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Thoughts: ‘The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship’ by Patrick Bishop

Thoughts: ‘The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship’ by Patrick Bishop post image

Before I get into talking about The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship by Patrick Bishop, a little confession: I haven’t quite finished the book yet. While I normally don’t like to write about books I haven’t finished — even if I’m scheduled to post a review as part of a book tour, as I am today — in this case, I’m fairly confident the last 100 or so pages aren’t going to vastly change my thoughts on this one; it’s not like there’s going to be a game changing plot twist… we know the warship goes down in the end.

But, I wanted to put that caveat out there anyway, in the interest of complete transparency about where I’m coming from as I write about the book, an account of the Allied attempts to take down one of Adolph Hitler’s most powerful naval weapons:

Winston Churchill called it “the Beast.” It was said to be unsinkable. More than thirty military operations failed to destroy it. Eliminating the Tirpitz, Hitler’s mightiest warship, a 52,000-ton behemoth, became an Allied obsession.

In The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship, Patrick Bishop tells the epic story of the two men who would not rest until the Tirpitz lay at the bottom of the sea. In November of 1944, with the threat to Russian supply lines increasing and Allied forces needing reinforcements in the Pacific, a raid as audacious as any Royal Air Force operation of the war was launched, under the command of one of Briain’s greatest but least-known war heroes, Wig Commander Willie Tait.

In general, my favorite kinds of history books are quirky history, the unknown or uncovered stories that give big events more color than you typically learn about in high school or even college-level history classes. I hoped that reading The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship would offer some of that color to World War II, a historical event that (if I’m being honest), I generally find pretty dry.

The book ended up being a mixed bag in that respect. I really enjoyed the sections of the book that focused specifically on the schemes developed for taking down the Tirpitz — they were full of heroic deeds and Hogan’s Heroes-esque sabotage plots that were funny, brave and fun to read about. But whenever the book shifted into the broader context of the war in the Atlantic or overall war strategy, my eyes glazed over just a bit.

I know, intellectually, why the broader context of the war in the Atlantic was necessary to tell this story. Without it, the hunt for the Tirpitz loses urgency. Because Hitler was so protective of the ship, the Tirpitz wasn’t actually out in the battle much — it’s the threat of the ship that looms over other military decisions that creates the push to take it down. Understanding the ship’s impact on the broader strokes of World War II also helps honor the lives of the men lost training for and executing the plans the Allies developed. If you don’t know why hunting the Tirpitz was important, it’s not clear what they sacrificed their lives for.

But even knowing that, I still couldn’t muster up a lot of interest for the contextual information, which meant entire chapters of the book — many of them in the first 100 pages or so — really dragged for me. I think that’s really unfortunate though because, as I’m writing this, I’ve just finished a really great section of the book. One of the later plans involved launching mini-submarines in coordinated attacks to drop bombs under the Tirpitz while it was anchored in Norway. The training, challenges and execution of this plan fascinated me, making me wish there were more of these kinds of stories in this book.

It’s hard for me to say anything definitive about recommending this book or not. I think if you are a reader that enjoys World War II history, this book will add a lot to your reading. If you’re less passionate about the topic, I don’t think it has enough broad appeal to pique your interest. I’m planning to finish it — I’m too invested now not too — but overall it wasn’t entirely up my alley.

tlc logoOther Tour Stops: Man of La Book | Lit and Life | Strategist’s Personal Library | Tiffany’s Bookshelf | Layers of Thought | 5 Minutes For Books | JulzReads

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  • Nikki Steele August 9, 2013, 9:25 am

    I always find it hard to stop reading a book when I get to that dry treatment. Part of me knows and respects what they’re doing, but the other part of me is willing to just kind of wander off while reading. So instead of stopping, I set it down and never pick it up again or only read small bits of it. That doesn’t seem too different but it is to me. I think there’s guilt associated with the second one. Sometimes I wish I could just realize that I don’t like a book and stop reading it.

    • Kim August 11, 2013, 4:48 pm

      That happens to me sometimes too. I’ve got a number of books started and set aside but think I might come back to at some point. I should probably commit to them or just give them away rather than holding on.

  • Heather J @ TLC Book Tours August 9, 2013, 11:49 am

    Do you think this would be a good audio book? For myself, I find listening to books like this easier than reading them, even when I’m invested in the subject matter.

    Thank for being on the tour Kim!

    • Kim August 11, 2013, 4:49 pm

      Maybe, it’s hard to tell. There were a lot of sections of listing ships and battle supplies that might get hard on audio, but maybe easier to just listen though.

  • Did you think it was well-sourced? I’ve been casting around for something to get my uncle, who loves military history, and this sounds like something that would be fun for him. He probably won’t mind that it’s a bit dry. He loves that stuff.

    • Kim August 11, 2013, 4:49 pm

      Yes, absolutely. The end notes are pretty extensive, and he has notes in the text about where accounts agree and disagree on some points. I think a military history buff would enjoy it.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey August 10, 2013, 11:04 pm

    I’ve always been surprised by the large percentage of my notes that I take towards the beginning of a book! So far I’ve always finished books before reviewing them, but I’ve had lots of books where none of my notes change in the second half of the book. Generally it would take a really terrible or amazing ending or some drastic change to make me change my opinion at that point.

    • Kim August 11, 2013, 4:50 pm

      I think that tends to happen more with nonfiction, for me. There’s not usually a “twist” at the end that reframes what you read before, so impressions made by about half way through hold through the end. I hate to write about books without finishing, but the timing just didn’t work out this time!