Bismarck adventure

By Kevin Rothbauer

If you have access to the Discovery Channel this weekend, you can catch the work of University of Calgary professors Dr. David Bercuson and Dr. Holger Herwig.

The professors were part of a crew that visited the wreck of the Second World War German battleship the Bismarck with Hollywood director James Cameron in May and June of this year. The trip was filmed by Cameron and will air as a documentary on the Discovery Channel this Sunday.

Bercuson and Herwig have been invited to attend the documentary’s premiere at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington this Fri., Dec. 6.

Both professors are associated with the U of C’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, and wrote the book The Destruction of the Bismarck, which attracted Cameron’s attention.

“As military historians, we are trying to explain the war as best as we can to people,” said Bercuson, explaining that the sinking of the Bismarck exemplifies the Battle of the Atlantic as a whole. “We were able to reduce the campaign to a couple of battleships, a few dozen commanders and six days.”

Herwig visited the wreck itself in Cameron’s submarine, but Bercuson elected not to do so.

“It wasn’t easy to face the prospect of 14 hours in a very small space,” he says. “I didn’t want to take the chances that I couldn’t cope.”

Working with Cameron is an experience that sticks with Bercuson to this day.

“He is very focused,” says Bercuson. “He’s all-mission. He’s either working or sleeping. He knows what he wants. He did not strike me as what I would have thought of as a Hollywood producer.”

Bercuson looks back on the filming as a historical experience in itself.

“As historians we write about history, but you’re rarely part of a project where you’re making history.”