Sink the Bismarck! is a 1960 British war film, shot in glorious black and white, based on the book Last Nine Days of the Bismarck by C. S. Forester. The story is told in no nonsense semi-documentary style. Sink the Bismarck! is, up to date, the only movie made that deals directly with the operations, chase, and sinking of the battleship Bismarck by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. The film centres round a critical naval operation, and giving a blow-by-blow account of how the Royal Navy managed to track down, trail and get rid of the Bismarck is virtually impossible.
The British have made war and historical movies with an unrivaled consistency of quality, and Sink the Bismarck! is no exception. The details are meticulous, the casting first-rate, and the battle sequences marked by accuracy and fine special effects. Here some information about ships involved in the film, as shown below:
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 remarkable footage of a capital ship's 15" gun turrets in action, and was used for scenes in the closed bridges of HMS Hood, Prince of Wales, King George V and the Bismarck herself. The cruiser HMS Belfast, now preserved in London, was used to depict the open bridges of HMS Norfolk and HMS Sheffield, two of the cruisers involved in Bismarck 's pursuit. 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. The same actor plays the leader of the Swordfish attack from HMS Victorious (in reality, Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde VC, DSO), and also the HMS Ark Royal pilot who later fired the torpedo which crippled Bismarck's steering gear (since identified as Lt John Moffat RNR).
The destroyers used to depict the torpedo night attacks were the C class HMS Cavalier (D73), representing the flagship of "Captain (D), of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla", (in reality, Captain Vian in HMS Cossack) and the Battle-class destroyer HMS Hogue (D74), 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 of 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.
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 gun.
Nevertheless the movie itself has a few historical inaccuracies, factual, and some minor continuity errors. Here we are letting some of them:
- Here's a big historical mistake. The character of German Admiral Lütjens is depicted overall in this film as a wild-eyed Nazi fanatic. In real life, he was distinctly anti-Nazi, vehemently protested the anti-Semitic actions of Hitler's regime, and was himself subject to intense Nazi scrutiny as he was a quarter Jewish and his wife was half Jewish. He was one of many German naval officers who fought only for their country, not Hitler.
- The battle of the Denmark Strait is wrong in that both sides are heading and shooting in the wrong direction. The Germans are shooting to starboard rather than port, and the British are shooting to port rather than starboard.
- The admiralty gets a priority message that two ships have been seen leaving the Baltic. The admiral and his chief of staff discuss "the Crete business", however the Bismarck sortied on 18 May, 1941, and the invasion of Crete happened two days later.
- In the film, the Bismarck destroys a British destroyer. She also shoots down one or more Swordfish torpedo aircraft. In reality, she sank only one ship (Hood) and lightly damaged a few others. No aircraft were shot down.
- The destroyer allegedly sunk by the Bismarck is named as the Solent. She would not have been much use in a 1941 torpedo attack, as she had no torpedoes and was not completed until 1944.
- The Director of Operations is handed a fuel state for KGV and Rodney, and is advised they are 140 miles astern of Bismarck. He asks if they steam at full speed can they catch her. Since Bismarck can steam at 30 knots, and the British ships at 28 and 23 knots respectively, it was a question that shouldn't have even been broached.
- HMS Rodney which along with KGV sank the Bismarck is wrongly portrayed. Her 16 inch guns were all forward of the main superstructure.
- The Bismarck is sighted by a British agent in southern Norway, sailing out of the Baltic into the North Sea - east to west. But the view through the agent's binoculars shows the ship sailing from right to left on the screen - which would be sailing west to east from the point of view of an observer on the Norwegian coast.
- Near the beginning a reconnaissance Spitfire overflys a Norwegian fjord, taking high altitude photos of the ship. The movie cuts to the photo lab, where a technician develops the photo. The fjord and the ship can be seen in the tray. However when the technician and his assistant remove the print and study it, you can see (through the back) that this is not the aerial shot just seen, but is a picture of the ship from sea level as viewed from another ship.
- When the planes from the carrier Ark Royal first spot a ship through a hole in the cloud cover we see a ship sailing along. (The Sheffield, which they mistakenly attack). Later, they supposedly spot the Bismarck, yet we see exactly the same ship sailing along through the same hole in cloud cover.
- Sink the Bismarck! (1960)
- Director: Lewis Gilbert
- Writer: Edmund H. North
- Cast: Kenneth More, Dana Wynter, Carl Möhner
- Genre: Action, Drama, WW II History
- Length: 97 Minutes
- Country: British
- Specs: Black & White, CinemaScope