Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews


The Break-Out of the German Battleships

Potter, John Deane

1970, Heinemann Ltd., London
ISBN 0434598011
235 pages

Type. General History
Pros. Very readable and detailed account of an event few books have addressed
Cons. None to speak of

I first read this excellent book over 20 years ago and I’m reading it again for about the tenth time. It deals with the "Channel dash" of 1942 and answers the fundamental question: just how did the Kriegsmarine manage to sail three capital ships up the English Channel virtually unscathed, passing only 20 miles from the enemy’s coastline in broad daylight? Fiasco takes the reader through a catalogue of disastrous British planning, over-secrecy, individual carelessness and just plain bad luck, which allowed the Germans to succeed. For their part, the German operation was brilliantly planned and executed; and Hitler was proved right - British forces were unable to react in time.

The British actually realised the possiblity of the breakout occurring before the Germans had even planned it, which makes it all the more incredible that there was ultimately no co-ordinated attack - just tiny forces of incredibly brave men being thrown piecemeal against the heavily-defended convoy, including half a dozen ancient destroyers and a handful of Motor Torpedo Boats. The chapter which deals with how Eugene Esmonde - a hero from the Bismarck saga - led his squadron of Swordfish aircraft into certain death is truly poignant. As the Scharnhorst's Captain, Kurt Hoffman, recalled: "Poor fellows... it's nothing but suicide."

The writing style is similar to Ludovic Kennedy’s Pursuit (which documents the hunt for the Bismarck)- Fiasco could almost be the sequel. Writing over 30 years ago, Potter was able to use a myriad of eyewitnesses from both sides (including the captains of Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen) and blends their accounts with factual evidence and official reports. The overall effect is a detailed, accurate and very readable book, which I highly recommend.

Review written by Andy Kneale.

Published on 10 Jul 2001.

This title is highly recommended.

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