The Wreck of DKM Bismarck − A Marine Forensics Analysis 1 The ...

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The Wreck of DKM Bismarck

A Marine Forensics Analysis

by

James Cameron

Robert O. Dulin, Jr.

William H. Garzke, Jr.

William Jurens

Kenneth M. Smith, Jr.

Bismarck at anchor on 21 May 1941, Grimstadfjord, Norway, as viewed from the heavy cruiser Prinz

Eugen. Later that day, the camouflage scheme was painted over with standard “outboard gray.”

ABSTRACT

The DKM ship Bismarck was one of the most famous battleships of World War II. Her

brief combat career was the stuff of legend. Bismarck sank the premier warship of the Royal

Navy, HMS Hood, in a gun battle that lasted ten minutes. She was damaged by Hood’s consort,

HMS Prince of Wales, which was also seriously damaged. British forces trailed Bismarck, losing

contact for 31 hours before finding the German battleship. A torpedo hit in Bismarck’s stern

destroyed her ability to steer, allowing superior forces to overtake and destroy her with gunfire

and torpedoes. This analysis of the wreck is based on a survey led by James Cameron in May

2002, during which he was able to make a close-range survey that revealed new information on

the severity of damage sustained by this German battleship.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

INTRODUCTION

This report is the distillation of decades of research into the design, characteristics, and

operation of Germany’s most famous battleship, augmented by interviews and correspondence

with Bismarck survivors and the dramatic results of a survey of the Bismarck wreck completed

by James Cameron in May 2002. This has permitted the authors to accomplish this thorough

marine forensics analysis of Bismarck.

Bismarck was the first battleship delivered to the German Navy in over 24 years.

Restrained by the Versailles Treaty from building such ships, the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of

June 1935 allowed the Germans to build to battleships with a standard displacement of 35,000

tons 1 . The Bismarck and Tirpitz were much larger than this limiting displacement because the

German Navy was unwilling to use triple or quadruple turrets for their main armament 2 .

Although Bismarck and Tirpitz have a similar arrangement to the Baden/Bayern design of World

War I, the details of their armor, armament, and propulsion plants were very different. The actual

displacement of these ships was kept secret.

The keel for “Battleship F” was laid on 1 July 1936 at the Blohm and Voss Shipyard in

Hamburg. The battleship was launched on 14 February 1939. Bismarck was commissioned on

24 August 1940. Table 1 highlights the characteristics of this powerful, well-protected ship.

Table 1

Characteristics of Bismarck

Full Load Displacement 49,406 tonnes

Maximum Displacement 50,405 tonnes

Waterline Length 241.55 meters

Waterline Beam 36.00 meters

Draft (design) 9.30 meters

Armament Eight 380mm in Twin Turrets

Twelve 150mm in Twin Turrets

Sixteen 105mm in Twin Mounts

Sixteen 37mm Semi-Automatic Guns in Twin Mounts

Twelve 20mm Single Machine Guns

Four Arado-196 Floatplanes

Shaft Horsepower 138,000 mhp

Speed 30.12 Knots

Endurance 9,500 miles at 19 Knots

Fuel 8,294 tonnes

Protection 320mm – Main Side Belt

95mm – Deck (Magazines)

80mm – Deck (Machinery)

1 The Washington Naval Treaty, signed in 1922, defined standard displacement as “… the displacement

of the vessel complete, fully manned, equipped, and ready for sea, including ammunition, provisions,

fresh water for her crew, and miscellaneous stores and implements of every description to be carried in

war, but not including fuel or reserve feed water.” Standard displacement was measured in long tons,

2,240 pounds. Metric tons (tonnes) are defined as 1,000 kilograms (2,204 pounds).

2 By the mid-1930s, naval design staffs struggled with the displacement limitations imposed by a series

of naval disarmament treaties. For all practical purposes, all treaty displacement limitations expired on 31

December 1936. Most battleships that were completed during the World War II era exceeded Treaty

constraints.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

FLAWS IN THE DESIGN OF BISMARCK

The dramatic story of the pursuit and destruction of the Bismarck was markedly

influenced by deficiencies in her machinery arrangement, her radar equipment, and her

antiaircraft armament:

MACHINERY ARRANGEMENT

The Bismarck, as was typical for German capital ships of both the World War I and

World War II eras, featured a three-shaft main propulsion arrangement. Twin rudders, coupled

together, were positioned aft of the three propellers. The leading edges of these rudders were

less than two meters aft of the centerline propeller. The proximity the rudders to the centerline

propeller was to be a major factor in the destruction of the German battleship.

During engineering trials in the Baltic, as recalled by Baron von Mullenheim-Rechberg:

“It was found with both rudders locked in an amidships position, the Bismarck could be held on

course only with great difficulty. The reason for this was that the convergent design of her

propeller shafts provided only a weak turning movement, even with the outboard shafts rotating

in opposition at full power. 3 ” These problems, encountered in calm water with the rudders

locked amidships, revealed the near-impossibility of using her engines to steer a damaged

Bismarck with no operational rudders, especially in heavy weather.

RADAR EQUIPMENT

During 1940, the German Navy began introducing new shipboard radar equipment on

their warships. The radar aboard Bismarck was fitted after the trials of the 380-mm guns had

been completed based on information gleaned from Baron von Müllenheim Rechberg 4 . The

Baron was puzzled by the decision to outfit the ship with radar equipment following the gunnery

trials. When Norfolk was engaged on 23 May in the Denmark Strait, the firing of the two

forward turrets disabled the two forward radars, making it necessary for Prinz Eugen to take the

lead to search sector ahead of the formation with her radar. This exchange in ships would cause

great confusion on board Hood in identifying Bismarck on 24 May. (The German heavy cruisers

were very similar in appearance to the Bismarck and Tirpitz.)

ANTIAIRCRAFT ARMAMENT

Bismarck featured a mixed-caliber secondary armament, with six twin turrets mounting

150mm guns intended to engage enemy surface ships combined with eight twin mounts fitted

with 105mm guns for antiaircraft fire. This design feature, typical of German, Italian, and

Japanese capital ships, was inferior to the concept adopted by the United States and British Royal

navies of mounting a single battery of dual-purpose guns, adequate for both surface engagements

and for antiaircraft fire. (The American dual-purpose gun was 127mm; the Royal Navy adopted

a 134-mm gun for this service.)

3

Baron Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg. Battleship Bismarck A Survivor’s Story. Annapolis,

Naval Institute Press, 1980. Page 39.

4

Baron Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechbereg, as recalled during a conversation with authors Bill Garzke

and Bob Dulin in Annapoolis, MD, 20 September 1980.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The 105mm battery on Bismarck was flawed in several other aspects. Due to the

diversion of four new mounts to be used in a trade arrangement with the Soviet Union, four of

the older Dopp LC/31 type being used forward instead of the more modern Dopp LC/37 type,

which were mounted aft. The 105mm mounts, interestingly, were unable to fully depress to

engage very low-flying targets, such as enemy biplane torpedo bombers.

The 37mm guns mounted on Bismarck were single-shot, semi-automatic weapons,

capable of a maximum rate of fire of about 30 rounds per minute per gun. The comparable

40mm Bofors machine guns mounted on modern American warships were capable of firing

about 160 rounds per minute per gun.

The antiaircraft armament on Bismarck was fatally flawed, as events were to show on the

evening of the 26 th of May.

PRINCE OF WALES AND HOOD ENGAGE BISMARCK

Bismarck left Gydnia (Gotenhafen) at 0200 on 19 May 1941 and was joined by the heavy

cruiser Prinz Eugen off Cape Arkona later that day. This was to be Bismarck’s first operational

mission. The purpose of the sortie was to attack British convoy shipping in the North Atlantic.

The German ships eluded British forces until detected by HMS Suffolk at 1922 on 23 May during

their attempt to break out into the North Atlantic through the Denmark Strait, between Iceland

and Greenland.

Hood was the largest warship in service in the Royal Navy in 1941. This beautiful ship, completed at

the end of World War I, was typical of battle cruisers of that era, with high speed attained at the cost

of inferior armor protection. Hood had adequate side armor protection, but her inferior horizontal

protection doomed the ship during her brief engagement with Bismarck.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The newly-commissioned Prince of Wales and the older battle cruiser Hood engaged

Bismarck early on the morning of 24 May 1941. Hood was hit and destroyed only 9 minutes

after opening fire.

Hood was utterly destroyed by the fifth salvo fired by Bismarck. A single 380-mm shell,

possibly two, did the job. This was the consequence of stunningly accurate gunnery coupled

with a flawed protective system Hood was the last of the World War One-era battle cruisers,

ships designed and built with an emphasis on speed and gun power at a time when such could

only be achieved by sacrificing protection.

Prince of Wales managed to hit Bismarck with three 356-mm shells, two of which caused serious

damage and the loss of critical fuel 5 . (In turn, the British battleship was damaged by seven shell hits,

four 380-mm from Bismarck and three 203-mm from Prinz Eugen.)

Although the Hood design was modified to marginally improve her armor protection, the

ship remained fatally vulnerable to long-range, plunging shellfire from heavy guns. (The

Bismarck’s modern 380-mm guns fired 800-kilogram shells at a substantially higher muzzle

velocity than the older 381-mm guns on the Hood. The German guns out-ranged the Hood’s

5 This was confirmed during an extensive correspondence with two officers who served on Prince of

Wales, the spotting officer, CDR Arthur Skipwith (RN, Ret.) and the gunnery officer, CAPT Colin

McMullen (RN, Ret.). CDR Skipwith recalled that he had his binoculars trained on Bismarck during the

entire engagement and was able to follow the fall of shot for each salvo fired from his ship. At no time

did he note the fall of any rounds fired by Hood.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

guns by more than 5,000 meters.) Painfully aware of the vulnerability of the Hood, the British

were attempting to close the range and lessen the risk of destruction resulting from plunging fire.

Less than ten minutes after opening fire, Hood blew up and sank, destroyed by 381-mm shellfire

which penetrated to and detonated her magazines.

The ammunition on Hood was destroyed by deflagration intense burning (of some 112

tons of cordite) with no means to dissipate its energy vertically or horizontally which wrecked

the Hood’s hull structure, causing the ship to break apart into two sections before beginning its

plunge to the sea bed.

A KEY HIT ON THE BISMARCK’s BOW

Abeam of the capstans on the forecastle of Bismarck is a large oblique-shaped hole in the

starboard side, above the water line and Batteriedeck 6 and forward of the 60-mm splinter belt. It

occurs just above the forward edge of a faded painted fake bow wave. The hole is clearly bent

outward, apparently from the effects of a shell passing through the ship from the port side 7 . An

elongated hole in the deck above was first thought to be the entry hole for this round, but careful

measurement indicates the two holes are unrelated.

The entry hole on the port side was not imaged, as there were a number of shell holes

noted in the area where the shell was believed to have entered. The exit hole is consistent with a

trajectory through the bow with an angle of fall of about 15 degrees and a shell path from astern.

This is consistent with the expected angle of fall for a shell fired by Prince of Wales at a range of

about 16,000 meters refer to Table 2.

Table 2

Range Table Data for the 356-mm Gun 8

Range Angle of Fall Striking Velocity

13,720 meters 11.5 degrees 526 meters per second

18,290 meters 18.2 degrees 476 meters per second

The shell’s path was an oblique one from port to starboard across Compartments XX and

XXI; the second, third, and fourth watertight compartments aft of the forward perpendicular

(XX, XXI, and XXII) were damaged by fragments caused by the passage of this heavy projectile

through the ship. The entry hole is above the Batteriedeck, while the exit hole, above that deck

or near that deck’s intersection with the side shell. The plating around the exit hole is bent

outward. The condition of the exit hole in the Bismarck’s starboard bow supports the judgment

that the shell passed through the ship without exploding 9 .

Compartments XX and XXI are roughly centered on the fore capstans, which correspond

perfectly to the exit hole. Since the exit hole was slightly above the waterline but was within the

bow wave, water flowed in and eventually flooded compartments on the Upper, Middle and

Lower Platform Decks. The ship’s trim down by the bow aggravated this problem. The reserve

oil tanks were located in way of the shell trajectory, but below the Middle Platform Deck. Hence

we believe that none of the reserve tanks were affected by this shell’s trajectory. If there was a

6 This is the Second Deck in the US Navy.

7 LT Gerhard Junack mentioned in correspondence with William Garzke that the shell passed through the

ship without exploding. We believe it may have detonated in the water adjacent to the ship.

8 John Campbell. Naval Weapons of World War Two. London: Conway Maritime Press, Ltd., 1985.

9 Admiral Lütjens reported this in a message after the battle was over.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

loss of fuel in this area of the ship, then it must have come from shell or ship fragments that

severed pipes to these tanks and damaged structure in the deck or platform over these tanks.

Such damage would mean that the shell may have exploded within the bow structure in the

vicinity of the exit hole (which appears unlikely) or more probably from fragments associated

with the shell’s passage through the ship.

It should be noted that when Bismarck refueled for this mission on 18 May, a fuel hose

broke. Since time was spent in cleaning up the spill, the reserve fuel oil tanks were probably the

last ones that would be filled. Inexplicably, Admiral Lütjens did not complete the refueling

evolution after the loss of time resulting from the parted fuel hose incident. Bismarck left

Gotenhafen (now Gdynia) with 200 tons of fuel less than full load capacity.

These reserve fuel tanks were intended for Bismarck’s consorts. The pump room for

them was located outside the armored citadel. In an emergency, of course, this fuel could have

been used by the battleship. To retrieve the oil in the reserve oil tanks, the Bismarck’s damage

control team devised a plan to run a refueling hose over the main deck to the forward tanks, so

the problem was isolation, not rupture of these tanks. Observers aboard Prinz Eugen reported oil

on both sides of Bismarck's wake. Some of the reserve oil tanks could have been holed by

fragments caused by this hit in the bow.

The damage in Compartment XXI was examined by LT Karl-Ludwig Richter, second engineer

officer of Damage Control Central. Richter noted that there was about a meter of water on the

Batteriedeck level 10 . The main bulkhead between Compartments XX and XXI and

Compartments XXI and XXII were holed and no longer watertight. A gaping hole about a meter

in diameter was torn in the ship's starboard hull and another hole of similar size was made in the

port side plating. This was confirmed by James Cameron’s survey. The 356-mm shell passed

through Compartments XXI and XXII, with fragments rupturing two emergency fuel tanks and

flooding the forward pump room, where manifolds to the fuel and ballast tanks were located.

Bismarck began to lose what little fuel remained in those forward tanks. The battleship now had

as much as 1,000 tons of seawater in her bow.

