What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Historical what if discussions, hypothetical operations, battleship vs. battleship engagements, design your own warship, etc.
swpz
Junior Member
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat Aug 25, 2018 8:53 am

What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by swpz » Sat Aug 25, 2018 3:41 pm

So I just finished the Baron's book and an interesting part stuck out. That was, the Bismarck's last engagement where common place accounts have the Bimarck's crew as exhausted and incapable of effective resistance hence the complete absence of hits despite the 10 or so minutes of shooting. The Baron's account and Campbell's (aboard Rodney) seem to offer a very different picture of this. The Baron describes the Bismarck's crew as combat effective and in fact itching for action; her shooting as also excellent as the Baron himself would later prove before luck eliminated his station just as he had obtained a firing solution. Their slim probability of survival rested on being able to identify Rodney and taking her out of the picture early on, something that they were apparently well on their way to initially.

Bismarck supposedly only fired 3 salvos from her fore turrets before they were silenced, these are recorded as: short, straddle, over.

So Campbell's account said that Bismarck's 3rd salvo from the fore turrets, just before Rodney obtained 1-2 hit(s) on them to take them out of action achieved a 'perfect straddle' with shells landing, fore, aft and to both sides. In short, he seems to have described the shells as almost hitting but just barely missing. In fact the shells did cause some damage, fragments knocked the AA director station out of action but killed no one (I'm actually curious as to this as most accounts mention no damage at all to Rodney or KGV during the final engagement, did this actually happen or was minor damage simply discounted as it wasn't a direct hit?).

Now the what if:

What if those shells had instead hit? Could it have achieved a mutual kill with Bismarck's fore guns going out of action but with Rodney's firepower being effectively silenced as well? As the approach was bow on, Rodney's armor would have counted for nothing, there is no effective armor in the bow on angle of a ship, had Bimarck's shells hit, depending on where they hit, they could very well have done another "Hood" as Campbell's account recorded.

How might have KGV done with Rodney's offensive capabilities out of the picture, would she have opted to close the range to point blank and risk Bismarck's fire (as Rodney did OTL where as KGV hung back) or would she continue to fire from a distance and effectively trade shots with Bismarck's remaining aft turrets but with a much lower accuracy rate?

Is it confirmed that it was an 8" that took out the Baron's station or could it have actually been a battleship shell? If it was say a battleship shot, maybe even a shot from Rodney that neutralized the Baron's station, without Rodney in the picture and the Baron having an effective firing solution how would things look for the KGV?

Would the secondary battery (that kept fire on Rodney in OTL) be able to effectively engage Norfolk and Suffolk and would this have translated into disturbances to their gunnery and or significant damage to either ship? The 150mm was perfectly capable of damaging either cruiser and seemingly was in action until 09:30 or so?

How much damage would Bismarck have taken without Rodney to strafe her again and again and would the damage have been severe enough to force a scuttling? Or would she have remained afloat, mauled but alive?

Were British torpedoes actually that effective? As the wreck shows that not a single torpedo breached Bismarck's torpedo bulkheads, so not one of those hits would have actually foundered her... would more actually matter?

The British were almost out of fuel and that was in fact the reason for their withdrawal, without Rodney could KGV, Norfolk and Suffolk have inflicted nearly as much damage to Bismarck as she took in OTL? How much longer could they have afforded to stay before the threat from aircraft and U-boats became too much?

What would the Germans have done if the bombers that appeared on scene after Bismarck sank instead found her heavily damaged but still afloat? What could they realistically have done?

What else did the British have on hand to throw at Bismarck? With no doubt every U-boat in the area closing in to the rescue, would the British actually risk staying in the area for too long (Ark Royal was sunk by a U-boat for example)?

--

From what I've read, generally the consensus is that the Bismarck had not a snowball's chance in hell during her final battle. I disagree with this opinion after reading the Baron's book. They indeed had a chance to survive had luck been with them. It strikes me as interesting how much luck favored the British in Bismarck's final battle and how much luck disfavored the Germans. It was a complete reverse of Denmark Strait where the Hood was vaporized in 5 minutes flat without doing much at all (actually Bismarck was still hit during the DS battle so she wasn't that lucky even then). Had luck played even slightly differently, that day could have been very different and the loss of life potentially far greater.

paul.mercer
Senior Member
Posts: 679
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by paul.mercer » Sun Aug 26, 2018 10:10 am

