How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the Kriegsmarine except those dealing with the U-Boat forces.
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SpicyJuan
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How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by SpicyJuan » 22 Mar 2015 07:09

I have heard several times now from revisionist hidtorians and other forumites that the Bismarck really wasn't that great of a ship, especially compared to the equivalents of its time. Since the Kriegsmarine, and navies in general aren't really my expertise, I was wondering what your thoughts are on this. Does the Bismark live up to its "hype", or was it really not all that great?

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by RandJS » 27 Mar 2015 03:05

SpicyJuan,

While I am no expert, since no one has responded, I will give it a try. The designers went to what they knew best, the Baden/Bayern WWI type and drew from that. The ship used 4 twin turrets as apposed to 3 three gun turrets, which required a longer armor belt increased weight and left the Bismark with one gun less than some of her contemporaries. Her wider beam gave increased stability as a gun platform in seas, necessitated increased length which increased weight. Her broader beam also contributed to higher fuel consumption at speed. She used only three turbines, as opposed to four in her contemporaries. The boiler and engine rooms were large, allowing ease in maintenance, but would have taken on hundreds of tons of water if breached. When Bismark's propeller shaft and one of her rudders were jammed by the torpedo hit, she became difficult to maneuver, while a ship with four shafts, steering would probably have been manageable with one shaft/rudder jammed. The side armor layout was fair, but the rumor of superior steel was just a myth. Horizontal armor, as witnessed by the high number of casualties and damage caused by low level attacks to Tirpitz, did not compare favorably with other nations ships. Her main armament capabilities were good, but her slower rate of fire put her at a disadvantage. Adopting a secondary armament to deal with surface ships was outdated and again increased weight. Many of her contemporaries used DP batteries. The 105mm was a good weapon, but the mountings offered little protection to their crews, who would be hard pressed to manhandle shells in heavy seas. The 37mm weapons were good, but had a poor practical rate of fire and if I remember correctly, the stabilization system had problems with watertight integrity. The 20mm were similar, good weapons but effectiveness reduced due to reloading time for the clips. Bismark, and all KM ships were always at a disadvantage due to lower level of radar development. The ability to carry six aircraft was probably overkill, again increasing weight and crew requirements. I've also seen a report showing that Hood was possibly destroyed by a hit in the ready use ammo from Prinz Eugen's plunging shell at longer distance, rather than Bismark shelling. Don't mean to point out all negatives, but I think you were looking for.

Rand

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by steverodgers801 » 27 Mar 2015 19:23

as is common the Bismark was designed to beat the current British capital ships built in WW1. But as is the case with war, what is modern today is obsolete tomorrow

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by Felix C » 08 Apr 2015 00:49

RandJS what about the 15 cm guns? A heavy secondary armament where Allied BBs went DP secondary. A bit old school but the Littorio class used similar.

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by RandJS » 08 Apr 2015 01:53

Again, no expert here, but the idea of secondary battery for surface action with separate AA battery was outdated. Extra weight (Scharnhorst's twins weighed 120 tons), extra space and extra crew required outweighed the actual value of secondary armament in action. Don't mean to only point out the negative, but I think that is what SpicyJuan was looking for. By comparison, HMS Vanguard's twin 5.25" DP's weighted just 107 tons.

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by Felix C » 10 Apr 2015 02:02

Only benefit of the 150mm pieces is for use as against merchant ships to save main battery ammunition for heavy warships. I mean as the Bismarck was intended to be used as a surface raider destroying convoys.

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by Polar bear » 10 Apr 2015 22:28

hi,
Felix C wrote:Only benefit of the 150mm pieces is for use as against merchant ships to save main battery ammunition for heavy warships. I mean as the Bismarck was intended to be used as a surface raider destroying convoys.
The experience of SCHEER and all AMCs (Hilfskreuzer) was, however, that the 6" gun proved to be rather inept to sink merchantships.

greetings, the pb
Peace hath her victories no less renowned than War
(John Milton, the poet, in a letter to the Lord General Cromwell, May 1652)

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by RandJS » 11 Apr 2015 00:34

The sixteen 5.25" DP of British KGV class or the twenty 5" DP of U.S. N Carolina class could also be used against merchant ships, if needed, in addition to being aircraft defense.

