14 FEB 1939: Germany launches the battleship Bismarck

Schlachtschiff Bismarck, Indienststellung

Seventy-nine years ago in Hamburg – Germany launched the battleship Bismarck. Along with her sister ship Tirpitz they were the largest battleships ever built by Germany, and two of the largest built by any European power.

Bismarck had a displacement of over 40,000 tonnes and a crew of over 2,000 men.

In the course of the warship’s eight-month career Bismarck conducted only one offensive operation, lasting 8 days in May 1941.

Along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, the pair were ordered to break into the Atlantic Ocean and raid Allied shipping from North America to Great Britain.

However detected off Scandinavia, British naval units were deployed to block their route, namely The battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood in what became ‘The battle of the Denmark Strait’.

Fewer than 10 minutes after the British opened fire, a shell from Bismarck struck Hood near her aft ammunition magazines. Soon afterwards, Hood exploded and sank within three minutes, with the loss of all but three of her crew. Bismarck suffered sufficient damage from three hits to force an end to the raiding mission.

The destruction of Hood spurred a relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy involving dozens of warships. Two days later, heading for occupied France to effect repairs, Bismarck was attacked by 16 obsolescent Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal; one scored a hit that rendered the battleship’s steering gear inoperable.

In her final battle the following morning, the already-crippled Bismarck was severely damaged during a sustained engagement with two British battleships and two heavy cruisers, was scuttled by her crew, and sank with heavy loss of life.

The wreck of Bismarck was discovered on 8 June 1989 by Dr. Robert Ballard, the same oceanographer responsible for finding RMS Titanic.