German battleship Bismarck during sea trials after being completed at the Blohm & Voss shipyards in  Hamburg in 1941 CREDIT PHOTO 12, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Naval History

Bismarck: What Was The German Battleship And How Was It Sunk?

The Bismarck was the pride of the German Navy and her sinking followed one of the most dramatic chases in modern naval history.

German battleship Bismarck during sea trials after being completed at the Blohm & Voss shipyards in  Hamburg in 1941 CREDIT PHOTO 12, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

The Bismarck was sunk 80 years ago by the Royal Navy, days after the German battleship destroyed HMS Hood

She was the pride of the German Navy and her sinking followed one of the most dramatic chases in modern naval history.

What was the Bismarck?

Bismarck was the first of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi Germany in the lead-up to the Second World War.

The second Bismarck-class ship launched was the Tirpitz which was sunk by the RAF in November 1944.

Bismarck, named after Otto von Bismarck, Germany's first-ever chancellor, was arguably the most famous warship of World War Two.

Launched in 1939, the Bismarck was Germany's largest battleship and the most powerful in Europe.

Fast and armed with eight 15-inch guns, it was perhaps the most feared ship at sea.

German battleship Bismarck opens fire on British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and British battlecruiser HMS Hood in Atlantic WWII 240541 CREDIT SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG PHOTO,ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
The Bismarck opens fire on HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood on 24 May 1941 (Picture: Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo/Alamy Stock Photo).

How was the Bismarck sunk?

Bismarck was sunk by the Royal Navy in 1941.

It had been sailing with cruiser Prinz Eugen to target convoys and individual merchant ships crossing the Atlantic with vital supplies.

Their breakout was spotted by aerial reconnaissance and the two ships were intercepted by the Royal Navy in the Denmark Strait at first light on 24 May 1941.

After just 16 minutes of battle, Bismarck had blown up HMS Hood and the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales was badly damaged.

All but three of HMS Hood's 1,418-strong crew were lost, making it the Royal Navy's single largest loss of life in the Second World War.

The encounter did sufficient damage to Bismarck that she aborted sailing further into the Atlantic and turned for safe harbour in occupied France.

HMS Hood shells the Bismarck in May 1941 (Picture: Royal Navy Archives).

To prevent this from happening, British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill issued the orders to 'sink the Bismarck'.

The following day, Swordfish aircraft from the Illustrious-class carrier HMS Victorious damaged Bismarck with a torpedo attack.

A final attempt to halt the battleship's progress was made at last light on 26 May when aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal arrived within range to launch an air strike by 15 Swordfish torpedo bombers.

They scored two hits which jammed Bismarck's rudder, causing her to sail in circles.

The next morning, Royal Navy battleships bombarded the German battleship for two hours.

Of Bismarck's crew of more than 2,200, little over 100 were picked up.

Cover image: The Bismarck at sea in 1941 (Picture: Photo 12/Alamy Stock Photo).