The Discovery of the Bismarck


232 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Index
ISBN 0-670-83587-0
DDC 940.54'5941




Reviewed by Sidney Allinson

Sidney Allinson is the editor at the Royal Canadian Military Institute
and author of The Bantams: The Untold Story of World War I.


Before leading the search for this long-lost World War II German
battleship, Ballard had already established his reputation by
discovering the Titanic in 1985. This is a superbly produced
large-format book, with so many lavish color photos and illustrations
that it approaches the visual impact of a tv program. Rare historical
photos show the ship during construction and later at sea, a virtual
blueprint and guided tour of it. The 50,000-ton Bismark was a truly
formidable fighting ship—one which also had that indefinable
“personality” that makes a few vessels legendary.

The book first explains the exciting historical events that preceded
Ballard’s search. Ballard then uses a mix of official records and
witnesses’ personal anecdotes to describe the Nazi ship’s career,
and the epic sea battle that finally claimed her. He tells how she roved
the North Atlantic in May of 1941, an implacable threat to Allied
shipping. When cornered by a Royal Navy flotilla, Bismark sank HMS Hood,
killing 1400 British sailors. A furious Winston Churchill himself
ordered, “Sink the Bismark!”, and the greatest sea hunt ever was on.
After cat-and-mouse maneuvres south of Greenland, the German vessel was
finally cornered. An hour later, the pride of Hitler’s navy went to
the bottom, with most of her 2000-man crew.

The ship lay lost for more than 40 years, a fabled wreck somewhere deep
beneath the Atlantic. How Ballard’s crew set out to locate her in 1988
makes an engrossing story. We sail aboard a scientifically equipped ship
of modern exploration; and learn about sonar-radar detection methods,
human persistence, miraculous new technology coupled with plain
instinct, and brave men and women. The voyage takes us into the world
beneath the sea, where gigantic mountains soar above yawning trenches.
On the slope of one underwater peak, Ballard found the Bismark in 1989.
The reader can sense the crew’s elation as they peer at tv images of
the wreck, surrounded by a touching “sea of boots” from the feet of
German sailors. Brilliant color illustrations by marine artist Ken
Marschall, showing haunting views of the Bismark wreck, add to the
book’s cinematic impression. Before leaving, Ballard’s crew floated
a wreath over the spot as a war grave.

The author’s triumphant return was tragically marred by his son’s
accidental death within days of having shared the voyage. Consequently,
Ballard dedicates his marvelous book as follows: “To the memory of my
son, Todd Ballard, and all those young men—both in war and peace—who
have died before their time.”


Ballard, Robert D., “The Discovery of the Bismarck,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 17, 2022,