The question as to how much fuel oil was lost from this area of the ship has never been

determined. The reserve fuel tanks were located below the Middle Platform Deck with a pipe

tunnel running along the centerline of the ship to port. Was a fuel line, air vent piping, or

sounding tube severed? Did downflooding prevent access to valves, manifolds, or pumps used to

remove or stow fuel? Did downflooding in vent pipes, sounding tubes, or fill piping contaminate

the fuel? Another visit to the wreck to examine the inner spaces may resolve this enigma.

Counter-flooding voids, provided to allow counter-flooding to compensate for list and

trim due to damage below the waterline and resultant flooding, were filled to starboard,

according to information provided to author William Garzke by Seaman Josef Statz 11 .

10 From German Battleship Bismarck, Interrogation of Survivors, CB4051 (24), page 13. Although LT

Richter was not a survivor, several survivors who were damage control specialists recalled his report of

the damage in the bow.

11 Josef Statz, with relevant draftsman experience (Lübeck Shipyard) prior to his naval service, was

assigned to Damage Control Central, which was supervised by the Executive Officer, CDR Hans Oels.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

This depiction of the subdivision numbering scheme on Bismarck will help in visualizing and locating

the damage described in this paper.

ANOTHER DAMAGING HIT AMIDSHIPS ON THE PORT SIDE

Prince of Wales achieved another important hit, abeam of the forward superstructure. A

356-mm shell with an underwater trajectory penetrated the port side hull plating below the

termination of the armor belt and passed into the side protection system. The shell exploded near

the main transverse bulkhead between Compartments XIII and XIV, detonating with great force

against the 45-mm torpedo bulkhead outboard of Electrical Power Station No. 4. This detonation

also affected the watertight boundaries between that space and the adjacent port No. 2 Boiler

Room, as well as the inboard auxiliary boiler room inboard in Compartment XIV. Shell splinters

also passed into double bottom tanks and wing fuel bunkers in Compartment XIV, causing the

eventual flooding of those tanks and contaminating the feed water in the double bottom of

Compartment XIV. The damaged wing tank in Compartment XIV also began leaking oil into the

sea, as salt water gradually replaced those tanks’ contents. It is believed that the shell and

structural fragments did not reach the double bottom below Boiler Room No. 2.

British observers on the Prince of Wales saw a burst of black smoke come from the

Bismarck’s funnel at this time. Some German survivors recalled a slight shock response from

this hit.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

Two views of the exit hole for the key hit achieved by Prince of Wales during her engagement with

Bismarck. This hole is on the starboard side, just above the forward edge of the false bow wave.

This hole was below the bow wave created by the battleship at 28 knots, once the ship trimmed down

by the bow. After this damage and the hit in Compartment XIV, fuel trailed in the Bismarck’s wake.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

According to survivors, large cracks appeared in the welded seams in the outboard

strakes of the main transverse bulkhead, which was also the forward boundary of Port Boiler

Room No. 2 in Compartment XIII. Seawater seeped through these cracks and caused gradual

flooding of this boiler room. A damage-control team attempted to seal off these leaks with

hammocks, but their efforts only slowed the seepage. The boiler room was back in operation for

a short time. Boiler III was lighted, while Boiler IV was salt-contaminated and had to be shut

down because there was a real danger of saltwater intrusion into the feed water system. By midafternoon,

Boiler III also had to be shut down and the space was evacuated. Fuel from the

damaged wing tanks in Compartment XIV was leaking into the sea.

Soon after the action with Prince of Wales ended, a damage-control team attempted to

seal off the leaks in the 45-mm torpedo bulkhead on the portside in Compartment XIV with

hammocks and mating, but their efforts only slowed the seepage into the boiler room. Eventually

the boiler room was evacuated after the water became chest deep.

Steam from other boilers was rerouted to the turbine in the port engine room. Splinters

from the exploding shell also severed a main steam line in the No. 4 Turbo-Generator Room,

scalding five of its occupants and necessitating the shutdown of the generators. The Turbo-

Generator Room also flooded 12 . The loss of this electrical generating station was not serious,

because the power supply of German battleships was so conceived that either the forward or the

after station could supply the battle circuit load individually (i.e., the ship had 100% reserve

battle load power).

The bow flooding, coupled with the displacement of fuel oil in Compartment XIV and

subsequent flooding of spaces there, caused the battleship to trim 1.5 meters by the bow, with a

three-degree list to port not nine degrees previously estimated. These hits came around 0605

(after Hood had sunk). The combination of trim and list caused the starboard propeller blades to

break the water surface.

Soon after the action with Prince of Wales ended, a damage-control team attempted to

seal off the leaks in the 45-mm torpedo bulkhead on the portside in Compartment XIV with

hammocks and mating, but their efforts only slowed the seepage into the boiler room. Eventually

the water was chest deep. There was a real danger of saltwater intrusion into the feed water

system. The crew managed to get Port Boiler Room No. 2 temporarily back in operation. Boiler

III was back in service, although while Boiler IV was salt contaminated and had to be shut down.

By mid-afternoon, however, Boiler III also had to be shut down and the boiler room was

evacuated. Shell splinters also passed into double bottom tanks and wing fuel bunkers, causing

the eventual flooding of that tankage and contaminating the fuel.

These reserve fuel tanks were intended for Bismarck’s consorts. The pump room for

them was located outside the armored citadel. In an emergency, of course, this fuel could have

been used by the battleship. To retrieve the oil in the reserve oil tanks, the Bismarck’s damage

control team devised a plan to run a refueling hose over the main deck to the forward tanks, so

the problem was isolation, not rupture of these tanks. Some of the reserve oil tanks could have

been holed by fragments caused by this hit in the bow. Fuel leaking into the sea would have

flowed along the side of the ship, being mixed by the turbulence in the wake, convincing

observers aboard Prinz Eugen that there was oil on both sides of Bismarck's wake.

12 Midshipman Hans-Georg Stiegler, a naval constructor in training, was assigned to the electrical shop.

He recalled that this compartment was successfully dewatered the next day.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

ADMIRAL LÜTJENS’ DAMAGE REPORT TO NAVAL GROUP NORTH

Admiral Lütjens’ report to Naval Group North, based on damage assessments by

Bismarck’s damage control teams, is most revealing:

"Two heavy hits. One in Compartments XIII-XIV with the loss of electrical station 4; port

boiler room is taking water, which we can control. Second hit Compartment XX-XXI in

the forecastle. Shell entered port, exited starboard above armor deck. Third hit on a

boat, of no concern."

Most of the port list was due to the flooded No 4 turbo-generator room, the port No. 2

Boiler Room, fuel tanks outboard of these spaces, and some of the port counterflooding tanks in

Compartments XIII-XIV. Lütjens’ report about the shell hit forward that exited the starboard

side shell and the size of the hole would indicate that the shell did not explode within the ship.

However, its penetration through ship structure did create fragments that had sufficient energy to

penetrate through the deck structure to the port reserve fuel oil tanks and perhaps the pipe tunnel.

The starboard tanks were probably intact. What fuel was left in those tanks would have mixed

with seawater and because the exit hole was below the bow wave created by the ship’s forward

motion and trim the fuel/seawater mix would exit from the starboard and port side. The flooding

of the pipe tunnel and port fuel reserve tanks that were partially empty would also contribute to

the port list, which reached about 4.5 degrees.

What is significant is that two shells fired at a range of 15,000-16,000 meters by the 356mm

guns of Prince of Wales materially damaged Bismarck, leading to the eventual decision to

abort the Bismarck’s commerce-raiding mission. It would not be possible to conceal Bismarck’s

presence at sea with fuel leaking into the sea. This gunfire damage is important, because it

clearly documents the effectiveness of main armament-caliber plunging fire at long range. These

are the precise conditions of the earliest part of the final battle on 27 May, but most definitely

were not the situation during the latter part of that battle, when Rodney had moved to starboard

(firing at low angles of elevation at less than 3,700 meters) and King George V was also firing at

close range from port.

These two shell hits 13 achieved by Prince of Wales occurred about the time Hood

sustained her fatal damage, approximately 0600. Prince of Wales was about 16,000 meters

distant at the time, eventually closing to 14,500 meters. Angle of fall of both shells would have

been between 12-15 degrees. It is interesting that the descent angle was sufficient to allow one

shell which fell short to follow an underwater trajectory, being deflected and substantially

slowed by the water, to pass under the armor belt and enter the hull abeam of the bridge. It is

unlikely the latter projectile could have crossed the width of the Batteriedeck at that angle of fall,

unless it ricocheted off the deck before it exploded against the shell plating (a possibility). The

level of the exit hole for the forward shell hit, however, seems to correspond to Zwischendeck

level, not the Batteriedeck level.

After the engagement with Hood and Prince of Wales, the ship’s engineers suggested

slowing Bismarck and heeling the ship once to port and then to starboard and welding on steel

13 An analysis of the gunnery report of Prince of Wales and an extensive correspondence by William

Garzke with then-CDR Colin McMullen, the gunnery officer, and LCDR Arthur Skipwith, spotting

officer, confirms it was the Prince of Wales (not Hood) that achieved these two hits. Gunners on the new

British battleship had only two weeks of gunnery drills, NONE firing live rounds.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

patches over the entrance and exit holes to repair the damage at the bow. The plates to cover the

entrance and exit holes were cut and ready to install. This plan was rejected by Admiral Lütjens,

as it would involve slowing the ship and creating a list to port or starboard to permit the repairs.

From pictures, it appears the bow was down 1.5 to 2.5 meters, so one could anticipate a

commensurate rise at the stern. In fact, the underside of the stern was clear of the water in one

picture. Survivor accounts say the starboard screw was running with its blade tips out of the

water after the 24 May battle.

Captain Lindemann ordered the flooding of starboard voids in Compartments II and III in

the stern to restore trim and list, but it is unknown how effective this was. Presumably, trim was

not fully restored. Unfortunately, these counter flooding measures increased draft and decreased

the overall freeboard. This could have been a factor in later events, since a lower freeboard

meant less reserve buoyancy. A lower freeboard made it more difficult to hit below the main

side belt when firing at close range. Close-range gunfire is more likely to have shells ricochet off

the water surface, substantially reducing the likelihood of shells having an underwater trajectory.

THE CHASE ─ 24 May through 26 May 1941

Bismarck was hit by one torpedo dropped by a Swordfish torpedo bomber launched from

HMS Victorious the evening of 24 May. This contact detonation, on the starboard side in way of

the 320-mm main side belt armor was not a factor in the ultimate destruction of the German

This minor damage on the starboard side amidships was caused by an aerial torpedo the evening of 24

May 1941. The torpedo detonated against the 320-mm main side belt armor, failing to penetrate. The

gouges in the upper (145-mm) and main side belts are from hits by 203-mm or smaller caliber shells

that did not penetrate.

12


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

battleship. Minor flooding resulted, as the belt armor displaced inboard and damage control

packing in way of the shell hit in way of Compartments XIII and XIV was loosened.

Overnight, Bismarck broke contact with her British pursuers and headed for shelter and

major repair facilities at the Penhoet-Loire Shipyard in St. Nazaire, France. The heavy cruiser

Prinz Eugen was detached to continue the originally-planned commerce-raiding mission into the

Atlantic. After an interval of 31 hours, the German battleship was spotted by a British Catalina

aircraft, piloted by an American naval aviator, ENS Leonard B. (“Tuck”) Smith. 14

This sighting permitted aircraft from HMS Ark Royal to attack the German ship during

the evening of 26 May. If the Germans were not diverted from their course to France in the next

few hours, they would soon be within range of friendly shore-based aircraft and likely out of

danger, despite the best efforts of the men and ships of the Royal Navy.

At this time, the light cruiser Sheffield was shadowing the German ship. Fortunately, as

matters turned out, the Royal Navy aviators, unaware of the presence of the friendly cruiser,

attacked one of their own ships! This near-tragic incident was of enormous importance, since the

men on the cruiser reported that those torpedoes directed at their ship detonated prematurely. It

was judged that the magnetic-fused detonators fitted to the torpedoes were defective.

When a last-gasp attempt by Swordfish torpedo bombers to stop Bismarck was launched

later on the afternoon of the 26 th of May, more reliable contact fuses were installed. The

torpedoes were also set for a relatively shallow running depth, about three meters. This attach

was successful, scoring three torpedo hits. Two hits amidships caused relatively inconsequential

damage ─ minor inboard flooding was caused by a hit on the port side, in way of Compartment

VII. The detonation severed the degaussing system cable in the vicinity. The damaged cable

can be seen adjacent to the torpedo hole. A second hit on the starboard side in way of

Compartment VII caused some flooding, which was confined to the side protective system.

Unfortunately for the Germans, the third torpedo detonated in the stern near the starboard

rudder. This damage caused the instantaneous and devastating loss of steering control.

THE MORTAL TORPEDO HIT

Identification of torpedo hits was extremely difficult except for the mortal torpedo hit in

way of the rudders. It is very important to remember that water was frequently forced out by the

phenomenon of hydraulic outburst, discussed later in this paper, even where there were no preexisting

holes. We believe this phenomenon accounts for the majority of the damage to the

lower hull. Jim Cameron’s team clearly imaged an area on the port side where the lower hull

shell was detached from the main side belt and the plating forced outward, but the separation

attenuated to zero both forward and aft, and there was absolutely no evidence of torpedo or shell

damage in the vicinity, thus indicating the start of the hydraulic outburst process which was

stopped before the lower hull section completely detached. The forensic evidence at the wreck

site strongly supports the conclusion that any pre-existing torpedo or shell damage acted to stop

the propagation of cracks running along the joint between main side belt armor and the lower

hull shell, probably by acting as a relief valve to vent the overpressure. When a crack is running

in a piece of plexi-glass, for example, a hole is drilled ahead of the crack and that measure halts

the crack propagation at the hole. We believe what is seen on Bismarck is a similar mechanism

on a much larger scale. Almost all the damage that the team has seen from the May 2002 survey

14 As related by CAPT Leonard Smith (USN, Ret.) in correspondence with author William Garzke.

13


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

can be explained in this manner, including the explosion damage starboard in way of Turret

Dora. What is seen there is an outburst propagation which ended at a pre-existing torpedo hole.

There may be other, similar instances of this, but the evidence is masked by sediment.

Bismarck had a slight list to port before the Swordfish aircraft made their torpedo attacks

during the evening of 26 May. A review of the British airmen’s report of the attack is

inconclusive as to the number of torpedo hits or where they may have struck the battleship. As

has been mentioned earlier, German survivor testimony is rather conclusive that there were two

torpedo hits sustained amidships, one on either side 15 .

