Bismarck was the hero of German unification during the 1870s, and in the 1930s a new Bismarck battleship was laid down. It began construction in Hamburg at the Blohm and Voss shipyard, and was complete by the early 1940s. As such, in 1940 the Kriegsmarine commissioned the Bismarck after sea trails at Kiel Bay.
Bismarck was the largest battleship of the German navy that was more than 50,000 tons. It out-sized all the battleships of the Royal Navy, and had a formidable assortment of guns as well armor. It could also travel at about 29 knots.
Bismarck therefore revived Plan Z which outlined further surface fleet action with the Royal Navy. In addition to this, the effective surface fleet commerce raiding during Operation Berlin also further encouraged German surface fleet action. The commander-in-chief of that operation was Admiral Günther Lütjens who was captain of the Bismarck for Operation Rheinübung.
Operation Rheinübung was a commerce raid that involved the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. The operation began on May 18 after Bismarck and Prinz Eugen left harbor at Gotenhafen and set sail on the 19th. On May 20 they would be spotted by aerial reconnaissance in Kattegat heading towards the North Sea.
Royal Navy warships intercepted the Bismarck within the Denmark Straight. Here they made first contact with the battleship, and the first opening salvo between the German and U.K. ships began. During this skirmish, the Germans had the upper hand. Bismarck opened fire on the HMS Hood, and some direct hits set the ship ablaze. The battleship continued to fire at the ship, leaving it little chance of remaining afloat. As such, the Hood exploded and sank. The Prince of Wales managed to escape from the enemy fleet, as the German warships did not make any further pursuits. However, it had not all been plain sailing as some light hits on the Bismarck had resulted in fuel shortages.
Consequently, the jammed rudder cut the Bismarck's speed; and the Royal Navy continued to chase the battleship. The British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was called in. The Ark Royal provided invaluable air support to the operation with its swordfish biplanes. These biplanes were able to locate and torpedo the Bismarck, and during one sortie the rudder of the battleship was hit.
With the Bismarck's rudder hit, this had a big impact on the ship's steering. Now the ship had lost its maneuverability. As Britain's fleet closed in on the battleship, it had become more of a sitting duck to ships such as King George V and Rodney. Outnumbered, the last option for the Bismarck was to make a call for assistance and Luftwaffe air support.
However, the Luftwaffe never came. King George V and Rodney moved to within firing range of the Bismark and opened fire. The battleship was hit by the shelling, and fires broke out on deck. The Royal Navy naval bombardment continued, although the Germans did not wave a white flag. Gradually, the Royal Navy's ships began to run low on shell supplies and some withdrew.
Britain's navy had still done enough to sink the Bismarck as they knocked out its gun turrets. Without effective turrets, the crew abandoned the battleship that gradually sank. With the Bismarck defeated, Britain celebrated victory as the largest German battleship slipped beneath the ocean.
In 1989, the Bismarck would be discovered by oceanographers that had discovered the wreckage of the Titanic. Further research has suggested that the scuttling charges and sabotage by the crew were more notable factors in the battleship's sinking.
The sinking of Bismarck was the end of an era for battleships that would then become increasingly eclipsed by U-boats and aircraft carriers. The German navy effectively dropped Plan Z and began to expand its U-boats to sink further merchant ships. Aircraft carriers also dominated further naval battles such as the Battle of Coral Sea, Battle of Midway and Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944.