Hi SWPZ,
What a lot of questions!
I'll leave the technical stuff to the experts on this Forum, personally I do think that Bismarck did not 'have a snowballs chance' of surviving against two powerful battleships and torpedo carrying cruisers, once she could not steer the result was inevitable. Had she hit Rodney it would be highly unlikely to silence all her guns and as has been explained before in other posts elsewhere Rodney was quite a well armoured ship, and was really only susceptible
to shells diving and penetrating her underwater.Whether or not Dorsetshire's torpedoes did penetrate Bismarck's hull is a moot point, but whether they did or not, and whether she was scuttled or not, it is generally excepted that this only hastened her end there was no way she was going to make Brest or any other port. As for the cruisers damaging Bismarck, obviously their main weapon would be torpedoes if they could get close enough, their 8" shells would undoubtedly damage Bismarck's upperworks but unlikely to seriously damage the main armour enough to sink her.
One only has to look at the underwater pictures taken by Ballard and Cameron to see that she was practically shot to pieces by the combined point blank firepower of the RN ships. Of course, in battle there are always 'if''s and maybe's' that can turn an seemingly hopeless situation around, but not in this case, once her rudders jammed Bismarck was a good as lost, and I think the Baron and the other senior officers on Bismarck realized it. I hope that this has helped and that others who are more knowledgeable than I will answer the rest of your questions.
All the best,
Paul

HMSVF
Member
Posts: 107
Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2018 10:15 am

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by HMSVF » Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:11 pm

Agree,

She wasn't going anywhere once her rudders were shot. HMS Ark Royal was still on hand if required and if KGV and Rodney did have to go the RN would have found something else from somewhere. HMS Rodney, despite her desperate need for a refit was still a tough old boot. That she suffered self inflicted damage from firing full broadsides is probably a testament to the power of her 16 inch guns as much as anything else.



Best wishes


HMSVF

paul.mercer
Senior Member
Posts: 679
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by paul.mercer » Sun Aug 26, 2018 4:31 pm

Hi Again,
Just an after thought, in fact the RN were pulling in heavy units from all over the place, besides Ark Royal and her torpedo carrying Swordfish, after KGV and Rodney had withdrawn even an old 'R' class, QE, or Renown could have finished her off.

HMSVF
Member
Posts: 107
Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2018 10:15 am

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by HMSVF » Sun Aug 26, 2018 6:07 pm

paul.mercer wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 4:31 pm
Hi Again,
Just an after thought, in fact the RN were pulling in heavy units from all over the place, besides Ark Royal and her torpedo carrying Swordfish, after KGV and Rodney had withdrawn even an old 'R' class, QE, or Renown could have finished her off.

Hi Paul,

I suspect that Ark Royal would have kept the air strikes coming till she was a soggy hulk. Given Churchill's temper I wouldn't have been surprised if ordered Bomber Command to send anything with the range, even if it was a one way trip to sink her. Personally I would feel nervous about sending an "R" in with their 20' elevation for the 15 inch guns and their low speed (19kts realistically?). Renown has modern fire control, but is a little thin on armour.

Having said that, realistically Bismarck is just that little too far out for Germany to do anything. Even if she was in range of German bombers how will Germany maintain a constant air cover without fighter cover to protect them.

kevin32422
Member
Posts: 29
Joined: Mon Sep 24, 2012 3:25 pm

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by kevin32422 » Mon Aug 27, 2018 4:57 am

I think the Bismarck was lost even if it was to hit the Rodney there was too much against it with the KGV with cruisers and destroyers not to mention there was swordfish torpedo planes circling overhead waiting to pounce if given the order to. it was too much if the Bismarck"s rudders were intact it could have outrun all this before it was in place. now IF the Bismarck was cornered and had the rudders intact and the crew was rested that might have been a different story with the Bismarck giving a better account of itself if not sinking a ship or two.

paul.mercer
Senior Member
Posts: 679
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by paul.mercer » Mon Aug 27, 2018 9:00 pm

HMSVF wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 6:07 pm
paul.mercer wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 4:31 pm
Hi Again,
Just an after thought, in fact the RN were pulling in heavy units from all over the place, besides Ark Royal and her torpedo carrying Swordfish, after KGV and Rodney had withdrawn even an old 'R' class, QE, or Renown could have finished her off.

Hi Paul,

I suspect that Ark Royal would have kept the air strikes coming till she was a soggy hulk. Given Churchill's temper I wouldn't have been surprised if ordered Bomber Command to send anything with the range, even if it was a one way trip to sink her. Personally I would feel nervous about sending an "R" in with their 20' elevation for the 15 inch guns and their low speed (19kts realistically?). Renown has modern fire control, but is a little thin on armour.

