Behemoth Bismarck - Allied Convoys
Battleship Bismarck is the 'most known' battleship of them all! She was the Pride of the German Navy (in World War Two), a 45 thousand ton behemoth, armed with eight 15 inch naval guns. She was designed to counter the battleship(s) attached to allied convoys (especially those found within the Atlantic). Whilst her belt armour was 'slightly thinner' than it could have been (when compared to previous German battleships), her deck armour (of up to 4.7 inches) 'guarded well' against the menace of plunging shell fire. Despite this, it is known that Bismarck had a design flaw - whilst her hull form shape was 'reasonably efficient' (for a top speed of 29 knots), her stern was not 'strong enough' (having 'snapped off' when she sunk). Bismarck also had an unusual propeller arrangement - with three propellers (most battleships had two or four propellers). In any case, Bismarck was 'believed to have' a modern anti-aircraft armament of: sixteen 4.1 inch guns and sixteen 37 mm guns. Iron-sight shows that this wasn't enough (as a torpedo bomber damaged her rudder, and doomed the Bismarck).
One of the most interesting battleship books that I have encountered recently, is Robert Ballard's Bismarck:
My favourite chapter is - First Blood. This chapter covers the details of the Battle of the Denmark Strait - yes it is about the sinking of HMS Hood, but it also considers the aftermath of the battle (such as the damage that had been done to the Bismarck - especially towards her bow). There are some chilling first hand descriptions of the explosions on-board HMS Hood (as viewed from both the Bismarck, and Prince of Wales) together with some details on how Hood's three survivors survived. After reading this chapter, it's a miracle that there were any survivors at all: one jumped overboard (but got entangled in aerial wires as Hood sunk), another (Ted Briggs) escaped the compass platform/bridge (but was soon dragged under with the pull of the ship) the third was essentially washed through a window - from the highest point on the ship (the spotting top). Contrasted with this, are the thoughts of the Germans on-board Bismarck: which seem to have been at first astonishment, followed quickly by disbelief, followed quickly by transfixing (an inability to act), followed later by thoughts of impending doom - when it became apparent that the British intended to sink the Bismarck at all costs. My second favourite chapter is - Bismarck, Then and Now. I have always enjoyed looking at pictures of battleships - and this chapter has more than enough, but with a unique twist: as it compares black and white photos of the past (from previous voyages), together with basic photos of the wreck. I use the term basic photos, because at the time of the dive on the Bismarck (1989), the ability to both photograph and video underwater wrecks was in its infancy (at least by today's standards). Thus, the underwater wreck photos are somewhat on the smaller side/grainy (although not all), but I found that this mattered little - as I found them sufficiently spooky (especially when combined with the artists impressions of the overall wreck of the Bismarck). If you were to ask me, what my favourite diagram is within the book, then I would say that it is the diagram that explains/shows how the Bismarck sunk. It clearly shows that she rolled over, with her four 15 inch gun turrets falling out, as she descended rapidly towards the sea bed. Yet it is here, that an oddity occurred - for the Bismarck righted herself on her way to the bottom, before eventually slamming into the side of an extinct underwater volcano, and preceding to slide down it's side. My other favourite diagrams are the Bismarck's starboard profile, interior profile (showing key armour locations) and an overhead view - as they are also compared to original black and white photographs of the day. Overall: this is a highly detailed book, that provides a tonne of information on the battle (and it's aftermath), together with a great many pictures of the Bismarck (both past and present) which is mixed in within the Hunt for the Bismarck (aka the search to find the wreck).
Without a doubt, this little gem has to be one of the best books on HMS Hood (that I have ever read):
There's three reasons for this. First: is the fact that the book summarises (on the first few pages) exactly what type of warship HMS Hood was intended to be - a bigger, better, faster Queen Elizabeth class battleship. This was what the Royal Navy/Admiralty originally envisaged, and even though various Admirals (such as Sir John Jellicoe) attempted to prevent this (by saying that they had no need for such fast battleships), the Battle of Jutland (which took place at the same time that HMS Hood was laid down - 1916) caused a boycotting of Sir John Jellicoe's ideas - as it was proven that lightly-armoured battle cruisers, were incapable of meeting heavily-armoured battleships in battle. Thus, would HMS Hood be a - bigger, better, faster Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Hood's great length (860ft), meant that similar levels of protection (to a Queen Elizabeth), resulted in thinner deck and side armour as such armour had to be spread over a longer distance. Thus, was it known - that Hood's deck armour was too thin and not in the same-league as a true battleship (even though plans existed to thicken her deck amour). Second: is the fact that this book actually provides, the most realistic/acceptable reason for the loss of HMS Hood (that I have ever read). It had been accepted (at the time) that HMS Hood was lost because of a primary magazine explosion. Now, whilst this may very well be true - witnesses at the time (most-likely those on-board HMS Prince of Wales) reported that there was no sound of an explosion from HMS Hood. This seems a little strange, as it's hard to imagine a room full of 15 inch shells exploding - without any sound! Thus, does this book provide a more realistic/alternative explanation of how HMS Hood could have blown up, without making a sound. This explanation is: that it was NOT a primary shell magazine that exploded, BUT a primary cordite magazine (the source of the charges that were packed in behind a shell - to explode/burn and propel a 15 inch