Bismarck’s Breakout and the Battle of Denmark Strait

 

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Otto von Bismarck in 1881.

(photo courtesy of German National Archive)

He was Germany’s greatest statesman and united the various bits and small states and principalities which comprised the modern nation of Germany into one nation dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia. Unfortunately, no other German statesman ever had Bismarck’s intelligence or ability for the right diplomatic maneuver at the right time to keep peace in Europe which he managed to do except for small wars he started to unify Germany. In retrospect, of course, it would have been better if Germany had never been unified. Bismarck would never have imagined in his worst nightmare that Germany would unite most of the world in such hatred of her that legal entity of the state of Prussia would be dissolved and parceled out to mostly other countries.

 

German battleship Bismarck with Nazi flag, 1941

German Battleship Bismarck with Nazi flag in 1941. Photo courtesy US Navy History and Heritage Command.  

The ship was commissioned, that is accepted into the German Navy as a completed warship on 24 August 1940. The Bismarck and her later twin, the Tirpitz, were the two largest battleships ever built by a European power. The ship was laid down on 1 July 1936 and launched 14 February 1939.

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The launching of the battleship Bismarck at Hamburg in 1939. (photo courtesy of the London Daily Mail)

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Photo of headline of story which appeared in the New York Times about the launching of the Bismarck. The world would have been so much better off had the mass-murderer Hitler fallen into the water and drowned.

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At sea en route to Norway, circa 19-20 May 1941, prior to her Atlantic sortie. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

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In a Norwegian fjord, 21 May 1941, shortly before departing for her Atlantic sortie. If you look closely at the far right and examine the bow of the Bismarck, you will notice the white, false bow wave painted at the waterline. This was thought to mislead the enemy as to the speed of the ship. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Location is probably Grimstadfjord, just south of Bergen. Bismarck’s camouflage was painted over before she departed the area. If you lCopied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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In Grimstadfjord, near Bergen, Norway, on 21 May 1941, just prior to her sortie into the Atlantic. Two merchant-type ships are also present. Photographed from a British Royal Air Force reconnaissance aircraft.

 

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Painting by Claus Bergen, seized by the US as a spoil of war, depicting the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen (center) and battleship Bismarck (left, distance) firing on British warships Hood and Prince of Wales. Courtesy of the US Army Chief of Military History. This painting was returned to the Federal Republic of Germany’s Navy in 1978.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which was in the lead. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Fifteen-inch shells from HMS Hood hit near the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, early in the action. Photographed from on board the German cruiser. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Painting by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt, depicting Hood’s loss during her engagement with the German battleship Bismarck on 24 May 1941. HMS Prince of Wales is in the foreground. Courtesy of the US Army Chief of Military History.

 

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Explosion of the British battlecruiser Hood. Smoke from HMS Prince of Wales’s gunfire is faintly visible just to the left. Photographed from the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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British battleship Prince of Wales (smoke column in left center) under fire from the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, with smoke from the sunken HMS Hood at right. Splashes to the right are shells from Prince of Wales that fell well short of the German ships. Photographed from Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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British battleship Prince of Wales (left smoke column) turns to open the range, after she was hit by German gunfire. Smoke at right marks the spot where HMS Hood had exploded and sunk a few minutes earlier. Photographed from the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck engaging HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales. Shells from the latter are falling short of the Bismarck, which had been hit previously and is slightly down by the bow. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales, as seen from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which is steaming ahead of Bismarck. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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This photo was actually taken in the early morning. The broadside of the Bismarck was such that it overexposed the film. German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen on 24 May 1941, following the Battle of the Denmark Strait and before the two German ships separated. Bismarck is somewhat down by the bow, the result of hits received in her engagement with HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood earlier in the day. This is the next to last photograph of Bismarck taken by the Germans. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen on 24 May 1941, following the Battle of the Denmark Strait and before the two German ships separated. This is the last photograph of Bismarck taken by the Germans. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

[Images courtesy of the US Navy History and Heritage Command]

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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