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  • November 12, 2021 10:29 AM | David Eddy

    Breaking Seas, Broken Ships: People, Shipwrecks & Britain,1854-2007

    Ian Friel

    Britain’s dominion of the seas was long-lasting and global, yet not immune from change. With the rise of new technologies, new vessels, and new world powers, Britain’s seapower and influence began to wane. This is where Breaking Seas Broken Ships: People, Shipwrecks, & Britain 1854-2007 begins. This compendium of unknown yet influential shipwrecks begins where its predecessor, Britain and the Ocean Road ended, at the mid-point of the nineteenth century. Dr. Ian Friel, a prominent maritime historian, continues to tell the story of an evolving Britain and its relationship with the seas that he began in the first volume, Britain and the Ocean Road. Breaking Seas Broken Seas is the second volume exploring its dominance of the seas to its fall from prominence.

    The volume begins with Friel acknowledging this period accounts for a multitude of societal, technological, political, and economic transformations of Britain and its interactions with the world. He frames these transformations through the stories of seven shipwrecks. The wrecks and accompanying histories reflect the myriad of changes that occurred through the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries and contextualize them on a local, national, and global scale representative of the changing times addressed in this work. The idea of transformation in the volume is two-fold. First, it is the tangible change of the transformation of ocean-going vessels from wooden sailing to steam-powered iron and steel vessels. The 1850s marked the transition to new vessels, which continued quickly through the twentieth century to the cargo ships of the twenty-first century. Second, the change is evident in society and the place of Britain in the global theater. The volume starts with Britain exerting dominion over the seas, but as the wrecks progress through the World Wars, Britain is supplanted as the dominant sea power. This transition alters societal relationships and, as Friel states, maritime trades is slowly dying as it becomes increasingly global.

    A second theme Friel mentions specifically in his introduction, and is seen throughout the volume, is environmentalism. This theme is presented in two forms, as an agent to change and loss and as a resulting impact because of loss. The beginning chapters discuss the role of the environment as a factor for influencing the need to advance technologies for war and exploration purposes. It also discusses it as an important factor in the wrecking of vessels, particularly in specific locations. As the work progresses, the environmental aspect evolves to include the potential threats to the environment from wrecked and sunken vessels. Twentieth-century wrecks have the potential for causing significant environmental damage, and as the large oil tankers wreck and World War-era vessels erode, the threat of a large-scale environmental disaster is ever-looming, as Friel acknowledges.

    Breaking Seas Broken Ships presents a succinct overview of Britain’s maritime history through the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. It uses seven lesser-known shipwrecks to provide this overview and illuminates their interconnectedness to various aspects of Britain’s imperial power, society, and overall relationship with the sea. Friel’s accessible writing style and the broad swath of evidence for each wreck and British society prove successful in discussing the strength and eventual fall of British sea dominance. Breaking Seas Broken Ships is a great continuation volume of the story of Britain’s relationship with the sea from Britain and the Ocean Road, providing a full picture of the intricate relationship of Britain and the sea while leaving room for future growth.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 20210
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xi + 182 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781526771506

    Reviewed by Allyson Ropp, North Carolina Office of State Archaeology

  • November 12, 2021 10:26 AM | David Eddy

    Lepanto 1571: The Madonna’s Victory

    Nic Fields

    In 1571, galley fleets from the Christian Holy League and the Ottoman Empire clashed at the mouth of the Bay of Corinth. The Battle of Lepanto, the last great naval battle fought by oar-powered vessels, culminated in a victory for the Catholic forces and marked the end of unquestioned Ottoman naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. In Lepanto 1571, Nic Fields describes the commanders, personnel, and technology which shaped the battle and campaign, as well as the contrasting naval strategies and paradigms between the Christian and Ottoman forces. The author’s deep dive into the personnel and technology which partook in the grand naval battle permits a deeper understanding of what led to a resounding Christian victory.

    For instance, Fields charts the integration and development of gunpowder weaponry in the Spanish military from its earliest implementation in the fifteenth-century Italian Wars. By quoting contemporary French and Italian opponents of the Spanish harquebus, he captures their bewilderment at combatting such novel military technology, especially when their troop composition remained medieval in comparison. Spanish gunpowder and heavily armed Venetian galleasses proved the difference against the Ottoman Empire, so providing such background gives greater perspective on how the battle unfolded.

