As a kid, growing up in the 60’s I had heard the popular song of the day, ” Sink The Bismarck” by Johnny Horton. That old song rang in my ears as I recently read a comprehensive book about the last battle of the famous German battleship of the Second World War, the “Bismarck”, the pride of the German Kriegsmarine.
The book I speak of is , “Hunt The Bismarck” (2019) by the noted naval historian, Angus Konstam, who has authored many books about the Second World War. This book has been published by Osprey Publishing.
The book starts with Konstam explaining the rationale for the building of the Bismarck and the strategy planned by those in power in Nazi Germany even before war formally broke out in September 1939. The Bismarck was commissioned in August 1940. At the ceremony, Hitler himself was present to name the ship after Germany’s famous son, the statesman, Otto von Bismarck.
However, despite her size and design ( she carried over 18,000 tons of armor) , her speed ( over 30 knots), her operating range ( over 8900 miles) and her armaments ( 4 double 15″ turrets + 12 6″ guns) she did not serve for too long.
The Bismarck did score a splendid victory before she went down. Konstam explains in detail how the Bismarck came up victorious against the mighty British battlecruiser, the H M S Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy. She then was perhaps the most powerful and famous battleship of her times. Over 1200 men went down with the Hood.
The brief career of Bismarck as a fighting ship came to an end in 1941, a mere 8 months after she made her first appearance. In that sense, her going down was a huge blow to the German Navy as they could not exploit her full potential at all.
In major battles, often it is the small things that turn the tide. In the case of the Bismarck it was a chance torpedo hit from the slow antiquated Swordfish biplane from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal that damaged her rudder. Despite all the armaments abroad, the giant warship was crippled much before she could pull her weight in the sea battle that followed. The loss of the Hood was avenged by the British warships which chased down Bismarck and her consort, the battle cruiser, Prinz Eugen. The Royal Navy ships that played a major part in the final destruction of the mighty Bismarck were the HMS Rodney, the HMS Ark Royal, and the HMS Prince of Wales.
Her own crew scuttled her as she lost the battle being crippled after the earlier attacks on her. Her capability of racing across the seas at speeds in excess of 30 knots became of mere academic interest. She went down with only 114 survivors from her crew of over 2200.
If you are a military history and the Second World War buff, Konstam’s book makes for extremely interesting reading.