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  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    HMS Pickle: The Swiftest Ship in Nelson’s Fleet at Trafalgar

    Peter Hore

    HMS Pickle was the second-smallest British warship at Trafalgar. Pierced for 14 guns, this schooner was part of the anonymous swarm of small vessels populating the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Except for HMS Pickle being picked to carry the post-battle dispatches (and news of Nelson’s death), it would be completely forgotten today. 

    HMS Pickle: The Swiftest Ship in Nelson’s Trafalgar Fleet at Trafalgar,” by Peter Hore, tells the history of the ship and its various crews. It is a slim but interesting volume about a minor but significant vessel.

    Hore actually tells the story about the first two Royal Navy warships named Pickle. In the first decade of the nineteenth century the Royal Navy briefly had two ships simultaneously named Pickle. Both were schooners, both came from the West Indies, and both were active at the same time. Hore unsnarls the resulting confusion by relating the history of both ships.

    The focus is on the Trafalgar Pickle. A fascinating story it proves. This Pickle was launched in 1799 under the name Sting. Built in Bermuda it was a schooner, with foreand-aft sails on both masts. Schooners are common sailing vessels today, but the Royal Navy then considered them experimental. Hore describes how the ship was purchased in the West Indies station in 1800, renamed Pickle and used to carry dispatches.

    Hore not only describes the ship’s history, but also describes those who impinged on the ship. The list includes the woman who would become Lady Hamilton (well before that date), Lord Hugh Seymore (who could potentially have rivaled Nelson had he not died of Yellow Jack), and Michael Fitton (whose exploits were retold in fictional form by Showell Styles).

    Beyond the prominent and eccentric, Hore also relates the lives of the men and officers who served on Pickle. Hore gives a face to the typical mariners who manned the Royal Navy of the period, both before the mast as sailors and on the quarterdeck as officers.

    Herein lies the fascination. Pickle’s moment of glory came after Trafalgar, when it carried Admiral Collingwood’s report of the battle to the Admiralty. Its captain was a 35-year-old lieutenant, capable, but previously luckless. He made the most of his opportunity, racing other ships, and avoiding superior officers to be the first with the news. Hore describes the consequences of both success and failure in the race. Yet the majority of his career and Pickle’s career fell outside that brief moment of fame. Hore describes that as well, both the tedium and the danger. The book is less a story about Trafalgar than of life on the little vessels in the Royal Navy during the age of fighting sail.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 5-1/4” x 8”, hardcover, 192 pages
    • Illustrations, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 978-0750964357

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas


  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Voyage to Gallipoli

    Peter Plowman

    The Commonwealth of Australia was born on January 1, 1901. Fourteen years later, Australian troops made up a large part of the Allied force that assaulted Gallipoli in Turkey. Australia’s involvement in the subsequent campaign became a defining moment for the new nation, witnessed today by its most important national holiday: Anzac Day (April 25).

    Maritime historian Peter Plowman’s book, Voyage to Gallipoli, is a masterly account of the nation’s naval and maritime response to the outbreak of the Great War and its early operations that culminated with the landings on Gallipoli. The Royal Australian Navy was very small: a battlecruiser, three modern light cruisers, three destroyers, and two submarines were its only up-to-date warships. Australia’s merchant fleet was tiny, too, and its army virtually non-existent. Nevertheless, Australia took on assignments throughout the Pacific in order to counter German forces there, eliminate German colonial assets, and assist in terminating effort to raid Allied shipping in the area.

    The major task, however, was arranging to transport the new Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) of two divisions (about 40,000 men) to war. The tale of this undertaking is the core of Plowman’s book. He relies on a mass of source material—newspaper articles, letters, memoirs, official documents, and secondary writings—for his narrative. The use of so many letters, memoirs, and newspaper stories makes his presentation particularly compelling and personal without diminishing its historicity in the slightest. This is social history at its best.

    Plowman also displays a masterly use of illustrations to enhance his narrative. His delving into private and public collections to supplement his own material pays off in a fascinating array of photographs, few of which have been published before. Voyage to Gallipoli is both exciting reading and an important contribution to the literature of World War I. It is particularly interesting for those outside Australia, for whom much of the story will be new. I highly recommend it. 

