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  • May 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    In the Shadow of the Alabama: The British Foreign Office and the American Civil War

    Renata Eley Long

    In early 1862, the Confederate States of America desperately needed sea power. Busily launching littoral gunboats in rivers and sounds across the South, receiving foreign recognition as a legitimate power required the acquisition of a blue water navy. Confederate commissioners arrived in London and Paris just after the advent of hostilities, charged with acquisition of weapons, supplies, and financial loans to further the quest for Southern independence. Just over two months had passed since USS Monitor and CSS Virginia clashed at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Known alternately as 290 (its hull number) and Enrica, a private firm launched CSS Alabama on May 14, 1862. Union diplomats attempted to have this and other vessels intended for the rebel navy seized by crown officials. CSS Alabama, Florida, and Rappahannock succeeded in escaping and became the scourge of Federal merchantmen.

    In addition to its declared neutrality in the North American conflict, Great Britain’s Foreign Enlistment Act prohibited any citizen from equipping vessels as men-of-war for use against foreign powers with which Her Majesty's government was at peace. Since evidence incriminated crown officials with complicity in the escape of the Confederate ships, the American government sought damages after the end of the Civil War. The arbitration, now known as the Alabama claims, resulted in an unusual outcome which impacts Anglo-American relations to this day.

    Renata Eley Long created an in-depth study of the circumstances surrounding the Confederacy’s acquisition of warships. In the Shadow of the Alabama is extremely well researched. Long uncovered mistakes in the history perpetuated by previous historians. She establishes Victor Buckley’s identity early in the text. The connections of this nondescript British Foreign Office clerk build the plausibility of her case. Long meticulously presents evidence of Buckley’s central role in the affair. Finally, she connects the key players in an ever-expanding web of intrigue.

     In spite of its thoroughness, In the Shadow of the Alabama suffers from several deficiencies. Some details, such as the future and changing Royal titles of individuals, only serve to confuse an American audience. The book makes claims of Freemason involvement in the arbitration which followed the conclusion of the American Civil War; these are largely unsubstantiated. A brief reference to Charles Dickens is of questionable relevance and amounts solely to a distracting side note. The evidence of Buckley's involvement in the Alabama would not hold in an American courtroom. The only piece of hard evidence was presented by the same man who verified its authenticity. That same man was subsequently dismissed from the employ of the American ambassador.

    Its tenuous connections and shortage of evidence notwithstanding, In the Shadow of the Alabama is an interesting study. For lovers of Civil War history or international intrigue, the book delivers an exciting ride through the annals of Anglo-American relations in the nineteenth century. Much that is useful can be culled from within this story of the shadows that still gather around the most fabled Confederate warship.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiii + 254 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $37.95
    • ISBN: 9781612518367

    Reviewed by Dale Wetterhahn, East Carolina University

  • May 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory

    R.B. Watts

    No one has been more influential in the historical development of American naval power than Alfred Thayer Mahan. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Mahan’s theories became the basis for the U.S. Navy’s strategic development based on the capital ship, decisive battle, and command of the sea. Dr. R.B. Watts, a retired Coast Guard captain and Professor at the National War College, provides an excellent historical analysis of the U.S. Navy’s interpretation of Mahan over time and the shaping of the Navy’s strategy and force structure by that interpretation. He argues that the Navy remained consistently wedded to Mahanian capital ship theory despite the shifting threat environment. In light of post 9/11 “irregular” wars, Dr. Watts argues that the Navy has only taken very limited steps to meet the challenges of irregular warfare and remains anchored to Mahanian conventional capital ship theory; which, according to Watts, threatens to make the Navy both irrelevant and unsustainable.

    American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory provides an excellent history of strategic thought and doctrinal development within the Navy since Mahan published his seminal work in 1890. Dr. Watts convincingly demonstrates that the Navy constantly adapted, but always maintained the capital ship focus in attempting to deal with changing threat environments. He very effectively demonstrates the fairly consistent disconnect between the Navy’s thought and doctrine and the actual missions it was asked to accomplish. While naval doctrine and strategy remained focused on the “blue water” fleet and the decisive battle with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it was consistently called to deal with irregular threats in multiple environments. Watts argues that, following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the Navy should have adjusted its strategy to meet emerging irregular threats.

