Operation Rheinübung launches in April 1941

tigercat

Kicked
In the original Timeline

Bismarck was scheduled to return to Kiel on 24 January 1941, but a merchant vessel had been sunk in the Kiel Canal and prevented use of the
waterway. Severe weather hampered efforts to remove the wreck, and Bismarck was not able to reach Kiel until March.[18] The delay greatly frustrated Lindemann, who remarked that "[Bismarck] had been tied down at Hamburg for five weeks ... the precious time at sea lost as a result cannot be made up, and a significant delay in the final war deployment of the ship thus is unavoidable."[22] While waiting to reach Kiel, Bismarck hosted Captain Anders Forshell, the Swedish naval attaché to Berlin. He returned to Sweden with a detailed description of the ship, which was subsequently leaked to Britain by pro-British elements in the Swedish Navy. The information provided the Royal Navy with its first full description of the vessel, although it lacked important facts, including top speed, radius of action, and displacement.

What if that vessel wasn't sunk in the Kiel canal what butterflies might have occurred .

Would the Gottland have been in position to spot the Bismarck en route

Might Gneiseau have missed being torpedoed and sortied to meet Bismarck and Prinz Eugen

It still won't end well for the Germans but what details might change ?
 
In the original Timeline

Bismarck was scheduled to return to Kiel on 24 January 1941, but a merchant vessel had been sunk in the Kiel Canal and prevented use of the waterway. Severe weather hampered efforts to remove the wreck, and Bismarck was not able to reach Kiel until March.[18] The delay greatly frustrated Lindemann, who remarked that "[Bismarck] had been tied down at Hamburg for five weeks ... the precious time at sea lost as a result cannot be made up, and a significant delay in the final war deployment of the ship thus is unavoidable."[22] While waiting to reach Kiel, Bismarck hosted Captain Anders Forshell, the Swedish naval attaché to Berlin. He returned to Sweden with a detailed description of the ship, which was subsequently leaked to Britain by pro-British elements in the Swedish Navy. The information provided the Royal Navy with its first full description of the vessel, although it lacked important facts, including top speed, radius of action, and displacement.
If Captain Lindemann's statement was correct that might advance the departure of Prinz Eugen and Bismarck from Gotenhafen from 18th/19th May to 11th/12th April.

I've had a look on the Naval-History.Net website to see what King George V, Prince of Wales, Hood. Repulse, Renown, Ark Royal, Victorious and Furious were doing around the 11th/12 April 1941 IOTL.

Most of them were either...
  • Off Brest in case The Twins tried to break out.
  • In transit from Scapa Flow or Gibraltar to Brest to relieve the ships currently on station or
  • In transit from Brest to Gibraltar or Scapa Flow having been relieved of blockade duty.
The exceptions were:
  • Prince of Wales
    • 1st to 26th April- The PRINCE OF WALES was at Scapa Flow carrying out working up exercises. Gunnery exercises were severely curtailed due to the continuing problems with the quadruple 14in turrets. The work up included checking radar performance and the calibration of air warning and fire control equipment.
    • 27th April - It was on this day that the last of her three turrets was accepted from Vickers Armstrong and practice drills with all her armament could commence.
    • (The PRINCE OF WALES went to sea with HACS IVGB, with full radar ranging systems, and no less than nine AA fire control radars: four Type 285 Radars, one on each High Angle Director Tower and four Type 282 Radars, one on each Mk IV pom-pom director, and a long range Type 281 Radar which also had precision ranging panels for aerial and surface targets. This placed the PRINCE OF WALES in the forefront of naval HA AA fire control systems at the time)
    • 8th May - Carried out Full Power Trials.
    • 21st May - Ship reported to CinC Home Fleet as ready for Fleet service.
    • (The PRINCE OF WALES had had less than two months working up, which was completely inadequate considering all the new systems and the fact that 80% of her crew were Hostilities Only and had never been on a ship before. Further she still had major problems with her main armament and 100 Vickers Armstrong staff were embarked attempting to fix the problems. The BISMARCK in contrast had worked up over a period of five months and was fully operational and efficient)
  • Victorious
    • March 29th - Commissioned for service in Home Fleet after work-up.
    • April - Contractors sea trials and passage to Rosyth.
    • Prepared for operational service.
    • April 15th - Joined Home Fleet.
    • May - Final Acceptance Trials and worked-up for service.
    • May 20th - Embarked of aircraft and intended to Join Convoy WS8X escort.
  • Furious
    • April - Deployed to carry aircraft to Gibraltar for transfer to HM Aircraft Carrier ARK ROYAL.
Apart from Prince of Wales (which was more "worked down" than OTL) the only British fast capital ship at Scapa Flow was King George V which was present from 10th to 13th April. Although Hood would arrive on 15th April.

