The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship
Patrick Bishop has emerged as one of Britain’s best-regarded military historians. As a career war correspondent, Bishop’s writing is underpinned by his extensive first-hand knowledge of the intricacies of warfare. Throughout his career, Bishop followed British soldiers on almost all their deployments of the last thirty years from the Falklands to Afghanistan.
In his new book, The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship, Bishop meticulously details how Hitler’s 42,000-ton behemoth inflamed an Allied obsession. Calling on decades of experience as a war correspondent, Bishop brings to life one of the great sagas of World War II by offering the most complete and even-handed account yet. Full of wartime drama, Bishop utilizes previously unpublished sources and profound interviews with survivors to paint a dramatic picture of the tremendous efforts made by both the Germans to defend the Tirpitz and the Allies to destroy it.
What makes your book on the Tirpitz unique?
I’ve approached the narrative not as a sequence of episodes but as a saga—of men and machines. The mechanical side is interesting but it’s the human aspect that interests me most. As with my previous books I’ve told the tale through the eyes of the participants, using contemporary diaries and letters where possible and interviews with the handful of survivors who remain. I hope it’s possible to get enjoyment from the book as a great drama regardless of whether or not you are interested in military history.
What is the most interesting piece of new information you came across in your research?
I think discovering the full extent of the achievement of James ‘Willie’ Tait, the man who led the Dambusters’ squadron on the final raid and whose Tallboy bomb was the first to hit the ship. Tait was an extraordinary man, at least as great a warrior as his predecessors on the squadron, Guy Gibson and Leonard Cheshire, who both won the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry. He was also extraordinarily modest and shy—which is perhaps why he didn’t get a VC.
What was it about the Tirpitz that you think caused it to become so symbolic of the hubris of Hitler’s regime?
Tirpitz and her sister ship, Bismarck, were supposed to show the world that anything they could do, Hitler’s Germany could do better. She was bigger, faster, and more powerfully armed than any ship in the Royal Navy. She was also said to be unsinkable. It was inevitable that her destruction would be seen as a harbinger of doom for the whole Nazi empire.
Why was the Tirpitz so feared in the northern Atlantic?
Churchill and his admirals harbored an Edwardian-era respect for the destructive might of big battleships. They dreaded the havoc that Tirpitz might cause if she got loose among the transatlantic convoys that were, literally, Britain’s lifeline. As it turned out, the fear was somewhat exaggerated—U-boats and aircraft sunk far more Allied shipping that German surface warships. Nonetheless, she could have done some devastating damage before she met her end—as she would probably have done, given the precedent of the Bismarck, sunk in 1941.
Patrick Bishop is the international best-selling author of Fighter Boys and Bomber Boys. His new book is The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship.