|Sink the Bismarck!|
|Directed by||Lewis Gilbert|
|Screenplay by||Edmund H. North|
|Based on|| The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck |
by C. S. Forester
|Produced by||John Brabourne|
|Edited by||Peter R. Hunt|
|Music by||Clifton Parker|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$3,000,000 (US/Canada rentals)|
Sink the Bismarck! is a 1960 black-and-white CinemaScope British war film based on the 1959 book The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck by C. S. Forester. It stars Kenneth More and Dana Wynter and was directed by Lewis Gilbert.To date, it is the only film made that deals directly with the operations, chase and sinking of the battleship Bismarck by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Although war films were common in the 1960s, Sink the Bismarck! was seen as something of an anomaly, with much of its time devoted to the "unsung back-room planners as much as on the combatants themselves". Its historical accuracy, in particular, met with much praise despite a number of inconsistencies.
Sink the Bismarck! was the inspiration for Johnny Horton's popular 1960 song, "Sink the Bismarck".The film had its Royal World Premiere in the presence of the Duke of Edinburgh at the Odeon Leicester Square on 11 February 1960.
In early 1939, Nazi Germany's most powerful battleship, Bismarck, is launched, beginning a new era of German sea power. Two years later, after war has begun, British naval intelligence discovers Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen are about to sail into the North Atlantic to attack Allied convoys. From a London underground war room, Captain Jonathan Shepard (Kenneth More) coordinates the hunt for the dreaded Bismarck. Later, the two German warships encounter HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales in the Straits of Denmark, and the four warships engage in a deadly gun duel. The battle results in the annihilation and violent disintegration of the Hood, shocking combatants on both sides. Now Prince of Wales is alone and is fired on by the two German ships. However, it manages to inflict damage on the Bismarck's bow. Bismarck returns fire, destroying the Prince of Wales' bridge. Eventually, Prince of Wales emits a smoke screen behind which to retreat. Bismarck and Prinz Eugen also retreat, but they are shadowed by the cruisers HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk using radar. Later, Prinz Eugen breaks away and heads toward the port of Brest, in occupied France, while Bismarck turns and fires at the British cruisers to provide cover as it escapes. The attack forces the cruisers to retreat. An air assault from the carrier HMS Victorious damages Bismarck's fuel tanks, but the vessel is otherwise largely undamaged.
Back at London's operations headquarters, Captain Shepard gambles that Admiral Gunther Lütjens, in command of Bismarck, is returning to friendly waters where U-boats and air cover will make it impossible to attack, so he plans to intercept and attack the German vessel before it reaches safety. Shepard commits a disproportionately large force to the search, and his wager proves correct when Bismarck is located steaming toward the French coast. British forces have a narrow time window in which to destroy or slow their prey before German support and their own diminishing fuel supplies can preclude further attacks. Swordfish torpedo planes from HMS Ark Royal have two chances. The first fails when the pilots misidentify HMS Sheffield as Bismarck, but thankfully their new magnetic torpedo detonators are faulty, with most exploding as soon as they hit the sea. Returning to the carrier and changing to conventional contact exploders, their second attack, this time on the "real" Bismarck, is successful. One torpedo causes only minor damage; but a catastrophic second hit detonates near the stern, jamming the German battleship's rudder, drastically slowing her down.
Unable to repair its rudder, Bismarck steams in circles. During the night the German battleship is attacked by two British destroyers. They fire torpedoes, and one hits; but Bismarck returns fire, sinking the destroyer HMS Solent. Rodney and HMS King George V) find Bismarck the next day and rain shells upon her. Lütjens in his final moments insists that German forces will arrive to save them, but he dies when a shell destroys Bismarck's bridge. Shortly afterwards, the remaining bridge officers are killed, and the crew abandon their sinking ship. On board King George V, Admiral John Tovey orders the newly joined cruiser HMS Dorsetshire to finish off Bismarck. The cruiser fires six torpedoes at the severely damaged German battleship. Four torpedoes strike home, causing the vessel to sink faster than its crew can escape. The captain of King George V, Wilfrid Patterson, lowers his head as Bismarck rolls over and disappears beneath the waves. Admiral Tovey orders Dorsetshire to pick up survivors, finally saying tersely: "Well, gentlemen, let's go home."The main force of British ships (including battleships HMS
C. S. Forester reportedly wrote the story as a screen treatment for 20th Century Fox before even writing the book.
Writer Edmund H. North worked closely with Forester's story, compressing events and time lines to make the plot taut. Along with the director, he decided to use a documentary-style technique, switching back-and-forth from a fairly insular war room to action taking place on remote battleships.The action is made more realistic when the human element of men in a game of wits and nerves is involved. The use of Edward R. Murrow reprising his wartime broadcasts from London also lends an air of authenticity and near-documentary feel. The film credits identify the actual Director of Operations as Capt. R. A. B. Edwards and "Capt. Shepard" as fictional. The Shepard-Davis interplay added human interest to the storyline.
