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  • May 06, 2024 6:21 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    Okinawa - The Last Naval Battle of WW2: The Official Admiralty Account of Operation Iceberg

    By John Grehan

    • After the fighting at Okinawa ended, the Admiralty called for a summary of the battle to be written for internal Royal Navy consumption. It is that secret report, which was never intended to be seen by the public, that is published here for the first time.

      This report details the Royal Navy’s contribution to Operation Iceberg, the invasion and capture of Okinawa. The Royal Navy’s component, designated Task Force 57, for this operation was significant: huge – four carriers equipped with close to 250 aircraft, two battleships, six cruisers, and fourteen destroyers, along with sixty-two support ships of the fleet train formed into four self-defending logistic support groups. All in all, this contribution represented roughly a quarter of the total naval force deployed against Okinawa.

      The book follows the format of an after-action report, starting with a brief resumé of general situation. This is followed by a description of Allied plans, available ground and naval forces, and the expected size and locations of enemy forces. More detailed expositions under each these headings follow. Next comes detailed descriptions of the conduct of the entire campaign, not solely the Royal Navy’s experience, including the destruction of the Japanese battleship Yamato. There are multiple appendices covering equipment used and orders of battle, along with an index of vessels.

      This is a compilation of the official Admiralty account of the naval battle. It is a meticulous record of events as they were noted at the time: what happened when, and who did it. As such, it is definitely very dry and terse; the description of the kamikaze attack on the American carrier Bunker Hill, for example, is two brief emotionless and arid paragraphs relating its impact (over four hundred of the crew dead and missing) that simply notes that “The ship had to be sent to the rear area for repair.” There are no tales of heroism or cowardice, just a narration of events and what happened next.

      Where there is inconsistency or a gap in knowledge from the contemporary record which has since been resolved, the editor provides sidebar notes and references. Other than that, this is an essentially unadulterated version of Battle Summary No.47, the Admiralty account of Naval Operations in Assault & Capture of Okinawa (Operation ICEBERG). It may never be an easy or enjoyable read, but for any researcher interested in learning what happened rather than what subsequent authors have opined, this is an essential starting point.

    • Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2022
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 193 pages
    • Photographs, tables, appendices, index. $54.95
    • ISBN: 9781399091930

    Reviewed by: Michael O'Brien, San Francisco, California

  • May 06, 2024 6:15 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    The French Fleet: Ships, Strategy and Operations 1870 - 1918

    By Michele Consentino and Ruggero Stanglini

    This book examines the development of the French Navy subsequent to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and follows its evolution through until the end of World War I. The authors’ approach starts with scene setting chapters that address French foreign policy and the Navy, naval budgets and shipbuilding programs, industry and technology, and the organization which supported the structure and operation of the French Navy. This is followed by chapters on ship types ranging from battleships to minor combatants and auxiliary ships, naval aviation and an outline of the French fleet at war from 1914 to 1918.

    The authors provide the strategic and doctrinal context to the French fleet’s development up until 1918. Much of the early history saw naval funding eroded to meet the higher priority accorded to the French army and social measures. However, renewed government interest in colonial expansion around 1880 raised the navy’s profile. The conquest of new overseas territories saw it charged with transport of troops, ensuring the lines of communications at sea, and dealing with real and potential adversaries. Colonial expansion created new rivalries with Britain and a deterioration of relations with Italy. These developments resulted in a push for a more effective use of resources; a reconsideration of fleet composition; and a need to identify the most useful type of warships. The result was a decreased emphasis on battleships, an increase in cruiser strength, and increased emphasis on troop transports and torpedo boats. This change in philosophy was similar to what the Jeune Ecole had been arguing for, namely a move away from expensive and vulnerable battleships to new technology, and an emphasis on torpedo boats, gunboats, and fast cruisers.

