Bismarck analysis

Discussions about the history of the ship, technical details, etc.
paul.mercer
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Bismarck analysis

Post by paul.mercer » Fri May 25, 2018 9:56 pm

Gentlemen,
I wasn’t sure where to place this so started another topic,
First of all my thanks to Wadinga for pointing me at the analysis of Bismarck, her development and final battle, I found it fascinating and if I may say so answers many of the points that have been made about her in this Forum. But it also raises some more which I have identified below
First of all it does state that Bismarck was a much updated version of the WWI Baden but surprisingly says that her guns were designed for close range actions in the North Sea against the RN and the armour system on Bismarck had been optimized for effectiveness in relatively close-range gunnery actions, although it was inadequate to protect against long-range shellfire’ which suggests the Germans were thinking of another Jutland type action instead of out in the Atlantic which may account for her being ‘a lively gun platform and unpleasant yawing and rolling in following seas’ and although it does not seem to have disturbed her shooting, I wonder if she really was designed to fight in the relatively shallow North Sea whether the open Atlantic had a bearing on her behaviour.
If so it is puzzling as to why the Germans designed a ship apparently for this type of action instead of one that was designed to operate and fight in the Atlantic under totally different conditions.
It adds, ‘The German design theory for torpedo defence systems was based on tests on sections on the old pre-dreadnought Preussen in the early 1930s’, ‘analysis of survivor testimony has led us to conclude that the German battleship's torpedo defence system was only marginally effective against British aerial torpedoes and vulnerable to surface-launched torpedoes containing greater explosive charges’, which would probably account for the recognition that the sterns of German ships had a weakness and the article concludes that ‘after the torpedo hit ‘part the stern collapsed upon the rudders’ which probably meant that nothing could have been done to save her from the inevitable.
As for the final battle, much has been written in the past about the thickness Bismarck’s armour versus the penetration capabilities of British shells, the article states ‘ despite the close range at which most of this action was fought we have found that the 50mm main deck armour of Bismarck was penetrated by two of the 16-inch shells from Rodney, once penetration occurred, the 50mm armour deflected the shells downward, enhancing their ability to penetrate the main armour deck directly below due to their more nearly normal angles of impact’.
‘We believe Rodney did most of the serious damage to Bismarck’, her 2,048-pound shells were extremely effective at ranges of 2,500-8,000 meters and could easily penetrate any vertical armour surface of Bismarck’.
Regarding Rodney’s shooting it says’ Rodney's gunnery was very accurate in these opening moments, before she began to have difficulty in ranging. King George V, with her more modern equipment and radar, also found her target early and between 0920-0924 hit Bismarck with a number of her 14-inch shells’.
If Rodney opened fire at 0847 and disabled Bismarck’s forward turrets at 0902 in a raging gale then surely this contradicts those that claim she took a long time to find the range?
It adds, Near the end of the battle, when Bismarck was completely defenceless, King George V closed to 3,000 meters, at which range her 14-inch armour piercing shells could penetrate all of Bismarck's vertical armour’.
’It is important to remember the relatively close ranges at which this last battle was fought, Bismarck's side armour was theoretically vulnerable to the 14-inch guns of the King George V inside ranges of 15,000 yards and vulnerable to the 16-inch guns on Rodney at even greater ranges’. ‘Bismarck's conning tower was shielded by 350mm armour, which was riddled by close-range British battleship gunfire’.
’Bismarck was very vulnerable to long-range gunfire; Admiral John Tovey's decision to engage her at close range increased the probability of shell hits, but made it more difficult for his shells to penetrate her vitals’. Our observation of the wreck indicated that the superstructure was devastated by shell damage.
‘As a practical matter, Bismarck was vulnerable to penetration by British heavy calibre shellfire throughout almost all of the final engagement’. ‘Survivor testimony has indicated that the main battery turrets were all struck by 14 or 16-inch shells and were disabled by 0930’ So it would appear that either Bismarck’ armour was not so invulnerable as some think and that the British heavy shells were not as bad as some have made out!