    • Dural Delivery Center: Rosenberg Publishing, 2013
    • 7-1/4” x 9-1/2”, softcover, 304 pages
    • Photographs, maps, tables, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781922013538
    • Distributed in the United States by International Specialized Book Services, Portland, Oregon

    Reviewed by James McFarland, Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Seaworthy Timber: The Life & Times of New England Sea Captain Aaron H. Wood

    Michael C. Dooling

    In telling the story of the life of Aaron Wood, from when he starts on board as “boy” to his promotion to able seaman and eventually to captain of his own ships, the author, Michael Dooling, examines the Age of Sail from the great clippers to the Downeasters of Maine at the end of the century. In 1854, Aaron and his friends from Swansea sign aboard Monarch of the Seas with Captain Gardner. On this maiden voyage, the ship tests the new slipway at the Naval Yards in Pensacola and then heads to Europe with cotton, before the ship is recruited to transport supplies, troops and horses to the front lines of the Crimean War in the Black Sea.

    The book includes Aaron’s first-person accounts of visiting the battlefields at Sevastopol as a spectator and seeing the first-ever use of shell guns and floating iron-sided batteries at Odessa. More surprising than a picnic overlooking the battle, was that the captain’s wife, Mrs. Gardner, was along with them to view the spectacle. These chapters include contemporary maps of the area, a diagram of the floating battery, and photos taken by English war correspondent William Russell. Other figures in the book include paintings and photos of ships, sail plan drawings, clipper sailing cards, portrait photos, and original pages from journals.

    Much of the strength of this book is that the portrayals of events and activities are taken from the primary documents and Dooling elaborates on the history that is contemporary to his life such as trade relations, economic trends and the changing importance of shipbuilding in the United States. The author does a wonderful job of bringing in details of people who were part of that history, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne working as the American Consul in Liverpool at the start of the Crimean War. He includes full entries from Aaron’s journal (often only a few sentences each day) and fills in the gaps with information from his friend who signed on at the same time.

    After Aaron became captain, he soon married Isabel Pearce in 1864, and his story is continued through her letters as she joins him on the ship. She sailed with him for the next 20 years on four ships; Emerald Isle, St. Mark, Sagamore, and Sovereign of the Seas, Together they survived about twenty-two times around Cape Horn, raising their son Oscar onboard until he was eight years old, and transporting goods until the 1880s, when they finally retired to a vineyard in California.

    The only real detriment to the book is the unfortunate choice of a shiny paper for print which makes for a glare on the pages. At times, a chapter will meander a long while before explaining how the history relates to Aaron, but overall the book showcases the author’s dedication to his subject in bringing Captain Wood to life again.

    •  Carrollton Press, 2014
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, 193 pages
    • Illustrations, references, notes. $21.95
    • ISBN: 9780962742493

    Reviewed by R. Laurel Seaborn, Salem, Massachusetts

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Battle of Midway: The Naval Institute Guide to the U.S. Navy’s Greatest Victory

    Edited by Thomas C. Hone

    The Battle of Midway looms large to this day in the minds of current United States Navy professionals, the nation’s strategists and war planners, those who develop plans for the fleet’s composition, government officials (both elected and in the civil service) who determine funding for the Navy, and historians of naval warfare, to list only a few. Its outcome vindicated the pre-war prognostications of the supporters of carrier aviation and, in so doing, secured the ground for the aircraft carrier’s centrality in the Navy’s subsequent evolution—physical, doctrinal, strategic, tactical, and even emotional—for the past seventy years and into the foreseeable future.

    The new Naval Institute guide to the battle is almost entirely a collection of articles and chapters from previous Press publications, in both books and Proceedings (the exceptions are several oral histories and transcriptions of official documents). The dates of publication run the gamut from the 1950s to the early 2000s, with the bulk of the material pre-dating 2000.

    The editor, Thomas C. Hone, contributes a brief overall introduction and short introductory pieces for each section that set the stage for the various contributions. He deploys an effective blend of chronological and thematic presentation that provides a more useful perspective for analyzing the battle and its impact both on the war in the Pacific and, long-term, on the Navy.