    Dr. Watt’s coverage of the Navy’s historic struggles to match its theory to the actual threat environment is clear, cogent, and convincing. His assertions concerning post-9/11 naval strategy and his recommendations for the future, however, are more controversial and debatable. He describes navalists seeking to meet this new terrorist threat using classical naval principles, focused on forward deployed capital ships conducting strike operations against terrorists. He is overly critical of the Navy’s post-9/11 strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the point of blaming the Navy and its strategy for failing to win both of those wars. Clearly a Mahanian in many ways, Dr. Watts seems to ignore Julian Corbett’s warning that wars cannot be won by sea power alone and he continuously downplays the importance of the Navy’s support to ground operations in these two land wars.

    Dr. Watts advocates for a more balanced and affordable force structure for the Navy and a shift in focus to include the defense of the littoral United States from irregular threats as a primary mission for the Navy. His recommendations rely on certain key assumptions: that terrorists are a strategic threat to the United States, that the terrorist seaborne threat to the United States is beyond the capability of the Coast Guard and civilian authorities, and that the forward deployed Navy is failing to meet the irregular terrorist threat. Dr. Watts’ work, due to his strong historical analysis, is a significant contribution to the ongoing debate concerning the future threat environment and the future shape, role, and missions of the United States Navy within the context of the larger joint force.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2016
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, vii + 222 pages
    • Notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9780786498796

    Reviewed by Sam Rogers, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812

    Robert Booth

    Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812, by Robert Booth, is an informative account of the lives of two historical figures during the War of 1812 and illustrates how delusions of grandeur ultimately led to catastrophic consequences. Captain David Porter is the main character, a deluded yet incredibly ambitious officer in the United States Navy. United States Consul General Joel Roberts Poinsett is a smart and worldly man charged with inciting revolution in South America. They serve as the main characters in a wild and extraordinary journey of two men's lives in the war-torn world of the early nineteenth century. Fantastical, but thoroughly researched for its quality in interpreting the life stories of Porter and Poinsett, it is heavily based on Porter’s journal entries which he eventually published in 1815 as Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean. Poinsett’s own personal accounts are utilized as primary source material, along with a plethora of other firsthand stories and secondary sources.  Descriptive in regard to the lives of both men on a larger global conflict scale, the narrative is indicative of the amount of research that Booth undertook to write this book.

    Booth articulates very well the history of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain with events leading up to, during, and after the conflict. Though primarily based on accounts of Porter’s and Poinsett’s experience, the book also touches on other broader scale conflicts such as the revolutionary movements in Chile that Poinsett helped but failed to establish. Other major historical events are also explored and woven seamlessly into the focused story of Captain Porter: a man who defied his own government’s orders to pursue an ill-constructed fantasy of fame and fortune. Booth does well to show the depth of character in Captain Porter and his obsession with the Pacific Ocean. This self-serving fantasy drove him into such frivolous madness, leading him and his men into an outlandish and suicidal pursuit of his own desires.

    This is perhaps the greatest strength of the book. It takes an in-depth and analytical perspective of Porter’s mindset not only as a naval officer, but as an intense, emotional, and unpredictable individual. Porter’s personal journal entries and the author’s interpretation of them do well to explain the anger, frustration, and egotistical tendencies of the captain. Booth is very expressive with his writing. He is able to use cohesive sentences to break down and explain the mental rational of Porter, so much that it makes the narrative engaging and entices the casual reader to continue reading on sentence by sentence till the end of the book.

    The perspectives of other characters in this book are also equally described, particularly with the sailors on Essex under the command of Porter. Reviewing their accounts gives the reader a sense of physically being there as the sailors’ experiences are explained. This collection of historical narratives reads like adventure story. Well-written and researched, Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812 by Robert Booth is a wonderful book for anyone to enjoy. The title of the book is somewhat is fitting, as it explores the dark corners of the human desires, obsession and their consequences.

