the Swordfish. Strike missions would take hours longer and couldn't go as far, and fighters would have trouble with fuel economy trying to stay with Swordfish. I really think it's slow speed would be very problematic for US carrier ops in general.

Maybe ten or so could be carried for night work, but I don't know if that considered.

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by Mostlyharmless » Sat Aug 15, 2020 2:05 am

I am also confused as the two sources that I found disagree. If we take the article by Hammond (who has just had a book published on the same theme "Strangling the Axis: The Fight for Control of the Mediterranean during the Second World War" by Richard Hammond, Cambridge University Press, 25 Jun 2020) we are told that "air power" sank 24 merchant ships from June 1940 to March 1941, almost all by FAA Swordfish and mostly at night but without use of radar. This is referenced to TNA AIR 20/9598, Table 2: ‘Analysis of Enemy Merchant Shipping Sunk by all Causes, Scuttled, Captured or Surrendered in the Mediterranean’. The total 68,872 GRT suggests that these were rather small ships.

Warships were also being attacked and as well as Taranto there are examples such when a flight of three Swordfish from Egypt sank four (!) Italian warships with three torpedoes http://ww2today.com/23rd-august-1940-fo ... s-in-bomba or https://www.royalmarineshistory.com/pos ... r-patch-rm although that attack was by day. Meanwhile Swordfish from Eagle attacked other warships including sinking the Italian destroyer Leone Pancaldo.

Hammond continues by skipping over April and May and stating that from June 1941 to November 1941, between seven and 11 merchant vessels were sunk in each month with the greatest success being 11 vessels of 35,196 GRT sunk in August. However, not all these attacks were by Swordfish as more RAF aircraft became involved. After November, Malta was heavily attacked and although night attacks on shipping by Swordfish continued at a low level, there was a shortage of spares, fuel and torpedoes as well as damage to the airfields.

The total must be over 200,000 GRT of merchant shipping plus an uncertain number of warship tons depending mostly on definitions of what happened to the battleships of Taranto.

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by wadinga » Sat Aug 15, 2020 9:53 am

Fellow Contributors<

I unfortunately misquoted Roger Kerrison :oops: from an account in The Swordfish story by Ray Sturtivant. Kerrison, who flew with 830 claimed the figure sunk or damaged . It may be a wartime estimate which as we all know were sometimes somewhat inflated and was for a period 1941-3. However whatever the actual figure was there were many attacks at night by Swordfish with torpedoes and they were successful. The first mention of an ASV equipped Swordfish being available to lead night torpedo strikes from Malta was in May 1941.

No need to put Swordfish on US carriers but the development of a USN night attack capability was slow coming in the Pacific War.

From "Night Birds" of the Enterprise http://www.cv6.org/1945/nightops/nightbirds.htm definitely worth a visit:
The development of aviation radar was in its infancy and several naval commands urged its development for carrier-based aircraft. Training in night flying operations, specialized technicians for maintenance, and aircraft equipped with radar to provide "eyes in the night" were given high priority. On 16 October 1942, when VT-10 (Torpedo Squadron Ten) deployed in CV-6, they had the first carrier-based aircraft equipped with radar: a TBF with Type ASB-1. The Commanding Officer, LCDR J. A. Collett and his radioman, Tom Nelson, ARM 1/c, had received special training on this equipment at Ford Island prior to deployment in CV-6. On 26 October 1942, Enterprise, supporting the Guadalcanal campaign, became involved in a major carrier battle near Santa Cruz Island, and the radar-equipped TBF flown by LCDR Collett was shot down by enemy aircraft. Although the pilot and crew were reported KIA, Tom Nelson did survive and was ultimately captured the next day by a Japanese Destroyer and interned as a POW in Japan.
Later in the article, it seems development of the capability, despite "high priority", seems to have dragged slowly on through 1943, and it is the February 1944 attack on Truk when radar equipped Avengers from Enterprise bombed Japanese ships which seems to be the first example. Coincidentally, another source suggests it was a radar equipped Kate which torpedoed the USS Intrepid in the dark during the same raid.

I love the Batwoman insignia of VF(N)-90 :D

All the best and sorry to be so far off topic

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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by Thorsten Wahl » Sat Aug 15, 2020 7:14 pm

Performance of Prinz Eugen vs Swordfishes at the Channel dash
PG Cerberus Flakbericht 1.jpg
PG Cerberus Flakbericht 1.jpg (104.52 KiB) Viewed 324 times
PG Cerberus Flakbericht 2.jpg
PG Cerberus Flakbericht 2.jpg (103.14 KiB) Viewed 324 times

AA-ammo expenditure whole engagement
230 x 10,5 cm
640 x 3,7 cm
2400 x 2,0 cm

"The additionally built in Flakvierlinge have proven themselves, very many hits, disappointing effect on the target"

Use of Pervitin was ordered to increase performance under military medical supervision
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Re: Was the battleship Bismarck really the best of its time?

Post by wadinga » Tue Aug 18, 2020 12:10 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Thorsten, thanks for contributing excellent original documentation. :clap: :clap: :clap:

Whatever the validity of the claims by ships' AA, some of the Swordfish were destroyed or damaged by JG 26 Fw 190 fighters which had to attack from astern, and lower their landing gear in order to fly slow enough to "draw a bead".

The comment about damage is interesting and confirms the speculation that fabric covering on wings did not trigger cannon shell fuses, and some hits may have missed metal structure altogether. Apparently Esmonde's aircraft staggered on with the entire port mainplane shot away. Despite superficial resemblance to wooden WW I aircraft, Swordfish were rugged, not fragile. In Operation Fuller the Swordfish were designated for night attack only, when there would be no fighter opposition and AA would be hampered, but Esmonde volunteered to make the assault anyway. In the event, most of his protective escort who were supposed to rendezvous did not arrive in time. They were not available for flak suppression either.

A rapid advance in aircraft design and capability in WWII left the Swordfish suited for a very limited niche. Esmonde and his men were lauded for the bravery by the German commentators.

Ammunition supply is the critical factor for light automatic weapons. Could Bismarck's 37mm twins have made higher effective rates of fire if they had employed multi-round stacked clips like the 40mm Bofors? The Pom-pom had short belts of shells placed in a tray for each gun, the Oerlikon a drum magazine. Nonetheless it still requires a stream of men hand carrying ammunition to the mount to keep up high rates of sustained fire. Only in the modern era of Phalanx, Gee-Whiz and Goalkeeper are multi barrel Gatling guns given a delivery system from below deck magazine to breech which will support the intrinsic fire rate of the weapon mechanism.

The Ark Royal Swordfish which attacked Bismarck took off in very bad weather conditions and the attack was made in similar weather. I personally suspect rapid vessel motion, even in super-stable Bismarck, was perhaps beyond the designed ability of the various gyroscope systems to compensate. Sea conditions were much calmer during Donnerkeil.

All the best

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