One of the most interesting battleship books that I have encountered recently, is Robert Ballard's Bismarck:
My favourite chapter is - First Blood. This chapter covers the details of the Battle of the Denmark Strait - yes it is about the sinking of HMS Hood, but it also considers the aftermath of the battle (such as the damage that had been done to the Bismarck - especially towards her bow). There are some chilling first hand descriptions of the explosions on-board HMS Hood (as viewed from both the Bismarck, and Prince of Wales) together with some details on how Hood's three survivors survived. After reading this chapter, it's a miracle that there were any survivors at all: one jumped overboard (but got entangled in aerial wires as Hood sunk), another (Ted Briggs) escaped the compass platform/bridge (but was soon dragged under with the pull of the ship) the third was essentially washed through a window - from the highest point on the ship (the spotting top). Contrasted with this, are the thoughts of the Germans on-board Bismarck: which seem to have been at first astonishment, followed quickly by disbelief, followed quickly by transfixing (an inability to act), followed later by thoughts of impending doom - when it became apparent that the British intended to sink the Bismarck at all costs. My second favourite chapter is - Bismarck, Then and Now. I have always enjoyed looking at pictures of battleships - and this chapter has more than enough, but with a unique twist: as it compares black and white photos of the past (from previous voyages), together with basic photos of the wreck. I use the term basic photos, because at the time of the dive on the Bismarck (1989), the ability to both photograph and video underwater wrecks was in its infancy (at least by today's standards). Thus, the underwater wreck photos are somewhat on the smaller side/grainy (although not all), but I found that this mattered little - as I found them sufficiently spooky (especially when combined with the artists impressions of the overall wreck of the Bismarck). If you were to ask me, what my favourite diagram is within the book, then I would say that it is the diagram that explains/shows how the Bismarck sunk. It clearly shows that she rolled over, with her four 15 inch gun turrets falling out, as she descended rapidly towards the sea bed. Yet it is here, that an oddity occurred - for the Bismarck righted herself on her way to the bottom, before eventually slamming into the side of an extinct underwater volcano, and preceding to slide down it's side. My other favourite diagrams are the Bismarck's starboard profile, interior profile (showing key armour locations) and an overhead view - as they are also compared to original black and white photographs of the day. Overall: this is a highly detailed book, that provides a tonne of information on the battle (and it's aftermath), together with a great many pictures of the Bismarck (both past and present) which is mixed in within the Hunt for the Bismarck (aka the search to find the wreck).
Hood and Bismarck - Channel 4 Documentary - Part Two
In stark contrast to the sinking of HMS Hood (which was all over in a matter of minutes), The Battle of Hood and Bismarck documentary - explains that Bismarck, took several hours to sink:
And yet, this is not the only difference between the shipwreck of HMS Hood, and the shipwreck of Bismarck. Where as Hood is in a terrible state (with wreckage blown over a large area), Bismarck's wreck is a totally different story. Rather amazingly, her hull form sits perfectly upright, on the side of an underwater volcano. Her hull form also appears to be amazingly intact, as the documentaries underwater footage shows ... With for example, her bow swastika - being clearly visible. One of the most amazing scenes (for me), is the underwater footage of an open barbette, as it drops away to the dark depths, of the innards of this once mighty battleship. The documentary also explains an important difference between how HMS Hood, and Germany's battleship - the Bismarck, were sunk. In essence, the Royal Navy stood back and pounded the Bismarck for over an hour (with heavy calibre shells from the battleships HMS Rodney, and HMS King George V). The Royal Navy wanted revenge for the Hood, and the Bismarck's crew paid - the ultimate price. As such, it seems that the Bismarck's above deck areas were utterly destroyed - which was fundamental to the reasons of her loss: she lost the ability to fight, and as such, was unable to return fire with her eight 15 inch guns. The documentaries underwater footage provides evidence of this, as for example, the large superstructure, together with various range finders, are found separate to the main hull form, on the bottom of the sea bed. There is also a difference between how the crews of both HMS Hood, and Bismarck awaited their fates. On Hood, the catastrophic explosions, probably gave little to no time at all - to know what was happening. On Bismarck, her crew knew full well what was happening, as her rudders had been damaged (by a Royal Navy Swordfish air-strike) - which meant that she eventually meandered towards her awaiting fate (the heavy pounding by available British battleships). The documentary concludes by laying a Memorial Plaque on Bismarck's superstructure, and overseeing a memorial gathering, with both Hood and Bismarck survivors. Overall: Hood and Bismarck - an informative DVD to watch, on one of the last great sea battles ... Both Hood and Bismarck were for me, the Space Age of their time - as they must have been as far beyond, the Ships of the Line, as a 15 inch shell is beyond, the power of a cannon ball. It is somewhat fitting then, that this documentary, levels the playing field so to speak - as undersea exploration, is still very much, in it's infancy ... Yes, David Mearns finds the wrecks of both ships, but it is a real challenge. In finding those wrecks, do I feel that he helps to remember - the spirit of the men, that served on them. And it is for us to remember, that such wrecks are still tasked with an important duty - the homes of the sailors that lost their lives, lay undisturbed, looked but never touched, for all of time.
Hood and Bismarck - Channel 4 Documentary - Part One
One of the best documentaries I've seen on HMS Hood is - The Battle of Hood and Bismarck:
This DVD tells the story of these two massive warships, both in terms of their history, and in terms of the exploring of their wrecks. There's a fair amount of footage of HMS Hood, which only helps to build up her sense of invincibility. With the footage of Hood's World Cruise, do we realise just how famous The Mighty Hood actually was (as she was known by much of the British Empire - and had for example, been used in the early twenties for entertaining numerous dignitaries/VIPs). I became immersed with the memories provided by Ted Briggs (Hood's last remaining survivor). I felt that he honoured his fellow crew-mates, when he laid Hood's Memorial Plaque, on one of her bow anchor chains. I felt saddened when you see the wreck of HMS Hood on the bottom of the sea bed. For want of a better expression, she's in a terrible state - with the expedition leader (David Mearns) using the phrase: that a wreck is exactly what this is (to describe her). In short: Hood was blown apart by a massive explosion that spread her hull form, guns, and superstructure out over a large area. It is here that this documentary proposes an interesting idea: for it seems that Hood was destroyed by not one, but two magazine explosions (one in the stern, and one in the bow). In turn does this documentary, answer an important question: Why did so few people survive the sinking of HMS Hood? In turn does this documentary, provide an answer: If you have the whole battleship exploding, then it's surprising that any crew members survived at all. As such, I feel that this was the main reason, that Ted's memories haunted him for over sixty years. It is here that this documentary, goes to great lengths, through the use of computerised animations - to explain why ... For me, the most chilling scene, is seeing Hood's bow disappear beneath the waves (with her bow inclined vertically upwards) - and hearing the chilling tale, about how the crew in the front parts of the ship, must have died (essentially the immense pressure of water forcing it's way through the forward parts of the warship - all over in the blink of an eye). The documentary also helps to dispel, other myths about the sinking of HMS Hood. For example, I have heard that various enquiries had proposed the idea that her steel was brittle (hence hastening her sinking). This documentary proves that this was not the case: with the side of her hull form showing evidence, that her steel stretched considerably, before breaking. Even so, I'm still amazed, by the shear amount of devastation, that's present upon the sea bed ... And as you will see, in the second half of this review (see link below), what befell the Pride of the Royal Navy, is somewhat different, to the last moments of - the Bismarck.