    •  Thomaston, Maine: Tilbury House Publishers, 2015
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, 244 pages
    • Illustrations, map, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9780884483571

    Reviewed by Paul Gates, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution

    Nathan Perl-Rosenthal

    The American Revolution was a turbulent time that forever changed the history of the world, and its impacts were far-reaching. While history tends to focus on the experiences of colonists—as both loyalists and patriots—and the British military during the Revolution, scholarship mostly overlooks how sailors and mariners navigated this tumultuous era to gain international recognition as Americans. Nathan Perl-Rosenthal seeks to offer insight into this unique struggle of American seaman piloting global waters in order to provide their fledgling nation with much needed goods, commerce, and international connections. Perl-Rosenthal argues that American seaman held an integral role in shaping the understanding of citizenship in the United States of America and in its role as a sovereign nation that needed to defend these citizens abroad. He elucidates that early American citizenship was highly inclusive as the nation sought to secure American maritime crews composed of men from all regions, classes, and—somewhat surprisingly—races. This broad inclusivity of citizenship was meant to protect Americans at sea from imprisonment or impressment while in foreign waters or ports. However, citizenship could be difficult to prove at times, and foreign nations would do everything possible to discredit claims of American citizenship. He also clearly and effectively portrays the complicated nature of citizenship, especially in a newly formed nation that is undergoing political changes.

    Perl-Rosenthal makes extensive use of a myriad of sources in order to illustrate a complete picture of the American mariner’s struggle of national identity. He travelled the globe collecting sources in order to truly understand the trials and tribulations of American seaman before, during, and after the Revolution. In addition, his international scholarship incorporates the viewpoints of various nations on American sailors. These sources include naval and government records, sailors’ personal accounts, and merchant ship logs, found at the Archives Nationales in France as well as records in England and North American sites. Perl-Rosenthal deftly constructs these fragmented and unorganized personal accounts of American sailors, who travelled to far-flung ports, into a cohesive, insightful description of the struggles of American citizens at sea who had to prove their identity in order to avoid impressment at the hands of a foreign nation.

    Citizen Sailors is masterfully written in a narrative style that is suitable for the public as well as academics in the field. Perl-Rosenthal currently teaches as an Assistant Professor of Early American and Atlantic History at the University of Southern California with an emphasis on political history. Overall, Perl-Rosenthal succeeds in supporting his argument that American sailors were instrumental in the development of a diverse national model of citizenship, which was more inclusive than the definition of citizenship at later points throughout American history. The success of his argument resides in the use of numerous primary sources and the inclusion of illustrations that allow the reader to step back in time.

    •  Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015
    • 6” x 9”, hardcover, 372 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, index. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9780674286153

    Reviewed by Elise Twohy, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Battle of Lake Champlain: A “Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory”

    John H. Schroeder

    The War of 1812 has captivated the minds of British and American citizens alike since it occurred over 200 years ago. Many scholarly works focus on the entirety of the war or the events around New Orleans in 1815. John Schroeder, a professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Milwuakee, a student of nineteenth-century America and its military history, successfully discusses a significant battle in the war effort. His work, The Battle of Lake Champlain: A “Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory,” places the events on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, New York in the larger context of the war. Schroeder argues that the roles of the commanders and the strategies allowed for the unexpected American victory and that these events changed the outcome of the war.

    Schroeder strongly supports his opinion by comparing the American and British effectiveness in the battles on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, the lead up to the battle, and the aftermath of the battle. In examining the commanders of the two sides, Schroeder analyzes their strengths and weaknesses and their impacts on the outcomes of the events on Lake Champlain. The American commander Thomas MacDonough, although young, was able to inspire and rebuild the naval troops on Lake Champlain as well as outsmart the British forces in the battle on September 11, 1814 by working with the other commanding officers of the American forces in the area. On the British side, George Downie led the naval forces as a seasoned naval commander from the Napoleonic Wars, yet he was new to the area during the 1814 campaign season and was unable to work with other British officers. The Americans took advantage of the confusion of the new British officers and their inability to work together. As the battle waged, the British ineffectively implemented their plan, while the Americans effectively took charge through their commanding officers and streaks of luck that played out allowing them to take the day. These same factors further affected the outcomes of the war. As Schroeder effectively describes, the outcome of this battle in the Champlain Valley allowed the Americans to successfully negotiate with a war weary Britain.

    Schroeder is able to support this thesis so strongly through the use of primary source evidence and battle plans. His analysis relies on the writings of MacDonough, Downie, the American and British forces, writings of the council in Ghent and numerous other sources that aid in recreating the events leading up to the battle, the battle of September 11, 1814 itself, and the results of the American victory in the Champlain Valley. Schroeder uses the appropriate images and maps to represent the battle and those involved. He, however, could have also used more images of the battle itself. Although these images would be artistic in nature, these images would offer striking examples of what the battle could have looked like and further evidence of the impact of the battle on American history.

