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.

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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.

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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 with your details. Should you wish to pre-pay for a Collectors Set go to 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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In Conversation with John Broomhead: Finding ‘Invincible’

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Hampshire-based amateur diver John Broomhead for over 20 years and have a huge respect for the work he (and a small group of fellow enthusiasts) undertook in connection with the excavation of the wreck of HMS Invincible, which they did without any government funding. Invincible was originally a 74-gun ship of the line of the French Navy launched in October 1744. Captured on 14 October 1747, she was taken into Royal Navy service as the third rate HMS Invincible. She was wrecked in 1758 after hitting a sandbank. A number of very important contributions to our knowledge of the Wooden World are directly attributable to John and the group. Recently, with a substantial government grant, the work has been taken over by Bournemouth University in their Poole-based facility. Currently, there are two exhibitions of the finds to date – a permanent archive at Chatham Historic Dockyard; the other, a one-year temporary exhibition at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.
How did it all begin?

Broomhead diving on Invincible

In April 1979, local fisherman and friend Arthur Mack, told me that whilst trawling with a fellow fisherman they had caught their nets on a solid sea bed obstruction. This was puzzling because they had trawled the same area for many years and had never snagged anything before. They had used the power of the engines to rip the nets free; when they were hauled back on board there was a large piece of timber tangled up in them. Now most fishermen would have sworn and cursed their ill luck before throwing the timber back over the side but Arthur had a feeling about it and kept it.

He showed it to me – two large pieces of oak in remarkably good condition held together by several wooden pegs known as treenails – and he believed the wood was from something as old as HMS Victory.Arthur asked me if I would have a look but I wondered how he could locate it. After all, it was at night when he had snagged it and without actually leaving a marker buoy how would he find it again?

Arthur Mack

But Arthur felt he knew exactly where it was. He was so confident and enthusiastic that I got my diving gear and out we went. Unfortunately, we did not snag Arthur’s trawling gear on the wreck that day.

Arthur spent most of April going out in the daytime, trawling up and down in the same area. On 30 April he hit the underwater obstruction again! Unfortunately, he did not leave his trawl gear out there with a marker buoy for fear of someone stealing his nets. But he was able to take bearings and assured me he could definitely snag the obstruction on the next trip.
Although I had a nasty head cold and could not dive, friend and diver Jim Boyle said he would come out with us and have a look. In Arthur’s little open fishing boat, the three of us set off to find out just what it was on the seabed that kept calling Arthur back. Once again, we towed the trawling gear, which comprised of two, small otter boards with chains joining them together. This allowed us to cover about 20 feet width of sea bed on each pass and we did snag the obstruction.
Jim went down and was in the water for about 25 minutes before returning to the surface. He had found a line of very large wooden timbers but because the underwater visibility was so bad, he could see little else.

Encrusted Cable

We intended to go back as soon as possible but we could not find the wreck again mainly due to misty conditions making it impossible to see the land transit marks taken previously. After some discussion, I said that when he snagged it again, he should leave his trawl gear tangled up on the wreck. He should put a buoy on the rope and I would make sure that either Jim or I would come straight out and free his nets. At the same time, we would take better land transit marks in order to locate the wreck more easily at any time in the future.

Not much happened during May but towards the end of the month, the weather forecast was favourable and we were entering a period of neap tides. Plans were made and a date set for 1st June when we would dive and seriously survey the wreck.
On that dive we set off along the wreckage feeling our way through thick kelp weed and over a mass of wreckage, stumbling across the remnants of several fishing nets snagged and abandoned on the very substantial timbers. These timbers were in the region of 15 inches square and sticking out of the sand at an angle of about 40 degrees. There was only about an inch of clearance between each timber making it appear like a row of gigantic teeth, stretching for what I estimated to be around 200 feet.
We came across the remains of a very large coil of rope lying on firm timber decking and lying at an angle of about 40 degrees. Later in the project this rope was removed and identified as tarred hemp cable-laid rope in extremely good condition.
What has been your role over the years?
I logged up many hours on the wreck spending as much time as I could out there with Arthur in his little 16 foot boat. She was a good little dive boat being low to the water but the time came when we needed something larger. One of Arthur’s fisherman friends was selling his 24 foot boat. The hull was good with a wide beam but not suitable as a diving platform. After leaving school I completed an apprenticeship in engineering and then spent two years managing an engineering workshop. I used my skills to revamp the old hull with new deck sealed in, and built a small cabin at the bows. With Arthur’s help I turned it into a into a diving platform with two compressors, one to operate the air lifts and a second to fill diving cylinders.
After obtaining the necessary permissions we managed the conservation of the excavation ourselves, setting up a conservation laboratory and storage facility in Portsmouth. All of this was costing much time and money and so we had to raise funds which I became more and more involved in.
In your view what have been the most interesting items recovered?