    Limitations in the performance of the torpedo boats ultimately led to a more balanced approach being adopted to French naval force structure. The foray into small craft did, however, lead to a French fleet with some major deficiencies as it entered World War I. By August 1914 the French Navy had but forty-four. This shortage resulted in an order being placed with Japan for twelve destroyers in November 1916.

    The French Navy devoted considerable resources to the development of submarines. A combination of a lack of strategic direction for submarine policy and an often-illogical industrial policy resulted in excessive spending on experimental boats. From 1863 the French Navy acquired a total a total of one hundred and eleven submarines of varying utility. Most of the boats were built before World War I, with submarine production slowing during the war, owing to the priority of other warships, especially escort vessels.

    Industrial performance, especially in the early years, was problematic. Construction was slow and expensive in the Navy Arsenals, which provided most of the management, updating and shipbuilding. Owing to a lack of control by the central naval administration there were significant differences between warships of the same class entrusted to different arsenals. The resulting lack of standardization lasted until the end of the century, and had serious consequences for operations, training, and logistics.

    This book is well written and researched, drawing on extensive primary and secondary sources. It analyses the French Navy’s development in a broad context addressing strategic, political, financial, naval administration, industrial and technological issues. The text is supported with numerous high-quality photographs which appropriately illustrate the ships being discussed. Coverage of the ship classes is extensive and provides an assessment in most cases of the pros and cons of their development, capabilities and performance. The authors do not hesitate to offer criticism of matters and provide sound justification for their views. Overall, this book is a welcome addition to the history of the French Navy.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Books, 2022
    • 10” x 11-3/4”, hardcover, 320 pages
    • Photographs, tables, appendices, bibliography, index. $79.95
    • ISBN: 9781526701312

    Reviewed by: Sebastian Robichaud, Louisiana State University

  • May 06, 2024 6:09 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    From Caligula to the Nazis: The Semi Ships in Diana's Sanctuary 

    By John M. McManamon, S.J.

    During his reign, the Emperor Caligula built two massive barges on Lake Nemi. Almost immediately after his assassination they sank. The boats fascinated posterity. Starting in the 15th century efforts began to refloat them. Four centuries later Mussolini succeeded. A museum by the lake displayed them. In 1944 the retreating Nazis burned museum and ships.

    “From Caligula to the Nazis: The Nemi Ships in Diana’s Sanctuary,” by John M. McManamon SJ tells the full story of these ships, from their creation in Early Imperial Rome to their destruction in World War II.

    He opens with the destruction of ships in May 1944. McManamon makes it clear the Germans deliberately set fire to the museum containing the ships, despite postwar denials. This act of historical vandalism was triggered by German pique at their former Italian allies. It served no military purpose.

    McManamon then returns to the beginning, spending a chapter discussing the origins of the ships and the significance of their location. Nemi, especially Diana’s Grove, was a sacred place. Caligula’s construction of two immense party barges was a thumb in the eye of conventional Roman morality. McManamon explains why. That the barges sank after Caligula’s death was predictable.

    From there he goes through four centuries of attempts to raise the barges, starting in the mid-1400s. Descriptions of the boats had come down from Roman times in literary references.  The fragmentary nature of the references tantalized scholars and nobility (often the same men) in pre-Renaissance and Renaissance Rome.

    McManamon describes the various players and their efforts to raise the ships. By the 15th Century much of what was believed about the ships was wrong. Their construction was attributed to Trajan; the sacrilegious nature of their construction forgotten. Yet rumors of their fabulous nature fed interest in raising them.

    McManamon shows why salvage technology was important. Early efforts at salvage, limited to free-diving and trawling damaged the artifacts rather than recovering them. It awaited the march of technology before 20th century efforts finally raised the ships. The final, successful effort required a massive government project.

    “From Caligula to the Nazis” is a fascinating book. It is densely written, yet the story McManamon relates is captivating. It offers insights into several areas: Roman history and religion, marine archeology, and naval architecture. It is also a reminder that human ingenuity and curiosity are timeless. Both are present throughout the period covered by this book.

