Key point: U.S. Navy planners in the Pacific, still overestimating the value of battleships, could have been less daring in their absence and fought a holding action until late 1942 or 1943.
Despite the vast scope of the Second World War, the navies of the United States and Nazi Germany fought few, if any, direct surface engagements. By the time of America’s entry into the war the Royal Navy had already sunk or neutralized the lion’s share of Hitler’s Kriegsmarine, with only Hitler’s U-boats remaining a substantial German threat.
But what if the UK’s Royal Navy hadn’t been as successful as it was, and the U.S. was forced to hunt down the German Navy’s major surface combatants? What if the Iowa-class fast battleships had been sortied into the Atlantic to square off against their counterparts, the Bismarck-class battleships?
The Bismarck-class battleships were the largest surface ships built by Germany before and during the Second World War. Germany had been prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles to build warships over 10,000 tons, but the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 implicitly allowed them—though the German Navy was not to exceed thirty five percent the size of the Royal Navy.
With that restriction out of the way, Germany immediately began construction on the Bismarck-class battleships. Two ships, the Bismarck and Tirpitz, were planned. The ships were 821 feet long and displaced up to 50,000 tons fully loaded. Twelve high-pressure boilers powered three turbines, giving the ship a top speed of 30.1 knots. Three FuMo-23 search radars could detect surface targets at more than thirteen miles.
The Bismarck class had eight fifteen-inch guns, each capable of hurling an armor piercing, capped round up to 21.75 miles. The 1,764-pound killer shell traveled at 2,960 feet per second out the bore, faster than the bullet of a high-powered rifle. At 11 miles, it could penetrate 16.5 inches of armor, or roughly to the horizon at sea level, although it could theoretically hit targets much further.