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Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the Kriegsmarine except those dealing with the U-Boat forces.

Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Wargames on 03 Apr 2013 20:57

Kingfish wrote:
Wargames wrote:Do you have a position on her purpose of design?


Yes, to influence, via offensive action, the outcome of naval warfare, and by a larger extent naval strategy, in Germany's favor.


I think one can get much more specific than that with just two words added:

"To influence, via offensive action, the outcome of naval warfare, and by a larger extent naval strategy, in Germany's favor against France."

But, for me, that's still too general. Ship designers are given specifications for their designs to meet that include speed, firepower, range, armor, and displacement. In most cases, one can get an idea of what the designed purpose is just by looking at these specifications. For example, knowing just those specifications would allow you to spot a battlecruiser design from a battleship design or you can spot a commerce raider versus a coast defense ship just by looking at range. Other factors such as freeboard and bow design will give you an idea of the weather conditions the ship is designed to operate in. In the case of Bismarck, nothing stands out in her design specifications to indicate her intended purpose except that Scharnhorst could not fullfill it. In that regard, Bismarck is simply Scharnhorst with 15" guns (bigger/better).



One could argue Tirpitz's presence in Norway had a direct influence on the RN's deployment, but I would counter that Germany's goal wasn't to influence RN deployment, but instead to disrupt or even sever the Arctic convoys. In that regard we (AFAIK) can only point to the spooking of PQ-17 and it's subsequent mauling as directly attributed to the threat from Tirpitz.


I would agree that this was Germany's goal in Norway and for which reason Scharnhorst was added to Tirpitz. But the ships were not purpose designed for North Atlantic operations. Both Scharnhorst and Tirpitz were originally designed with what I call a "Pacific" bow and then had "Atlantic" bows added. With it's low freeboard, Scharnhorst was an inferior North Atlantic design and frequently suffered storm damage and was being severely impacted by weather the very night Duke of York tracked her down. If one accepts Tirpitz as an up gunned Scharnhorst designed originally with a similar bow, then both ships were designed to operate in more southerly regions which makes the intended opponent of both ships France. The conclusion being that Scharnhorst's 11" guns had been outclassed by French armor so the Germans countered with 15" guns. The failure to include North Atlantic bows as part of the orginal design of Bismarck and only building two ships of the class pretty much rules out Britain as the intended opponent.

As soon as France is out of the war the intended purpose of Bismarck and Tirpitz "to influence, via offensive action, the outcome of naval warfare, and by a larger extent naval strategy, in Germany's favor" against Britain is clear as mud. The German Navy clearly was thinking of moving these warm water/mild weather ships to Brest as commerce raiders. Commerce raiding was a bad idea for the Bismarck because she was fuel inefficient (i.e. expensive to operate). And the British could/should use aircraft carriers to track her down, making it more likely of the British finding the Bismarck than the Bismarck finding a convoy. Barring these possible problems, she was, admittedly, good for about a 90 day cruise and I'm going to guess she maybe/might sink 15 ships in that time before returning to Brest which is another bad idea because Brest was chosen without any regard for British bombers and British submarines. Brest would soon prove to be such a bad idea as to force the three German ships there to make the famous "English Channel dash" just to get out of it. Indeed! It was suicide for the Bismarck to steer for Brest. Her admiral knew he'd be cut off by the British, yet had German high command orders to go there anyway. Which brings us back to Germany having second rate surface officers as compared to the British. The fact that Hitler, a fifth rate surface officer, met with the Bismarck's/Prinz Eugen's admiral May 5 probably made already second rate thinking into third because its probably a safe bet Hitler was telling him what to do.

So what do you do with Bismarck/Tirpitz? I think it's pretty much agreed that sending Tirpitz to Norway was about the best thing that could be done with her and that was in an anti-commerce role. By extension, the best use of Bismarck would also be in an anti-commerce role (Since she's not going to sink the British Navy) but I think her best role in that is to escort other commerce raiders past the British picket ships. Bismarck successfully got the Prinz Eugen past Hood and Prince of Wales and then drove off both British cruisers to preven them from followng Prinz Eugen. Time for Bismarck to go home and come back another day to do it again. It's not a misuse of the ship's design IMO.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Wargames on 03 Apr 2013 21:02

mescal wrote:
Wargames wrote: So I'd say she was purpose designed to take on a King George V and come back.


That's incorrect, since KGV was ordered at the time Bismarck was laid down, and laid down 6 months later.
Bismarck was an answer to French battelships, not British.


Agreed. I used the King George V comparison for something the Bismarck was not designed for - meeting the previous 35,000 ton treaty limit. Although raised to 45,000 tons, it does not appear that KGV took advantage of this at 38,000 tons whereas Bismarck, at 42,000 tons, did.

