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German Balkenkreuz

Germany's Bismarck class battleships

KMS Bismarck being launched on February 17, 1939:
Germany's KMS Bismarck being launched on February 17, 1939
Imperial War Museum, HU-39770

KMS Bismarck, as seen from the KMS Prinz Eugen, on the way to Norway on May 20, 1941:
Germany's KMS Bismarck, as seen from the KMS Prinz Eugen, on the way to Norway on May 20, 1941
US Naval History & Heritage Command, NH-69721

KMS Bismarck in Grimstadfjord, Norway:
Germany's KMS Bismarck in Grimstadfjord, Norway
Imperial War Museum, CS-159
KMS Bismarck as shown in a Spanish magazine in August 1940:
Germany's KMS Bismarck as shown in a Spanish magazine in August 1940
US Naval History & Heritage Command, NH-85749

KMS Bismarck after being damaged by HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales on May 24, 1941:
Germany's KMS Bismarck after being damaged by HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales on May 24, 1941
US Naval History & Heritage Command, NH-69732
KMS Bismarck in August 1940:
Germany's KMS Bismarck in August 1940
US Naval History & Heritage Command, NH-59671

Bismarck practicing refueling with the Prinz Eugen in May 1941:
Germany's Bismarck practicing refueling with the Prinz Eugen in May 1941
US Naval History & Heritage Command, NH-69734
KMS Bismarck in August 1940:
Germany's KMS Bismarck in August 1940
US Navy, 80-G-15722

KMS Bismarck in 1941:
Germany's KMS Bismarck in 1941
US Naval History & Heritage Command, NH-59672
KMS Tirpitz being fitted out at Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz being fitted out at Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard
Imperial War Museum, HU-50737

KMS Tirpitz being launched on April 1, 1939:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz being launched on April 1, 1939
Imperial War Museum, HU-50726

KMS Tirpitz in 1941:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in 1941
US Naval Historical Center, NH-59655

KMS Tirpitz in Alta Fjord, Norway in 1943:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Alta Fjord, Norway in 1943
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71390

KMS Tirpitz in Norway 1944:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Norway 1944
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71388

KMS Tirpitz in Flehke Fjord, Norway:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Flehke Fjord, Norway
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71402
KMS Tirpitz's hull is nearly complete at the Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz's hull is nearly complete at the Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard
Imperial War Museum, HU-50723

KMS Tirpitz being launched on April 1, 1939:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz being launched on April 1, 1939
Imperial War Museum, HU-50731

KMS Tirpitz's 105 mm AA ammunition in 1942:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz's 105 mm AA ammunition in 1942
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71386

KMS Tirpitz's crew being entertained in Norway in 1944:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz's crew being entertained in Norway in 1944
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71389

KMS Tirpitz in Aasfjord, Norway:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Aasfjord, Norway
Imperial War Museum, C-4126

KMS Tirpitz in Foettenfjord, Norway:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Foettenfjord, Norway
Imperial War Museum, HU-50947
KMS Tirpitz under construction at Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz under construction at Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard
Imperial War Museum, HU-50722

KMS Tirpitz getting fitted out at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on February 2, 1940:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz getting fitted out at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on February 2, 1940
US Naval Historical Center, NH86214

KMS Tirpitz in Flehke Fjord, Norway, with sailors on deck amongst the camouflage in 1942:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Flehke Fjord, Norway, with sailors on deck amongst the camouflage in 1942
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71394

A crewman building a model of the KMS Tirpitz in Norway in 1944:
A crewman building a model of the KMS Tirpitz in Norway in 1944
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71391

KMS Tirpitz as seen by a Mosquito of the No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz as seen by a Mosquito of the No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit
Imperial War Museum, C-2356

KMS Tirpitz in Altenfjord, Norway:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Altenfjord, Norway
Imperial War Museum, A-19625
KMS Tirpitz under construction at Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz under construction at Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard
Imperial War Museum, HU-50736

KMS Tirpitz during trials in March 1941:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz during trials in March 1941
US Naval Historical Center, NH-59668

KMS Tirpitz in Flehke Fjord, Norway in 1942:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Flehke Fjord, Norway in 1942
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71395

KMS Tirpitz in Norway in 1944:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Norway in 1944
US Naval Historical Center, NH-71318

KMS Tirpitz as seen by a Spitfire of the No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz as seen by a Spitfire of the No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit
Imperial War Museum, C-2355

KMS Tirpitz in Norway:
Germany's KMS Tirpitz in Norway
Imperial War Museum, A-22634

Design

The Bismarck class battleships were designed to stay within the 35,000 ton restrictions of the German waterways. The Bismarck was intended to be better than the Dunkerque.

The Bismarck class was designed to have 22 watertight compartments going the length of the ship. The anti-torpedo protection was a little over 20'.

The broad beam allowed for a steady gun platform in rough seas.

The twelve boilers were split amongst six spaces.

Aircraft

There were two catapults for Arado Ar 196 aircraft on the Bismarck class battleships.

Armament

The 15" SK C/34s were manufactured by Krupp. They could fire a 1,764 lb shell 38,880 yards. The turrets, alone weighed 1,047 tons.

The KMS Bismarck had no torpedo tubes, whereas the KMS Tirpitz had eight.

Ships

KMS Bismarck

  • Manufacturer: Blohm & Voss at Hamburg
  • February 14, 1939: Launched.
  • August 1940, August 24, 1940: Completed.
  • April 1941: Leaves Baltic.
  • May 19, 1941: Took part in Operation Rheinübung with Prinz Eugen.
  • May 21, 1941: Left Bergen with Prinz Eugen.
  • May 24, 1941: Sunk HMS Hood and damaged HMS Prince of Wales.
  • May 27, 1941: Sunk.