One of the last attacking planes reported Bismarck was in a port turn. Several survivors

(LCDR Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg, and Apprentice Seamen Bruno Rzonca and Georg

Herzog) observed two low-flying aircraft making their approach from starboard aft. With the

ship turning to port, the two aircraft made a turn toward Bismarck and dropped their torpedoes

very close to the stern 16 . They then over-flew Bismarck in their successful effort to escape.

Herzog noted that the 105-mm guns couldn’t depress their barrels low enough to engage the

aircraft as they approached 17 .

During the last torpedo attack that came from astern, two torpedoes quickly approached

Bismarck. One missed. The other torpedo continued on its fateful path toward the stern. There

are three plausible scenarios regarding the location of its detonation:

○ It exploded against the trailing edge of the starboard rudder.

○ It exploded to the starboard side of the centerline between the two rudders.

○ It exploded in the wake of centerline propeller.

We believe that this torpedo passed under the stern and that the wake from the propellers

forced it upwards against the underside of Bismarck’s stern plating, between the two rudders,

whereupon it exploded with tremendous force. Based on the nature of the damage to the hull, we

believe that the torpedo actually exploded to the starboard side of the centerline, destroying a

large amount of structure, including the structural support for the starboard rudder stock. The

venting force of the torpedo explosion was carried to the port side, causing the port rudder stock

to fail. None of the British airmen observed the characteristic water plume of an exploding

torpedo in the stern area. This is strong evidence that almost all of the force of the exploding

torpedo was vented against and into Bismarck’s overhanging stern structure.

The torpedo hit or exploded under the stern. Its explosion also caused the failure of a

large portion of the trailing edge of the starboard rudder (about 25-50% of the total rudder area).

The starboard rudder stock and the rudder itself were pushed forward and towards the centerline

15

This information was provided by Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg during a discussion aboard the

heavy cruiser Dorsetshire after his recovery, as related to authors William Garzke and Robert Dulin

during an interview in Annapolis, Maryland during September 1980. The Baron, an artillery specialist,

was the fourth gunnery officer on Bismarck, with a rank of LT. Seaman Josef Statz, who was assigned to

Damage Control Central, provided Mr. Garzke a detailed flooding diagram of the ship, further confirming

this information.

16

Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg in his book, Battleship Bismarck, A Survivor’s Story, commented

that the torpedo was dropped from only 20 meters astern. That estimate cannot be correct, for that short a

distance would not allow the torpedo to arm. Perhaps the distance was 200 meters.

17

The extreme motions of the ship in the sea way, coupled with the port list and the trim down by the

bow, may have contributed to this difficulty.

14


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

about 3 meters, causing the lower portion of the rudder’s leading edge to enter the turning circle

of the spinning center propeller.

The most interesting find during the 2002 Cameron Expedition was the damage sustained

by the center propeller. Only one of the three blades is visible, while the other two are buried in

sediment. The centerline propeller gouged the rudder repeatedly until finally there was no

contact. Striations were found in the forward and after edges of the exposed propeller blade.

These marks are consistent with repeated strikes of the rudder by the rotating propeller. The tips

of the three blades were damaged, and part of one blade was torn away. Most of one blade from

the centerline propeller was found embedded in the lower leading edge of what remains of the

starboard rudder. Whether the blades were bolted to the propeller hub or the propeller was a

one-piece manganese-bronze casting, we believe this blade fractured at the root of the blade near

the hub. The starboard rudder was found displaced forward of the plane of the centerline

propeller. This displacement occurred either during the explosion event, due to stern slamming

prior to the sinking, or during the sinking event. The broken propeller blade is now more than a

meter aft of the visible centerline propeller blade 18 .

This is a view of the starboard rudder and the centerline propeller, as seen from the port side

of the wreck. Note that one of the three blades of the centerline propeller is projecting above

the sediments below the remains of the rudder. Note the outer portion of its blade is chipped.

It must have taken quite a force to break off such a blade. We are not sure whether

Bismarck actually had single-piece propellers or propellers with removable blades. The drawing

set shows both types of installation. We suspect that Blohm and Voss put a hub with removable

18 All of these conclusions are based on stereoscopic HD imaging done from the Mir submersibles and on

an extremely close ROV survey done with the “JAKE” spiderbot ROV, both during the May 2002

expedition. The “JAKE” ROV was also piloted inside the steering gear room.

15


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

blades on first, with slotted bolt holes to allow the propeller to be adjusted slightly for maximum

efficiency, then once the best position was found from tests in the Baltic in the fall of 1940

manufactured and installed solid, one-piece propellers to replace the experimental ones.

In his recollection of leaving the center engine room after placing scuttling charges, LT

Gerhard Junack advised author Bill Garzke, Jochen Brennecke 19 , and Dr. Oscar Parkes 20 that he

left the engine room around 1010 with shining lights and a slowly turning shaft. For that shaft to

keep turning, either the coupling in the shafting was parted by the jamming of the rudder into the

center propeller, the keys holding the center propeller to the shaft failed in shear, or the propeller

was able to keep turning once the intact portions of the three blades were free of the rudder

structure.

Bismarck underwent an extensive stay in the Blohm & Voss Shipyard from December

1940 until March 5, 1941. We have seen no photographs taken of the propellers during that stay

views taken in July 1940 cannot answer the question as to what was fitted when the battleship

sortied for combat. It is very probable that single-piece propellers were fitted during that final

availability. The dramatic discovery of the embedded blade in the rudder gives a new insight

into the condition of the propellers and rudders at the time of the sinking of the battleship. Bolted

blades are used today in controllable pitch propellers in FFG-7 and DDG-51 class ships, with

hefty bolts.

Until the James Cameron May 2002 Expedition, the seriousness of damage to the rudders

was unknown. Photography of the underside of the hull revealed that the rudder stock for the

port rudder had fractured. Did the force of the torpedo explosion bend this rudder, which was

already canted outboard about 8 degrees, further to port causing it to contact the port propeller?

The answer to that question is “no”, because the port propeller shows no sign of damage. Did the

subsequent slamming of the hull in the heavy seas lead to the failure of the rudder stock through

the forces of accelerated fatigue? The answer can never be known with certainty.

In the meantime, the light cruiser Sheffield reported that Bismarck was heading to the

northeast at a slow speed. Sea conditions hampered the Sheffield’s efforts to determine the nature

of the damage caused by the torpedo attack. Due to her port turn, Bismarck closed range and

then opened fire with her 380-mm guns in a brief engagement. Before the cruiser could open the

range, Bismarck’s gunfire disabled Sheffield’s radar, caused minor fragment damage, and

inflicted several casualties. This incident reminded the British that the Bismarck remained a

formidable adversary, even if damaged and apparently unable to escape.

Captain Lindemann ordered the ship to be slowed so that assessment of the damage in the

stern could begin. He ordered two of his best damage control personnel, LT Gerhard Junack and

LTJG Hermann Giese, to the area to determine the nature of the damage and to commence the

needed temporary repairs. Their efforts had to be halted at times, as Admiral Lütjens, Captain

Lindemann, and CDR Oels wanted reports regarding the efforts to restore the steering function.

Oels also sent two divers to the area to determine what damage occurred in the steering gear

rooms. Lowering divers over the side was discussed, but sea conditions were causing the stern to

rise and fall with such force that an accurate inspection was impossible and might have caused

the death of the divers,as well. Attempts to steer the ship with the propellers were unsuccessful,

due to the position of the starboard rudder in the race of the center propeller. Bismarck was

doomed.

19 Schlachtschiffe Bismarck, Kohlers Verlag, 1960, page 361.

20 Dr. Oscar Parkes’ paper on Bismarck in the 1948 Transactions of the Royal Institution of Naval

Architects. Dr. Parkes did not name the source except as a survivor.

16


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The edge of the damaged starboard rudder is shown below the hull opening for the fractured

port rudder stock (arrow.)

The damaged starboard rudder with the embedded centerline propeller blade.

17


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

This drawing, showing the proximity of the centerline propeller to the two rudders, shows how it was

possible that the damaged rudder was forced into contact with the centerline propeller.

There was no mention of the center propeller being disabled in dialog with the Baron and

with LT Junack 21 , who were the senior surviving officers. Because of the rough sea conditions,

the Germans were unaware of the damage to the centerline propeller and the seriousness of the

rudder damage. They did hear or feel banging and vibration after the torpedo explosion. As

ordered by Captain Lindemann, LCDR Walter Lehmann, the battleship’s Chief Engineer 22 ,

varied the propeller rotations on the three shafts in an effort to counter the effects of what they

believed were jammed rudders.

LCDR Lehmann called each of the officers in charge of the three engine rooms and told

them to station a man at the forward throttle to the turbines, another at the throttle for the astern

turbine, and a standby in case of an emergency, instead of manning the engine controls in each of

the engine rooms. This procedure was followed to respond precisely to the commands that would

be given by Captain Lindemann from the bridge. According to LCDR von Müllenheim-

Rechberg:

21 Author Bill Garzke corresponded with CDR Junack from 1961-1975 and the Baron from 1965-1993.

Bob Dulin and Bill Garzke interviewed the Baron in Annapolis, Maryland in September 1980.

22 Although official USN terminology is “engineer officer,” “chief engineer” is the most common usage.

18


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

"The Bismarck's hull shook noticeably as Lindemann ordered various speeds and combinations

of propellers in an attempt to bring us back on course. The orders came down from the bridge in

rapid succession: 'Port engines half ahead, center and starboard engines stop' - 'Port and center

engines half ahead, starboard engines back slow' – ‘Port engines full ahead, starboard engines

stop.' ”

These orders were carried out in the machinery spaces in violation of all routine safety

procedures for waiting between "full ahead," “full astern,” or "all stop." It was a desperate effort

to bring the ship back on a course away from the enemy. Severe vibrations were noted,

particularly in the region of the center engine room. With the machinery space ventilation and

accesses closed due to a night engagement with the British destroyers, temperatures in the boiler

and engine rooms reached 50 o Centigrade 122° Fahrenheit with men in leather jackets! 23

Efforts to restore the steering continued until the divers realized that they could not

continue any damage repairs due to the swirling of water within the steering gear room. There

was some discussion of using explosives to sever the rudder shafts, but Captain Lindemann

would not allow this, as he felt it would cause damage the centerline propeller, which was

located very close to the rudders.

These efforts lasted for about 15 minutes until Captain Lindemann realized that any

further attempts to use the propellers for steering were futile. At one point, the ship would

respond and take a favorable heading, but in the next instant the rudder position and the wind and

sea conditions would turn the ship around to the northwest again. Such behavior in a seaway is

typical of a ship with no steering control. When Captain Lindemann tried variations in speed

and combinations of propellers in an attempt to resume a course to the southeast, the Bismarck’s

hull shook noticeably. It was unknown to the crew that this vibration was caused by the

damaged centerline propeller.

The lack of steering control caused the ship to head into the prevailing heavy seas,

leading to stern slamming that might have changed the damaged rudder’s position. Since the gas

bubble from the torpedo explosion was trapped under the stern and not free to vent to the water

surface, as it would be at the side of the ship, the force of the torpedo explosion caused a

sensation of lifting the stern. It also ripped a hole in the underside of the hull that allowed water

to enter the steering gear rooms. The foundation surrounding the starboard rudder stock was

very severely damaged. Since both the port and starboard rudder were cross-connected, the

steering machinery was mangled and the steering system was permanently disabled. The

position of the damaged starboard rudder in the wake of the center propeller kept the ship in a

port turn. Just after the torpedo hit occurred, the ship heeled violently to port. The sensation

from that heeling was such that some survivors thought she might capsize. LT Gerhard Junack,

who was in charge of the center engine room, reported that "floor plates in the center engine

were moved upward about 0.5 meters 24 . Welds failed. Water poured in through the port shaft

alley. The safety valve in the starboard engine room closed and the turbines were shut down or

slowed.”

23

The Baron interviewed LT Junack to obtain this information.

24

The vertical displacement of the floor plates may have been caused by the damaged out-of-balance

centerline propeller.

19


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The stormy night of 26-27, the battleship was harassed by a series of determined but

unsuccessful torpedo attacks by five destroyers. By day break on the following morning, most of

the Bismarck’s crew were physically and mentally exhausted. These men were confronted with

the likelihood of imminent death.

THE FINAL BATTLE ─ 27 May, 1941

Bismarck was making no more than 5 knots when the action started, unable to maneuver

or take evasive action. Later, she had no forward speed due to the prevailing sea conditions. For

her later salvos, Rodney closed from 18,000 to 3,700 meters, firing at virtually point-blank range

by naval gunnery standards. King George V eventually closed to less than 3,700 meters, as well.

The heavy sea conditions (20' swells or higher) affected gunnery accuracy, even at close range.

The 356-mm and 406-mm guns had malfunctions. King George V was especially plagued by

mechanical breakdowns of her heavy guns during the battle.

During the morning of 27 May, the battleships Rodney and King George V, accompanied

by heavy cruisers Dorsetshire and Norfolk, shelled Bismarck for a period of 92 minutes, firing a

total of 2,876 shells. (See Table 3.) The German battleship’s main battery gunfire control system

was disabled in the first few minutes of the gunnery engagement. All four 380-mm main battery

turrets were silenced in less than 45 minutes.

Table 3

British Shells Fired at the Bismarck (27 May 1941)

406-mm 356-mm 203-mm 152-mm 134-mm

King George V --- 339 --- --- 660

Rodney 380 --- --- 716 ---

Dorsetshire --- --- 254 --- ---

Norfolk --- --- 527 --- ---

There were hundreds of hits ranging from 134-mm to 406-mm in caliber. The

devastation caused by the shellfire combined with the effects of several torpedo hits to

overwhelm and defeat the Bismarck, causing the ship to begin sinking due to uncontrollable

progressive flooding. The German crew sped the inevitable demise of their ship by initiating

scuttling measures.

THE GUNNERY ENGAGEMENT ─ A DAMAGE ANALYSIS

There are several large shell entry holes that correspond to the 406-mm guns on Rodney

and the 356-mm guns on King George V. There are also many shell gouges on the 145-mm and

320-mm armor belts where 203-mm, 152-mm, and 134-mm shells hit and ricocheted off before

exploding, detonated without penetrating the armor, or were disarmed by their impact. There are

numerous entry holes about the diameters of the penetrating projectiles, varying from circular to

elongated ellipses, depending upon the angle of entry. There are approximately twenty holes

caused by the larger caliber shells. In a few cases, the explosion was at or just above deck level,

producing a large irregular hole and a depressed area in the deck structure.

