Pursuit – The sinking of the Bismark , Ludovic Kennedy

ISBN 0-00-634014-8

I picked this book up in a bargain bin for $1 and it was money well spent. The book describes the break out, hunt for and eventual sinking of the German Battleship Bismark. The book also shows some parts which i hadn’t previously known about including the submarines in the area and the attempt to launch the Bismarks seaplane to ensure the ships logs and other documents are safe.

From the back cover
In May 1941 the German battleship Bismark, then the most formidable fighting ship afloat, escaped into the Atlantic, posing a fearful threat to the convoys that kept Britain alive. She had to be sunk.

‘For sheer suspense and switch of fortune from one side to the other, the story could hardly be equalled.’  -Daily Telegraph

‘Vigorous, compulsively readable account of one of the great sea battles.’ Yorkshire Post

‘If future generations wish to understand the reality of the Second World War at sea they could ask for no better guide than Mr Kennedy’ The Time Literary Supplement.

Some things stick out as memorable from reading this book, That the German Navy was the least political of the armed forces. The battle could have easily gone differently, although i think the end result was certain. The British were not going to leave a battleship  to attack convoys in the Atlantic for long and given the advancements of Radar and naval aviation, once the ship was found it would be followed until sunk, however difficult that would be. 

Battleships had reached their peak of power on the seas although some believed they were still kings of the sea. I didn’t know some of them were fitted with Torpedo launchers and the book comments that the Bismarks final battle is the only battle where one battleship may have torpedoed another battleship. I think the German Navy wanted an Aircraft carrier built and this was vetoed by Goring as aviation was the airforces domain.

The Bismark had a sister UBoat, U556 who was christened at the same time and their paths crossed several times. During christening, a shakedown cruise was conducted and both ships engaged the same surface targets. U-556 also responded to the distress call of the Bismark and was in the area in the hours before it was sunk. It was not able to help as it had used its last torpedo sinking the 5000 ton Darlington Court. The captain was advised against sinking such a small ship and put it this way “The certainty of a sparrow now was better than the possibility of a pigeon later.” . Even after they had a firing solution on the freighter, something went wrong and they had to line up again later. Again he was advised to save the torpedo but the captains mind was made up. Later he would regret this decision and although the book put it that he later could have had a eagle and not a pigeon, i think he could have had a Unicorn. Later in the book he is described as having to helplessly watch as the British flagship,  the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and a battleship sail past without escort or zigzagging. 

I enjoyed reading it and will see if i can pass it on to a friend who will put it to good use.

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