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Film / Sink the Bismarck!

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We'll find the German battleship that's makin' such a fuss...

A 1960 British World War II drama directed by Lewis Gilbert, based on the novel The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck by C. S. Forester.

During the Battle of the Atlantic, Britain must fight alone as Nazi Germany sends out its most powerful battleship, the Bismarck, to hunt the supply convoys that the country needs to survive. In response to intelligence revealing the location of the battleship, the British forces organize a hunt to remove the Bismarck from the seas. In command of the operation is Captain Jonathan Shepard (Kenneth More), a by-the-book commander and disciplinarian who prosecutes the fight heedless of the feelings of his subordinates. On the opposite side is Fleet Admiral Günther Lütjens (Karel Štěpánek), commander of the Bismarck and her fleet, an embittered World War I veteran determined to ensure both his own recognition and that Germany will be on the winning side of this war.

There's a Real Life Gargle Blaster from BrewDog Brewery named after the film, a 41% quadruple IPA.

This film comtains examples of:

  • Abandon Ship: What the still-living crew of the Bismarck do in the end. Also an example of Know When to Fold 'Em - with the Bismarck falling apart from the cannon impacts, rudder stuck in one direction, no support coming, and the bridge crew completely dead, there's just no reason to stay on the ship any more.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Given that a significant portion of the film is set in the Admiralty War Room rather than at sea, several are present.
    • A particularly notable one actually occurs mid-battle when the Hood blows up - the fighting seemingly comes to a halt while combatants on both sides process what they've just witnessed.
    • The subplot involving Shepard's wife and son is told almost entirely through such scenes.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Played straight by the commander of the Bismarck's task force, Admiral Lutjens. When giving a speech to his crew before departure he reminds his men, "Never forget that you are Germans! Never forget that you are Nazis!" In Real Life, Admiral Lutjens was far from an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi party: during his time as the Kriegsmarine's chief of personnel he ignored the infamous Nuremburg Laws, wrote a letter of protest to the head of the Navy regarding Kristallnacht, deliberately greeted everyone up to and including Hitler himself with the traditional German naval salute instead of the Nazi salute, and wore his Imperial Navy dagger on his Kriegsmarine uniform because it didn't have the swastika emblem.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • During the final battle, a shell from the Bismarck destroys a ship named the Solon. There was no such ship present.
    • The battle also omits the presence of the Free Polish ship Piorun, even though it was the first to engage Bismarck in its last battle and held out almost single-handed for an hour until Royal Navy ships could catch up. Possibly justified in that the ship had to pull out before the end after running low on fuel.
    • In the aftermath of the sinking of the Hood, Admiral Lutjens chastises the Bismarck's captain for suggesting they return to port to repair battle damage, which even the captain acknowledges is "very slight." In reality, after confirming the Bismarck was trailing a large oil slick following the battle, Admiral Lutjens did intend to put into port - albeit a French one - to make repairs.
    • While the film does portray the friendly fire incident between Ark Royal's aircraft and the HMS Sheffield, earlier incidents involving the the inexperienced pilots of HMS Victorious initially mistaking both the cruiser Norfolk and a US Coast Guard cutter(!) for the Bismarck were omitted.
    • Despite the film depicting otherwise (and virtually all aircraft returning with numerous bullet holes) no Swordfish were actually shot down by the Bismarck.
    • The presence of two other German battleships, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, in port in France is referenced several times, including at least once by Admiral Lutjens, who suggests the Bismarck could sortie with them after "a day or so in Brest." However, both ships, particularly Gneisenau, were too badly damaged for combat operations. Lutjens would have known this; in real life, he had tried to delay the start of the mission to allow time for at least one of the ships to be able to participate.
    • Lutjens was actually quite reluctant to engage British warships, as his orders made it clear that he was to avoid unnecessary combat. As a result, during the Battle of the Denmark Strait he hesitated so long to give the order to fire that Captain Lindemann had to step in and do so himself.
  • Artistic License – Ships: Zig-zagged. The aircraft carriers Ark Royal and Victorious are actually portrayed by the latter; however the Victorious had been modernized to accommodate jet aircraft prior to filming, and these modifications - particularly the angled flight deck - are often visible.