However, there's no guarantee that the ships would be in those places ITTL because the Admiralty might have suspected that something was afoot. E.g. air reconnaissance might have revealed Bismarck's earlier than OTL move to the Baltic so they'd expect that the ship would complete her working early in April 1941 instead of late May 1941 and from the beginning of April 1941 take as many precautions as possible.

Also the Naval History Net entry on King George V says...
From about the 14/5/41 the CinC Home Fleet and the Admiralty became aware that the Luftwaffe had increased its reconnaissance of Scapa Flow. Also Luftwaffe Enigma decrypts revealed that FW 200's were carrying out reconnaissance flights between Jan Mayen island and Greenland checking out the ice conditions. This intelligence led to the possibility that German ships were intending to break out into the Atlantic.
My guess is that the Naval History Net of TTL would say...
From about the 7/4/41 the CinC Home Fleet and the Admiralty became aware that the Luftwaffe had increased its reconnaissance of Scapa Flow. Also Luftwaffe Enigma decrypts revealed that FW 200's were carrying out reconnaissance flights between Jan Mayen island and Greenland checking out the ice conditions. This intelligence led to the possibility that German ships were intending to break out into the Atlantic.
IIRC from reading Ludovick Kennedy's Pursuit the British had a spy in the dockyard at Brest who knew about the impending sortie of Bismarck and Prinz Eugen IOTL and he was able to inform the Admiralty. IIRC from the book that was how the Admiralty first learned about Operation Rheinübung.

That spy might be able to do the same ITTL.
 
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I've made two rather silly mistakes in Post 2.
  • Rather Silly Mistake Number 1 is that 35 days before 18th/19th May 1941 is 13th/14th April 1941 not 11th/12 April 1941.
  • Rather Silly Mistake Number 2 is that 35 days before 14th May 1941 is 9th April 1941 not 7th April 1941.
That means that the British ships will be in different positions to the ones that I quoted in Post 2.
 
Wasn't the Prinz Eugen unavailable until May due to some damage unrelated to Bismarck???
I've got my copy of Whitley's German Cruisers of World War Two out .

He wrote that commissioning was not over delayed by being hit by a bomb on 2nd July 1940. The last four months of 1940 were spent mainly on trials and post-completion modifications in and around Kiel dockyard. Then in the new year she commenced working-up in the Baltic , interspersed with further times in dockyard hands. By April it was intended that she would accompany Bismarck on her Atlantic sortie. She left Deutsche Werke for Gotenhafen to begin preparations for the intended sortie on 8th April, but he didn't give the date of arrival.

Some of the above was word-for-word from Page 118 of the book.

He also wrote that when it was decided that Prinz Eugen would accompany Bismarck she still had to carry out gunnery shoots, exercises with the 24th U-boat Flotilla and in-company exercises with Bismarck herself, with the intention of having her ready by the 23rd.

However, she wad damaged by an underwater explosion about 700 metres ahead of the ship on 22nd April. The explosion was probably caused by a ground mine laid by the RAF. This resulted in her being in dry dock until 2nd May and a further nine days passed before the passage to Gotenhafen could be undertaken.

So it looks as if the damage that delayed her departure IOTL happened a about a week to a week-and-a-half before TTL's Operation Rheinübung began. However, there's no guarantee that Prinz Eugen (or Bismarck) wouldn't have hit another mine that the RAF had laid in the Baltic.
 
