Based on the book by C S Forester, this chest-swelling CinemaScope World War II film vividly recreates the momentous 1941 battle of the North Atlantic during which the Nazis’ “impregnable” battleship Bismarck sank HMS Hood and badly damaged HMS Prince of Wales, but was herself destroyed within a comparatively few days.
During the Spring of 1941, Captain Jonathan Shepard (Kenneth More) – a naval officer whose ship has literally been shot from under him and whose wife had been a victim of an air raid on London – is appointed Director of Naval Operations in the Admiralty’s War Room in London.
He refuses to wear his heart on his sleeve, is a stickler for discipline and reprimands a junior officer when he addresses Second Officer Anne Davis (Dana Wynter) – an attractive and competent WREN who has lost her boyfriend at Dunkirk – as “darling”.
He reacts similarly when he spots Able Seaman Brown (Sean Barrett) improperly dressed and catches Commander “Dicky” Richards (Maurice Denham) munching sandwiches at his desk.
Suddenly, news comes through that the Bismarck, pride of the Nazi Navy, is on the prowl, and Shepard has the onerous task of giving the First Sea Lord strategic advice. British ships are promptly alerted, but the Bismarck sinks the Hood and hits the Prince of Wales.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill immediately issues instructions that the Bismarck must be sunk.
Shepard orders the HMS King George V and the HMS Rodney to pursue the Bismarck, and Swordfish from the HMS Ark Royal also attack. The Bismarck‘s rudder is badly damaged, but her arrogant and over-confident Nazi commander Admiral Lutjens (Karel Stepanek), will not abandon the fight.
Meanwhile, Shepard receives word that his only son, Tom (John Stride), a Swordfish gunner from the Ark Royal, is missing, and Anne – although offered promotion – remains at Shepard’s side.
Finally, the Rodney and King George V corner the Bismarck and batter her until she sinks.
The actual combat scenes, culminating in the sinking of the Bismarck, are terrific and feature some excellent model work.
Made in a semi-documentary style, the details are authentic, but the hero – the brilliant if inhibited Director of Naval Operations superbly played by More – is fiction, and so are its slight, yet compelling, romantic asides.
American radio commentator Edmund Murrow appears as himself, repeating some of his actual wartime broadcasts from London.
Captain Jonathan Shepard
Second Officer Anne Davis
Kapitän Ernst Lindemann
First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound, Admiral of the Fleet
Assistant Chief of Naval Staff
Admiral Günther Lutjens
Admiral Jack Tovey, Commander in Chief HMS King George V
Commander “Dicky” Richards
Captain John Leech, HMS Prince of Wales
Commodore Wilfrid Patterson, HMS King George V
Captain Loben Mound, HMS Ark Royal
Captain Robert Ellis, HMS Suffolk
Captain Charles Larcom, HMS Sheffield
Captain, HMS Solent
Captain Ralph Kerr, HMS Hood
Admiral Lancelot Holland, HMS Hood
Able Seaman Brown
Edward R Murrow