No announcement yet.

T4, R1, Prng 176: Bismarck Class (Germany) vs Vittorio Veneto Class (Italy)

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • T4, R1, Prng 176: Bismarck Class (Germany) vs Vittorio Veneto Class (Italy)

    In your opinion, which of these two warship types was most significant, influential and/or effective?
    Feel free to apply those criteria as you please, along with any others you think appropriate.
    Note: Suggestions for some additional criteria are at the foot of this post.

    According to the criteria as you see and apply them, please vote for your preferred candidate in the attached poll.
    If your chosen criteria are significantly different from those suggested, telling us what they are and why you used them would be helpful.

    187: Bismarck Class

    The Bismarck class consisted of two battleships; Bismarck and Tirpitz. They were laid down in July and November 1936; being commissioned in August 1940 and February 1941, respectively. The Bismarcks had been ordered in response to the French Richelieu class. When completed, they were the largest and most powerful warships built by Nazi Germany, exceeding standard displacement of their preceding Scharnhorst class by about 10,000 tons.
    Overall length of the Bismarck class ships was 251m (823ft 6in). They had a beam of 36m (118ft 1in), with a designed draft of 8.63m (28ft 4in) at standard displacement, up to 9.9m (32ft 6in) at full load. However, after some wartime modifications Tirpitz was somewhat heavier: Bismarck's standard displacement was 41,700t, increasing to 50,300t when fully laden. Tirpitz's figures were 42,900t and 52,600t, respectively.
    Normal complement for these ships was 2,065; 103 officers and 1,962 enlisted men.

    Propulsion came from three sets of geared turbines, each driving one shaft with a 4.7m (15ft 5in) 3-bladed screw. 12 x Wagner oil-burning water tube boilers providing the steam. The rated maximum speed was 30 knots; Bismarck exceeding this very slightly (30.01 knots) during trials. Tirpitz was a bit faster (30.8 knots) on account of having a higher power output. The two ships also had slightly differing fuel capacities. Tirpitz could carry up to 7,780 tons, compared to 7,400 for Bismarck. This was reflected in their estimated maximum ranges of 8,870nmi and 8,525nmi respectively, at 19 knots. Due mainly to their wide beam, the ships were very stable. They suffered relatively less pitching and rolling than most other battleships, even in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic. They responded well to the helm but handled poorly at low speeds or when moving astern, so tugs were necessary in confined areas.

    The Bismarcks had a main battery of 8 x 38cm (15in) SK C/34 guns in four twin-gun turrets. The turrets were arranged in superfiring pairs; one forward and the other aft. The optimal per-gun rate of fire was one shot every 18 seconds; roughly, three per minute. Re-loading required the guns to return to 2.5 degrees elevation.
    The secondary battery consisted of 12 x 15cm (5.9in) SK C/28 guns mounted in six twin-gun turrets. Rate of fire was about double that of the main armament; i.e. 6 rounds per minute.
    Initial supplementary armament included the AA battery of 16 x 10.5cm (4.1in) C/33 65-cal guns, a naval version of the 10.5cm Flak 38, in eight twin mounts. In addition, there were 16 x 3.7cm (1.5in) SK C/30 guns, also in dual mounts, as well as 12 x 2cm (0.79in) C/30 guns in individual mounts. To begin with, neither ship had torpedo tubes but some were added to Tirpitz later.

    The Bismarcks' armored belt ranged in thickness from 220 - 320mm (8.7 - 12.6in); the thickest section covering the central portion to protect gun turrets, ammunition magazines and machinery spaces. It was capped at both ends by 220mm transverse bulkheads. The upper deck was 50mm (2in) thick, the deck below varying from 100 - 120mm (3.9 to 4.7in) amidships, with 60mm (2.4in) forward and 80mm (3.1in) astern. Below the waterline, there were 22 watertight compartments and a double bottom.
    The main turrets were protected with 360mm (14.2in) thick faces, 220mm (8.7in) sides and 130mm (5.1in) roofs. The secondary turrets received 100mm (3.9in) faces, 40mm (1.6in) sides and 35mm (1.4in) roofs. Forward conning towers were given 350mm (13.8in) sides and 200mm (7.9in) roofs. The aft towers had much lighter armor, with 150mm (5.9in) sides and 50mm (2in) roofs.