    The original documents and the oral histories are not readily available and most readers would be hard pressed to locate all the articles drawn from Proceedings without substantial personal libraries or access to research collection. The selections from books, however, all are from works that most students of World War II naval history would own already. This Naval Institute guide to the Battle of Midway thus is something of a mixed bag. It presents a lot of material in a readily accessible form but it does not add to the scholarship surrounding the operation (and some of its elements are very dated indeed). This is a useful work for more casual readers but of limited use to more committed researchers or students.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xx + 360 pages
    • Photographs, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $38.95
    • ISBN: 9781612511269

    Reviewed by George Morrison, Seattle, Washington

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Frauen an Bord von Frachtsegelschiffen 1850 bis 1939

    Ursula Feldkamp

    The subject of women on board sailing ships has attracted considerable scholarly attention, particularly on the past twenty-five years. In the United states, much of this work has focused on the wives of whaling captains during the “glory years” of the American industry and, to a lesser extent, on those of the masters of the large ocean-going merchant vessels engaged in the international trades in the later half of the nineteenth century. There is also a growing literature addressing the experiences of women serving aboard American sailing ships during the twentieth century, primarily on what may best be described, broadly, as sail training vessels (quite a number of which now have female captains).

    Ursula Feldkamp’s new study covers a rather different demographic. The first part parallels the experiences of the wives of nineteenth-century oceanic traders from the German perspective. The most compelling elements are her discussions (based on the women’s own accounts) of their experiences as essentially “invisible” people; they were clearly noticeably on board ship but, simultaneously, their presence was ignored as much as possible by the crews, except to the extent that their femininity (and the related ideals of womanhood of the period) impinged on activities. Good examples of this were special arrangements to allow women to embark and disembark without offending their modesty and the impact of children (and even childbirth) on ships at sea.

    The second component of her work addresses women working as crew on ships, mainly during the twentieth century. Labor shortages during world War I seems to have been a major precipitant of such work, but it continued well after the end of hostilities, especially as major fleet operators discarded their sailing vessels. Many of these ships entered service with “budget operators” whose primary concern was to minimize expenses. Consequently, they were less attractive as berths for professional sailors, which opened the door, on a limited scale, to women. For the most part these women openly served aboard ship, creating scenarios for considerable tension, especially as most of the male sailors tended to be young apprentices, often with less experience than their female shipmates.

    Feldkamp’s study is a very important contribution to this field of study. Her approach combines women’s own narratives with thorough exploration of the contexts and paradigms within which they lived and worked to generate new perspectives on this very old story.

    •  Bremerhaven: Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum & Wiefelstede: Oceanum Verlag, 2014
    • 8-14” x 10-3/4”, hardcover, 327 pages
    • Illustrations, English summary, notes, bibliography. €34.90
    • ISBN: 9783869270753

    Reviewed by Helena Goldstein, University of Chicago

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America’s Revolution at Sea

    Tim McGrath

    The war at sea during the American Revolution more often than not appears as a series of major actions between British and French fleets, American privateering escapades, and the fight between Serapis and Bon Homme Richard under the command of John Paul Jones. Although there is a superb ongoing series from the Naval History and Heritage Command, Naval Documents of the American Revolution, substantial primary source documentation, and a quite extensive academic literature (as this book’s bibliography reveals), the work of the Continental Navy seems largely to have escaped popular attention.

    Tim McGrath’s new book should go a very long way toward correcting this situation. It is superbly grounded in very extensive research that exploits both primary sources and scholarly writing on the subject. This academic rigor, however, never prevents McGrath from telling an exciting story; instead, it consistently underpins his presentation of the Continental Navy’s operations.

    The major theme that emerges from Give Me a Fast Ship is the sheer audacity of the men who assembled the Continental Navy and took it into combat against the most powerful fleet of the time. Ultimately, its successes were insufficient to prevail against the Royal Navy at sea, but its efforts laid the foundations for the present United states Navy.

    McGrath shines as both researcher and narrator. Give Me a Fast Ship is compelling history, and deserves to succeed in making the Continental Navy’s accomplishments part of our popular culture.

