The German Navy of the Third Reich produced an enviable group of capital ships but only two of them, Bismarck and her sister Tirpitz, were battleships in the true sense. Bismarck was started first and her keel was laid in the Hamburg yard of Blohm & Voss on 1st July 1936. Launched by Hitler himself on 14th February 1939, she was, when completed on 24th August 1940, not only the largest German warship ever built but also the largest battleship in the world then in service. Displacing 41,700 tons standard (50,900 deep loaded), she measured 813 feet in length with a massive 118 foot beam, and her main armament consisted of four pairs of 15in. guns. Three sets of her builder's own geared turbines gave her a top speed of just over 30 knots and, with bunkers for 7,400 tons of fuel oil, her range at cruising speed was prodigious. Once finished, Bismarck was initially held in reserve pending Turpitz's completion but this decision was ultimately rescinded and, in the spring of 1941, she made ready to break out on her first mission.
Awaiting her chance to slip out unnoticed into the North Atlantic, Bismarck sailed from the Baltic port of Gdynia on 18th May 1941 although British intelligence was alerted to her departure almost immediately. Various ships were dispatched from Scapa Flow to intercept her and she was eventually spotted entering the Denmark Strait on the evening of 23rd May. Initially sighted by the cruiser H.M.S. Suffolk, she and her sister Norfolk then shadowed Bismarck and her consort Prince Eugen as they waited for H.M.S. Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales to reach a point where they could engage the enemy. Shortly before 6.00am on 24th May, the four capital ships came to action and opened fire at 25,000 yards. After a mere ten minutes, a plunging 15in. shell penetrated Hood's deck and, to the amazement of all who watched, she blew up and sank instantaneously with the loss of 1,338 officers and men; out of her entire company, only 3 survived. The news of the Hood's loss broadcast that evening came as a profound shock, not least to Churchill and the War Cabinet, and efforts to avenge her and destroy Bismarck were redoubled with a ferocity rare even in wartime. When, on 27th May, Bismarck was finally cornered after a protracted operation involving large numbers of both ships and aircraft, a squadron comprising the battleships Rodney and King George V and the cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire delivered the coup de grce and she sank at 10.36am with the loss of almost her entire crew.