Grand Magazine

I suppose the most historically important and fascinating to work on, has to be the grand magazine. There were no examples to show how these magazines were made anywhere in the world. Nelson’s Victory at Portsmouth did not have one and the curator and archivist was at a loss to know how to build a replica on board for visitors to see until he was made aware of the one we found. As well, the racking in Victorys fore and aft hanging magazines were modelled on our discovery.

When we found the grand magazine on Invincible it was simply a massive pile of timbers. We took everything back to our laboratory and found that every joint in every piece of timber was numbered using roman numerals. In another piece of wood, was a corresponding number to show exactly where and how they fitted together.
30min-130min-2Then there were the pigment barrels. We had no idea what they were when I first found one in June 1980. The contents were lumpy black pieces that we initially thought were the remains of gunpowder. Also in the barrels was sand which we thought was ingress from surrounding seabed. How wrong our guesses were! The black substance was the base constituent of Iron Gall ink. The sand is what they used in a ‘shaker’ – which was scattered over wet ink to ‘blot’ it. In essence the lovely tiny barrels were early day naval writing kits.
On 20th August 1979 I found the first of several sand glasses. It was concreted at one end and consisted of wooden frame, two glass bottles and of course sand inside. Research showed that this was a 30 minute glass and was used for timing the ships watch. 30 minutes = 1 bell of a four hour 8 bell watch.
Tell us about Phil Rumsey’s model of ‘Invincible’
In the mid 1980’s, we commissioned local model maker Phil Rumsey to create a scale model of Invincible from the original plans. We asked him to craft it using original material recovered from the wreck. To that end we gave him:
Oak from one of the original hull planks to make the hull and deck
Pine from some deck cladding to make the masts
Lignum vitae from one of the gun pulley blocks for the 74 guns
Animal bone from the galley area to make the figure head, the gingerbread around the stern and the stern lanterns

As for the rigging, Phil used his wife Hazel’s hair! The construction materials used make this model unique in ship models the world over. The model is just like Invincible herself when she was launched from Rochefort in 1744, the finest fighting ship afloat at that time. After her capture in 1747 the Admiralty heaped praise on her: ‘A Prodigious fine ship and vastly large’ Admiral Anson

Rumsey-1 Rumsey-2 Rumsey-3 Rumsey-4

National Museum of the Royal Navy Invincible temporary exhibition
Permanent exhibition of Invincible artefacts (closed for winter)
Old Man of the Sea by Brent Piniuta and John Broomhead
details the story of Arthur and John finding the wreck and excavating the site. The book also explains how Invincible artefacts today play a significant interpretative role aboard HMS Victory. All proceeds of the sale of the book will be split between RN Museum Portsmouth, Portsmouth City Museum and Chatham Historic dockyard for maintenance of the national Invincible archive.

5.5x8.5_Color_140 FINISHED COVER FRONT ONLY 29-06-20

BookPick: Winter Selection

The Thomas Kydd Series is set during the period of the Revolutionary wars (1793-1815) as experienced through the life of former wig-maker turned naval hero Thomas Kydd. My research library contains hundreds of volumes on the Royal Navy and life in Britain during those troubled times. I’ve also gleaned a useful insight into the mind of the foe through various books written from the French perspective. Along with several such books, this selection includes a modern-day sailing adventure, a history of tea, a moving account of children at sea and a comprehensive survey of British naval intelligence in the twentieth century..

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winter 2020 paris

Napoleon’s Paris by David Buttery
While there are numerous biographies and studies of his military and political career, few books have been written about Napoleon’s connections with Paris, the capital of his empire, where many remarkable buildings and monuments date from his time in power. David Buttery’s lavishly illustrated guidebook to Napoleon’s Paris addresses this neglect. Many of the most famous sites in the city were built or enhanced on Napoleon’s instructions or are closely associated with him and with the period of the First French Empire – the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Hotel des Invalides, Musee de l’Armee, Notre Dame Cathedral, Pere Lachaise Cemetery among them.
Buttery’s book is recommended reading for the visitor to Paris who is keen to gain an insight into the influence of Napoleon on the city and the tumultuous period in French history in which he was the dominant figure.

Winter 2020 sailing

Sailing the Waterways of Russia’s North by Irene Campbell-Grin
A fascinating memoir of the Baltic Millennium Rally in the summer of 2000, a voyage that involved sailing to St Petersburg, inland to Petrozavodsk, on to the White Sea and Barents Sea, and home via North Cape and the west coast of Norway; a circumnavigation of Scandinavia. I know many of these waters well, having sailed in them, albeit in comfort by ferry and liner, during research for my Thomas Kydd novel The Baltic Prize.
Campbell-Grin chronicles the joys and challenges that she and her husband Gordon faced on their boat Fereale (‘love’ in Frisian), in an expedition not many people would have had the courage to undertake as this was at a time when Russia was hostile to the outside world. Her account gives a glimpse into the country’s notorious bureaucracy, but also shows the kindness and generosity of the many Russians they met on their way.
A homage to how boating brings people together and our ongoing love of the sea.