In a similar manner, the battle between British and German forces is also recreated as a human drama, with Admiral Lütjens pitted against Captain Shepard in a "psychological chess match".
Sink the Bismarck! was made in 1960, as the last major Second World War fleet units were being retired. Producer John Brabourne was able to use his influence as son-in-law of Lord Mountbatten, then Chief of the Defence Staff, to obtain the full co-operation of the Admiralty. The soon-to-be-scrapped battleship HMS Vanguard provided some footage of a capital ship's 15-inch gun turrets in action, and was used for scenes set on board HMS Hood, Prince of Wales, King George V, and Bismarck herself. The cruiser HMS Belfast, now preserved in London, was used to depict the cruisers involved in Bismarck's pursuit, including HMS Norfolk, Suffolk, Sheffield and Dorsetshire. A Dido-class cruiser in reserve was used as the set for Bismarck's destruction, and one of her tall raked funnels is glimpsed in the final scenes.
The aircraft carrier HMS Victorious is briefly shown as herself, despite the postwar addition of a large angled flight deck and a massive Type 984 "searchlight" radar; the same ship is also used to depict HMS Ark Royal sailing from Gibraltar. All flying from both carriers was filmed aboard HMS Centaur – clearly marked with her postwar pennant number R06 – and three surviving Fairey Swordfish aircraft were restored, of which two were flown from her flight deck. These three aircraft now form the core of the Royal Navy Historic Flight. A 2010 article in Aeroplane identifies the Swordfish flown in the production: LS326, carrying its true serial, was marked as "5A" of 825 Naval Air Squadron, while NF389 was marked as LS423 / "5B". The same actor plays the leader of the Swordfish attack from HMS Victorious (in reality, Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde VC, DSO), and also the pilot from HMS Ark Royal who later fired the torpedo which crippled Bismarck's steering gear (in reality Lt John Moffat RNR).
The destroyers used to depict the torpedo night attacks were the C-class HMS Cavalier, representing the flagship of "Captain (D), of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla" (in reality, Captain Vian in HMS Cossack) and the Battle-classdestroyer HMS Hogue, representing the fictitious HMS Solent which Bismarck destroys in the film. Their pennant numbers can be made out quite clearly, although they are reversed because of the film's convention that British ships should move from left to right on the screen and German ships vice versa. These were the last classes of destroyer built during the war, and the last to have the classic War Emergency Programme destroyers' outline. HMS Cavalier remained in service until 1972, the last RN destroyer to have served in the Second World War, and is now preserved at Chatham Dockyard to commemorate all these vessels, but the newer and larger HMS Hogue was broken up shortly after the film was completed, following a collision off Ceylon with the Indian cruiser INS Mysore (formerly HMS Nigeria).
The large models of the major warships Bismarck, HMS Hood, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS King George V, HMS Rodney and the County-class cruisers, are generally accurate, although HMS Hood is depicted in a slightly earlier configuration than that which actually blew up. The use of models in a studio tank was intercut with wartime footage and staged sequences using available full-size warships. Bismarck's anti-aircraft guns, however, are represented by stock footage of British QF 2-pounder naval guns.
Sink the Bismarck! was made before 1975, when the British code-breaking at Bletchley Park was declassified, so it did not reveal that Shepard's hunches about the movements of the Bismarck were supported by intelligence. Direction finding and traffic analysis showed that on 25 May, Bismarck stopped talking to Wilhelmshaven and started up with Paris, and Shepard committed to the belief that Bismarck was headed for the French coast. The radio switch from Wilhelmshaven to Paris might have been caused by Bismarck's crossing the line southern Greenland – northern Hebrides which brought her under Group West instead of Group North. Nonetheless, Shepard's hunch was soon proved correct when, by good luck, a Luftwaffe Enigma transmission was intercepted and decoded at Bletchley Park, revealing that Bismarck was headed for Brest to repair an oil leak. The Luftwaffe Enigma code had been broken early in the war, unlike the German naval Enigma, which was only broken later and was subject only to traffic analysis during the Bismarck affair. Damage during its battle with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales caused flooding that put Bismarck's bow barely above sea level, and oil slicks caused by hits from HMS Prince of Wales were apparent; in the film, Bismarck's bow remains at its normal height above sea level.
