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Battle of the Denmark Strait - Battleships Zenith refight

HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales 1/3000th scale

On Thursday two of my wargaming buddies came over and for 3.5hrs fought the historic battle between HMS Hood, HMS Prince of Wales against the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Things did not go as history records.

The game was played using the NWS computer moderated rules - Battleships Zenith.

Prinz Eugen and Bismarck

The ships started 17 miles apart, and soon began to close the range, it took 9 minutes before the ships spotted each other.

Battleships Zenith keeps a record of the exchange of fire between the protagonists, and I will use this to aide the readers understanding of the battle.

Both commanders had strict orders and objectives to meet - here are a copy of their briefing notes:

Kriegsmarine operational briefing
For admirals eyes only

May 1941
Current operational orders and situation
Group North

At 08:00 on 20 May 1941, paratroopers, jumping out of dozens of Junkers Ju 52 aircraft, landed near Maleme airfield and the town of Chania, Crete.

The 21st, 22nd and 23rd New Zealand battalions hold Maleme airfield and the vicinity. We have suffered many casualties in the first hours of the invasion, a company of III Battalion, 1st Assault Regiment lost 112 killed out of 126 men and 400 of 600 men in III Battalion were killed on the first day. Most of the parachutists were engaged by New Zealanders defending the airfield and Greek forces near Chania. Many gliders following the paratroops were hit by mortar fire seconds after landing and the glider troops who landed safely were almost annihilated by the New Zealand and Greek defenders.

The battle is ongoing and it is beginning to change in our favour. Group north believe that a sortie into the Atlantic at this time will add to the the pressure on the Royal Navy.
The Fuhrer has authorised Operation Rheinübung.

The current situation

The heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sailed at about 21:00 on 18 May 1941 from Gotenhafen, followed at 2:00 am, 19 May, by Bismarck. 

Both ships proceeded under escort, separately and rendezvoused off Cape Arkona on Rügen Island in the western Baltic. They then proceeded through the Danish Islands into the Kattegat. Entering the Kattegat on 20 May Bismarck and Prinz Eugen sailed north toward the Skagerrak, the strait between Jutland and Southern Norway where they were sighted by the Swedish aircraft-carrying cruiser Gotland on around 1:00 pm. 

Gotland forwarded the sighting in a routine report.

The ships entered the North Sea and stopped briefly in Grimstadfjord near Bergen, Norway on 21 May where the Prinz Eugen was topped off with fuel.

The two ships set sail for the Atlantic shipping lanes on 22 May.

On the evening of 23 May,  a county class cruiser was sighted by Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Strait, close to the Greenland coast. The cruiser immediately sought cover in a fog bank. 

Bismarck opened fire at a range of six miles but the cruiser escaped into fog. 

It is believed that the cruiser is shadowing the our ships using radar. No hits were scored but the concussion of the main guns firing knocked out Bismarck's radar.


The aim of the operation is for Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to break into the Atlantic and attack Allied shipping. 

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder's orders to Admiral Günther Lütjens are:

"the objective of the Bismarck is not to defeat enemies of equal strength, but to tie them down in a delaying action, while preserving her combat capacity as much as possible, so as to allow Prinz Eugen to get at the merchant ships in the convoy" and "The primary target in this operation is the enemy's merchant shipping; enemy warships will be engaged only when that objective makes it necessary and it can be done without excessive risk"

To achieve the above, the Bismarck must escape contact on a southerly course (South, South east or South west). This will be treated as a victory.

To retire and return to Norway/Germany - she must escape contact on a course of north. This will be treated as a draw.

Escaping contact on an easterly course will take her toward British airbases - and will be treated as a defeat.

Escaping contact on a westerly course will take her towards Greenland and the icebelt, and will be treated as a defeat.

Good luck.

Royal Navy Operational Briefing
For Admirals Eyes Only

May 1941
Current Operational orders and situation 
Home Fleet

May 1941, the Kriegsmarine battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are at Brest, on the western coast of France, posing a serious threat to the Atlantic convoys. 

There are also two new warships available to Germany: the battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen both stationed in the Baltic Sea.
On 21 May, the Admiralty was alerted by sources in the Swedish government that two large German warships had been seen in the Kattegat. 