Having said that, realistically Bismarck is just that little too far out for Germany to do anything. Even if she was in range of German bombers how will Germany maintain a constant air cover without fighter cover to protect them.
Thanks for that, I was assuming that Bismarck was in the state that she was after KGV & Rodney had finished with her as I don't think she had any of her main armament left, even an old 'R' would not have had to elevate her guns too much at point blank, and a 15" shell is a 15" shell no matter where it comes from, but I take your point, it might be different if Bismarck had some main guns left!

Thorsten Wahl
Senior Member
Posts: 681
Joined: Mon Apr 27, 2009 4:17 pm

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by Thorsten Wahl » Tue Aug 28, 2018 8:26 am

So Campbell's account said that Bismarck's 3rd salvo from the fore turrets, just before Rodney obtained 1-2 hit(s) on them to take them out of action achieved a 'perfect straddle' with shells landing, fore, aft and to both sides. In short, he seems to have described the shells as almost hitting but just barely missing. In fact the shells did cause some damage, fragments knocked the AA director station out of action but killed no one (I'm actually curious as to this as most accounts mention no damage at all to Rodney or KGV during the final engagement, did this actually happen or was minor damage simply discounted as it wasn't a direct hit?).
Bismarck started firing using "Sprenggranaten Kopfzünder". As there was splinterdamage from near misses on Rodney.

If these type of shell hit Rodney you can expect only superfical damage apart from direct hits against firecontrolfacilities.
Meine Herren, es kann ein siebenjähriger, es kann ein dreißigjähriger Krieg werden – und wehe dem, der zuerst die Lunte in das Pulverfaß schleudert!

swpz
Junior Member
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat Aug 25, 2018 8:53 am

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by swpz » Sun Sep 02, 2018 10:32 am

I've looked at the underwater footage extensively and that's actually what led me to this idea that had Bismarck been somehow able to silence Rodney at the start, she would have lived through that final battle. I have little doubt she would still be sunk, perhaps simply by the heavy seas in light of battle damage but my question was as to whether or not she could have immediately survived.

Most of the damage to Bismarck was dealt by Rodney. The belt penetrations the barbette hit, the bridge hit, these were all from 16" shells where as KGV's 14" shells produced dents and splatters, not penetrations. For example, C turret was hit and disabled by KGV but in the Baron's account he said the turret commander still managed two additional shots before evacuating the turret, this implies only half of the turret was actually disabled. Turret D had one of its barrels blow up and that was what led to its evacuation.

KGV simply doesn't seem to have been that effective in that last battle as 14" is simply that, 14".

Now I'm aware that Rodney was well protected but in a bow on approach most of that armor would have counted for nothing and, as the hit(s) on Bismarck showed, the armor not being penetrated doesn't mean that the fighting capacity of a ship will remain intact. One or more hits to B turret took out both A/B despite the armoring and separation of the turrets. Surely Rodney is just as vulnerable if not more so due to having all main battery turrets concentrated fore? The KM 15" was only 800kg vs the 930 of the British 16" but I don't imagine that's much of a difference if hit.

Note that I'm talking only about disabling Rodney's guns even if only for few hours while DC worked, fuel would have forced a withdraw. I'm not talking about sinking Rodney as short of an absurdly lucky magazine shot,that wouldn't be possible.

I'm actually at a loss as to how Bismarck's main FC was disabled by Rodney's hit though, the wreck shows a hit that seems to have hit B barbette while penetrating the upper deck, that's a long ways away from the foretop unless that was also shot away in the same salvo or another shortly after.

Bercuson's book 'Destruction of the Bismarck" mentioned "the weather forbidding a suicidal charge by German destroyers" but doesn't seem to provide any more detail, what could these have done had they been sent and had Bismarck remained afloat? What else could or would the KM have rushed to the scene?

That same book also mentioned Ark Royal being bombed as she was departing the scene. This implies there we no CAP on duty at the time, what's up with that? That's strange to me as RN radar should have detected the inbound strike, no interception implies no fighters on board.

The location wasn't exactly convenient for the British either, RN ships weren't famous for having long legs unless I'm mistaken, simply getting to Bismarck's location from Scapa was no short trip. If the forces immediately on hand were not enough, what else could they divert?

Without Rodney I'd probably reduce the overall damage to Bismarck by at least 60%. All the critical hits were inflicted by Rodney and without those hits, Bismarck would still have possessed some capacity to that back. An old R class would be a very risky gamble in this case. Sending the R battlecruisers would have been even more so assuming Bismarck still had some of her FC intact.