    Great detail on the major commanders and leaders of the two forces further allows the reader to sense the scope of the impending conflict. Lepanto truly involved the entire Mediterranean, with the Ottoman forces comprised of those from the Barbary Coast and the Levant, and Pope Pius’ V Holy League, led by the Spanish admiral Don Juan de Austria and the Genoan commander Gianandrea Doria, alongside Venetian, Tuscan, and Hospitaller forces. Fields examines their motivations and military characteristics, providing context for their future decisions in the upcoming battle.

    The breadth of Fields’ research reaches its zenith during his narrative of the Christian and Ottoman fleets approaching and engaging the other. He carefully outlines the order of battle, listing each ship and commander according to its position in formation, some accompanied by the vessel’s armament. The reader can then track the decisive ship movements which occurred during the battle with a degree of familiarity and understanding. Yet, the author’s narrative of the battle moves quickly and seems condensed. Since much of the primary documentation of the battle is subject to bias and exaggeration, which the author rightly identifies, it is undoubtedly difficult to delve into the minutiae of the engagement.

    Fields concludes his book by revisiting his thesis; that the Christian victory at Lepanto was not necessarily the decisive battle contemporary Christian leaders proclaimed it to be. Despite the destruction of the Ottoman fleet, the Holy League did not press their advantage and take the fight to the Ottomans Empire. Instead, the Ottomans rebuilt their fleets and maintained their control of the eastern Mediterranean, effectively splitting the sea between the Christian states in the west and the Ottoman Empire in the east, and the Holy League broke apart and resumed fighting each other. Fields, however, hints at the more substantial result of the battle; the Ottoman navy no longer appeared invincible to the Christian forces.

    All in all, Nic Fields’ Lepanto 1571, remains a wonderfully researched account of the characters, tactics, and technology which collided in the Bay of Corinth on October 7, 1571. He considers all aspects of the battle and its build up, fairly portraying both Ottoman and Christian forces. His conclusion does a wonderful job of explaining how the Holy League victory took on a mythos of its own and was celebrated throughout Europe in Catholic and Protestant states alike. Fields’ crafts a narrative which appeals to the hardened naval history enthusiast who aims to fully understand the motivations and context of the Lepanto campaign.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxxvii + 426 pages.
    • Illustrations, maps, ,appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $42.95
    • ISBN: 9781526716514

    Reviewed by William Nassif, University of South Carolina

  • November 12, 2021 10:23 AM | David Eddy

    Taranto and Naval Air Warfare in the Mediterranean, 1940-1945

    David Hobbs

    The battle of Taranto, fought November 11-12, 1940 is probably the most famous battle involving carrier aircraft in the Mediterranean during World War II. It was far from the only one. Taranto and Naval Air Warfare in the Mediterranean 1940-1945, by David Hobbs, tell the story of that battle, and the rest of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm’s war in the Mediterranean during World War II.

    While Taranto is featured in the title, it is only a small part of this book. It may not have been the most important part. This should not imply Hobbs stinted coverage of that battle. He offers a comprehensive account and analysis of Taranto. It takes up only 41 pages in a 456 page book.

    Comprehensive is not a word applicable just to that chapter. It describes the whole book. Hobbs’s account begins with the opening of hostilities in the Mediterranean. It ends with the final Mediterranean operations of World War II in 1945.

    In addition to Taranto, Hobbs presents the role British naval aircraft played throughout 1940, including the preliminary activities immediately after Italy declared war on Britain and France and their role during the Battle of Matapan. This also includes actions against the French at Mers El Kébir.

    In 1941 he shows how Royal Navy aircraft were involved in the fighting in the Western Desert of Libya and Egypt, the Levant in Syria and in the Balkans supporting Greece. Naval aircraft is a more appropriate term than carrier aircraft. Hobbs shows land-based squadrons and warship floatplanes played a surprising diverse and important role during that year.