    Bismarck under way, not long after her commissioning


    The Bismarck class had been designed for the traditional role of engaging enemy battleships in home waters or regions not too distant. However, the German naval command also envisioned them as longer-range commerce raiders against British shipping. As fate would have it, these ships were to have short careers; especially in Bismarck's case.

    In May 1941, Bismarck was assigned to Operation Rheinubung, a sortie into the North Atlantic to raid supply convoys running between North America and Britain. For various reasons, no other German capital ship was available in time and as delay was not deemed acceptable, Bismarck would be accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. On May 24, in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, the two German ships engaged the battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Hood. In the exchange of gunfire, Hood suffered a catastrophic explosion and sank very quickly, with only three of her crew surviving. Not long afterwards, Prince of Wales - having sustained significant damage and the loss of half her firepower - withdrew to make repairs. She was a very new ship and still had some civilian technicians on board. The timing was probably her salvation, as she had come within torpedo range of Prinz Eugen and turned away as the German ship was about to fire. After some repairs she would re-join the fight.
    In the meantime, the British mustered every possible ship to hunt Bismarck but on the afternoon of May 26, air attack was the only viable resource. This was provided by the carrier Ark Royal and her Swordfish torpedo planes. The first attempt yielded no result but the second, at around 9:00 that evening, damaged Bismarck's steering (although that was not immediately evident to the British). Her crew attempted repairs but the port rudder was solidly jammed. In her final showdown the following morning, Bismarck was engaged by two British battleships and two heavy cruisers, sustaining critical damage and heavy loss of life. Upon her sinking, a substantial number of her crew were left in the water; 110 of them being rescued by two of the smaller British ships and a while later, a handful more by a U-boat and a trawler. Out of Bismarck's entire crew - which at that time was over 2,000 - only 114 had survived.
    As a post-script, Robert Ballard located the wreck in 1989 and noted the 3-shaft propulsion. He concluded that a 4-shaft layout would have allowed Bismarck to steer using only propeller revolutions; her three-screw system simply not having that flexibility. The issue had been noted during Bismarck's sea trials but by that stage, correcting it would have involved a partial re-build and an unacceptable delay to service entry.

    Tirpitz was to have a somewhat longer but less dramatic life. She received a series of modifications, ending up about 2000 tons heavier than Bismarck. Operating in the Baltic Sea for a short time in 1941, she was sent to Norwegian waters in early 1942 where she acted as a "fleet in being"; threatening convoys to the Soviet Union and forcing the British to retain significant naval forces in the region. This was really her only feasible role, since operations against the Atlantic convoys had simply become too risky.
    In September 1943, accompanied by Scharnhorst, Tirpitz bombarded Allied positions on Spitzbergen off northern Norway. This was the only time she used her main battery in an offensive role. Not long after that, she was damaged in an attack by British mini-submarines. This was soon followed by a relentless series of air attacks, during which Tirpitz spent most of her time seeking shelter in Norwegian fjords. On 12 November 1944, Lancaster bombers equipped with "Tallboy" bombs scored two direct hits, causing Tirpitz to capsize rapidly and one of her main battery magazines exploded. Estimates on the number of men killed range from 950 to 1,204. Regardless, Tirpitz had been thoroughly dealt with and could no longer possibly be any threat. The wreck was steadily broken up and scrapped between 1948 and 1957.

    A Swordfish crew releasing their torpedo against Bismarck (see below)

    The illustration shows a Swordfish launching its torpedo during the second series of attacks.
    "2" refers to Bismarck (heading left to right in this picture) and "1" refers to the torpedo itself, which is being launched at an angle calculated to merge with her path. During these actions, a number of aircraft attacked from both sides, making it more difficult for the ship to successfully evade all of the torpedoes.

    Drawings of Tirpitz as she appeared in 1944


    Bismarck and Tirpitz were well designed and powerful battleships and they appear to have been comparable to the best of their enemies' equivalents. What is more, given Britain's situation as a small island nation, they represented a very serious threat to her vital supply lifelines. In turn, of course, this meant that the British could never desist from their efforts to neutralize the threat they represented. In this sense, the outcome may have been a foregone conclusion. What do you think?