    • New York: NAL Caliber, 2014
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, 543 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $26.95
    • ISBN: 9780451416100

    Reviewed by William Cowell, Charleston, South Carolina

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O’Brien

    Greg H. Williams

    Although these vessels lacked any of the glamor of the fighting warships, tanks, and warplanes mass-produced in World War II, without the Liberty ships, arguably, the Allies could never have won. Yards on all coasts of the United States built these 2,710 ships faster than German U-boats could sink Allied merchant shipping, thus maintaining the oceanic pipelines of supply and enabling offensive operations in Europe and the Pacific.

    Despite their importance, not much has been written about these ships. Frederic Chapin Lane’s 1951 Ships for Victory covers the entire story of the Maritime Commission’s production program and Peter Elphick’s 2006 Liberty: The Ships That Won the War is full of first-hand accounts. The “bible” on the subject since its publication in1970 has been The Liberty Ships, by L.A. Sawyer and W.H. Mitchell. This listed all the ships by the yards that produced them, briefly described the shipyards, and provided short accounts of each vessel’s career.

    Greg Williams’s new book succeeds in improving upon The Liberty Ships. The first three of its six parts contain essentially the same information as the 1970 book brought up-to-date to incorporate new information and research over the past forty-five years. In particular, it includes much more complete information on the ships’ post-war careers—large numbers were still in service in 1970 but now there are none still working (three are museum ships).

    The book’s other three parts provide substantial new information. Parts V and VI are devoted to the surviving Liberty ship Jeremiah O’Brien, which is preserved as a museum ship based in San Francisco. These sections cover the ship’s career in detail and provide a detailed account of its restoration and subsequent voyages as a museum ship.

    Part IV will probably be of most interest to researchers, historians, and students of the Merchant Marine, since it lists all the general agents that operated the Liberty ships on behalf of the Maritime Commission during World War II. Williams provides short “biographies” of each of these agents, some of which had been in business since the early 1800s.

    Overall, the 364 pages of The Liberty Ships of World War II are packed with information, much of it new. Williams (and his publisher) waste little space on literary flourishes; this is a solid reference book and well worth its price.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland $ Company, 2014
    • 6-3/4” x 10”, softcover, 364 pages
    • Photographs, glossary, bibliography, index. $75.00
    • ISBN: 9780786479450

    Reviewed by Michael O’Brien, Tampa, Florida

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War

    Jamie Malanowski

    The memory of William Barker Cushing exerts a powerful influence over the United States Navy, as evidenced by the naming of five warships in his honor (its first torpedo boat and four destroyers). His brief, colorful, and action-packed naval career from 1861 to 1874 led many to view him as the epitome of a dashing and heroic officer: “a man who comes next to Farragut on the hero roll of American naval history,” in the words of Theodore Roosevelt.

    This reputation for daredevilry has attracted biographers over the years. Perhaps it is the sesquicentennial of the Civil War that has led to the publication of four books about Cushing’s career in a ten-year period, of which this is the most recent—the publisher’s assertions that Cushing is little-know is surprising in light of the recent studies by Schneller (2004), Stempel (2011), and McQuiston (2013).

    What, then, does Jamie Malanowski bring to the table that the other recent authors do not? Most obviously, this biography is the most comprehensive; all of the others recount his life story, but Stempel and Schneller concentrate their attention on his Civil War exploits, while McQuiston’s focus is Cushing’s post-war career. Malanowski’s book is very good in describing and analyzing Cushing’s rambunctious life before the Civil War (which led to his dismissal from the Naval Academy). It also does fine work in detailing his later naval career and untimely death. Highlights of the author’s coverage of these periods are his skillful incorporation of the reactions of Cushing’s contemporaries and the inclusion of many quotations from his own letters and remarks.

    Nevertheless, like all his biographers, Malanowski is drawn magnetically to Cushing’s Civil War exploits. About two-thirds of the book recounts this part of his career from his re-appointment by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to his skullduggery in the attack on Fort Anderson below Wilmington. Malanowski is thorough and incorporates many interesting snippets into his exciting presentation of this part of Cushing’s career.

    This new biography of Cushing does not break new ground. Nevertheless, it shines because of the breadth of its coverage and the author’s superb writing. Specialists and general readers alike will find it both informative and enjoyable.

