Bismarck Scuttling Charges

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by MikB, Mar 10, 2013.

  1. MikB

    MikB Senior Member

    There's controversy - some of it I think exaggerated - over whether RN torpedoes from HMS Dorsetshire or, just possibly, HMS Rodney caused the Bismarck to sink, or whether scuttling action by the crew caused it.

    I have no problem with the crew having opened valves and watertight doors to assist or ensure sinking, and was OK with the idea of scuttling charges until:-

    (1) I saw a video of the Graf Spee crewman Herbert Klemm describing the elaborate improvisation of scuttling charges he had to make for that ship, using 6 torpedo warheads and a modified chronometer.

    (2) The General Order issued by Raeder in after the Graf Spee scuttling, which said that German warships were to fight to the last shell for victory, or go down with flying colours.

    If the Graf Spee was not fitted with prepared charges, and a General Order was issued that could be construed as forbidding such scuttling, how likely could it be that such prepared charges were installed on Bismarck?

    It's not realistic to believe that the charges could be improvised in the chaos of the last stages of Bismarck's final battle.

    Does anyone know of documentary evidence that these charges were installed in her fitting-out?

    Regards,
    MikB
     
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  2. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    Great question.

    I've often wondered about scuttling charges too.

    Many accounts describe detonating 'the' scuttling charges as if they were a piece of standard equipment. I would think they would always have to be improvised. Would vessels sail for years with charges in place that could blow holes in the hull?

    I hope some of the knowledgeable members have some more info on the topic.
     
  3. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer Pearl Harbor Myth Buster

    She was going down, doesn't matter how. The German's want to save face by fabricating information that would have been hot a few decades ago, say SIX.
     
  4. Thunderbox

    Thunderbox Member

    Seems to have been an anglo-phobic theory that was started by Ballard on his expedition. IIRC the Bismark survivor on the expedition stuck to the original account that the upperworks of the ship were destroyed, and that command had ceased shortly into the battle. He stated that the order to evacuate was taken locally when the ship was already in a sinking/listing state, and that it was inconceivable that anyone would have had time to prepare & initiate demolitions in the bottom of the ship - for one thing, all watertight doors were closed due to action stations.
     
  5. MikB

    MikB Senior Member

    ...for one thing, all watertight doors were closed due to action stations.

    Yes, but it's easy to imagine escaping crew leaving them open for others, whether ordered to or not, which would have accelerated sinking. Probably the whole command structure would be in pieces from about 10:00 onwards or before.

    Regards,
    MikB
     
  6. Thunderbox

    Thunderbox Member

    There was a good thread on another site about the feasibility of the scuttling. Because warships are so heavily compartmentalised, they are hard to sink quickly unless they have huge holes blown in them - hence the use of massive charges on Graf Spee. IIRC when the Germans scuttled their fleet in Scapa Flow, some of the ships took more than an hour to settle, even with all the sea cocks and doors open.

    One of the "stories" doing the rounds about Bismarck has someone seeing a colleague with a demolition charge in his hand - ie it must have been an infeasibly small demolition charge, and hence throws doubt on that particular tale.
     
  7. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Maybe the Bismarck was constructed like the Death Star, and that man was WW2's Luke Skywalker?

    All the best

    Andreas
     
  8. MikB

    MikB Senior Member

    Maybe the Bismarck was constructed like the Death Star, and that man was WW2's Luke Skywalker?

    All the best

    Andreas

    I'm afraid that particular parallel invokes thoughts of Hood rather more than Bismarck ... :(

    Regards,
    MikB
     
  9. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    The scuttling of the ship she was going to sink , and if sea cocks were opened to allow her to flood this would have quickened a process which was already underway.
    Don't know if charges were placed probably not ( just my own view), a recent book has said that Bismarck attempted to surrender a white flag having been seen , hardly likely.
     
  10. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron

    Would not the greatest fear have been that the ship could possibly have been captured and towed to a UK port for obvious propaganda value? Hence why sea cocks would have been opened? Also I seem to recall from reading elsewhere that the ships Log had been handed over a short time before the final battle. Would this not have also provided time to arrange scuttling charges? Just my pure speculation of course because I was not there!.....even though I knew someone who was (gunnery officer on HMS Rodney and he said it was unlikely that they could have saved the ship as a trophy).
     
  11. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    Sea cock is another term that is used a lot in stories about sinking ships.

    I'm once again going to show my ignorance but what exactly is a sea cock in this context?

    There are many values in ships that can be opened to the sea but they are connected to steam equipment, drains, ballast areas and things of that nature. Were valves installed that would open right into the bilge or other areas of the ship? And even if they were large valves of a foot or more in diameter, it would take days to sink a ship as big of the Bismark using only them, seems to me, anyway. Ships that big sail on virtually unimpeded with holes twenty feet in diameter blown in them, albeit with compartmentalization.

