Reverse into Bay of Biscay?

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Patrick McWilliams
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Reverse into Bay of Biscay?

Post by Patrick McWilliams » Tue Aug 02, 2005 12:01 pm

Hi All,

My apologies if this is an old thread but I don't see reference to it on the site.

In discussion of courses of action open to Capt. Lindemann after Bismarck's rudder became irretrievably jammed on 26 May 1941, I seem to recall a Kriegsmarine officer asking why they didn't think of reversing engines and sailing into the safer confines of the Bay of Biscay stern first?

I assume that the point he was making that reversing engines would have negated the effect of the rudder being jammed to one side.

Would this course of action have been feasible?

Would Lindemann need to have waited until Bismarck had swung to a north-west or west bearing so that a reversal of engines would have seen the ship head backwards in approximately the right direction (towards France)?

Assuming for the moment that this might have worked, what speed might have been achieved? Wouldn't even 10 knots away from the British battle fleet have been a massive improvement on a helpless course towards it? After all, the Germans were under no illusions that heavy Royal Navy units were on the way.

With (let's say) 7 hours of steaming from 23.00 to 06.00, it would be interesting to see if Bismarck might have just come within Luftwaffe range.

Maybe this is speculation but I'm certain that I read about someone in German naval circles having raised it as a possibility.

This site is endowed with people with great technical knowledge, so perhaps a few ideas on this point might be forthcoming?

Many thanks,

Patrick

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Re: Reverse into Bay of Biscay?

Post by Tiornu » Tue Aug 02, 2005 5:16 pm

The effect of the jammed rudder was that the ship could not steer. Reversing the engines would not change that fact. The wind and sea would still be pushing Bismarck away from escape.

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Post by Luca Bevilacqua » Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:25 pm

Hi Patrick,

I would be inclined to think that reversing engines and steering a fairly regular course in tough wheater conditions would not be an easy task at all, close to impossible, likely.

Still I fully agree with you that it apparently was not even attempted in any form.
What could be the harm in trying, given the already desperate situation ?
May be it was just plain impossible, but I still have not seen a definitive proof for it.

I must apologise with you in that I made a somewhat similar post on the other forum (http://www.bismarck-class.dk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1729). Having just now seen your post I realise that mine be seen as a reference to your post or this forum.
It is just a coincidence, tough, I had seen the topic raised in a somewhat childish fashion somewhere (long ago), and I was not referring to your post which is very seriously stated.

Anyway I got some informed replies you might be interested in.
(I apologise with the webmaster, if referencing to other forums directly is not allowed, I will not do that again, just please let me know).

To the point of Luftwaffe cover I am strongly convinced that much more could have been done. In fact I argued so on (http://www.bismarck-class.dk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1721).

I think that aerial attack could be carried out also in the position Bismarck found itself in the real scenario May the 27th.
Of course any hypotetical coming closer to France would have helped. Main problem with the failed aerial attacks was one of coordination/resolve I think.
Failing that even 100 miles or so closer would not do any good.
It is also possible than if Lutjens had tought he still had some hope to escape (managing to emergency steer in some way) the aerial support would have gotten better motivation.

My best regards

Luca Bevilacqua

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Post by José M. Rico » Wed Aug 10, 2005 4:50 pm

There is no need to apologize Luca, it is perfectly ok to refer to other websites.

As for Bismarck sailing backwards, this subject has been discussed on Müllenheim-Rechberg's book. I quote from there:
  • "Retired Kapitän zur See Alfred Schulze-Hinrichs appears to me to have the most plausible ex post facto theories on what the Bismarck might have done. * This recognized expert in the field of seamanship wonders whether the Bismarck should not have tried, by contrarotating her three propellers, to reach St. Nazaire by backing.

    This is not the place for a detailed examination of Schulze Hinrichs very interesting technical arguments. In retrospect, I think the explanation for not trying a maneuver such as he suggest must lie in the circumstances that existed that night, the presence of the enemy and the weather, as well as in our general experience of the Bismarck's steering characteristics.

    Given the pressure being put upon us by the enemy, it is readily understandable that the ship's command did not try such a maneuver, which would have required continuous, concentrated attention- and that for hours, over hundreds of nautical miles, on a pitch-black night with no horizon and not a single star by which to navigate. Finally, as we have seen, her earliest trials in the Baltic showed that the ship was extremely difficult to steer with her propellers alone. In backing she had a strong tendency, as do most ships, to turn her stern into the wind. In the Atlantic on 26 May this would have, in effect, put us on the same unwanted course to the northwest to which we were condemned in going ahead. Experience gained in her trials may have caused the ship's command to reject from the start the idea of attempting to reach St. Nazaire by backing through the Atlantic swells.+ It is, however, possible that had such a maneuver been practiced more frequently and practiced in bad weather, it might have been tried.

