Despite the limitations of the Versailles Treaty, the German Navy of the Third Reich managed to produce a remarkable group of capital ships, the most renowned of which was probably the Bismarck. Laid down in the Hamburg yards of Blohm & Voss in July 1936 and launched by Hitler himself on 14th February 1939, she was, when completed in August 1940, the largest battleship in the world. Displacing 41,700 tons (50,900 deep loaded), she measured 813½ feet in length with a massive 118 foot beam, and carried a main armament of four pairs of 15in. guns. Capable of just over 30 knots at top speed, her range at cruising speed was prodigious and, from the moment she was ready for sea, she posed a deadly threat to the Royal Navy's attempts to secure Britain's vital sea-lanes. Also completed in 1940, the Prince Eugen was a heavy cruiser of 18,750 tons mounting 8-8in. guns and able to match Bismarck's speed.
In the spring of 1941, the German Admiralty decided to send the two ships out to harry allied convoys on the North Atlantic and thus began one of the most dramatic episodes of the Second World War. Bismarck and Prince Eugen slipped out of the Baltic port of Gdynia on 18th May 1941 although British intelligence was alerted to their departure almost immediately. Various units of the fleet were dispatched from Scapa Flow to intercept them and they were spotted entering the Denmark Strait on the evening of 23rd May. Initially sighted by the cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk, Bismarck then stunned the pride of the Royal Navy by sinking H.M.S. Hood early the next morning and it was after that action that the two German ships parted company. Bismarck was ruthlessly hunted down and finally sunk on 27th May whilst Prince Eugen made for Brest where she stayed until Feburary 1942 when she ran home to Germany alongside Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in their celebrated 'Channel Dash.' Surviving the War, Prince Eugen was assimilated into the U.S. Navy which briefly employed her prior to her destruction during their nuclear bomb tests in the South Pacific in 1946.