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Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 5:55 pm
by Bgile
RF wrote: Of course with a shadowing operation another option would be available to Holland, if he decided against waiting for Tovey - split his ships on to either flank of Bismarck and attacking so that Bismarck is forced to divide its fire. Logically it would have been prudent to await the arrival of KGV to achieve this, and perhaps even better to keep Hood out of the action until it was heavily engaged against the other British ships and its gunnery degraded by battle damage.
I don't think you want to separate the British battleships like that. Contrary to your idea of forcing Bismarck to split her fire, it would give the Germans a chance to concentrate fire on one of them. Here is what they would do:

1. Turn to put one British ship directly astern of Bismarck, probably PoW.

2. Position PE in Bismarck's wake, offset a bit in the direction of the wind. Have her make smoke.

3. Both German ships concentrate their fire on Hood while they are screened from PoW by PE's smoke.

Since PoW would be effectively screened from Bismarck she could only fire at PE, which is a small target and end on targets are hard to get on in deflection anyway.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 7:19 pm
by Vic Dale
Holland's stated policy on intercepting the German Squadron acounted for the possiblity that the British ships would be spread out, in which case they were to flank-mark for each other.

Vic Dale

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:19 am
by RF
Logically, what bgile says could happen if Lutjens had the time to reposition PE. However Lutjens in open sea I think would avoid action altogether. To counteract that I would have sought to position Hood (as the faster British ship and with greater distance to cover) on Bismarck's starboard flank from astern, whilst Norfolk would be ordered to close POW.
When Hood was positioned on the starboard quarter of Bismarck the POW would then close very gradually diagonally on Bismarck from its port quarter, aiming to get Lutjens to move slightly to starboard and thus providing Hood with an interception course. If this works correctly then Bismarck comes under fire from both British capital ships, while PE is engaged by Norfolk and POW's secondary battery.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 12:01 am
by tnemelckram
I think that anyone who Posts an alternate history scenario must specify what point of departure from actual history will be used for the analysis. My original post was defective in this regard. I'd like to specify a point of departure for my OP. Your thoughts on the importance of this specification and/or its impact on the specific scenario will be interesting and appreciated.

Here's my original alternative scenario, edited a bit for this new purpose:
What would happened if Admiral Holland chose to shadow the Germans instead of engaging them at Denmark Straits? This scenario assumes that within 24 hours, Tovey's force could have been guided by Holland's shadowing force into position to intercept the German ships from the east or south. I think that Tovey was close enough to do that at the time of the Denmark Strait battle. Basically, given that Hood's relative age and flaws and PoW's teething troubles were known, why go with a 2 to 1 advantage when in a short time you can have an overwhelming advantage? 4 battleships to 1, 6 cruisers to 1, and about a dozen destroyers to zero, and an aircraft carrier to boot.
I used this passage from this Site's account of Rheinubung and the chart showing the British spotted the Germans at 5:37 to arrive at the specific time of my point of departure:
In the early morning of 24 May, the weather improved and the visibility increased. The German battle group maintained a course of 220º and a speed of 28 knots, when at 0525, the Prinz Eugen's hydrophones detected propeller noises of two ships on her port side. At 0537 the Germans sighted what they first thought to be a light cruiser at about 19 miles (35,190 meters / 38,480 yards) on port side. At 0543, another unidentified unit was sighted to port, and thereafter the alarm was given aboard the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Aboard the Bismarck the identification of the enemy ships was uncertain, and they were now both mistakenly thought to be heavy cruisers.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Due to the similar silhouettes of the German ships, at 0549 Holland ordered his ships to both engage the leading German ship (the Prinz Eugen) believing she was the Bismarck. (emphasis added)
. . . . . . . . . . .
Suddenly, at 0552.5, and from a distance of about 12.5 miles (23,150 meters / 25,330 yards), the Hood opened fire, followed by the Prince of Wales half a minute later at 0553. Both ships opened fire with their forward turrets, since their after turrets could not be brought to bear due to the ships' unfavourable angle of approach. Admiral Lütjens immediately signalled to Group North: "Am in a fight with two heavy units".
My specific point of departure is 5:49 AM on May 24, 1941 and the scenario includes the facts in the above passage. I think these facts are important at 5:49:
  • 1) Holland knows the identity of the German ships.

    2) Lutjens does not know the identity of the British ships and thinks they are just two more shadowing heavy cruisers.

    3) Holland has no way of knowing as to whether or not the Germans are aware of his presence but knows that either is possible.