    The Battle of Lake Champlain is an excellent work that compellingly argues the role of the battle in the overall position of the War of 1812 and the effect this battle had on ending the war. His use of sources offers a deeper look into the commanders themselves and the strategies that worked or did not work in the battle.  Beyond exploring the Battle on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, Schroeder’s work offers the necessary depth of background of the event of the War of 1812 and the complexities of its outcome. This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning about Lake Champlain and its role in the War of 1812.

    •  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xiii + 164 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, table, notes, bibliography, index. $26.95
    • ISBN: 9780806146935

    Reviewed by Allyson Ropp, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum


  • November 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic

    David Head

    To understand the historical content and the events that led to privateering in Spanish America, author David Head offers a variety of perspectives from persons representing opposite sides of the conflicts, both on land and at sea. Wherever possible, Head consulted accurate first person account of events leading to the need for national privateering. Throughout, he strives to clarify the interlocking developments in geopolitical struggles around the turn of the nineteenth century that necessitated privateering. As a result, he examines the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 as precursors to the Spanish-American Wars of Independence and the struggle of nations to expand their territories.

    Head stresses that privateering was a way to represent nations during a time of power struggle. He also mentions that privateering became a larger geopolitical role embedded in every nation wishing to expand their territories. Through several specific examples of privateering case studies, he provides perspectives that justifies the citizens of the United States who found Spanish-American privateering was an attractive option as a profession during a time of great financial instability and inconsistency. During the early 1800s a person’s profession, financial class, and social standings played a large role when making a decision to join a privateering force. His sources incorporate nearly 350 federal court cases concerning Spanish American privateering, as well as statistics from Lloyd’s List, letters from the different crews, commanders, and legal actions of the ship’s owners. For example, the analysis from letters and memoirs of a Captain Chaytors’s decision was presented tactfully. Chaytor had to choose between becoming a privateer for a foreign nation and supporting his family on the proceeds, or declining the opportunity and risking not finding financial stability in his own nation. He chose to risk his life as a privateer for the sake of his family.

    One critical point developed by Head is that the sea has a logic of its own; only by penetrating that logic can the actions of privateers be understood. While understanding the driving forces behind the mentality of a privateer is the central theme of this book, understanding the sea is also a vital point. Head’s reasoning is that privateers, whether new to the Spanish American territories or not, had to adapt to the geography, currents, and elements of the southern hemisphere to become successful. The ability to adapt, combined with a privateer’s navigational and tactical skills, determined their ultimate success and the success of the nation for which they sailed during this time of expansion and flexing of power.

    • Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, xv + 201 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9780820348643

    Reviewed by Tyler W. Ball, East Carolina University

  • November 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Privateering: Patriots & Profits in the War of 1812

    Faye M. Kert

    Trimming Yankee Sails (2005) and Prize and Prejudice (1997) are two previous works by Faye Kert on the subject of privateering. A third fascinating work by Kert appeared in 2015 as a treatise on certain aspects behind privateering (both American and British) during the War of 1812. The emphasis of Privateering: Patriots & Profits in the War of 1812 is clearly captured in the title. Kert uses this slender work to discuss the economic ramifications of privateering while also shedding light on the perspective of the privateers themselves. Supplemental emphases Kert places in this work are anecdotal stories discovered via her astounding research, in addition to the motivations for and against privateering as a state-sponsored institution.

    The introduction of Privateering fully encompasses the book in its entirety. Not only does Kert briefly (in only eight pages) and expertly paint the picture of anti-war supporters, but she also lays a framework for contextualizing privateers and their mentality. For Kert, the final decision many privateers made during their raids was on the basis of, as she puts it, "the bottom line." Was the profit of the prize worth the effort and expected loss of life? If not, then many privateers let it alone. Kert's analysis here is soundly on the basis of economic prosperity. Beyond their interests in supporting the state, privateers put their livelihood front and center.

    Throughout the five chapters of Privateering, Kert uses her knack for well-written prose to assist in portraying a wealth of primary source research. Included in chapter one is the curious case of the captured ship Marques de Somerueles, which entered the hands of Capt. Frederick Hickey of HMS Atalanta during the summer of 1812. Included in the captured cargo was a wealth of valuable paintings for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In a remarkable and unique court decision, the Admiralty judge, Alexander Croke, ordered the artwork to be returned to the academy. Croke defended his decision by saying, "The arts and sciences are admitted amongst all civilized nations, as forming an exception to the severe right of warfare, and as entitled to favour and protection." That is, the fine arts belong to the whole of civilization and should not be compromised as war booty. This example is just one of many Kert uses in her interesting discussion of Admiralty Courts and the legality of keeping prizes after captured.