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Lots of butterflies possible here but:

Best case: Bismarck and PE with surprise and a little more dark in April break out undetected, find and attack a convoy, maybe escorted by a QE class battleship, Bismarck engages the British battleship, PE goes after scattering merchants. Bismarck sinks the escorting battleship, PE runs down 20 or so merchants. Bismarck suffers little enough damage she is able to stay out on the high seas refueled by a lurking German tanker, maybe gets a chance at another convoy, before returning home to Germany successfully.

(with long term ill effects that the British change their convoy system to escort with 2 Battleships or do something to lower the number of ships reaching England, or reduce Battleships in the Mediterranean or Pacific or some such thing).

Medium case: Bismarck goes to port in France with damage from such a convoy battle. British launch a major bombing effort, keeping Bismarck non operational indefinitely, but diverting bombers from hitting Germany.

Worst case: Bismarck sunk.
 
Would the Gotland have been in position to spot the Bismarck en route.
No idea, but she wasn't the only warship in the Royal Swedish Navy and Bismarck could have encountered one of them.

I looked at my copy of Whitley's German capital ships book to see if using the Kiel Canal was considered, but there's no mention of it.

However, he does write that Lütjens reported the sighting of Bismarck by Gotland Admiral Carls at Gruppe Nord. Carls replied that he thought there was no great danger of the information being passed on to the British due to Swedes policy of strict neutrality. However, Whitley wrote that SKL and he were well aware that the Swedes sighted The Twins passing through the Belts on 25th January 1941 and passed the information onto the British Naval Attaché in Stockholm.

The last sentence of the paragraph (on Page 152) reads...
He remarked upon this point on 23rd March, so the choice of such a compromised route was puzzling, especially as he admitted that the English spy system in Denmark and Sweden was very good.
 
Would the Gotland have been in position to spot the Bismarck en route.
When I was researching the locations of the British major warships I came across this paragraph which is in the entries on King George V and Rodney.
Late on the 18/4/41 the Admiralty received a report that the German battleship BISMARCK, two cruisers, cruiser Leipzig class and three destroyers passed the Skaw early morning of 18/4/41 steering north west. This report was false, as at the time the BISMARCK was in the Baltic.
And this paragraph in the entry on Hood.
19th April 1941 - At 0120 hours following Admiralty order the HOOD force were diverted to Hvalfjord. (This deployment was to counter any attempt by the German battleship BISMARCK to break out into the Atlantic. Following a report of a German force passing through the Skagerrak).
Hood was at Hvalfjord from 21st to 28th April. She arrived with 4 destroyers (COSSACK, INGLEFIELD, MAORI and ZULU) and left with 4 destroyers (ECHO, ACTIVE, ACHATES, and ANTHONY).

18th April is four or five days after Bismarck and Prinz Eugen leave Gotenhafen ITTL i.e. 13th/14th April.
 
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The German capital ships had explicit orders to not engage capital ships. The Twins encountered a convoy escorted by an R on their raid but disengaged.
The S+G raid did for sure. I though Bismarck was to engage British Battleships???? (I could be remembering wrong though)
 
The S+G raid did for sure. I though Bismarck was to engage British Battleships???? (I could be remembering wrong though)
I don't have a source but engaging them is a good way to at least mission kill her, which is exactly what happened even with a Golden BB on one.
 
The German capital ships had explicit orders to not engage capital ships. The Twins encountered a convoy escorted by an R on their raid but disengaged.
Do you have a source for that? I think that only applied to The Twins.

