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The Battle of the Bismarck Sea

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea


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U.S. and Australian land-based planes begin an offensive against a convoy of Japanese ships in the Bismarck Sea, in the western Pacific.

On March 1, U.S. reconnaissance planes spotted 16 Japanese ships en route to Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea. The Japanese were attempting to keep from losing the island and their garrisons there by sending 7,000 reinforcements and aircraft fuel and supplies. But a U.S. bombing campaign, beginning March 2 and lasting until the March 4, consisting of 137 American bombers supported by U.S. and Australian fighters, destroyed eight Japanese troop transports and four Japanese destroyers. More than 3,000 Japanese troops and sailors drowned as a consequence, and the supplies sunk with their ships. Of 150 Japanese fighter planes that attempted to engage the American bombers, 102 were shot down. It was an utter disaster for the Japanese–the U.S. 5th Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force dropped a total of 213 tons of bombs on the Japanese convoy.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill chose March 4, the official end of the battle, to congratulate President Franklin D. Roosevelt, since that day was also the 10th anniversary of the president’s first inauguration. “Accept my warmest congratulations on your brilliant victory in the Pacific, which fitly salutes the end of your first 10 years.”


Battle of the Bismarck Sea, 2-4 March 1943

The battle of the Bismarck Sea (2-4 March 1943) saw repeated Allied air attacks almost totally destroy a Japanese convoy attempting to get reinforcements from Rabaul to the bases at Lae and Salamaua on the north-east coast of New Guinea. A total of twelve of the sixteen Japanese ships involved in the attempt were sunk, and fewer than 1,000 men reached their destination.

The Japanese were already aware of the dangers posed by Allied air power. In January 1943 they had attempted to send the 102nd Infantry Regiment from Rabaul to Lae to join with the Naval troops already in the area. This movement had been detected by the Allies and in a series of air attacks they sank two transports. Although three quarters of the regiment reached Lae safely, they had lost half of their supplies.

The regiment, commanded by Major General Toru Okabe, was then used in an attempt to capture the Australian outpost at Wau (28-30 January 1943). This attack was also defeated with the help of Allied air power, which allowed reinforcements to be flown into the besieged base. Okabe suffered heavy losses in the attack, and requested reinforcements.

The Japanese commanders at Rabaul believed that Lae and Salamaua were an essential part of their defensive perimeter, and so they decided to send 6,900 men from the 51st Division to reinforce the area. A lack of alternatives meant that the division would have to travel by sea in a fleet of eight transport ships and eight destroyers. They also had around two hundred aircraft within range. The division's equipment was spread evenly between the eight transports so that the loss of a single ship wouldn't be a disaster.

The Allies had more aircraft in the area, with 207 bombers and 129 fighters based in Papua, but they lacked anti-shipping weapons. General Kenney's Fifth Air Force was aware of this weakness, and had practiced 'skip-bombing', a technique similar to the famous 'bouncing bomb'. 500lb bombs would be dropped at very low altitude and hopefully would hit the vulnerable sides of the transport ships. According to the official US Army history of the campaign Kenney had picked up the idea of 'skip-bombing' from the RAF. Kenney's men had also modified some of their B-25s to carry extra .50in forward firing guns that they could use on strafing attacks.

The Japanese convoy left Rabaul at midnight on 28 February. Allied reconnaissance aircraft spotted them on 1 March. They were found again early on 2 March, by which point they were near Cape Gloucester, on the north-western corner of New Britain.

This put them outside medium bomber range, but well within the range of Kenney's heavy B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators. Supported by long range P-38 Lightings the heavy bombers attacked the convoy. Heavy bombers were often ineffective against ships, but on this occasion they managed to sink one (the Kyokusei Maru) and damage two of the eight transports. 950 men from the sunken ship were rescued by the destroyers. On the night of 2-3 March two destroyers rushed these men to Lae, although without their equipment.

By 3 March the Japanese were within range of the medium bombers. The first attack of the day was carried out by Australian Beauforts carrying torpedoes (Torbeaus), but these didn&rsquot score any hits.

The second attack was on a larger scale. Thirteen Beaufighters, thirteen B-17s, thirteen B-24s and twelve B-25s took part in the attack. The Beaufighters suppressed the Japanese anti-aircraft fire, while the heavy bombers attacked from medium altitude. Finally the B-25s made their low level attack. Japanese aircraft attempted to intervene, but the Allies only lost three P-38s and one B-17. During this attack the special service vessel Nohima (one of the transport ships) sank, the destroyers Arashio, Shirayuki and Tokitsukaze took mortal damage. The other transport ships were all either sunk or left sinking.

A third attack was launched on the afternoon of 3 March. There were now five destroyers left afloat (at this point the Arashio was still afloat). The Arashio was sunk during this attack, but the other destroyers survived. They managed to rescue just under 5,000 of the troops, but they had to abandon the attempt to get them to Lae, and instead took them back to Rabaul and Kavieng. Around 3,000 men were lost in the battle, and only the 950 taken by destroyers ever reached Lae.

The last transport ship was sunk by PT boats on the night of 3/4 March.

The battle of the Bismarck Sea was a crushing defeat for the Japanese. The much-needed reinforcements failed to reach Lae. The Japanese abandoned any future attempt to use transport ships in the Bismarck Sea, and the few reinforcements that did reach Lae and Salamaua had to come by submarine or small boats operating carefully at night. Wartime reports of the battle were unusually confused. Because the two forces hadn't been in constant contact the Allies weren't sure how many ships had been in the convoy, or if new ships had joined later on. Many reports thus gave the Japanese up to twelve transports, and added cruisers to the escort force.