    In view of the Bismarck's actual situation that night, Schulze-Hinrichs's otherwise interesting line of thought is too theoretical."

    * Alfred Schulze-Hinrichs, "Schlachtschiff Bismarck und Seemannschaft," pp. 6-7.
    + In addition to the preceding reservations, it is doubtful if it would have been technically possible to back the ship all the way to the coast of France. The reverse turbines could only have exerted their –already greatly diminished- horsepower for brief periods, as the cooling system would not have sufficed for prolonged operation. The openings for the cool water intake were designed for forward motion. Because of this, the backing would have had to be periodically interrupted, and each time the ship would have swung off course, which would have been very difficult to regain, so from this viewpoint as well such a maneuver would have been an act of despair.

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Post by Luca Bevilacqua » Thu Aug 11, 2005 10:16 am

Hi Jose,
thanks for the excerpt.
It is just what I had been looking for (obvously I must find some space in the family budget to buy the book).

On the specific claims (I know... we really should discuss them with Kapitän zur See Alfred Schulze-Hinrichs and/or Müllenheim-Rechberg) I still am a bit puzzled.

Sailing with no stars ? Did not the Bismarck have magnetic compass to guide ? Who cares about the stars ?
As for the manouver requiring attention, I would think that not all the officers/crew were called upon to reject the RN destoyers attacks, that night. Probably not the ones involved with hypotetical emergency steering.
Still I am no expert I may be missing something.
Turning into the wind while going backwards. Very possible I would say, especially since the wheater was very bad.
Still why not even give it a single try ?
The manouver had not been practised enough ? They were already sailing in the wind toward the RN even if the manouver had not succeded what harm could that do ?

Being an engineer the end note about intakes, cooling,... makes perfect sense to me. It is just the kind explanation I was regarding as more likely.

Still, it would just make the manouver less effective, not counterproductive,...
Just approaching a little to France would have somewhat improved Bismarck chances, for the aerial support (it actually basically did not show up, for reasons that I tried to understand in the other forum topic I referred to) would have been easier/more effective (read Goring would have had some more difficulties in explaining to Hitler why she was not helped).

There must be something else...
Anyway, thanks for the great "accoglienza".

Sencerely yours
Luca

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Post by pdfox99 » Thu Aug 11, 2005 5:37 pm

Just as an added constructive argument on this topic. Why couldn't the Luftwaffe help? They had the Fock Wulf Condor (FW200) which I believe was already being used to sink enemy shipping. These planes should have been able to reach the Bismarck to provide air cover right ?

Paul
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Post by Luca Bevilacqua » Thu Aug 11, 2005 6:10 pm

Hi Paul.

Well they could and they did.
They had very scarce effect tough.
Anyway Bismarck was still in fact inside Luftwaffe range, albeit stretched (not optimal) and only for bombers.

This forum has the best factual post about it.
http://kbismarck.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=98

If you want to know how I painfully learned it please refer to http://www.bismarck-class.dk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1721.

It is a mistery to me why this prevailing misconception of "outside Luftwaffe range" still dominates.

Ciao

Luca

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Post by RF » Wed Oct 04, 2006 8:44 am

The idea of Bismarck moving stern first is interesting, even if the jammed rudder would still ultimately point Bismarck in the wrong direction.

What is apparent is that when Lindemann gave course correction orders by alternating the speed of the various propellers it gave a very brief temporary solution to the problem. Here should be the key: it shouldn't take a mathematical genius to work out a succession of telegraph orders that would keep Bismarck pointing in roughly the right direction, albeit at very slow speed, but enough to:
1) Get Bismarck closer into effective Luftwaffe range so air cover can be provided,
2) Put Bismarck further away from Tovey so his fuel situation becomes critical and so reduce his chance of engaging Bismarck,
3) Enable the Kreigsmarine to send ocean going tugs (with destroyer and air escort) from France to pick up the Bismarck.

I presume that Bismarcks senior officers were too tired and stressed out to be able to calculate/execute the required run of telegraph orders. But if a US battleship was caught in this type of situation I would imagine the captain would have been trained to think of this type of solution rather than abandon his command to its fate.

I am not a marine engineer or mathmetician, is this line of thinking logical, or am I missing something?

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Post by Tiornu » Wed Oct 04, 2006 9:12 am

It was not the jammed rudder that was pushing the ship in the wrong direction. It was the wind and sea conspiring to do this. You would need much more than mathematical genius to counteract such forces.
Sending out ships to tow Bismarck would be nothing more than an invitation for more losses.
Were there any German destroyers in France at the time? This sortie would have sent them into waters that no German destroyer risked during the war.
There was an American aircraft carrier that suffered torpedo damage to its steering and began drifting in the "wrong" direction (ie, toward Japan). The crew rigged a sail in the open hangar and was able to keep the ship heading in the "right" direction (ie, not toward Japan).