Winter 2020 tea

A Dark History of Tea by Seren Charrington-Hollins
Readers of my Kydd tales will know that tea was a very special drink for the Georgians. Today it’s the most popular drink in Britain! This book looks at the history of one of the world’s oldest beverages, tracing its significance on the tables of the high and mighty as well as providing relief for workers who had to contend with the toil of manual labour. The humble herbal infusion has been used in burial rituals, as a dowry payment for aristocrats; it has fuelled wars and spelled fortunes as it built empires and sipped itself into being an integral part of the cultural fabric of British life. The story of tea is a journey from myth, fable and folklore to murky stories of swindling, adulteration, greed, waging of wars, boosting of trade in hard drugs and slavery and the great, albeit dark engines that drove the globalisation of the world economy.
An engaging social history.

winter 2020 intelligence

British Naval Intelligence Through the Twentieth Century by Andrew Boyd
Having served in the Royal Navy during the period this book covers I found Andrew Boyd’s monumental new history a compelling read. Not far short of 800 pages, the text is supplemented by extensive notes and a useful bibliography.
Boyd provides the first comprehensive account of how intelligence influenced and sustained British naval power from the late nineteenth century, when the Admiralty first created a dedicated intelligence department, through to the end of the Cold War. It brings a critical new dimension to understanding British naval history in this period setting naval intelligence in a wide context and emphasising the many parts of the British state that contributed to naval requirements. It is also a fascinating study of how naval needs and personalities shaped the British intelligence community that exists today as well as the concepts and values that underpin it.
Boyd’s work will appeal to historians of the twentieth century and also to those readers interested in intelligence and its impact on naval policy and operations.

winter 2020 children

Children at Sea by Vyvyen Brendon
Having written two earlier books on youngsters past and present, former history teacher Vyvyen Brendon turned her attention to Neptune’s Realm.
All the subjects of this, her third book, were born in Georgian or Victorian times when the sea was still the key element of Britain’s national existence. Brendon focusses on eight central characters: a slave captured in Africa, a convict girl transported to Australia, a Barnardo’s lass sent as a migrant to Canada, a foundling brought up in Coram’s Hospital who ran away to sea, and four youths from contrasting backgrounds despatched to serve as midshipmen (one of whom was Sydney Dickens, son of Charles). Their social origins as well as their maritime ventures are revealed through a rich variety of original source material discovered in scattered archives.
A collection of stories that are sometimes inspiring, sometimes heart-rending – but always compelling.

Waterloo book

Waterloo Rout & Retreat by Andrew W Field
This, the fourth volume in Andrew Field’s highly-praised study of the Waterloo campaign from the French perspective. (His previous titles were ‘Prelude to Waterloo’; ‘Quatre Bras’ and ‘Grouchy’s Waterloo.’)
This work is based exclusively on French eyewitness accounts which give a remarkable inside view of the immediate aftermath of the battle, and carry the story through to the army’s disbandment in late 1815. Many French officers and soldiers wrote more about the retreat than they did about the catastrophe of Waterloo itself. Napoleon’s own flight from Waterloo is an essential part of the narrative, but the main emphasis is on the fate of the beaten French army as it was experienced by eyewitnesses who lived through the last days of the campaign.
Vivid insights into the often-neglected final phase of the rout and retreat of Napoleon’s army.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year

Balkan Glory coming soon!

My next Kydd tale, Balkan Glory is published in just a couple of weeks, in hardback and ebook on October 1. The audiobook will be narrated as usual by the highly talented Christian Rodska. This is the twenty-third book in the series and features the doughty crew of HMS Tyger and her gallant captain Sir Thomas Kydd, along with a number of real-life historical personages such as Klemens von Metternich and Admiral Sidney Smith. Balkan Glory will be available later in the US and other countries around the world.

Here’s a taster of the book :

400-BG_Packshot1811. The Adriatic, the ‘French Lake’, is now the most valuable territory Napoleon Bonaparte possesses. Captain Sir Thomas Kydd finds his glorious return to England cut short when the Admiralty summons him to lead a squadron of frigates into these waters to cause havoc and distress to the enemy.

Kydd is dubbed ‘The Sea Devil’ by Bonaparte who personally appoints one of his favourites, Dubourdieu, along with a fleet that greatly outweighs the British, to rid him of this menace.

At the same time, Nicholas Renzi is sent to Austria on a secret mission to sound out the devious arch-statesman, Count Metternich. His meeting reveals a deadly plan by Bonaparte that threatens the whole balance of power in Europe. The only thing that can stop it is a decisive move at sea and for this he must somehow cross the Alps to the Adriatic to contact Kydd directly.

A climactic sea battle where the stakes could not be higher is inevitable. Kydd faces Dubourdieu with impossible odds stacked against him. Can he shatter Bonaparte’s dreams of breaking out of Europe and marching to the gates of India and Asia?

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