    The year 1942 includes descriptions of naval aircraft support of Operation Torch and the El-Alamein operations, and the Malta’s reprovisioning. The book reaches its climax during Operation Pedestal, the August 1942 operation to get a supply convoy to Malta. Pedestal was a major carrier effort, directly involving three Royal Navy aircraft carriers and indirectly engaging two others. It was the most decisive carrier action in the Mediterranean, even though the Axis only used land-based aircraft.

    Royal Navy aircraft support of Sicilian and Italian invasions were the highlights of 1943, while carrier support of the Southern France invasion and of landings in Greek islands and mainland are the focus of 1944. This is not a dramatic as previous years, if only because allied victory seems assured. Additionally, the less-glamorous escort carriers displaced the faster fleet carriers over these two years as Axis naval and air threats waned.

    Hobbs goes beyond just describing operations. He offers insightful analysis of the Royal Navy and its carrier activities during this period. He explains the reasons for the material shortages debilitating fleet aviation from 1939 through 1942. He gives the impression Taranto was originally viewed as an attempt to divert Italian attention, which exceeded beyond expectations.

    Taranto is an excellent addition to the series of books Hobbs has written involving Royal Navy aviation operations. It will not interest pure model-makers. For those whose interests lie in history or wargaming, especially those interested in World War II naval aviation, this book is worth reading.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2020
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 440 pages
    • Photographs, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $52.95
    • ISBN: 9781526793836

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • November 09, 2021 10:32 AM | David Eddy

    A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War: Joannes Wyllie of the Steamer AD-Vance

    John F. Messner

    Offering a view to an often-written period in American history, John Messner explores the American Civil War from a foreign perspective. Similar to Joannes Wyllie, Messner was not born in the country that his story impacts. Instead, Messner, an American living abroad, writes about a Scottish mariner impacting American history. This book takes a deep dive into this mariner, his life before going to sea, life on the water, and the quiet life after returning to land through many secondary sources.

    It is unfortunate that some important local information is left out or misrepresented. The omission of Fort Anderson, its important use as the Quarantine Fort in the Lower Cape Fear region of North Carolina, and the few unquantified statements of Wyllie as the greatest blockade running captain shows the author's limited knowledge of local history. No question researching a person during a conflict with limited surviving records is a tall order to fill. Messner took a major undertaking in writing this book. Starting from a note on the back of a painting is an incredible launching point and the quintessential historian "rabbit hole" research project.

    Much of Messner's research was based on newspaper articles, some published during the American Civil War. However, many were published much later. The limited access to records to corroborate the reports leaves space for speculation. Being an American living in the American South, reading this book raises many questions of validity from Confederate records and the personal papers of Governor Vance and hopes of seeing equal information pulled from Union records. This, combined with heavy references to the writings of Wyllie's friend or Wyllie's recollections late in life, creates more questions of biased writing. Messner acknowledges the questionable validity and conflicting perspectives; however, does not offer definitive analytical explanations. Between the changing names of vessels and varieties of spellings common throughout, it is hard to trust that this book follows the same person and vessel. He even goes as far as to note all the other J. Wyllie's in active service with Joannes Wyllie. Combined with the age discrepancy stated early on, it lingers that there may have been a mix-up. In addition, offering so much leverage to Wyllie's recollections but not utilizing his spelling of the vessel he served on is an interesting choice.

    Civil War historians looking for varied sources and deep analysis may want to prioritize another work. While the approach of American history from a foreign perspective is fascinating, the long form block quotes take up several pages, and the heavy reliance on newspapers creates a concern. Readers choosing to add this book to their reading list will greatly appreciate the care Messner takes to explain terminology and geographic locations for those not too familiar with Scotland.

    • Dunbeath: Whittles Publishing, 2021
    • 6-3/4” x 9-1/4”, softcover, xxiv + 258 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendices, notes bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9781849954822

    Reviewed by Caitlin Menne, North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport

  • August 24, 2021 10:17 AM | David Eddy

    Chasing the Bounty: The Voyages of the Pandora and Matavy

    Edited by Donald R. Caxton

    Chasing the Bounty: The Voyages of the Pandora and Matavy, edited by Donald A. Maxton, continues the tradition. The book examines the expedition sent to recapture the mutineers. It tells of events aboard HMS Pandora a 24-gun frigate dispatched in search of the mutineers and the cutter Matavy, built by Bounty mutineers and seized when Pandora arrived at Tahiti.