Story

One of the most famous episodes in naval history, at the time it gripped the attention of people around the world. They wondered if Britain could weather the shock of losing its grip on maritime supremacy, which had been established at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The epic pursuit of the German battleship KM Bismarck took place across 1,700 miles of the North Atlantic, starting with the destruction of the legendary British battle-cruiser HMS Hood, on 24 May 1941 during the Battle of the Denmark Strait.

That devastating blow, with all but three of the ‘Mighty Hood’s’ 1,418 ship’s company lost, was followed by a dramatic search and destroy mission conducted by much of the Royal Navy.

After losing the Bismarck for 31 hours, contact was regained on 26 May followed by Swordfish torpedo-bombers making a bid to stop the flagship of Germany’s navy escaping to safe refuge in a port on the Atlantic coast of occupied France.

With Bismarck’s steering crippled, next into the boxing ring with the Kriegsmarine heavyweight were British destroyers – and one plucky Polish warship – which threw themselves at the enemy during a tumultuous night action.

U-boats ordered to the scene were unable to do anything to protect Bismarck, with one would-be rescuer running out of torpedoes and forced to watch impotently as enemy ships steamed past unharmed.

Come the new day British battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney charged into action and, with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk and HMS Dorsetshire, surrounded the limping Bismarck. They unleashed a storm of fire such as has rarely been seen in modern sea combat.

Image: Steve Jagger, based on original artwork by Paul Wright

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill endured high anxiety as he kept track of events at his War Rooms in London, while at his Eagle’s Nest in Bavaria, the German dictator Adolf Hitler raged against his naval chiefs’ decision to even deploy Bismarck.


Battle of the Bismarck Sea

A B-24’s chance discovery of a sixteen-ship Japanese convoy on March 1, 1943, set off a three-day running battle (March 3–5) between Japanese and Allied forces in the Bismarck Sea. On the one hand was a very determined Japanese convoy escort of eight destroyers commanded by Rear Admiral Masatomi Kimura, who intended to deliver the 51st Imperial Infantry Division and over thirty thousand tons of critical fuel, ammunition, and other supplies to the beleaguered Japanese forces in New Guinea. He was supported by Admiral Kusaka’s Eleventh Naval Air Fleet. Their opponents were General Kenney with his Fifth Air Force and a small squadron of PT boats. Coming at a crucial point in the New Guinea campaign, the outcome in the Bismarck Sea would have a direct and decisive effect on the campaign ashore.

The convoy run had been ordered by the Japanese commanders in Rabaul. General Okabe’s failure to seize the port of Wau had jeopardized Japan’s overland campaign to capture Port Moresby. Logistics were the key. Both Japanese and Allied forces were at the end of their logistical tether. Japanese army and naval air squadrons desperately needed fuel and spare parts, while the ground forces needed food, ammunition, and fresh troops. The convoy’s merchant ships and oilers would deliver the required material, while two troop transports would carry the 51st Division its nearly seven thousand troops could tip the balance ashore. Recognizing the Allied air threat, Admiral Kusaka ordered daily combat air patrols and provided eight destroyers with strong antiaircraft batteries to protect the convoy. Admiral Kimura also expected to encounter U.S. submarines, but he could do little except order additional lookouts. Few of his destroyers had active sonar, but it was their lack of radar and air cover which would prove decisive in the coming battle. The submarine threat never materialized.

The convoy departed Rabaul on February 28 and was detected late in the afternoon of the next day. A rainstorm hindered Allied efforts to shadow the convoy, and it was lost at sundown, before any air strikes could be launched. It was rediscovered the next morning, and seven B-17s forged through the bad weather to press home their attacks. Three attacked from high altitude and missed, but four struck from below 6,000 feet, sinking one transport and damaging two others. Later attacks were less successful, their efforts hampered by bad weather, aggressive Japanese fighter patrols, and the bombers’ limited numbers. Sunset brought the Japanese a reprieve, but the next day would see both sides redouble their efforts. Two destroyers picked up survivors and delivered them to Lae overnight, returning to rejoin the convoy in the early morning.

General Kenney ordered a maximum effort for the next day, including all available Australian as well as U.S. aircraft. The resulting 137 bombers with supporting fighter escorts overwhelmed the forty-two Japanese naval Zeros protecting the convoy. Lacking radar to vector their fighters to the bombers, the Zeros became embroiled with the Allied fighter escorts while the heavy and medium bombers punched through unscathed to strike the convoy. The American A-20s and B-25s employed the new “skip-bombing” technique and recently installed forward firing armaments to devastating effect. Every ship suffered some damage— several, seriously.

Two destroyers, including flagship Shirayuki, and a transport were sunk. Another destroyer and three merchant ships were knocked dead in the water. Several ships were burning. The next wave of Allied aircraft nearly finished the convoy off, critically damaging one destroyer and sinking the previously crippled destroyer and two more cargo ships. The surviving transports were immobilized, and the water was littered with struggling seamen and soldiers. The Japanese sent dozens of fighters to provide air cover and despatched two submarines to pick up survivors. Two destroyers fled to Rabaul packed with 2,700 survivors. Two others, Yukikaze and Asaguma, remained behind to pick up the remainder and fled during the night. The one surviving crippled cargo vessel, Oigawa Maru, and the two remaining disabled destroyers were finished off by American PT boats that night and by American bombers the next morning, respectively. Another transport went down that night. The Japanese submarines I-17 and I-26 marked the last moments of the battle by fishing more than two hundred survivors from the water during the evening of March 4. American PT boats unsuccessfully attacked the latter submarine as it was finishing its mission. The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, a disaster for the Japanese, was over.