20


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

DAMAGE HIGHLIGHTS

○ About 0859, one of Rodney’s 406-mm shells damaged Turret Bruno and blew off

pieces of armor from the turret back plate, killing almost all men in exposed portions on

the bridge. Another 406-mm projectile holed the fore bulkhead of the lower bridge.

○ At 0859, a 203-mm shell fired by Norfolk hit and disabled the forward fire-control

director. This certainly resulted in a disruption of the fire-control function and the deaths

of personnel there, including LCDR Adalbert Schneider, the gunnery officer.

○ Around 0900, several 406-mm shells struck in the vicinity of Turret Bruno. One

of these shells hit the upper course of 220-mm armor on the port side of this turret’s

barbette, creating a significant hole that can be seen on the wreck. The turret was trained

to port at the time, engaging Rodney. A chunk of 220-mm armor was thrust into the

barbette structure as the shell tore its way through the armor. There was a splinter screen

inside the barbette, which appears designed to absorb the fragments from just such

impacts. However, heavy shells which penetrated the barbette armor more-or-less intact

probably would easily pass through the fragment screen, exploding within the barbette

structure. There is every indication that this is what occurred in this instance. Pieces of

the shell or debris created a chip about 0.5 meters in length in the upper course of 220mm

armor on the far (starboard) side of the barbette. Other fragments probably found

their way to the powder magazine, where they caused powder canisters to ignite, along

with some charges within the hoists to the turret above. Since both turrets Anton and

Bruno were in action with Rodney at the time of this shell hit, the crew in the gun house

was busy loading shells and powder and canisters into the breeches of both guns. Pieces

from that shell’s detonation could have found their way into the turret’s inner spaces and

caused a fire or an explosion to occur there.

There is also the possibility that another 406-mm shell penetrated the turret

structure itself at the same time. That situation cannot be confirmed until a thorough

examination of Turret Bruno is made from its location on the side of the seamount, a

challenging task which may never be possible. It is known that the turret’s back plate was

blown off with pieces of that wreckage projected aft, killing all personnel in exposed

positions on the bridge. The pressure of burning powder and cartridges devastated Turret

Bruno, as the rear of the turret was uplifted and thrust forward. That massive pivoting

motion created a divot some one-meter in circumference in the inner forward portion of

the 220-mm armor plate. The turret magazines were flooded shortly thereafter to prevent

a catastrophic explosion. Turret Anton was also silenced around this time. The turret’s

guns ran down to maximum depression, probably due to the loss of hydraulic power.

○ Sometime during 0900-0915, a 203-mm shell from Norfolk struck the S61 turret

(forward starboard secondary turret) jamming its access hatch. The turret crew was

trapped and doomed.

○ About the same time, another 406-mm shell from Rodney hit the forward conning

tower. A series of 356-mm and 406-mm hits occurred in rapid sequence, killing many of

the men inside and chipping or holing the 350-mm armor 25 . The port door to the conning

tower is open on the seabed, with some apparent damage to its hinges.

25 Frequently, even non-penetrating hits can cause damage and casualties on the interior due to spalling,

with fragments of armor ricocheting around the interior. Another devastating phenomenon is the noise

caused as supersonic projectiles impact on the armor, much like being inside a huge bell as it is rung.

21


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

○ At 0913, a 356-mm shell hit the aft rangefinder over the secondary conning

position and carried away the cupola, optics, and rotating arms. The 2001 Expedition

found this cupola with a shell hole (356-mm) clean through.

○ At 0921, a 356-mm shell struck and exploded against the face plate of Turret

Caesar. There was no damage within the turret, but its left gun would not elevate. Shell

fragments from the shell’s detonation penetrated the Aufbaudeck and other decks below,

starting small fires that were easily extinguished. These penetrations are still visible in the

deck outside the barbette. The Turret Officer, LT Günter Brückner, was forced to halt

firing his guns. He turned to his gun crew and said, “Comrades, we have loved life. Now,

if nothing changes, we will die as good seamen. You may abandon this turret.”

○ Shells struck the forward port side 150-mm secondary turret (P62) and its

magazine, causing internal explosions that tore off the after portion of the roof armor

plate (80 mm) and riddled the adjacent superstructure with shell fragments and debris

from the turret.

○ At 0927, gun spotters aboard Norfolk observed a 356-mm shell hit near Turret

Anton. Firing range of the shell was estimated to be between 7,300 and 10,000 meters.

○ Sometime during 0930-0935 there was a probable shell hit on the upper main

battery director, which subsequently toppled over to port.

○ Around 0931, the right barrel 26 of Turret Dora burst. This probably occurred when

the turret crew fired the gun after it had been damaged by British shellfire. Petty Officer

Friedrich Helms, the gun captain, was able to fire two more rounds from the undamaged

left barrel. The hit on the barrel was likely from a 406-mm shell, because soon after the

bursting of the right gun, another shell hit the forward port quadrant of Turret Dora’s

220-mm barbette and exploded, making a hole in the surrounding deck and sending

splinters through the floor of the turret.

○ Between 0935-0940, LT Emil Jahreis and his party of four men from Damage

Control Central were killed by the explosion of a 203-mm shell when they tried to exit

the damaged conning tower on the starboard side the heavy armor door was damaged

but left open 27 . Capsizing to port later caused the door to close.

○ At 0940, several 406-mm shells fired from a range of 6,900 to 7,400 meters

caused a large explosion just abaft Turret Bruno. A large hole was made in the main deck

around the aft port segment of the barbette. A small fire also was reported in the turret.

○ Several shells struck the housing and boom for the port aircraft crane. All that is

left of this crane is a stud on the deck, around which the crane rotated. The boom of this

crane was torn into two pieces by a shell hit, and the sheave at the tip of the boom was

destroyed by a small caliber shell. The impact of these shells carried the part of the boom

forward against the port side of the fore command tower 28 . The wrecked boom now lies

on the seabed just outside the slide scar.

26

Turret and gun mount barrels are identified as “left” or “right” based on their positioning, as viewed

from inside the turret or mount looking towards the gun muzzles. This avoids confusion which can result

from identifying a gun based on its location to the port or starboard side of the ship, depending on the

direction to which the turret is pointing.

27

Seaman Statz reported the door being open when he was on the Bridge between 0945 and 1020. Statz

saw the five bodies there.

28

Observed by Seaman Statz as he swam astern of Bismarck prior to her capsizing.

22


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

○ Between 0950 and 1000, Rodney began her trek down the starboard side of

Bismarck at very close range, from 3,500 to 4,000 meters. There is evidence of several

406-mm shell hits on the battleship’s starboard side. One shell tore out the 145-mm

upper side belt abreast of Turret Anton. Another 406-mm projectile found its way into

the windlass room, tearing its way aft before detonating in a berthing space. Another

shell penetrated the upper side belt between Turrets Anton and Bruno, burrowing its way

below the 50-mm upper armor deck before exploding within. This explosion caused part

of the upper belt to be blown out part of the damaged 145-mm belt armor is

overhanging the 320-mm main side belt. The main side belt is angled slightly outward.

○ Around 1005, one of Rodney’s 406-mm shells struck and penetrated the main side

belt between 150-mm turrets S61 and S63. It is probable that this projectile exploded

within the ship, but this cannot be verified. One survivor recalled that a shell penetrated

into one of the starboard boiler rooms; his recollection was contradicted by other

survivors.

○ At 1003 a 406-mm shell struck the foredeck on the starboard side and proceeded

aft, exploding a crew compartment. It is not clear whether this shell or others caused the

ripping away of several starboard 145-mm upper armor belt plates near one the

breakwaters.

○ Around 1005, a 356- or 406-mm shell penetrated the bulwark and either

ricocheted off the 350-mm armor or passed overboard. Seaman Josef Statz and LTJG

Cardinal took shelter in the corner of the bridge wing under fallen comrades before

thishell struck. Fragments from that bulwark wounded Statz, despite the fact that he had

sought cover under dead comrades and was wearing a leather jacket.

○ A 406-mm shell, possibly in the same salvo, penetrated the Upper Bridge Deck

and ripped a path absolutely level across the deck for a distance of 7 meters, before

exploding. The point of explosion is indicated by a sudden widening of the previously

parallel sides of the shell path. The port side of the bridge was blown out by the violent

explosion. The ballistic effects of this 1,077-kilogram shell ripping across the deck are

quite graphic. Steel that is 10-12 mm thick has been cut open as if by a can opener and

rolled back into two absolutely parallel curls, After 7 meters of travel, the angle diverges

rapidly , and one can visualize the shell beginning its detonation. The epicenter of that

detonation traveled at almost 700 meters per second along the shell’s trajectory. This

damage indicates a shell fired from close range and maximum depression by Rodney after

she had circled to starboard and began firing from 3-4,000 meters away.

○ Seaman Statz witnessed the latter shell’s trajectory from a point on the starboard

side. He noted that there was a badly wounded officer, whom we have tentatively

identified as CAPT Netzbandt, Admiral Lütjens’ chief staff officer, who might have been

taking in the scene from a position on the port side of the bridge. This shell probably

struck and killed him in its trajectory across the deck.

○ Another heavy hit occurred on the port side of the Upper Bridge Deck. The shell

penetrated the bulwark and exploded against the port 350-mm armor door of the forward

conning tower. The resulting explosion damaged this door and its hinges. The nature of

this damage is sufficient to conclude that this was a 406-mm shell hit. The impact on the

port side suggests that it may have occurred as early as 0902 just after the hit on Turret

Bruno. It is impossible to judge the trajectory angle (plunging or flat). This could have

been the shell that killed the Gunnery Officer, LCDR Adalbert Schneider, and resulted in

23


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg taking command of the aft turrets. LTJG Friedrich

Cardinal, in the Forward Gun Computing Station, telephoned the Baron at about this time

to inform him that he should take control of the gunfire, since Schneider was not

answering his calls.

There is the possibility that this same round also killed or incapacitated Admiral

Günther Lütjens and Captain Ernst Lindemann 29 . There was an interior bulkhead within

the forward conning tower that may have provided some shielding, but if this projectile’s

fragments made it inside the conning tower, there is the likelihood that everyone in there

was killed or severely wounded. CAPT Netzbandt is known to have made it out of that

position, so severely wounded that he propped himself against the port bulwark only to

be the victim of another 406-mm shell.

○ A shell of unknown size brought down the foremast about 0940-1000.

○ Some time after 1005, as Rodney fell astern of Bismarck, two 406-mm shell hits

occurred in Compartment IV, damaging access ladders. One shell penetrated the

starboard aft quadrant of the barbette for Turret Dora. Red hot shell splinters started a fire

in the lower platforms of the turret. The shell’s explosion hurled the hatch to the

magazines high into the air. Machinist Mate Helms and others standing near Turret Dora

suffered serious burns to their faces and hands in the aftermath of the shell’s explosion.

Turret Dora was disabled by 406-mm shell fire, including this damage on the fore port side of the

barbette. Note the armor penetration and the blast damage to the deck structure.

29 In a letter interview with the senior surviving officer, Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg, Author Bill

Garzke mentioned the nature of damage to the Forward Conning Tower. The Baron conceded that it in all

likelihood Captain Lindemann perished during the early phases of the battle.

24


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The fore bridge tower was the natural center of aim for the British gunners. This view from the

starboard side offers stark evidence of the effects of this concentrated fire. There were no survivors

who had battle stations inside the conning tower structure.

Chief Warrant Officer (Machinist) Wilhelm Schmidt, in charge of Damage Control Team

No. 1, quickly flooded the turret’s magazines to prevent a catastrophic magazine

explosion 30 .

○ Around 1005-1010, a 356-mm shell penetrated the 145-mm upper splinter belt in

Compartment VII on the port side. Its trajectory carried it forward through a main

transverse bulkhead to Compartment VIII and exploded just above deck level outside the

Aft Canteen, where 200 men had assembled to make their escape to the main deck. Over

a hundred of these men were killed, including the executive officer, CDR Hans Oels.

○ King George V resumed fire at 1018, hitting Bismarck's turret Bruno, bridge, and

conning tower. Fire ignited in a pyrotechnic locker. This British battleship ceased fire at

1021.

o It appears that one 203-mm shell from either Norfolk or Dorsetshire penetrated or

became lodged in the 145-mm upper citadel belt abreast of Turret 63 (starboard). The

projectile exploded, however, causing a fire in this turrets’ magazine.

o There are a number of gouges and splashes in the upper and lower armor belts from

203-, 152-, andr 134-mm shells.

30 Evidence from Chief Warrant Officer Schmidt in correspondence with author Bill Garzke.

25


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

THE STERN FRACTURE

Survivors, including Seaman Statz, recalled the sight of the battleship capsizing to port

and beginning her plunge to the sea bed. As the Bismarck capsized, her heavily-damaged stern

structure was still in place. Early in the ship’s plunge to the sea floor, the stern structure failed

and separated from the hull structure. The design of the stern structures of German heavy ships

was flawed, as shown by several instances of ships experiencing dramatic structure failures after

sustaining torpedo or mine damage.

We are convinced that stern end (Compartment I) was torn away during the initial plunge

of the ship by hydrodynamic forces after being weakened along the seam that joined much

thicker plate with thinner ones. This flaw in the design created a structural discontinuity just aft

of the aft armored bulkhead of the steering gear room. Cumulative forces from fatigue from stern

slamming, the mortal torpedo hit that occurred a few meters from where the stern detached, and

damage from shells exploding within Compartment I, particularly a late 406-mm shell hit that

tore away a large piece of plate caused the stern end to break away as the ship rolled on her side

to port and began her plunge stern first. That structural discontinuity was recognized by German

naval constructors after Prinz Eugen was torpedoed in the stern in February 1942.

The Bismarck stern break, in line with the armored bulkhead at the after end of the steering gear

room, occurred after the ship capsized and began plunging to the sea bed.

26


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

Gunfire and torpedo damage weakened the stern structure, which was susceptible to failure due to a

defective structural design a major hull structural discontinuity at the after end of the steering gear

room as shown to the right. After the Bismarck capsized and sank, the structure failed along this

line, leaving this dramatic view.

GUNFIRE DAMAGE SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS

An internal examination of some areas of the ship was accomplished by miniature ROVs

Jake and Elwood. They surveyed inside the holes in the Upper Bridge Deck and the holes in the

deck over the Adjutant’s Office. One of the ROVs also entered the large shell hole in the main

deck just aft and to port of the barbette for Turret Bruno (Compartment XV). This was a berthing

space being used as an emergency hospital. Two hundred men were trapped here, below jammed

hatches that had heavy wreckage lying over them. They were killed by the shell that detonated

here. The space was unrecognizable just a jumble of debris.

