Bismarck Expeditions

James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck May - June 2002

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Expedition Diary

I was asked to assist James Cameron, his team and Earthship TV on a diving expedition to the wreck of the Bismarck. The expedition took place in May - June 2002.

The Bismarck is lying on the bottom of the North Atlantic almost 5 kilometers (about 15.994 feet) below the surface, 863 kilometers (466 nautical miles) from Brest, France and 693 kilometers (374 nautical miles) from Cobh, Ireland. From the wreck site to the coast of the United States the distance is 4.669 kilometers (2.521 nautical miles) and to the Azores (group of islands), Portugal the distance is 1.419 kilometers (766 nautical miles). The exact position of the wreck I will keep to myself to avoid any misusage.

The purpose of the expedition was to explore and film the wreck to be used in a documentary for American Discovery Channel and a 3D project for American IMAX. The Discovery Channel documentary and the IMAX 3D film are two separate projects.

I have been engaged in this project from March 2001 to November 2002.

Now I will share a bit of my experiences from the diving expeditions with you.

I hope you will enjoy it.

John Asmussen, webmaster

In Memory of the Bismarck and the Dead Sailors
The Bismarck and most of her crew failed in returning to Germany, the country the ship and her crew came from and served. As it isn't possible to bring the ship and the dead sailors back to their homeland I decided to bring a small part of Germany out to the war grave and place it on the Bismarck.

I therefore asked my German friends to collect some soil from where they live and send it to me. As I was going to Germany when the expedition would start I could easily have collected all the soil myself. But by collecting it from different parts of Germany it would be a symbol of all the dead sailors that came from all over Germany. The response from my German friends was very positive and they all did an excellent job in sending me the soil.

I discussed with James Cameron how I could bring it down to the wreck in the best possible way. The water pressure is extremely high so it is very important that I found a solution that could withstand the forces at the wreck site. James Cameron suggested that I placed it in a water bottle and mixed the soil with water. That way the pressure inside would be the same as outside. The idea was excellent and below you can see me a couple of hours before my dive with the bottle in my left hand.

Please notice: This symbolic gesture is a salute to the Bismarck itself and the dead sailors. It is in no way a salute to the regime the ship and her crew served.

People who have contributed collecting the German soil
(in aphabetical order)
John Asmussen, soil collected in Kiel
Peter Behmüller, soil collected in Leonberg near Stuttgart
Michael Emmerich, soil collected in Niederzier near Köln
Markus Titsch, soil collected in Wilhelmshaven
Oliver Titsch, soil collected in Wilhelmshaven
Anchor of Gold
Peter Behmüller kindly donated a small anchor made of gold which also was put in the bottle
The webmaster with a cup in the right hand and the bottle with the German soil in the left hand. The photo was taken a couple of hours before my dive. The cup was brought down to the wreck and back again where it appeared in a compressed version. You can read more about it below.
I thank my friends for their great support and help

Location of the Bottle with the German Soil on the Wreck of the Bismarck

The red spot indicates where the bottle with the German soil was placed. I decided to place it just outside the bridge of the Bismarck. It was from the bridge the ship was commanded so I felt it was the best place. It would be too dangerous to place it on the bridge itself. On a later dive it was decided to place the memorial plate from the expedition in the same location.
Cups and Compression
On the photo to the left you can see two cups. The one to the right is a cup in normal size. The smaller one to the left I brought down to the wreck of Bismarck and back to the surface again. The high pressure from the water has compressed the cup. Notice that it is still possible to read the text on the cup, it is just scaled down.

The cup was placed in a cage in front of the Mir submersible in direct contact with the water.

Today the cup is a nice memory for me and a symbol of a very special experience.

R/V Akademik Mstislav Keldysh
Russian R/V Akademik Mstislav Keldysh is the largest oceanographic research vessel in the world.

The crew on Keldysh are very nice, highly skilled, brave and very professional.

The Keldysh became famous worldwide when it was used in James Cameron's Titanic movie.

Here the Keldysh can be seen on the Titanic wreck site in 2001.

Mir 2 Submersible
On these two photographs the Mir 2 submersible can be seen at the Titanic wreck site in 2001. Mir 2 was the submersible I dived in. Only four submersibles in the world can dive deep enough to reach the wreck of the Bismarck. On the Keldysh two of them can be found, Mir 1 and Mir 2. Link to Mir 1 and Mir 2 General Details
My Dive to the Wreck of the Bismarck Tuesday 4. June 2002

On 4. June I got out of bed at 06:30.

At 07:30 I met James Cameron in the Galley where I had my breakfast. He asked me if I was ready to dive to the Bismarck. I confirmed that I was more than ready to explore the wreck of what was once the worlds biggest warship.

Shortly after breakfast I received my Mir suit which I would wear during the dive. Immediately after this I went to a meeting in the Mir Lab where we met the Russians and discussed the dive. The time was 08:00.

08:30 we had a production meeting.

After the production meeting I prepared for the dive and spent some time with my good friend American Lewis Abernathy. We were going to dive together. I was of course very excited. As Lewis has dived many times to the wreck of the Titanic he was very cool and very relaxed about it. For him it was pretty much just another dive although he also looked forward to seeing the Bismarck.

