Wednesday, May 18, 2011

70th anniversary of the Bismarck saga

Bismarck seen from the cruiser Prinz Eugen

70 years ago today, around noon, the Battleship Bismarck left dockside at Gotenhafen (Gdynia, now Gdanysk, Poland) in the Baltic Sea, marking the beginning of Operation Rheinubung. It would actually leave the next day, spending the balance of this day at anchor in the harbor taking on stores.

The Bismarck story is one of the best-known of World War II, being one of the few batles to reallt permeate the public conciousness. Ther ehave ben best-selling books, a movie and the famous undersea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard's discobery of the ship's wreck to keep the ship's story in the public eye for decades. It is, indeed, a story of high drama and I'll be following along the next 10 days as we mark various 70th anniversary events assocaited with the ship's sinking.

The Bismarck, itself, was one of the most powerful battleships to see action in World War II. A handsome-looking ship, it does have some critics. The main battery of eight 15-inch guns was powerful, but the four-turret, 2-mount each layout was a bit old-fashioned compared to the triple-turrets favored by fast battleship designers in America, Japan and Italy. The single-pupose secondary armament (5.9-inch anti-ship weapons) and tertiary armament (4.1-inch AA guns) was also less efficient than the dual-purpose weapons in the latest foreign designs.

Where the Bismarck excelled was in overall toughness. It was heavily armored, with 12-inch belt armor and 14-inch turret and conning tower armor. The deck was 3.5 inches, which is not exceptional, but the ship was very efficiently subdivided and in the event it proved very hard to sink her.

Its maximum speed of 30 knots was matched by only a handful of Royal Navy warships, none as powerful as the Bismarck.

Overall the Bismarck overmatched any single British capital ship, so the British planned on double-teaming the Bismarck to even the odds.

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