    The story is told through primary documentation. Maxton collected writings of those participating in the Pandora expedition, willing and unwilling. The quarterdeck view from Pandora is offered by Captain Edward Edwards (commanding Pandora), Pandora’s surgeon, George Hamilton, and Midshipman David Renouard. The book includes Edwards’s official dispatch to the Admiralty, Hamilton’s 1793 book about the expedition, and Renouard’s Voyage of the Pandora’s Tender (1791).

    The last is Renouard’s report about the activities of Matavy after Matavy became separated from Pandora, and sailed independently to the Cape of Good Hope. Renouard commanded Matavy after it was seized and became Pandora’s tender.

    Presenting the mutineers view of the voyage are letters written by Peter Heywood to his mother and sister during the voyage between Batavia and Britain, and James Morrison’s journal of the voyage. Heywood was one of the midshipmen aboard Bounty. Morrison was its boatswain, the driving force behind building the cutter seized by the Pandora.

    Other documents round out the book: Pandora’s Admiralty’s sailing orders, a statement on Pandora’s loss by Edwards, Bounty court marital results, and an anonymous poem about Bounty and Pandora believed written by an officer aboard Pandora. These place the main part of the book in context.

    Maxton took these documents, cleaned up the spelling and modified some punctuation and grammar to conform to modern standards. The result is a remarkable retelling of Pandora’s voyage from disparate points of view. Maxton captures each author’s voice. Edward’s writes in sparse language, while Hamilton is effusive. Heywood seems defensive, while Morrison is straightforward. (This is possibly due to when these were written. Heywood’s letters were written before the trial, Morrison’s account afterwards.)

    Maxton divides his material by chronological sequence. His chapters cover different stages of the expedition: the outbound trip, the hunt for the mutineers at Tahiti, the search for the rest of the mutineers, and the wreck of Pandora, He breaks up each account. Readers move from Edwards to Hamilton to Heywood to Morrison in each section. (The order varies by section.) While it keeps events in order, it also disrupts the flow of each narrative.

    Despite this, Chasing the Bounty is a valuable addition to Bounty lore. Much of its material has been unavailable for years in editions that contain errors. Maxton makes them available to modern readers stripped of inaccuracies. Maxton added introductory material, a glossary, and notes aiding readers’ understanding of the events. This book is a must for serious students of Bounty.

    • Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2020
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, x + 190 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781476639741

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • August 24, 2021 10:15 AM | David Eddy

    Revenge in the Name of Honour: The Royal Navy’s Quest for Vengeance in the Single Ship Actions of the War of 1812

    Nicholas James Kaiser

    The War of 1812 between the USA and Great Britain attracts little attention today in the United Kingdom, and not much in America, compared to other conflicts in which those countries have been engaged during their respective histories. It broke out on the declaration of war by the United States on a Britain nearly nineteen years into its desperate struggle with what had become the Napoleonic Empire, one that involved all countries of Europe as well as many others in the world.

    The new American war was received with little enthusiasm by the United Kingdom. What the year of 1812 is principally remembered for there and in Europe is Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the epic battle of Borodino (the biggest battle of the entire French Wars) and the disastrous French retreat through the Russian winter. To contemporaries, however, the defeats at sea of 1812 at the hands of the small United States Navy provoked shock and initial disbelief to the British public and military. The Royal Navy’s ‘cult of victory’ had, over many years, built up the belief that a British frigate was capable of taking any frigate of any other nation, and was expected to. That  expectation had largely been fulfilled against vessels of Britain’s principal enemies the French and the Spanish, as well as of others, including against more powerfully armed ships such as the new French 40-gun frigates armed with 24-pounder guns, frigates taken by British 38-gun frigates armed with 18-pounders.

    The three large American 44-gun frigates were, however, yet another step up in power from the French frigates. The USS President, United States and Constitution were the most powerful frigates afloat in 1812, well built, manned and commanded. Their three 1812 victories against British 38-gun frigates, as well as successful American actions against smaller British vessels, provoked a public outcry, sending shockwaves through the navy and public in Britain and in Nova Scotia, Canada. American pride had been boosted by the victories at sea of their tiny navy, a much-needed boost following the ineffective American campaigns on land. British pride had been wounded. For both sides, the naval war had become a matter of honor to be upheld or reclaimed, as the author clearly points out, and of revenge to be exacted by the world’s most powerful navy.

