Yuletide Selection 1

I’m a bit of a gruff creature when it comes to the commercialisation of Christmas – but there’s one thing that I fervently believe: a book is a present that, if well chosen for the recipient, will give hours of pleasure and be a lasting reminder in itself of someone putting thought, not just money, into a Yuletide gift. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone in this somewhat eclectic selection. They range from titles featuring the Napoleonic era to a biography of the admiral who created Armistice Day to an account of undersea war during World War II. So do consider adding one or more from this selection to your gift-buying list – or just indulging yourself!

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Nelson’s Navy in 100 Objects by Gareth Glover

Oct 21 nelson navyThe Royal Navy of Nelson’s time was such a vast organisation that it is sometimes hard to comprehend its full scope. During the Napoleonic Wars it was the largest employer in the world. Not only did the Royal Navy maintain a fleet of close on 1,000 ships, including over 100 line-of-battle ships, but it was also responsible for the entire organisation of maintaining them at sea – from the recruitment of crews, the maintenance and protection of bases throughout the world, the production and delivery of food supplies to feed this vast fleet and the procurement of naval supplies to keep the ships at sea. The Royal Navy was often Britain’s last line of defence and many of its most successful officers became superstars, although none eclipsed Admiral Lord Nelson, who became the personification of the Navy. The whole country revelled in their successes and ‘Jolly Jack Tar’ became a source of national pride, a large number of naval terms being taken into normal life, some still used to this day. This lavishly illustrated volume is charged with atmosphere and will be of interest both to students of history and those with a specific interest in all things Nelson.


Mediterranean Naval Battles that Changed the World by Quentin Russell

Oct 21 battlesChoosing seven decisive naval engagements from the Greek defeat of the Persians at Salamis in the fifth century BC to the Siege of Malta during the Second World War, historian Russell tells the story of the Mediterranean as a theatre of war at sea. Each of these fiercely-fought engagements changed the course of history. As well as focusing on each battle in detail, the history of the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean and the effect of the development of naval architecture and design on the outcomes is examined in this book. Lepanto was the last major battle fought between galleys; Navarino was the significant combat to be fought entirely by sailing ships; and Cape Matapan (where a young Duke of Edinburgh saw action) was the first operation to exploit the breaking of the Italian naval Enigma codes. The seven battles included are: Salamis (480 BC), Actium (31 BC), Lepanto (1571), the Nile (aka Aboukir Bay, 1798), Navarino (1827), Cape Matapan 1941 and the Siege of Malta 1940-42. A sweeping treatment indeed of the importance of the Mediterranean Sea through the ages.


‘Rosy’ Wemyss, Admiral of the Fleet by John Johnson-Allen

Oct 21 armisticeRosslyn Wemyss, a distinguished admiral in his time, is largely forgotten today. As the Allied Naval Representative at the Armistice negotiations on 11th November, 1918, he left an indelible mark on the life of this country when he was responsible, with Marshal Foch, for the creation of Armistice Day. Wemyss joined the Navy at the age of 13 in 1877, at the same time as Prince George, the younger son of the Prince of Wales, they became lifelong friends. In 1915, then a rear admiral, he was tasked with creating a naval base at Mudros, to serve the Gallipoli campaign and was in command of the landings and then the evacuation of all the troops. The evacuation was so successful that only one man was lost from the approximately 140,000 who were taken off the beaches. From there, he was sent to Port Said to command the East Indies and Red Sea Station. For the next 18 months he was involved in supporting the Arab Revolt and helping T.E. Lawrence and the Arabs to oust the Turks from all the ports on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. In 1917 he returned to the United Kingdom to become Deputy First Sea Lord, stepping up to the post of First Sea Lord at the end of the year. A fascinating insight into the life of a top-ranking Admiral.


Total Undersea War by Aaron Hamilton

Oct 21 underseaDuring the last year of World War II the once surface-bound diesel-electric U-boat ushered in the age of total undersea war with the introduction of an air mast, or ‘snorkel’ as it became known among the men who served in Doenitz’s submarine fleet. U-boats no longer needed to surface to charge batteries or refresh air; they rarely communicated with their command, operating silently and alone among the shallow coastal waters of the United Kingdom and across to North America. At first, U-boats could remain submerged continuously for a few days, then a few weeks, and finally for months at a time, and they set underwater endurance records not broken for nearly a quarter of a century. The introduction of the snorkel was of paramount concern to the Allies, who strove to frustrate the impact of the device before war’s end. Every subsequent wartime U-boat innovation was subordinated to the snorkel, including the new Type XXI ‘Electro-boat wonder weapon’. The snorkel’s introduction foreshadowed the nearly un-trackable weapon and instrument of intelligence that the submarine became and remains in the postwar world. This exhaustive treatment draws upon wartime documents from archives around the world. Extensive notes and references are included.


North Brittany & Channel Islands Cruising Companion by Peter and Jane Cumberlidge

Oct 21 cruisingThis update of the popular pilot guide covering the North Brittany coast, the Channel Islands and the harbours on the west side of the Cherbourg peninsula is packed with comprehensive pilotage and nautical information as well as suggestions of what to do ashore, including the best places to eat. Flicking through the book many of the numerous colour photographs reminded me of some of the highlights of my trips for location research for the Kydd Series. In particular, the section on the Channel Islands brought back warm memories of St Peter Port in Guernsey and St Helier in Jersey. As well as spectacular photographs, the book is enhanced with colour charts. A must-have for yachtsmen cruising these waters.