Regards,
Rand

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by LWD » 11 Apr 2015 16:27

SpicyJuan wrote:I have heard several times now from revisionist hidtorians and other forumites that the Bismarck really wasn't that great of a ship, especially compared to the equivalents of its time. Since the Kriegsmarine, and navies in general aren't really my expertise, I was wondering what your thoughts are on this. Does the Bismark live up to its "hype", or was it really not all that great?
Hardly revisionist to take that stance. Indeed the revisionist tend to be very pro Bismarck. As it is Bismarck like any ships was a set of compromises. Her armor scheme seams to have incorporated some rather cutting edge ideas (at least for the time) which resulted in the area beneath the turtle deck being very difficult to penetrate. She had high velocity guns which can be a big advantage in close range combat which both the Germans and British doctrines called for (as opposed to US and Japanese doctrines). On the other hand her systems above the turtle deck proved rather vulnerable. For a short cruise Bismarck was well designed to take a pounding and make it back to port. She wasn't well designed IMO for long cruises or fleet engagements (of course the Germans lacked the fleet to offer these anyway). Her fire control was good but again optimized for getting on target fast but not for holding up to long engagements and her radar while good for the time seams to have been rather sensitive to shock. Using cased ammo for her main guns had some significant payoffs in rate of fire and reducing the vulnerability of her magazines as well.

Overall I'd put her on par with most of the post WWI battleships (superior to the small battleships produced by German and France) and only clearly outmatched by the Yamatos though I'd give the US fast battleships an edge over her as well and give her an edge over the 16" battleships of the 20s.

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by Felix C » 11 Apr 2015 22:39

I thought Bismarck were improved Baden but was proved wrong on the dedicated Battleship Bismarck forum. Older books mentioned the WW1 connection but newer researches disproves this in sofar as LWD indicates the ship incorporated new principles.

I think only the useless 150mm mounts and related armor being the relevant issue and I again that was done for the reason mentioned above.

I think we can see the lesson that Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sortied together and so had equivalent support in case of need.

Bismarck sortied but separated from PE and when support was needed, none was available.

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by LWD » 12 Apr 2015 13:51

I'm not sure I'd call the 150mm guns useless. Didn't they play some role in driving of the DD attacks for instance? DP secondaries may have been better but that's not quite the same.

You can indeed view the Bismarcks as improved Badens or not. Just like the US fast battleships can be viewed as improved standards or not. Without going into the details of what the improvements were it doesn't really mean all that much.

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by ChristopherPerrien » 12 Apr 2015 14:00

RandJS wrote:SpicyJuan,

She used only three turbines, as opposed to four in her contemporaries. The boiler and engine rooms were large, allowing ease in maintenance, but would have taken on hundreds of tons of water if breached. When Bismark's propeller shaft and one of her rudders were jammed by the torpedo hit, she became difficult to maneuver, while a ship with four shafts, steering would probably have been manageable with one shaft/rudder jammed.
Rand
Interesting comment on the 3 Shafts as opposed to four. Was the Center Shaft disabled or one of the others?

I look at this,http://www.navweaps.com/index_inro/INRO_Bismarck_p2.htm
I assumed the center , but the article does not come out and say it.
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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by RandJS » 12 Apr 2015 16:12

Interestingly, two reports say she was hit on the starboard stern with starboard shaft and rudders jammed.

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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by Heinz Dziurowitz » 17 Apr 2015 16:58

I just joined this forum and this is my first post. I am not a historian but joined to find out more about the ship my father was on, the Prinz Eugen. He didn't talk about the war much, he worked in the ships hospital. I remember him saying the closest he got to death was by drinking bad whiskey and that most of the causalities he saw was due to the effects of Gonorrhea and Syphilis. He couldn't speak English very well but he was good with medical terms. He said the Bismark wasn't anything special, only that it had bigger guns than his ship. The picture is something I've had on my wall since my dad passed away in 1985. It was taken in the early 80's, the insert shows him in uniform. The flower is an edelweiss my mother picked in 1952 in Innsbruck before they came to the U.S. My sister has a few pictures my Dad took of the Prinz Eugen and the Bismark, I'll see if I can copy them and post if possible.
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Terry Duncan
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Re: How Good Actually Was the Bismarck?

Post by Terry Duncan » 15 Jul 2015 22:14

SpicyJuan wrote:I have heard several times now from revisionist hidtorians and other forumites that the Bismarck really wasn't that great of a ship, especially compared to the equivalents of its time. Since the Kriegsmarine, and navies in general aren't really my expertise, I was wondering what your thoughts are on this. Does the Bismark live up to its "hype", or was it really not all that great?
Rather late to the topic, but I agree with what has been said above. Bismarck was a good WWI battleship, not dissimilar to the L20 Alpha design from 1918, well suited to close to medium range engagements in the North Sea. The armour layout was far from efficient for modern warfare, and she was very much overweight for her actual combat efficiency. She was the product of the lack of knowledge from the end of the WWI naval developments, as whilst Britain had the benefit of testing her own and German ships as targets, the Germans did not get the same information, so were working with the benefit of the latest combat experiences they had. As a raider she was a dismal waste of tonnage and manpower, battleships are poor raiders, easily identified, and too valuable to expose to great risks. One of the main problems with the design is that the design really doesnt suit the duties Bismarck was called upon to undertake.

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