The Japanese lost more than four thousand men and nearly thirty thousand tons of supplies in the battle. This devastating defeat ended Japan’s strong efforts to reinforce its forces on New Guinea. The combination of deadly Allied air power by day and PT boat patrols by night all but strangled the Japanese forces in New Guinea. All future Japanese logistics support would come by submarine and would never approach the quantities needed to support effective ground operations. In effect, the Allied victory in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea both demonstrated air power’s dominance in naval warfare and also ensured the ultimate Allied victory ashore.

The Bismarck Sea was the debut of the B-25 strafer and Bristol Beaufighter. Both had been in action previously, but never with such effect. Fred Cassidy was aboard a Beaufighter at the Bismarck Sea:

When attacking ships we liked to come in from the front. It was our goal to put the bridge out of order. You would begin the approach sideways, maybe three-quarter speed, perhaps 220 knots, and about four miles off. Then we’d run parallel. We’d make a big wide turn, get into line astern, usually a flight of maybe three. We’d start at the back of the ship and make a big sweeping turn and come in from the front and begin the dive from about 500 feet. The ship would be about 600 yards in front. You’d let go with your cannon at maybe 100 yards from the ship, aim straight at the bridge, and turn straight off. You’d pull up over the mast. You’d watch the ship kind of disintegrate. In the Bismarck Sea battle we strafed from the front. The ships were careening in all directions. I saw a 500-pound bomb level with our starboard wing going at the same altitude and same speed that we were that a Mitchell had just dropped, maybe twenty feet off the water. You also had to dodge bomb-splashes at the Bismarck Sea because the Liberators and ’17s were dropping from 6,000-10,000 feet and they’d make huge splashes when we were about twenty feet off the sea. These splashes were thirty to fifty feet across and followed by a tremendous spout of water. We had to fly through those. The damage done to the Japanese was devastating.

Veteran B-25 pilot Garrett Middlebrook had an unusually close ringside seat to the Bismarck Sea debacle:

After the Bismarck Sea we converted to eight .5O-calibers in the nose, which were awesome, absolutely awesome. It was absolutely unreal what they could do. I saw it often, first at the Bismarck Sea. This was a very interesting mission for me-it was the only one I flew as a copilot of the sixty-five I flew during the war. Midway through the mission I thought I was fortunate. The pilot was doing all the work and I was a witness to history being made-we knew this was a big show that would live in the history books for 100 years. During the battle we circled out there waiting our turn to go in, a good mile away. The A-20s went in first, and then the strafers of 30th Bomb Group arrived. They went in and hit this troop ship. What I saw looked like little sticks, maybe a foot long or something like that, or splinters flying up off the deck of the ship they’d fly all around . . . and twist crazily in the air and fall out in the water. I thought, “What could that be? They must have some peculiar cargo on that vessel.” Then I realized what I was watching were human beings. It was a troopship just loaded. When the third group hit them two of the ships went in and unloaded with those sixteen machine guns and most likely the turret gunner upstairs was having a little fun, too. I was watching hundreds of those Japanese just blown off the deck by those machine guns. They just splintered around the air like sticks in a whirlwind and they’d fall in the water. Soon afterwards we attacked a destroyer that was fleeing. We didn’t have the nose guns but hit him square with two bombs at mast level.

After the war former Rabaul staff officer Masatake Okumiya described the anguish caused by the Bismarck Sea among Japanese leaders:

The effectiveness of enemy air strength was brought to [Admiral Yamamoto] with the news of a crushing defeat which, if similar events were permitted to occur in the future, promised terrifying disasters for Japan. . . . Our losses for this single battle [Bismarck Sea-EB] were fantastic. Not during the entire savage fighting at Guadalcanal did we suffer a single comparable blow. It became imperative that we block the continued enemy air activities before these attacks became commonplace. We knew we could no longer run cargo ships or even fast destroyer transports to any front on the north coast of New Guinea, east of Wewak. Our supply operation to north-eastern New Guinea became a scrabbler’s run of barges, small craft and submarines.

After the Bismarck Sea the Japanese had to send convoys much farther up the coast out of air attack range, for the moment causing immense difficulties in getting them to the front. Yet troops sent forth were hardly safe. After the war Japanese officers at Rabaul estimated that 20,000 troops were lost during sea transit in the Rabaul-New Guinea area. As the months went on U.S. submarines operating in Southeast Asian waters and off Truk began to take their grim toll in addition to ships and barges destroyed by aircraft.

FURTHER READINGS Hoyt, Edwin P. The Jungles of New Guinea (1989). Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, vol. VI (1968). Salmaggi, Cesare, and Alfredo Pallavisini. 2194 Days of War (1977).


Battle of the Bismarck Sea

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a battle fought in February 1943 in Southeast Asia during World War II, between the Japanese Navy and the US Air Force. In game theory , its modeling was done by O. G. Haywood, Jr. in his article “Military Decision and Game Theory”, 1954. It’s a game used in game theory to analyze zero-sum games with two players.