Leith-Built Ships Volume 2 by R O Neish

Oct 21 leithI launched my naval career as a seagoing shipwright, so my interest in historical accounts of shipbuilding is not surprising. Scotland has a long proud history of this activity, most recently centred on the west, the Clyde in particular, but many people are unaware of the part played by the shipbuilders of Leith, in the east of Scotland. Leith had begun building ships some 400 years before the great shipyards of the Clyde and these vessels reached all corners of the globe. With a pedigree of shipbuilding second to none going back over 660 years of recorded history, the ships built at Leith deserve their place in history and this book, the second of a trilogy, continues the story focusing on the period 1918-1939. Among the fascinating tales is the launch then tragic loss of the largest sailing ship ever built in a British shipyard, the five-masted auxiliary barque Kobenhavn.


Still looking for bookish inspiration?
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BookPick : Disaster and Survival at Sea

It has been estimated that, astonishingly, more than three million shipwrecks lie on the ocean floor. The figure dates back to when humans first began venturing into Neptune’s Realm. The oldest wrecks include 10,000-year-old canoes while the newest are 21st-century shipwrecks. In the period (1793-1815) in which my Kydd tales are set, many ships were sent to Davy Jones’ Locker, some due to enemy action; others succumbing to the wrath of Mother Nature. In more recent times I personally experienced a peacetime collision between two Australian warships, Melbourne and Voyager resulting in the sinking of the latter with much loss of life.

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Breaking Seas, Broken Ships by Ian Friel

The author follows Britain’s maritime history from 1854 to 2007 through some of its most dramatic shipwrecks. From the country’s imperial zenith to the very different world of the early twenty-first century – an extraordinary range of people, ships and events, including the crew and passengers of a state-of-the-art Victorian steamship who vanished in the Atlantic; the sailors of a doomed collier brig in the dying days of sail – and the wives and children they left behind; a lowly ex-naval stoker who went into showbiz with his version of a disaster caused by an admiral; a First World War merchant ship captain who fought a running battle with German U-Boats; the courage and compassion shown by British sailors who escaped their dive-bombed ships; and the people who confronted the ‘black tide’ left by the oil tanker Torrey Canyon.
The book includes an extensive bibliography and notes as well as fascinating photographs; the cover is a poignant image of the underwater remains of the rudder of SS Hoche, a steamship wrecked in North Devon in 1882.


Titanic, ‘Iceberg Ahead’ by James W Bancroft

Sept 21 titanic 81T0Tc1AKILOn 10 April 1912, people from all walks of life began embarking aboard Titanic, then the largest ship afloat, for what was to be the trip of a lifetime on the ship’s maiden voyage across the North Atlantic. Many were looking forward to starting new lives in the United States. However, just before midnight on Sunday, 14 April, Titanic‘s crew sent out distress signals, ‘We have struck an iceberg’.
The liner had been steaming at speed when it collided with an enormous iceberg which laid open her bilge under the waterline for more than 100 yards, rent agape five of the front compartments and flooded the coal bunker servicing the boilers. The damage was fatal, and some three hours after the disaster began to unfold the last visible part of Titanic slipped beneath the waves. There were only sixteen lifeboats and four collapsible dinghies, completely insufficient for the numbers making the crossing. As a consequence, more than 1,500 passengers and crew died: two out of every three people on board perished.
This is the compelling story of the disaster taken from eyewitness accounts of fifty of those who were there.


Surviving the Arctic Convoys as told to John R McKay

Sept 21 convoys71PUgAf1tmLLeading Seaman Charlie Erswell saw much more than his fair share of action during the Second World War. He was present at the 1942 landing in North Africa (Operation TORCH), D-Day and the liberation of Norway. But his main area of operations was the Arctic Convoys, escorting merchant ships taking essential war supplies to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel which Winston Churchill described as ‘the worst journey in the world’.
Erswell served on two destroyers, HMS Milne and Savage. His story, as told to John McKay, is more than one man’s account; it is an inspiring tribute to his colleagues, many of whom were killed in action. This story of bravery and endurance gives an appreciation what it felt like to be there in such hellish, freezing cold Arctic seas while under fire from U-boat torpedoes, Luftwaffe bombs and with the ever present threat of surface raider monsters like Tirpitz and Scharnhorst lurking nearby in Norwegian fjords.
Fittingly, the book was released to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the first Arctic Convoy, which sailed from Liverpool on 12th August 1941.


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Celebrating 20 years of Thomas Kydd: Readers Have Their Say

20 years of Kydd - Social Card Option 2(1)I sometimes have to pinch myself that the Kydd Series has been coming out for 20 years. I certainly remember my trepidation when putting together, at my agent’s request, a timeline for twelve books! But as I got into the Series, and found the historical record so rich and varied, my creative juices flowed and I now have greatly exceeded that original dozen – and have outlines for more still! Over the years reader feedback about my work has been very important to me; here’s a random selection of twenty recent comments.

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Reader Willis

Reader Chris Willis

Allan Smith: ‘I came across the Kydd series by lucky accident finding a paperback copy of Artemis in the local British Heart Foundation charity shop for the princely sum of 50 pence. All of the characters that Tom encounters, whether factual or fictional, are well developed with their own idiosyncrasies that either endears you to them or raises the hackles on the back of your neck; I don’t feel any writer can go further in drawing you into the story. I still find Seaflower and Mutiny two of the best books in the series, although sometimes I find myself rereading the passage in Tyger where all seems lost, the pumps struggling, the officers and men coming together as a team to beat the odds to return home putting Thomas Kydd into the ranks of Pellew of the Indefatigable and Keats of Superb. So from a old army WO2 all I can say to the salty sailor who pens these stories is Bravo Zulu, Julian.’

