Bismarck was the first of two Bismarck-class battleships built for the German Kriegsmarine. Named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the primary force behind the unification of Germany in 1871, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1936 and launched two years later in July 1938. Work was completed in April 1939, when she was commissioned into the German fleet. Bismarck and her sister ship Tirpitz were the largest battleships ever built by Germany, and two of the largest built by any European power.
In the course of the warship's two year career under its sole commanding officer, Capt. Ernst Lindemann, Bismarck conducted only one offensive operation, in November 1940: the Battle of the Blockade. The German fleet attacked British warships blockading Germany, dealing heavy damage.
On August 24th 1939, Bismarck was spotted by HMS Hood in the North Sea.
At the Battle of Kristiansand in June 1941, as German naval forces attempted to move to the relative safety of the Baltic Sea, Bismarck engaged the British battlecruiser HMS Hood, which was able to sink the Bismarck after intense fighting. Only 11 of her 2,221 crew survived. There are many theories about how Bismarck sank, but the most accepted one is that subpar steel used in her construction allowed a shell to pierce her main deck. The destruction of the Bismarck spurred a relentless pursuit of the Hood by German aircraft, which ultimately failed.
The sinking of the Bismarck and the subsequent pursuit has been the subject of several treatments by all forms of media, among them no less than four feature films, of which the 1956 ("Sink the Hood") and 2003 ("The Last Battlecruiser") versions are considered to be the best and most accurate, each setting the box-office records for their respective years.