A large shell hole in the main deck over the Adjutant’s Office just inboard of S63

secondary turret was explored twice. This hole was 0.6 by 1.0 meters and very irregular. This

penetration was caused by either a 406-mm or 203-mm shell which detonated right at or just

above the deck level. Inside the office, the damage was profound, but desks were visible against

a wall some three meters away, still intact. Door openings and non-structural bulkheads were still

intact some 3-4 meters away. This situation suggests that the explosion took place outside, but

penetrated the 50-mm deck plate with a consequent reduction of its blast effects. This suggests

that this was a 203-mm high-explosive shell.

A single shell hole was detected in the 145-mm upper citadel belt in way of Compartment

VII to port. This elliptical hole was caused by a 356-mm shell from King George V that was fired

from the close range of 3,700 meters. The shell’s trajectory carried it through a main transverse

bulkhead and the Batteriedeck whereupon it exploded just below the deck level in Compartment

VIII. This was the round that killed CDR Hans Oels, who was leading some 100-200 men trying

to lead an escape to the topside at an access ladder outside the Aft Canteen. This access ladder

led to a hatch on the main deck in Compartment VIII. Most of the men in this area were killed or

seriously wounded by the shell burst. The blast effect was devastating. The detonation created an

overpressure that knocked survivor Seaman Heinz Steeg on his behind, some 7 meters away.

Steeg still managed to reach the safety of the port side just after the shelling ceased.

27


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

There is a 2 to 3 meter hole in the main deck at the port forward quadrant of Turret Dora.

The shell exploded about 0.7 meters above the main deck and the nose of the shell created a hole

in the 220-mm barbette armor at the deck’s intersection with the barbette. The hole is very

irregular and the deck plating is curled inward. The teak deck around the barbette is missing,

blown off the steel deck by concussion effects. The shell’s explosion or its fragments bent the

rim of port quarterdeck hatch. The rim was bent enough to prevent its opening from within.

It is known that bags of potatoes and life rafts were stored under the aft overhang of

Turret Dora. According to surviving Seaman Apprentice Manthey, some men tried to find cover

there and were certainly killed by the fragments of this shell that also sent shell splinters into

Turret Dora, starting a fire there. The paint on the port side of the turret was scorched from the

fire in the teak deck on the forward port quadrant of the barbette.

The hole in the rim of the barbette is a mystery. It would appear that the shell came from

the forward quadrant, perhaps when King George V or Rodney were making their way northward

on Bismarck’s port side between 0930-0950. Since King George V was having problems with her

356-mm guns around this time, it is likely that the shell was 406-mm and approached with a flat

trajectory. The bent or curled main deck plate indicates that the shell exploded at or just after its

moment of impact with the 220-mm barbette armor.

This may have occurred in two ways:

o If the shell had no fuse delay, it would have struck the barbette and exploded

while the hardened cap of the shell was dislodging a large chunk of armor on the

rim of the barbette.

o If the shell struck something first in its trajectory toward the barbette, the fuse

might have been triggered and in the process of detonating when the projectile hit

the barbette armor. Since Turret Dora had been aimed to port at this time to

engage King George V, then the shell may also have hit one of the gun barrels

about 7 to 8 meters before it struck the barbette armor. It is known that one of

Turret Dora’s guns was damaged by a shell impact and one of its rounds later

exploded within the barrel, splitting it like a “banana peel” Confirmed by

correspondence with the Baron and also by the gunnery report of King George V.

This shell’s explosion was probably responsible for killing or wounding a number of

Bismarck crew members using this area as a battle dressing station and attempting to escape

from the carnage. Survivor Steeg noted a number of persons lying on the deck, gruesomely

wounded. Anyone standing in the vicinity of Turret Dora would have been thrust against the

barbette of Turret Caesar by the blast. Steeg recounted that he saw body parts and dead or dying

men at the base of the barbette for this turret. This is where he gave a cigarette to a dying friend.

The bulk of Turret Dora would have protected men on the starboard or lee side, where many men

were attempting an escape.

AFTER THE MAIN BATTERY WAS SILENCED

It would seem that the sequence of events after the main guns had fallen silent was this:

○ With the bridge personnel no longer responding after 0920, CDR Hans Oels, the

executive officer, took command of the ship and decided to issue an order to

abandon and scuttle the ship when he left the Damage Control Central around

0930.

28


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

○ Around 0930 LT Emil Jahreis, with a party of four men, left Damage Control

Central to pass the scuttling and abandon ship orders to topside positions. They

went up the access (or communication) tube to the forward conning tower.

○ Around 1000, men started coming up on deck through the port quarterdeck hatch

in Compartment VIII. CDR Oels reached as far aft as Compartment VII in his

quest to relay the scuttling order.

○ Coming forward to Compartment VIII and seeing the mass chaos, CDR Oels

ordered these men to follow him up an escape ladder to the main deck. A huge

crowd formed, with the single-file ladder as a choke point. As many as 300 men

crowded the Batteriedeck there. Oels yelled at the men to step aside and plunged

into the crowd.

○ Just after CDR Oels arrived, a 356-mm shell passed through the 145-mm upper

citadel belt, a main transverse bulkhead, and the 50-mm main deck before

exploding just aft of the Aft Canteen, where Oels was organizing an escape

attempt. Most of the men in this area were killed, including CDR Oels.

○ In the meantime, a crowd of men formed on the quarterdeck, both to port and to

starboard, hoping to escape from the seriously damaged ship.

When Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg left the secondary conning station through the

starboard door, he went forward on the Deckhouse Deck toward the searchlight control station.

The searchlights had been shot away and their control station no longer existed. The antiaircraft

guns that had once surrounded the secondary conning station no longer existed or were reduced

to unrecognizable rubble. The deck, on which he was standing and those below, was littered with

torn plates or pieces of equipment or gun mounts. Looking forward through a whitish haze that

extended to the forward superstructure, he noticed that the decks there were still intact and men

were trying to find their way down to the main deck. Access ladders probably had been damaged

or shot away that hindered descent. The funnel had been holed by shell splinters or direct hits.

A low-lying fog-like smoke cloud had formed between the shell-riddled funnel and the

after superstructure, originating from severed uptakes within the funnel itself and fires raging in

the vicinity of the funnel. Returning briefly to the secondary conning station, von Müllenheim-

Rechberg went down to the main deck, past Turret Caesar trained toward the port bow with its

barrels in an elevated position. The Baron had to climb over debris and avoid shell holes in the

decks. He noticed the body of one of Admiral Lütjens’ staff officers, who had apparently left his

battle station before the shellfire had ceased.

Arriving on the main deck, the Baron noted the blackened port side of Turret Dora, with

its left gun barrel shredded like a peeled banana. Turret Caesar, with its light gray paint,

exhibited no damage except that its guns were at a high elevation. A 356-mm shell from King

George V had hit its face plate and detonated, sending shell splinters onto the deck below. That

hit disabled the turret’s two guns. Groups of men were waiting to jump into the sea. He also

noticed Rodney at 2,500 meters away with her nine 406-mm guns still pointed in his direction.

There are a large number of smaller entry holes in the hull shell plating and

superstructure. These correspond in diameter to medium-caliber projectiles (140-mm, 152-mm,

and 203-mm). An initial estimate is that there are perhaps 100 to 200 of these. Some 2,876 shells

were fired, but only about ten percent hit. With Bismarck low in the water and the British ships

closing the range, their guns were firing at minimum elevation. Many of these shells impacted

the water surface in front of their intended target and then either detonated prematurely or

29


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

ricocheted, striking the ship or passing harmlessly over. Accuracy does not seem to have been all

that impressive, given the close range for most of the engagement.

This sketch depicts the battered DKM Bismarck shortly before the ship capsized and sank, about 1040

on the morning of 27 May 1941. (Courtesy Steve Smith)

It is significant to note that Jim Cameron’s complete survey of the hull detected only two

instances where armor-piercing shells actually penetrated all the way through the 320-mm main

side belt armor. These are both on the starboard side amidships, presumably caused by 406-mm

shellfire, since Rodney was firing from that side sometime during 0950-1010 at very close range.

One hole forward of the 320-mm displaced armor belt is an obvious penetration. The second is

rather unusual, with a rectangular hole at the end of an armor plate. The shell possibly caused a

failure of the armor, freeing a rectangular segment of the 320-mm armor, rather thgan the

classical conic-frustum cartwheel shape. In addition, there are two holes through the upper side

belt (145-mm) between the main belt armor and the gunwale. One of these is a previouslydiscussed

hole on the port side adjacent to turret Caesar (a 356-mm round from King George V).

After 1000, when the survivors were leaving the machinery spaces, the generator rooms

were still functioning. The passageways were mostly clear. Enlisted survivors Walter Weintz,

Karl August Schuldt, and Heinz Steeg did not remember seeing water until they got above the

armor deck. Mr. Statz, whose position was in Damage Control Central below the armor deck,

recalled encountering water when he attempted to enter a space aft of DC Central in

Compartment XIV around 0930.

Gunnery of mediocre accuracy, coupled with Bismarck’s armor scheme designed for

close-in engagements in the North Sea, resulted in a relatively drawn-out gunnery engagement,

much the opposite of the brief engagement and destruction of Hood three days earlier.

ROYAL NAVY GUNNERY EFFECTIVENESS

The battered, defenseless Bismarck must have seemed amazingly resilient to the British

as they poured shell after shell into her. It is a tribute to her designers that the ship survived as

long as it did. Tragically, ironically, the resultant protracted sinking process meant a hellish

ordeal for many of the crew of the stricken battleship, with many suffering agonizing deaths.

Eventually, some 700 to 800 men escaped into the cold, cruel North Atlantic. Slightly more than

30


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

a hundred of these sailors were rescued, almost all by Royal Navy ships 31 . The British broke off

rescue operations when a submarine contact was suspected.

A thorough bow to stem and gunwale-to-mudline survey of the hull in high definition

video and by visual inspection revealed only two hits which penetrated all the way through the

main side belt armor. This is an astounding result, given the number of large caliber shells (719)

fired at Bismarck from 0847 until 1014.

On the 320-mm main side belt and on the 145-mm upper belt above the level of the

Batteriedeck level, there are a very large number of "splash" and gouge marks with spray

patterns of smaller splinter impacts. Most if not all of these are hits from secondary guns, and

none penetrated the armor. This vindicated the purpose of the upper belt, which was designed to

prevent penetration by anything other than shells fired by battleship main battery guns, typically

from 283-mm to 406-mm caliber.

Long-range plunging fire was almost completely responsible for the damage inflicted by

the British gunfire in the final battle that directly contributed to the sinking of Bismarck.

Torpedoes launched during the final battle were almost completely ineffective in the effort to

sink the ship. There is also the likelihood that some of the claimed hits were torpedoes that

exploded prematurely due to the heavy seas. The close-range shelling that took place from 0930

to 1014 was largely ineffective in damaging the vitals of the ship.

One of the two instances of known full penetration of the 320-mm main side belt armor. This is

amidships on the starboard side.

It is important to distinguish between damage to the superstructure and the two deck

levels above the armor deck, which was severe, but would not have contributed significantly to

the sinking process. Damage inflicted below the armor deck and below the side armor and

31 The heavy cruiser Dorsetshire rescued 85 (one of these died of his injuries on 28 May), the destroyer

Maori saved 25, the German submarine U-74 rescued 3, and another 2 were rescued by the German

weather trawler Sachsenwald. No survivors had been stationed in the forward superstructure.

31


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

through the torpedo bulkhead would have contributed to sinking the Bismarck. This is an

important distinction. It is also important to note that a 356-mm shell fired at long range from

Prince of Wales, falling short and striking below the main side belt, was able to damage the

torpedo bulkhead enough to cause flooding beyond the side protective system.

Each of the six 150-mm secondary turrets aboard Bismarck has been observed to have

sustained at least one direct hit, mostly achieved by the 134- and 152-mm batteries on the

battleships and the 203-mm guns on the heavy cruisers. We believe these hits were the results of

the random dispersion of salvo fire, with accurate fire inhibited by the Sea State Six conditions

and the heat of battle. This was certainly be the case on the starboard side, where Norfolk and

Dorsetshire expended 781 203-mm shells.

The British gunnery accuracy was mediocre at best. This certainly drew the attention of

Admiral Tovey aboard King George V, when he noticed at 0930 that Bismarck was still afloat

despite the pounding she was taking. He told CAPT Patterson, “Get closer; I do not see enough

hits.” Some 2,000 medium-caliber shells were fired and only about 10% of them hit Bismarck (a

large, barely moving target usually only a few miles away,)

During the morning battle of 24 May, the Prince of Wales’ gunnery had been rather

effective, despite the fact that the battleship’s turret crews were very inexperienced 32 . The Prince

of Wales had been in service only three weeks before being dispatched to fight Bismarck. Her

356-mm shell hits were achieved during a very short engagement. Two of these hits changed

history, causing Bismarck to slow down with a bow-down trim. This damage allowed Victorious

to get within range to make her air attack later in the day. Later in the day, Admiral Lütjens

changed his plans, turning Bismarck to head for France for battle damage repairs. Days later,

Bismarck would encounter aircraft with more experienced aviators launched by Ark Royal.

Prince of Wales and King George V each had ten 356-mm guns that fired shells weighing

721 kilograms. Hood had eight 381-mm guns firing shells weighing 879 kilograms. The Rodney,

was armed with the largest guns in the Royal Navy, nine 406-mm guns that could fire 929kilogram

shells. The heavy cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire were armed with 203-mm guns that

fired a 116-kilogram shell. The cruiser guns were vastly inferior in power to the 406-mm guns,

with their shells having a kinetic energy only about 15 per cent of that of the larger shells. The

burster charges of the two shells differed similarly.

The inevitable sinking process was accelerated by the detonation of scuttling charges by

the Germans. (This is our conviction, albeit a mildly controversial one for those who insist that

there was no scuttling of the German battleship. Certainly, Bismarck would have sunk even if not

scuttled by her crew. 33 )

TORPEDO DAMAGE DURING THE FINAL BATTLE

Two large sections of the lower side and bottom shell structure below the armor belt on

the starboard are missing from the main hull. Unique hydraulic outburst phenomena, described

later in this paper, separated this plating from the ship on impact with the sea bed. The aft end of

one long hole created by hydraulic outburst, on the starboard side aft, shows evidence of

probable torpedo damage. It is unclear if the torpedo may have weakened the shell structure and

contributed to the outburst effect, of if the effect occurred without prior weakening, and was in

32 Prince of Wales was completed on 31 March 1941, less than two months before her engagement with

Bismarck. The German battleship was completed on 24 August 1940.