Chris Willis: ‘My position on James Craig is often as a Watch Leader (somewhat similar to a Petty Officer in the navy). This role requires a sound knowledge of how to sail the ship and knowing the ropes. One of the aspects of this role is calling the setting or trimming of sails as required by the officer of the watch. This requires ordering deck crew in your watch to perform the tasks involved. Reading the Kydd Series enhances traditional knowledge in this area as many of the terms etc. remain unchanged. This is a true indication of the accuracy of the books and research Julian has undertaken. I use traditional terms e.g. “roundly” or “handsomely” at times as I believe the crew should understand these terms as this is all part of sailing a traditional square rigger. I find the ongoing story of a humble wigmaker who really didn’t know his true calling until sometime after he was taken by the press that fateful night whilst enjoying a few ales with friends in the local inn, truly unique and in my opinion unrivalled in literature.’

Jeff Hillman: ‘I am 70/ex navy and enjoy Kent, Poe, Dumas, some of the best in literature. You are The Master of the genre. No series comes close. I have read all the books cover to cover three times now and am awaiting Thunderer with great anticipation. Please speed up your releases!’

James Bruce: ‘You have this amazing gift for explaining complex situations in a way that even lay people like myself can enjoy/understand.’

James Kitney: ‘As a ships master, and a past officer of a square rigger, I am also constantly impressed by the atmosphere of seamanship created in each book!’

Reader james kitney

Reader Capt James Kitney

Ian Noble: ‘Browsing in my local library many moons ago I spied a book on the end of an aisle. It was a hardback edition of Kydd, the first in the series. “That looks interesting” thought I. Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover. Read it…..no, I devoured it and now I’m hooked. No more waiting for the next one in the library, it’s my hard-earned specie invested in this particular pleasure. All the characters are so well formed but my particular favourite is faithful and dependable Stirk. I would always find a place for him in my crew. As for the impact the Kydd series has had on my life….it’s made me impatient as the time between each novel seems to drag like a poorly dropped anchor!’

[Richard Moorhouse: ‘I actually discovered Kydd in my local library, I have always loved maritime stories of the wars with Napoleon. I am also a fan of Alexander Kent with his series on Bolitho. I have all the Kydd books on my Kindle. I absolutely love them. Thank you Julian for many, many hours of entertainment, enthralment and often nail-biting tension! I love every second of reading your books!’

Dani Kalifornia : ‘Best book series I’ve ever read!’

Darren Wraith: ‘I found Kydd in the library while looking for Hornblower substitutes. Within the next few weeks I had caught up with all the books available and have kept up with them ever since. The cherry on the top is Christian Rodska on Audible who brings the books to life.’

Derek Edwards: ‘I came across your books on Amazon and downloaded the audiobooks. I particularly enjoy the realistic stories and the historical fact. Nothing better than washing up and listening to a book!’

Steve Landsdown: ‘My favourite book has to be The Baltic Prize. I’m a street cleaner (I’ve done that job for 43 years) and when I started at 18 one of the older men took me under his wing. Sadly this man has died now but he told me about when he served in the merchant navy during WW2 and sailed with a couple of Russian convoys. He had told me a lot about Archangel. The same man was also two days in an open boat after his ship was sunk by a U-boat. As for favourite characters – well everyone loves Toby Stirk, I do like Bowden as well and obviously Kydd himself and and I couldn’t not like Renzi. The main thing that makes the Kydd books worth reading is the amount of research you put into them.’

Reader Rob Fargher

Reader Rob Fargher

Robert Fargher: ‘I’ve read Hornblower, Bolitho, Lewrie, Aubrey & Maturin as well as Kydd and I’ve enjoyed them all. But Kydd stands out to me as the best portrayal of a pressed man/foremast jack that I’ve ever come across and is a marvellously original tale. The initial book Kydd is so well-written and so detailed a description of life before the mast, of the growth of an involuntary landsman into a true sailor, so manifestly authentic and gripping, as I think has ever been published about Nelson’s Navy. The physical book is a great read but I want to particularly praise the audiobook. Listening to Kydd’s story as read by a proficient voice actor [Christian Rodska] really brings the story to life.’

Alan Rootes: I first came into contact with Kydd working as a Property Manager in Tenby in 2003. The Maintenance Manager of the largest block of apartments I managed had been given the first 3 Titles: Kydd, Artemis and Seaflower by one of the apartment owners and after reading them himself, knowing I was ex-RN kindly gave them to me to read and keep if I enjoyed them. Keep I did and still have them to this day. Once I started to read Kydd I was unable to put it down, what an incredible story, quickly followed by my reading of Artemis and Seaflower. I was hooked and purchased all your subsequent books. I am in awe of the fantastic detail you achieve in your books and you are so lucky to have Kathy by your side to support you. You are a brilliant team and I’m really looking forward to receiving my copy of Thunderer in October.’

Christopher Prillwitz: ‘I discovered the Kydd series at the Aurora CO USA library. They are very well written and researched. The books have made me want to see some of the places in the novels other than London and Portsmouth.’

Reader Paul Kersey

Reader Capt Paul Kersey

Alan Eggleston: ‘Having just finished the last Hornblower book, I was desperately looking for a new author of age-of-sail stories. This was soon after I started work as a bookseller at an independent bookstore, and I found myself shelving a new title the store had just received with a wonderfully adept cover, and I sneaked a quick read inside. It was just what I was looking for. I found more of Julian’s books on the shelf and bought the first book of the series, Kydd, along with the second. And I have read every one of the following titles since. The realism, the research behind them, the amazing characters – especially the recurring characters, and the witness to history is what brings me back to the novels. I also love the vivid descriptions and heart-pounding action. My favorite character is Toby Stirk. If you ever kill him off I’m afraid I’m going to dissolve into a pile of mush. What a great hero of the Brit everyman Stirk is, with a heart of gold. I know I’ll never miss another good read as long as you’re still writing.’