  • As Himself: Legendary news broadcaster Edward R Murrow no less!
  • Battle Epic
  • Broken Record: Expect to hear "shoot!" from the British gunnery officers and "Feuer!" from the German gunnery officer a lot.
  • The Big Board: Well, a big table, over on the British fleet headquarters. After the Bismarck is sunk, Captain Shepard takes the model Bismarck off the table and pockets it.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Esmond Knight plays Captain John Leach of the Prince of Wales. Knight was a crewman serving on the bridge of the Prince of Wales during the Battle of the Denmark Strait and was badly injured when the bridge was hit by Bismarck's gunfire. Gag seems an inappropriate term, really.
    • Knight may also appear as a character. In a brief scene between the sinking of the Hood and the destruction of the Prince of Wales' bridge, an officer aboard the latter ship is seen giving the order to fire. Knight was a gunnery officer before his wounds forced him to leave the Royal Navy.
  • Cool Ship: It's a film about naval warfare during World War II, so of course these are everywhere.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Done inadvertently by the Bismarck when she sinks the Hood in one salvo, then later when the Bismarck's rudder is damaged by a torpedo and she can only circle as the British ships rip her apart
  • Dated History:
    • The film makes no reference to the signals intelligence that played a vital role in the Royal Navy's hunt for the Bismarck for the very good reason that said intelligence's very existence was still an official secret.
    • The film was made decades before the wrecks of the Bismarck and Hood were located; the condition of the Bismarck wreck confirmed the conventional narrative, the condition of the Hood wreck contradicted several theories about her loss.
    • The Catalina that rediscovers the Bismarck was actually flown by U.S. Navy Reserve Ensign Leonard Smith. Again, this was something the filmmakers couldn't reveal in 1960. America was still officially neutral in May 1941 and Smith's involvement in combat operations was still an official secret.
  • Determinator: The unnamed Norwegian agent who keeps trying to send his message even after being shot.
  • Epic Ship-on-Ship Action: The Movie, arguably. The most prominent battle scenes are when the Bismarck engages the Hood and Prince of Wales, and later, her Last Stand against Rodney and King George V.
  • Friend or Foe?: A British cruiser is mistaken for the Bismarck and nearly torpedoed by the Ark Royal's' bombers.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When the Bismarck is getting torn apart, there's a shot of a German sailor making his way across the deck. A torpedo hits; there is a flash of light, and all that's left of the sailor is a splattering of blood across the hull.
  • Heroic BSoD: Even the Germans are shocked when the Hood explodes. The British are completely thrown.
  • Historical Domain Character: All of the main characters, with the exceptions of Captain Shepard and Anne Davis.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: As mentioned under All Germans Are Nazis, the real-life Gunther Lutjens was most definitely not a hard-line Nazi supporter unlike in the movie, going as far to salute Hitler himself with the old Imperial German naval salute, and not wearing the swastika-bearing dagger on his Kriegsmarine uniform, instead utilizing the Imperial German dagger.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: Non-verbal example. When Shepard's secretary walks in to deliver some papers, she spots him sobbing in his bathroom. She quietly steps out and knocks loudly on the door, to give him time to compose himself.
  • It's Personal: Captain Shepard's last command at sea was sunk by one of Admiral Lutjen's cruisers.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Footage of the Spitfire that initially locates the Bismarck alternates between wide shots of a period correct aircraft and cockpit closeups showing a bubble canopy, a feature not introduced until later in the war.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Mid-transmission in this case. A British agent is shot while sending a report on two German warships he's spotted; the message received by the Admiralty is cut off just before it would have identified the Bismarck.
  • Lethally Expensive: One early scene shows an Allied spy trying to warn that the Bismarck had taken off from its pier even when a Nazi patrol barges into his home and machine-guns him to death while he's telegraphing. The message ends up incomplete, but British Intelligence is still capable of figuring out what the spy meant.
  • Mr. Exposition: Edward R. Murrow (himself!) provides a general summary of the various threats Great Britain is facing at the beginning of the film. The First Sea Lord provides additional info regarding the naval situation a short time later while going over The Big Board with Captain Shepard.
  • Newsreel: The film opens with newsreel footage of the Bismarck being launched. A short time later, more footage (of U-boat attacks) accompanies exposition by Edward R. Murrow.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Subverted early, as Shepard strips protection from convoys to search for the Bismarck.