33 Bismarck had prize crew personnel with associated scuttling charge equipment on board.

32


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

fact halted from propagating by the pre-existing battle damage. There is some evidence

supporting the latter scenario.

As many as five torpedo hits on Bismarck were claimed during the final engagement on

27 May 1941. None of these had any consequential effect on the outcome of the engagement,

although they may have contributed to the massive destruction (aggravated by hydraulic

outburst) that has been observed on the sea bed:

○ Dorsetshire ─ Two hits claimed on the starboard side, at the turn of the bilge,

locations unknown. One of these hits may have been in the vicinity of the middle

150-mm turret on the starboard side, as observers on Dorsetshire claimed a hit

amidships. As the wreck of Bismarck plummeted down the seamount on the sea

bed, hull structure weakened by battle damage primarily torpedo hits but also

gunfire damage ripped away. This makes the confirmation and localization of

torpedo damage over much of the hull structure impossible.

○ Dorsetshire ─ A hit on the port side, as Bismarck was beginning to capsize. This

torpedo struck on the port side abreast of the fore bridge tower, just forward of

turret 62. This torpedo ran onto or slightly above the main deck, probably

detonating among the debris from the gunnery engagement. This may account for

the damage to the boomof the port aircraft and boat crane.

○ Rodney ─ A claimed torpedo hit on the starboard side, in way of Turret Bruno.

There was no visible evidence of this torpedo hit, but the mud line is fairly high in

way of Turret Bruno. If this hit occurred around 1000 as reported, it may have

struck below the bilge keel.

○ Norfolk ─ A possible hit was observed on the starboard side aft in way of the after

main battery turrets.

There is evidence of a possible torpedo hit on the starboard side aft in way of the after

main battery turrets. A large flap of hull plating, bent outward and aft, may be physical evidence

of this torpedo hit. The inner tank wall is holed in a manner consistent with a torpedo explosion,

but just inboard from it the torpedo bulkhead is intact. Forward, the unaffected tank wall is

vertically compressed, evidence of the ship’s powerful impact with the sea bed. It is impossible

to determine with certainty if this is a torpedo hit because of the enormous influence of the

hydraulic outburst that took place when the ship hit the seabed. The excretion of entrained water

through damaged structure can enlarge the original damage, and can create profound damage

even in previously undamaged sections. However, this aft starboard hole seems to be our most

unequivocal example of torpedo damage.

One of the great challenges confronting a marine forensics analyst on analyzing a ship

wreck is evaluating observed damage on the sea bed determining what occurred on the surface

that caused the ship to sink as opposed to damage caused during the sinking process, including

the impact with the sea bed. In the case of Bismarck, the structural damage to the ship caused by

impact was significantly greater than the battle damage. Impact effects, and subsequent events,

such as the slide down the slope, must be clearly understood in order to accurately subtract them

from the total damage in order to confirm the battle damage.

33


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

SOME OBSERVATIONS

Bismarck's sinking was a brutal, up-close action. Admiral Tovey wanted to sink Bismarck

with the gunfire at his disposal. Swordfish aircraft with torpedoes were in the vicinity but were

not called upon to enter the action. Point-blank fire was relatively ineffective, with many shells

skipping off the water and riddling the superstructure pointlessly, or missing entirely because of

the low freeboard. At short ranges, the salvo dispersion pattern was narrower and more

elongated. Since both British battleships were firing almost straight abeam Bismarck, on either

side, they were trying to hit a target with very little freeboard in a high sea state. These miserable

conditions violent seas and marginal visibility made good gunnery accuracy an “iffy”

prospect, at best.

Unless the shells hit below the armor belt, very unlikely at such close ranges because of

protective effect of water with such flat trajectories, they were not going to cause damage that

would sink the ship.

As a result of the port list, by the end of the gunnery engagement, the lower edge of the

armor belt on the port side may have been submerged some 7-8 meters below the water (perhaps

two deck heights) much more than normal. In a sense, the port list contributed to protecting the

port side of the damaged ship from gunfire, every degree of added list decreasing the

vulnerability of many vital compartments.

By 0945; it was becoming obvious that British shellfire was not contributing to sinking

the ship. The two battleships and two heavy cruisers had fired away for the last hour without any

apparent effect. Shellfire had riddled the stack structure, swept away searchlights, demolished

the antiaircraft batteries, pummeled the superstructure, carried away hose reels and fire

extinguishers, and destroyed the teak deck in areas. Crew members who were in exposed areas

were killed or severely wounded. Close-range gunnery later in the engagement devastated

Bismarck’s superstructure and the parts of the hull structure above the waterline, overwhelming

and defeating the ship and causing massive casualties, but not speeding the sinking of the ship.

Bismarck was overwhelmed and defeated by the gunfire and torpedoes of the Royal

Navy, gradually sinking due to uncontrollable progressive flooding. Scuttling charges were

detonated shortly after 1020, and the battered ship listed heavily to port around 1035. Shortly

thereafter, the ship capsized to port and sank by the stern, her bow disappearing around 1040.

THE WRECK

The hulk of Bismarck is lying upright, with its bow facing West across the slope of an

extinct volcano on a heading between 250-290°. The bow-first impact caused an enormous

disturbance to the terrain, including an impact crater where the bow first hit, and an impact

trough where the hull slammed down moments later, both of which are surrounded by ejecta.

The hull immediately slid South down the seamount stern first, gouging a deep slide scar which

widened as the hull turned broadside to the slope and continued to slide at a slight bow-first

angle. In this broadside area the slide scar is shallower and more chaotic. Down slope, beyond

the wreck, there is a huge alluvial fan of sediment and debris. The wreck caused a terrestrial

avalanche on the seabed which was exacerbated by a powerful turbidity flow.

During her plunge through the water column, Bismarck planed north, transiting about 500

meters horizontally to the North from her sinking position on the surface. She struck the side of a

34


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

seamount (extinct volcano) and subsequently slid down its slope for a distance of 1,000 meters.

During that slide, she passed directly across Ground Zero (directly beneath the epicenter of the

sinking where Bismarck left the surface.) This is significant, because heavier debris, such as the

four main battery turrets, fell more directly to the seafloor without planning, which put them in

the path of the ship as it slid downhill. Bismarck slid through part of her own debris field. This

caused the displacement of Turret Bruno and the forward command tower and the burial of other

parts of the ship that had fallen into the sea during the capsizing process.

Bismarck slid one kilometer down the slope, accompanied and partially propelled by a

powerful turbidity flow and avanlanche of disturbed sediment. The avalanche/turbidity flow was

induced by the impact and slide of the ship, and also by the continued downward flow of the

entrained water flow-field created above the ship as it sank through the water column.

The four main battery turrets landed upside down with their gunhouses buried in the

sediment, and their substructures exposed in varying degrees. Minutes later the sliding hull came

through the debris field, missing Turrets Caesar and Dora, which lie only meters west of the slide

scar, but impacting Turrets Anton and Bruno. Turret Bruno was pushed downhill and came to

rest approximately 200 meters south of Bismarck’s bow. This turret can be identified by the fact

that the rear of the turret is missing, as had been reported by Seaman Josef Statz to author

William Garzke. The gunnery reports of both Rodney and King George V attest to heavy damage

to this turret during the course of the battle on 27 May. The other three turrets are located about

350 meters north of the wreck, two just west of the slide scar and what is probably Turret Anton

just inside the scar, to the east. Anton shows clear evidence that the ship actually slid right over

it, removing the turret’s substructure and jamming it into a rock outcropping, leaving behind a

large piece of red bottom shell plating wrapped around the turret. Extrapolating Turret Bruno

north to its original impact position yields a clear pattern. All four turrets landed in an east-west

line, in the same order and spacing as they were on the ship. Very little planning took place on

descent, despite a fall of 5,000 meters through the water column. From this the ship’s heading

and position at the exact moment she capsized can actually be confirmed.

The main hull is upright with no discernible list or trim. Examination of the hull revealed

that there was not any visible longitudinal bending of the hull. There is some localized buckling

of the hull and armor plates abeam the Turret Bruno barbette, particularly on the starboard side.

This buckling was likely caused at the first moment of impact, as the bending moment pushed

the bow up relative to the longitudinal axis of the ship. Moments later, as the ship settled, this

bending moment reversed itself, leaving a buckled region but no permanent bending of the hull.

This same effect is prominently visible at the Titanic wreck.

The upper citadel (145 mm) and lower (320 mm) main side belts show evidence of shell

hits, with two penetrations in each. The decks and remaining superstructure are covered with

rubble and fine-particle sediment that was stirred up during the hull’s slide and subsequent

settlement.

All six 150-mm secondary turrets remain in their barbettes, with all their guns in place.

Turret 62 34 has the back portion of its 80-mm armor roof missing. All secondary turrets exhibit

shell hits from 134-, 152-, and 203-mm shells. Some of these are non-penetrating hits, but there

34 The 150-mm (about 6-inch) secondary turrets have been identified in this paper by a two-digit number,

such as 62. The “6” denotes the gun caliber, while the second number locates the turret. Odd numbers are

to starboard and even ones are port locations, with the lower numbers being forward.

35


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

is a shell penetration in each turret, with the starboard side turrets damaged by 203-mm hits from

either Norfolk or Dorsetshire. The penetrations to port were likely caused by 152-mm shells

from Rodney.

Bismarck’s antiaircraft batteries were devastated during this engagement. The 105-mm

antiaircraft gun mounts were heavily damaged, although seven of the gun carriages still exist.

One port 105-mm mount, forward, was completely obliterated, apparently from direct hits from a

large caliber shells from either Rodney or King George V. Some of the 37-mm and 20-mm

machine guns remain, but several were swept away during the heavy shelling.

The remaining attached forward superstructure is heavily damaged on the port side and

shows intense fire damage on both sides. The teak deck on the port side in way of the 105-mm

mounts is completely missing, a victim of fire. There is a 406-mm shell hole on the port side

from a low angle hit from Rodney. This shell hit killed a number of the antiaircraft personnel

who had taken shelter there. One survivor, Ordinary Seaman Theo Klaes, was a witness to this

shell’s penetration and explosion. Just as he was about to enter the space where the shell exploded,

a 406-mm shell came through the overhead and exploded in the middle of the room where almost

all of his gun crew had assembled. Klaes was thrown to the deck by the force of the detonation. He

likened the scene to a flickering picture on a movie screen of a man who did not know where he was

or where he was going.

This sketch gives an idea of the condition of the wreck of Bismarck on the sea bed.

36


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The superstructure decks of the forward command tower aft of the heavily armored

forward conning tower are missing from the main hull. (The missing decks range from the Lower

Bridge Deck to the foretop, including the Admiral’s Bridge and the decks from the fore tower

mast.) The failure is believed to be the result of shell damage to the lower bridge deck and the

inability of the welded connection to resist the impact force of the capsizing and subsequent

rotation of the hull before and after the plunge. Seaman Statz recalled that a number of shells

struck the forward command tower above and below his position on the Upper Bridge Deck.

Welded connections could have been weakened by such shell damage.

This portion of the superstructure was found upside down a few meters west of the slide

scar, 350 meters north of the main hull. It appears to be complete and is at the lower terminus of

its own small slide scar, evidence of the main hull striking it during its slide downhill. The port

side windows of the Admiral’s bridge are without glass but otherwise intact. Some of the access

ladders were torn away or severely damaged during the final battle. Baron von Müllenheim-

Rechberg confirmed this, noting that several men were running around the forward command

tower looking for a route of escape during the time before capsizing 35 . It is believed that this

structure, like the main battery turrets, made a direct plunge to the bottom. The forward windows

appear to have been damaged by shell hits or fragments, as well as from the impact of this

structure with the seabed. The windows are heavily overgrown with rusticles 36 , suggesting fire

damage. The foretop main battery director cupola and rangefinders are missing. This was

probably shot away by one of Norfolk’s early 203-mm shell from King George V at its base

brought it down near the end of the engagement.

The funnel is missing. It was not found in the debris field, but could have been buried by the

avalanche that preceded the main hull in its slide down the seamount, or it may have

disintegrated in its plunge to the seabed. According to the senior surviving officer, Baron von

Mǖllenheim-Rechberg, the funnel was heavily holed by shell fire. The structure around the

attachment of the funnel to the main hull exhibits heavy shell damage. The funnel probably was

detached from the ship during the capsizing and subsequent rotations of the hull during its

plunge to the bottom.

All three aircraft hangars still exist, but the two forward ones were heavily damaged by

shellfire. The doors are missing from all three. Since the aft hangar doors were missing, it was

possible to examine that hangar’s interior. A large piece of one of the aft hangar doors was found

inside the forward starboard hangar, lying within a very large shell burst hole three meters in

diameter. This hole might have created by a shell hit from Rodney, whose fragments may have

penetrated to one of the starboard boiler rooms, as reported by one survivor. One Arado seaplane

was found in the center of the aft hangar. Only the front half remains, including the left wing and

float, the radial engine, and propeller. Parts of a second Arado were found in the port forward

hangar that was heavily damaged by shell hits. There was a spare propeller found still mounted

on the forward bulkhead.

35

Baron Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg. Page 256, Battleship Bismarck, A Survivor’s Story.

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1980.

36

Rusticles are bacterial growths that will eventually recycle metal into the environment. They are

discussed later in this paper.

37


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

A 203-mm shell caused this damage to the left 105-mm gun on antiaircraft Mount 41. (Slide 45D)

The port aircraft catapult, an 18-meter truss-like structure, was located on the seafloor

perfectly upright like a tower, 500 meters northeast of the main wreck. Approximately 13-14

meters of the structure are visible above the sediment. It may have fallen off when the ship listed

or when it capsized, or been blown off the ship by a torpedo hit amidships at deck level, after the

port Batteriedeck had submerged due to the port list. Since it is partially buried, it is not possible

to determine if it was damaged by shellfire.

The port and starboard cranes are missing. The boom of the starboard crane is detached

and lying on the port aft superstructure, projecting over the barbette of Turret Caesar. This

anomaly leads to interesting speculation as the ship righted itself in the water column, possibly

the boom, having some buoyancy and probably entangled in the wrecked superstructure of

Bismarck, settled onto the after superstructure and barbette opening as the wreck continued its

plunge to the seafloor, eventually sliding down a seamount. The forward end of the port crane

boom was found alongside the slide scar. It was detached from its after portion by a direct shell

hit, while rollers for the wire rope rigging were shot away by small caliber shell fire.

Even a cursory examination reveals that the damage on the port side is more extensive

than to starboard. The battleships concentrated their fire on the port side in the initial stages of

the battle. Rodney moved to the starboard side for a short time after 0950. King George V

remained on the starboard side, closing to a range of 6-8,000 meters near the conclusion of her

gunfire. The capsizing process caused much of the loose material to slide into the sea.

