2 questions regarding Bismarck

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2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by alecsandros » Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:31 pm

Hello,

Many many aspects of Bismarck's sortie have been discussed thoroughly on the forum. What I find very difficult to explain however are 2 problems concerning Lutjens decisions:

1) Why did Lutjens continue towards the Atlantic (Brest), when it was clear that the ship was damaged, had parts of the fuel-oil contaminated with sea-water (thus shorter range), and the distance back to Norway was clearly shorter...
2) Why did Lutjens hold fire for so long at Denmark Strait ? He knew Hood to be making at least 30kts, if not 32. So an escape would not have been possible.
By not giving the order to fire earlier, he endagendered his ship very much. After all, any of the 3x356mm shells could have hit the con-tower, main director, and/or some main turrets. Given the range, any of those hits would have been very bad for Bismarck.

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by Ken Thompson » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:57 pm

The first question: Since this was the "break out" into the Atlantic and the damage was not all that severe, going to Brest for repairs positioned it on the Atlantic for further operations.

The second question: ?

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by tommy303 » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:32 pm

Why did Lutjens continue towards the Atlantic (Brest), when it was clear that the ship was damaged, had parts of the fuel-oil contaminated with sea-water (thus shorter range), and the distance back to Norway was clearly shorter...
Luetjens did not receive the damage reports and the fuel reports immediately simply because it was not until after the action that a reasonable assessment could be made. Consequently he continued south as planned. Ask Ken said, his orders from SKL was to break out into the Atlantic--he had just done that and turning back would have meant having to do it all over again at a later date. Secondly, turning back would have meant having to steer somewhat predictably, with less maneuvering room and with much longer days in relatively clear weather as the storm front was moving south. Finally, the enemy had been shown to have radar, and he had no idea what was coming his way from the north and northwest. Doubling back might cause him to blunder into more enemy ships; the probable correctness of the decision was emphasized when he was attacked by Victorious' Swordfish torpedo bombers coming in from that direction. Heading south also meant more room in which to shake off the shadowers and longer nights and shorter days.
2) Why did Lutjens hold fire for so long at Denmark Strait ? He knew Hood to be making at least 30kts, if not 32. So an escape would not have been possible.


Initially the Germans did not know the composition of Holland's squadron, and it was not until moments before Hood opened fired that Bismarck's second gunnery officer suggested to IAO Schneider that the lead ship might be Hood. In Prinz Eugen, Hood was not identified at all until she was actually sinking and Prince of Wales was not identified as a battleship until she turned away making smoke. When it became clear that the new arrivals meant to engage, Luetjens hoisted the signal JD, code for open fire, indicating he was accepting battle and Prinz Eugen had permission to fire as well. Luetjens would have informed Lindemann of the decision to accept battle, but it was actually up to Lindemann to fight his own ship. Traditionally the delay between Hood and Prince of Wales opening fire and the Germans returning fire has been seen as Luetjens hesitating, and certainly members of the crew felt that was the case as well. Lindemann's statement to someone on the bridge that he would not let his ship be shot out from under his ass might have made to calm someone else's nerves by injecting a bit of humour. We just don't know, and can never be certain if the comment was anything more than rumour or in what context it was being uttered since no one from the bridge survived the final sinking. On the other hand, Lindemann himself might have caused the delay; he was a gunnery expert and had taught that at the Naval School. He would know very well at what ranges his guns would become most likely to begin hitting without wasting shells (and there were only limited numbers of APC shells on board). It might be no coincidence that when Bismarck opened fire, she was at almost exactly 50% of the maximum range of her guns--and this is just about the point where straddling salvos begin to have a very good chance of landing a hit. There was also the problem of making sure the correct shells were being sent to the guns. Initially the enemy was thought to be cruisers. Once they were identified as heavy units, it was necessary to change what shells were in transport to APC, and waiting for the range to come down a little would give time for that to be done (Bismarck fired APC throughout the action, except for the first salvo of HE which had been loaded the night before).

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by tommy303 » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:48 am

from the north and northwest.
Make that, 'from the north and northeast.'