    General characteristics* (*Representative. Some variation between ships)

    Displacement – 41,700t, increasing to 50,300t (Bismarck)
    Length – 251m (823ft 6in) (overall)
    Beam – 36m (118ft 1in)
    Draft – 8.63 - 9.9m (28ft 4in - 32ft 6in) (initial)
    Propulsion – 3 x sets geared steam turbines; three shafts; 12 boilers
    Maximum speed:
    30 knots
    Range at 19 knots:
    8,525 - 8,870nmi with 7,400 - 7,780 tons of fuel oil
    Primary – 8 x 38cm (15in) SK C/34 guns
    Secondary – 12 x 15cm (5.9in) SK C/28 guns
    Supplementary (a) - 16 x 10.5cm (4.1in) C/33 65-cal guns
    Supplementary (b) - 16 x 3.7cm (1.5in) SK C/30 guns
    Supplementary (c) - 12 x 2cm (0.79in) C/30 guns
    Belt – 320mm (12.6in) (max)
    Bulkheads (main transverse) – 220mm (8.7in)
    Decks – 50mm (2in) (upper); 60 - 120mm (2.4 - 4.7in) (lower)
    Main turrets - 360mm (14.2in) (max)
    Secondary turrets - 100mm (3.9in) (max)
    Conning tower 1 (fore) – 350mm (13.8in) (max)
    Conning tower 2 (aft) - 150mm (5.9in) (max)
    Complement – 103 officers and 1,962 enlisted men (2,065)

    194: Vittorio Veneto Class

    The Vittorio Veneto class (aka Littorio class) originally consisted of four ships; Vittorio Veneto, Littorio, Roma and Impero. They were laid down from October 1934 to May 1938. Vittorio Veneto and Littorio were both commissioned in May 1940, less than two weeks apart but Roma was not finished until June 1942 and Impero was never completed. These ships had been developed in response to the French Dunkerque class and were the most modern Italian battleships to serve in World War 2. Their overall lengths varied between 237.8m and 240.7m (780ft 2in - 789ft 8in). However, their beams and standard draft were the same, at 32.82m (107ft 8in) and 9.6m (31ft 6in), respectively. Displacements for the three completed ships varied a little too; averaging out at 40,744t (standard) and 45,250t (full load). Initial crews for Littorio and Vittorio Veneto were 80 officers and 1,750 enlisted men, while Roma had 100 more men. Additional officers were assigned to whichever of them was serving as flagship.

    The ships' propulsion system consisted of four Belluzzo geared steam turbines, each driving a shaft and screw. Steam was provided by eight oil-fired Yarrow boilers. Designed top speed was 30 knots, which was exceeded by more than 1 knot during trials. However, in service and over long distances with a full load, around 28 knots was found to be a more realistic maximum.
    The standard full load of fuel oil was 4,140t, which enabled a range of 4,580nmi at 16 knots and about 4,700nmi at 14 knots. As built, the ships were fitted with bulbous bows, which were supposed to increase speed but the original shape caused serious vibration and had to be somewhat modified.

    Main armament consisted of 9 x 381mm (15in) L/50 Ansaldo 1934 guns in three triple turrets; two in a superfiring pair forward and one aft. As mounted with a maximum elevation of 35 degrees, they could engage targets out to about 42,260m (46,216yd) and their per-gun rate of fire was one shot per 45 seconds. Secondary armament was 12 x 152mm (6in) L/55 Ansaldo Model 1934 guns, in four triple turrets. Their rate of fire was slightly better than 4 rounds per minute.
    For AA, there was a powerful battery of 12 x 90mm (3.5in) L/50 guns, closely arranged amidships. These were longer-range weapons. For closer AA work, there were 20 x 37mm Breda (1.5in) L/54 and 16 x 20mm Breda (0.79in) L/65 guns. Finally, to fire illumination shells there were 4 x 120mm QF (4.7in) L/40 guns.

