By the end of the First World War the German Navy was one of the largest in the world. However, under the terms of the Versailles Treaty in 1919, the German government was restricted to vessels under 10,000 tons, forbidden to own submarines and allowed only 1,500 officers.
When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 he implemented Plan Z, a ten year programme to develop a fleet capable of challenging the Royal Navy. The main emphasis was placed on the building of submarines and fast surface squadrons in order to be able to control Britain's vital trade supply lines.
In 1935 Karl Doenitz was put in charge of the new U-Boats being developed. However he clashed with Hermann Goering who was unwilling to supply the necessary capital to spend on the navy. Doenitz said that he needed 1,000 submarines to win any future war with Britain but by 1939 he had only 57.
German shipyards had difficulty producing the ships ordered by Hitler and on the outbreak of the Second World War the German Navy only had two battleships, two battlecruisers, three armoured cruisers, three heavy cruisers, six light cruisers, 22 destroyers and 59 submarines. Soon afterwards the Bismarck was completed. At 41,700 tons, it was considered the most powerful warship in the world.
In 1939 Hitler promoted Erich Raeder to the rank of grand admiral, the first German to hold this post since Alfred von Tirpitz. Raeder attempted to build large navy, but This brought him into conflict with Hermann Goering who as director of the German economy wanted to direct more resources to the Luftwaffe.
In October 1939 Raeder sent Adolf Hitler a proposal for capturing Denmark and Norway. He argued that Germany would not be able to defeat Britain unless it created naval bases in these countries. In April 1940 Hitler gave permission for this move but he was disappointed by the heavy losses that the German Navy suffered during the achievement of this objective.
At the beginning of the war the German Navy was equipped with the 750-ton Type VII U-boat. These proved too small for Atlantic operations and larger long-range types were later introduced. Between 1940 and 1943 U-boats took a heavy toll of Allied shipping in the Atlantic, Arctic and the Mediterranean.
The German U-boats now had bases on the Atlantic coast which put them much closer to British trade routes. The Royal Navy used its older ships to protect the convoys bringing goods from the United States. From 1941 it was also able to use its growing number of corvettes.
Raeder supported Operation Sealion, the planned German invasion of Britain, but argued that first the Luftwaffe had to gain air superiority. When Hermann Goering failed to win the Battle of Britain Reader advised Hitler to call off the invasion.
On 18th May 1941, the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen left port but it was not until 21st May that British intelligence was informed that the ships were refuelling in Bergen Fjord in Norway. Afterwards the ships headed for the Denmark Straits in an attempt to avoid the Royal Navy based at Scapa Flow. However, Admiral John Tovey had been informed of its position and he called up every available warship to destroy Germany's most powerful battleship.
On 23rd May the Bismarck was spotted by the heavy cruiser Suffolk. Using its recently installed radar to track the German ship it was soon joined by the Norfolk. At the same time the Hood and Prince of Wales moved in from the other direction to tackle the German ships head-on.
The warships went into battle on the morning of 24th May. The engagement began when the Hood began firing at the more advanced Prinz Eugen. When the Bismarck arrived it used its 15-inch guns and after taking several direct hits the Hood exploded before sinking. Only three out of a crew of 1,421 survived.
The two German ships now turned on the Prince of Wales and after being badly damaged fled from the area. The Bismarck was also damaged and had a ruptured fuel tank. This resulted in an oil leak and a reduction of her maximum speed. That evening the Bismarck was attacked by nine torpedo bombers and scored one direct hit.
It was decided that she was now vulnerable to attack and orders were given for her to return to the port of Brest. Steaming at moderate speed to conserve fuel it was sited by a British flying boat on 26th May. The aircraft followed the Bismarck until the light cruiser Sheffield took over that afternoon. It was soon joined by the Ark Royal and the Renown. Soon afterwards the Bismarck was hit which resulted in her steering gear being jammed.
Now severely disabled, the Bismarck was now surrounded by the King George V, Rodney, the Norfork and the Dorsetshire. After an hour and a half the Bismarck was a blazing wreck. At 10.36 a.m. the Bismarck sank killing all but 110 of her crew. The loss of its largest ship marked the end of the German Navy's incursions into the Atlantic.
Adolf Hitler grew increasingly disillusioned with the performance of the German Navy and after the Luetzow and Admiral Hipper failed to stop a large Arctic convoy he accused his commander of incompetence. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder resigned in January, 1943 and was replaced by Karl Doenitz as Commander in Chief of the navy.
