The Idler Wins the Thread!
For the Virtual Green Room: June 9, 2011

Liveblogging World War II: June 9, 1941

Time Magazine:

World War: AT SEA: Lessons from the Bismarck -- Printout -- TIME: The long-standing controversy of sea power v. air power was settled once and for all by the Hood-Bismarck affair and by the battle for Crete.... Any sea power worthy of the name must work with air power; air power over the sea is in fact sea power. The lessons of the Hood-Bismarck chase and of Crete, therefore, were lessons in the balance of these two powers as they team up to fight an opposing balance of the two.

Specific lessons:

The first duties of air power used as a sea weapon are scouting, reconnaissance, keeping touch with the enemy. The Bismarck might never have been sunk had she not been stalked by U.S.-made Consolidated (PBY-5) Catalinas....

Planes need bases. The Catalinas could fly from the Bismarck to Gibraltar, to Iceland, to Britain, and under ideal weather conditions might be refueled at sea; but shorter-range aircraft over the open sea would be helpless but for aircraft carriers. Britain has eight carriers, Germany has perhaps two, Italy has none. However, airfields ashore are "fixed carriers," and they are better than mobile carriers.... British sea-air power becomes progressively effective as it moves away from shore. Two aircraft carriers, the brand-new Victorious and the still unsunk Ark Royal, were able to cripple the most powerful battleship in the world just before it came within danger range of land air bases in France. Conversely, the British did not dare expose vulnerable aircraft carriers, which they call "floating blocks of flats," in the confined waters of the Aegean; and ships without planes consequently took an unmerciful beating.

Torpedoes played a greater part than shellfire in crippling and sinking the Bismarck....

Naval architects were astonished by the way the Bismarck stood up under punishment. Bismarck's crew were convinced she was unsinkable, and they were almost right. She absorbed at least 20 16-in. shells from the Rodney, 15-in. shells from the Hood, and 14-in. shells from the Prince of Wales and King George V; three torpedoes launched from aircraft, two from destroyers, one from a battleship and three from cruisers; and about three hundred 8-in. shells, 4.7-in. shells and other small stuff....

Luck has contributed a spectacular share to the naval encounters of World War II....

But the main lesson was the need for coordination of all the weapons of sea warfare. Near Crete neither side was properly coordinated: Britain, lacking aircraft, lost ships, and Germany, lacking ships, lost men. But in holing the Bismarck the British used almost uncanny coordination.... Over 100 vessels were said to be involved in the hunt. When Napoleon planned the invasion of Britain, he dreamed of just such a stripping as this, and sent his fleet as a decoy to the West Indies to try to accomplish it; but then only Nelson and the Mediterranean squadron entered the chase. With the Bismarck gone, the Germans still have her sister, the Tirpitz. If the German Navy, knowing what certain death it would be, nevertheless sent the Tirpitz out on a similar sweep, it might be a tipoff for invasion.

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