The game, based on the actual military operation, is based on the decision General Kenney had to make. General Kenney, as Commander of the Allied Forces in the South-west Pacific Area, received intelligence reports indicating part of the Japanese Navy was about to sail from Rabaul, in the island of New Britain, to Lae, in New Guinea. Knowing this, General Kenney decided to make his five-step “Estimate of the Situation”, a technique used in US military operations.

Step 1: The Mission

General Kenney’s mission was to intercept the convoy and inflict the maximum possible amount of damage.

Step 2: Situation and Courses of Action

In addition to the intelligence report on Japanese troop movements, Kenney received weather reports indicating that rain and poor visibility was predicted for the area north of New Britain, while south of the island visibility would be good.

The Japanese commander had two possible courses of action: he could sail his convoy north of the island, or go south of the island. Any of these routes would take three days to sail.

General Kenney had therefore two possible courses of action: concentrate most of his reconnaissance aircrafts (but not all) along the northern route or along the southern route.

Step 3: Analysis of the Opposing Courses of Action

Since both commanders have two possible strategies, there are four possible outcomes.

Step 4: Comparison of Available Courses of Action

Obviously, General Kenney had to look for the best possible outcome. These are the four possible outcomes:

The first scenario (or set of opposing courses of action) shows the US Air Force’s bulk of airplanes north of New Britain, and the Japanese Navy taking the northern route. Because of poor visibility, the convoy wouldn’t be discovered until the second day, allowing for two days of bombing.

The second scenario shows again the US Air Force’s bulk of airplanes north of New Britain, but in this case the Japanese take the southern route. Because of limited reconnaissance south of the island, the convoy could be missed during the first day, allowing once again for two days of bombing.

The third scenario shows the main part of the US Air Force south of the island, and the Japanese Navy taking the northern route. Considering the poor visibility north of the island, plus limited reconnaissance, the convoy would be missed for two days, allowing for just one day of bombing.

The fourth and last scenario shows the US Air Force’s bulk of airplanes south of the island, and the Japanese taking the southern route. In this case, having the majority of airplanes in the area and having good visibility, General Kenney could hope for three days of bombing.

Step 5: The Decision

General Kenney decided to concentrate his reconnaissance airplanes north of New Britain.

In game theory, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea would be considered a simultaneous game , since both players have to make a decision at the same time, without knowing his opponent’s decision. Therefore, it can be depicted using the strategic form , by means of a matrix such as the following one.

We can solve this game analyzing the dominant and dominated strategies . The way to proceed is to eliminate for each player every strategy that seems ‘unreasonable’, which will greatly reduce the number of equilibria. This method is quite easy to use when only strictly dominated strategies are in place.

In this game, Kenney has no dominant strategy (the sum of the payoffs of the first strategy equals the sum of the second strategy), but the Japanese do have a weakly dominating strategy, which is to go North (the payoffs are equal for one strategy but strictly better for the other). Since only one of them has a dominant strategy, there is no dominant strategy equilibrium. We must then proceed by eliminating dominated strategies. As we’ve already mentioned, for the Japanese the strategy ‘go North’ weakly dominates strategy ‘go South’. Therefore, we eliminate the strategy ‘go South’ for the Japanese, who will go North. Now that we only consider the Japanese going North, Kenney’s strategy ‘go North’ is strictly dominant over strategy ‘go South’, which will be eliminated. Therefore, North-North is the weak-dominance equilibrium.


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In the days of my youth I had an interest in naval warfare, primarily of the 20th century, both American and British. I had read CS Forester’s “Sink the Bismarck.” There was even a pre-electronic board game whereby I was able to “match wits” with opponents, reenacting possible scenarios, including getting the Bismarck to one of the safe ports available (the odds were stacked against this happening). In the process, I learned much about the actual battle and the respective ships involved. Half a century later, I saw this movie, and thought I’d update my knowledge… which I did, sorting through some misinformation to do so.

As other reviewers have noted, this battle was NOT “the greatest sea battle of World War II.” Furthermore, it was NOT “the sinking of history’s greatest warships,” as the subtitle indicates. And during the documentary, I felt I’d like to strangle the narrator if he said: “the mighty HMS Hood” just one more time…when clearly it was not. Leyte Gulf, in ’44, was undisputedly the greatest sea battle of World War II, if not of all time. In terms of “greatest warships,” a lot of those at Pearl Harbor would qualify, as would the Japanese and American aircraft carriers, as would the Japanese battleships, at Leyte Gulf, and on to the largest battleship ever built, the Yamato, sunk in ‘45. The documentary also omits the fact that the more powerful HMS Prince of Wales, which took part in the Bismarck battle, would be sunk six months thereafter, in the South China Sea.

Other than those few “quibbles,” I did find much of interest in this documentary, in which David Murnes, in his research vessel, “Northern Horizons,” managed to find both the Hood and the Bismarck (the Bismarck had been previously found, but, alas, with the rivalry of warship hunters, its location was kept secret.) And he added – modestly – to my knowledge of the battle and the sinking of both ships.

