Sink the Bismarck!

I recently watched Sink the Bismarck, a movie made in 1960. Unlike many movies that are “based on a true story” (meaning very loosely based), this movie followed what really happened very closely.

Bismarck and her sister Tirpitz were the biggest battleships deployed by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Bismarck, escorted by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was sent out to wreak havoc among Allied shipping in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Royal Navy sent many different ships to stop the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen. In May 1942, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen engaged the Royal Navy’s Hood and the Prince of Wales. During a brisk action, Bismarck blew up the Hood, which was the Royal Navy’s pride and joy, and for a time the largest warship in the world. After that, the Royal Navy was even more determined to sink the Bismarck. A few days later, a Swordfish torpedo plane launched from the Royal Navy carrier Ark Royal damaged the Bismarck’s rudder. (It takes a special kind of bravery to fly in an open-cockpit biplane, over the cold North Atlantic Ocean, into heavy anti-aircraft fire.) She was helpless the next morning when the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, with the battleships King George V and Rodney, came for her. After 90 minutes of hammering with 356-millimeter (14-inch) and 406-millimeter (16-inch) gunfire, the Bismarck was sunk.

The movie was impressive. Yes, there were a few scenes in which it was painfully obvious that I was looking at a model ship in a pool of water. But overall, the movie was well done and followed very closely to what really happened. The producers even spliced in some real combat footage. The moment in which the Hood was blown up was spectacular. Curiously, most of the footage of the final battle between Bismarck and Rodney and King George V showed only the latter firing – there was no footage of Rodney firing, even though an earlier scene showed Rodney and King George V sailing together.

The human element was well done too. Much of the movie took place in the Royal Navy’s headquarters underground in London. The tension was very visible. One of the main characters, Captain Shepard of the Royal Navy, is a spit and polish, very formal, very crisp fellow – until he hears that his son, a Swordfish tail gunner assigned to Ark Royal – went down at sea. Then his façade cracked. There is also a moment where a Royal Navy officer bows his head as he watches the shattered Bismarck sink. One also sees the pride of Admiral Lutjens and Captain Lindemann on board the Bismarck after sinking the Hood.

I enjoyed this movie! I’d rather watch a movie with primitive special effects than a movie that’s all special effects but not much plot, as many seem to be right now. If you like war or action films that are realistic, Sink the Bismarck is for you.

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