Some minor continuity errors involve the visual appearance of Bismarck. When a spy in Kristiansand, Norway, sees Bismarck arrive in Norwegian waters (sailing from the east), the ship is shown sailing from right to left (from the west). Bismarck has no apparent camouflage but in fact, the ship still had striped "Baltic camouflage" along her sides, which was removed shortly before she headed out to sea. Also, the photo-reconnaissance Spitfire that photographs Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in a fjord is shown as two different versions with different canopies.
Sink the Bismarck! simplifies the movements of HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales in the battle. The film shows an early order to turn to allow the British ships to fire full broadsides. In reality, they sought to close the distance first, presenting smaller targets to the German ships but using only their forward gun turrets which reduced their firepower advantage by eight big guns, while Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were firing full broadsides of all their main guns. The film does not show that HMS Hood mistook heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen for Bismarck, at first firing at the wrong ship before correcting fire. Only in its final moments did HMS Hood begin a turn to fire broadside on Bismarck. Bismarck hit HMS Hood during the turn and she exploded. The turn presented Hood's deck armour at an angle more vulnerable to penetration and has been cited as a possible cause for her explosion, an issue the film does not cover. HMS Hood is shown firing to port while the Bismarck is shown firing to starboard; in fact it was the other way around.
In one scene, Lütjens speculates that after Bismarck has undergone repair in Brest, the two German battleships based there, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, could join Bismarck in raiding Allied shipping. There is no record of such a discussion at that time, although it would have been possible for Bismarck to sortie with the two battleships if Bismarck had reached the port.
Another historical deviation was made in depicting the night engagement between British destroyers and Bismarck. The film portrayal shows three British hits by torpedoes, while the British destroyer HMS Solent is hit and destroyed by Bismarck. There was no destroyer named Solent and no successful torpedo attack, although S-class submarine HMS Solent did exist during the war as a submarine operating in the Eastern Fleet in 1944. On 26 May, a Royal Navy destroyer squadron, led by Captain (later Admiral) Philip Vian in HMS Cossack, did exchange gunfire during unsuccessful torpedo attacks, with Bismarck inflicting minor damage to the destroyers. The heroic action of the attached Polish destroyer Piorun (ex N-class HMS Nerissa) was not depicted, although she sailed straight for Bismarck, signalling "I am a Pole" as she went, but none of her shots found their mark.
The aircraft that finally located Bismarck after she escaped detection by HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk is correctly shown as a Catalina, but the fact that it was piloted by an American Naval Reserve officer, Ensign Leonard Smith, could not be revealed until long after the war, since the United States was neutral at the time of the engagement. 's guns and all were recovered. However, from HMS Victorious's air raid, two Fairey Fulmar escort fighters ran out of fuel and ditched. Three fliers were picked up from a rubber boat.The attacks by Fleet Air Arm Swordfish show some aircraft being shot down; no Swordfish was lost to Bismarck
Sink the Bismarck! also does not show controversial events after Bismarck sank, including HMS Dorsetshire's quick departure after rescuing only 110 survivors, because the ship suspected that a German U-boat was in the area and withdrew.
The film has been criticised for its portrayal of German Admiral Günther Lütjens, who is portrayed as a stereotypical Nazi, committed to Nazism and crazed in his undaunted belief that Bismarck is unsinkable. In reality, Lütjens did not agree with Nazi policies; along with two other navy commanders, he had publicly protested against the brutality of antisemitic crimes during Kristallnacht. He is portrayed as saying “Never forget that you are Nazis”, but the term "Nazi” was not widely used in Germany at the time, as it had negative connotations. 's mission and realised that it would be a daunting task. The film shows Lütjens ordering Captain Ernst Lindemann to open fire on HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales. In reality, Lütjens ordered Lindemann to avoid engaging HMS Hood; Lindemann refused and ordered the ship's guns to open fire.He was one of the few officers who refused to give the Hitler salute when Hitler visited Bismarck before its first and final mission, deliberately using instead the traditional naval salute. He was pessimistic of the chances of success of Bismarck
For the most part, the historical accuracy in Sink the Bismarck! was praised by critics, with Variety calling it a "first-rate film re-creation of a thrilling historical event".A contemporary The New York Times review by A. H. Weiler, likewise championed its realism in saying "a viewer could not ask for greater authenticity". However, it went on to criticise both the acting and the constant scene changes "from Admiralty plotting rooms to the bridges of the ships at sea", claiming that this lessened the "over-all effectiveness" of both scenes. Film4 praised its cinematography, noting that it "very realistically re-enacted scenes in the War Room of the Admiralty" as well as "excellently filmed episodes using miniature models".