Frankly I don't see a chance in hell of Bismarck making port, I do see a chance for more of the crew to have survived though as I imagine had she survived the final battle and had German destroyers arrived on scene, what they would likely have done would be to rescue survivors and scuttle.

User avatar
Dave Saxton
Supporter
Posts: 2985
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Rocky Mountains USA

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun Sep 02, 2018 2:44 pm

swpz wrote:
Sun Sep 02, 2018 10:32 am


I'm actually at a loss as to how Bismarck's main FC was disabled by Rodney's hit though, the wreck shows a hit that seems to have hit B barbette while penetrating the upper deck, that's a long ways away from the foretop unless that was also shot away in the same salvo or another shortly after.
Several accounts attribute this to a direct hit on the foretop fire control position by the cruiser Norfolk at about the same time as the first battleship hits.

The conning tower firecontrol position could have been disabled by the bridge hit (which may have come from KGV) or one of the B turret hits. Anton had no optical rangefinders for effective local control. The aft firecontrol position was disabled by a KGV hit carrying away the rangefinder, radar, and the directors, after having fired only four controlled salvos, leaving the aft turrets to fire under local control.

As Thorsten has written, Bismarck appears to have used nose fused munitions instead of capped armour piercing munitions at first. Nevertheless, those types of munitions are very good for administering splinter damage and could have disabled firecontrol and command positions without direct hits on such positions. Additionally, close near misses from those munitions would have exploded shortly after contact with the sea, and not continued on to strike the hull below the waterline. Bismarck surely would have used those type of munitions against Vian's destroyers and was probably already loaded with those types for the first few salvos.

KGV's 14" were still very destructive and dangerous. Some 14" and 16" shells may have hit hard exterior positions exceeding their velocity for shatter given the short ranges. Common shell 8", 6", and 5.25", would have likely splattered against armoured positions.

Bismarck was simply overwhelmed by the combined volume of fire, unable to maneuver, and greatly affected by the sea state, and I don't see any other likely outcome to the battle.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

User avatar
RF
Senior Member
Posts: 7532
Joined: Wed Sep 20, 2006 1:15 pm
Location: Wolverhampton, ENGLAND

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by RF » Tue Sep 04, 2018 8:02 am

I did start a thread some years ago posing this question which at the time received little response.

Potentially a major early hit on Rodney could have changed the course of the last battle but not the final result. The key is exactly how much damage could be caused and how that would impact on the fuel situation with KGV which would have forced Tovey to break off and head for home as he did but this time with Bismarck still in action.....
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

User avatar
RF
Senior Member
Posts: 7532
Joined: Wed Sep 20, 2006 1:15 pm
Location: Wolverhampton, ENGLAND

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by RF » Tue Sep 04, 2018 8:07 am

Dave Saxton wrote:
Sun Sep 02, 2018 2:44 pm

Bismarck was simply overwhelmed by the combined volume of fire, unable to maneuver, and greatly affected by the sea state, and I don't see any other likely outcome to the battle.
Correct.

However the key at the start was that Rodney provided the bulk of the volume of fire with the heaviest shells. If some or most of that was taken out initially then Bismarck's guns stay in action longer with the prospect of more hits before they will eventually be silenced.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

User avatar
Dave Saxton
Supporter
Posts: 2985
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Rocky Mountains USA

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by Dave Saxton » Tue Sep 04, 2018 3:04 pm

The critical hits which determined the early course of the battle were the damage to the fire control positions. For example, the aft battery remained in action for a long time after the central fire control was disabled, but was ineffective, being forced to rely on local control. If Rodney had not knocked the forward battery out when it did, the Norfolk hit would likely have still made Bismarck's fire ineffective during the critical early time period, and made it unlikely that Bismarck could have rendered Rodney ineffective. This rendering of Bismarck's fire ineffective probably did not come from 16" hits. Perhaps control could have been switched over to Albrecht, but the battleship hit to the bridge may have been responsible for disabling the forward FC position. The Baron commented in his books that the telephone communication that he was to take over the fire control came from Albrecht, so he was able to communicate but not direct the shooting. It remains a mystery as to why this was the case.