    The main armored belt was in two layers, separated by a 250mm (9.8in) gap. The outer layer was 70mm (2.8in) thick and the inner 280mm (11in). The gap was filled with a special foam that kept water out and helped to de-cap armored shells. This combination was designed to resist 381mm (15in) armor piercing shells down to 16,000m; the inner edge of optimal combat range.
    The citadel was closed by transverse bulkheads 100 – 210mm (3.9 – 8.3in) thick forward and 70 – 280mm (2.8 – 11in) aft. Above the citadel was an armored casemate with 70mm (2.8in) plating. On the bow section, the belt was 130mm (5.1in) thick, extending 35m (115ft) ahead of the main belt before terminating in a 60mm (2.4in) transverse bulkhead. Astern, the screw shafts and steering gear were protected by 100mm (3.9in) of armor and a 200mm (7.9 in) bulkhead. Below-waterline protection also included a double bottom and torpedo bulges backed up by a 40mm (1.6in) bulkhead. Inside the bulges was a structure of Italian design that included a "crushable zone" to help absorb torpedo explosions.
    The upper deck was given 36mm (1.4in) of armor over 9mm (0.35in) hardened steel plating. Below this, main deck protection varied from 36mm (1.4in) of armor over 8mm (0.31in) steel, up to 150mm (5.9in) over 12mm (0.47in).
    The main turrets were given 380mm (15in) faces, 350mm (14in) rears, 150-200mm (5.9 - 7.9in) roofs and 130-200mm (5.1 - 7.9in) sides. Their barbettes had 350mm (13.8in) above deck and 280mm (11in) below. Armor for the secondary turrets ranged from 280mm maximum to 80mm (3.1in) minimum, with barbette armor 150mm (5.9in) above and 100mm (3.9in) below the deck. Protection for the conning tower varied: The two lower levels had 200 - 250mm (7.9 - 9.8in), and the uppermost 175 - 255mm (6.9 - 10in) with a 90 - 120mm (3.5 - 4.7in) roof.

    Littorio sporting a disruptive paint pattern


    Under Benito Mussolini, Italy declared war against France and Britain on June 10 1940. By this time, the brand new Vittorio Veneto and Littorio had both been commissioned and they soon formed the backbone of the Italian fleet, seeing a fair amount of action. Roma entered service too late to do much at all.

    On 2 August 1940, Vittorio Veneto and Littorio had become operational and were assigned to the 9th Division of the 1st Squadron. On 31 August, along with three older battleships, ten cruisers and thirty-one destroyers, they sortied to engage one of the Malta convoys. However, poor reconnaissance prevented them from engaging. They tried again with another convoy on 29 September; once more without success.
    On 12 November, the British made their attack on Taranto. Littorio was in harbor at the time and was hit by at least two torpedoes. She became heavily flooded and settled by the bow. By 11 December she had been dry-docked for repairs, which would take until March 1941.
    Vittorio Veneto, however, had emerged from Taranto undamaged. She took over flagship duties and was transferred to Naples. On 26 November 1940, she encountered British forces south of Sardina. During the resulting Battle of Cape Spartivento, Swordfish aircraft from HMS Ark Royal attacked her but she managed to evade the torpedoes. Vittorio Veneto briefly engaged some British cruisers without scoring any hits but one of her reconnaissance planes had been shot down. On the night of 8-9 January 1941, she was at Naples when the RAF attacked with heavy bombers but was not hit. In February, accompanied by battleships Andrea Doria and Giulio Cesare, Vittorio Veneto attempted to attack what they believed was a Malta convoy. The formation was, in fact, Force H, steaming to bombard Genoa ("Operation Grog"). However, the two fleets did not make contact and the Italians returned to port. Vittorio Veneto was torpedoed during the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941, and again while escorting a convoy to North Africa in September in June 1942.
    March 1941 had seen Littorio back in service following her repairs. She took part in several sorties to catch the British Mediterranean Fleet, most of them coming to nothing; a notable exception being the March 1942 Second Battle of Sirte, in which she damaged several British warships.

    Roma joined the fleet in June 1942; although all three ships remained inactive until June 1943, when they were damaged in a series of Allied air attacks. Further damages were sustained during German bombing in September 1943, after Italy had surrendered to the Allies.
    Not long afterwards, the Italian fleet was ordered to sail to Sardinia, and then to Malta, to hand their ships into Allied control. The Germans sank Roma en route. The final bomb detonated within the forward engine room, causing catastrophic flooding and the explosion of #2 main turret's magazines, throwing the turret itself into the sea. Sinking by the bow and listing to starboard, Roma capsized and broke in two, carrying 1,393 men down with her.
    Littorio - re-named Italia - was hit by a radio-controlled bomb but not destroyed. The Germans had seized the incomplete Impero and used her as a target; eventually being destroyed by American bombers in 1945. After the war, between 1952 and 1954, Littorio/Italia, Vittorio Veneto and Impero were scrapped.