While I doubt the Germans were thinking of the Dunkerque class in designing Bismarck, the Richelieu had to be on the minds.
Last edited by Wargames on 03 Apr 2013 21:54, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby stg 44 on 03 Apr 2013 21:30

One could then argue that the best place for the 'twins' was in the North Sea, because they were unsuited for the Atlantic and would pin British naval and aerial assets in that area, rather than the decisive Atlantic, where escorts and recon were needed for the convoys. How much would the Bismarck in Kiel and Tirpitz in Norway tie down in to 1941-44?
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Wargames on 03 Apr 2013 22:29

stg 44 wrote:One could then argue that the best place for the 'twins' was in the North Sea, because they were unsuited for the Atlantic and would pin British naval and aerial assets in that area, rather than the decisive Atlantic, where escorts and recon were needed for the convoys. How much would the Bismarck in Kiel and Tirpitz in Norway tie down in to 1941-44?

Tirpitz appears to have tied up two 40,000 ton BB's escorting the PQ's. By that math, Bismarck would tie up two more that previously could have been (and were) used elsewhere.

Their actual operational value would be very limited, about three sorties a year based on fuel supplies. But the British don't know when those three times are so they'd have to cover every convoy to the max.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby stg 44 on 03 Apr 2013 22:31

Wargames wrote:
stg 44 wrote:One could then argue that the best place for the 'twins' was in the North Sea, because they were unsuited for the Atlantic and would pin British naval and aerial assets in that area, rather than the decisive Atlantic, where escorts and recon were needed for the convoys. How much would the Bismarck in Kiel and Tirpitz in Norway tie down in to 1941-44?

Tirpitz appears to have tied up two 40,000 ton BB's escorting the PQ's. By that math, Bismarck would tie up two more that previously could have been (and were) used elsewhere.

Their actual operational value would be very limited, about three sorties a year based on fuel supplies. But the British don't know when those three times are so they'd have to cover every convoy to the max.


So what does this mean for the Battle of the Atlantic?
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Takao on 04 Apr 2013 03:54

I would make it two BBs & one fleet aircraft carrier, HMS Victorious participated in convoys PQ12 through PQ17. So the Bismarck & Tirpitz would tie down, on the average four battleships and two fleet carriers - all without leaving port.

What does this mean for the Battle of the Atlantic - Probably not much. You have to look at what the British warships would have been doing had they not been tied down guarding against the German battleship/s. Most likely they would have been plying their trad in the Med.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Wargames on 04 Apr 2013 10:20

Takao wrote:I would make it two BBs & one fleet aircraft carrier, HMS Victorious participated in convoys PQ12 through PQ17. So the Bismarck & Tirpitz would tie down, on the average four battleships and two fleet carriers - all without leaving port.

What does this mean for the Battle of the Atlantic - Probably not much. You have to look at what the British warships would have been doing had they not been tied down guarding against the German battleship/s. Most likely they would have been plying their trad in the Med.


HMS Prince of Wales was sent from the North Atlantic to SE Asia where she was sunk. It probably means the four are HMS Rodney, Duke of York, USS Washington, and probably the BC Hood since she'd still be afloat if Bismarck doesn't make her break. So - Yes - one less BB in the Med and probably one less US BB in the Pacific (Think Guadacanal).

I'm not sure they'd add a second carrier to the group. The Victorious might have been present to counter land based aircraft and not the Tirpitz.

For lurkers, anytime Takao weighs in with a naval opinion, it's always very well thought out. :milsmile:
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Attrition on 04 Apr 2013 10:35

The unanticipated diversion of British resources against Bismarck and Tirpitz, ought to be weighed against the unanticipated disaster in Russia when Barbarossa went wrong. Looked at like that the British resources tied up by German capital ships was a bagatelle, compared to the diversion of German resources to the eastern front for the rest of the war.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby stg 44 on 04 Apr 2013 12:05

Wargames wrote:
Takao wrote:I would make it two BBs & one fleet aircraft carrier, HMS Victorious participated in convoys PQ12 through PQ17. So the Bismarck & Tirpitz would tie down, on the average four battleships and two fleet carriers - all without leaving port.

What does this mean for the Battle of the Atlantic - Probably not much. You have to look at what the British warships would have been doing had they not been tied down guarding against the German battleship/s. Most likely they would have been plying their trad in the Med.


HMS Prince of Wales was sent from the North Atlantic to SE Asia where she was sunk. It probably means the four are HMS Rodney, Duke of York, USS Washington, and probably the BC Hood since she'd still be afloat if Bismarck doesn't make her break. So - Yes - one less BB in the Med and probably one less US BB in the Pacific (Think Guadacanal).

I'm not sure they'd add a second carrier to the group. The Victorious might have been present to counter land based aircraft and not the Tirpitz.

For lurkers, anytime Takao weighs in with a naval opinion, it's always very well thought out. :milsmile:


What then does that mean for the Arctic convoys knowing that the two German battleships were present to intercept them? How much does this strip the Atlantic of assets? I doubt the British would use all of their assigned 'anti-Twins' units to convoy duty in the Atlantic exclusively in case a breakout attempt into the Atlantic was tried.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Kingfish on 04 Apr 2013 13:18

Wargames wrote:I think one can get much more specific than that with just two words added:

"To influence, via offensive action, the outcome of naval warfare, and by a larger extent naval strategy, in Germany's favor against France."


