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4.0 out of 5 stars "Their finest hour"...at sea..., 9 Nov 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sink the Bismarck (Paperback)
C. S. Forester is most famous as the author of the "Hornblower" naval series, for example Beat to Quarters (Hornblower Saga). The books glorified the exploits of the British navy, during the era of "Rule Britannia," and dashing Admiral Horatio Hornblower had few flaws. So, it is perhaps only naturally that he should be the author of a reasonably accurate historical recreation of one of the finest British victories at sea during the Second World War. "Their finest hour" was Churchill's apt expression for the exploits of the Royal Air Force in the summer and fall of 1940, when they broke the back of the Luftwaffe's air assault of Britain. Less than a year later, the Royal Navy had its finest hour at sea.

The Bismarck, along with its sister ship, The Tirpitz, (which was eventually sunk by the RAF in a fjord in Norway in 1944) were the largest "dreadnoughts" that Germany built for the war. The "dreadnought" was a British expression originating from before World War I, and designated large ships with large caliber guns, and which the Americans normally referred to as battleships. In May, 1941, the Bismarck broke out of its base in Norway, with the intention of disrupting supply convoys from the United States, which was not yet at war. It would have been easy for a ship the size of the Bismarck to have sunk an entire convoy, with its destroyer escorts, and thus it was absolutely essential for the British war effort that the Bismarck be found, and sunk.

It took nine days to accomplish this objective, but in the process the British battle cruiser, HMS Hood was sunk; there were only three survivors. The Battle of Midway, in the Pacific, in the summer of 1942, is generally recognized as the point when air power became ascendant in naval battles. In a much more unlikely way, the naval action against the Bismarck proved the importance of air power in the Atlantic. It was aircraft off the aircraft carrier "Ark Royal" that delivered a torpedo that seriously damaged the rudder on the Bismarck, resulting in it becoming a "sitting duck" since it could only turn in circles. The "Ark Royal" carried very old World War I vintage "Swordfish" bi-planes, with flight speeds of not much more than 100 mph, but they were sufficient to deliver the decisive blow. The battle ship, King George V, and the "pocket" battle ship, Rodney (with the odd configuration of having all three main gun turrets on the bow) finished the job, sinking the Bismarck, with the loss of most of its crew.

Forester wrote this account in 1958. It is a quick read, and written at the high school level, when I read it. Two years thereafter, it was made into a popular movie, and Johnny Horton had a popular song of the same name which helped promote the movie. No nuance, just dramatic good guy - bad guy action, with a feel-good ending. 4-stars.
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Sink the Bismarck!
Sink the Bismarck! by C S Forester (Paperback - 1963)
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