They say it was the longest military campaign of World War II.
The Battle of the Atlantic was a struggle to control shipping routes from Great Britain and North America to continental Europe. As you can imagine, protecting the transport of equipment and soldiers across the ocean was critical to the Allied war effort.
The Germans were ready to duke it out. In addition to U-Boats (submarines) and battleships, the German Navy also built two super battleships, one of which was the KMS Bismarck.
The Bismarck was a heavily-armored beast. It had 17 decks and a crew of 2,000, along with dazzling firepower. It weighed 50,000 tons, which was a violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
It was a fearsome, intimidating ship, intended to muscle its way into – and out of – any situation. Therefore, it was in the British Navy’s best interest to incapacitate it.
This taut CinemaScope film incorporates actual footage from the era, including Adolf Hitler’s appearance during the christening of the ship at a Hamburg shipyard. American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow is here, too, reprising some of his newscasts from May, 1941.
This is a terrific film that specializes in Tension with a capital “T”, both on the sea and inside the British Admiralty, located in a windowless bunker beneath the streets of London.
Sink the Bismarck stars Kenneth More as a seasoned naval captain who has been appointed Director of Operations at the Admiralty. More’s character is a tough, shrewd man who won’t tolerate sloppy dress or slack behaviour. He doesn’t even allow staff members to call each other by their first name.
Admiralty staff, Wynter included, see More as a cold fish. But, as one of the Top Brass says, “We need a man like that to get through this battle.”
We’re shown what to expect from More during a brief conversation with Wynter about the death of her fiancé:
Wynter: “I think it helps to talk about these things, don’t you, sir?”
More: (curtly) “No, I don’t. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it helps at all. Getting emotional about things is a peacetime luxury. In wartime, it’s much too painful.”
More makes it clear he’s there to do a Job. He’s a brilliant strategist, one who is familiar with all the ships in the British fleet, as well as the number of corresponding personnel. Yet, as we gain additional information about More’s character, we see a different man emerge.
More is up against German Admiral (Karel Stepanek), a man as arrogant as he is clever. Stepanek is aboard the Bismarck, and he’s determined to teach the British a Thing Or Two.
Look at More and Stepanek in the above photos, and how they mirror each other. Director Lewis Gilbert gives us two evenly-matched foes. To emphasize this, he frequently places More in the left of the frame and places Stepanek to the right.
“We can sink anything they send out,” crows Stepanek when his crew sinks the HMS Hood, the largest battleship in the British Navy. Added to his joy is a thick fog that has blanketed the Bismarck, providing cover from the Allies.
However, when the German battleship suffers some damage, we realize the lives of the crew depend on Stepanek’s overstuffed ego.
Sink the Bismark is a top-notch film that feels authentic. If it’s been some time since you’ve seen a British war film, we recommend giving this a go.
Sink the Bismarck: Kenneth More, Dana Wynter, Carl Möhner. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. Written by Edmund H. North. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1960, B&W, 97 mins.