  • Not So Stoic:
    • Shepard, who finally shows some human emotion when he breaks down weeping after getting the news that his son was found alive after being reported MIA. A positive example of this trope, as the superior who reported the news was disturbed by Shepard's lack of response over the phone; when Davis goes to his office and spots him weeping in the back, she exits again with a look of profound relief.
    • A previous scene, in which Shepard finds out his son is missing and relates to Second Officer Davis the circumstances of his wife's death - his reason for becoming The Stoic - also counts. He noticeably winces when first receiving the news, and comes close to breaking down multiple times in the course of the scene.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    First Sailor: "What's happened?"
    Second Sailor: "The Hood's gone..."
  • The Political Officer: Admiral Lutjens, amongst other roles. He keeps boasting about the invincibility of the Bismarck and the greatness of Germany even in the middle of a Villainous Breakdown up until the ship's bridge is blown up and he is killed.
  • Press-Ganged: HMS Prince of Wales is still under construction, but is ordered to put to sea by anyway, with the civilian workers if they aren't finished yet. The workers aren't happy about this.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Captain Shepard, who hides the pain of his wife's death behind a mask of formality and a dose of Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • The Spock: Shepard tries to keep his emotions out of the equation at trying to stop the Bismarck to the point he's accused of being insensitive when one of the possible casualties happens to be his own son. When the Bismarck is finally sunk and an Allied patrol finds his son, still alive and well, Shepard takes a moment to cry in his office and offer his secretary a night out to celebrate.
  • Stock Footage: Used in a number of instances, such as for the air attacks.
  • The Dreaded Dreadnought:
    • Bismarck fits this to a T. It speaks volumes when virtually the entire Royal Navy is sent to hunt down just one battleship, even before she sinks the pride of the Royal Navy.
    • The Hood also counts, to a degree, but rather on the "beloved" side than dreaded, at least to the RN sailors.
  • The Strategist: Shepard is the man responsible for trying to figure out where the Bismarck is in the ocean and send ships to eliminate it.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The only torpedo bomber the British had at the time was the Fairey Swordfish, a fragile-looking two-seat biplane. Which went up against the most modern battleship in the German fleet and crippled her enough to allow the surface fleet to finish her off. The strangest thing is that the Swordfish were, in fact, ideally suited to their task due to their near-obsolescence: Bismarck's anti-aircraft guns were designed to take on faster-moving aircraft and had trouble tracking the relatively slow Swordfish, and the fabric skin didn't provide enough resistance to allow AA shells to detonate, passing (usually) harmlessly through the aircraft instead of detonating on contact; on the other hand, each aircraft had only a single torpedo to deploy before needing to return to re-arm, and in one instance a navigator felt obliged to hang upside-down out of his cockpit trying to gauge the wave patterns below to figure out the optimum moment to release.
  • Title Theme Tune: Subverted; the Johnny Horton hit was inspired by the movie, and was used to promote it in the US, but it was not the theme song.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The German fleet commander (Admiral Lutjens) gets a REALLY big one during the final battle, having been given reassurance (false as it ended up being) that Germany will send support to the crippled Bismarck, and thus is muttering about having been promised support by Hitler himself and how the Bismarck is unsinkable right up to the moment a lucky British shot blows up the Bismarck's bridge, killing him and the rest of the bridge crew.
  • The Voice: Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he gives the Title Drop.
  • The War Room: The Admiralty War Room, an underground bunker where the Operations Division works. Captain Shepard is shown entering the War Room at the start of the movie and leaving it at the end with a pretty WREN he's invited to dinner, only to find it's broad daylight outside.
    Sailor: These boys worry me. Four strips on his arm and he doesn't even know what time of the day it is.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?
    • The Prinz Eugen, the cruiser accompanying the Bismarck until shortly after the battle with the Hood, is not mentioned once the two ships part ways. Truth in Television, as the Royal Navy was focused on containing the larger threat of the Bismarck, and the cruiser itself played no further part in the battle.note 
    • Similarly, British ships are present in the story only until their part in the battle is finished. One particularly notable example is the Prince of Wales, last seen heavily damaged and withdrawing from battle.note  Other examples include the aircraft carriers Ark Royalnote  and Victorious.note