of the Operation "Rheinübung" ("Exercise
Rhine") was to conduct warfare, in the North
Atlantic for a period of several months, against
the allied convoys from USA and Great Britain.
The objective was to destroy as much enemy tonnage
Originally it was planned to use Germany's
newest, and the worlds largest, battleship
(Bismarck) and two other German battleships,
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, for the operation
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had, between 22
January and 22 March 1941, conducted a successful
operation called "Berlin" in the
North Atlantic. Within 2 months they had sunk
22 allied ships totalling 115,622 brt. The
man in charge of this successful operation
was Admiral Günther Lütjens.
Admiral Günther Lütjens was chosen
to lead Operation "Rheinübung" as
However it was not possible to use Scharnhorst
and Gneisenau due to damage caused by British
air attacks and mechanical failure. At this
time they were both stationed in Brest, France.
Instead the Germans decided that their newest
heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen, should sail together
with Bismarck during Operation "Rheinübung".
On Sunday 18 May 1941, Admiral Lütjens
briefed the officers of the Bismarck and Prinz
Eugen on his intentions. The Bismarck and the
heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were to proceed independently
to the island of Rügen, where the task
force would be formed on the morning of 19
Towards midday on Sunday 18 May, the Bismarck
and Prinz Eugen sailed out of the harbour of
Gotenhafen. Just outside the harbour the ships
dropped their anchors to refuel and take on
additional provisions. The Operation "Rheinübung" ("Exercise
Rhine") had begun. They finally got underway
in the early morning hours of Monday 19 May
(the Bismarck sailed at 0200). The ships first
circled around the Hel Peninsula, a thin finger
of land jutting down from the Baltic coast,
and then headed westward.
in the wake of a minesweeper shortly
after the beginning of Operation "Rheinübung".
The battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser
Prinz Eugen were escorted by the destroyers
Z-23 and Z-16 (Friedrich Eckoldt) and preceded
by a minesweeper. The task force sailed as
a unit after leaving Rügen. Around 2230,
the destroyer Z-10 (Hans Lody) joined the formation.
By nightfall the task force, reached the western
end of the Baltic Sea and turned north to pass
through the Great Belt (Denmark). On the following
morning of Tuesday 20 May, the Bismarck and
the Prinz Eugen had reached the Kattegat.
taken from Prinz Eugen on her the way
to Norway. On the left photograph Prinz
Eugen can be seen in the wake of a mine
destructor ship and in front of this,
the battleship Bismarck. On the right
photograph the three escorting destroyers
can be seen in the wake of the Prinz
On 20 May around 1300, the German task force
were sighted by the Swedish aircraft-carrying
cruiser Gotland who immediately reported the
passage of the Germans.
Before the report from the Gotland the British
had been informed of the German operation
gained by an aerial reconnaissance, during
which five picket vessels had been sighted
about 1200 around twenty nautical miles west
of Vinga, followed about ten nautical miles
astern by a task force described as three
Leberecht Mass-class destroyers plus a cruiser
and a very large warship. At this point it
was not confirmed to the British that Bismarck
was participating in this operation.
After clearing the northern tip of Denmark,
the German task force headed west through
the Skagerak towards Norway. Admiral Lütjens
intended to continue to the north. But due
to the clear weather he dicided to anchor
in Norway and wait some hours in order to
continue the journey at night protected by
Around 1600 on 20 May, the task force were
escorted through their own minefields by
the 5th Minesweeping Flotilla.
When the formation left the minefield,
the minesweepers were detached and the Bismarck
and Prinz Eugen, still escorted by destroyers,
steered a zigzag course at 17 knots to avoid
Following the line of the coast, they turned
westward. They would resume their northerly
course after they had rounded the southwestern
tip of Norway. Between 2100 and 2200 they
passed through the southernmost channel in
the Kristiansand minefield, then proceeded
at a speed of 27 knots.
The German task force was sighted by several
Norwegian resistance members. They reported
that "two unidentified major ships,
escorted by several smaller ones" had
passed by the coast.
photograph of Bismarck on her way to
(left) anchores in Grimstadfjord while
Prinz Eugen (right) sails farther north
to anchor in Kalvanes Bay together with
Early the next morning Wednesday 21 May
the Bismarck went to general quarters. Not
long thereafter, they reached the entrance
to Korsfjord. The Bismarck went into Grimstadfjord,
south of Bergen, and anchored at the entrance
to Fjörangerfjord, about 500 meters
(455 yards) from shore. The Prinz Eugen and
the destroyers went farther north, to Kalvanes.