BookPicks: The Great War
This year is the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the Royal Navy’s last great set-piece sea battle. Rarely has an engagement with the enemy been so controversial, misunderstood, written about, discussed and disputed. I know from my own naval wardroom conversations that this continues to this day. A number of excellent books on Jutland both contemporary and from a modern perspective are now available. Here’s a selection of these, along with two titles on other aspects of the ‘war to end all wars’, all published by Pen & Sword books and their imprints.
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The Jutland Scandal by Vice Admiral John Harper and Admiral Reginald Bacon
The Royal Navy had ruled the sea unchallenged for 100 years since Trafalgar. Yet when the Grand Fleet faced the German High Seas Fleet near Jutland the British battleships and cruisers were battered into a draw, losing more men and ships than the enemy. The Grand Fleet outnumbered and outgunned the German fleet so something clearly had gone wrong. The public waited for the official histories of the battle to be released to learn the truth, but months went by with the Admiralty promising, but failing, to publish an account of Jutland. Questions were raised in Parliament yet still no official report was produced, due to objections from Admiral Beatty. This led to Admiral Bacon producing his own account of the battle, called The Jutland Scandal in 1925. Two years later the man instructed to write the official report, Rear-Admiral Harper, published his account independently, under the title The Truth About Jutland. These two books are published as one volume for the first time, in this The Jutland Scandal.
Jutland: the Unfinished Battle by Nicholas Jellicoe
This modern book not only re-tells the story of the battle from both a British and German perspective based on the latest research but it helps clarify the context of Germany’s inevitable naval clash. The author Nicholas Jellicoe is uniquely placed to tell the story of Jutland. His father served as First Lord of the Admiralty while his grandfather, Sir John Jellicoe commanded the Grand Fleet for the first two years in the war, from 1914 to 1916 including at Jutland, and was famously described by Churchill as being the only man who could have lost the war in an afternoon.
Voices from Jutland by Jim Crossley
This new book examines the strengths and weaknesses of both navies and identifies some of the reasons for the disappointing performance of the Royal Navy in the battle. The German fleet performed magnificently and their ships proved extremely durable, but this was not enough to enable them to mount a serious challenge to superior British fire power and numbers. The book argues that the building of the High Seas Fleet was a strategic blunder on the part of the Germans, who could have forced Britain out of the war completely if they had instead concentrated on their submarine fleet and on mine-laying. And Admiral Jellicoe, commander of the British Grand Fleet, was in the unenviable position of having to give overriding priority to keeping his fleet intact, rather than inflicting a crushing defeat on the enemy. His steadfast pursuit of this objective was to lead to ultimate victory.
The Great War at Sea by Bob Carruthers
The photographic equipment in use during the Great War was cumbersome and bulky and the environment at sea and in the trenches was highly lethal. As a result it was extremely difficult to capture meaningful shots of the action. It was largely down to artists and illustrators to produce an accurate visual record of the fleeting moments the bulky cameras couldn’t reproduce. This collection of combat images is a vivid graphic record of life and death on the high-seas from 1914-18, as reported to contemporary audiences at a time when the events of the Great War were still unfolding.
British Submarines at War 1914-1918 by Edwyn Gray
Originally published in 1970 and out of print for nearly thirty years, this book is a classic of submarine history, evoking the claustrophobic horror of war beneath the waves. Written with humanity and humour, it tells the story of Britain’s pioneer submarines during the 1914-1918 War and how their crews battled courageously in atrocious conditions against a skilled and ruthless enemy and an unforgiving sea. This second edition is a timely tribute to the gallant pioneers who created the legacy of dogged courage, determination, and standards of excellence of the Royal Navy’s submarine service.
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Interesting list. I agree that the stakes were very high at Jutland : A decisive German victory could have ended the Royal Naval blockade or even given the High Seas Fleet undisputed access to the North Sea and beyond. Germany may have placed less emphasis on U boat activity and so the risks of the USA entering the war would have lessened.
I hope that the Centenary will be marked in a spirit of reconciliation and the dead on both sides remembered.
Julian Thank you for those interesting suggestions. Jutland is always a poignant time in our family because my Grandfather only survived Jutland because he got married. He was an Eng Lt Cdr on HMS Defence and left to get married. The wardroom gave him a lovely canteen of cutlery as a wedding present. He writes in his wonderful diary about the grief and guilt he felt when she was sunk with all hands, many of whom were close friends.