Greg Dermody: ‘A dedicated long time fan, I found Kydd and Artemis on clearance at bookstore chain in Canada. After I read those first two I found Seaflower and was hooked. I waited patiently for the next editions, often as Christmas gifts. I think the main thing that keeps me coming back is the profound and sometimes surprising character development that is intertwined with the standalone yarns and adventures, accurate to the period and geography. Basically I am transported to a different time and place with people I have come to know and want to know more. It’s hard to pick a favourite book, like having a favourite child. One of the ones that really sticks with me is Treachery. The journey is full of twists and turns, heartbreaks and successes – some of those small and some grand! Thank you Julian for taking the risk to write, and then to expand your plot line, your character development and exceptional location development. A passion become a job, become a career, become a lifestyle.’

Reader Anthony Jerome

Reader Anthony Jerome

Rev. David Smith : ‘I found the Kydd series by computer search. I have been a reader of historical fiction for some time. I like the realism of the stories. I can picture myself in the action, and country where the story takes me. I think that Persephone would be my favorite. There are some similarities with my wife and I. As a pastor, I am always caught up in the times Capt. Kydd has the canopy set up for Sunday service. Every obstacle that comes across Kydd’s path, the characters press on to find the solution. In life there comes obstacles, and like the Kydd series, I press on to turn the obstacles into opportunities.’

Paul Kersey, Master, RV CEFAS Endeavour: ‘I just wanted to reach out and congratulate you on the Kydd series. I’ve been reading for a year now and just finished The Baltic Prize. As a Master mariner and square rig master I have to say your technical descriptions and sailing manoeuvres are faultless. So I doff my hat to you, sir.’

Nick Holt: ‘I always look forward to the next one, read it in a couple of weeks then it’s a long wait for the next. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t discovered Kydd until you had written the last book, then I could have locked myself away and read the whole series from start to finish. Wishing my life away again……Roll on October.’

Anthony D. Jerome: ‘I read them all within a year. Can’t wait for the next book!’

BookPick : A Secret World

This selection is devoted to the black arts of spy-craft – espionage, code breaking, clandestine operations and the like – and features four titles by recognised experts in the area. In my Kydd tales Nicholas Renzi, against his moral compass but undertaken from his sense of duty, is sometimes involved in covert operations involving the French and other enemies of Great Britain. As a serving Royal Navy officer I was privy to a number of classified activities and have long held a fascination for a world largely hidden from general view but crucial to the freedom and values of our democracies.

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Code Breakers by Stephen Twigge

July 21 code breakersThe story of British codebreakers from the reign of Elizabeth I to the Cold War is presented using faithfully reproduced key documents from the National Archives. Historian Stephen Twigge explores the use of ciphers during the Napoleonic wars, the role of the Royal Mail’s Secret Office and the activities the Admiralty’s ‘Room 40’ leading to the creation of the Government’s Code and Cypher School. His main focus is on the events of the Second World War and the battle to break the German enigma codes. The centre of Britain’s code-breaking operation was located at Bletchley Park in rural Buckinghamshire and it was from here that a hastily assembled army of code-breakers battled to decipher Nazi German’s secret wartime communications. The resulting high-level signals intelligence had a major influence on the outcome of the war. I was pleased to see a specific tribute in this book to the work of Alan Turing, the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, who so tragically took his own life in 1954. Fittingly, he features on the new £50 bank note issued on June 23 this year, the anniversary of his birthday.


Cold War by Stephen Twigge

July 21 cold warAlso by the same author, ‘Cold War’ tells the story of half a century of superpower confrontation from the end of the Second World War to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The book describes in chilling detail the military and ideological struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union that dominated the post-war landscape. Twigge highlights the role played by Britain during the Cold War and its involvement in Cold War flash points including the Berlin Blockade, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He goes on to describe the devastating consequences of nuclear war, the growth and influence of the peace movement and the exploits of the Cold War spy networks built up by both sides. Based on previously secret government reports and papers, Twigge presents a compelling story of global conflict and superpower politics set against a backdrop of dramatic social and cultural change. As with ‘Code Breakers’ the text is enhanced with images, documents and other material from the National Archives.


GCHQ by Nigel West

July 21 gchqSignal intelligence is the most secret – and most misunderstood, – weapon in the modern espionage arsenal. As a reliable source of information, it is unequalled, and the Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, is several times larger than the two smaller, but more familiar, organisations, MI5 and MI6. Because of its extreme sensitivity, and the ease with which its methods can be compromised, GCHQ’s activities have remained largely cloaked in secrecy. West traces GCHQ’s origins back to the early days of wireless and gives a detailed account of its development since that time. From the moment that Marconi succeeded in transmitting a radio signal across the Channel, Britain has been engaged in a secret wireless war, first against the Kaiser, then Hitler and the Soviet Union. West describes all GCHQ’s disciplines, including direction-finding, interception and traffic analysis, and code-breaking. Peppered with fascinating anecdotes, ‘GCHQ’ is a well-written and engaging treatment.


