'German crew scuttled Bismarck'
The Second World War flagship, the pride of Hitler’s naval fleet, sank so quickly that it must have been deliberately aimed at the ocean floor by desperate commanders, according to the programme, made by the Titanic film director, James Cameron.
Semi-crippled after an aircraft-launched torpedo knocked out her rudder, the Bismarck was hounded across the Atlantic by a chasing British naval pack.
Then, on 27 May, 1941, in what many believe was turning point in the war, the helpless and cornered battleship sank to the bottom, almost five kilometers below, as it was torn apart by an unprecedented bombardment by the Royal Navy.
Sixty-one years after the sinking, Oscar-winning Cameron assembled a team of marine experts and survivors at the site where the ship was last seen disappearing beneath the waves.
The wreck is now a ghostly grave for the 2,100 German seamen who died either from drowning or from the British bombardment. Only 116 survived.
The ship, one of the most powerful predators ever to take to the high seas, was hunted down in retribution for sinking the pride of the British fleet, the battle cruiser HMS Hood.
Controversy has surrounded the sinking, with many claiming her as a British scalp, while others believe she was scuttled by her crew as a last act of defiance in the face of impossible odds.
The experts’ mission was to dive on to the wreck, still upright on the North Atlantic floor, and bring back pictures.
The results can be seen in a two-hour documentary, entitled James Cameron’s Bismarck, premiered on the Discovery Channel at 8pm tomorrow.
Speaking about the project, which was carried out using two mini-submarines, the Canadian director claimed to have revealing evidence indicating that the Bismarck was scuttled before she sank.
But he wasn’t about to steal all the Royal Navy’s thunder, claiming that the battleship would have sunk eventually under the awesome firepower rained upon her.
He said: "For the ship to have sunk with the speed that it did, it would have had to have also had scuttling, in addition to whatever battle damage was being inflicted by the British, and probably the scuttling played a very large part when it sank.
"It’s undeniable that the British would have sunk it eventually, or that it would have eventually sunk from progressive flooding from the damage that they had inflicted on it, but it might have taken half a day.
"Meanwhile, the thing is sitting there burning on the surface and the crew have no place to go.
"So I think they scuttled it to get off, in the hopes that they might be rescued, and some of them were.
"That’s our conclusion. But it’s not like we found and took a photo of a smoking gun, actual damage that you could say was made by a scuttling charge. It’s really more kind of a deductive result."
The director said there simply wasn’t enough evidence to support the theory that the Bismarck was sunk by British firepower alone.
He said: "We were able to locate the torpedo or shell damage into the hull and we were able to go in beyond that and look at its effect inside the ship.
"In no place did we find the armoured bulkhead penetrated by a shell or a torpedo.
"So our conclusion is that the shells and torpedoes hadn’t penetrated the armoured core of the ship and therefore, essentially, were not effectively sinking the ship.
"There would have been progressive flooding from the concussions opening up seams and things like that, but that progressive flooding would have been at a relatively slow rate.
"It wouldn’t be the kind of ten-foot diameter gaping hole that you would imagine would be required to sink the ship as rapidly as it sank after the torpedoes were launched.
"The ship sank 15 minutes after the torpedo strikes and we didn’t see any damage that would indicate that the flooding would have been rapid enough for that."
The Bismarck was nearly the Titanic’s length but was 20 feet wider and much faster.
The director has no intention of making an epic movie out of his latest expedition, saying that the Bismarck’s story lacked the romanticism of the Titanic.
Cameron said: "Bismarck has a coldness and a grimness to it, and the Bismarck story is a story of revenge. It’s not a story of lost innocence, like the Titanic story is. So there’s a different kind of emotional aura around the wreck.
"The Bismarck is a grim wreck and it’s a grim story, but it’s an important story.
"I’ve shed a tear for what those young guys went through on that ship in the final minutes because you can’t look at something that is a record of such a horrific experience and not feel some human compassion."
The expedition was the fourth on the wreck, which was first discovered by Dr Robert Ballard in 1985, lying at 4,790 metres, 600 miles west of the Breton port of Brest.