On May 24, 1941, the HMS Hood, a battlecruiser, was sunk by the new German battleship Bismarck in the strait between Iceland and Greenland. Only three of its crew survived, and only one, Ted Briggs, is still alive. He is prominently featured in this documentary, and there are scenes of him laying a commemorative plaque on the Hood (remotely, for sure). Murnes had managed to find the wreckage by a careful methodical grid search in the strait, using remote cameras and vessels recently developed that can withstand the extreme pressure. My understanding, of 50 years ago, of the reason why the Hood sank so quickly – in less than two minutes – is that it took a hit between the two smokestacks, where there was no deck armor. Murnes seemed to prove that it was the aft turret that took the hit, which also caused a below deck explosion that blew off the bow.

In response, “Sink the Bismarck” was Churchill’s famous order. And in three days the British navy did! Only 118 survived that sinking, with an estimated 700 left in the water to die, due to possible attacks from U-Boats. For me, the most informative part of the documentary was detailing the mistakes made on both sides during those three days, and the uncertainties, the so-called “fog of war.” Foreshadowing events in the Pacific a year later, it was airpower that stopped the Bismarck, specifically old bi-wing aircraft, the “Swordfish,” which flew at around 150 mph, off the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, coming from the Mediterranean, that launched the torpedoes that damaged the rudder of the Bismarck, so that it became a “sitting duck,” able to only go in circles. As part of that proverbial “fog,” the documentary brings out that those planes mistakenly attacked the British cruiser Sheffield first. Even more astonishingly was the claim of one Swordfish pilot that in the final death throes of the Bismarck, they were fired upon by their own cruiser, the HMS Dorsetshire, to prevent them from “finishing the job.” I tend to believe the pilot, having witnessed myself examples of “interservice rivalries.”

Who finances such expeditions, and why, is not explained. Furthermore, I felt it was remiss not to indicate that almost certainly the reason why Hood did not have sufficient deck armor was the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, limiting the tonnage of capital warships, as opposed to the half-baked explanation that the Hood was too busy “touring the world” for twenty years and therefore there was never enough time for a refit of a ship originally constructed in1916. Overall, 3-stars.


Remembering Bismarck: The Epic Story of the German Battleship

Over nine tense days in the year 1941, a dramatic battle crippled life and swallowed the majestic Battleship Bismarck. The German Battleship was named after Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck. In July 1936, it was laid down in a shipyard in Hamburg and was launched almost after three years in April 1939. Put into service for less than a year, Bismarck plays an important role in maritime history. The design was finalised by Hitler’s Navy after they rose from the ruins of the First World War. The biggest Battleship Bismarck was set to fight the Second World War, and its main aim was to take control over the open waters.

Bismarck Battleship was almost the length of three football grounds put together and had as much as seven decks above the waterline and seven below it. The biggest battleship in the maritime history, Bismarck could reach up to 30 knots and had on board almost 2,200 men who stayed undetected by allied troops. Sailing in the North Atlantic, Bismarck Battleship’s main aim was to attack the British supply fleet that operates on the high seas.

On May 21 st 1941 Bismarck Ship moved towards the scheduled harbour southwest of Bergen, Norway and was repainted Gray so as to camouflage it in the high waters. It was the same day that Sweden detected two German warships among the fishing boats. Soon, the British army sent spitfire from Scotland and hence the movement of Bismarck Ship was detected by the army. Came May 23 rd and the day can be recalled as the clash of the Titans with Bismarck being spotted by heavy British cruisers in North Atlantic. It was 5:54 am of the next morning that Bismarck witness shots from a distance of 13 miles by cruisers HMS Hood and Prince of Wales. In no time, the German masterpiece made way to the ocean bed for one of the British battleships. The other one chose to flee away from the clutches of the majestic battleship of the German army.

The battle, for now, was won for Bismarck but difficulties arose as the firing created holes in the warship and as a result, thousands of tons of water seeped into the deck and in addition, the radar-detection gear of Bismarck was knocked down bringing down its speed to 29 knots. It was time again for some repair work so as to avoid Bismarck sinking. An air force plan yet again detected the battleship and the chase was on. The ship now, reduced to 20 knots so as to save fuel. On the dreaded night of the 26 th May, struck a squadron of Swordfish Torpedo from the British air carrier. The ship now lost control on many devices and moved towards a wrong direction. The next day at 10:39 am, Bismarck sinking was witnessed after many battleships fired at it.

The Bismarck Wreck had just 115 survivors out of the thousands that fought along with it. The short yet brave attempt by the German masterpiece was something that created ripples within the British army in no time. Bismarck in itself was an epic and will be the greatest part of the maritime history of all times.

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The Battle of Hood and Bismarck

The voyage to find history's two greatest battleships. It was the greatest sea battle of World War Two. It ended in the destruction of the two finest warships the world has ever seen a. Read all The voyage to find history's two greatest battleships. It was the greatest sea battle of World War Two. It ended in the destruction of the two finest warships the world has ever seen and claimed the lives of almost 3,500 men. The voyage to find history's two greatest battleships. It was the greatest sea battle of World War Two. It ended in the destruction of the two finest warships the world has ever seen and claimed the lives of almost 3,500 men.

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I suppose that many people, like myself, have a general idea of the battle in the North Atlantic between the battleship Hood, pride of the British fleet, and the Bismarck, newly built German battleship. Most of the details are probably gleaned from the excellent feature film, "Sink the Bismarck." But this straightens out some of the oversimplication in the feature film. The Captain of the Hood, Holland, knew very well that his ship, built during the First World War, was ill equipped to handle plunging fire -- that is, shells lobbed from such a distance that the arc placed them on the deck instead of against the well-armored side of the ship. Only the forward part of the Hood's deck was armored. The after part was left weakly protected, including the section over the after magazine.