MI6 by Nigel West

July 21 M16This title, also by West, exposes the operations of Britain’s overseas intelligence-gathering organisation, the famed Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and traces its origins back to its inception in 1909. The book mainly concerns MI6’s operations during the Second World War, and includes some remarkable successes and failures, including how MI6 financed a glamorous confidant of the German secret service; how a suspected French traitor was murdered by mistake; how Franco’s military advisors were bribed to keep Spain out of the war; how members of the Swedish secret police were blackmailed into helping the British war effort; how a sabotage operation in neutral Tangiers enabled the Allied landings in North Africa to proceed undetected; and how Britain’s generals ignored the first ULTRA decrypts because MI6 said that the information had come from a well-placed source called ‘BONIFACE’. An engaging inside story throwing light on many wartime incidents that had previously remained unexplained.


Still looking for bookish inspiration?
You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year
Enjoy!

BookPick : Summer 2021

With the warmer weather well underway in the Northern Hemisphere (albeit somewhat variable) one of the great pleasures at this time of year is relaxing outdoors with a good book – and a chilled beverage. There must be hundreds of thousands of books that have been written about various aspects of the Second World War, from high geo-political strategy to the famous battleships of the day to the role of secret intelligence services. I particularly enjoy reading memoirs of the seamen who fought in this terrible conflict. In this BookPick I have selected three titles dealing, not with the steel goliaths of the age, but with the small boats and their crews, indomitably venturing into Neptune’s realm on daring missions.

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Crash Boat by Earl A. McCandlish and George D. Jepson

June crashboat with JSThis is the compelling – and largely unknown – story of an American crash boat during World War II in the South Pacific, whose dramatic rescues of downed pilots and clandestine missions off Japanese-held islands were done at great peril. Earl A. McCandlish was commander of the 63-foot crash boat P-399, nicknamed Sea Horse. The vessel and her crew were credited with over 30 rescues, fought a fierce gun battle with enemy forces, experienced life from another age in isolated native villages, were ordered on boondoggle missions, and played a supporting role in America’s return to the Philippines. This book resonated with me as not only did I spend some years in this part of the world with the Australian Navy but I did time at Pearl Harbor under COMTHRDFLT and at sea in USS Midway, that legendary original WWII flat-top. Crash Boat reminded me of some of the Yankee characters I met during this time – such as the officer’s messman in Pearl, an old, grizzled marine who had gone in at Tarawa, and who certainly had a salty yarn or two to tell! Much recommended for its warmth and atmosphere.


The Shetland ‘Bus’ by Stephen Wynn

June shetland busThe Shetland Bus was not a bus, but the nickname of a special operations group that set up a route across the North Sea between Norway and the Shetland Islands, 110 miles north-east of Scotland. The first voyage was made by Norwegian sailors to help their compatriots in occupied Norway, but soon the British Secret Intelligence Service and the Special Operations Executive asked if they would be prepared to carry cargoes of British agents and equipment as well. Fourteen boats of different sizes were originally used, and Flemington House in Shetland was commandeered as the operation’s HQ. The first official journey was carried out by the Norwegian fishing vessel Aksel which left Luna Ness on 30 August 1941 on route to Bremen in Norway. These were extremely courageous individuals who helped maintain an important lifeline to the beleaguered Norwegians. It also allowed British agents a way in to Norway to liaise with the Underground movement and carry out important missions against the German occupiers. A moving tale of grit and determination of men pitted against the rough and unforgiving waters of the North Sea.


Gunboat Command by Antony Hichens

June Gunboat CommandThis biography draws heavily on the personal diaries of Robert Hichens (or ‘Hitch’ as he was known). After a brief description of his early life, his motor racing achievements (including trophies at Le Mans) and his Royal Navy training, the book focuses on his wartime experiences. Hitch was the most highly decorated RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) officer of the war with two DSOs, three DSCs and three Mentions in Despatches. He was recommended for a posthumous VC. Hichens served in vulnerable minesweepers and the Dunkirk Dynamo operation. In 1940 he joined Coastal Forces in the very fast MGBs (Motor Gun Boats), earning his own command and subsequently that of a flotilla. He was the first to capture an E-Boat. His abilities led to many successes and his reputation as a fearless and dynamic leader remains a legend today. The book contains detailed and graphic accounts of running battles against the more heavily armed E-boats. Tragically, he was killed in action in April 1943, having refused promotion and a job ashore. A fitting tribute by his son, who himself served in the Royal Navy.


Still looking for bookish inspiration?
You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year
Enjoy!

BookPick : May, 2021

Two hundred years ago this month Napoleon Bonaparte died, aged 51. It’s claimed that more books have been written about him than about any other person who ever lived, around 200,000, (although the French maintain that the number is closer to 400,000!). Tyrant or military genius – whatever your feelings about him, the man had a profound influence on European history. This BookPick highlights four volumes dealing with his life, the Napoleonic wars – and the man who defeated him at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington.

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Napoleon and the Art of Leadership by William Nester

Bonaparte understood and asserted the dynamic relationship among military, economic, diplomatic, technological, cultural, psychological and political power. War was the medium through which he was able to demonstrate his skills, leading his armies to victories across Europe, although he never conquered the seas. He overthrew France’s corrupt republican government in a coup then asserted near dictatorial powers. Those were then wielded in transforming France from feudalism to modernity with a new law code, canals, roads, ports, schools, factories, national bank, currency, and standard weights and measures. With those successes, he convinced the senate to proclaim him France’s emperor. Professor Nester has written a psychologically penetrating study of a leader who had a profound effect on the world around him.