    • College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2023
    • 8-1/2” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, x + 218 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, notes, bibliography, index. $65.00

    Reviewed by: Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • May 06, 2024 6:03 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    A Maritime History of the American Revolutionary War: An Atlantic-Wide Conflict over Independence and Empire 

    By Theodore Corbett

    Comparatively little has been published about the American Revolutionary War from the maritime standpoint, with most existing histories concentrating almost entirely on the conflicts that took place on the American and Canadian mainland. This is in spite of the fact that it was a fleet naval battle, albeit one in which no American forces participated on either side, that in effect set the scene for the victory of the combined French and American forces at Yorktown and in consequence the final result of the war itself.

    That lack has now largely been remedied with the publication of this volume. It covers in some detail the organization of the existing, powerful British Royal Navy as well as the establishment of the new American Continental Navy and its eventual demise, together with a wide ranging account of maritime action on both sides of the Atlantic, on the important thoroughfare of Lake Champlain, and in coastal waters. Theodore Corbett’s focus is as much on the smaller conflicts of such vessels as barges and privateers as on the more famous fleet actions. Not all operations in the war involved Americans at all, of course – the long Spanish siege of Gibraltar commencing in 1779 is an example; the French success at the Battle of the Chesapeake/the Virginia Capes is another, though one with far-reaching consequences. The great British victories over the fleet of Admiral de Grasse in the waters of the West Indies late in the war are briefly included, so in fact giving the subject Atlantic-wide coverage, as the title itself states. What is not dealt with here is the series of battles that was so hard-fought in Indian waters, far from the main focus of the revolution in the American colonies, to be sure, but still part of the same war that resulted from that conflict.

    Any reader interested in the American Revolutionary War will nevertheless find this interesting work to offer a refreshingly different spotlight on the subject, and one that illuminates the maritime operations and issues of all sides involved.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Books, 2023
    • 9-3/4” x 11-1/2”, hardcover, 267 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 97815300040419

    Reviewed by: Roger Marsh, Killaloe, Republic of Ireland

  • May 06, 2024 5:58 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    The Harwich Striking Force: The Royal Navy's Front Line in the North Sea 1914 - 1918

    By Steve R. Dunn

    As World War I ramped up on the continent, the Royal Navy fought to secure the English Channel and thwart German efforts to disrupt Allied shipping in the Atlantic. This task largely fell to Admiral Reginald Yorke Tyrwhitt and the Harwich Striking Force. Under his command, the Striking Force combatted German minelaying operations in the North Sea, engage enemy naval forces, and pioneered naval aviation capabilities. Steve Dunn’s The Harwich Striking Force: The Royal Navy’s Front Line in the North Sea 1914-1918 chronicles the valiant efforts of Tyrwhitt’s command keeping the Imperial Navy at bay throughout the Great War. 

    Naval forces stationed at Harwich occupied many roles during the war, reflective of a Royal Navy adapting to modern naval warfare. The Striking Force performed observation duty as a vanguard of the Grand Fleet stationed up north. As the war progressed, they transitioned to blockading and counter U-boat measures. After Zeppelin and naval bombardments in east England, the public scrutinized the Royal Navy and their inability to defend the British coastline, consigning the Harwich Striking Force to shoreline patrol. Later in the war, Tyrwhitt’s charges performed convoy duties for the Dutch ‘beef fleet’. 

    Most notably, according to Dunn, the Harwich Striking Force pioneered naval aviation combat in the North Sea. At Cuxhaven, the German military established an airbase from which Zeppelins and other bombers could reach England. Tyrwhitt’s carriers HMS EngadineRiviera, and Empress launched seaplanes on Christmas morning 1914 determined to neutralize the German threat stationed there. While ultimately unsuccessful, the sortie helped usher in a new era of naval warfare which Dunn brilliantly contextualizes through quotes from Churchill and Tyrwhitt expressing their enthusiasm for this new method of attack.