    4) Holland does not know that the German have misidentified his ships as heavy cruisers.
Here's how I think these new facts could affect the excellent analyses by posters
up to now:
  • 1. I agree that shadowing would give rise to a possible U Boat trap and that Holland had to take this into account. However, Lutjens probably wouldn't take the trouble of arranging that for four cruisers, especially the two additions may just be intended to relieve Norfolk and Suffolk.

    2. I agree that both sides' perception of the relative speeds of the heavy ships would be a significant factor and that Holland had to take into account the risk that the Germans might outrun Hood and PoW. However, Lutjens probably wouldn't try this if be believed the ships were cruisers, It would be futile because they were faster than Bismarck so the obvious choice would be to generally maintain a slower pace and save fuel, and only increase it if he chose to try an unexpected burst of speed to shake the shadowers.

    3. I agree that shadowing presented tactical difficulties, among them the relative effective range of the radar and Bismarck's guns. However, the Germans would be surprised by the British heavy main batteries if they slowed or turned to shoot at what they believed to be cruisers. Moreover, the British knew that their 2-1 big gun advantage and 10 forward guns always facing the Germans allowed them to close the radar range and use not 1 but 3 radars with relative safety.

    4. I agree that this plan might subject Tovey and Holland to doctrinal and cultural criticism for not being instantly aggressive at Denmark Straits. However, they could argue that in a short time the result would be the same engagement on better terms. With speed unlikely to succeed, it seems far more likely that instead Lutjens would quickly attempt to slow or turn and shoot at cruisers to drive them away. Unlike Denmark Straits, Hood and PoW have a consistent course and range, and much more time, to set firing solutions; with a converging target they are not restricted to an narrow and predictable course to close the range. That would spoil the plan to hound Bismarck into a hopeless trap consisting of 4 capital ships plus carrier aircraft, but it's better than Denmark Straits.
It is obviously essential for Holland to have some way of finding out that the Germans are either unaware of his presence or that the Germans were reacting to his presence as he would expect to cruisers. Given that he was trying to surprise the Germans anyway, these are definite possibilities. Perhaps the issue is whether there was a practical way for Holland to ascertain and exploit this between 5:37 and 5:49.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 3:50 am
by Dave Saxton
While this different approach insures a greater concentration of capital ships, in my opinion it will be much more difficult to maintain contact with the German ships once they reach the open Atlantic. In the strait Luetjens has limited options with his back to the ice pack and it's relatively easy for the British cruisers to maintain contact. The British can't risk loosing contact with the Bismarck in the open Atlantic. Once contact is lost it may not be regained.

Luetjens not only has a slight speed advantage, but he also has three distinct informational advantages:

1)B-dienst or his special radio intelligence team.

2)GHG passive sonar.

3)Seetakt radar.

In my opinion Luetjens has a good chance of breaking contact before any other British forces can be brought to the scene, and I think Holland was wary of this probability too.

Re: Holland Shadows Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 1:20 pm
by Patrick McWilliams
Vic Dale wrote:
It may be thought that Hood was no match for Bismarck, but in reality although she was not a good match she could certainly inflict damage and if handled very well could prevail in a fight.

Much has been made of Hood's deck armour and the need to strengthen it, but this assessment was made against the British 15 inch guns. At ranges beyond 13,000 yards their high trajectory would cause shells to fall at an angle which would pentrate. Bismarck however had high velocity weapons which although they could pentrate thicker armour had a very a shallow angle of decent and at the range where Hood blew up that angle made Hood's 5 inches of deck armour as effective as a slab 6 times thicker. So Hood could not only withstand Bismarck's fire, she could reply accurately with every possibility of hitting and causing severe damage. Hood was a battleship with a battleship's armour.
Come on Vic and catch yourself on! You've let yourself become victim to the gainsayers and anti-Bismarck brigade who would cheerfully claim that there was no point in Bismarck even bothering to engage the 'mighty' Hood!

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 3:17 pm
by Bgile
I was under the impression Tovey had ordered Holland to intercept the Bismarck and sink her. Is this incorrect? I think you are going to begin your alternate history much earlier if you are going to change to a shadowing strategy. He told Capt Leach that the two battleships were to concentrate on Bismarck and the two cruisers on PG. Unfortunately the cruisers didn't get the word and in any case in the actual event the speeds made it impractical for them to close on the German ships rapidly enough to make a difference.

I'd be concerned about Bismarck and PG losing the British if they attempted to shadow. Also, Tovey is really a long ways away, so isn't going to catch up any time soon even if the Germans slow. I also believe it would only be a matter of time before the Germans correctly identified their shadowers ... probably a matter of 30 min at the most.

