Ship Models

German Ships

Bismarck - Peter Beisheim
Model Data
Model build by Peter Beisheim, Charlottenlund, Denmark
Kit Manufacturer Scratch built
Scale 1:200
Additional Information The model illustrates Bismarck as it looked 24. May 1941 just prior to the battle of the Denmark Strait.
Material: plastic/sheet styrene, mainly Evergreen 1.5 mm.
Construction time 11 years.
Started summer of 1994, completed summer 2005 (far too long because of many interruptions, some necessary, some not). The research time exceeded the actual building time by far.

Bismarck - Peter Beisheim
The Model
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Photographs: © John Asmussen

Bismarck - Peter Beisheim
Model Description by Peter Beisheim

A vote of thanks: Before describing the model I should like to thank my friend John Asmussen for all his help and critical advice that made this model possible. Had I only met him before 2001, I could have cut off at least five years’ construction time and obtained a better result.

In the early summer of 1994 I had finally completed (or at least I thought) my 1:200 model of HMS Hood. Being a staunch Anglophile my favourite choice of models had always been British WW II capital ships, but I felt I had now reached a point where I needed some sort of change. The discovery of the Bismarck wreck obviously served as a source of inspiration, although the James Cameron expedition was far out into the future. So I launched the process and began making my first errors.

My major lack of judgement turned out to be the choice of both incorrect and insufficient plans. This had the effect of prolonging the process due to an infinite amount of corrections as better plans became available to me. I think in fairness to some German and British companies and individuals that I should refrain from exposing them, mainly for two reasons: A, that they are (hopefully) no longer available or, B, that they may since then have been updated. Together with outdated plastic kits they have left their mark on too many scratchbuilt models of the Bismarck till this very day. Suffice it to say that John agreed to downscale the Hans Gally plans from 1:100 to 1:200 for me, so I could start (more or less) all over again. I refer the reader to the Bismarck plan section of this website, and John’s advice on how to obtain the best plans available today. The Polish publications Monografie Morskie (purchased through White Ensign Models) have proved excellent source material too. Of course plans/drawings are far from sufficient for a well researched  model, so a comprehensive amount of photographical documentation has been an important part of the process.

A final lament: I have seen a few photos of Josef Kaiser’s 1:100 Bismarck model (I almost wish I hadn’t). This piece of model-art has made me realize my own inadequacy and sometimes made me want to start all over again.

In order not to make this description of the model too long and tedious I should like to point of a few important points:

As I suppose is common knowledge now, the Bismarck was virtually de-camouflaged in Norway over a few hours. The only exception being the false white bow waves (scaled down to a very light grey on the model) of unequal dimensions on port and starboard. Furthermore, John, who was on the Cameron/Discovery expedition, spotted some strange white stripes on the superstructure, which do not match the original Baltic camouflage. There is plenty of photographical evidence of this, only we do not know what they were intended for. (see photos 31, 32, 37, 42 and 43)

Once this is said it does not imply that the modeller only has to paint his hull medium grey and the superstructure light grey. The fresh paint turned out to be insufficient to cover both the Baltic black and white stripes and (to a lesser extent) the dark grey ends of the hull. There is plenty of photographical evidence available to show the irregular transparency of the new paint. Apart from some slight weathering, it is also evident that the hull, particular at certain points, was smeared with oil making the general impression somewhat dirty. (see photos 29, 30, 33 and 34) One further item is the dark, broad line underneath the starboard anchor, remains of the dark grey forward end, visible on the best reproductions of the ship leaving Norway . This could be – although this is speculation – due to difficulties of hanging planks for crewmembers to paint below the anchor chain which was out at the time. There are no photos to prove whether this was also the case on the port side. There are, however, unpublished and good photos of the port side in the process of being de-camouflaged, but unfortunately the dark ends are still not painted over. These photos are in John’s possession and he was generous enough to let me use them. The port side seems even more oil-smeared than the starboard side in odd-looking V shapes (see photos 33 and 34). Before leaving the hull it must be remembered that the Bismarck was rather low in the water due to (almost) full load displacement. Consequently, the crew had no ways of removing the white remains of the stripes and false stern wave on the black boot-topping (scaled down on the model to a very dark grey). Some dark grey at both ends would likewise also be visible on the boot topping. Since these were painted when the ship was in the water in April it is unlikely that the lower ends were regular.