    Negative critiques of Privateering are few and mild. Transitions within chapters could be improved. Another improvement would be to shift the discussion of privateering's origins to the front of the book. This would aid the reader in discerning the difference between a letter of marque ship and a true privateer (both terms used before it was clarified.) The overall readability and profound research make Privateering: Patriots & Profits in the War of 1812 a crucial work for any historian, whether naval-oriented or embracing a focus on the maritime economics of early America and Canada.

    • Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, viii + 215 pages
    • Illustrations, appendix, notes, essay on sources, index. $55.00
    • ISBN: 9781421417479

    Reviewed by Jacob T. Parks, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Pieces of Eight: More Archaeology of Pirates

    Edited by Charles R. Ewen and Russell K. Skowronek

    A sequel to X Marks the Spot (2007), Pieces of Eight, edited by Charles Ewen and Russell Skowronek, brings together evidence of piracy from around the world from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Ewen, an anthropology professor at East Carolina University, and Skowronek, an anthropology professor at University of Texas-Pan American, have previously worked on sites linked to piracy and previously edited X Marks the Spot.

    The anthology that Ewen and Skowronek have assembled reflects a variety of methodologies used to understand a group of people who are challenging to identify in the archaeological record. The main theme of the collection focuses on the potential for identifying piracy in the archaeological record, whether that be underwater shipwreck sites or terrestrial landscapes or the liminal space of the coastlines, and comparing real pirates to their Hollywood stereotypes. By providing a common theme of identifying piracy and its role in the world, Ewen and Skowronek provide an engaging account of piracy around the world through the latest discoveries in Panama, the Dominican Republic and Ireland and further research in North Carolina, Jamaica and Madagascar.

    The editors compiled a variety of different research from all over the known Golden Age of Piracy haunts to discuss the feasibility of identifying pirates in the archaeological record and breaking the Hollywood myths of piracy. The articles flow from one pirate haven to another, focusing on Queen Anne’s Revenge in North Carolina, Fiery Dragon in Madagascar, Ranger in Jamaica, Quedagh Merchant in the Dominican Republic, Morgan’s raiding of Panama, and the multitude of pirates in Ireland. The use of different sites offers a way for the editors to reach their goal of linking piracy together around the world, establishing methodologies for finding piracy in the archaeological record, and providing a means of creating an accurate image of piracy. This image shows that pirates were living in a real world filled with danger and excitement, yet they lived just as every other sailor in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, making them hard to identify in the archaeological record. This image was compared to Hollywood’s version of piracy. Through the chapters focusing on pirates as providers and their indeterminable presence in the archaeological record, the research offers the beginning attempts to break the Hollywood stereotype.

    The editors complied a well-written body of research. Each article convincingly argues the difficulties in finding the remains of pirates in the archaeological record, whether those be terrestrial or underwater. Unlike its predecessor anthology, this compilation does not divide the research into explicit sections. This lack of explicit division, however, provides a more dynamic read about the intricacies of pirate archaeology through the variety of sites presented in nondiscriminatory manner. By using sites throughout the world in no manner of importance, the editors have created a gripping tale of pirate archaeology. Although, as one author states “it is not possible to discern a definitive artifact pattern for pirate shipwreck,” Ewen and Skowronek have offered up the beginnings for future research into pirates in the archaeological and historical record.

    •  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xvii + 318 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, references, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 97808130615890

    Reviewed by Allyson Ropp, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    “No One Avoided Danger”: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941

    J. Michael Wenger, Robert J. Cressman, and John Di Virgilio

    This volume is the first in a series that the Naval Institute Press has launched entitled Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies. No One Avoided Danger covers the attack on the newly-constructed naval air station at Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, the base for the PBY-5 long-range patrol aircraft of Patrol Wing 1.

    The authors’ approach combines extensive archival documentation research, oral histories and interviews with participants, and a very broad array of photographs to present a very detailed and comprehensive narrative of the events of December 7, 1941, their background, and the outcome.

