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In early stages of World War II (1939-45) in Europe, Germany, after invading Poland to its east in 1939, turned its attention westward and conquered the “Low Countries” (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) on its way to vanquishing France in spring 1940. With almost all of western continental Europe now under German control, Britain alone stood against Germany.
America had not yet entered the war and wouldn’t until December 1941 when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The United States was, however, supplying Britain with a very significant amount of both war materials and domestic goods under the “Lend-Lease” program. These goods were sent by ship convoy to England across the Atlantic Ocean. German U-boat submarines extracted a huge toll on this vital shipping lifeline, but even though the losses were high, they were survivable, and these supply lines—critical to Britain’s very existence— persevered.
May - Germany - Element - North - Atlantic
However, in May 1941, Germany introduced a new element into the North Atlantic equation that threatened to bring disaster to Britain. This element was the new German battleship Bismarck. It was a huge, state-of-the-art warship, equipped with the very latest long-range heavy cannon, new stereoscopic range-finders that promised unprecedented accuracy, then-new ship-based radar, and it boasted an intricate system of armor-plating and honey-combed water-tight compartments that rendered her virtually unsinkable. If Bismarck broke out into the vast, indefensible shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, it could wreak catastrophic havoc with the war-sustaining convoys coming across the ocean.
The very existence of Bismarck hung like a malevolent shadow above the Allies’ war effort. In 1941, it was widely believed that this single weapon might determine the very course of the war in Europe. Where the entire Luftwaffe (German air force) had been unable to cripple Britain’s warfighting capability with its aerial assault in...
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