    Dunn’s success in The Harwich Striking Force lies in his ability to craft a narrative that is totally encompassing of the naval force stationed in the Essex town. On the grand scale, Dunn’s work details the Force’s victories at Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank, the tragedy felt after the sinking of each of Tyrwhitt’s ships, and the frustration felt by Tyrwhitt battling Admiralty bureaucracy which hindered his ability to combat the enemy. Yet, Dunn’s thorough research also gives the reader a glimpse into minute details of life in Harwich during the war, including how the town changed to accommodate the fleet and life as a sailor stationed there. 

    Few possess more knowledge of the Royal Navy during World War I than Steve Dunn. His research has led him to publish works on the Dover Patrol, the blockade of Germany, and naval efforts in the Baltic. With The Harwich Striking Force: The Royal Navy’s Front Line in the North Sea 1914-1918, Dunn sought to shed light on the all but forgotten efforts of Admiral Tyrwhitt and his command. His knowledgeable perspective of the Royal Navy in this conflict lets him place their triumphs within the larger background of the Great War. For readers seeking knowledge on a lesser known aspect of naval combat during World War I, The Harwich Striking Force is an excellent starting point. 

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Books, 2022
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 336 pages
    • Photographs, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $42.95
    • ISBN: 9781399015967

    Reviewed by: Will Nassif, University of South Carolina

  • May 06, 2024 5:53 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    Warship 2022

    By John Jordan

    Warship has been a leading reference book with regard to the design and development of combat ships, for over forty years. The editor, John Jordan, has been in the role since 2004 and over the years has overseen the publication of a wide range of informative articles written by an international field of contributors. This publication for 2022 is no exception.

    The twelve feature articles in the 2022 offering come from the pens (or keyboards) of fourteen contributors from across the world, including one by the editor. Two of the articles are on a British theme: an account of offensive operations in the Channel (Operation TUNNEL) between September 1943 and April 1944; and a technically-rich article on post-war radar development in the Royal Navy. The remaining articles are of an international flavor, with six of them covering generic design issues: the beginnings of Soviet naval power; the development of the small cruiser in the Imperial German Navy; the development of Italian scouts between 1906 and 1939; Soviet battleship designs from 1939 to 1941; and a look at modern European frigate designs. A further four articles looking in detail at specific ship designs: the Imperial Japanese Navy carriers Sōryū and Hiryū; the French battleship Jauréguiberry (translated from the original French by the editor); the Australian Bathurst class of World War II minesweepers; and France’s prototype ocean escort, C65 Aconit. The twelfth article places the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy dockyard at Yokosuka into a historical context, with a fascinating insight into the roles played by the British and the French as the Japanese sought to modernise in the 1860s. While the articles cover a wide range of issues covering a protracted time period—from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day—they all have one thing in common: they are well-researched, well-presented, and provide a wealth of detail, including extensive bibliographies.

    The editor also has included a chapter on book reviews, and the book finishes with some evocative black and white images of the scrapping of the warships AgincourtNew Zealand, and Princess Royal at Rosyth between 1923 and 1925.

    On the face of it, the topics chosen for inclusion in the publication appear random. However, given the length of time that editions of Warship have been produced, there is no doubt that the owner of the full set of this publication would have a bookshelf containing a comprehensive, wide-ranging, and informative collection of articles on a naval theme covering operations, ship design, equipment, and infrastructure.

    The book is handsomely produced and is extensively furnished with a large number of black-and-white photographs. It also benefits considerably from some unusually clear line drawings of ship layouts, equipment, and charts, many of which have been drawn by the editor.

    This is an enjoyable read with informative articles written by authoritative contributors. Recommended.

    • Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2022
    • 8” x 11”, hardcover, 224 pages
    • Photographs, drawings, maps, tables, notes. $60.00
    • ISBN: 9781472847812

    Reviewed by: Jeremy Costlow, Little Rock, Arkansas

  • May 05, 2024 5:12 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    Alistair MacLean's War: How the Royal Navy Shaped his Bestsellers 

    By Mark Simmons

    “Alistair MacLean was a giant figure when I was growing up,” writes thriller writer, Lee Child, in his foreword to this book. Many adults and children growing up in the 1950s to 1970s would agree. For many of these readers, Alistair MacLean’s HMS Ulysses was probably the definitive Second World War naval novel, and he went on to write two more books—The Guns of Navarone and South by Java Head—that were directly linked to his wartime service in HMS Royalist, while many of his later books had obvious ties to his World War II experiences. Mark Simmons sets out to explore these links.

    This is not a biography but does cover MacLean’s whole life from growing up in the manse in a Gaelic-speaking area of the Highlands to dying as an alcoholic in Switzerland. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of nineteen in 1941. After promotion to Able Seaman in August 1943, he joined the brand-new cruiser HMS Royalist in Scott’s Yard in Greenock. MacLean was to spend the rest of the war in Royalist. This covered the Arctic Convoys (March to May 1944), the Mediterranean and Aegean (July-October 1944) and the Far East (March-November 1945). Royalist returned to Portsmouth to pay-off in January 1946 and MacLean was discharged on 26 March 1946. 

    After discharge, MacLean went to university in Glasgow for a degree in English Language & Literature, married a German girl (to some family dismay) and became a schoolmaster. While teaching he was persuaded to enter a short story competition in the Glasgow Herald, winning the £100 prize, which brought him to the attention of staff of the publishers, Collins.  They persuaded him to try writing a novel, which Maclean completed in ten weeks: HMS Ulysses. The book sold over a quarter-million copies in hardback within six months, a  record at the time, and within ten years, MacLean was earning the present-day equivalent of three million dollars annually.

    The first half of this book is a detailed comparison of Maclean’s first three books with Royalist’s wartime operations. The mutiny that opens HMS Ulysses has resonance with the Invergordon Mutiny of 1931, which took place only thirty miles from MacLean’s father’s parish, so he must have been well aware of events at the time. The cruiser’s end while attempting to ram the German heavy cruiser Hipper is clearly based upon HMSGlowworm’s ramming of the same ship in 1940.

    There are many other interesting parallels the author draws between MacLean’s experiences and the first three books. The actual island of Navarone is fictitious but the style and  tempo of operations in the Aegean in 1944 is very true to life. Although Maclean was not in the Far East when Singapore fell, he well knew the geography of the area, used in South by Java Head, and would have met many people who were directly involved since Royalist was in Singapore for the Japanese surrender and involved in repatriating some of the prisoners of war.

    The final third of the book covers his writing years, the subsequent films, a brief interlude as a hotelier when he owned the Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor in the early 1960s, his move to Switzerland for tax reasons, and his subsequent decline into alcoholism. MacLean, it is clear, was actually a very private person, which may have partly led to his drinking.

    Sadly, this book could have done with better editing; there are spelling errors and occasional infelicitous writing.  Nevertheless, this book is recommended to all those who remember MacLean’s books, especially the first three, for its examination of the historical background to HMS Ulysses, The Guns of Navarone, and South by Java Head.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2022
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 193 pages
    • Photographs, maps, glossary, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781399019385

    Reviewed by: Jennifer Nelson, University of Iowa

  • May 05, 2024 5:06 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    Naval Eyewitnesses: The Experience of War 1939 - 1945

    By James Goulty

    Having already published books on the experiences of airmen and soldiers in the Second World War and Korean War, James Goulty continues to have a special interest in the training and combat experience of ordinary airmen, soldiers, and sailors. In his first chapter, sailors describe how life differed in battleships, cruisers, destroyers, minesweepers, coastal forces, all the way down to motor torpedo boats and even to landing craft. It really shows that sailors could find a style of life that fitted their personalities—from rigid top­down authority to being part of a team.