These are the opening sentences of the paragraph in the top right corner on Page 149 of German Capital Ships of World War Two by M.J. Whitley...
Nevertheless, Raeder based his plans on having available two ships of the Bismarck type to attack convoys. One would engage and sink the escorting battleships; while the second would destroy the convoy. Unfortunately, the second ship of this class, Tirpitz, was unlikely to be ready in time and, given Raeder's strict adherence to training schedules, could not expect to be allowed to participate, despite the keenness of her crew and captain, Kts.z.S. Trop. Raeder was therefore forced into an intermediate solution. Bismarck would sail and deal with the capital ship escorts while, to accopmany her, would be the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. There was no other choice available to him-the Panzerschiffe were too slow, the light cruisers unsuitable and the other capital ships trapped in Brest. Finally, Admiral Hipper was in need of a full refit after her Atlantic sortie.
Edit: Ninja'd by 10 minutes!
 
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Do you have a source for that? I think that only applied to The Twins.

These are the opening sentences of the paragraph in the top right corner on Page 149 of German Capital Ships of World War Two by M.J. Whitley...

Edit: Ninja'd by 10 minutes!
It seems I've been proven wrong. Still seems like a bad plan for the KM and a good way to trade a convoy and an old BB for hobbling and running down a new BB.
 

tigercat

Kicked
Trying to work out 825 Squadron's location . They seem to have been on Furious pre Victorious so may have been on way to Gibraltar
 
It seems I've been proven wrong. Still seems like a bad plan for the KM and a good way to trade a convoy and an old BB for hobbling and running down a new BB.
I don't disagree with you. However, it must have been a risk that Raeder and Co thought was worth taking.
 

Garrison

Donor
Probably good news for HMS Hood, even a minor time shift probably means Bismarck doesn't get the 'golden BB' assuming Hood did encounter her.
 
Trying to work out 825 Squadron's location . They seem to have been on Furious pre Victorious so may have been on way to Gibraltar.
From Page 179 of The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm by Theo Ballance, Lee Howard and Ray Sturtivant - Copyright 2016 by Theo Ballance & Lee Howard.
  • 22.03.41 - HMS Furious
  • 11.04.41 - Campbeltown
  • 17.05.41 - Haston
  • 19.05.41 - HMS Victorious
  • 11.06.41 - HMS Ark Royal and ceased to exist on 13.11.41 when she was sunk.
  • 01.01.42 - Reformed at Lee-on-Solent.
And these are the movements of Victorious in April 1941 from Post 2.
  • March 29th - Commissioned for service in Home Fleet after work-up.
  • April - Contractors sea trials and passage to Rosyth.
  • Prepared for operational service.
  • April 15th - Joined Home Fleet.
  • May - Final Acceptance Trials and worked-up for service.
  • May 20th - Embarked of aircraft and intended to Join Convoy WS8X escort.
 
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CalBear

Moderator
Donor
Monthly Donor
The S+G raid did for sure. I though Bismarck was to engage British Battleships???? (I could be remembering wrong though)
The goal was to avoid getting caught in a peer-to-peer gunfight that could cripple a KM ship, or even cause serious damage that would prevent her being able to make it home through the Royal Navy's blockade.

The Germans never really did figure out what to do with their heavies. Sending a pair of 50,000 ton, $79M dollar (at the German official rate of $2.49 = 1 RM at time of construction) battleships out to attack convoys has got to be one of the dumbest strategic visions of the last couple centuries even before considering that the enemy can concentrate three or four hunter-killer SAG that can out gun them.

As more or less worthless as true warships the Deutschland (too slow to be a cruiser, too weakly armed to be a capital ship) class panzerschiffs may have been, they were at least ideally designed as surface raiders (and all five ships in the class cost as much as a single Bismarck class). They were fast enough to get away from any of the RN battleships before the KGV class and well armed enough that a pair of them could outfight a convoy screen unless a capital ship was assigned. You don't want to lose them by any stretch of the imagination but trading one for a half dozen cargo ships and probably two or three frigates or destroyers or the merchant ships and an enemy cruiser (in a two ship attack) can be seen as a worst case, with convoys scattered a la PQ 17 across the North Atlantic and easy picking from U-boats and Condors being the best case.

Still, Tirpitz was, hands down, the best investment the Wehrmacht made in the entire war. Tied down a quarter of the Royal Navy heavies for the better part of the war simply by sitting at anchor in Norway.
 
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