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Post by RF » Wed Oct 04, 2006 1:23 pm

Tiornu wrote:It was not the jammed rudder that was pushing the ship in the wrong direction. It was the wind and sea conspiring to do this. You would need much more than mathematical genius to counteract such forces.
Sending out ships to tow Bismarck would be nothing more than an invitation for more losses.
Were there any German destroyers in France at the time? This sortie would have sent them into waters that no German destroyer risked during the war.
There was an American aircraft carrier that suffered torpedo damage to its steering and began drifting in the "wrong" direction (ie, toward Japan). The crew rigged a sail in the open hangar and was able to keep the ship heading in the "right" direction (ie, not toward Japan).
German destroyers were operational in the Western English Channel and Bay of Biscay form summer 1940 onwards (Hans Lody was one of them, she was there as part of Sea Lion).
They were used to escort blockade runners- German and Italian- going to/coming from the far east, and visiting Japanese submarines (the so-called 'Yanagi' missions.
According to Martin Brice, in his book 'Axis blockade runners' these German destroyers escorted their charges to/from a latitude as far south as Lisbon in the open Atlantic. One of these operations was caught by two British light cruisers, and a Narvik class destroyer and two torpedo boats were sunk without any substantive loss to the RN.

More losses? That is quiet probable, but with proper air cover you have a chance - it is better than doing nothing.

With respect to the sea conditions rather than the rudder forcing Bismarck to face North-West, I would submit that that was academic -
the point I was making was that if Lindemann could get Bismarck to point the right way, even for half a minute with one telegraph order, then be able to do it again with another order, then a sequence of orders could be deployed to keep Bismarck in the parameters of an ESE to South course.
I think the chances of it saving Bismarck weren't very great BUT it is surely better than just heading at very slow speed towards an execution.

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Post by Bgile » Wed Oct 04, 2006 5:22 pm

I believe the course they ended up with was the one which provided the most stable firing conditions. They could maybe have moved a few miles more, slewing wildly around while the British destroyers moved in to point blank range and hit them numerous times with torpedoes.

I am amazed at how critical people can be when German seaman with many years of experience tried their best to control their ship in very difficult conditions and you think you can judge them with your expertise.

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Post by Karl Heidenreich » Wed Oct 04, 2006 5:57 pm

I believe all misconceptions born from the lack of information about what Lindemann and/or Lutjens thought, believe or want to do in those critical moments. We have accounts from other sources but not from these two persons, the most important ones in Bismarck.
It´s like the ending chapters in Verne´s 20,000 leagues under the sea: Nemo vanished in his quaters and we didn´t knew what happened in his mind.

Best regards.
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
Sir Winston Churchill

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Post by Bgile » Wed Oct 04, 2006 7:12 pm

I've recalled another aspect to this.

They were attempting to disconnect the jammed rudder. Water was surging in and out of the rudder compartment and it was very very difficult to work in there. When they were changing shaft rpm, backing down on one screw and ahead on another, etc. it would undoubtedly caused extreme vibration in that area of the ship, making further work impossible.

I read from one source that they actually were able to disconnect that rudder, but by then the bridge personnel were all dead and the ship couldn't be controlled for other reasons.

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Post by marcelo_malara » Wed Oct 04, 2006 10:53 pm

There is another problem as posted in another forum. Bismarck´s screws were too close to the centre line to steer the ship effectively without rudder, let alone with a damaged one.

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Post by RF » Thu Oct 05, 2006 7:09 am

Bgile wrote:I am amazed at how critical people can be when German seaman with many years of experience tried their best to control their ship in very difficult conditions and you think you can judge them with your expertise.
Perhaps I am overly critical, but there were the lives of some 2,200 crew members at stake. Maybe the fact that the regime they were fighting for placed no real value on human life (except in a perverted sense) colours my thoughts, overall the comments by many of the authors on this subject concerning an alleged sense of fatalism on the part of Lutjens, leaves almost an impression that their leaders had ''given up'' that Hitler and others didn't give a toss what happened to Bismarck, they simply were expendable because they had failed the German Fuhrer.
I have also noted that permeating Hitlers naval directives and indeed the Kriegsmarine high command generally is an atitude I would describe as an ''inferiority complex'' best exemplified in the ''no risks'' orders.
I cannot think of a more blatent contradiction of terms and illustration of how ridiculous Nazi propaganda was in the idea of a ''master race'' with an inferiority complex. It beggars belief but the real tragedy were the millions of people murdered simply because they were deemed by that ideology to be inferior, not worthy of the gift of life.

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