    Next, the author chronicles the history of British naval aviation and aircraft carriers and the sailors' impressions of their aircraft. He explains why British aircraft were not as good as American planes. Training of pilots involved not only learning to fly, but also practicing take-offs from and landing onto a moving ship. Some operational experiences,  such as torpedoing Bismarck, attacking the Italian navy at Taranto, and surviving kamikaze attacks, are told by those involved. Life on board submarines, whether large or small, including the even smaller four-crew X-craft and chariots, and their exploits are described in Chapter 3 along with anti-submarine warfare. The latter subject area continues into the next chapter which describes convoy experiences,  whether they were in North Atlantic, to Malta, or into the Arctic. Particular mention is made of the disastrous ConvoyPQ-17.

    All of Chapter 5 is devoted to amphibious landings, from the learning experiences in 1940 at Dakar, to the small-scale raids by Combined Operations, including HMS Campbeltown’s intentional destruction at St. Nazaire in March 1942,, landings in North Africa in November 1942, on Sicily in July 1943, on mainland Italy in September 1943, at Normandy in June 1944, and even the raids along the coast of Burma during 1945. How landing craft landed at beaches and then extracted themselves after unloading is well described.

    To answer the question why choose the Navy, a veteran of the First World War trenches advised his son about the various branches of the armed forces: "Air Force: what goes up must come down; Army: you're cannon fodder; Navy: three-square meals and a dry bed until the ship goes down"

    In Chapter 6, the author relates sailors' lives at sea, as well as the experiences of sailors and Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) at shore establishments in terms of welfare, entertainment, rations, food, drink, love, romance, and sex. The author ends the chapter with a short section on the experiences of survivors of sinkings and of prisoners of war. The German name for prisoner of war camps for naval sailors was Marlags and for merchant mariner sailors was Milags.

    Chapter 7 concludes the book with descriptions of the  demobilization process and sailors' personal reflections on their wartime service.

    What is most attractive about the book is the author's comprehensive appreciation of what it was to be a sailor in wartime. Plenty of books describe naval actions, usually in terms of ships doing this or that, possibly featuring the captain or, sometime, a heroic act. Goulty tells the story from the perspective of the ordinary sailor or officer who was there. There is a comprehensive, six-page Timeline covering events from the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty to VJ Day which serves as a useful reference source for future reading.

    The book is full of direct quotations from written material, but also from transcripts of oral recordings. The latter can be somewhat disjointed and could have been lightly edited. Thoughtfully, Goulty makes good use of explanations to define what is meant by words or phrases.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2022
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxii + 244 pages
    • Photographs, timeline, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781399000710

    Reviewed by: Helen Jamieson, University of Alabama

  • May 05, 2024 5:01 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    Shipwrecks in 100 Objects

    By Simon Wills

    A concise book of one hundred  chapters, each one to two pages long, including pictures and/or images referencing each event. This book covers shipwrecks from across several hundred years and some of the objects and people associated with them, from the Mary Rose in 1545 to the much more recent Herald of Free Enterprise in 1994 and the Marchioness on the River Thames in 1989.

    Also included are chapters on how safety was improved over time due to ships being badly equipped and crews and staff inadequately trained. It explains how life preservers were invented and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution was formed to help those in peril on the sea. There are also chapters about sea serpents, pirate ships, U-boats and people surviving for incredible lengths of time in lifeboats or clinging to pieces of floating wreckage.

    Naturally, all the big stories are included, such as TitanicLusitania, and London. But the book also covers smaller shipwrecks that devastated small fishing villages. It does also incorporate the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa flow. There are also chapters on some of the famous people who were involved in some of these events.

