Forces of Valor 86001 German Kriegsmarine Battleship Bismarck - Operation Rheinubung, Gotenhafen, Poland, May 1941 (1:1000 Scale)
"Sink the Bismarck!"
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after learning of the demise of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, May 1941
The German battleship Bismarck is one of the most famous warships of the Second World War. The lead ship of her class, she was named after the 19th-century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck's fame came from the Battle of the Denmark Strait in May 1941 (in which the battlecruiser HMS Hood, flagship and pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk), from Churchill's subsequent order to "Sink the Bismarck", and from the relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy that ended with her loss only three days later.
Design of the ship started in the early 1930s, following on from Germany's development of the Deutschland class cruisers and the Gneisenau class "battlecruisers". Construction of the second French Dunkerque class battleship made redesign necessary, and Bismarck's displacement was increased to 41,700 tons. Officially, however, her tonnage was 35,000 tons to suggest parity with ships built within the limits of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (1935) that allowed Germany to build up to five 35,000-ton battleships, the maximum displacement agreed by the major powers in the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. Fully laden, Bismarck and her sister-ship Tirpitz would each displace more than 50,000 tons. The prototype of the proposed battleships envisaged under Plan Z, Bismarck's keel was laid down at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg on July 1st, 1936. She was launched on February 14th, 1939 and commissioned on August 24th, 1940 with
Kapitan zur See Ernst Lindemann in command.
This formidable ship, the largest warship then commissioned, was intended primarily as a commerce raider, having a broad beam for stability in the rough seas of the North Atlantic and fuel stores as large as those of battleships intended for operations in the Pacific Ocean. Still, with eight 15 inch main guns in four turrets, substantial welded-armour protection and designed for a top speed of not less than 29 knots (she actually achieved 30.1 knots in trials in the calmer waters of the Baltic, an impressive speed when set against any comparable British battleship), Bismarck was capable of engaging any enemy battleship on reasonably equal terms. Her range of weaponry could easily decimate any convoy she encountered. The plan was for Bismarck to break through into the spacious waters of the North Atlantic, where she could refuel from German tankers and remain undetected by British and American aircraft, submarines and ships, while attacking the convoys.
Shown here is a 1:1000 scale replica of the famed German battleship Bismarck as it sortied out into the Atlantic Ocean during Operation Rheinubung, in May 1941.
Release Date: October 2008
Historical Account: "Unternehmen Rheinubung" - Operation Rheinubung ("Rhine Exercise") was the sortie into the Atlantic by the new German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen from May 18th-27th, 1941, during World War II. This operation culminated in the sinking of the Bismarck.
During both World Wars, the island of Britain was dependent upon huge numbers of merchant ships to bring in food and essential raw materials, and protecting this lifeline was one of the highest priorities for British forces. Likewise, Germany recognized that, if this lifeline could be severed, Britain would be defeated, regardless of any other factor.
Operation Rheinubung was the latest in a series of raids on Allied shipping carried out by surface units of the Kriegsmarine. It was preceded by Operation Berlin, a highly successful sortie by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau which ended in March 1941.
By May 1941, the Kriegsmarine warships, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Admiral Hipper were at Brest, on the western coast of France, posing a serious threat to the Atlantic convoys. Two new warships now became available to the Germans: the battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, both initially stationed in the Baltic Sea.
The aim of the operation was for Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to break into the Atlantic and attack Allied shipping. Raeder's orders to Lütjens were that "the objective of the Bismarck is not to defeat enemies of equal strength, but to tie them down in a delaying action, while preserving her combat capacity as much as possible, so as to allow Prinz Eugen to get at the merchant ships in the convoy" and "The primary target in this operation is the enemy's merchant shipping; enemy warships will be engaged only when that objective makes it necessary and it can be done without excessive risk."
To support and provide facilities for the capital ships to refuel and rearm, German Naval Command (OKM) established a network of tankers and supply ships in the Rheinubung operational area. 7 tankers and 2 supply ships were sent as far afield as Labrador in the west to Cape Verde islands in the south.
Lutjens had requested that Grand Admiral Erich Raeder delay Rheinubung long enough either for Scharnhorst to rendezvous at sea with Bismarck and Prinz Eugen or for Bismarck's sister-ship Tirpitz to accompany them. Raeder had refused. The crew of the newly-completed Tirpitz was not yet fully trained, and Raeder cited the coming German invasion of Crete as a reason for disrupting Allied supply lines and diverting strength from the Mediterranean.
To meet the threat from German surface ships, the British had stationed at Scapa Flow the new battleships HMS King George V (sometimes referred to as KGV) and HMS Prince of Wales (PoW) as well as the elderly battlecruiser HMS Hood. Elsewhere, at Gibraltar, at Halifax, Nova Scotia and at sea in the Atlantic were the battleships Revenge, Rodney and Ramillies, the battlecruisers Repulse and Renown, and aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and Victorious. Cruisers and air patrols provided the fleet's 'eyes'. At sea, or due to sail shortly, were 11 convoys, including a troop convoy.
OKM did not take into account the Royal Navy's determination to destroy the German surface fleet. To make sure Bismarck was sunk, the Royal Navy would ruthlessly strip other theatres of action. This would include denuding valuable convoys of their escorts. The British would ultimately deploy six battleships, three battlecruisers, two aircraft carriers, 16 cruisers, 33 destroyers and eight submarines, along with patrol aircraft. It would become the largest naval force assigned to a single operation up to that point in the war.