I now turn to the underwater hull, knowing full well that certain details are somewhat controversial among modellers. I believe I’ve said before in articles that an undetailed, bright red keel is unsatisfactory for a serious model. German boot topping is often referred to as dark grey. However, judging by numerous photographs, particularly of the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen in camouflage, seems to point to the fact that this was just as dark/black as in other navies. I do not know if this is simply a matter of terminology, I am beginning to suspect it is. Again, John should be given the credit for making me aware of this. The varying colours, should I say “watering” instead of weathering? on the keel is, of course, nothing but an educated guess based partly on photos of the Bismarck in dry dock. I detest unrealistic propellers of shining gold or bronze; they look far too much like decoration for my taste. I have no idea of the corrosion of Bismarck ’s propellers on May 24, but they most certainly did not look like something made by a goldsmith, as we usually see on models. The most controversial part of Bismarck ’s keel is the water intakes. I have always smiled at models with large “carport” openings for the admiral’s underwater vehicle. The best source material for John and me to study was the miles of footing of the launching process, and what we were able to find is represented on this model. I have, however, heard rumours that evidence to support some of the traditional allegations has been found. I dread to be proved wrong in this case.

The Decks and Superstructure: Another once controversial point on the main deck (or upper deck or weather deck or 0 deck level, depending on which terminology you prefer) is the covering of the Swastika's to protect the ship against “friendly bombing”. As shown on the footage of the film Operation Rheinübung they were at first covered by canvas, but under slow speed in the Norwegian fjords. After that they were painted out by grey stripes leaving the anchors operational and the camouflage reasonably safe against the weather and heavy seas. I have left mine somewhat transparent, more of an educated guess than actual knowledge (see photos 9 and 11). As for the decks from 01 level and upwards the issue is somewhat complicated. There are at least four different types: Teak planked surfaces higher than usual for capital ships, non-skid surface decks, plain steel decks, gratings, slats (narrow wooden planks closely spaced). Since this is shown far better on the model I refer the reader to photos 5, 37, 42 and 43.

The funnel cap is painted lighter grey than the rest of the otherwise light grey superstructure. I know that it probably wasn’t painted, but when I tried to experiment with more silvery colours, but it came out as chromium plated, hardly realistic according to the photographs and the scale. An important point: There was a dark spot on the starboard side of the funnel cap, visible in virtually all the photos from Operation Rheinübung: I think that it was due to discolouring from exhaustion gasses, but it may have been due to an interrupted attempt to paint the cap darker (see photos 42 and 43). All the steel surfaces, including the turret tops, were painted according to John’s research and scaled down to 1:200 (see photos 26, 27, 35, 36, 38 and 42).

The rail: I have noticed many times on photographs of German warships in action that the rail (or at least parts of it) was laid down. This is shown on photos taken from the PE during and after the Denmark Strait Battle and on the Tirpitz. At the PE this was also the case at parts of the 01 deck level. John and I had long discussion as to how much of the Bismarck ’s rail was down, in the end we decided on only the main deck level (see photos 37, 38 and 42). I am very much surprised to notice that no other model of the Bismarck shows this feature. I was also surprised to experience that it proved at least as difficult to represent convincingly on the model as an ordinary upright rail.

Other Superstructure Points of Interest: Please note that one of the starboard side Admiral’s barges was never installed. The one, which was actually installed, seems to have had a tendency to be moved up and down. As far as we have been able to judge it was at this position at the time of “Rheinübung” (see photos 42 and 43). All main deck boats were removed at the time.

Most, probably all of the fire hose or rope “drums”, seem to have been canvas covered at the time. I had already made the smaller ones uncovered when I was made aware of this and did not feel inclined to cover them (see photos 7, 19, 22 and 38).

In closing I should only like to point out that none of the items on the model are purchased from any model shop (unless you count the raw material: Evergreen Plastic sheets), even the anchor chains are handmade. Only the 1:200 figures were bought as architectural civilians and changed into 1941 German sailors (see photos 42 and 43)

I hope my fellow modellers will enjoy the model.