The history of the Bismarck starts in the spring of 1941. It set sail on Operation Rheinbung after two ships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau returned from Operation Berlin. It was considered to send out the Bismarck with its sister ship Tirpitz, but it was decided against shortening training operations. They were also going to send it out with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, but they were not operational due to British air attacks. So they sent it out with heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. The operation started on May 18th, 1941.
Being the largest operation of its kind, two supply ships, five tankers, and two reconnaissance ships were sent with them to escort them. Although it was tried to keep the operation secret, an aircraft cruiser Gotland spotted them while passing the Swedish coast. On May 21st the ships arrived in Grimstadtfjord, Norway, where the camouflage painting was removed, and the Prinz Eugen refueled. The Bismarck did not, which proved an error for later operation. The British reconnaissance ship Spitfire had photographed the ships while at port.
This gave the British the exact location of the ships without the Germans knowing. That evening the ships left the Fjord and headed north as the weather got worse and low clouds set in, preventing air detection. The ships were supposed to refuel in the Norwegian Sea, but Admiral Ltjens skipped refueling. The reason is still unknown today, but he probably wanted to take advantage of the bad weather and refuel in the North Atlantic. SO the ships changed course on the morning of May 22nd, and headed for the Denmark Straits. The next night they were informed they were still undetected, so they continued their course.
That afternoon, they started through the ice fields while heading south west. At 19:22, Bismarck’s radar detected a signal on the port side, and a few moments later the silhouette of British cruiser Suffolk appeared then disappeared in the dusk. Later, another British cruiser, the Norfolk closed in. Bismarck fired five salvos, all missing. The vibrations of the shots disabled the Bismarck’s front radar, so the Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck switched places, the Prinz Eugen now in the lead. At 5:00am May 24th, Prinz Eugen detected two turbine powered ships headed in their direction.
Thirty-nine minutes later they were informed the Suffolk had sent out their location, and the two ships approaching were the HMS Hood, and the Prince of Wales. After firing six salvos, the Bismarck destroyed the Hood. The Prince of Wales was still shooting at the Bismarck, and they scored 12 hits. The Bismarck decided to break for it The Bismarck destroyed one ship, but England still had 13 ships left to intercept the Bismarck. So it ran toward a friendly occupied French port. At noon on May 24th, the Bismarck was starting to run low on fuel because they did not refuel at Norway.
Having been hit 12 times by the POW(Prince of Wales), they had hit their forward oil tank and were leaking oil. This aided the British ships in following the Bismarck. It was decided that just the Prinz Eugen was going to go into the Atlantic, and not the Bismarck for the time being. The Bismarck would shot at the British ships while the cruiser got away. A first attempt failed, but the second was aided by fog and was successful. The Bismarck was now alone, and on the run. At 23:30, 8 Swordfish Bombers from the British carrier Victorious attacked the Bismarck. All 8 fired torpedoes, one hitting and causing slight damage.
Meanwhile, the British ships were getting low on fuel, and had to reduce the speed of the Bismarck to engage it. The British ships started to zig-zag, for fear of German U-boats. The Bismarck used this time to get away, and their success was unknown to them. The Admiral on board then sent out two 30 minute transmissions about the destruction of the Hood, a major error, the British now knew their position. But the King George V made an error, and all British ships were sent to the wrong place to intercept the Bismarck. The British ships headed north while the Bismarck continued south.
The Bismarck was later spotted by British aircraft, and since they didn’t have any ships close enough and powerful enough to intercept it, they sent out bombers from carrier Ark Royal. All but three of 15 bombers of the first wave attacked the now approaching Sheffield instead of the Bismarck, but the torpedoes were malfunctioning, and the ship was unhurt. The second wave attacked the right ship this time, two hit, one much like the attack of the Victorious, but the second hit the rudder while in a sharp port turn, disabling it and making the ship now unmanuverable.
While the Bismarck struggled to repair the rudder, it was circled by five destroyers. All attempts to clear the rudder failed, and divers were unable to examine the damage from the outside due to heavy seas. The five destroyers first attack failed, neither side scoring a hit. The German U-Boat U-556 soon appeared, but could do nothing. They had no torpedoes and were low on fuel. Now, at 8:30, the battleships King George V and Rodney appeared at the scene, the final battle about to begin. The POW arrived as well, and it scored 3 hits on the Bismarck, while falling back under heavy fire from the large ship.
It was constantly being bombarded by Swordfish, even though they did little damage. The Bismarck suddenly swung about, and opened fire with his 15-inch main guns. The Norfolk and the Suffolk, who had recently arrived had to break contact and run. Soon, all contact was lost with the Bismarck, the radar of the Suffolk was not large enough to detect it. On the 27 , the Bismarck was finally sited by two British Swordfish. The Renown, another British battleship, could sink the Bismarck with her 15-inch guns, if they hit in the right spot. Once again, the Swordfish attacked the wrong target and attacked the Sheffield.
But, they were able to use the magnetic detonating devices to blow them up in the Sheffield’s wake and not harm it. All British units were sent after the Bismarck, who once again, was on the run. The King George V would not be able to catch up, but she was ordered to stay the course even if it meant being towed home. All British units fired at the Bismarck but it wouldn’t sink. The 16-inch guns of the Rodney, the KGV, and all other ships attacked the Bismarck. The Dorsetshire then moved in, putting two torpedoes into the starboard side, and one into the port side.
This seems to be what finally sank the Bismarck. The Dorsetshire was ordered to rescue all the Bismarck’s survivors, who were all swimming in the ocean. A total of 115 survivors were rescued, until a german U-boat periscope was sighted and the ships fled. Later, a neutral Spanish ship was sent to the scene, but could only find dead bodies. This was an important event, because the biggest and baddest of the German battleships was destroyed. It sank one battleship, and damaged others. Even thought the events were much influenced by luck, it was certainly a noteworthy event in history.