Bismarck Excerpt – Final Installment!

Well, with this post, Stacy Danielle Stephens is wrapping up her story of the Bismarck, part of a much larger tale, which, we are certain, will be just as good as this was!  It’s been an honor to be allowed to print this excerpt of her Historical novel, and we, at least, can’t wait to read the rest when it becomes available!

bismarck sinking

After the Bismarck had sunk and Admiral Lutjens was dead, an inquiry by Germany’s Naval High Command[1] ruled that Lutjens, in failing to make for Trondheim by returning through the straits between Iceland and Greenland on the morning of May 24th, was personally responsible for the loss of the Bismarck.  This court of inquiry disregarded the presence of the Norfolk and Suffolk and disallowed their radar.  This court of inquiry ignored the King George V, the Repulse, the Rodney, and the Victorious, all of which, guided by the Norfolk and Suffolk, would have intercepted the Bismarck more easily en route to Trondheim than in the open Atlantic.  This court of inquiry did establish a precedent which continues to this day.  A legion of gainsayers, few of whom commanded any vessel powered by anything larger than an Evinrude, consistently find fault not only with everything Admiral Lutjens did in the last days of his life, but with the man himself.  A more accurate assessment can be discerned in the reticence of his crew.  Among the 115 men who survived, there is not one who wrote a book or article critical of their fleet commander.  Each of them, whenever asked, has said that in light of what Admiral Lutjens knew, and, more importantly, did not know, all his decisions were reasonable, and with the exception of his failure to maintain radio silence, his every action was correct.


* * *


In a television documentary produced fifty years after the sinking of the Bismarck, a crewman of HMS Dorsetshire said that the glory of naval warfare is that your enemy is a monster some miles away.  As you feel the fury leap from your vessel and pour itself out on this enemy, you’re caught up in the wonder of it.  You and your mates are simply and clearly engaging an enormity and destroying it.  When the cease fire order comes, you have a moment to take up your binoculars and asses your work.  Ragged steel torn and burning is an awesome sight, particularly when you know that you have helped to bring it about.  But as you study this scene, admiring your work, you see tiny things emerge from the tumbling walls of flame and smoke.  Fascinated, you watch them scurry across the horror you’ve created.  It isn’t until they leap from the ship, their arms and legs flailing, that you recognize human figures.  Only then do you realize what it is you and your mates have done.

Interviewed in that same documentary, a German sailor said that he had not felt as if he were abandoning ship.  It seemed to him that the Bismarck was a dream from which he had wakened to find himself in a butcher shop that had been bombed.  The men with whom he sailed had all faded away in the light of day, and now, as he struggled through incomprehensible wreckage, what surrounded him was merely cuts of raw meat scattered everywhere.


* * *


Only once did Hitler rail about the sinking of the Bismarck after the fact, and that was in a private conversation with Admiral Raeder.  Those nearest to him noted that he–strangely, for him–gave no sign that it had affected him at all.  But with his nearly impeccable memory and facile recall, and his capacity for detail, he very likely remembered the face of every young sailor who gazed into his eyes with total admiration on that magical, brilliant morning in May when he had toured their ship.  In June of 1941, he issued strict and explicit orders that no other German surface vessel was ever to be put in jeopardy as the Bismarck had been.


* * *

Bismarck today

Beneath three miles of cold atlantic water, the Bismarck, robbed of its eight fifteen inch guns and denuded of its superstructure, rests upright and nearly level.  The stern is broken off, and the lowest arm of the aft deck swastika, where Hitler himself once stood to salute the ship’s complement, has gone missing.  The personal effects of more than two thousand German sailors, mostly boys fresh from Hitler Youth, and all as young as a morning in May, are still inside.


[1] In any navy, such inquiries are normal when a ship is lost.  However, in this instance, one can feel certain that the inquiry was a sham intended to draw Hitler’s attention away from Admiral Raeder’s very questionable decision to send the Bismarck into the Atlantic with only a cruiser to support it.

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