This move seems to coincide with a German airborne assault on Crete.

The ships entered the North Sea and took a brief refuge in a Grimstadfjord near Bergen, Norway on 21 May. A reconnaissance flight has confirmed the two ships are Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

The ships were no longer in this location on 22nd May.

Once the departure of the German ships was discovered, Admiral Sir John Tovey, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Fleet, sailed with King George V, Victorious and their escorts to support those already at sea. Repulse joined soon afterwards.

On the evening of 23 May, Suffolk sighted Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Strait, close to the Greenland coast. Suffolk immediately sought cover in a fog bank and The Admiralty was alerted. 

Bismarck opened fire on the Norfolk at a range of six miles but the Norfolk escaped into fog. Norfolk and Suffolk, outgunned, shadowed the German ships using radar.  

After the German ships were sighted, British naval groups were redirected to either intercept Lutjens' force or to cover a troop convoy.

You have been tasked with intercepting the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. It is 5.37am on 24th May 1941. Both Hood and Prince of Wales are at actions stations.

The shadowing cruisers have been instructed to keep clear of the engagement.

Two ships have been sighted on the horizon.


You are to intercept the German ships before they can break into the Atlantic and attack Allied convoys.

To achieve the above you must sink the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen - this will be treated as a significant victory.

Prevent the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen from escaping contact on a southerly course (South, South east or South west). This will be treated as a victory.

To force the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to return to Norway/Germany - she must escape contact on a course of north. This will be treated as a draw.

To force the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to escape contact on an easterly course - which will take her toward British airbases - and will be treated as a victory.

To force the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen to escape contact on a westerly course which will take her towards Greenland and the icebelt, and will be treated as a victory.

Good luck and God Speed.

Sink the Bismark - Motion picture

Description of the engagement

The two opposing forces started the battle around 17 miles apart. I was using the NWS computer moderated software called Battleships Zenith to work out the gunnery sighting and identification of the various vessels.


The Bismarck and Prince Eugen quickly found the range of the Hood and scored several hits, Knocking out her two forward turrets by the third turn, which was actually only nine minutes of battle time. 

The computer moderated rules system prevents players from having an unrealistic knowledge of the damage to the enemy. There is the ability to view what you can see from the bridge of your ship, for example, whether turrets were firing or not, or if the ship was listing and the state of superstructure damage etc.

I think this often results in players behaving more realistically, because they do not know fully the state of the enemy.

The rules also considerably speed the game up, take nothing from the actual enjoyment of playing.

To my surprise the German player allowed the British to close, and it became a gunnery duel.


The British were also causing damage to the mighty Bismarck, and I did expect for her to turn away in accordance with her operational instructions. Although I think a degree of red mist began to form in the mind of the German Admiral, and he played into British hands by entering into a gunnery duel.


The Hood was taking some serious punishment and was in a terrible state, her forward guns were out, she was heavily listing and soon the British Admiral was forced to place HMS Prince of Wales between her and the Bismarck, whilst Hood made smoke and retreated into the cover her smoke gave.

The battleship zenith rules take into account damage control and the retreat from the immediate battle allowed the Hood time to make some vital repairs.

Meanwhile Prince of Wales and Bismarck continued to exchange gunfire.


Sometimes less successfully than was wished by the British Admiral. But he was successful in keeping the Germans at arm's-length and away from the heavily damaged Hood.

The German commander tried to close with the British, much to my surprise, rather than taking the opportunity to make a run for it to the south-west.


Urgent repairs had been successful, and to the surprise of us all, HMS Hood started to turn back towards the battle, still screened by her smoke.


Shells continue to fall around the German ships fired by the HMS Prince of Wales. You cannot blame her though, her crew had not had chance to work up properly.


Meanwhile the might of the Kreigsmarine concentrated all their guns on the dogged HMS Prince of Wales.


By now the Bismarck herself had been subject of numerous hits by heavy shells, and had major superstructure damage, and a heavy list to port. 

We ended the game at this point, and it was deemed to be a British victory because the Germans had not met their operational orders, and Bismarck was in no fit state to break out into the Atlantic.

A thoroughly enjoyable morning and engagement.


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