    No One Avoided Danger narrates the prewar activities of the Wing’s three squadrons, the two waves of Japanese attacks on the air station, and the aftermath of the virtual destruction of the Wing and heavy damage to its facilities. The two central chapters on the attacks themselves are comprehensive, as is coverage of events in the ensuing hours and days.

    The real danger of a study that concentrates so intensely of such a short period of time and such a limited location is that it can leave the reader mired in a mass of trivial detail and unable to comprehend the overall picture. The great accomplishment of this august team of authors is that they have completely succeeded in avoiding this trap. Throughout this very readable narrative, the voices of the participants, both American and Japanese, largely carry the story. This perspective brings the entire tale to life.

    The book’s style is lucid and fluent throughout. Wenger, Cressman, and Di Virgilio have produced an engaging, precise, and tightly-written account of the destruction of Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay and the men and women this event impacted.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 8-3/4” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, xx + 186 pages
    • Photographs, tables, bibliography, index. $34.95

    Reviewed by Mark Meyers, New Bern, North Carolina

  • August 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Hunters and Killers; Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943

    Norman Polmar and Edward Whitman

    With these two quite short volumes, Norman Polmar and Edward Whitman set themselves the ambitious goal of covering the entire history of anti-submarine warfare from the origins of submarines to the present. It is a huge task to synthesize the extensive literature of submarine warfare into a clear, analytical, and competent historical summary that can satisfy both general readers and specialists. Overall, the authors do remarkably well.

    Volume 1 covers the anti-submarine campaigns of both world wars up to the point at which the Battle of the Atlantic turned in favor of the Allies. I and II. Its primary focus is on the efforts by the British and, later, Americans to defeat Germany’s U-boats in the Atlantic and, to a lesser extent, in coastal waters and the Mediterranean. Although they set a start date of 1776, the authors generally devote little effort to the early history of the submarine, nor do they much cover other navies’ submarine or anti-submarine campaigns up to 1943 since, correctly, they view operations against the U-boats as the critical issue.

    Volume 2 begins by documenting the second phase of World War II: the Allies’ crushing defeat of the U-boats (despite the advent of potentially dangerous submarine types very late in the war), the parallel effectiveness of American anti-submarine operations in the Pacific, and the devastating losses of Japanese merchant shipping at the hands of submarines of the United States Navy. Then the Cold War brought new anti-submarine warfare challenges, in the form of large-scale Soviet exploitation of German electro-boat technology, followed by the rapid adoption of nuclear-powered submarines by all major navies and the creation of ballistic missile submarine forces. The authors shift their focus to the interplay between the submarine and anti-submarine forces of the United States and Soviet Union as both sides contended with the technological challenges these developments brought.

    Several broad themes emerge from these two volumes. Since submarines throughout the period in general represented the technological cutting edge, an essential component for successful anti-submarine warfare was the application of cutting-edge science and technology. Detection of submarines using sonar, radar, or from their sound emissions, heat signatures, or magnetism all depended on the application of science and technology to the problem. Similarly, weaponry—depth charges, ahead-throwing weapons, homing torpedoes, and so on—all required advances in technological capability. Furthermore, effective use of detection systems and advanced weaponry necessitated scientific research and operator training.

    A second theme is how often the difference between an effective or an ineffective approach hinged on subtleties. Huge efforts could be expended implementing ideas that did not work, such as the large patrol forces deployed in both world wars. Sometimes effective methods required long periods of development and dedicated training and coordination to work, such as ahead-throwing weapons and sonar or the coordination of surface anti-submarine forces with aircraft.

    The work’s other very important message relates to scientific and technological advances. There was a dramatic rise in the rate at which successful scientific achievement in anti-submarine warfare increased from early in World War I until towards the end of World War II. Thereafter, there has been a constant race for supremacy between submarine design and countermeasure development, both in research and applied technologies. The authors, at least, are of the opinion that submariners are ahead of those seeking to locate and destroy them at present.

    Although quite a large part of the material in these two volumes is available in the existing literature, the authors ultimately succeed admirably in achieving their goal. In the process they also bring together this information in a most convenient and accessible format.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015 & 2016
    • 8-3/4” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, 210 & 254 pages
    • Photographs, figures, sidebars, tables, bibliography, indices. $44.95 & $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781591146896 & 9781612518978

    Reviewed by Paul E. Fontenoy, North Carolina Maritime 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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