As for the RN ships, the article also states that the KGV class were acknowledged as being incapable of defeating either Bismarck or Tirpitz in single combat and needed a 2 to 1 advantage, I find this to be a rather damming statement of the newest RN ships and one has to wonder why the RN did not build a bigger, faster, updated and up-armoured version of the QE’s within the 35000 ton limit, or even go the whole hog and design a Vanguard type with the tried and trusted twin 15” turrets instead of messing about with untried guns and turrets just before a war broke out? After all the Germans, French, Italians, Japanese and Americans all exceeded the treaty limit so even if the RN designers went over the top by a few thousand tons who is going to try and weigh a battleship? (or was it a can’t do that old boy, it’s not British, we stick to the rules?)
However, the article does say that Bismarck (and presumably Tirpitz) was vulnerable to long range fire, so it might be interesting to speculate what the outcome may have been had Tirpitz been engaged at long range by Duke of York which had a good radar system (assuming of course all of DoY’s guns kept working!)
The assessment of an Iowa against Bismarck was correct, her speed, manoeuvrability, heavy shells and the ability to hit at long range would have totally outclassed either Bismarck or Tirpitz, but again it is comparing a more modern ship against one of an older design (shades of Hood V Bismarck).
Finally the question of whether she was scuttled, If she was then as I have said in another post it would take some incredibly brave men to go down to the bottom of the ship while it was being shot to bits and full marks to them if they did. However, when discussing the original findings by Robert Ballard he found ‘the wreck of Bismarck is upright, embedded in silt to about the normal waterline’. ‘It will probably never be possible to determine with more accuracy the performance of the battleship's side protective system during her sortie into the North Atlantic’.
Presumably scuttling charges are set near the inlet valves and sea cocks somewhere near the bottom of the ship, so it is difficult to see how anyone could assess whether the charges has been fired if the ship was as Ballard said ‘embedded in silt up to the normal waterline’?
In conclusion, it seems to me that Bismarck was a very fine ship, fast, well-armed and armoured and quite probably the best ship of her era and capable of tackling any battleship ship in the early 1940’s,But she was not without faults both in her design or build and in the end it was one relatively small torpedo from an antiquated biplane that caused her demise and it is fitting that we should pay tribute to those brave men on Bismarck who had to face up to the inevitable destruction of their ship for hours before the final battle, we can only speculate what is must have been like to see two heavy battleships coming at you from the horizon and knowing it was impossible to get away.
Anyway, that’s my bit, thanks again to Wadinga for guiding me to the assessment, perhaps some of you chaps might like to answer the questions that I put in the above.

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by alecsandros » Sat May 26, 2018 5:33 am

... What analysis would that be , Paul ? Because it is a few decades old in terms of knowledge on the subject matter...

Bismarck's armor array was optimized for the 20 to 30km band battle range, with the turrets and outer citadel being vulnerable to enemy fire , while the command positions and internal citadel where safe.

" If Rodney opened fire at 0847 and disabled Bismarck’s forward turrets at 0902 in a raging gale then surely this contradicts those that claim she took a long time to find the range?"

The Baron wrote in his memoirs that the British battleships took a very long time to find the range; Bismarck found the range to Rodney (but couldn't keep it) before Rodney found the range to Bismarck.

The "2 to 1" ratio between KGV and Bismarck was certainly not considered that way by the GErmans, who, in spring of 1942, expected that , after a direct confrontation between Tirpitz and KGV, the German battleship would have great troubles making it back to port, and would be probably intercepted before it arrived, by other British surface and aerial forces, that would probably sink her.

Iowa vs Bismarck is another old myth - Iowa did have the first chance, but in any case not in the way of total surclassation of Tirpitz.

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by paul.mercer » Sat May 26, 2018 3:23 pm

Thanks for that, I was under the impression that the article that I was quoting from was something fairly recent based on the last exploration of Bismarck wreck, even if it was a few years ago and that it possibly might change a few opinions on Bismarck herself and her final battle as well as perhaps changing some minds on the efficiency (or otherwise!) of Bismarck,s armour and British shells, particularly as these and similar subjects relating to them have been regularly discussed on this forum.
Although the article was new to me, it is obviously 'old hat', so my apologies for digging it up.
All the best and thanks for putting me right,
Paul

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wadinga
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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by wadinga » Sat May 26, 2018 4:35 pm

Hello Paul Mercer,

The article is
By William H. Garzke, Jr. and Robert O. Dulin, Jr. Illustrations by Thomas G. Webb.The article was originally published in Warship International No. 2, 1994, and was transcribed for the internet by Tony DiGiulian.
When these gentlemen, along with Bill Jurens (who I believe had a hand in the 1994 version) publish their new book in December, this revised version will replace the article as the definitive information.

Some may choose to disagree with their observations, but the reader must assess credentials when deciding who is in the right.