    Good close-up of Roma's A and B turrets + other armaments. Note paint pattern.


    Drawings of Vittorio Veneto's layout and disruptive paint scheme, as in March 1942


    In my opinion, the combination of general layout, innovative features and balance of fundamental attributes evident in the Littorio class battleships marks them quite highly. Although never really tested in battleship-vs-battleship combat, they appear to compare at least equally, and in some cases well, with most if not all of their potential adversaries during their period of active service. Your thoughts?

    General characteristics* (*Representative. Some variation between ships)

    Displacement (average) – 40,744t (standard) and 45,250t (full load)
    Length – 237.8 - 240.7m (780ft 2in - 789ft 8in)
    Beam – 32.82m (107ft 8in)
    Draft – 9.6m (31ft 6in)
    Propulsion – 4 sets steam turbines, 4 shafts, 8 boilers
    Maximum speed:
    28 - 30 knots
    Range at 16 knots:
    4,580nmi with 4,140 tons of fuel oil
    Primary – 9 x 381mm (15in) L/50 Ansaldo 1934 guns
    Secondary – 12 x 152mm (6in) L/55 Ansaldo Model 1934 guns
    Supplementary (a) – 12 x 90mm (3.5in) L/50 guns
    Supplementary (b) - 20 x 37mm Breda (1.5in) L/54 guns
    Supplementary (c) - 16 x 20mm Breda (0.79in) L/65 guns
    Belt (main) – 70mm (2.8in) + 280mm (11in) with 250mm (9.8in) gap
    Decks – 36mm (1.4in) (min) - 150mm (5.9in) (max) + 8-12mm steel
    Main turrets - 380mm (15in) (max)
    Main barbettes - 350mm (13.8in) (max)
    Secondary turrets – 280mm (11in) (max)
    Secondary barbettes - 150mm (5.9in) (max)
    Casemate – 70mm (2.8in)
    Conning tower – 90 - 255mm (3.5 - 10in)
    Main transverse bulkheads – 210mm (8.3in) and 280mm (11in) (max)
    Complement – 80 officers and 1,750 enlisted men

    Bismarck class vs Vittorio Veneto class:
    Each was its respective nation's most powerful in WW2!
    However, only one candidate can be in the next round!

    Suggested additional criteria you might wish to consider, along with any others you deem appropriate.
    (Note: Some of these could be considered already covered by Significant, Influential and Effective)

    Which warship type ...
    • was the best?
    • was the greatest?
    • was the most widely used?
    • had the greatest longevity in service?
    • was the most versatile?
    • represented the best value for the cost/effort invested ("bang for the buck" in today's language)?
    • was the easiest to operate?
    Any other criteria you have applied (please tell us what they were).
    187: Bismarck class (Germany)
    194: Vittorio Veneto class (Italy)
    Last edited by panther3485; 01 Sep 20, 12:19.
    "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
    Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.

  • #2
    Bismark destroyed Hood and damaged Prince of Wales in ship to ship action, only to be lost after air power was put into play. Can't hold that against her, as I wouldn't hold it against Prince of Wales and Repulse.

    If stupid was a criminal offense Sea Lion believers would be doing life.

    Shouting out to Half Pint for bringing back the big mugs!


    • #3
      Went Vittorio Veneto. I am thinking the Bismark is a little overrated.

      Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

      Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

      by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"


      • #4
        I went with the Bismarck mainly because you really know what she was capable of, because she did something. The whole Italian fleet was one big "what if".


        • #5
          Went guns and armour over range, therefore the Italian design, not that I know anything about battleships.
          How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic:
          Global Warming & Climate Change Myths:


          • #6
            There was an excellent FB page about battleships, unfortunately its been hacked and now just posts spam.... I'll post some of the info' here so its not lost forever.

            Interesting photo of the Littorio under construction.

            Shows some details of the pugliese system torpedo defense system under construction. The crush drums can be seen running along the hull along with the containment bulkhead that would encapsulate them already fitted amidships.

            Another interesting thing to point out is how the depth of the torpedo defense system gradually narrows towards the bow. This was typical for dreadnoughts as the narrowing hull lines could not permit maximum depth for the torpedo defense system. On the Littorio class, the pugliese system narrowed to around 60% of its maximum depth by the time it terminated near the bow and stern.