    The author, Halifax-based Nicholas James Kaiser, effectively follows this theme through to the war’s conclusion in 1815, offering a fascinating and well-balanced account that covers all the important actions and their effects. His style flows smoothly, and he has contributed a most readable book to the increasing volume of works on the War of 1812, and one with a different slant to most. This is an offering firmly recommended to all interested in the maritime history of the period and of this war in particular.

    • Warwick: Helion & Company, 2020
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, softcover, 216 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendices, bibliography, index. $32.95
    • ISBN: 9781912866724

    Reviewed by Roger Marsh, Killaloe, Co. Clare, Ireland

  • August 24, 2021 10:12 AM | David Eddy

    Admiral Lord St. Vincent: Saint or Tyrant? The Life of Sir John Jervis, Nelson’s Patron

    James D.G. Davidson

    John Jervis, Lord St. Vincent was one of Britain’s stellar admirals of the end of the age of fighting sail. Despite an outstanding record, he is largely neglected. Today he is best known for his influence on Horatio Nelson’s career.

    Admiral Lord Saint Vincent—Saint or Tyrant? The Life of Sir John Jervis, by James D. G. Davidson is the first modern biography of John Jervis in nearly ninety years.

    Davidson does a workmanlike job of tracing the arc of John Jervis’s rise from obscurity to prominence. Jervis’s father was a lawyer who wanted his son to follow him into the law. Instead John Jervis determined to become a sailor, and entered the Royal Navy as twelve-year-old able seaman. After four years he was rated a midshipman, and two years later, with the requisite sea time, became a lieutenant. While distantly related to Lord Anson, he appears to have risen on his own merit. Promotion then came steadily. He distinguished himself during the Seven Years War, participating in the capture of Quebec and ended that war as a post captain commanding the 44-gun two-decker Gosport. (It was not the frigate Davidson stated it was.) He commanded the 80-gun Foudroyant at the start of the Wars of American Independence, participated in the Battle of Ushant, and supported Whig Keppel over Tory Palliser in the political imbroglio following the battle, not because of politics, but because Keppel’s actions were correct from a naval standpoint.

    He served in Parliament between the American and French Revolutionary Wars, rising to flag rank in February 1793. He commanded a West Indies expedition, and then the Mediterranean Fleet, winning the Battle of St. Vincent (gaining a peerage). Later he served as commander of the Channel Fleet and First Lord of the Admiralty.

    Davidson does an outstanding job of showing the difficulties St. Vincent overcame during his tenure in these three roles. He also shows how St. Vincent served as mentor for Nelson and other British naval stars. Davidson also does an excellent job explaining St. Vincent’s reforms as First Lord.

    Davidson breaks little new ground in this biography. Some primary sources were used, including the Naval Records Society’s The St. Vincent Papers and Brenton’s nineteenth century Life and Correspondence of St Vincent. Most of the bibliography appears taken from twentieth-century sources published before 1980. Davidson seems to have missed much new research unearthed over the last forty years. He draws his views on life in the sailing era Royal Navy from Masefield rather than N. A. M. Rodger.

    This book is for those interested in naval history, especially the period from 1750 through 1820. Ship modelers and wargamers will find nothing of interest in it.

    Readers will come away from Davidson’s book feeling Saint Vincent was neither a saint nor a tyrant. Instead he is revealed as an officer of extraordinary competence, dedication, and honesty, one whose services proved critical to British success over Napoleon. Despite limitations, Admiral Lord Saint Vincent—Saint or Tyrant? is a book worth reading.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, vii + 230 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendix, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781844153862

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • August 24, 2021 10:08 AM | David Eddy

    Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th Century to the Present

    J.J. Colledge, updated by Ben Warlow & Steve Bush

    Pendant Numbers of the Royal Navy: A Record of the Allocation of Pendant Numbers to Royal Navy Warships and Auxiliaries

    Ben Warlow & Steve Bush

    The fifth edition of the late J.J. Colledge’s Ships of the Royal Navy is a valuable update of this standard reference work, first published in two volumes in 1969 and 1970. This latest version, revised and updated by Ben Warlow and Steve Bush, adds information for all the most recent warships commissioned into the Royal Navy since the previous edition in 2006. It also incorporates, for the first time, the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, a reflection of the fact that these vessels, although not commissioned warships, have come to play a vital role when deployed as integral elements of the Royal Navy’s task forces worldwide.

