Book Review
Battleship Bismarck
Battleship Bismarck a Design and Operational History
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by: Darren Baker [ CMOT ]


The Capital Class ships may no longer exist in modern navy’s, but as a class they tend to attract the most attention due to their size and massive armament. Some of the battleships that jump to mind are the USS Arizona sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbour and now a War Grave. USS Missouri the ship where the Japanese signed the surrender in World War 2 and that also saw action during the Korean War and first Gulf War. HMS Hood the greatest battleship of her time and representing the best of the Royal Navy up until her sinking by a German round detonating a magazine on the ship killing all but three of her crew. You cannot mention the Hood without raising the German Battleship the Bismarck, the largest and fastest battleship of her time and responsible for the sinking of HMS Hood and the near destruction of the HMS Prince of Wales. It is the Bismarck that is the subject of this review.


Every so often when reviewing books something exceptional comes along and this offering from Seaforth is just such an offering. This hard backed book offering is a little larger than A4 in size and consists of 616 pages; this is one of those heavy books that made my tennis elbow play up. The paper quality is a very good semi gloss that presents the photographs very well, the papaer is also stitched in place which is another sign of a quality book. This book is authored by three people who are William H Garzke Jr, Robert O dulin Jr and William Jurens, a fourth person has credit on the front cover and that is the film director James Cameron whose input I will talk about shortly. This offering is laid out as follows:

1. The Origins of the Battleship Bismarck
2. Bismarck Joins the Kriegsmarine
3. German Navel Developments
4. Prelude to Operation Rheinübung
5. The Royal Navy in 1941
6. Operation Rheinübung Commences
7. Bismarck’s Norwegian Interlude and the British Reaction
8. Prelude to Battle
9. Contact!
10. The destruction of HMS Hood
11. Aftermath
12. Decisions
13. Torpedo Attack by Victorious Aircraft
14. Bismarck Strives to Escape
15. Discovery
16. The Fateful Torpedo Attack
17. Crippled
18. The British Destroyers Attack
19. The Final Battle: Prelude
20. The Final Battle: 0847-0930
21. The Final Battle: 0930-1021
22. The Final Battle: Commentary
23. Survival and Aftermath
24. The Wreck
25. Reflections
26. Research

A. Operation Order for Operation Rheinubung
B. HMS Rodney Gunnery Action with Bismarck
C. King George V 356mm Turret Problems
D. The Scuttling Debate
E. Bismarck’s Last Moments: Survivor Reports

This title begins by looking at the events that led up to the production of the Bismarck, and it can be argued that the end of World War One was the event that led to World War 2. The restrictions placed on Germany at the end of World War 1 as part of the Versailles Treaty almost guaranteed that Germany would rebel against the Treaty.

The Bismarck’s construction stages are covered in detail and looks at how German builders got around some of the issues that the Treaty of Versailles caused and just ignored others. Other German vessels are looked at as the plus and minuses of these vessels were used to avoid the negatives and add the positives to the Bismarck. Some very interesting photographs are included in this section looking at shell penetrations on a number of vessels and a torpedo strike by HMS Clyde on the Gneisenau in 1940, the resulting hole is so big you could sail another vessel of quite a large size through the hole and have room to spare. It does bring home to you just how powerful and effective the torpedo could be as a weapon of war.

Operation Rheinübung was an operation that was to sail The German fleet into the North Atlantic and attack convoy ships; this was decided on following the success in the Atlantic during the winter of 1940-1941. This plan involved sending the German surface fleet Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz and Gneisenau into the Atlantic plus U-boats. The battle ships were to attack the military ships while the battle cruisers and U-boats attacked the convoy vessels. I was hoped that this would force the Royal Navy to withdraw assets in the Mediterranean and so allow Italian surface vessels to be more active in that theatre of war. Operation Rheinübung was doomed to fail as the German could not get all of their ducks in a row with vessels either being unable to physically make it by the deadline or just not ready to sail by the deadline. The result of this was that the Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sailed alone.

What I choose to describe as the defensive actions of the German ships against what became clear was HMS Hood and what the Germans thought was HMS King George V. The Germans actions are very well covered in the volume along with the sinking of the HMS Hood. It was well known that the minimal armour over HMS Hoods magazine was a weak spot and is believed to be the location pierced. The position the captain of HMS Hood put his vessel and the Prince of Wales in was one where the rear turrets could not be brought to bear plus the sea spray prevented the ranging teams from getting accurate readings. The result of all this is well know with the loss of HMS Hood and all hands except three, the engagement also resulted in the Prince of Wales taking heavy damage. The loss of HMS Hood was not an event the British were willing to let go unanswered and the hunt was on.

The book shares a great depth of knowledge on the engagement between the British and German ships and I was impressed with the images showing the damage to HMS Prince of Wales while undergoing repairs. There are a great number of drawings showing the damage to both vessels including the known strikes on HMS Hood. The pursuit of the Bismarck is covered in great detail and this book should answer all of the questions the reader has concerning that aspect of history. The technical drawings of the Bismarck are very well done and make clear what the text is telling you.

The sections covering the demise of the Bismarck in a minute by minute blow will draw the attention of any reader. The final hours of the Bismarck are a sad affair as the British took the ship apart piece by piece, even as a Brit I see this more as butchery than war; The result of this onslaught was that many German sailors who jumped ship died from enemy fire and the terrible conditions at sea. The destruction to the Bismarck cannot be appreciated until you see James Cameron’s contribution to this title in the form of photographs of the Bismarck on the ocean floor; the damage seen in these images brings to life the situation on the Bismarck prior to her sinking and that is before you add the shell splinters, smoke and fire into the mix.


This offering from Seaforth Publishing is an incredible insight into the story of the Bismarck and her demise. The text is well written and does a very good job of telling the story of this impressive vessel warts and all. The diagrams provided help the reader to understand what the text is telling you and are especially helpful when it comes to indicating the damage received. The photographs of the Bismarck and other vessels are great inclusions and well chosen by the authors. The contribution from James Cameron showing the Bismarck on the ocean floor provides the user some idea of the final hours of what it was like to be on the Bismarck the day the war caught up with her.
Highs: This offering on the Bismarck brings into stark relief the fate of those German sailor in the ships final hours.
Lows: It made my tennis elbow hurt every time I picked it up.
Verdict: If you want to know all about the Bismarck then I think this book has all of the answers and it costs less than a penny a page.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 9781526759740
  Suggested Retail: £55.00
  PUBLISHED: Jul 01, 2019

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About Darren Baker (CMOT)

I have been building model kits since the early 70’s starting with Airfix kits of mostly aircraft, then progressing to the point I am at now building predominantly armour kits from all countries and time periods. Living in the middle of Salisbury plain since the 70’s, I have had lots of opportunitie...

Copyright ©2021 text by Darren Baker [ CMOT ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Model Shipwrights. All rights reserved.