During the interwar period, Germany rebuilt its navy with new classes of modern battleships. Among them were the Bismarck-class ships which included the Bismarck and the Tirpitz. As battleships that eclipsed 50,000 tons, their construction considerably strengthened Germany's surface fleets which largely consisted of more light weight warships. Consequently, they would emerge as primary targets for the Royal Navy.
Construction of the Bismarck began at Blohm & Voss shipyard in 1935. Even though it might have initially seemed that the battleship was comparable to the Scharnhorst, it was in fact somewhat larger. The keel of the battleship was laid down in 1936, and by 1938, they had completed construction of Bismarck's hull up to the upper deck.
The ship's launch ceremony followed in 1939. Approximately 60,000 were in attendance as the Bismarck slipped down the slipway into the water. The German navy floated the first of the Bismarck-class battleships, and soon after they slid the Tirpitz into the water at the Kriegsmarinewerft shipyard.
The fitting out of both the battleships duly followed. At their equipping piers, the Germans added boilers, turrets and various other parts of their superstructures. The armament added to both the battleships, which included 8 x 380 mm guns with armor-piercing shells, was largely the same. However, the Tirpitz also had G7a T1 torpedoes, which were not installed on its sister ship.
During the fitting out period, some RAF aircraft flew over the Tirpitz. They dropped a few bombs over the battleship, but did not score any notable hits. Fitting out of both battleships continued throughout 1940.
The Bismarck was the first to begin its sea trials when it left Hamburg for the first time. The sea trials in the Baltic consisted of navigation and speed trials in which it obtained 30.1 knots. The crew calibrated the battleship's gun batteries and stocked up with required supplies in Kiel.
Whilst the Tirpitz was still being fitted out, the German navy sent the Bismarck on its first, and last, mission. During the spring of 1941, they sent the Bismarck, and Prinz Eugen, on a commerce raiding mission targeting Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic. The battleship left its port in Gotenhafen, and headed towards the Denmark Strait.
RAF Spitfires spotted the battleship as it sailed through the Korsfjord. Once informed the Admiralty gave orders for the Norfolk and Suffolk to patrol the Denmark Strait. Royal Navy capital ships, such as the HMS Hood and Prince of Wales, also left their bases as the German warships sailed for the Denmark Strait.
The first Royal Navy ships to sight them were the Norfolk and Suffolk. Both the HMS Hood and Prince of Wales battleships closed in on the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait. There they opened fire on the German warships with their forward turrets. The Royal Navy shells landed close, but did not have any notable impact. A salvo from the Bismarck penetrated the Hood's armor belt and blew the warship up. They had wiped out the Hood in a matter of minutes, but the Price of Wales remained afloat. As it was not finished off by the Germans it withdrew from the Battle of Denmark Strait.
When the battle was over, the Bismarck was leaking fuel. Consequently, it changed course to return to harbor. On its trip back the Royal Navy rediscovered the battleship's location, and their planes' torpedoes took out its rudder. Thereafter, Royal Navy warships pounced, and bombarded the battleship with shells that knocked out its primary turrets. As the battleship flooded with water its crew abandoned the ship, and laid scuttling charges to further make sure that it went down.
The Royal Navy had defeated the Bismarck, but the Tirpitz still remained. After the Bismarck's demise, the Tirpitz continued its sea trials in the Baltic. It made its first patrols in 1941, and sent on its first notable missions in '42. Among them an Arctic convoy raid during which Russian submarines intercepted the battleship. Their presence ensured that the Tirpitz retreated to port.
The Royal Navy also pursued the battleship with minisubmarines around Norway in 1943. The explosives they left under the ship did have some impact. After the detonating of the explosives, the Germans had to repair the Tirpitz in Altafjord.
In 1944, the RAF replaced lightweight aircraft sorties over the Tirpitz with Lancaster planes. During further airstrikes, their heavier bombs ravaged the Tirpitz, and later the ship slowly sailed out of port toward Håkøy Island. As the German navy converted it to a floating battery it was no longer a battleship.
Nevertheless, the RAF went ahead with further airstrikes in the winter. The final aerial bombardments blew holes in the ship, and as the Tirpitz flooded with water it tipped over. The battleship's superstructure was subsequently buried in the sea floor.
The wreckage of the Tirpitz was all that remained of the once mighty Bismarck-class battleships. The battleships had wiped out one Royal Navy battlecruiser between them, and had little impact on merchant ships. The Royal Navy had no comparable battleships, but their larger fleets and aircraft provided them with enough ammunition to defeat the German ships.