    Readers of this edition who are accustomed to the format of the previous versions will find little has changed, in terms of the presentation of the data, from Colledge’s original ground-breaking work. Since all such information is in a highly condensed form, it is essential to read carefully and thoroughly through the introductory sections to gain the full benefit of this mass of data, which covers the more than 15,000 vessels that have served in the Royal Navy since the fifteenth century.

    Pendant Numbers of the Royal Navy, on the other hand, is a completely new title. Since it and Ships of the Royal Navy were published within a few months of each other and present complimentary information, it seems appropriate to consider them together.

    The practice of painting pendant numbers on the hulls of ships of the Royal Navy began in 1914, but the numbers themselves pre-date that practice considerably. The very large size of the Royal Navy in the late nineteenth century led to the allocation of individual numbers to each ship for administrative and identification purposes. While signaling using flags, these numbers were used to direct messages and the fact that a number was being signaled was indicated by using a pendant, a triangular flag. Hence, when the numbers came to be marked on ships, they were called pendant numbers.

    This new book will be an invaluable tool for researchers, since it lists all known pendants numbers for surface ships and submarines, and has a supplement covering numbers allocated to the vessels of the British Pacific Fleet in 1944-1945. Thus facilitating identification of ships from photographs on which the numbers are visible. It is important to note that pendant numbers were changed periodically, specifically to confuse enemy intelligence, unlike the hull numbers used by the United States Navy, which changed only if a ship changed its role. There also is a complete list of ships by name with each ship’s pendant number or numbers, and the dates for which these were applicable. This could be useful for model makers or artists planning a model or painting but unsure of the correct number for the date they wish to depict.

    Ships of the Royal Navy and Pendant Numbers of the Royal Navy should find a prominent place on the shelves of any self-respecting researcher.

    Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th Century to the Present

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2021
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2021
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xx + 500 pages. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781526793270

    Pendant Numbers of the Royal Navy: A Record of the Allocation of Pendant Numbers to Royal Navy Warships and Auxiliaries

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2021
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2021
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xviii + 432 pages
    • Photographs, appendices. $44.95
    • ISBN: 9781526793782

    Reviewed by Denis Wilkinson, San Diego, California

  • August 24, 2021 10:02 AM | David Eddy

    The Kaiser’s U-boat Assault on America: Germany’s Great War Gamble in the First World War

    Hans Joachim Koerver

    Hans Joachim Koerver’s work, The Kaiser’s U-boat Assault on America: Germany’s Great War Gamble in the First World War, is a well written narrative on the inner workings of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s government in World War I. Topics covered include the Imperial Navy’s quarrel with the chancellorship, the atmosphere of Germany’s working class, the resentment of the Royal Navy’s blockade, and President Woodrow Wilson’s role as mediator between Germany and the United Kingdom early in the war. The book avoids the traditional retelling of battles and military maneuvers, and instead it elaborates on the indecision of the Kaiser’s government on the issue of unrestricted submarine warfare, the influential weight that Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz had within the government, and the struggle between the navy and chancellor.

    Hans Joachim Koerver is a well-established historian and researcher who has published several works on naval history, many of which focused on World War I. The Kaiser’s U-boat Assault on America utilizes sources gathered from the British National Archives, such as declassified documents and charts. Koerver also does an excellent job consulting German primary sources, such as the diaries of Admiral Georg Alexander von Müller, Naval Representative at the Imperial German Court. Koerver’s writing style presents different perspectives during the years leading to the United States’ declaration of war on Imperial Germany in 1917 and is readily accessible to the casual reader.

