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.