In the film, Holland simply opens fire when within range and we see the ships exchanging salvos. But Holland was a savvy skipper. His intent was to get within close range of the Bismarck so that instead of the shells' trajectories assuming a high arc, they would be fire at a flatter angle against the ship's side and superstructure.

Hood and Prince of Wales rushed towards Bismarck to close the distance, but in doing so they were able only to engage their forward guns, while Bismarck could use all of her turrets. Holland had just about reached a point close enough to Bismarck to turn so that all her guns could be engaged and in fact was entering her turn when a German shell plunged through her after deck and exploded the magazine beneath.

The Hood blew up and sank in a few minutes with only three survivors. If Hood had completed her turn, her thick side armor would have taken the brunt of the Bismarck's fire and Hood probably would have survived.

These shells, it should be noted, weighted several tons and left the muzzles at about twice the speed of sound. They had ten miles to travel in an arc and they completed the trip in about thirty seconds. The explosion in the after magazine evidently ignited the ammunition in the forward part of the ship. That's two hundred tons of explosives going off.

Much of the program is taken up with an exploration of the Hood's remains. The only living survivor of the calamity contributes personal observations. It's an interesting episode with new information, but I find these underwater explorations generally dull. These hulking wrecks almost call out to be left alone.


Battle [ edit | edit source ]

Japanese ship movements (black) and Allied air attacks (red) during the battle

First attacks [ edit | edit source ]

The Japanese convoy – comprising eight destroyers and eight troop transports with an escort of approximately 100 fighters – assembled and departed from Simpson Harbour in Rabaul on 28 February. ⎲] During the January operation, a course was followed that hugged the south coast of New Britain. This had made it easy to provide air cover, but being close to the airfields also made it possible for the Allied Air Forces to attack both the convoy and the airfields at the same time. This time, a route was chosen along the north coast, in the hope that the Allies would be deceived into thinking that the convoy’s objective was Madang. Allied air attacks on the convoy at this point would have to fly over New Britain, allowing easy interdiction from Japanese air bases there, but the final leg of the voyage would be particularly dangerous, because the convoy would have to negotiate the restricted waters of the Vitiaz Strait. ⎳] The Japanese named the convoy "Operation 81." ⎴]

Fifth Air Force bombs bracket the transport Taimei Maru ⎵]

The destroyers carried 958 troops while the transports took 5,954. All the ships were combat loaded to expedite unloading at Lae. The commander of the Japanese XVIII Army – Lieutenant General Hatazō Adachi – travelled on the destroyer Tokitsukaze, while that of the 51st Division – Lieutenant General Hidemitsu Nakano – was on board the destroyer Yukikaze. ⎲] The escort commander – Rear Admiral Masatomi Kimura of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla – flew his flag from the destroyer Shirayuki. The other five destroyers were Arashio, Asashio, Asagumo, Shikinami and Uranami. They escorted seven Army transports: Aiyo Maru (2,716 gross register tons), Kembu Maru (950 tons), Kyokusei Maru (5,493 tons), Oigawa Maru (6,494 tons), Sin-ai Maru (3,793 tons), Taimei Maru (2,883 tons) and Teiyo Maru (6,870 tons). Rounding out the force was the lone Navy transport Nojima (8,125 tons). ΐ] ⎶] All the ships carried troops, equipment and ammunition, except for the Kembu Maru, which carried 1,000 drums of avgas and 650 drums of other fuel. ⎷]

The convoy, moving at 7 kn (8.1 mph 13 km/h), ⎸] was not detected for several days because of two tropical storms that struck the Solomon and Bismarck Seas between 27 February and 1 March, but at about 15:00 on 1 March, the crew of a patrolling B-24 Liberator heavy bomber spotted the convoy. Eight B-17 Flying Fortresses were sent to the location but failed to locate the ships. ⎹]

At dawn on 2 March, a force of six RAAF A-20 Bostons attacked Lae to reduce its ability to provide support. At about 10:00, another Liberator found the convoy. Eight B-17s took off to attack the ships, followed an hour later by another 20. ⎺] They found the convoy and attacked with 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs from 5,000 ft (1,500 m). They claimed to have sunk up to three merchant ships. Kyokusei Maru had sunk carrying 1,200 army troops, and two other transports, Teiyo Maru and Nojima, were damaged. ⎴] ⎻] Eight Japanese fighters were destroyed and 13 damaged in the day’s action. ⎼]

The destroyers Yukikaze and Asagumo plucked 950 survivors of Kyokusei Maru from the water. These two destroyers, being faster than the convoy since its speed was dictated by the slower transports, broke away from the group to disembark the survivors at Lae. The destroyers resumed their escort duties the next day. ⎻] The convoy – without the troop transport and two destroyers – was attacked again on the evening of 2 March by 11 B-17s, with minor damage to one transport. During the night, PBY Catalina flying boats from No. 11 Squadron RAAF took over the task of shadowing the convoy. ⎺]

Further attacks [ edit | edit source ]

By 3 March, the convoy was within range of the air base at Milne Bay, and eight Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers from No. 100 Squadron RAAF took off from there. Because of bad weather only two found the convoy, and neither scored any hits, but the weather cleared after they rounded the Huon Peninsula. A force of 90 Allied aircraft took off from Port Moresby, and headed for Cape Ward Hunt, while 22 A-20 Bostons of No. 22 Squadron RAAF attacked the Japanese fighter base at Lae, reducing the convoy’s air cover. Attacks on the base continued throughout the day. ⎽] ⎾]