However, if we reverse the situation and Bismarck had knocked out Rodney's main battery fire control instead, then the battle takes a different course, but probably does not alter the ultimate outcome. Given the volume of fire against Bismarck, it was just a matter of time until Bismarck's fire control systems were disabled one by one.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

User avatar
RF
Senior Member
Posts: 7532
Joined: Wed Sep 20, 2006 1:15 pm
Location: Wolverhampton, ENGLAND

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by RF » Wed Sep 05, 2018 8:27 am

An interesting post as it does remind me of one point which does remain a mystery to me. Immediately prior to the final battle commencing Norfolk arrived on the scene and misidentified Bismarck as a British ship, approaching injudiciously close to Bismarck. But Bismarck held its fire, why??? Had Bismarck lashed out at Norfolk there was the prospect of Norfolk being blown out of the water before Rodney and KGV opened fire, which would have implications for Bismarck retaining central fire control for longer in the final battle.... this is said with hindsight of course, but I don't understand Bismarck's failure to shoot at Norfolk when it had the chance. A cruiser may not be as important a target as a battleship but sinking a cruiser is better than sinking nothing at all.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

dunmunro
Senior Member
Posts: 3626
Joined: Sat Oct 22, 2005 1:25 am
Location: Langley BC Canada

Re: What if Bismarck hit Rodney early on?

Post by dunmunro » Wed Sep 05, 2018 5:18 pm

swpz wrote:
Sun Sep 02, 2018 10:32 am
I've looked at the underwater footage extensively and that's actually what led me to this idea that had Bismarck been somehow able to silence Rodney at the start, she would have lived through that final battle. I have little doubt she would still be sunk, perhaps simply by the heavy seas in light of battle damage but my question was as to whether or not she could have immediately survived.

Most of the damage to Bismarck was dealt by Rodney. The belt penetrations the barbette hit, the bridge hit, these were all from 16" shells where as KGV's 14" shells produced dents and splatters, not penetrations. For example, C turret was hit and disabled by KGV but in the Baron's account he said the turret commander still managed two additional shots before evacuating the turret, this implies only half of the turret was actually disabled. Turret D had one of its barrels blow up and that was what led to its evacuation.

KGV simply doesn't seem to have been that effective in that last battle as 14" is simply that, 14".

Now I'm aware that Rodney was well protected but in a bow on approach most of that armor would have counted for nothing and, as the hit(s) on Bismarck showed, the armor not being penetrated doesn't mean that the fighting capacity of a ship will remain intact. One or more hits to B turret took out both A/B despite the armoring and separation of the turrets. Surely Rodney is just as vulnerable if not more so due to having all main battery turrets concentrated fore? The KM 15" was only 800kg vs the 930 of the British 16" but I don't imagine that's much of a difference if hit.

Note that I'm talking only about disabling Rodney's guns even if only for few hours while DC worked, fuel would have forced a withdraw. I'm not talking about sinking Rodney as short of an absurdly lucky magazine shot,that wouldn't be possible.

I'm actually at a loss as to how Bismarck's main FC was disabled by Rodney's hit though, the wreck shows a hit that seems to have hit B barbette while penetrating the upper deck, that's a long ways away from the foretop unless that was also shot away in the same salvo or another shortly after.

Bercuson's book 'Destruction of the Bismarck" mentioned "the weather forbidding a suicidal charge by German destroyers" but doesn't seem to provide any more detail, what could these have done had they been sent and had Bismarck remained afloat? What else could or would the KM have rushed to the scene?

That same book also mentioned Ark Royal being bombed as she was departing the scene. This implies there we no CAP on duty at the time, what's up with that? That's strange to me as RN radar should have detected the inbound strike, no interception implies no fighters on board.

The location wasn't exactly convenient for the British either, RN ships weren't famous for having long legs unless I'm mistaken, simply getting to Bismarck's location from Scapa was no short trip. If the forces immediately on hand were not enough, what else could they divert?

Without Rodney I'd probably reduce the overall damage to Bismarck by at least 60%. All the critical hits were inflicted by Rodney and without those hits, Bismarck would still have possessed some capacity to that back. An old R class would be a very risky gamble in this case. Sending the R battlecruisers would have been even more so assuming Bismarck still had some of her FC intact.

Frankly I don't see a chance in hell of Bismarck making port, I do see a chance for more of the crew to have survived though as I imagine had she survived the final battle and had German destroyers arrived on scene, what they would likely have done would be to rescue survivors and scuttle.
The RN 14in gun was tested against Tirpitz's armour and had no problem penetrating it at striking velocities well under those used in actual combat against Bismarck. This idea that KGV's fire was ineffective is not true but over the years there has been a tendency to attribute any failure to penetrate armour to KGV. KGV's radar ranged 14in guns undoubtedly scored most of the early hits up to 0913.

Force H's radar was supplied by Sheffield but she had been damaged by shell splinters from Bismarck the day before, and her radar knocked out. In any event, in the filthy weather encountered it may not have been possible for the Fulmars (which were aboard Ark Royal) to take off.
Last edited by dunmunro on Wed Sep 05, 2018 6:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Post Reply