During the postwar period, war films were one staple of the British film industry, with Sink the Bismarck! an exemplar, sharing the "common themes, actors ... visual style and ideological messages" of the genre.British magazine Radio Times viewed Sink the Bismarck! positively, stating that "this fine film fully captures the tensions, dangers and complexities of battle by concentrating on the unsung back-room planners as much as on the combatants themselves" while also praising More's performance. Attention was drawn to the ways in which it deviated from other war films of the period, specifically commenting on how "there is a respect for the enemy that is missing in many previous flag-wavers". The film was given a four-star rating.
Gilbert's continual forays into events that shaped the British war experience mirrored his own background as a wartime filmmaker. His films merged historical episodes and the role of the individual, with Sink the Bismarck! characterised as having an "emotional punch, not least because Gilbert's direction relentlessly focuses on the human dimension amidst the history".
Sink the Bismarck! was well received by the public and, according to box office receipts, it was the seventh most popular film released in Great Britain in 1960. The film replicated the success of other British war-themed productions in the decade that also received healthy box office, including The Cruel Sea (1953), The Dam Busters (1955) and Reach for the Sky (1956).Unlike most British war films Sink the Bismarck! was a surprise hit in North America.
A revival of interest in the Bismarck was reflected in numerous publications that followed the film, as well as a variety of scale models that were produced.When the 1989 expedition by Dr. Robert Ballard to locate and photograph the remains of the battleship proved to be successful, further attention was directed to the story of the Bismarck. A number of documentaries have also been produced including the Channel 4 miniseries Battle of Hood and Bismarck (2002) and Hunt for the Bismarck aired in 2007 on the History Channel network worldwide.
Bismarck was the first of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. Named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1936 and launched in February 1939. Work was completed in August 1940, when she was commissioned into the German fleet. Bismarck and her sister ship Tirpitz were the largest battleships ever built by Germany, and two of the largest built by any European power.
A torpedo bomber is a military aircraft designed primarily to attack ships with aerial torpedoes. Torpedo bombers came into existence just before the First World War almost as soon as aircraft were built that were capable of carrying the weight of a torpedo, and remained an important aircraft type until they were rendered obsolete by anti-ship missiles. They were an important element in many famous Second World War battles, notably the British attack at Taranto, the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Force H was a British naval formation during the Second World War. It was formed in 1940, to replace French naval power in the western Mediterranean removed by the French armistice with Nazi Germany. The force occupied an odd place within the naval chain of command. Normal British practice was to have naval stations and fleets around the world, whose commanders reported to the First Sea Lord via a flag officer. Force H was based at Gibraltar but there was already a flag officer at the base, Flag Officer Commanding, North Atlantic. The commanding officer of Force H did not report to this Flag Officer but directly to the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.
Operation Rheinübung was the sortie into the Atlantic by the new German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen on 18–27 May 1941, during World War II. This operation to block Allied shipping to the United Kingdom culminated with the sinking of Bismarck.
Otto Ernst Lindemann was a German Kapitän zur See. He was the only commander of the battleship Bismarck during its eight months of service in World War II.
HMS King George V was the lead ship of the five British King George V-class battleships of the Royal Navy. Laid down in 1937 and commissioned in 1940, King George V operated during the Second World War in all three major naval theatres of war, the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific, as well as part of the British Home Fleet and Pacific Fleets. In May 1941, along with HMS Rodney, King George V was involved in the hunt for and pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck, eventually inflicting severe damage which led to the German vessel's sinking. On 1 May 1942 the destroyer HMS Punjabi sank after a collision with King George V in foggy conditions. King George V took part in Operation Husky and bombarded the island of Levanzo and the port of Trapani. She also escorted part of the surrendered Italian Fleet, which included the battleships Andrea Doria and Duilio, to Malta. In 1945 King George V took part in operations against the Japanese in the Pacific.
HMS Prince of Wales was a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy that was built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, England. She had an extensive battle history, first seeing action in August 1940 while still being outfitted in her drydock when she was attacked and damaged by German aircraft. In her brief career, she was involved in several key actions of the Second World War, including the May 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait where she scored three hits on the German battleship Bismarck, forcing Bismarck to abandon her raiding mission and head to port for repairs. Prince of Wales later escorted one of the Malta convoys in the Mediterranean, and then attempted to intercept Japanese troop convoys off the coast of Malaya as part of Force Z when she was sunk on 10 December 1941, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
HMS Hood was a battlecruiser of the Royal Navy (RN). Hood was the first of the planned four Admiral-class battlecruisers to be built during the First World War. Already under construction when the Battle of Jutland occurred in mid-1916, that battle revealed serious flaws in her design despite drastic revisions before she was completed four years later. For this reason, she was the only ship of her class to be completed, as the Admiralty decided it would be better to start with a clean design on succeeding battlecruisers, leading to the never-built G-3 class. Despite the appearance of newer and more modern ships, Hood remained the largest warship in the world for 20 years after her commissioning, and her prestige was reflected in her nickname, "The Mighty Hood".