France, Britain or Paraguay, the point is these vessels were meant to take the war to the enemy, to be active (not passive) offensive weapons.

The failure to include North Atlantic bows as part of the orginal design of Bismarck and only building two ships of the class pretty much rules out Britain as the intended opponent.


I have a hard time believing the Germans completely ruled out the Royal Navy in their vision of possible opponents, especially given England's geographical location relative to Germany, the English/French alliance and of course the not-too-distant experience as antagonist in the previous war. It may be true that the Bismarks were a better match against the French ships, but I think it would unrealistic to suggest they didn't consider a possible KM/RN confrontation.

So what do you do with Bismarck/Tirpitz? I think it's pretty much agreed that sending Tirpitz to Norway was about the best thing that could be done with her and that was in an anti-commerce role.


While I do not dispute this, it should be noted that while the intention is a sound military decision, the execution is where the value gained relative to resources spent falls off the rails. For Tirpitz to be deemed not a waste of resource it had to directly affect the allied war effort, but not in fuel spent by British BBs, but in merchants ships sunk and/or turned back. Her presence within striking distance of the convoy routes means nothing if she does not venture into those routes -or- so spook the allied high command that they deem the risk too great to run those convoys, neither of which happened.
The gods do not deduct from a man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing.
~Babylonian Proverb
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Wargames on 07 Apr 2013 18:13

Kingfish wrote:While I do not dispute this, it should be noted that while the intention is a sound military decision, the execution is where the value gained relative to resources spent falls off the rails. For Tirpitz to be deemed not a waste of resource it had to directly affect the allied war effort, but not in fuel spent by British BBs, but in merchants ships sunk and/or turned back. Her presence within striking distance of the convoy routes means nothing if she does not venture into those routes -or- so spook the allied high command that they deem the risk too great to run those convoys, neither of which happened.


This isn't a response just to Kingfish but the last couple of posts altogether. If both Bismarck and Tirpitz are in Norway and if both Rodney and Washington are added to the PQ convoys (no one disagreeing), I could see an impact at both Guadalcanal (Washington) and to the Malta convoys (Rodney). I'm thinking the impact on Malta is pretty insignificant. However, Washington being missing from Guadalcanal might actually be a "game changer". Unfortunately, not for the Germans.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby mescal on 16 Apr 2013 14:08

Wargames wrote:If both Bismarck and Tirpitz are in Norway and if both Rodney and Washington are added to the PQ convoys (no one disagreeing), I could see an impact at both Guadalcanal (Washington) and to the Malta convoys (Rodney). I'm thinking the impact on Malta is pretty insignificant. However, Washington being missing from Guadalcanal might actually be a "game changer". Unfortunately, not for the Germans.


Actually, if Bismarck is still around by late 41, with Tirpitz approaching complete combat-readiness and the Twins still at Brest, there is no way Prince of Wales is detached to Singapore. Same for Repulse.
Therefore, there is less need of US battlewagon in North Atlantic.
Especially if the persisting exitence of Bismarck in late 41 implies the persisting existence of Hood.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby LWD on 16 Apr 2013 14:41

My impression was that the US tried to do it's shakedown cruises in the Atlantic then send the new BBs to the Pacfic, if this is the case at least some of the time their presence in the Atlantic wasn't stricktly need based.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby Wargames on 17 Apr 2013 07:51

Actually, if Bismarck is still around by late 41, with Tirpitz approaching complete combat-readiness and the Twins still at Brest, there is no way Prince of Wales is detached to Singapore. Same for Repulse.
Therefore, there is less need of US battlewagon in North Atlantic.
Especially if the persisting exitence of Bismarck in late 41 implies the persisting existence of Hood.


Then what do the British send to Singapore?

Also, Brest is not good port for the twins to operate out of. It's why they had to make the "Channel Dash".

Come to think of it - the "twins" are the real problem of what to do with. They get bombed at Brest and flooded forward at Norway.
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Re: Was building Bismarck and Tirpitz a mistake?

Postby mescal on 22 Apr 2013 15:58

Then what do the British send to Singapore?


Nothing. Or the four remaining Rs.
It all depends to the relative strength of Churchil + Eden on one side and the Admiralty on the other.
The Admiralty was very reluctant to commit a 2-ships task force, and with Bismarck still around, their hand against Churchill and Eden is far stronger.
They cannot endanger the Atlantic convoys, be it to save Singapore.

For a more general perspective of the Far Eastern commitment of the RN in the fall of 1941, see
"The 'Singapore Strategy' and the Deterrence of Japan: Winston Churchill, the Admiralty and the Dispatch of Force Z"
Christopher M. Bell
The English Historical Review, Vol. 116, No. 467 (Jun., 2001), pp. 604-634
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