38


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

This is a view of the starboard amidships 150-mm gun turret. Note the penetration in the barbette

structure, caused by a 203-mm shell hit.

The paint on the hull sides was found to be in very good condition during the May 2002

expedition, including the demarcation between the black boot topping and the battleship gray just

above the waterline. The red anti-fouling paint below the boot topping is clearly visible.

Evidence of the camouflage “dazzle” paint pattern can be seen here and there on the hull. The

camouflage pattern that was apparent when the ship left Gotenhafen (Gydnia) on 19 May was

painted over in Norway.

The ROVs, Jake and Elwood, were able to explore some of the interior spaces above the

armor deck during the Cameron expedition. Their surveys revealed that the interior paint was

less visible and rusticle activity much more pronounced. This may have been due to the amount

of paint used, the contents of the paint, or fire damage. The ROV surveys also discovered that

some of the spaces explored were severely damaged by explosions of armor-piercing shells.

Overall, the interior spaces that were explored were in worse condition than the exterior, because

of the nature of an armor-piercing shell fused to detonate after a delay to allow for the set-back

and brief delay as the shell tears its way through the armor, then detonating about 7-8 meters

beyond, creating a large field of blast and splinter damage. Fire damage and bottom impact

effects have also contributed to these spaces’ destruction, rendering some spaces virtually

unrecognizable. Most of the survivors came from battle stations below the armor deck.

39


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The battered superstructure on the port side forward, one deck level down from the conning tower

level. Seaman Theo Klaes just avoided death, as a 406-mm shell tore its way through this bulkhead,

detonating inside and killing all the personnel there just before he entered. [6072ADL6073C2]

The remains of the port aircraft-boat crane lies in the debris field, adjacent to the slide scar. A shell

hit carried away the sheaves, hook, and cable. To the right, a close-up view of the detached, crushed

fore command tower, discovered lying upside down alongside the slide scar. This structure came

down on the side of the seamount down-slope from where the main hull landed.

HYDRAULIC OUTBURST

From above the main hull looks in excellent condition. More than a decade earlier, after

Dr. Ballard examined his photography from his down-looking Argo sled, he pronounced the ship

remarkably intact. This erroneous initial insight was shattered during Jim Cameron’s 2002

40


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

expedition, following a close examination of the hull at and below the sediment line.

A number of long sections of hull (some upwards of 100' long) are completely missing or

are flayed outward on the bottom, severed cleanly at the bottom edge of the main armor belt.

This damage appears to be from a hydraulic "outburst" effect that was caused by ship’s impact

with the seamount, which created internal loading on the hull as the incompressible water inside

the ship was "squeezed" between the ship's bottom, which had stopped moving upon contact

with the dense sediments, and the great weight of the upper decks/superstructure concentrated

and supported by the relatively rigid deck armor system, which were still traveling downwards at

This is part of the hull of Bismarck”large section of lower hull” as depicted on the sketch on page 44

found a few meters south of the boundary of the impact trough. It appears that torpedo damage

helped to weaken the bottom structure. This massive structural failure was caused by hydraulic

outburst resulting from massive compressive forces caused by the severe impact with the sea bed.

This piece of hull is almost bent 90 degrees from the compression caused from that impact.

a speed of approximately 20 knots. This down-force would have been the combined kinetic

energy of the steel structure, the water contained within the structure, and the water in a volume

of entrained flow above the ship. This enormous mass came down like a hydraulic press on the

structures below the armor deck, all of which are buckled and compressed.

The Panzerdeck or Armor Deck of Bismarck was designed with relatively few

penetrations, just a few relatively small armored hatches for crew access and the boiler uptakes.

This Armor Deck acted as a sealed barrier of great strength over most of the area of the ship,

forcing the water beneath it to virtually explode laterally out of the hull when compressed

vertically. The hull failed at join between the lower hull and the bottom of the main armor belt,

due to the discontinuity in strength and rigidity between the armor and the relatively thin shell

plating immediately below it. The shell plate separated in a perfectly straight line, leaving

gaping openings in the lower hull, some of them 30 meters long.

41


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

Although bottom sediments prevented a survey of the forward 25% of the hull below

Batteriedeck level, it has been estimated from the damage survey done in May 2002 that

approximately 30% of the lower hull is completely missing as a result of this hydraulic outburst.

The lower decks of the ship, beneath the armor deck, have been compressed vertically by 3-4

meters. Most of the missing hull components remain at or near the impact point, 1000 meters upslope

from the main wreck. In a few areas, the lower hull has remained attached to the ship's

bottom, and can be seen lying on top of the sediment next to the wreck. These lower hull

fragments are bent and twisted, probably from the slide down the slope. This slide has also

shoveled tons of bottom sediment into the wreck, like a large scoop. This sediment slopes

downhill inside the wreck, indicating a raised edge just below the sediment, and a cavity inside.

This would be consistent with the shell plating blowing outward down to about the curvature of

the double-bottom, which would be stronger. The combination of hydraulic outburst and the

tearing away of the shell plating make it difficult to determine where there was torpedo damage.

Forward, the hull has been blown outward and is lying on the bottom sediment. This

seems to be true on both sides from forward of the capstans to abeam turret Anton, though on

the starboard side the effect is largely buried by sediments.The blown-out hull emerges from

these sediments just abeam of turret Anton. There is also evidence of buckling in the hull plating

outside of turret Bruno. This is further evidence that the bow struck the seamount first.

Where the “blow-out” effect can be seen clearly is on the port side. It is evident that the

upper decks of the ship (Batteriedeck and Zwischendeck) have been crushed down with the

spaces under them by at least one deck level, possibly two. This would indicate that powerful

forces have crushed the ship in the foc'sle region. The increased intensity of the outburst effect

forward is consistent with a bow-first impact.

An ROV inspection of the interior of the long hole in the hull on the aft starboard side

indicates that the longitudinal bulkhead, which divided the outer trim tank space from the inner

oil tank, has been crushed down in a long, uniform accordion fold, almost like a piece of thick

fabric. This would indicate that the Middle and Lower Platforms have been severely crushed.

This tank inner wall was otherwise undamaged, indicating that its condition was not the result of

the explosion of torpedoes or shells. For this wall to be warped, but not affected by explosion

damage over such a long area, and lying just inboard of such a long open hole in the outer hull,

clearly shows that the outer hole is the result of hydraulic forces and not explosion damage.

An inspection of the overhead inside this long "outburst" hole revealed that the underside

of the massive plating of the armor deck, including its outboard slope, was not damaged and

virtually intact, despite being adjacent to such wholesale destruction of the outer portion of the

ship. Only 0.5 meters from where the hull had been ripped away for more than 30 meters, the

armor deck appears intact. This again supports the idea of uniform fluid pressure creating the

outburst, rather than torpedo or shell explosions. This conclusion seems inescapable.

The 2001 ITN expedition that explored the Bismarck wreck identified these holes as the

evidence of torpedo damage. This supposed "torpedo damage" was as great on the port side as

the starboard, even though most of the torpedo hits were claimed to have occurred on the

starboard side. Previous forensic analysts concluded that a number of unlikely but possible

claimed hits by the cruiser Norfolk and the battleship Rodney could now be confirmed. These

analysts also concluded, as a consequence, that the scuttling claimed by the German survivors

was unlikely and irrelevant, that the torpedo damage inflicted by the British torpedo hits was

more than enough to have caused the ship to sink when it did 37 .

37 Mearns, David, and White, Rob. Hood and Bismarck. London: Channel 4 Books, 2001.

42


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The latter conclusion is incorrect and another example of the always humbling fact

confounding serious historians and forensic analysts that “… The best available

information in fact may not be very good …”

IMPACT WITH THE SEA BED

The relatively intact appearance of the outboard propellers is consistent with the

conclusion that the wreck of the Bismarck impacted the sea bed bow-first with great force 38 .

The outboard propellers are partially visible in the sediments and show no damage to the

exposed blades. Their supporting strut arms are also intact, a strong indication that the stern was

not the first point of impact with the seamount. However, the outer potion of one blade of the

centerline propeller has been severely chipped and the torn edge slightly bent.

The rudders are a very important feature of the wreck. The port rudder is missing with a

fracture to its rudder stock inside the hull opening. No trace of the port rudder was found around

the slide scar or impact crater. It has been confirmed that the rudder stocks of Bismarck were cast

steel, not a forging. Cast steel is a technology that the Germans had perfected in their submarine

construction in World War I.

There was little or no collateral damage to the starboard rudder from the initial slide

down the side of the seamount. The damaged rudder is at a distance above the sediment that

would have prevented contact with the seabed. The starboard rudder stock has been pushed

forward about 1-1.5 meters, which opening permitted the mini ROVs, Elwood or Jake, to enter

the steering gear room. The hole in the hull created by the torpedo explosion is approximately 1

by 3 meters in size and spans the transverse bulkhead in the steering gear room. Based upon the

nature of the damage that could be observed externally, the internal supporting structure of the

starboard rudder stock was destroyed by the torpedo explosion whose venting path was

completely against the underside structure between the rudders.

SITE ANALYSIS – CRATER, TROUGH, SLIDE SCAR, AVALANCHE, DEBRIS FIELD

The main hull is lying near the bottom of a long slope with the bow facing west. The

gradient of the slope is approximately 10° with a 190 meter drop over a distance of 1,000 meters.

The sediment is hard clay that is uniform, smooth, and slightly undulating.

A slide scar or “skidmark” extends down the south side of the seamount, down slope from the

impact crater to the position of the main hull. Sidescan sonar images reveal that the crater is

irregular with a ragged pattern of ejecta surrounding it. Extending south from it there is an

impact trough where presumably the full length of the hull slammed down moments after the

initial point of contact created a crater. This elliptical trough has its long axis north and south.

Extending south from this trough is a narrow “throat” section of the slide scar that has sharply

defined cut-bank sides and no evidence of ejecta. This is where the hull, lacking much of its

38

The outboard propellers of Titanic, enclosed in bossings, were lifted up about 1.5 meters as a result of

that ship’s stern impact with the sea bed.

43


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The wreck of Bismarck crashed into a seamount, sliding hundreds of meters down its side before

coming to rest. Note the alignment of the turrets with the wreck of the Admiral’s bridge.

44


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

superstructure and the four main battery turrets, began its slide downhill, with its line of travel

roughly aligned to its longitudinal axis. There is much evidence that the bow end hit at the top of

the seamount and then the remainder of the hull slammed down over the remaining length

with a great amount of force before beginning its slide. Evidence around Turret Bruno supports a

bow-first impact.The area adjacent to the slide scar contains most of the large components of the

ship that fell away during the capsizing process, such as the main battery turrets, the forward

command tower, and the mainmast. A field of lighter debris lies to the west and southwest of the

heavier pieces, carried to those locations by the prevailing current at the time of sinking because

they took more time to fall to the seabed.

Jim Cameron’s only regret is that there was not time to properly survey the impact crater.

The only instance of bottom/side plate debris left in the slide scar was found near the impact

crater a few meters to the south. The section of hull left there is approximately 25 meters long

and relatively intact. However it is bent very cleanly on its longitudinal axis almost 90 degrees

from the compressive forces which was accompanied by the hydraulic outburst. The survey of

this piece seems to indicate that it was shaped by evenly applied forces from compressive and

hydraulic loading and not torn away by the sliding hull. It was simply shed by the hull as it began

its journey down the seamount.

The concentration of the debris field is consistent with the situation of the Bismarck

during her battle during the morning of 27 May the ship had little or no forward movement

while struggling in heavy seas without rudders.

The avalanche/turbidity flow was induced by the impact and slide of the ship, and also by

the continued downflow of the entrained water flow-field above the ship as it sank though the

water column. When this volume of moving water reached the slope of the seamount much of its

energy was dispersed down slope, maintaining its momentum. Add to the flow-field created by

the wreck itself sliding down the side of the seamount, this combined to increase the flow effect

downhill. This flow field would have picked many tons of sediment in the form of suspended

particles and small rubble. This suspended material produced a turbidity flow condition, a heavy

layer of water and sediment moving downhill much like the pyroclastic cloud of a volcanic

eruption.

The flow-field followed the fall-line of the slope, driven by gravity. The flow and the

ship were moving together at times, and independently at times. The ship was descending in a

path induced by the interaction of the hull with the terrain. It began sliding stern first South

/South East with its long axis downhill, then rotated until it was sliding broadside down the hill,

and eventually moved laterally to the West like a skier across the grade, coming to rest with the

forward third of the ship outside the flow effects of the avalanche, in undisturbed terrain. In the

ship’s last seconds of movement, the flow around the stern rotated the ship an additional 30

degrees, swinging the stern downhill after the bow came to rest outside the flow. In a complex

interaction between ship and flow, the movement of the ship in the water column and on the

seafloor induced the flow, but subsequently the flow’s momentum contributed to the movement

of the ship over the ground. Ultimately the ship came to rest and the flow continued around its

stern and on downhill for an additional half kilometer.

Turret Anton is inverted and relatively intact just within the east margin of the slide scar, lying

on top of the sediments, though its guns and gunhouse are largely buried. Its rotating structure

was torn away and could not be found. The turret lies just downhill from a large rock

outcropping, and the turret has a piece of red painted lower hull embedded into the uphill side of

45


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

The Bismarck’s main mast in the debris field on the sea bed. A 356-mm shell fired by the King

George V approximately 1015 on the morning of May 27, 1941 brought the mast down.

the gunhouse. The piece of hull plating is crumpled in a way which strongly suggests that this

plate was ripped away from the ship when it struck the uphill side of the turret. The position of

the turret and the rock outcrop strongly suggests that the sliding wreck of Bismarck scraped over

the top of the outcrop and struck the turret. However, that outcrop prevented the hull from

bulldozing the turret downhill as it clearly did with turret Bruno that is lying on the seamount to

the southeast of turret Anton. The hull debris on the turret clearly indicates an impact and

interaction with the sliding hull. The plating ripped from the ship may have been ripped out of

the bottom plating by the turret, or may have already been damaged by the hull’s impact with the

seamount and being dragged along by the ship as it slid, only peeled away when the hull

impacted Turret Anton. The turret’s sub-structure was not found and it is believed that it was

pushed further down slope in the avalanche to an area not explored or it was plowed under the

hull and buried.

Main battery turret Bruno is laying 200 meters abeam and downhill of the main hull, to

port near amidships. It is inverted, lying partially buried by avalanche materials. The backwall of

its gunhouse is ripped open like the petals of a flower from shell damage during the battle.