Prinz Eugen was an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser, the third of a class of five vessels. She served with Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down in April 1936, launched in August 1938, and entered service after the outbreak of war, in August 1940. She was named after Prince Eugene of Savoy, an 18th-century general in the service of Austria. She was armed with a main battery of eight 20.3 cm (8 in) guns and, although nominally under the 10,000-long-ton (10,160 t) limit set by the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, actually displaced over 16,000 long tons (16,257 t).
The Battle of the Denmark Strait was a naval engagement in the Second World War, which took place on 24 May 1941 between ships of the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine. The British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood fought the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which were attempting to break out into the North Atlantic to attack Allied merchant shipping.
Vice Admiral Lancelot Ernest Holland, was a Royal Navy officer who commanded the British force in the Battle of the Denmark Strait in May 1941 against the German battleship Bismarck. Holland was lost when he stayed at his post during the sinking of HMS Hood.
Operation Berlin was a raid conducted by the two German Scharnhorst-class battleships against Allied shipping in the North Atlantic between 22 January and 22 March 1941. It formed part of the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sailed from Germany, operated across the North Atlantic, sank or captured 22 Allied merchant vessels, and finished their mission by docking in occupied France. The British military sought to locate and attack the German battleships, but failed to damage them.
The last battle of the German battleship Bismarck took place in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 300 nautical miles west of Brest, France, on 26–27 May 1941 between the German battleship Bismarck and naval and air elements of the British Royal Navy. Although it was a decisive action between capital ships, it has no generally accepted name.
Adalbert Schneider was the First Gunnery Officer on board the battleship Bismarck, and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for the sinking of HMS Hood on 24 May 1941 in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. Less than a week later, on 27 May 1941, Schneider and the majority of Bismarck's crew were killed in action during Bismarck's last battle.
Admiral Sir William Frederic Wake-Walker KCB CBE was a British admiral who served in the Royal Navy during World War I and World War II, taking a leading part in the destruction of the German battleship Bismarck, and in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation at Dunkirk.
Helmuth Brinkmann was a Vizeadmiral in the Kriegsmarine during World War II who captained the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Prior to World War II he commanded the aviso Grille, Adolf Hitler's state yacht. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of Nazi Germany. Brinkmann surrendered to British troops in 1945 and was held until 1947.
The Bismarck class was a pair of fast battleships built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The ships were the largest and most powerful warships built for the Kriegsmarine; displacing more than 41,000 metric tons normally, they were armed with a battery of eight 38 cm (15 in) guns and were capable of a top speed of 30 knots. Bismarck was laid down in July 1936 and completed in September 1940, while her sister Tirpitz's keel was laid in October 1936 and work finished in February 1941. The ships were ordered in response to the French Richelieu-class battleships. They were designed with the traditional role of engaging enemy battleships in home waters in mind, though the German naval command envisioned employing the ships as long-range commerce raiders against British shipping in the Atlantic Ocean. As such, their design represented strategic confusion that dominated German naval construction in the 1930s.
Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship or battlecruiser, of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. She was the lead ship of her class, which included her sister ship Gneisenau. The ship was built at the Kriegsmarinewerft dockyard in Wilhelmshaven; she was laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched a year and four months later on 3 October 1936. Completed in January 1939, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm (11 in) C/34 guns in three triple turrets. Plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets were never carried out.
Gneisenau was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser, of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. She was the second vessel of her class, which included her sister ship, Scharnhorst. The ship was built at the Deutsche Werke dockyard in Kiel; she was laid down on 6 May 1935 and launched on 8 December 1936. Completed in May 1938, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm (11 in) C/34 guns in three triple turrets. Plans were approved, once construction had started, to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets, but as this would involve a lot of redesign, construction continued with the lower calibre guns. The intent was to make the upgrade in the winter of 1940–41, but the outbreak of World War II stopped this.
Johann Günther Lütjens was a German admiral whose military service spanned more than thirty years and two world wars. Lütjens is best known for his actions during World War II and his command of the battleship Bismarck during her foray into the Atlantic Ocean in 1941.