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Why the Bismarck myths were – well, myths

June 12, 2014

The Bismarck is one of the few ships I remember the name of.

Matthew Wright

As we saw in the previous post, the German battleship KM Bismarck has been subject to its fair share of mythology. Much flowed from exaggerated claims about Bismarck’s characteristics. In fact the only real advantage of Bismarck was size.

Bismarck after completion in 1940.  Click to enlarge. Public domain, Bundesarchiv_Bild_193-04-1-26. Bismarck after completion in 1940. Public domain, Bundesarchiv_Bild_193-04-1-26.

In the 1930s, battleships were limited to standard displacement of 35,561 tonnes (35,000 long tons) by international treaties dating to 1922, to which Germany was party via the Naval Agreement of 1935. At British insistence this was defined with specific consumables aboard. The only way to get around Treaty limits was by cheating, and Bismarck flouted the rules by a wide margin. Bismarck’s standard displacement was 42,321 tonnes, full load 45,928 tonnes and extreme battle load 50,933 tonnes. The real limit faced by her design team, led by Hermann Burkhardt, was the width of the lock gates on the Kiel canal, through which Bismarck was required to pass.

On the deck of the Bismarck.  Note the doubled secondary battery, 150- and 110-mm guns above. Bundesarchiv_Bild_193-05-3-39 On…

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