    The Kaiser’s U-boat Assault on America is broken down into five parts, each containing several chapters. The first part contains two chapters in which Koerver compared the naval strengths of the United Kingdom and Imperial Germany along with their financial and industrial capabilities prior to the outbreak of war in 1914. Koerver displayed numerous graphs and charts to further illustrate the economic tolls exacted through blockade, U-boat warfare, and the war itself. The following four parts examine developments in the U-boat war for each year chronologically until 1917 and contain five to fifteen chapters each. These developments included the sinking of Lusitania and other vessels using unrestricted submarine warfare and correspondences between the Imperial government and the White House. Additionally, the narrative presented in this work portrayed the British with much criticism, which was further supported with decrypted messages gathered from Room 40, restrictions placed by the Royal Navy on shipping to neutral countries, and the British government’s rebuttal of Wilson’s offer to open peace negotiations.

    The inner struggle within the Imperial government remained a theme throughout the book, as the Imperial Navy, backed by Tirpitz and much of the conservative population, pushed for the full adoption of unrestricted submarine warfare. In contrast, the German chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, pushed against unrestricted submarine warfare in recognition of the potential severance of relations with the United States. Koerver details this struggle well, and in the final chapters examines the Kaiser’s submission to Germany’s military leaders in the face of defeat. In doing so, the narrative is well ended with the declaration of war from the United States, and the rest is history.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii +  343 pages
    • Photographs, maps, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781526773869

    Reviewed by Tyler McLellan, East Carolina University

  • June 04, 2021 11:20 AM | David Eddy

    U-Boats at War in 100 Objects, 1939-1945

    Gordon Williamson

    Gordon Williamson offers a fresh look into the Kriegsmarine in his new book U-Boats at War in 100 Objects, 1939-1945. In 182 pages, the author of more than 50 books on military subjects presents the who, what, where, when, and why to piece together a World War II story that both educates and entertains the novice to the expert.

    Forgoing a chronology of historical events, Williamson highlights individual components that fit together to make a complete war machine. He does this through sensory writing, easily digestible sections that include an object or two, and a one-to-two-page fact-filled overview of them. Diverse objects of war include photographs of bunkers, weaponry, authentic passes, and propaganda posters as well as badges of honor, uniforms, and images of well-known and everyday sailors.

    His multifaceted approach works well for a variety of learning styles and breathes life into his book. The reader can feel the emotions attached to an awards ceremony, the color, texture and fit of a hat on a sailor’s head, the immense stress s\sailors bore, and the often-rank smell of a crowded U-boat. In this vein, despite eschewing a chronological format, he also develops a feeling of time. The reader absorbs the many hours sailors train for the various ranks, the time it takes to introduce, retire, or perfect technology or to launch weapons and submerge the submarines, and how time eventually ran out for the Kriegsmarine.

    Rather than categorize like objects into single chapters, Williamson sprinkled them throughout the book so that each turn of the page is exciting and not dulled by repetition. This allows every object, including a Type VIIC U-boat, a rare Kriegsmarine Star Globe, and a closet-sized U-boat galley, to stand out.

    His object-by-object approach invites students to personally construct a period in history much like completing a jigsaw puzzle. Like the puzzle piece that is examined for its shape and place in the whole, the object is studied for its characteristics and how it fits into history. Take, for example, the descriptions and photographs of various badges; medals of honor created to give credit for numbers of tours, exemplary work, and to lift the spirits of the sailors. We learn the details of designs and the badges’ purposes, how many and to whom the badges were given, the materials used, and companies and artists who created them.

    The author juxtaposed technical detail with human behavior to sculpt experiences such as in his section on equipment used for the call to nature: one or two septic tank-free bathroom facilities for many sailors, and the outdoor “toilet” that was a metal ring fastened to hang overboard the ship. We learn about U-boat plumbing and how something humankind does every day in private is not always the case on a U-boat—or an easy feat—and how maintenance and a basic human action can have deadly effects if not managed correctly. The passage is brought home by a photograph of a man perched on a metal ring over the sea.

    In the end, Williamson puts within reach of a broad spectrum of readers a fascinating, complex, and multilevel story of human and technological success and failure, where life hung in the balance.

    • Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2020
    • 7” x 10”, hardcover, ix + 182 pages
    • Photographs. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781526759023

    Reviewed by Mary Ellen Riddle, Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

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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