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by paulcadogan » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:14 am

tommy303 wrote:Traditionally the delay between Hood and Prince of Wales opening fire and the Germans returning fire has been seen as Luetjens hesitating, and certainly members of the crew felt that was the case as well. Lindemann's statement to someone on the bridge that he would not let his ship be shot out from under his ass might have made to calm someone else's nerves by injecting a bit of humour. We just don't know, and can never be certain if the comment was anything more than rumour or in what context it was being uttered since no one from the bridge survived the final sinking. On the other hand, Lindemann himself might have caused the delay; he was a gunnery expert and had taught that at the Naval School. He would know very well at what ranges his guns would become most likely to begin hitting without wasting shells (and there were only limited numbers of APC shells on board).
But how does this explain Schneider's repeated requests to open fire answered only by silence, according to the Baron who himself heard the communications?
Schneider as the chief GO should know very well when his ship was ready to engage.
"I braced myself for 'Permission to fire" and the thunder of our guns that would follow. Nothing happened. We in the after station looked at one another in bewilderment. Why weren't we doing something? ......Schneider's voice came ovr the telephone "Request permission to fire." Silence. Schneider again: : "Enemy has opened fire. Enemy salvoes well grouped." And anew, "Request permission to fire." Still no response.
Battleship Bismarck - A Survivor's Story.

But I agree fully that the order must have come from Lutjens given that the signal to open fire was made to Prinz Eugen allowing that ship to actually fire before Bismarck did.

It might have been better for Holland if he had held back for 5 minutes and opened fire at 5:57 with his A-arcs open!
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by alecsandros » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:53 am

@Thomas
Thanks for a very detailed description of decisions in uncertainty conditions.

I've pondered some of the elements you presented myself. However, I do not think those were the best decisions under the given circumstances.

For instance, I can understand Hood and PoW not being recognized before opening fire. But when the first salvo from Hood and than from PoW landed in the water, how could anyone be mistaken about the ship types... ? 356 and 381mm shells create much bigger "splashes" than 203mm...
And yes, conserving the precious 30% APC ammo had some justification. But, again, when seing 100ft towers of water around your ships, holding fire "to preserve ammo" begins to be very dangerous. After all, the protetion of the ship is much more important than protection of the ammunition supply :D
[perhaps some German over-confidence in Bismarck's protection system ?]

As for the continuation into the Atlantic - the damage reports came in about 1 hour after Hood's sinking. From that point onwards, Bismarck needed to cruise at least 3 days to Brest, and only ~ 1.5 days to Trodheim.

Further actions showed that enemy warplanes and warships could intercept Bismarck from different directions. In fact, the north-easternly route back to Norway would only have been "blocked" by the 12 Swordfishes from Victorious (and it's escorts), while the south-easternly course was packed with dozens of ships taken out from convoy escort, not to mention Ark Royal's 15 Swordfishes.

The ship was allready damaged, and had her range reduced. The floatplanes were unusable, so early detection of incoming enemies was out of the question. Thus, the continuation of the mission was an extremely dangerous decision, as any more further damage could prove fatal.

Furthermore, evn with Lutjens limited info, he must have known that the Hood was the only British ship capable of speeds in excess of 30kts, and KGV and PoW the only BBs close to 29kts. Thus, with Hood sunk, and "1 KGV damaged", the Bismarck couldn't have been outrun by comparable British heavy units. So a return to Norway via the ice-packs would have been a much more "safe" decision, IMO.

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by tommy303 » Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:09 am

But how does this explain Schneider's repeated requests to open fire answered only by silence, according to the Baron who himself heard the communications?
Schneider as the chief GO should know very well when his ship was ready to engage.
Here is where we have to do a little visualization of where people were at the time. Luetjens action station was with his staff on the flag bridge where there was adequate room, a decent all round view, and the fleet signals center: Lindemann's was in the cramped armoured conning tower on the combat bridge. The two men were not together. When Luetjens made the JD hoist he would have informed Lindemann. From that point on, it was up to Lindemann to give the order to fire--which he eventually did in a somewhat dramatic, if enigmatic manner, and it was Schneider asking Lindemann for permission to fire, not Schneider asking the Chief of Fleet; to go over his captain's head to the Admiral would have been a serious breech of military protocol. In any event, the Baron was only hearing what was being said over the fire control circuit between the foretop and the conning tower.

As to Lindemann's words to the effect that he wasn't going to let is ship be shot out from under his ass, followed by 'Feuer Laubnis!', suffice to say that could be taken in several ways. The Baron may have heard about it later, perhaps as scuttlebutt on board or even later in the POW camp, but he apparently did personally hear it over the fire control net. Taken out of context, it could have been an exclamation of exaggeration if we are to assume he was waiting for Luetjens to give the word, yet Luetjens hoisted JD at about the same time as Holland hoisted his own signal to open fire to Prince of Wales. In any event, it is unlikely, given Luetjens personality and the rigid discipline of the German armed forces, that Lindemann would have deliberately countermanded any order from the Flottenchef. I feel it is much more likely that Lindemann already knew he had permission to fire. There must have been a fair amount of tension in the conning tower with enemy shells falling into the sea and Schnieder's repeated requests to open fire; it would be a natural thing for a leader like Lindemann to glance around at the other men present and say, "I will not let my ship be shot out from under my ass. Permission to fire." A little humour like that goes a long way towards breaking the tension and easing fears.