Napoleon’s Peninsular War by Paul L. Dawson

Historian Paul Dawson tells the story of the early years of the Peninsular War using eyewitness accounts and other documents. These include the horrific Siege of Zaragoza, in which more than 50,000 soldiers and civilians were killed defending the city, and the cataclysmic Spanish defeats at Medellin and Ocaña. Interspersed are details of campaign life in the Iberian Peninsula and the struggles through the Galician mountains in pursuit of the British army marching to Corunna (which featured in my book
The Iberian Flame). As well as portraying the drama of the great battles and the ever-present fear of Spanish guerrillas, Dawson draws on the writings of the French soldiers to examine the ordinary conscript’s belief in the war they were fighting for their emperor. This study of the Peninsular War from the French perspective is an important addition to our understanding of the war in Iberia.


Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars by Kevin F. Kiley

Bonaparte began his military career as an artillery cadet and artillery played a fundamental part in all his great battles. Until the Napoleonic Wars artillery had been seen as a supporting arm to the infantry, but Bonaparte changed that. He massed his guns in huge batteries to blast holes in his opponent’s line. He even used the artillery to charge the enemy, the gunners galloping up to the enemy to open fire at pointblank range. The Napoleonic Wars was a time of innovation, with the introduction of shrapnel shells and military rockets. This book examines the artillery arms of all sides from ‘muzzle to butt plate’. Significant artillerymen of the period, the innovators, scientists, and leaders are also featured, as well the important battles and sieges, significant memoirs and documents, and artillery terms that became part of the military lexicon. A definitive reference on all aspects of artillery in the Napoleonic Wars.


The Duke of Wellington in 100 Ojbects by Gareth Glover

This companion volume to Napoleon in 100 Objects deals with Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. His victories at Seringapatam and Assaye extended British control in India and his famous campaign in Spain and Portugal helped to drive Bonaparte into exile. Wellington, ‘the Iron Duke’, is, of course, mostly remembered for defeating Bonaparte at Waterloo and his prestige after that epoch-changing event saw him becoming prime minister of Great Britain on two occasions. Packed with more than 200 full-colour photographs this fascinating investigation into the life of arguably Britain’s greatest general, sheds light on Wellington as a person, through the objects, large and small, that marked key episodes in his personal, military and public life. Although his reputation may have faded a little now, in his day he was an equal giant to Napoleon Bonaparte on the world stage.


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BookPick : Spring 2021

I vividly remember my first boat. She was called ‘Galah‘ and I sailed her in waters around Tasmania that would have been familiar to the early explorers of what was then Van Diemen’s Land. Sadly, these days I have little time to venture out on the water but I retain a strong interest in boats, large and small, as well as my abiding passion for the ships of the Great Age of Fighting Sail. This BookPick pays homage to Shackleton’s famous boat, celebrates a gifted American yacht designer, shines a light on cruising grounds in the south of England, explores navigation down the ages and examines the fate of castaways.

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Shackleton’s Boat by Harding McGregor Dunnett

James Caird is an unlikely hero, a 23-foot sea-boat that completed the most desperate and celebrated open-boat voyage in history. On board were Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley. They travelled, in winter, across 800 miles of the stormiest seas in the world, the Great Southern Ocean. Conditions on board were harsh and finding the tiny speck in the ocean that is South Georgia was a miracle of navigation by Worsley. The story did not end there; Shackleton and his companions had then to traverse the unmapped mountainous interior of South Georgia. Finally, with the help of the Chilean Navy, Shackleton went back to rescue the 22 men stranded on Elephant Island. This book is the fascinating story of James Caird from its commissioning (especially of great interest to me as a former naval shipwright) to its dramatic escape from Antarctica. One of the entries on my Bucket List is to pay homage to James Caird now fittingly housed at Dulwich College in London, where Shackleton had been a pupil.


Crusoe, Castaways and Shipwrecks by Mark Rendell

This book contains true stories which inspired Daniel Defoe; tales of bravery, courage, determination and good fortune, along with some of the reasons why people found themselves cast away. These included being wrecked, abandoned as a punishment, marooned by pirates – or even out of deliberate choice. Rendell recounts amazing tales of survival in the face of adversity – in the Falklands, the Caribbean and off the coast of Australia. Perhaps the most astonishing story of them all is that of sixty slaves abandoned on a desolate treeless island in the Indian Ocean and left there for fifteen years; some survived against all odds. Being cast away brings out the best in some – and in others the very worst.


The History of Navigation by Dag Pike

The author, a well experienced sailor, sets out to record the development of navigational techniques from the earliest time, five millennia ago. As explorers started to venture offshore into the unknown they had to rely on the sun and stars for direction. From this, pioneers turned to mathematics, astrolabes, sextants and increasingly accurate clocks to measure latitude and later longitude. More recently major breakthroughs with electronic navigation, GPS and other satellite systems have revolutionised travel, all well covered in this book. Focusing primarily on marine navigation, the author weaves a fascinating course through the successes and failures of mankind’s quest to explore his world of sea. A thoroughly entertaining and informative work.


Dick Carter Yacht Designer by Dick Carter

Not many ‘amateur’ yacht designers would dare to enter the first boat they had ever designed into the epic offshore Fastnet Race, let alone with the intention of winning it. But that is what Dick Carter did in 1964, beating all 151 other yachts. He repeated the feat four years later with another of his own designs. His radical innovations created fast and comfortable boats which were much in demand in the golden age of offshore racing. His career as a yacht designer was brief, but the impact of his innovations has lasted the test of time. Who today would think of an offshore yacht without internal halyards in the mast or that the rudder always had to be fixed to the keel? These concepts, and many more, were first introduced by Dick Carter. A fascinating account of his work by one man with a real ‘eye for a boat’.