            This was typical as most battleships could only carry the torpedo defense system from its maximum of 77% (North Carolina) to 50% (Bismarck) at the ends. This meant that the torpedo defense system over the magazines was not as strong as it would be over the powerplant. Generally some measures were taken to shore of the defenses here, including reinforced bulkheads and other things.


            The Littorio class of Italy arguably had the most complex armour scheme of them all.

            The Littorio class were designed to withstand 381mm (15") guns at ranges of 16,000m or more. During the war, the Italian battleplan considered that most surface combat would take place between 16000 and 20000 meters. To help make the ships immune to 381mm guns at those ranges, the Littorio class made use of complex armor scheme utilizing several layers of armor.

            The first layer of armor was a 70mm hardened steel plate mounted in front of the main belt. This plate was to act as a "decapping" plate.
            Decapping is the process of breaking the cap off an armor-piercing shell, exposing the nose. The nose is then more likely to shatter against hardened armor. A shell with a shattered nose has its ability to penetrate through armor greatly reduced.

            Though several nations investigated the methods of using armor to decap incoming shells, Italy gave more serious thought to the matter than anyone else.

            The Littorio's decapping plate was intended to decap projectiles up to 381mm in size. This would cause them to shatter against the ship's second layer of armor, the main armor belt. At 280mm (11") thick, the main belt was separated by a 250mm (9.8") gap from the decapping plate.

            The space between the two plates was filled with a compound similar to concrete. While thought the help provide additional protection, it was actually intended to simply fill the void and prevent water from invading once the decapping plate was penetrated. The belt and decapping plate where inclined at roughly 11 to 15 degrees depending on the location.

            After the main armor plates, the Littorio class had two additional layers of plates that were situated behind the belt. The first of 36mm (1.4") (4.6' behind the belt) and a second of 24mm (.94") (about 13' behind the belt). These secondary armor layers were not intended to defeat projectiles, but were for splinter / shrapnel protection.

            While the Littorio class had several layers of vertical armor, its horizontal armor was much simpler. Unlike other nations that opted for multiple layers of deck armor, Italy chose a single main armoured deck. Depending on the location, this main armour deck was 100mm to 150mm (3.9" to 5.9").

            Testing showed that a single thick layer of armor enjoyed greater effectiveness against projectiles, however it offered less protection against splinters and shrapnel compared to multiple decks.

            Above the main armour deck, a lighter weather deck of 36mm was carried. Though not thick enough to withstand bombs or shells, it might have the benefit of arming bombs before they reached the main deck.

            Overall, the protection of the Littorio class was comprehensive, especially its vertical armor. However, the effectiveness of its decapping plate is a matter of debate. The decapping plate can only decap a shell depending on its size and the thickness of the plate. If the decapping plate is not of sufficient thickness to decap a shell, then it is merely wasted armor. Some historians argue that the Littorio class would have been better served by combining the belt and decapping later into a single 350mm (13.75") armoured belt.

            In any regard, the Littorio class might have presented a touch nut to crack for the battleships of the Royal Navy or Marine Nationale. On paper, the Littorio class appeared strongly protected against the 360mm (14") guns of the King George V class and the 380mm (15") guns of the Richelieu class.

            However, the armor system that Italian designers had labored on was never put to the test. We will never know how the unique armor of the Littorio class would have fared in combat.


            One of the most persistent myths that still tenaciously hangs around is the myth of the Bismarck class having weak rudders and/or sterns.

            The truth of the matter is that the stern of a battleship has always been its Achilles heel. Designers had tried throughout the battleship era to develop ways to somehow strengthen this section of the ship to little success.

            The stern of a battleship is vulnerable due to its location outside the armored citadel and at a location where an effective torpedo defense system cannot be placed. Furthermore, with the exception of the steering gear, the battle ship's rudders, screws, and shafts are almost totally exposed, making them particularly vulnerable.

            Therefore, the torpedo hit that doomed Bismarck wasn't so much the fault of poor design, but rather a design issue that was present in all of her contemporaries. Had any other battleship (King George V, Iowa, Yamato, etc) taken a similar hit, they would have likely suffered a similar loss of steering or capability. (With four propellers, they might have been able to limp away better, but that's a different debate altogether.)

