the alfmeister

a figment of reality's imagination

Book Review – Pursuit by Ludovic Kennedy


I have lost count of how many times I have read this book, but two dozen would be a light estimate.

When my Grandma asked me (I was about 7 or 8) what I wanted to be when I grew up the first thing that came into my head was “captain of a ship”, and it stuck with me all through my childhood. Not that I particularly had an interest in the sea at that time, it was just a way to get her off my back – I was eight! I did have an interest in war stuff I s’pose…

Anyway, sometime during school, I think I was in Standard 3 from memory (Year 6 I guess in today’s language) I read the book “Battleship Bismarck: A Survivor’s Story” and was instantly hooked on naval history, specifically WWII, and no more than the ship that would influence me for the rest of my life, KM Bismarck herself. Never has a warship (since Nelson’s Victory) been such a thing of legend – a song, books, documentaries and a search by Dr Ballard. And there was a typical Brit movie which funnily enough I have yet to see.

Some years later while serving in the New Zealand Navy (RNZN) in a ship that impressive in its own way yet hardly Bismarck, I purchased a copy of Kennedy’s book which has become my favourite book since. I think I read this one in a couple of days and read it at least once a year every year after. I still have that copy, it is dog-eared to hell, the pages held in with yellowed sellotape, and in fact I think I lost some of the photos out of the middle spread. But out it came, like clockwork to be read again, and every time I wished the Bismarck would escape (sorry for revealing the outcome!) and was hugely saddened and disappointed each time.

The clip below is a CGI recreation of the battle with HMS Hood and then her ultimate destruction at the hands of HM Ships KGV, Rodney and cohorts. Pretty accurate.

A few years ago my wife went to the States and got me a brand new copy of the book which was part of the US Naval Institute’s series of books, in hardcover this time, and updated to include a few more photos and footnotes, plus a whole new prologue and epilogue. And finishing it for the first time (I still continued to reads the old copy which is now formally in ‘retirement’), this time in four days I am still on both a high from such an exciting tale and a low because of the outcome.

While this ditty (naval term for story) is true you get to experience every emotion and peak and trough that exists in fiction, and there are moments when you grieve for the unnecessary loss of life, applaud heroics and skill, and, dare I say it, cheer on the ‘baddies’ (I use the term baddies as history does in fact record Nazi Germany as ‘bad’, but not all who served her were necessarily so).

Considered one of the most famous photos of WWII - Bismarck fires a broadside at HMS Hood...it is actually light but due to the glare from her guns the sky appears darker

So without really going into it too much, and being a man who has read many, many books, articles, stories and watched every possible doco he could on Bismarck, get this out. You don’t have to have knowledge of naval warfare, nor of history, and the proof in that is I got Katie to read it which she did and in quick time. I did however give her the benefit of my naval learnings but all that is needed is written in the book (eg. port and starboard etc).

There was a rumour some years back that James Cameron, the genius behind the movie “Titanic” was looking at making one on the Bismarck, and was involved in a CGI documentary about her (Expedition Bismarck), but I have yet to have any confirmation on it. He would probably ruin it by putting in some random love story anyway…

…and still the debate rages on about who sunk her…

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