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by tommy303 » Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:35 am

For instance, I can understand Hood and PoW not being recognized before opening fire. But when the first salvo from Hood and than from PoW landed in the water, how could anyone be mistaken about the ship types... ? 356 and 381mm shells create much bigger "splashes" than 203mm...
Bismarck appears to have identified Hood before Holland opened fire, but it would seem that Prinz Eugen did not according to the report of the first gunnery officer and the post action critique by Group West after Prinz Eugen docked in France. Jasper, the chief gunnery officer came under a certain amount of criticism for his failure to properly identify the enemy. In his critique, appended to Prinz Eugen's war diary, Admiral Schmundt wrote:

"The assumption by the first artillery officer (Korvettenkapitaen Paulus Jasper) that he is facing heavy cruisers is incomprehensible."

See the Prinz Eugen War Diary for full details:

http://www.kbismarck.com/archives/index.html

As to reversing course and heading back to Norway, Luetjens would have been aware of the improving weather in that direction, and heading back to Norway would have brought his ship closer to British land based air power. It is unlikely he knew of Force H from Gibralter as yet, and heading to the south was his best all round option at the moment until mid morning when damage control announced that the reserve fuel in the forward bunkers was cut off because of a failure of the transfer pumps.

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by alecsandros » Thu Feb 16, 2012 11:33 am

Very interesting, Thommy

So it was a stream of incorrect information that lead to some questionable decisions...

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by costas » Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:13 pm

I think St. Nazaire had a distinct advantage over Norway (Trondheim ?), the dry dock.
That combined with the important reasons explained in tommy303's posts could justify Lütjens(?) decision to choose France instead of Norway. I just speculate that it was Lütjens decision (or his direct order) to head for St. Nazaire.

Also note that Lütjens wasn't alone when decisions were made, he had a 70+ officers in his entourage, in a peculiar situation like that it could be the Chief's Engineer's influence.
I think it would be interesting if someone could elaborate a little on the topic of the decisions and hierarchy and military protocol.

Whether the dry dock could do any good to Bismarck or make any difference to Rheinübung as whole, is an other matter.

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by alecsandros » Thu Feb 16, 2012 2:04 pm

My impression is he (they) chose boldness over safeness... The trip to France was twice as long as the trip to Norway...

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by tommy303 » Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:08 pm

If I recall correctly, Luetjens sent a message to the appropriate Naval Group having oversight over the operation informing them of his decision to head for France. Group West, I believe endorsed Luetjens' decision, although if they had additional information the Chief of Fleet did not have, they could have ordered him to return to Norway or even to the Baltic.

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by phil gollin » Fri Feb 17, 2012 8:07 am

.

It would be interesting to know what Lutjens knew (or thought he knew) about the strength and disposition of the Home Fleet - and IF or WHEN he found out that the second ship was POW and not KGV.

The fact that Bismarck had been found so easily must have disturbed him and part of his decision must have been based on what could intercept him and when.

.

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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by paulcadogan » Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:57 pm

According to the Baron's book, the dispositions of the British fleet became known to Lutjens thanks to B-Dienst decoding of signals (either on board or from shore) on May 25 before he addressed the crew (the speech that is said to have lowered their morale). He later told the crew that it was PoW and not KGV they had encountered the day before and that KGV, Rodney, Repulse and Ramillies plus cruisers and destroyers were now in pursuit. He also told them Force H had left Gibraltar. So by that point he was well aware of the forces arrayed against him, but he was already well committed to heading for France.

Prior to the DS engagement his latest info had been the the Home Fleet was still at Scapa, which I think played a role in the mistaken belief that Hood & PoW were cruisers. One of his reasons for not pursuing PoW would no doubt have been that this could lead him in the direction of other British heavy ships.
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Re: 2 questions regarding Bismarck

Post by RF » Fri Feb 17, 2012 7:00 pm

alecsandros wrote: . In fact, the north-easternly route back to Norway would only have been "blocked" by the 12 Swordfishes from Victorious (and it's escorts)...
...plus also Norfolk, Suffolk, POW which were to the immediate NE of Bismarck, plus further away Tovey in KGV, plus cruisers patrolling the northern passages...

The Germans would be aware of the immediate pursuers and would expect far more from that direction, even though unlike us they wouldn't know exactly how much could oppose them.
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