West Country Cruising Companion by Mark Fishwick

First published in 1988, this is an invaluable sailing guide for the coastline of the English counties of the West: Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly, some of the most scenic marine areas of the UK. It combines pilotage and cruising information with historical insight and suggestions of what to do ashore. The book is enhanced with colour charts and detailed photography, including spectacular aerial shots of ports, harbours and anchorages. This latest edition has been fully revised for publication and further updates are provided every Spring on the Fernhurst Books’ website. A very readable addition to a cruising boat’s library that will not only inform but inspire.


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THUNDERER: Coming Next!

When I first started to write the Kydd Series little did I realise that my original conception of perhaps a dozen titles would more than double. The more I delved into the historical record the greater scope I found for Kydd, Renzi and the rest of the fearless crew for adventures up to and beyond the Battle of Trafalgar. This year sees the publication of the 24th title in the series, Thunderer. As the cover reveals, in this book Kydd is given a 74 gun ship-of-the-line.

Here’s a taster of the book :

1812. Arriving back in England after his successes in the Adriatic, Captain Sir Thomas Kydd is bestowed with honours. In London he’s greeted by the Prince Regent who, despite Kydd’s protestations that he’s happy with his present command, insists he be given a bigger ship – HMS Thunderer, a 74-gun ship of the line. But she’s old, and being part of a standing fleet Kydd’s chances of further fame and distinction are slim indeed.

Winning over his new command is fraught with challenges. A mighty battleship but a hostile crew, abysmal levels of gunnery and sail-handling capabilities are intolerable to a fighting captain like Kydd. With the ship short of men and no incentives to attract more, can he ever bring Thunderer to a proper state of fighting preparedness?

Kydd is sent to reinforce the Baltic squadron as Bonaparte’s vast army invades Russia. News reaches him of French victory at the Battle of Borodino. The road to Moscow is now open. With his new command Kydd is thrown into a last desperate bid to prevent Bonaparte establishing a bridgehead from which to finally encircle and crush Britain’s stricken ally.

About half of my writing year is taken up with research and while Covid curtailed my location research travels for the time being fortunately I had been to many of the locations in this book on previous trips. My by-now very extensive personal library of books and journals was well thumbed in the course of writing but one title in particular proved indispensible, the splendid four-volume ‘The Seventy-Four Gun Ship’ by the peerless Jean Boudriot.


Collectors Set

As usual there is a Collectors Set being offered but don’t delay reserving a copy if you’re interested to avoid disappointment. It is strictly limited to 500 Sets. Contact admin@julianstockwin.com with your details. Should you wish to pre-pay for a Collectors Set go to https://julianstockwin.com/kydd-series-collectors-set/ for the payment details.


BookPick : Winter 2021

This first BookPick for 2021 is an eclectic selection of titles that caught my eye recently. These range from an updated record of all fighting ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th century to the present – to a history of visual communication at sea – to three titles dealing with various aspects of heroism. In these dark days of winter, and with continuing lockdown, I find it’s of some comfort to take refuge in a book, either following up on a specific topic or to learn more of what history can tell us. I hope you find something of interest in this selection and as always I welcome your thoughts.

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Uncommon Valour by Granville Allen Mawer

Bookpick 21 valourWhat is the nature of courage, how and when should it be recognized, and how has our appreciation of it changed? These are among the questions Granville Allen Mawer seeks to answer in this absorbing study of the history of the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the British honours system for gallantry in the presence of the enemy. His is the first analytical account of the institution of the Victoria Cross. It explores in dispassionate detail the thinking behind the creation of the award, the reasons why individual awards were given and how, over the last 160 years, the system has developed and changed. Mawer compares individual actions that led to a Victoria Cross and considers the circumstances in which they took place and the reasons given for making the award. So many factors were involved – the character of the individual concerned, the severity of the danger he faced, the situation of the British forces, whether his conduct was seen and recorded, and the interpretation of the criteria for making an award at the time. A fascinating study of the ethics of rewarding bravery.


What Ship, Where Bound by David Craddock

Bookpick 21 what shipThis book takes its title from the familiar opening exchange of signals between passing ships, and celebrates the long history of visual communications at sea. It traces the visual language of signalling from the earliest naval banners or streamers used by the Byzantines in AD 900 through to morse signalling still used at sea today. Covering a wide spectrum of visual signalling methods from false fire, through shapes, furled sails and coloured flags to experiments in high speed text messaging by signal lamp, the book also examines the complex interrelation between all three methods under battle conditions. A detailed analysis of visual signal exchanges before and during the Battle of Jutland reveals both the success and ultimate limitations of flag signalling at the limits of visibility. Extensively and beautifully illustrated, the book both enlightens and entertains.


Heroes and Villains of the British Empire by Stephen Basdeo

Bookpick 21 british empireBy the Victorian era, Britannia indisputably ruled the waves. Basdeo tells the story of how British Empire builders such as Robert Clive, General Gordon, and Lord Roberts of Kandahar were represented and idealised in popular culture. The men who built the empire were often portrayed as possessing certain unique abilities which enabled them to serve their country in often inhospitable territories, and spread what imperial ideologues saw as the benefits of the British Empire to supposedly uncivilised peoples in far flung corners of the world. These qualities and abilities were athleticism, a sense of fair play, devotion to God, and a fervent sense of duty and loyalty to the nation and the empire. While some may look on them in a different light today, they have a place in our history and should be seen in the context of their times and contributory to our culture today.


