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Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

-- Sun Tzu

The Pursuit of Bismarck and the Sinking of H.M.S. Hood

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Preface
The spring of 1941 found Britain approaching the second year of war with the European Axis powers. Her situation was desperate: her closest ally, France, had fallen the previous summer. The United States, though providing weapons and other vital materials, was still months away from entering the war. Britain more or less stood alone. Though there had been some triumphs (Battle of Britain, sinking of the Admiral Graf Spee, etc.), the margin for failure and defeat was still large.

Britain, as an island nation, relied heavily on foreign imports. Much of her desperately needed war supplies had to be transported by sea. This fact was well known to the German Reich's Navy, the Deutsche Kriegsmarine. Led by Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, the Kriegsmarine had mounted a serious effort to disrupt supply convoys ? the goal being to strangle and starve Britain into submission.

The most effective German weapon in this effort were submarines, or 'U-boats'. Between September 1939 and May 1941 these had been responsible for the destruction of approximately 3,000,000 tons of Allied shipping. In addition to the U-boats, Germany also employed surface merchant raiders and surface warships. Though few in number and not as successful as the U-boats, these ships did pose a credible threat.

The most recent German sortie, 'Operation Berlin' (January 1941), was a reminder of their potential. In this operation, the warships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst (AKA the 'twins') were responsible for sinking approximately116,000 tons of Allied shipping. As a result, the Kriegsmarine surface units were monitored closely.

British Suspicions are Aroused
During the second week of May 1941 there was a noted increase in German air reconnaissance flights between Greenland and Jan Mayen Island. It seemed likely that the reconnaissance was to ascertain the current limits of the pack ice in the region, but why this was vital to the Germans had to be determined. It was possible that the Germans were planning raids on Jan Mayen Island or Iceland itself. Another possibility was that this was a precursor to a breakout into the Atlantic by German surface warships ? possibly even their newly worked-up battleship Bismarck.

On 14 May, Admiral John Tovey, Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Fleet, asked the British Flag Officer in Iceland for a report on the prevailing ice conditions as well as an assessment on the motive behind the German reconnaissance. The Flag Officer's opinion was that the Germans were most likely planning for an Atlantic breakout by Bismarck.

Bismarck and Hood
Launched on 14 February 1939, Bismarck was the first of the new breed of ships that German leader Adolf Hitler and Grand Admiral Raeder hoped would herald the rebirth of the German surface battle fleet in the tradition of the Kaisers High Seas Fleet. Although listed as 35,000 tons to ensure that she fell within the limits of the London Naval Treaty, Bismarck did, in fact, displace well over that. She was of comparable size and main armament to the largest British warship of that time, H.M.S. Hood.

Despite the basic similarities, there were nonetheless serious differences between the two ships: Bismarck was a modern battleship in the truest sense. Her critical spaces were well protected by excellent internal compartmentation and high quality heavy armour. She also boasted state of the art electronics plus highly accurate and rapid firing gunnery systems. She and her sister Tirpitz were among the best ships at that time.

In comparison, Hood was a well-built for her day (1920), but by 1941was nonetheless an aged battle cruiser. She had adequate protection in some key areas, but not all. Because of her machinery, she was filled with large, somewhat open spaces. Though her speed had been reduced over the years, at 29 knots, she was still fast for her size. Her guns were deadly, but she suffered from out-dated gunnery systems. She did boast advanced radar, but her crew had hardly enough time to become proficient in it's use.

Simply put, in a one-on-one fight, Bismarck could absorb more damage while firing faster and more accurately than Hood. Bismarck could take AND give more in battle. Each ship had the ability to sink or severely damage the other, but the advantage clearly was with Bismarck. This is not totally a negative reflection on Hood, but simply an observance that Bismarck was 20 years more modern than Hood. Bismarck's design reflected all that had been learned between the times the two ships were built.

Bismarck Prepares for Service
Bismarck was commissioned on 24 August 1940, under the command of Kapit?n zur Se
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