Into this equasion we have PGs fuel hungry and unreliable powerplant. I'm not sure how this effects the situation or the fuel situation on the British side. I know PoW eventually ran low on fuel and had to break away.

The cultural aspect of the British declining immediate contact is a biggie.

Interesting idea, and these are my thoughts.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 5:00 pm
by JtD
If you are at 2vs1 odds, you attack. The same way a lucky hit sunk the Hood, a lucky hit could have sunk the Bismarck. Without luck, the odds are in British favour. Even with the benefit of hindsight, I'd make the same decision as Holland - intercept.

Just my thoughts. :)

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 6:11 pm
by Bgile
"The same way a lucky hit sunk the Hood, a lucky hit could have sunk the Bismarck."

Maybe, but in view of the pounding Bismarck took and what we know of her armor scheme, I think the odds were vanishingly small.

I do agree that Holland was correct in attacking, though. The British had better than even chances to win that battle IMO.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 6:42 pm
by JtD
A diving shell below the belt could easily do the trick. From the ranges that occured in the final showdown as well as the condition Bismarck was in in the later stages, the chances for a lucky hit were considerably smaller than at Denmark Strait.

For instance, take the hit PoW scored that damaged boiler room No.2 on Bismarck. The same hit a bit further front or aft, at the magazines, could have proven fatal. The shallower TDS in these regions means that the shell could actually explode inside the torpedo bulkhead...all a matter of luck.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:43 pm
by tnemelckram
Hi Dave Saxton, Bgile and JdT


In response to my initial scenario, you alerted me to problems with 30 knot speed and 25,000 yard effective radar range so I did some research. Tovey states his belief that Bismarck was faster in his After Action Report. If Tovey and Holland have this belief before Denmark Straits, they would regard shadowing as too risky. I was also surprised that the maximum effective radar range then known to be was 25,000 yards and learned that this was the first operational use of radar in history. It would not be prudent for them to rely on it. They key element in my original scenario is that shadowing for 24 hours had to be a sound alternative based on what Tovey and Holland knew at the time. So in a later post I said that my alternative would not work for these reasons.

Yesterday I decided to resurrect it using the obscure historical fact about the Bismark misidentification of Holland's capital ships as heavy cruisers to address the radar and speed issues over the longer 24 hour period. The new scenario relies on the mistaken identity to affect Lutjen's actions in ways that make speed and radar matter less and shortens the time period before he makes a mistake based on that error. However, it has new problems because it requires superhuman efforts from Holland between 5:37 and 5:49. In those 12 minutes he has to realize the German mistake of identity and its implications, and then make a new plan in light of them and implement it.

The last three steps might be doable, but the first is very problematic. How can Holland become aware of the thinking on the German ships about identity? I'm not saying it's impossible; there might be something to suggest it in German movements when they did not try to avoid capital ships as would be expected of a commerce raider or kept Prinz Eugen in the line.

I don't think the German radar and passive sonar provide any advantage in my scenario because Lutjens always knows he is being followed anyway. He can see without those gadgets. However, the Radio Interception Team is a problem. Holland is the local commander and would have a tough time keeping his communications consistent with those from a heavy cruiser while at the same time coordinating the shadowing.


In my first alternative Tovey and Holland had to be in agreement from the start. You are correct in noting that the new scenario requires Holland to make a spur of the moment deviation from the Plan. Such a deviation may have been within the scope of his authority, but if it didn't work and he lost track of Bismarck after foregoing a chance to engage her he'd still be canned for imprudence even if its not insubordination.

You raised a good point about how long it would take the Germans to correct the identity. It could be 30 minutes depending on events. However its interesting that the fine German optics couldn't prevent it at long distance so maybe there's a way to stay close enough to follow without getting close enough to be identified. Both sides confused heavy cruisers and battleships and then later on mistook Modoc and Sheffield in their turn. For some reason identification seems more difficult than expected.

You noted the cultural aspect dictating action. I like the way this alternative drags in British Naval Tradition. Here's a couple of my rants on the subject earlier
on the thread:



I agree that Bismarck is overrated on toughness. She seems to be very vulnerable to hits that slow or stop her, reduce her fighting power, or cripple her operating efficiency. However, her compartments and citadel made her very tough to sink. A floating ship that can't go, steer, fight or communicate is useless. These qualities were especially undesirable for a ship that had to function all alone in a hostile ocean lined with unfriendly coastline and owned by the World's Best Navy. It seems she was designed to neither sink nor come home and that more mileage would have revealed that she was as cantankerous as Prinz Eugen proved to be.

