Like most other capital ships of the time, the Bismarck was equipped with aircraft for reconnaissance, patrol missions, and artillery spotting. Four Arado Ar 196 seaplanes were carried on board the Bismarck although a maximum number of six could be embarked if necessary. These were very robust and heavily armed single-engine aircraft with twin floats. Two aircraft were stored in the 120 m² double hangar under the mainmast, and the other two in single hangars of 60 m² each to both sides of the funnel amidships. To save space their wings could be folded. These aircraft belonged to the 1st Squadron (1.Staffel) of the board reconnaissance group 196 (Bordfliegergruppe 196) that had been formed before the war in 1937, and the pilots and technicians were members of the Luftwaffe.
The aircraft were launched on a 32-meter long double catapult that could be extended telescopically beyond the ship's sides to a length of 48 meters. This catapult was located amidships (section X-XI) between the mainmast and the funnel and could be deployed to both sides. After completing a mission, the aircraft landed on the water close to one of the ship's sides, and was then lifted aboard by one of the big 12-ton cranes. This was always a dangerous manoeuvre as the ship had to lie almost dead in the water to pick up the aircraft. Once lifted out of the water, two other small cranes under the funnel searchlight platform helped to place the aircraft back in the hangars.
In the early morning of 27 May 1941, on board Bismarck, they tried to launch an Arado Ar 196 carrying the ship's war diary. Unfortunately, the catapult was damaged and therefore the aircraft could not be launched.
· Type: Two seat reconnaissance seaplane.
· Dimensions: Span 12.4 meters, length 11 meters, height 4.4 meters.
· Weights: Empty 2,335 kg, loaded 3,300 kg.
· Power plant: BMW 132K, 9 cylinders, 960 hp.
· Max. speed: 320 km/h.
· Range: 497 nm.
· Crew: 2 men.
1) Aboard the Bismarck there was a supply of 40 x SC50/SD50 and 54 x LC50F bombs, all stored on the upper platform deck, in section IX (frame 91.3-95.55), portside.