Bookpick : War at Sea
Although my primary interest is in the Age of Fighting Sail, having served in two navies – the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy – I’m also interested in books about ships and weapons of around my time and before at sea. My selection for this blog includes a fascinating reassessment of the deliberate scuttling of fifty-four warships of the German High Seas Fleet; a tribute to the last British battleship HMS Vanguard; Norman Friedman’s analysis of British submarines in both world wars, and two volumes on the John Lambert Collection. I commend these titles to you and hope that students of naval history, ship modellers, maritime enthusiasts and even my old shipmates alike will find something of interest below.
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The Last British Battleship by R A Burt
The ninth HMS Vanguard bore one of the most illustrious names in the Royal Navy, with honours from the Armada to Jutland. Commissioned in 1946, she was the last and largest of Britain’s battleships. Part of the Navy’s response to the combined and increasing number of German and Japanese battleships in the early 1940s, she was recognisable by her transom stern and high flared bow and had fine sea keeping ability. Her appearance after the end of hostilities, however, and her huge crew requirements proved a conundrum for the Navy, her most significant role being that of Royal Yacht during the royal family’s tour of South Africa in 1947. She was broken up at Faslane in 1960. This book covers her design, construction and career, armour, machinery, power plants, and weaponry and includes some 35 plans, profiles, and line drawings as well as colour and black and white photographs. The author’s previous three volumes are definitive works on the subject of British battleships before 1945. With this new book he completes the story of the Dreadnought era, bringing to life the last of a magnificent type of vessel, which the world will never see again.
British Submarines in Two World Wars by Norman Friedman
As with all Friedman’s books, this title is based on impeccable scholarship and analysis. For me the most valuable aspect of this is his revealing the actual decision-making processes behind the designs, the economic, political and professional pay offs that resulted in the appearance of the warships that we now know so well. On the way he brings to light much information that few will be aware of, such as the fact that in 1914 Britain had the largest submarine fleet in the world. And at the end of World War I it had some of the largest and most unusual of all submarines – whose origins and design are detailed by the author. During the First World War British submarines virtually closed the Baltic to German iron ore traffic, and they helped block supplies to the Turkish army fighting at Gallipoli. British submarines were a major element in the North Sea battles, and they helped fight the U-boat menace. These roles led on to British submarine operations in World War II. The author demonstrates how a combination of evolving strategic and tactical requirements and evolving technology produced successive types of design. The Royal Navy was always painfully aware of the threat enemy submarines posed, and British submariners contributed heavily to the development of British anti-submarine tactics and technology, beginning with largely unknown efforts before the outbreak of World War I. Between the Wars British submariners exploited the new technology of sonar (Asdic), both to find and attack enemies and to avoid being attacked themselves. As a result, among other things they pioneered submarine silencing. And it was a British submarine that demonstrated the vital postwar use of submarines themselves as anti-submarine weapons, sinking a U-boat while both were submerged, a unique feat at the time.
British Naval Weapons of World War Two by Norman Friedmann
A truly fascinating and ground-breaking work. John Lambert was a renowned naval draughtsman whose plans were highly valued for their accuracy and detail and which did so much to add graphic detail to Friedmann’s own works. By the time of his death in 2016 he had produced over 850 sheets of drawings, many of which have never been published. These were acquired by Seaforth and form the basis of a planned series of titles on selected themes, reproducing complete sheets at a large page size, with commentary and captioning. Two published volumes to date concentrate on British naval weaponry used in the Second World War, completing the project John Lambert was working on when he died. The first volume is on destroyer armament, the second covers weapons carried by the various types of British escorts and minesweepers of this era, including the passive elements like sweeping gear, decoys and electronics. The drawings are fittingly enhanced with essays by Norman Friedman, and a selection of well-chosen photographs are a welcome addition. Over time, the series will be expanded, offering a unique technical archive in published form.
The Last Days of the High Seas Fleet by Nicholas Jellicoe
On 21 June 1919, the ships of the German High Seas Fleet – interned at Scapa Flow since the Armistice – began to founder, taking their British custodians completely by surprise. In breach of agreed terms, the fleet dramatically scuttled itself, in an operation that consigned nearly half a million tons, and 54 of 72 ships, to the bottom of the sheltered anchorage in a gesture of Wagnerian proportions. But even a century after ‘the Grand Scuttle’ many questions remain. Was von Reuter, the fleet’s commander, acting under orders or was it his own initiative? Why was 21 June chosen? Did the British connive in, or even encourage the action? Could more have been done to save the ships? Was it legally justified? And what were the international ramifications? This new book analyses all these issues using material from German sources and eye-witness testimonies. The circumstances of the scuttling are reconstructed, and the aftermath for all parties laid out. The story concludes with the biggest salvage operation in history and a chapter on the significance of the scuttling to the post-war balance of naval power. This book is an important reassessment of the last great action of the First World War.