    See the voyage of the SS Ohio to Malta, for example. The Bismark probably already had one or more large holes below the waterline from the Swordfish topeados already so opening some values wouldn't seem to be a good way to sink her quickly.

    I'm just thinking out loud and curious. I definitely don't mean to criticize what anyone has posted on the matter.

    Thanks
     
  12. MikB

    MikB Senior Member

    Would not the greatest fear have been that the ship could possibly have been captured and towed to a UK port for obvious propaganda value? ....even though I knew someone who was (gunnery officer on HMS Rodney and he said it was unlikely that they could have saved the ship as a trophy).

    Given that the fuel state of both RN capital ships forced them to break off action - to the dismay of Their Lordships at the Admiralty - before Bismarck actually sank, there was no way any of the ships present in the final action could've towed her several hundred miles to British waters, especially awash with many thousands of tons of water as she was, and also in view of the expectation of extreme-range Luftwaffe attacks in strength.

    I'm uncertain as to whether the Germans knew about the Home Fleet fuel state - it seems reasonable to think they'd have intercepted and read Tovey's signals - but whether that would've reached Bismarck's middle-ranking officers is harder to guess, especially given Lutjens' alleged unwillingness to discuss content of signal traffic with subordinates. So they may have believed capture was a real risk.

    But this was a risk that was hardly, if at all, perceived during design and construction - even rudder damage was thought unrealistic during trials and the inability to steer effectively with propellers wasn't taken seriously - so the provision of scuttling charges would seem to contravene Raeder's General Order or December '39.

    Regards,
    MikB
     
  13. Thunderbox

    Thunderbox Member

    Even though scuttling and/or suicide seem to have been a behavioural trait of the German officer class, it still seems inconceivable that any major capital ship going into action would have demolitions prepared. The de facto fate of major surface engagements in the 20th century was to escape or to be sunk. I think it is a purely modern fantasist theory to conceive of an enemy battleship being taken in tow as a prize. Submarine activity alone would prevent any dallying by surface units (as witness the fate of Bismarck's survivors in the water), let alone the ludicrous impracticality of trying to salvage a sinking 50,000 ton ship in the conditions of the North Atlantic.
     
  14. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Prize money would have been good though, considering the amount of steel. :D

    Seriously though, I am trying to think of anything bigger than a destroyer being taken in tow successfully. The Italians tried many times to tow relatively smaller freighters (up to 6,000 GRT), but rarely with success I believe, unless a salvage tug was doing the work. Tow ropes are fickle things.

    All the best

    Andreas
     
  15. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron

    Prize money would have been good though, considering the amount of steel. :D

    Seriously though, I am trying to think of anything bigger than a destroyer being taken in tow successfully. The Italians tried many times to tow relatively smaller freighters (up to 6,000 GRT), but rarely with success I believe, unless a salvage tug was doing the work. Tow ropes are fickle things.

    All the best

    Andreas

    I agree. Even Warspite never made it, and that was in relatively sheltered waters.
     
  16. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer Pearl Harbor Myth Buster

    There's nothing surprising about elderly chaps either "remembering" things or being gently (or not so gently) herded into believing things happened that never occurred. My late wife was doing her doctorate on the evolution of UFO stories and I read a lot of material to help her out, and yes, for the lulz as well. She charted the evolution of the Roswell story in great detail. As the parties grew older the story grew more elaborate and the changes were nearly always in line with the then current ideas of what a UFO incident would have been like. The tail/dog ratio was the thrust of her thesis.
     
  17. MikB

    MikB Senior Member

    Prize money would have been good though, considering the amount of steel. :D

    Seriously though, I am trying to think of anything bigger than a destroyer being taken in tow successfully. The Italians tried many times to tow relatively smaller freighters (up to 6,000 GRT), but rarely with success I believe, unless a salvage tug was doing the work. Tow ropes are fickle things.

    All the best

    Andreas

    Well, Lion was towed back to Rosyth by another battlecruiser after a damaging hit at Dogger Bank in WW1, with several thousand tons of seawater aboard. But it took nearly two days and a huge destroyer screen to bring it off.

    Regards,
    MikB
     
  18. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer Pearl Harbor Myth Buster

    Well, Lion was towed back to Rosyth by another battlecruiser after a damaging hit at Dogger Bank in WW1, with several thousand tons of seawater aboard. But it took nearly two days and a huge destroyer screen to bring it off.

    Regards,
    MikB

    On the other hand, Oklahoma, shown here inboard of Wisconsin, didn't survive her trip back to the Mainland from Pearl

    [​IMG]
     
  19. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    There's always one. :D

    Lion was a smidgen smaller though... Distance was probably less too?

    All the best

    Andreas
     
  20. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer Pearl Harbor Myth Buster

    There's always one. :D

    Lion was a smidgen smaller though... Distance was probably less too?

    All the best

    Andreas

    Yeah, and the Okie Boat ran into a wee bit of weather. ;)
     

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