shell, from a 15 inch naval gun barrel). Thus, it seems that a magazine full of cordite, would have burned fiercely, and in doing so - placed overwhelming stress on internal bulkheads (inside HMS Hood). Such forces would not have been contained for long, and would have eventually vented forwards, through the boiler rooms and through the deck vents. It is with this venting, that the book suggests it's reason for the loss of HMS Hood: as with so much heat and force, would Hood's hull form have failed to hold up - and hence, split her in two (without the sound of an explosion). Third: is the fact that this book contains, some of the most amazing pictures of HMS Hood - that I have ever seen! Where possible, I have divided these into categories - before I tell you about them. Category One: The pictures of HMS Hood when she is being constructed. My favourite picture here, shows the construction of Hood's hull form, when the scaffolding is along side. You can clearly see the style/shape, of an important improvement over the Queen Elizabeth's - Hood's anti-torpedo bulges (which formed an integral part of her hull form, as opposed to an after thought). In second place, do I find the picture that looks forward (from the stern) of Hood's decks (before the turrets and superstructures have been installed). You can clearly see the men that built her, who appear to be just normal men doing an honest days work together with the frames for the bow sections (showing that Hood was far from complete at the time the photo was taken). Category Two: The pictures of HMS Hood within the Mediterranean Sea. Two of these photo's stand out for me - as they show Hood's hull form beneath the waterline (in a semi-turbulent sea). Both pictures also seem dynamic (as Hood is at speed), with both pictures also showing her neutrality markings (on B turret) - which were used to help identify her within the Spanish Civil War. Category Three: The picture that shows HMS Hood when she's being painted (presumably in harbour). What I find most exciting about the picture here, is that although it's just a close-up of her midships section - it's hard to miss one simple fact: HMS Hood was massive! This picture (more than any other), causes me to have disbelief that she could ever have been sunk/destroyed by a single lucky/well-placed shell. Yet, that is precisely what happened! Overall: this is an amazing book that contains a wealth of information on HMS Hood, and her nemesis the Bismarck. There's also some good information on the Battle of the Denmark Strait, and the sinking of the Bismarck. For me, there's also one more thing that really makes this book into a little gem. The fact that it explains a battleship's immunity zone - the idea that between certain ranges, that a battleship's side and deck armour could not be pierced (e.g. within a certain range, plunging shellfire is impossible, because the enemy could not elevate their gun barrels to a suitable angle to avoid a skimming shell when it hit the deck of the enemy ship - as it's plunging angle was too low to cause penetration - aka the mathematics of projectile motion).
In stark contrast to the sinking of HMS Hood (which was all over in a matter of minutes), The Battle of Hood and Bismarck documentary - explains that Bismarck, took several hours to sink:
And yet, this is not the only difference between the shipwreck of HMS Hood, and the shipwreck of Bismarck. Where as Hood is in a terrible state (with wreckage blown over a large area), Bismarck's wreck is a totally different story. Rather amazingly, her hull form sits perfectly upright, on the side of an underwater volcano. Her hull form also appears to be amazingly intact, as the documentaries underwater footage shows ... With for example, her bow swastika - being clearly visible. One of the most amazing scenes (for me), is the underwater footage of an open barbette, as it drops away to the dark depths, of the innards of this once mighty battleship. The documentary also explains an important difference between how HMS Hood, and Germany's battleship - the Bismarck, were sunk. In essence, the Royal Navy stood back and pounded the Bismarck for over an hour (with heavy calibre shells from the battleships HMS Rodney, and HMS King George V). The Royal Navy wanted revenge for the Hood, and the Bismarck's crew paid - the ultimate price. As such, it seems that the Bismarck's above deck areas were utterly destroyed - which was fundamental to the reasons of her loss: she lost the ability to fight, and as such, was unable to return fire with her eight 15 inch guns. The documentaries underwater footage provides evidence of this, as for example, the large superstructure, together with various range finders, are found separate to the main hull form, on the bottom of the sea bed. There is also a difference between how the crews of both HMS Hood, and Bismarck awaited their fates. On Hood, the catastrophic explosions, probably gave little to no time at all - to know what was happening. On Bismarck, her crew knew full well what was happening, as her rudders had been damaged (by a Royal Navy Swordfish air-strike) - which meant that she eventually meandered towards her awaiting fate (the heavy pounding by available British battleships). The documentary concludes by laying a Memorial Plaque on Bismarck's superstructure, and overseeing a memorial gathering, with both Hood and Bismarck survivors. Overall: Hood and Bismarck - an informative DVD to watch, on one of the last great sea battles ... Both Hood and Bismarck were for me, the Space Age of their time - as they must have been as far beyond, the Ships of the Line, as a 15 inch shell is beyond, the power of a cannon ball. It is somewhat fitting then, that this documentary, levels the playing field so to speak - as undersea exploration, is still very much, in it's infancy ... Yes, David Mearns finds the wrecks of both ships, but it is a real challenge. In finding those wrecks, do I feel that he helps to remember - the spirit of the men, that served on them. And it is for us to remember, that such wrecks are still tasked with an important duty - the homes of the sailors that lost their lives, lay undisturbed, looked but never touched, for all of time.
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