Photo: Here I'm to the left and to the right my very good friend Lewis Abernathy. The photo is taken in the ship's galley in the morning before our dive together. Everybody wanted to take photos of us and Lewis is making fun, as usual.

Lewis Abernathy is among other things an American actor. He actually wrote the first draft to the famous James Cameron Titanic movie and also had one of the significant roles in the movie.

At 12:30 Mir 1 began its descent. Aboard were expedition leader James Cameron, cameraman Vince Pace and Russian submersible pilot Genya Cherniaev.

Photo: One of the many official photos taken just before we went on board the Mir 2 submersible which can be seen in the background. From left to right: American Lewis Abernathy, Russian Mir pilot Victor Nescheta and Dane John Asmussen.

Mir 2 embarked for the wreck site at 13:20 with Lewis Abernathy, John Asmussen and Russian submersible pilot Victor Nescheta.

Photo: Another of the official photos prior to our dive. From left to right: Lewis Abernathy, Victor Nescheta (Mir pilot) and John Asmussen. Lewis Abernathy and Victor Nescheta wear the old model of the Mir suit. I wear the new version.

We reached the sea bed at 15:59. Shortly afterwards we met with Mir 1 and at 16:20 we found and investigated one of the Bismarck's 38 cm main turrets lying upside down on the sea bed.

We then headed for the Bismarck.

At 17:04 I suddenly faced a wall of steel outside the porthole. I instantly knew it was Bismarck and screamed "There she is, there she is". I could see the huge side of the hull of Bismarck.

We came up towards the main deck and then I could see that we had reached the Bismarck on her port side a bit aft of the bridge where the first 15 cm turret (PI) is located. We moved further upwards and right in front of me the upperstructure and fore part of the Bismarck appeared. It was a moment I will never forget. There she really was, the Bismarck. It was a truly magnificient sight and despite the conditions she still appeared very impressive proudly standing upright on the sea bed.

We started to investigate and film the fore section of Bismarck (from the funnel to the stem) together with Mir 1. We looked at the port side the bows, the stem, the starboard side, the "A" and "B" barbettes used for the "A" and "B" 38 cm main turrets, we looked down the barbettes, we investigated the "PI" and "SI" 15 cm secondary turrets, the bridge area and the forecastle.

Mir 1 carried all the camera equipment and some lights. Normally Mir 1 had the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) called Jake. But Jake had been damaged on one of our previous dives and could not be used anymore on this expedition. Therefore Mir 1 took over the ROV called Elwood from Mir 2 where it normally was a part of the equipment on these dives.

Mir 2 carried most of the light and assist Mir 1 by illuminating the wreck so the best possible film recordings could be made. Mir 2 actually had one camera on board. But it is the Russians own camera called Osprey. The film recordings for the documentary are not based on material from the Russian Osprey camera.

The best place to be when investigating the wreck is without doubt the Mir 2 as it has by far the most lighting equipment and because of the way the submersible is used related to Mir 1.

The lights on Mir 2 are so powerful that you can easily see all the details and colours on the wreck. It is unbelieveable.

The last mission on our dive was to place the bottle with the German soil on the Bismarck. I could place it where ever I wanted and decided to place it just outside the ships bridge. It was from here the ship was handled and I couldn't think of any better place to put it.

As we had so much light on our submersible our batteries were now low on charge and we had to leave the wreck site.

At exactly 22:00 we said goodbye to the wreck of the Bismarck and began our ascent to the surface.

At 02:20 we were back on the Keldysh.

Mir 1 was back at 04:00.

Lewis and I went for dinner together with James Cameron and cameraman Vince Pace and had a good time talking about our dive and experiences.

At 06:00 in the morning Wednesday 5. June I finally went to bed.

James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck - Conclusion
A dive to the wreck of the Bismarck is almost 5 kilometers (about 15.994 feet) below the water surface. It means that the submersibles, the ROV, and the camera equipment work under very difficult circumstances due to the extreme forces at that depth. We had some technical problems, especially in the first of our dives. But the problems were solved and the dives and the expedition were a major success. This expedition was the by far the most ambitious of all expeditions to the wreck of the Bismarck and it was able to bring back the best film recordings ever made of the wreck and in a very high quality. The expedition gained much new information about the wreck and will in some ways forever change the history of the Bismarck.
Post Script
I had prior to my dive studied the Bismarck for 25 years. Throughout these years I have sometimes looked at photos of the Bismarck and wondered: "Did the Bismarck really exist and how would it be to see her in real?

I can now answer both questions. Yes, she really exist. She is really down there. I sadly can't fully describe how I feel about having seen her. In many ways I still haven't realised that I have actually seen her. It was a very moving experience. It was terrible to see her standing in her poor condition on the sea bed and thinking on what happened in her final battle and when she sunk, and the horror it must have been for the crew to be on the Bismarck in her final hours.

At the same time it was also amazing and magnificient to see the wreck. She still is a graceful ship as she looks like a ship and not just a bunch of twisted metal which hardly looks like the remains of a ship. She still looks like Bismarck, and it was wonderful to see her.

Since my dive, the Bismarck is for me no longer just some old dusty documents, photos and books. For me she is real.

© John Asmussen, 2000 - 2014. All rights reserved.