Ships of the Royal Navy by J J Colledge, Ben Warlow and Steve Bush

Bookpick 21 shipsThis is the fifth fully revised edition of a book first published in 1970. Each entry gives concise details of dimensions, armament and service dates, and its alphabetical and chronological arrangement makes it easy to track down the right ship (otherwise the Royal Navy’s tradition of re-using the same names can be misleading). This edition contains some 200 new entries and revisions to many older entries. These reflect the demise of many ships post-Cold War as the Royal Navy was shrunk down as part of the peace dividend. The book includes updates to the Royal Australian, Canadian and New Zealand navies which have programmes to introduce new destroyers, Arctic patrol vessels, submarines and support ships. Since the death of Jim Colledge, who was widely respected for his pioneering research on the technical details of warships, his magnum opus has been updated, corrected and expanded with similar enthusiasm and attention to detail by Ben Warlow, a retired naval officer and author of a number of books in the field. A superb reference work, worthy of your library.


Heroes of the RNLI by Martyn R Beardsley

Bookpick 21 rnliI never fail to be in awe of the achievements of the RNLI, a public-funded and wholly voluntary organisation that has saved some 140,000 lives in the UK. Whenever vessels have foundered off the coasts of Britain, there have always been those willing to give their all to save those in peril but in 1823, Sir William Hillary decided that this admirable but impromptu approach was not enough. He believed that many more lives could be saved by the establishment of a national, organised rescue service. His idea was realised the following year. From the days of oar-powered open boats to modern high speed, hi-tech vessels, rescuers have battled storms and unimaginable conditions, risking – and sometimes forfeiting – their own lives in efforts to save others. The most outstanding of these operations led to the awarding of gold medals for gallantry, the RNLI version of the Victoria Cross. Using information gleaned from archives, contemporary newspaper accounts and genealogical records, this book looks not just at the details of the heroic rescues, but the people behind them.


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Books for Santa’s Sack 2020

I’m a bit of a bah humbug creature when it comes to the commercialisation of Christmas – but there’s one thing that I fervently believe: a book is a present that, if well chosen for the recipient, will give hours of entertainment and enlightenment – and be a lasting reminder in itself of someone putting thought, not just money, into a Yuletide gift. So do consider adding one or more of these fine books – all with a maritime or military connection – to your gift-buying list. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone in this somewhat eclectic selection.

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5.5x8.5_Color_140 FINISHED COVER FRONT ONLY 29-06-20Arthur Mack Old Man of the Sea by by Brent Piniuta and John Broomhead
Lifelong Portsmouth resident Arthur Mack was born into a world of poverty and hardship at the time of the Great Depression. By the age of seven he was scavenging the mud of Portsmouth Harbour to help support his family. He became a fisherman and his affinity with the sea, uncanny luck and curiosity resulted in Arthur finding antiquities and artefacts from thousands of years of human activity in coastal Hampshire. He was responsible for the discovery and exploration of the wreck of HMS Invincible, a pivotal influence on 18th-century warship design and a technological bridge between Mary Rose and Victory.
xmas 20 greenhillThe Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations by Peter Tsouras
The author brings 4,000 years of military history to life through the words of more than 800 soldiers, commanders, military theorists and commentators on war. Quotes by diverse personalities – Napoleon, Machiavelli, Ataturk, Rommel, Julius Caesar, Xenophon, T.E. Lawrence, Saladin and many more – these sit side by side to build a comprehensive picture of war across the ages. Easy reference is enabled by more than 480 categories, covering such topics as courage, danger, failure, leadership, tactics, guerrilla warfare and victory. A compilation to dip into time and time again, offering insights into the history of warfare and the lives and deeds of great warriors.
xmas 20 napNapoleon in 100 Objects by Gareth Glover
For almost two decades, Napoleon Bonaparte was the most feared, and revered, man in Europe. At the height of his power, the land under his control stretched from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, and encompassed most of Western Europe. The many fascinating objects brought together in this lavishly illustrated book detail not only Napoleon’s meteoric rise to power, but also his art of war and the role of the Imperial Guard, which grew from a small personal bodyguard to the size of a small army.
xmas 20 navMastering Navigation at Sea by Paul Boissier
Boissier’s latest book is superbly illustrated, informative – and offers prime snippets of the author’s triumphs and disasters over a lifetime’s navigating. He has a unique perspective having navigated in many parts of the world from high up on the bridge of a warship, close to the water in a cruising yacht and at depth in a nuclear submarine. After his navy career, retiring as a senior admiral, he was Chief Executive of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), often dealing with the consequences of poor navigation. A writer who shares rather than dictates a lesson. Highly recommended.
xmas 2020 cookCaptain James Cook and the Search for Antarctica by James C Hamilton
Two hundred and fifty years ago Captain James Cook, during his extraordinary voyages of navigation and maritime exploration, searched for Antarctica – the Unknown Southern Continent. During parts of his three voyages in the southern Pacific and Southern Oceans, Cook narrowed the options for the location of Antarctica. Over three summers, he completed a circumnavigation of portions of the Southern Continent, encountering impenetrable barriers of ice, suggesting that in fact the continent existed, a frozen land not populated by a living soul. His Antarctic voyages are perhaps the least celebrated of all his remarkable travels: this book goes quite some way to remedying that.
xmas 20 weatherWeather at Sea by Simon Rowell
Written by a round-the-world skipper and weather forecaster, this little book explains the basic physics principles that govern the weather from a practical, on the water, sailor’s point of view. As we can expect from Fernhurst, the author presents in readily understandable graphic form the global, regional and then local weather patterns to explain what is happening on the spot and how situations might change. Numerous illustrations complement the text. An ideal stocking filler for the cruising sailor. A professional weather-forecaster and sailor – you can’t get much better than that!
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