            What ultimately doomed Bismarck was a lucky shot into the most vulnerable place in her hull more than anything else.


            Bismarck class is a great example of how battleship armor can be optimized for a given scenario. In this case, combat at closer ranges.

            Bismarck featured a main armored belt that was 12.6" (320mm) thick. At first glance, this seems thinner than some of her contemporaries. However, this belt extended for 70% of the ships length, higher than all other battleships. The Bismarck class also featured a main armored deck that was behind the belt. The edges sloped down to meet the bottom of the belt armor in a turtle deck, similar to what we viewed previously on Richelieu. This turtle deck measured 100 to 120mm (3.9 to 4.7") depending on the location. This thickness, coupled with the impressive slope, presented a formidable secondary barrier to shells. Shells that penetrated the main belt would lack the velocity to penetrate the turtle deck, ensuring the vitals were safe.

            This system was a double edged sword. While protected volume was lower than other battleships, the area that was protected had an extremely high level of protection. Indeed, at the time Bismarck was built, her horizontal protection was strong enough that her citadel was almost invulnerable to the available 16" guns at close ranges.

            However, this system was not without considerable disadvantage. Due to the small citadel area, Bismarck had very little protected volume and thus, little reserve buoyancy. Should her unprotected areas be flooded, its possible to sink the ship without ever penetrating the citadel since it lacks the reserve buoyancy to keep the rest of the ship afloat.

            The horizontal protection of the Bismarck class was provided by two armored decks. The main deck (the hortizonal section) measured between 100 to 120mm amidships with 60mm and 80mm sections fore and aft. A second upper armored deck of 50mm (2") was mounted atop the upper belt, well above the main deck. This two deck arrangement was in contrast to other battleships such as Anglo-American designs that tended to favor a single armored deck of greater thickness (Generally for the purpose of maximizing the ship's protected volume).

            Now, a unique feature of the Bismarck class was their upper belt of 145mm (5.7"). This piece of armor is often singled out as being outdated like the "medium armor" used in dreadnoughts during WW1. However, this armor did provide some advantages.It was capable of stopping small caliber guns like those found on destroyers and light cruisers. Germany expected that mad melees with light units in the North Atlantic was a very real possiblity so this does make sense.

            Another benefit of this upper belt armor is that it could help protect against heavy battleship guns. Its thickness was such that an incoming shell would be slowed, decapped, and/or have yaw induced. This would increase the ability of the armoured deck to defeat these projectiles.

            Of course, heavy shells that passed over the upper belt and struck the decks were likely to penetrate. At the time of Design, Germany did not place much value on plunging fire as they believed the poor visibility of the Atlantic would largely prevent it.

            On the subject of underwater protection, the Bismarck class is interesting.

            Unlike other countries who wanted to maximize the depth of the torpedo belts, Germany chose to moderate the depth. They believed that an excessively wide torpedo belt would lead to stability issues as the belt flooded. Thus, German designers placed great emphasis on compartmentalizing the hull and citadel to resist flooding. Even so, the ships featured a rather impressive torpedo defense system that was 17.7' deep, greater than what was found on Yamato.

            In addition, the Bismarck class did not feature the typical sandwich of various void and liquid filled layers found on other battleships. Instead, they featured a large void section over three liquid filled sections. This system would allow for the dissipation of underwater blasts as well as easy counter flooding thanks to the void section.

            Intended to withstand the equivalent of 550lbs of TNT, the system proved itself capable of withstanding much more.Some historians attribute this greater resistance to use of well made steel as well as excellent welding of the joints.
            "In modern war... you will die like a dog for no good reason."
            Ernest Hemingway.

            Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?


            • #7
              Re the Bismark. While I accept that little could have been done about the rudder, I think PoW was hit there too when it was sunk by the Japanese, the fire control seems to have been very vulnerable. Was knocked out very early on in the engagement with Rodney and KGV. Seems to have been a generic problem with German capital ships, Gneisenau's was hit in an engagement with Renown and Scharnhorst's was knocked out early in its sinking. Without a working fire control a battleship is effectively useless.

              "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."


              • #8
                One of the biggest failures of the German Navy in WW2 it was not having any aircraft carriers in it's fleet.


                Latest Topics