The hunt for the Bismarckis one of the best known naval epics of the Second World War, a tense game of cat-and-mouse that saw large numbers of British ships attempt to catch and destroy the Bismarck and her consort the cruiser Prinz Eugen in the vast empty spaces of the north Atlantic.
For most of the book the author focuses almost entirely on the British side of the battle, mainly seen from the point of view of individual sailors and officers on the ships involved, although with some accounts from naval personnel watching the drama unfold from a distance, and always keeping an eye on Churchill, who was himself watching events with an eagle eye.
This changes towards the very end of the book. Once Bismarck has been brought to bay, with her steering crippled and a final battle inevitable, we are taken onboard the doomed German battleship to sample the increasingly depressed mood onboard. During the final battle itself our point of view shifts between the British ships and Bismarck, allowing us to see the gruesome impact of a naval duel from the receiving end.
This focus on the human cost of the events described is one of the book's main strengths. In many accounts of naval warfare the focus is on the individual ships, which almost take on a personality of their own. Here we are constantly reminded that these ships were the homes of hundreds or even thousands of men, and that every clash between these ships saw some of these men maimed or killed, while there was always a chance that an entire ship's company would be wiped out, as happened on the Hood and almost on the Bismarck.
This is one of the most compelling accounts of a naval battle that I had read, with some of the best (and most brutal) descriptions of the fighting itself.
1 - Made with Blood and Iron
2 - Germany's Masterly Deception
3 - Storm-Tossed Sentinels
4 - Raise Steam with All Despatch
5 - Heavyweight with a Glass Jaw
6 - The Navy's Here
7 - Rushing to their Destiny
8 - Death of a Battlecruiser
9 - The Entrails of Hell
10 - After-Shock
11 - The Hunters and the Hunted
12 - Swordfish Strike
13 - A Day of Fearful Gloom
14 - Steering to Intercept Enemy
15 - Remorseless Determination
16 - Sorry for the Kipper
17 - Into the Jaws of Death
18 - Vian's Dilemma
19 - A Desperate and Deadly Race
20 - The Brutal Business of War
21 - In at the Kill
22 - A Necessary Killing
23 - Ghosts at the Feast
24 - Bitter Harvest
1 - Busting the Myths?
2 - The Byers Letters
3 - The Mystery of Hood's Torpedoes
4 - The One That Got Away
5 - The NorfolkPhoto
Author: Ian Ballantyne
Publisher: Pen & Sword Maritime