At 10:00, 13 B-17s reached the convoy and bombed from medium altitude of 7,000 feet, causing the ships to maneuver which dispersed the convoy formation and reduced their concentrated antiaircraft firepower. The B-17s attracted a number of Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, which were in turn attacked by the P-38 Lightning escorts. A B-17 broke up in the air, and its crew was forced to take to their parachutes. Japanese fighter pilots machine-gunned some of the B-17 crew members as they descended and attacked others in the water after they landed. ⎽] Five of the Japanese fighters strafing the B-17 aircrew were promptly engaged and shot down by three Lightnings, which were also lost. ⎖] The Allied fighter pilots claimed 15 Zeros destroyed, while the B-17 crews claimed five more. ⎽] ⎾] Actual Japanese fighter losses for the day were seven destroyed and three damaged. ⎼] B-25 arrived shortly afterward and released their 500-pound bombs between 3,000 to 6,000 feet, reportedly causing two Japanese vessels to collide. The result of the B-17 and B-25 sorties scored few hits but left the convoy ships separated making them vulnerable to strafers and masthead bombers, and with the Japanese antiaircraft fire being focused on the medium-altitude bombers this left an opening for minimum altitude attacks. ⎖]

Pilot Flight Lieutenant Torchy Uren of No. 30 Squadron RAAF takes a drink from his water canteen while in the cockpit of his Beaufighter during the battle

The 13 Beaufighters from No. 30 Squadron RAAF approached the convoy at low level to give the impression they were Beauforts making a torpedo attack. The ships turned to face them, the standard procedure to present a smaller target to torpedo bombers, allowing the Beaufighters to maximise the damage they inflicted on the ships’ anti-aircraft guns, bridges and crews in strafing runs with their four 20 mm (0.79 in) nose cannons and six wing-mounted .303 in (7.70 mm) machine guns. ⎽] On board one of the Beaufighters was cameraman Damien Parer, who shot dramatic footage of the battle. ⎿] Immediately afterward, seven B-25s of the 38th Bombardment Group’s 71st Bombardment Squadron bombed from about 750 m (2,460 ft), while six from the 405th Bombardment Squadron attacked at mast height. ⎽] ⎾]

Shirayuki was the first ship to be hit, by a combination of strafing and bombing attacks. Almost all the men on the bridge became casualties, including Kimura, who was wounded. One bomb hit started a magazine explosion that caused the stern to break off, and the ship to sink. Her crew was transferred to Shikinami, and Shirayuki was scuttled. The destroyer Tokitsukaze was also hit and fatally damaged. Its crew was taken off by Yukikaze. The destroyer Arashio was hit, and collided with the transport Nojima, disabling her. Both the destroyer and the transport were abandoned, and Nojima was later sunk by an air attack. ⏀]

Allied aircraft execute a low-level attack on a Japanese ship

Fourteen B-25s returned that afternoon, reportedly claiming 17 hits or near misses. By this time, a third of the transports were sunk or sinking. As the Beaufighters and B-25s had expended their munitions, some USAAF A-20 Havocs of the 3rd Attack Group joined in. Another five hits were claimed by B-17s of the 43rd Bombardment Group from higher altitudes. During the afternoon, further attacks from USAAF B-25s and Bostons of No. 22 Squadron RAAF followed. ⏁]

Garrett Middlebrook, a co-pilot in one of the B-25s, described the ferocity of the strafing attacks:

They went in and hit this troop ship. What I saw looked like little sticks, maybe a foot long or something like that, or splinters flying up off the deck of ship they’d fly all around . and twist crazily in the air and fall out in the water. Then I realized what I was watching were human beings. I was watching hundreds of those Japanese just blown off the deck by those machine guns. They just splintered around the air like sticks in a whirlwind and they’d fall in the water. ⏂]

All seven of the transports were hit and most were burning or sinking about 100 km (54 nmi 62 mi) south east of Finschhafen, along with the destroyers Shirayuki, Tokitsukaze and Arashio. Four of the destroyers – Shikinami, Yukikaze, Uranami and Asagumo – picked up as many survivors as possible and then retired to Rabaul, accompanied by the destroyer Hatsuyuki, which had come from Rabaul to assist. ⏀] That night, a force of ten U.S. Navy PT boats – under the command of Lieutenant Commander Barry Atkins – set out to attack the convoy. Two boats struck submerged debris and were forced to return. The other eight arrived off Lae in the early hours of 4 March. Atkins spotted a fire that turned out to be the transport Oigawa Maru. PT-143 and PT-150 fired torpedoes at it, sinking the crippled vessel. In the morning, a fourth destroyer – Asashio – was sunk when a B-17 hit her with a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb while she was picking up survivors from Arashio. ⏃]

A Japanese ship, Kenbu Maru, under attack

Some 2,700 survivors were taken to Rabaul by the destroyers. On 4 March, another 1,000 or so survivors were adrift on rafts. ⏀] On the evenings of 3–5 March, PT boats and planes attacked Japanese rescue vessels, as well as the survivors from the sunken vessels on life rafts and swimming or floating in the sea. This was later justified on the grounds that rescued servicemen would have been rapidly landed at their military destination and promptly returned to active service, ⏄] as well as being retaliation for the Japanese fighter planes attacking survivors of the downed B-17 bomber. ⎖] While many of the Allied aircrew accepted these attacks as being necessary, others were sickened. ⏅] On 6 March, the Japanese submarines I-17 and I-26 picked up 170 survivors. Two days later, I-26 found another 54 and put them ashore at Lae. ⏀] Hundreds made their way to various islands. One band of 18 survivors landed on Kiriwina, where they were captured by PT-114. Another made its way to Guadalcanal, only to be killed by an American patrol. ⏆]