    •  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 304 pages
    • Illustrations, notes on sources, bibliography, index. $26.95
    • ISBN: 9780393240894

    Reviewed by Kevin O’Mara, San Francisco, California

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Battleship Ramillies: The Final Salvo

    Edited by Ian Johnston with Mick French

    The British R-class battleships always were overshadowed by their faster precursors of the Queen Elizabeth class and, consequently, also received less modernization during the inter-war period. Nevertheless, they acquitted themselves well during World War II (after the dramatic early loss of Royal Oak at Scapa Flow in 1939); one, Royal Sovereign, even being transferred to the Soviet fleet under Lend-Lease.

    Ramillies was the last of the class to commission, in 1917. This intriguing book explores the ship’s history through a compilation of narratives by men who served aboard during its thirty-year career. This makes for a somewhat disjointed reading experience, but the benefits far outweigh this.

    The vast majority of the narratives collected by the editors came from sailors on the lower deck rather than from commissioned officers. The cumulative impact of this collection is that it paints a vivid and highly engaging picture of life aboard a major warship of the Royal Navy, primarily during wartime but also during the years of peace between the two world wars. Ramillies saw very wide service during World War II, operating successively with the Home Fleet, as part of Force H at Gibraltar, in the Indian Ocean, with the Mediterranean Fleet, in the Far East again, and during the invasions at Normandy and in the South of France.

    This wide service is reflected in particularly interesting reminiscences from the sailors manning the battleship. They describe both the moments of combat drama and also the long periods of boredom and discomfort, especially noticeable in an old ship without air-conditioning that served for prolonged stretches of time in hot and humid climates. These stories are backed up with a wide selection of photographs, many of which come from private collections and have never been published before. One very nice touch is the inclusion of a few stories from the Home Front: the wives of those who served.

    This book also has some potential value to model makers interested in the ship. The photographs often reveal details not immediately obvious in drawings. In addition, the end papers present full-color side views of Ramillies at the beginning and the end of its service, both, interestingly, in camouflage.

    Battleship Ramillies: The Final Salvo is a most enjoyable read. It is informative on many levels and highly recommended to those interested in the realities of sailors’ lives in wartime.

    •  Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2014
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 256 pages
    • Photographs, notes, index. £25.00
    • ISBN: 9781848322073

    Reviewed by Mark Meyers, New Bern, North Carolina

  • August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Sunk in Kula Gulf: The Final Voyage of the USS Helena and the Incredible Story of Her Survivors in World War II

    John J. Domagalski

    John J. Domagalski is on something of a roll, bringing out a new book on American naval history during World War II in the Pacific every couple of years. He brings a very interesting perspective to these works, since they are primarily based on extensive interviews with surviving veterans of the conflict—he has met with almost fifty of these men to record their stories.

    Sunk in Kula Gulf shares many characteristics with his previous book, Lost at Guadalcanal. The framework is provided by careful and wide usage of well-established secondary sources selected from the many books published on the United States Navy’s war in the Pacific over the past half century. Into this he incorporates the personal recollections of the veterans and extensive details drawn from extant official combat reports in the archives. The net result is a very rich story that has an immediacy and a human connection that more academic analyses will omit.

    Domagalski is not the first author to tap into the power of enriching stark official reports with personal narratives—John Lundstrom comes to mind as another practitioner. Nevertheless, Domagalski is extremely successful in skillfully blending the unadorned factual details of the cruiser Helena’s fight at Kula Gulf in July 1943 with the fascinating and utterly absorbing perspectives of the sailors who fought the ship. This is really history with a human face.

    It helps greatly that Domagalski is a very good writer who is able to bring his reader along with him as he tells his story. His prose is simultaneously lucid and compelling. This style of history may not appeal to professional academics but Sunk in Kula Gulf include important material that might otherwise be lost, presents a powerful story, and tells it very well indeed.

    •  Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xvi + 237 pages
    • Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $32.95
    • ISBN: 9781597978392

    Reviewed by James Johnson, San Diego, California

The Nautical Research Guild regularly publishes reviews of books about naval/maritime history and ship modeling.  Each issue of the Nautical Research Journal includes several book reviews, but there are often more book reviews than the Journal can accommodate. 

The listing below includes book reviews for each issue of the Journal starting with Volume 58.  You may browse the reviews by the issue of the Journal, by book title, or by author.

Book reviews marked 'Journal Only' (and are not clickable) are found in the pages of the listed issue of the Nautical Research Journal.


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