KMS Tirpitz

  • Manufacturer: Wilhelmshaven Dock Yard, Wilhelmshaven Navy Yard
  • April 1, 1939: Luanched.
  • February 25, 1941: Completed.
  • January 16, 1942: Left Wilhelmshaven for Norway.
  • March 6, 1942: Left port to attack convoy PQ12 but failed to find it.
  • September 6, 1943: Bombarded Spitzbergen with Scharnhorst and ten destroyers.
  • September 22, 1943, September 23, 1943: Attacked by the X5, X6, and X7 midget submarines.
  • August 22, 1944: Attacked by aircraft from HMS Formidable, HMS Indefatigable, and HMS Furious.
  • August 24, 1944: Damaged by aircraft from HMS Formidable, HMS Indefatigable, HMS Furious, HMS Trumpeter, and HMS Nabob.
  • September 15, 1944: Damaged by Lancaster bombers using Tallboy six ton bombs.
  • November 12, 1944: Capsized by Lancaster bombers using Tallboy six ton bombs. 1,000 of the crew were lost.

Usage

Operation Rheinübung

With the Prinz Eugen the Bismarck left Bergen for the North Atlantic. They met up against the HMS Hood, which was destroyed, and the HMS Prince of Wales, which was damaged, in the Denmark Strait. The Prince of Wales was able to hit and damage the Bismarck.

Aircraft from the HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal damaged the Bismarck which caused it to slow. The HMS King George V and HMS Rodney further damaged the Bismarck. The HMS Dorsetshire fired the torpedoes that finally sand the Bismarck on May 27, 1941.

 

Specifications

  Bismarck Class
Crew 1,500, 2,092, 2,400
Physical Characteristics  
Displacement 41,000 tons, 41,700 tons
Displacement - Loaded 50,900 tons
Length 813' 8"
248 m
Length - Water Line 791', 792', 792' 4"
240.2 m, 241.5 m
Beam 118', 118' 1"
36 m
Draft / Height 26', 28', 28' 6", 31' 11"
8.7 m, 9.75 m
Draft / Height - Maximum 34' 9"
10.6 m
Performance  
Speed 29 knots, 30 knots
Range at 15 knots 8,410 nautical miles
Armament 15": 8
15", 38 cm SK C/34, 38 cm L/47 C34 twin turrets: 4
5.9": 12
5.9", 15 cm SK C/28, 15 cm L/55 C28 twin turrets: 6
Anti-Aircraft 4.1": 16
4.1", 10.5 cm, 10.5 cm L/65 C32 twin mounts: 8
37 mm, 37 mm L/83 C30 twin mounts: 8
20 mm, 20 mm C30: 12
Anti-Aircraft - Late 20 mm: 58
Torpedo Tubes None
Torpedo Tubes - Late 21" twin: 4
Aircraft 4, 4 - 6, 6
Armor  
Belt 10.5" - 12.5", 12.6"
32 cm
Bulkheads 18 cm - 22 cm
Bulkhead - Torpedo 1.75"
4.5 cm
Deck 2", 8"
Deck - Main 8 cm
Turrets - Main 7" - 14.25", 14"
Turrets - Secondary 1.5" - 4"
Turrets - Front - Secondary 10 cm
Turret - Front 36 cm
Turret - Rear 32 cm
Turret - Sides 15 cm - 22 cm
Turret - Top 18 cm
Engines  
Boilers Wagner: 12
Shafts 2, 3
Turbines Geared
HP 138,000, 150,000, 163,000
Oil 7,900 tons, 8,000 tons
  KMS Bismarck
Crew 2,092, 2,192
Physical Characteristics  
Displacement 41,575 tons, 41,700 tons
Displacement - Loaded 50,153 tons
Length 823' 6"
251 m
Length - Water Line  
Beam 118'
36 m
Draft / Height 30' 7"
9.3 m
Performance  
Speed 29 knots
Range at 19 knots 8,100 nautical miles
Armament 15", 38 cm: 8
5.9", 15 cm: 12
Anti-Aircraft 4.1", 10.5 cm: 16
37 mm: 16
37 mm twin mounts: 6
20 mm: 12
Aircraft Arado float planes: 2
Armor  
Belt 12.6"
32 cm
Deck 2" - 4.7"
5 cm - 12 cm
Turrets 9" - 14"
23 cm - 35.5 cm
Engines  
Boilers Blohm & Voss: 12
Shafts 3
Turbines Blohm & Voss, Wagner, Geared Steam
HP 138,000
  KMS Tirpitz
Crew 2,530, 2,608
Physical Characteristics  
Displacement 42,900 tons
Displacement - Loaded 52,600 tons
Length 821' 10"
250.5 m
Beam 118' 1"
36 m
Draft / Height 36' 1"
11 m
Performance  
Speed 29 knots
Range at 19 knots 9,000 nautical miles
Armament 15", 38 cm: 8
5.9", 15 cm: 12
Anti-Aircraft 4.1", 10.5 cm: 16
37 mm: 16
37 mm twin mounts: 8
20 mm: 70
Torpedo Tubes 21": 8
Aircraft Arado float planes: 4
Armor  
Belt 12.6"
32 cm
Deck 2" - 4.7"
5 cm - 12 cm
Turrets 9" - 14"
23 cm - 35.5 cm
Engines  
Boilers Deschimag: 12
Shafts 3
Turbines Brown-Boverie, Geared Steam
HP 138,000

Sources:

  1. German Warships of World War II, J. C. Taylor, 1966
  2. Battleships of World War Two An International Encyclopedia, M. J. Whitley, 1998
  3. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922-1946, Robert Gardiner, 1987
  4. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Chris Bishop, 1998
  5. Janes' Fighting Ships of World War II, 1989
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site