The Allies gradually began to introduce successful anti-submarine strategies. This included the convoy system, long-range aircraft patrols, improved antisubmarine detectors and depth charges. By May 1943 German U-boats were forced to withdraw from the Atlantic.
In 1944 Karl Doenitz gave permission for a radically improved U-boat to be built in 1944. Working closely with Albert Speer, the Minister of Armaments, Germany were producing 42 of these all-electric boats a month by 1945. However, they were too late to make an impact on the outcome of the Second World War.
Of the 1,160 U-boats built during the Second World War, more than 350 were still in service at the end of the conflict. Between 3rd September 1939 and 8th May 1945, 785 U-boats were sunk. An estimated 32,000 crew members died in the war.
An admiralty announcement on Saturday said that the battlecruiser Hood suffered an unlucky hit in a magazine and blew up. It is feared that there will be few survivors. The 35,000 ton Bismarck, one of Germany's two newest battleships was damaged.
The two new German battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz may both have been present, though only the Bismarck is mentioned in the official bulletin. Recently the German Admiralty was at pains to let the world know that both were completed and on service. They are reported to have been designed to steam at more than 30 knots, and if that is their speed the Hood should be the ship most likely to keep them within range in a running fight. None of our battleships can exceed 25 knots apart from the new King George V class, and we know nothing of their whereabouts.
The destruction of the Hood is surprising, for her design was based on the lessons of Jutland, where three battlecruisers were all destroyed by the blowing up of their magazines. The armour protection for the Hood was considered by the experts to be the most effective that could be devised. All the protection possible was provided in the gun turrets and ammunition trunks to prevent the flash of an explosion passing down the trunk into the magazine and the handling rooms - the cause of the destruction of the Queen Mary, the Indefatigable, and the Invincible at Jutland - and more than a third of the weight of the ship was devoid of armour.
The Admiralty last night told the story of the destruction of the Bismarck, Germany's 35,000-ton battleship, after a pursuit of more than 1,750 miles.
After the loss of H.M.S. Hood on Saturday very strong forces were sent out to hunt the Bismarck. They included Home Fleet units under Admiral Sir J.C. Tovey in H.M.S. King George V and Mediterranean Fleet units under Admiral Sir J.F. Somerville in H.M.S. Renown. H.M.S. Rodney and H.M.S. Ramillies, which were on convoy duty, and the aircraft-carriers Ark Royal and Victorious were among other notable ships in the pursuit.
The Bismarck came very near to making port. She was about 400 miles due west of Brest when she was brought to bay early yesterday morning, having then been hit by torpedoes from aircraft (which played a vital part in the operations) and destroyers.
Our heavy ships were in action in the final phase, but it was the cruiser Dorsetshire which dealt the final blows - with torpedoes - at eleven o'clock yesterday morning.
In the first action on Saturday the Bismarck was accompanied by the 10,000 ton cruiser Prince Eugen. "Measures are being taken in respect of her," Mr. Churchill told the House of Commons yesterday. Apart from the Hood, only one British ship was damaged, H.M.S. Prince of Wales, which was slightly damaged on Saturday but was still able to engage the Bismarck again.
The replacement of Admiral Raeder, Commandet-in-Chief of the German Navy, by the U-boat expert Admiral Donitz (announced on Saturday) is regarded in Sweden as a substantiation of recent signs that Hitler is pinning ail his hopes on winning the war by U-boats. Stockholm reports say that it was known there that Hitler had virtually stopped all major naval building in order to build submarines. It is said that the rate is almost one a day.
Raeder, who "has been appointed Admiral-Inspector" is being relieved of his daily work in the leadership of the Navy" at his own request"
Donitz has been chief of the U-boat fleet. He is reputed to be "the greatest submarine expert" in Germany, and is the inventor of the "wolf-pack" system.
According to the German radio Admiral Donitz, in an address to the German Naval Staff when his flag was hoisted over the German Admiralty, said: "The entire German Navy will henceforth be put into the service of inexorable fight to the finish."
In an order of the day, announced on Saturday, Donitz said he will continue to Command the U-boats, personally.
The dismissal of Admiral Raeder will add to Germany's despair, for he was a man who was trusted, says Reuter. The Navy - least Nazified of the German forces - will deplore, his departure. Raeder put the Navy before the party and as far as possible kept It efficient and self-respecting. He Is replaced by a more ardent Nazi.
No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk, and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats, and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the most primitive demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.
Be hard, remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when he bombs German cities.