All the best

wadinga
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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by alecsandros » Sat May 26, 2018 9:23 pm

wadinga wrote: When these gentlemen, along with Bill Jurens (who I believe had a hand in the 1994 version) publish their new book in December, this revised version will replace the article as the definitive information.
Thanks for clarifying it.
In the past decade, a large amount of information pertaining German battleship design and capabilities have surfaced, thanks to a number of battleship historians, enthusiasts and various specialists from multiple fields, all connected by this vast , live network, which is the World Wide Web.

Only those that have been reading Kbismarck forum on a fairly regular basis know how much Thorsten Wall, David Saxton, Herr Nilson, Antonio Bonomi, Alberto Virtuani, and many others, have dug up from German, British and American archives, obtaining many times incredible documents that helped us paint a much clearer (and more profound) picture of what "once was".

Best,

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by dunmunro » Sat May 26, 2018 10:04 pm

paul.mercer wrote:
As for the RN ships, the article also states that the KGV class were acknowledged as being incapable of defeating either Bismarck or Tirpitz in single combat and needed a 2 to 1 advantage, I find this to be a rather damming statement of the newest RN ships and one has to wonder why the RN did not build a bigger, faster, updated and up-armoured version of the QE’s within the 35000 ton limit, or even go the whole hog and design a Vanguard type with the tried and trusted twin 15” turrets instead of messing about with untried guns and turrets just before a war broke out? After all the Germans, French, Italians, Japanese and Americans all exceeded the treaty limit so even if the RN designers went over the top by a few thousand tons who is going to try and weigh a battleship? (or was it a can’t do that old boy, it’s not British, we stick to the rules?) .
The USN 27 knot battleship designs didn't exceed the treaty limit, except for post 1939, after treaty was nullified by war. The KGV class were a good 2-3 knots faster than the USN designs. The Lion class follow on to the KGV's were designed to 40,000 tons and carried 9 x 16in guns, more armour than KGV and were 1-2 knots faster than KGV. 2 x Lions were laid down in 1938 but never completed.

RN armour piercing trials showed that the KGV class 14in guns had superior penetration to the RN 15in, even when the 15in were given improved shells which were standard issue on the rebuilt 15in gunned ships (Renown, Warspite, QE and Valiant).These same trials showed that the RN 14in gun could readily penetrate Bismarck's armour even relatvely very low striking velocity. Unfortunately the authors of the article in question appeared not to be aware of this. Therefore there was a tendency to attribute the Rodney with a disproportionate share in terms of silencing Bismarck, when in fact KGV certainly scored as many or probably more hits, especially early in the battle when her radar and firepower were unimpaired.

The RN was not in the habit of fighting equal battles with anyone, if it could be avoided, and always planned to engage the enemy with a great superiority of force.

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Sun May 27, 2018 7:25 am

Hello everybody,
I'm a bit doubtful about some statements, presented as facts, here.... KGV class guns were undoubtedly fairly good weapons (the turret were much less reliable), however Bismarck was quickly silenced but for sure not sunk by guns, despite an unprecedented punishment at very short range.
Bismarck had already absorbed torpedoes before her final battle, she got other torpedoes at the end of the engagement and still there were witnesses stating that the scuttling charges were necessary to ensure her sinking.
The gunnery precision was VERY bad on both sides, due to sea state and visibility, but Bismarck gunnery was impaired by her erratic course (more than by crew fatigue, IMO) that prevented any stable fire direction.

I seriously doubt that any British weapon (14", 15" or 16") could penetrate Bismarck armor combination (belt+slope) at any short range/inclination, and the last battle tend to confirm this (even if the Bismarck was already low in the water, but sea state and her heavy roll due to slow speed would have exposed the armor belt anyway).
Tovey_BS.jpg
Tovey_BS.jpg (31.27 KiB) Viewed 1979 times
Bye, Alberto
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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by alecsandros » Sun May 27, 2018 4:38 pm

Hello Alberto,
Hope you're doing well.

I also think that the combination of 320mm belt + 110mm scarp + 45mm TDS was not penetrable by contemporary naval guns.

In terms of accuracy, Rodney was in the lead of the British formation, and her muzzle fire produced smoke that hindered observations on the ships behind her (such as HMS King George Vth). Rodney was allegedly manned by an incomplete/undertrained crew, who was tasked with getting the ship to her much needed refit in the United States, and not to fight extreme weather and enemy battleships.

King George Vth could not discern between own and Rodney splashes , and therefore her accuracy was also reduced, despite her fire control radars (which broke down anyway at salvo 12th IIRC).