    The author has kept each chapter short and has laid each chapter out like a newspaper article but still manages to pack in large amounts of information about each shipwreck, the reason it happened, what if any conclusions were reached at any inquiries, the death toll if known, and the survivors if there were any.

    All in all, a very enjoyable book to read, not weighed down with too much information on each subject but enough to pique the reader’s interest and keep them reading.

    It is revelatory to learn how safety equipment was invented and brought into use, how the lifesaving services were started and developed., and just how common shipwrecks were back in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, almost always accompanied by an incredible loss of life that sometimes can only be guessed at because records were not always well kept at that time. The memorials to lives lost and also to those who risked or indeed gave their lives to help others are also interesting.

    Highly recommended if you are interested in anything nautical, especially shipwrecks of any kind.

    • Barnsley: Frontline Books 2022
    • 7” x 10”, hardcover, 221 pages
    • Illustrations, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781528792211

    Reviewed by: Margaret Evans, University of Southern Carolina

  • May 05, 2024 4:52 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

    Hitler's Navy: The Kriegsmarine in World War II

    By Gordon Williamson

    Broad in scope and rich in detail, Hitler’s Navy is a comprehensive overview of the ships, organization, and sailors of the Kriegsmarine. As befits Osprey’s core competency in producing monographs of famous ships and classes, the work is lavishly illustrated and full of technical detail. For those seeking focused accounts of famous campaigns or battles, such as the River Plate, Denmark Strait or the Norwegian Campaign, this is not the work. These engagements have been the focus of many previous works, and the author chooses to give them a minimalist summary in his first chapter. But Hitler’s Navy makes up for the lack of fighting narrative in its ambitious breadth.

    Not only does Williamson cover the usual suspects—BismarckTirpitz, the pocket battleships, and the U-boats—he gives a full accounting of the lesser-known but often harder-fought light vessels. Significant coverage is given to the light and coastal forces: S-boats, minesweepers and minelayers, torpedoboote, sperrbrechers, and human torpedoes, as well as to the auxiliary cruisers, raiders, and their global network of replenishment ships. His coverage of the U-boat arm—the navy-within-the-navy which came to dominate the Kriegsmarine as the larger ships were checked by Allied sea power—is a brisk but comprehensive look at the progression from small coastal types to the seagoing boats of the Battle of the Atlantic, and finally to the highly advanced elektroboote of the war’s waning days. Regardless of size or category, each ship type and class is shown in evolving fashion to reflect the changes in warfare from 1939 to 1945 as radar and anti-aircraft capability become increasingly vital.

    Hitler’s Navy also takes time to paint a picture of service in the Kriegsmarine for the average officer and rating. Training, schools, technical specialty groupings, rank, pay, and uniform are touched on. It is in this section, however, that Williamson treads on dangerous ground. His frank admiration for the Kriegsmarine shows through clearly. It is both true and important to understand that the Kriegsmarine was the most traditional and least Nazi-fied of the various branches of service, it might have been better fir the author to temper his admiration somewhat.

    Unfortunately, Williamson’s sweeping scope is also compromised by slipshod editing. One gets the feeling that there were many more pages of material provided than fit within its pages, leaving it to editors to determine best fit. There are several incorrect or reversed illustrations and captions throughout the book which add a bit of momentary confusion until the reader sorts them out.

    More surprisingly, there are a few technical inconsistencies, which are not in keeping with Osprey’s typical attention to detail. These factual differences serve more to highlight a compromised editing process rather than any lack of knowledge on the author’s part. These niggling issues prevent a very good reference from becoming a great work, but the book is nevertheless both solid and worthwhile for any avid naval historian who wants a single solid source for a review of the Kriegsmarine from its origins in the interwar years to the wreckage that marked its end.

    • Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2022
    • 7-3/4” x 9-3/4”, hardcover, 256 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, tables, index. $40.00
    • ISBN: 97814728247928

    Reviewed by: Jeremy Costlow, Little Rock, Arkansas

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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.


Listing Type



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