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Strategy Article by Major Fielding Eliot

Originally published in the News Chronicle No. 29,658 of May 28, 1941, page 2.

New York, Tuesday. - Judging from available reports, the opinions expressed about the Bismarck's defensive strength are confirmed. She seems to have taken a truly terrible battering before she finally succumbed to persistent British attacks in the Atlantic.

In the larger field of world opinion, the destruction of the Bismarck completely bankrupts the whole German propaganda effort of the past five days. Nothing could have been better timed than this news for its effect both on American opinion, and elsewhere.

It not only shows up in their true perspective the loudly-trumpeted German claims to have destroyed the mightiest bulwark of British sea-power, broken the back of British naval might, and so on, but it makes clear to the American people that the British Navy is capable of dealing with difficult situations.

On the other hand, the fact that the Hood was sunk shows that the German Navy is not negligible - that American help is needed. The proportionate effect paints a clearly outlined and sharply defined picture which could not have been completed at a more suitable moment. Indeed, one is inclined to the opinion that it is this phase of the whole affair which transcends in importance any other result.

It would be impossible to give too much praise to the commander and staff responsible for the pursuit and destruction of the Bismarck. The manner in which the attack was maintained and the co-operation between the air and surface craft deserve every credit.

Britain has lost one-sixteenth of her Battle Fleet, Germany one-fourth of hers. If it were not for the loss of gallant officers and men one could wish such an exchange might continue.

But the loss of the Hood is just another bit of evidence that the battle cruiser or the armoured cruiser type is not fit to lie in the line of battle.

Many years ago Admiral Mahan, of the United States Navy, condemned this class of ship as a useless and wasteful hybrid too big and expensive for cruiser duties and too weak for fighting in the line.

The basic fact is that in any warship of given tonnage a compromise has to be reached between three major characteristics: armament, protection and speed. You can not have everything. Therefore the question to be asked by the designers is: "What is this ship meant to do?"

If the answer is "Fight in the line of battle," then, obviously armament and protection must be emphasised at the expense of speed. If the answer is: "Scout, patrol, attack and defend commerce, support destroyer screens," then adequate speed must be provided at the expense of other qualities; but just as obviously great size is unjustified.

As for the Bismarck she was, in every way, a more powerful ship than the Hood; she had the same main battery (eight 15-inch guns) and was slightly less designed for speed. As for protection, details are not known, but the known German practice in this matter and the fact that her beam was 118 feet, making her by far the widest battleship in the world, suggest a very high degree of under-water protection and sub-division.

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