This is one of the reasons wht I raised shadowing instead. You can sit back and wait until a few key parts of her engines, steering, guns and electronics start to break. You can speed up the degradation by sticking a few shells a day into her. Attack her after she has been weakened, destroy her useful functions, and don't worry about sinking the remaining hulk. In short, she was a BMW because both need lots of good mechanics.

I think Hood was even worse. I base this on the fact that she blew up exactly like all the admirals and experts said she would and just like the three British battle cruisers at Jutland. It is hard to say that Bismarck's fatal hit was just lucky under these circumstances. Most people who knew Hood said that it was highly likely that this exact same hit would happen. There's no luck involved when the obvious happens.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:29 pm
by JtD
While I think you are exaggerating a bit you raise a few valid points. I'll just argue with what I disagree with.

I don't think Bismarck would just fall apart beyond repair on her own, and I think that shadowing wouldn't have been the right decision. What for anyway? You have gathered superior forces already. Shadowing involves the risk of losing, as it happened. But even if you keep contact, there's not much to be gained. I know of BMW's that run quite well without the care of a lot of good mechanics. ;)

The Hoods nominal armor layout was immune to the 38cm guns at the range the fatal hit occured. Neither the main belt nor the decks would be pierced by the German shell. So the shell found a weak spot, which existed. That's why I consider it a lucky hit.
(deck penetration of the German 38 cm shell at that range was about 3" of homogenous armor)

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:45 pm
by tommy303
As to identification, the Germans initially identified Holland's ships as cruisers, probably for the simple reason that is what they expected to see coming up to reinforce Wake-Walker's two cruisers. Luetjens had been told the day before by Group North, as Bismarck entered the Denmark Straits, that no deployment of major units of the Home Fleet had been detected by the Luftwaffe or B-Dienst. However, on Bismarck Hood was positively identified several minutes before Holland opened fire. First Albrecht in the conning tower and then Schneider in the foretop identified Hood by name. On Prinz Eugen, which was quite far ahead of Bismarck and had a more acute view of the British ships, Schmalenbach, the II gunnery officer thought the right hand target was Hood, but Jasper the I gunnery officer maintained the two ships were cruisers. Jasper did not recognize Hood until after she had blown up and the distinctive bow rose up out of the water just before the final plunge. Likewise he failed to recognize Prince of Wales as a KGV until she presented her full silhouette as she began to turn away after evading Hood's wreckage. This is the reason that Prinz Eugen continued to fire base fuzed HE instead of AP rounds throughout the action. Bismarck's first salvo had been base fuzed HE because the guns were already loaded with that from the night before; after that first salvo, 38cm AP was fired.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 1:16 am
by Dave Saxton
JtD wrote:.....
The Hoods nominal armor layout was immune to the 38cm guns at the range the fatal hit occured. Neither the main belt nor the decks would be pierced by the German shell. So the shell found a weak spot, which existed. That's why I consider it a lucky hit.
(deck penetration of the German 38 cm shell at that range was about 3" of homogenous armor)
I must disagree here. The Hood was completely naked. The belt penetration of the German 38cm/52 is lethal at those ranges. Even the PoW's belt wasn't up to the task once broadside on. The Hood's deck armour was not armour grade material in the modern sense. The Krupp penetration curves for deck penetration of the 38cm are based on Wh, a thoroughly modern Chromium/Molybedenum armour grade alloy . The penetration would have been quite a bit greater against lesser materials. Moreover, the Hood's armour scheme didn't de-cap or create other effects ameliorating deck hits like the Bismarck's scheme did.

The Bismarck had a significant armour advantage at DS due to its armour scheme of backing up its belt with heavy scarps. Even if the Holland had stayed out there at relatively long range the Bismarck's armour pretection could have dealt effectively with possible deck hits in my opinion.

Re: Holland Shadows Bismarck Instead

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 1:30 am
by Dave Saxton
tnemelckram wrote:....... I was also surprised that the maximum effective radar range then known to be was 25,000 yards and learned that this was the first operational use of radar in history. It would not be prudent for them to rely on it. ...
It was not the first operational use of radar. The Germans had been using it operationally from day 1, and had operational radar that was quite capable and surprisenly sophisticated from 1938. It was the first use of Type-284 by the British. The British had used radar a few months previously in the Med against the Italians. In that case it wasType 279.

The German Seetakt radar in 1941 could track capital ships to 30km.