On 4 March the Japanese mounted a retaliatory raid on the Buna airfield, the site of a base that the Allies had captured back in January, though the fighters did little damage. Kenney wrote in his memoir that the Japanese reprisal occurred "after the horse had been stolen from the barn. It was a good thing that the Nip air commander was stupid. Those hundred airplanes would have made our job awfully hard if they had taken part in the big fight over the convoy on March 3rd." ⎖]

On Goodenough Island, Australian patrols from the 47th Infantry Battalion found and killed 72 Japanese, captured 42, and found another nine dead on a raft between 8 and 14 March 1943. One patrol killed eight Japanese that had landed in two flat-bottomed boats, in which were found some documents in sealed tins. On translation by the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section one document turned out to be a copy of the Japanese Army List, with the names and postings of every officer in the Japanese Army. It therefore provided a complete order of battle of the Japanese Army, including many units that had never before been reported. A mention of any Japanese officer could now be correlated with his unit. Copies were made available to intelligence units in every theatre of war against Japan. ⏇] ⏈]


BISMARCK SEA, BATTLE OF

BISMARCK SEA, BATTLE OF (2–4 March 1943). To reinforce the Japanese garrison at Lae, New Guinea, eight Japanese transports carrying seven thousand troops, escorted by eight destroyers, left Rabaul, New Britain, about midnight on 28 February 1943. Hidden initially by bad weather, the convoy was spotted in the Bismarck Sea by Allied patrol planes on 1 March. Heavy bombers struck the ships on 2 March, but the biggest attack came the following day as the convoy entered Huon Gulf. Brushing aside feeble Japanese air cover, at about 10 a.m. more than three hundred American and Australian bombers and fighters unleashed a devastating attack. Some of the medium bombers used a new "skip bombing" technique, coming in at very low levels, in the manner of torpedo planes, and dropping delay-fuse bombs that bounced from the water to explode against the sides of Japanese ships. These attacks on 3 and 4 March and a quick strike by American motor torpedo boats sank all eight transports as well as four destroyers, at a cost of only four Allied planes. More than half of the Japanese troops were killed, the rest being rescued by Japanese destroyers and submarines. The Japanese never again sent convoys to Lae subsequent attempts at reinforcement were made only by individual high-speed ships or small coastal craft.


The Battle of the Bismarck Sea - HISTORY

Wartime History
On February 28, 1942 a Japanese convoy of eight transports escorted by eight destroyers departed Rabaul bound for Lae on New Guinea. The convoy included eight transports loaded with Japanese troops and supplies including Kyokusei Maru, Aiyo Maru, Oikawa Maru, Teiyo Maru, Taimei Maru, Sin-ai Maru, Kembu Maru and Nojima Maru. Escorted by eight destroyers: Tokitsukaze (aboard was 18th Army commander Lt. General Hatazō Adachi ) Yukikaze (aboard was Lt. General Hidemitsu Nakano, commander 51st Division ), Shirayuki (aboard was Rear Admiral Masatomi Kimura), Arashio, Asashio, Asagumo, Shikinami and Uranami.

On March 1, 1943, the convoy was spotted and every available Allied aircraft was readied to intercept over the next three days. Between March 2-4, 1943 Allied aircraft from the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft sank all eight transports and four destroyers between Cape Gloucester and Finschafen. Nearly 3,000 Japanese were killed.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was an Allied victory as they sank all eight transports and four destroyers. Only 850 Japanese troops managed to reach Lae. The battle was the conducted by only Allied aircraft that employed new tactics including skip bombing.

Losses
The Japanese lost all eight transports were sunk. On March 2, 1943 Kyokusei Maru. On March 3, 1943 Aiyo Maru, Oikawa Maru, Teiyo Maru, Taimei Maru, Sin-ai Maru, Kembu Maru and Nojima Maru were sunk. Also lost were four escorting destroyers Arashio, Asashio, Shirayuki and Tokitsukaze. In total, nearly 3,000 Japanese were killed.

Kyokusei Maru
Sunk by Allied aircraft March 2, 1943 first ship sunk during the Battle of Bismarck Sea

Aiyo Maru
Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943 during Battle of Bismarck Sea

Oikawa Maru
Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943 during Battle of Bismarck Sea 30 miles southeast of Finschafen

Teiyo Maru
Cargo 6,801 tons. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Taimei Maru
Cargo 2,883 tons. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Sin-ai Maru
Cargo 3,793 tons. Also known as Shin-ai Maru or Sinai Maru. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Kembu Maru
Cargo 954 tons carrying gasoline. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Nojima Maru
Transport 8,750 Tons. Also known as Noshima Maru or Nozima Maru. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Asashio
Destroyer 2,370 tons. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Shirayuki
Destroyer 2,090 Tons. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Tokitsukaze
Destroyer 2,490 Tons. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 3, 1943

Arashio
Destroyer 2,370 tons. Sunk by Allied aircraft March 4, 1943

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