Monday, September 3, 2012
Gotta Sink the Bismarck
Our story actually starts on July 1, 1936. That was the day that work started on a battleship for the German Kriegsmarine - War Navy. The Bismarck class ship was named for Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck who was the primary force behind the unification of Germany in 1871.
Work was completed in August of 1940 and the Bismarck, as well as her sister ship Tirpitz, were commissioned into the German fleet. They were the largest battleships ever built by Germany and two of the largest ever built by any European power.
The Bismark left Hamburg on September 15, 1940- three weeks after being commissioned - to start sea trials. She made measured-mile and high speed runs. A flaw was discovered in her designs while stability and manoeuvrability were being tested.
While attempting to steer the ship solely through propeller revolutions, the crew discovered that keeping the Bismarck on course was quite difficult. They tried running the outboard screws at full power in opposite directions but that still only generated a slight turning ability.
It was in late November that the main battery guns were first test fired and it was proven that the Bismarck had a very stable gun platform.
Due a merchant vessel wreckage in the Kiel Canal and the delay in cleaning up, the Bismarck wasn't able to return to Kiel. While she waited, the grand ship welcomed a visitor, Captain Andres Forshell, the Swedish Naval attaché to Berlin. Forshell returned to Sweden with a full description of the Bismarck and that report was leaked to Britain. Unfortunately, key points like the ship's top speed, radius of action and displacement were missing.
The Bismarck was an impressive, imposing sight. She had a crew of 2,221 enlisted men and officers. She had a length of 823 feet, 6 inches; a beam of 118 feet, 1 inch and a maximum draft of 32 feet, 6 inches. She was armed to the teeth and capable of inflicting terror on her enemies. Britain rose to the challenge - the Royal Navy knew they had to stop the Bismarck.
On May 24, the HMS Hood engaged the Bismarck in battle. (The Hood was impressive in her own right and she had visited Vancouver on June 24, 1924) The Hood went down, leaving only three survivors. This galvanized the British Navy. As Johnny Horton says in his song Sink the Bismarck, "Sink the Bismarck was the battle cry that shook the seven seas.'
On May 27, led by the battleship King George V, the British began a final attack on the Bismarck. The great German ship was already battle wounded but she put up a good fight. Yet at 10:40 am, the Bismarck succumbed to her wounds, capsized and slowly sank by the stern, disappearing into the watery depths.
According to the Wikipedia articled where I got this information from, there is a disagreement on how the Bismarck went down.. According to the British, torpedoes administered by the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire administered the fatal blow but the Germans claim that the British scuttled the majestic ship. In June of 1989, oceanographer Robert Ballard discovered the wreck and there have been several expeditions since to discover the cause of the Bismark's sinking. I wasn't there so I don't know. However, I do know that the victors in any conflict write the history and it has been that way since the beginning of time.
I hope you find the beauty around you.
Karen Magill, Vancouver, 1941, history, Bismarck, British Columbia