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Bismark: The Final Days of Germany’s Greatest Battleship

By Michael Tamelander and Niklas Zetterling. 320 pp. Casemate, 2009. $32.95.

The nine-day combat career of Germany’s most powerful battleship is the stuff of song (Johnny Horton’s rousing “Sink the Bismarck”), story, film, and legend. The famed battle between the Bismarck and the British battle cruiser Hood in the Denmark Strait, the desperate hunt by sea and air for the German dreadnought, its near-miraculous crippling by Swordfish torpedo planes: all have been scrutinized.

So what does this new work offer? In a word—context. No isolated raid, Bismarck’s sortie was part of a carefully calculated, risk-averse strategy of “cruiser warfare,” allowing the small but technically advanced German surface navy to challenge Britain’s sea power. Over one-third of this well-crafted book explains this strategy and describes earlier German raiding missions. This essential background and new historical insights make otherwise inexplicable elements of the Bismarck story much clearer, without diminishing the drama of the epic sea chase and its vivid, human details.


Originally published in the November 2009 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here