BISMARCK: 24 HOURS TO DOOM

Reviewed by: DR JAMES BOSBOTINIS

Forming part of the author’s ‘Bismarck trilogy’, alongside books on HMS Rodney and Killing the Bismarck, Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom is an expanded, new edition of what was originally a 2016 Kindle/print-on-demand book, to mark the 80th anniversary of the hunt for, and destruction of the ship. The author, Iain Ballantyne, will be familiar to members as the Editor of the magazine Warships International Fleet Review and the author of books on subjects including the ships and submarine to bear the name Warspite, the Royal Navy Submarine Service and his excellent history of submarine warfare, The Deadly Trade (reviewed in the NR, Volume 147, Number 4, November 2019). In Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom, Ballantyne seeks to provide “a concise telling of the final 24 hours of the episode, which aims to be fast-paced, action-packed, and concise”. Moreover, as Ballantyne explains, “At this new edition’s heart remain unique accounts by combat veterans, using transcripts of my filmed interviews with participants of the Bismarck Action”.

Divided into four main chapters, and also featuring a foreword by Rear Admiral Martin Connell CBE, an Introduction, Prologue and Postscript, the author sets out to provide an account of the hunt for, and destruction of the Bismarck in a concise manner. The Prologue provides the context for the book: the sinking of HMS Hood and the threat posed by the Bismarck to the vital Atlantic convoys, and with it, the requirement that the ship be hunted down and destroyed as quickly as possible. The focus for the book is on the events of 26 and 27 May 1941, and those two dates form the principal chapters. Ballantyne skilfully weaves together his account of the efforts by the Royal Navy to find, fix and strike the Bismarck and the latter’s attempts to evade its pursuers and return to the safety of Occupied France by drawing on the perspectives of a diverse range of participants. This includes, of course, the battleships HMS Rodney and King George V, but also the heavy cruiser Dorsetshire, Swordfish crew flying off Ark Royal, shadowing destroyers, including the Polish Piorun, and the U-boat, U-556. The book concludes with two shorter chapters, ‘Hand of Mercy’ – which details rescuing survivors and the course of the Battle of Atlantic, in particular the growing American involvement up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and ‘The Wheel Turns’, which discusses the fates of the ships involved in the Bismarck Action. The Postscript details, poignantly, the recovery of Hood’s ship’s bell.

Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom provides a highly engaging and readable account of the destruction of the Bismarck, with Ballantyne providing an excellent balance of strategic context, tactical action and the human dimension. The depth of Ballantyne’s research, including his interviews with veterans, are detailed in his Sources and Bibliography. The author’s style ensures the book will be accessible to the lay reader, for example, Ballantyne’s explanation of the flaws of the Bismarck design (pp-127-129) ably conveys the vulnerabilities of the ship. Whilst there is the occasional typo, they do not detract from the quality of the book, which at £8.99, is also excellent value for money. A brief excerpt from the author’s latest book, Arnhem: Ten Days in the Cauldron, is included, and will likely encourage the purchase of that title too. Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom will greatly appeal to members and is highly recommended.