In the end , Rodney consumed 380 shots, versus KGV 339 shots, showing that an older ship, with less main guns (9 vs 10) fired more shots against the enemy then the flagship of the Royal Navy. BUT this must be viewed in the context of: a) Rodney's smoke hindering KGV observations; b) KGV having 1 , later both quad turrets jammed; c) Rodney being able to use all 9 main guns simply due to battle geometry, while KGV had 1 quad wooded for a long time.

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by dunmunro » Sun May 27, 2018 7:59 pm

alecsandros wrote:

King George Vth could not discern between own and Rodney splashes , and therefore her accuracy was also reduced, despite her fire control radars (which broke down anyway at salvo 12th IIRC).
Type 284 radar failed at salvo ~40 (0913). KGV did have problems spotting her own versus Rodney's salvos but this was resolved from 0853 onward, and from 0853-0914 KGV fired 34 salvos of which 14 were straddles. KGV claimed her first observed hit at 0854 which was stated to have struck the base of the superstructure.

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by alecsandros » Sun May 27, 2018 8:02 pm

Except that the first confirmed hits by German survivors (including von Mullencheim) are at 8:58 or 9:02, and they coincide with the observed first hit (or hits) from HMS Rodney.

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by dunmunro » Sun May 27, 2018 10:54 pm

alecsandros wrote:Except that the first confirmed hits by German survivors (including von Mullencheim) are at 8:58 or 9:02, and they coincide with the observed first hit (or hits) from HMS Rodney.
Survivor accounts are not definitive, but there's no way that they could distinguish between 14in and 16in hits, and KGV gained more straddles around the times mentioned above than Rodney.

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by alecsandros » Mon May 28, 2018 6:26 am

dunmunro wrote:
alecsandros wrote:Except that the first confirmed hits by German survivors (including von Mullencheim) are at 8:58 or 9:02, and they coincide with the observed first hit (or hits) from HMS Rodney.
Survivor accounts are not definitive, but there's no way that they could distinguish between 14in and 16in hits, and KGV gained more straddles around the times mentioned above than Rodney.
Given the storm, poor visibility and shell-shocked memories of the survivors, but also of the observers on board the British ships, many aspects of the May 27th events are not definitive.

KGV did report more straddles then Rodney, and timings (between German and British accounts) are not set in stone. Still, the "spectacular hit" on the forecastle is attributed to Rodney, because it coincided with one of her salvos. It is not impossible for KGV to have had one salvo in the air as well at that time, especialy as time of flight of 16 and 14" rounds was different, and actual distance between Rodney and Bismarck and between KGV and Bismarck was different (and variable) throughout the battle. So it's not a big stretch of imagination to conceive 1 or 2 x 14" shell hits on Bismarck early on (but I'd take it with caution, as Rodney's GAR does mention 16" hit on turrets Anton and Bruno, disabling both of them, at 9:02).

more here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6848

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by paul.mercer » Mon May 28, 2018 8:28 pm

Gentlemen,
Many thanks for all your replies (and for not 'blowing me out of the water for my post!).
However, tow of my questions remain unanswered, 1) If Bismarck is buried up to her waterline how can they tell if she was scuttled -other than German reports and (2 Was Rodney firing full 9 gun broadsides when she was a almost point blank range?

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by alecsandros » Mon May 28, 2018 8:40 pm

paul.mercer wrote: 1) If Bismarck is buried up to her waterline how can they tell if she was scuttled -other than German reports
They can't - at best an informed guesstimate.
and (2 Was Rodney firing full 9 gun broadsides when she was a almost point blank range?
[/quote]
For most of the battle I know Rodney fired 4 and 5 gun salvos (salvo1 - 4 guns, salvo2 - the remaining 5 guns), but I don't know exactly how she fired when she was at 3000-4000yards from the Bismarck. However, my intuition is that she continued to alternate with 4 and 5 gun salvos for practical purposes, but other members here know far more then I do...

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Re: Bismarck analysis

Post by dunmunro » Mon May 28, 2018 8:54 pm

paul.mercer wrote:Gentlemen,
Many thanks for all your replies (and for not 'blowing me out of the water for my post!).
However, tow of my questions remain unanswered, 1) If Bismarck is buried up to her waterline how can they tell if she was scuttled -other than German reports and (2 Was Rodney firing full 9 gun broadsides when she was a almost point blank range?
The question of scuttling is unprovable, for or against.

Rodney fired 9 x nominally 9 gun broadsides from 0952-1003, however output was only 61% so the average broadside was composed of 5 or 6 guns. The last broadside was fired at 4000 yards.

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