Observers aboard Rodney and King George V also reported the rear wall of this turret as being

blown away. An interview of Seaman Josef Statz, who was on the Upper Bridge Deck at the end

of the engagement, described this damage to author William Garzke, recalling that he witnessed

chunks of armor being torn away by shell hits from Rodney. Statz also mentioned that turret

Bruno was tipped forward in its barbette, probably from the shell hit that penetrated its barbette

and started a fire in its magazine. The geographical position of this turret fits its position as the

46


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

second forward battery turret as it is third in line from west to east (assuming that it is directly

downhill from where it originally landed).

It is likely that the large pieces of debris that were lying on the decks fell directly from

the site of the sinking, having come off the ship when it capsized. The displacement of the

impact crater from the sinking site is probably the result of the wreck’s plunge and stall motion

as it plummeted through the 4,700-meter water column. It is likely that Bismarck planed forward,

bow first. The configuration of the impact crater and trough relative to the side scar and sinking

site supports the theory of a bow-first impact. It is consistent with a scenario in which the ship

planed north from its sinking position approximately 500 meters before striking the seamount.

Since the axis of displacement from surface to bottom aligns closely with the long axis of the

trough, it is fairly obvious that the wreck was planing lengthwise away from its sinking point. 39

What is clear from damage to the wreck and conspicuous lack of the lower hull in some

places is that the stern did not hit first, as Dr. Robert Ballard had postulated after he discovered

the wreck in June 1989. Large pieces of the lower hull residing within the slide scar also

disprove the conclusion of David Mearns from the 2001 ITN Expedition that torpedo hits tore

these away during the battles on the surface.

It is also obvious that the ship turned almost completely broadside to the slope for part of

the slide. It is likely that the hull slid a short distance stern first for the initial part of the slide,

then turned broadside before beginning a more bow-first plunge downhill. Once the bow dug

into the sediments then the stern swung around, again leading downhill. This scenario apparently

was repeated. The evidence for this conclusion will be discussed later.

Since Bismarck was observed to be oriented beam to the oncoming waves, during the

northwester storm with her starboard side to the lee side at the moment of sinking, it is likely that

the bow was facing to the northeast when the ship sank. This orientation is very consistent with

the distribution of turrets and mainmast along a similar longitudinal axis on the seamount.

Much evidence supports the conclusion that the ship plunged almost vertically for some

period of time in the water column. It may have undergone some complex gyrations as it righted

itself for the latter portion of its fall. Once the hull righted itself, the effects of the hull form were

probably responsible for the displacement of sediment we observed at the impact point with the

seamount.

At the moment of sinking, the stern end was still attached 40 . As the ship capsized and the

stern swung down relative to the more buoyant bow, hydrodynamic forces over the broad flat

surface of the stern may have detached it. Teak decking is snapped cleanly in a straight line

where the stern detached, suggesting a downward bending force (actually upward since the ship

was inverted). It is also possible that the stern was detached by other hydrodynamic forces as the

ship plunged. A piece of the stern was found by Dr. Ballard’s team, located with other light

debris in the debris field Northwest of the wreck. This is consistent with the stern separating

violently high in the water column.

As the ship sank through the water column, it is very probable that the bow was facing

north with a slight bow-down attitude, and was moving forward in stable “flight.” The starboard

rudder is severely damaged and bent. The clearances between the tips of the centerline propeller

39

This concept is frequently paraphrased as “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the

best one.”

40

Seaman Statz, who was swimming 100 meters from the sinking ship before the final plunge, recalled

that the stern end was still attached. Mr. Statz’ memory proved to be remarkably accurate, based on

numerous details confirmed by imagery retrieved during the 1989 exploration of the Bismarck wreck.

47


The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

were very tight, perhaps no more than 1-2 meters. This was done to allow better flow to the

rudders thereby enhancing their turning ability. The rudder is also missing about 50% of its

trailing structure, leading one to conclude that the fatal torpedo hit actually struck the trailing

edge of that rudder whereupon it exploded or the explosion took place just inboard but between

the two rudders.

With the turret positions correctly identified, then the heading of the ship at the moment

of sinking can be confirmed. It was on a generally northern heading during the battle, changing

at times between northwest and northeast. So the closest configuration to this known range of

headings would put Anton to the east, with the ship sinking on a northeast heading.

RUSTICLES

Rusticle phenomena, first encountered during the exploration of the wreck of the Titanic,

are still very imperfectly understood. As is the case for much forensic analysis, as some

questions of fact are resolved, more puzzlements arise to confound and fascinate the analysts.

A number of different varieties of rusticles 41 were found on the wreck of Bismarck.

Rusticles are bioconcretious structures that have been found on deep-ocean wrecks like

RMS Titanic and USS Yorktown (CV-6). They involve water channels, reservoirs, iron plate-like

structures, thread-like spans, porous matrices, and ducts connecting to the outside. Within these

structures there appear to be a number of microbial strains of sulfate reducing bacteria, iron-

related bacteria, heterotropic aerobic bacteria, denitrifying bacteria, and archaeobacteria. There

are different bacteria consortia on the wreck of Bismarck with strikingly differing colors. These

bacteria exist together with a range of fungi 42 .

Most areas with no structural damage have very little rusticle development. There are a

few areas with little or no structural damage that have a great deal of rusticle activity. It is

believed that these represent fire-damaged areas. The general impression is that rusticles have

invaded burn-damaged areas.

Rusticles have attacked severed edges of hull steel. Buckling and separation of thick

armor plates allows rusticles to attack edges. Rusticles do not always attack "splash" marks from

splinter hits, even though bare metal is present. Is there a chemical residue that may be negative

to rusticle growth?

Rusticle activity varies widely in different areas of ship. Some areas seem completely

unaffected. The areas of greatest structural damage from explosions have almost complete

rusticle involvement.

Photographic images taken by ROVs Jake and Elwood show that rusticle growth inside

the wreck is equivalent to that on Titanic, and is very mature. Almost no interior paint is still

visible except in the transverse corridor running athwartship beneath the seaplane catapult.

Rusticles are about one meter long. Interior rusticles seem to grow as profusely in structurally

intact areas as well as heavily damaged locations, indicating that paint thickness may be a factor.

Fire damage may also be a contributor.

41

First named by Dr. Robert Ballard in 1986 when he explored the wreck of the RMS Titanic because of

their likeness to icicles.

42

The Impact of Bioconcretious Structures (Rusticles) for the RMS Titanic: Implications for Maritime

Steel Structures,” by Dr. Roy Cullimore and Kori Johnston. Transactions of the Society of Naval

Architects and Marine Engineers, Volume 107, 2000, pp 179-195.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

Rusticles are micro-organisms which are gradually consuming the iron structure of the wreck.

The interior rusticles seem to come in two types: (1) the familiar orange-brown rustcolored

type as first seen on Titanic and (2) a new type, which is pure white. ROV footage

indicates that these white structures are uniformly white throughout, and not just on the surface.

Within Bismarck, the rust-colored rusticles and the white rusticles seemed to vie for dominance.

One space would be completely white, while the next is completely red. The boundary zone, at

the door-frame between the rooms, was very clear. A white room might have an entry door

whose doorframe is completely overgrown by white growth, while the adjacent wall is

completely red growth. The space, beyond the door, might be completely white with absolutely

no evidence of red growth. Then the space beyond that might be opposite. Some areas dominated

by red growth might blend into areas of white, if there was no clear boundary, like a bulkhead.

The result would be an area of mixed growth. The impression is that a closed volume would lend

itself to dominance by one type or the other, whereas open spaces would have boundary zones

where mixing occurred, with patches of white. Overall, the red seems the more successful type,

and the whites only seemed to fully dominate when they had a closed space with limited access.

The inside environment would have a lower rate of exchange of water by currents, and

might have PH and other chemical concentrations as a result of the slower exchange relative to

waste products from biological processes taking place inside, and because of chemical sources

within the rooms. Little is known about these factors, and analysts are still very much in the

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

“good question” stage with few “good answers”:

What can explain the differences in rusticle growth in two adjacent rooms equally far

inside the structure? Would it be the result of fire damage? Could it be that one space burned,

another didn't, creating different chemistry in the substrate? Was it due to the accumulation of oil

or other substances during the sinking? Fuel oil may have entered some spaces as the ship

capsized, or even after the impact with the bottom, as it burst from the tanks and rose up to the

surface. When the ship was sliding down the seamount, oil may have been blown into some

spaces and not into others, and may have been trapped in some closed volumes or excluded from

others. Could it be organics that may have been in some spaces or been forced into others during

the sinking? Was it from food in the ships stores? Was it a product of human remains?

What is the white substance which is aggregated in some of these structures? Presumably,

it is not calcium, which is so low in concentration at these depths that bones completely dissolve

in only a few years. Is it anhydrate or is it some kind of white bacterial tissue, like bacterial mats.

Tube worms and galathea crabs at this depth are white.

WHO SANK THE BISMARCK – The British or the Germans?

We are convinced the answer is … “BOTH!!”

Bismarck unquestionably would have sunk due to progressive flooding hours after the

battle ended. By 0930, CDR Oels heard no response from the Bridge and he knew that the ship

was defenseless, when turrets Caesar and Dora were no longer operational. There is enough

evidence to indicate that he ordered the ship scuttled to prevent her boarding by the British and

to end the agony of the prolonged battering by British shellfire that was hindering escape into the

sea.

The German Navy, prompted by memories of the scuttling of High Seas Fleet ships

interned at Scapa Flow after the end of World War One and the Graf Spee at Montivideo,

Uruguay in 1939, had provided scuttling charges and timers in major vital spaces on the

Bismarck. This information was provided by Lt. Gerhard Junack, who set charges in the middle

engine room, and Seaman Josef Statz in correspondence with author Bill Garzke. Scuttling of

Bismarck to speed an inevitable sinking was likely and eminently probable.

This does not detract from the fact that the men, ships, and aircraft of the Royal

Navy had finally succeeded in their determined quest to “SINK THE BISMARCK!”

CONCLUSION

There are a number of useful historical insights that have resulted from the combination

of decades of technical and historical research with the results of Jim Cameron’s 2002 survey of

the wreck of Bismarck on the seabed:

○ Long-range gunfire (16,000 to 18,000 meters) from Prince of Wales the morning of

24 May was crucial to the early stages of the British effort to destroy the German

battleship. This damage resulted in the loss of fuel and flooding (and counterflooding)

which amounted to 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes, a significant loss of reserve

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

buoyancy. Following this engagement, Admiral Lütjens to abort the mission and

head to France for repairs.

The aerial torpedo hit in the stern late in the afternoon of 26 May wrecked the

Bismarck’s steering gear, making the ship un-maneuverable. The ship gradually

turned into the prevailing seas, heading directly towards the pursuing British.

○ Long-range gunfire from the battleships King George V and Rodney on the morning

of 27 May early on in the final engagement destroyed much of the Bismarck’s main

battery and destroyed the ship’s primary gunfire control system. The gunnery

engagement lasted from 0847 to 1021.

○ Closer-range gunfire (eventually, at virtually point-blank range for battleship main

battery guns) later in the engagement devastated the superstructure and exposed

sections of the hull (above the waterline) and caused massive casualties, but

contributed little to the eventual sinking of the ship.

○ Late in the final engagement, the Bismark was defeated, sinking as the result of

uncontrollable progressive flooding, and virtually defenseless. The Executive Officer,

CDR Hans Oels, ordered the scuttling of the ship “Measure V [V = ‘Versunken’]”

and the charges were detonated shortly after 1020. By 1035, the ship had assumed

a heavy port list, capsizing slowly and sinking by the stern. The bow disappeared

about 1040.

TORPEDO DAMAGE ANALYSIS:

One of the significant achievements of the 2002 Cameron Expedition was the exploration

of damage on the starboard side aft, which is believed to have been caused by the combination of

the effects of a torpedo hit and by hydraulic outburst. While a torpedo likely damaged this area

of the hull aft, it did not warp, buckle of displace the 45-mm torpedo bulkhead inboard of the

tank. The sacrificial tankage served its purpose by dispersing the explosive force. No individual

armored plates were displaced in either the armored bulkhead or the armor deck over the tank.

While there was leakage through small cracks of failed welds from a torpedo hit on the port side

aft from one of the Ark Royal aircraft on 26 May, as confirmed by evidence from Josef Statz and

Gerhard Junack, the resulting flooding contributed little to the sinking of the ship. The hits

claimed for ship-launched torpedoes during the final battle on 27 May came minutes before the

battleship foundered, when some of the major vitals were already flooding from scuttling

charges. Some German survivors, including Baron von Müllenheim-Rechberg during an

interview with authors Dulin and Garzke, have stated that no torpedo holes could be observed

when the ship capsized. It is very probable that these torpedo holes were probably hidden from

sight.

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The Wreck of DKM Bismarck A Marine Forensics Analysis

LESSONS FOR THE MARINE FORENSIC ANALYST

EPILOG

○ Survivor Testimony can be helpful but is a suspect source:

- The brain fills in details and ignores “impossible” sights

- Small details are recalled as large.

- Details can be rationalized or imagined

- Testimony very close to the time of the event is most useful

- Prejudice can be a factor (fear of torpedo, mine, or shell hits)

- Reality (at times, this is the only source of information)

○ Ship Damage difficult to determine the cause of damage on the wreck:

- Damage that caused the ship to sink

- Damage sustained as the ship plunged through the water column

- Damage sustained at the time of impact with the seabed

- Damage resulting from deterioration on the seabed

○ Documentation:

- Very important to have the latest plans of the ship

- Helpful to have recent photographs of the ship

- Historical analysis is a helpful starting point for the marine forensics specialist

○ Reverse Engineering:

- Very dependent on the skill of the person(s) doing the analysis

- Always a degree of uncertainly in the details

- Sadly, experience reminds the analyst that the “Best Available Information”

frequently is later shown to be “Not Very Good”

○ Humility is a GREAT virtue for the marine forensic analyst

The May 2002 Cameron Expedition to the Bismarck wreck has answered some questions

but raised others. Further exploration of the wreck may answer some of those questions.

Unquestionably, this 2002 encounter demonstrated what can be gained from a thorough

photographic examination of sunken marine wrecks, an important resource for any thorough

marine forensic analysis.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:

The authors want to acknowledge the technical assistance of Otto Jons, Sean Kery, Michael

Bateman, and Dennis Breen of CSC Advanced Marine in the preparation of this report. We particularly

appreciate the assistance of Dennis Breen in the analysis of damage to the propeller and rudder. We also

want to thank Steven Smith of Engineering Solutions, Inc. for his graphic work on Turret Bruno and the

damaged profile of Bismarck.

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