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  • February 12, 2023 10:44 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    John Lenthall: The Life of a Naval Constructor

    Stephen Chapin Kinnaman

    There are innumerable books published on military subjects each year and only a small number of these relate to the navy. Studies of civilians who have had a role in naval matters is rarely the topic of any study. Stephen Kinnaman’s biography of John Lenthall is a long overdue examination of one of history’s most important naval constructors. This detailed and well-written biography places Lenthall in the context of his times and follows closely his life in incredible detail.

    Lenthall, who was born in Washington, DC in 1807, decided as a teen that he wanted to build ships. He began an apprenticeship at age fifteen in the Washington Navy Yard and less than a year later moved to Philadelphia. Here he worked with Samuel Humphreys, then thought as the country’s premier naval constructor. Lenthall drew his first plans at age sixteen and when Humphreys became the Navy’s chief constructor Lenthall followed him back to the capital. Here he performed various jobs around the Washington Navy Yard, importantly making calculations for Humphreys’ drawings.

    Lenthall, early in his life, exhibited ambition and a drive for knowledge that would serve him well and later make him unmatched in his profession. He traveled to Europe to study mathematics and engineering for several years. He toured dockyards to examine ships under construction and spent some fifteen months in France. The young man came back to the United States in 1834 and procured a job in the mould loft at Washington Navy Yard. In 1835, he received a promotion to master builder at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and then as naval constructor. During this time, as a supplementary source of income he also designed merchant ships, helping him to keep abreast of emerging technology.

    In November 1849, the United States Navy appointed Lenthall its chief constructor and four years later he became the chief of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair. This brought new challenges because now he oversaw the administration of an entire naval bureau, giving him new opportunities on a scale he never imagined. One of the first challenges was the building of the Merrimack-class frigates.In his position, he was at the forward edge of making steam propulsion viable in naval vessels. Lenthall was in the right place at the right time and was one of the most important men that worked to see the navy evolve from sail to steam. Despite his need to oversee all the administrative work to run the bureau, he remained active influencing the design of American warships.

    He importantly oversaw the construction of the many classes of warships built during the Civil War. The author discusses his relationship with John Ericsson, and how his strategic philosophy differed from that of Ericsson. Lenthall believed that the navy should have a seagoing fleet of warships and put it eloquently by writing “how much better it is to fight at the threshold rather than upon the hearthstone.” The author determined not to cover the Civil War ironclad building problems in detail because he deemed it sufficiently covered in other books, yet this was the most controversial of the department’s work and maybe he should have done more. The author importantly points out that during his tenure as the bureau chief, and despite the massive amounts of money spent on building warships during the Civil War, that there was no corruption in his administration. His office, however, did suffer one of the most embarrassing ship design calamities with the failed shallow draft monitors.

    In 1871, due to his age, the government forced Lenthall to retire. He participated on naval boards afterwards and one of his final tasks was the investigation into the rebuilt double-turreted monitors. Lenthall kept professionally engaged even though his health was wanning, remaining active, providing advice and answering engineering questions, until he died in 1882.

    The author, a historian and naval architect, uses a critical eye to examine, analyze and discuss Lenthall’s work and life. The author’s work is well-reasoned and researched and covers politics and technical issues skillfully and with a clear prose. He importantly used the many Lenthall collections available, some untapped by scholars. An additional bonus to this wonderful work is the color plates, plans, and the extremely beneficial appendices. This work should appeal to a wide audience—those interested in the Civil War, naval architecture and naval history. There was no biography of Lenthall for some one hundred and forty years after his death. This book is so important, and so well done, it is unlikely to be another one for this same length of time.

    • Wilmington, Delaware: Vernon Press, 2022
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxx + 555 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $119.00
    • ISBN: 9781648894183

    Reviewed by: Robert M. Browning Jr.

  • February 12, 2023 10:33 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Why the Titanic Was Doomed: A Disaster of Circumstance

    Bryan Jackson

    For anyone interested in the complete history leading up to the sinking of Titanic on its maiden crossing of the Atlantic in 1912, and the aftermath of related events, this book offers a riveting and scholarly presentation of all the facts involved. In many ways it reads like a blend of a nonfiction novel and a complete legal brief, clearly describing what surely must be every element that contributed to the eventual sinking on 15 April, 1912. I was quickly captured by the amount of historical information that the author presented in very readable fashion and was also pleased that an abbreviated but detailed chronological recap of all the events was included at the end of the book to help the reader digest the massive amount of information provided. 

    The author's extensive research has to be the definitive story of what went wrong and why. As a naval architect and marine engineer, I was especially interested in the design and construction issues that played a part in the story, reinforcing the need for those responsible for specifying such things to stand their ground with clients who might request changes that could spell disaster in unexpected ways. While Titanic was one of the largest and grandest ships of the day, basic engineering principles still applied and its structural integrity and safety at sea depended on it. While one must read the book to fully understand all the factors that contributed to the tragedy, the realization is that it could likely have been prevented in a number of ways. If there is any good news, significant revisions to other similar ships of the era were made as a result of this tragedy, along with mandated operational changes for those responsible for a ship's safety at sea.

    I can highly recommend this book for anyone with even a modest interest in the facts involved with the story. Books and movies have given all of us an idea of some of what may have happened on that fateful night, but the account in this book surely has to be the full story.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Books, 2022
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 160 pages
    • Photographs, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781399097161

    Reviewed by: Robert Johnson, Largo, Florida

  • February 12, 2023 10:28 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    The Black Joke: The True Story of One Ship's Battle Against the Slave Trade

    A.E. Rooks

    By the 1820s the transatlantic slave trade was largely outlawed. Great Britain and the United States were early adoptors of its abolition. France and Spain were still winking at it (largely to twit Britain). Brazil would not outlaw the trade until 1831. Regardless, transatlantic transportation of slaves illegally continued.

    The Black Joke: The True Story of One Ship's Battle Against the Slave Trade, by A.E. Rooks tells of a ship instrumental in closing down this illegal traffic. Never a formally-commissioned warship in the Royal Navy, it was the vessel of Britain’s West Africa Squadron most feared by slave traders.

    Rooks carries the story from Black Joke’s incorporation into the Royal Navy in 1827 through its disposal five years later. Its career was brief, but as Rooks shows, its impact was profound.

    Launched as Henriquetta in Baltimore for the slave trade, it was captured in 1827 by HMS Sybille with an illegal cargo of nearly 600 slaves. Renamed Black Joke and taken into Royal Navy service as a tender to Sybille, it was manned from Sybille’s crew and technically part of Sybille. It was armed with a single swivel gun, firing 18-pound shot, and had a crew of up to forty, including marines.

    Rooks describes what came next. Black Joke became the terror of the Slave Coast of Africa, capturing or participating in the capture of fourteen slavers and freeing over 5,700 slaves. It was the most successful anti-slavery vessel on the coast. It was so effective Black Joke was transferred to a different warship, HMS Dryad, when Sybille returned to Britain.

    Rooks picks through the legal complexities and cultural issues associated with Black Joke and fighting the slave trade. She explains how international law constrained fighting the slave trade. Britain was looking for ways to cut government spending during this period, which further affected efforts. Both were reasons why Black Joke remained a tender rather than an independent warship. It kept costs down and simplified legalities.

    Snarls that could have remained impenetrable to readers unfamiliar with the subject are untangled by Rooks and presented comprehensibly. Readers come away appreciating and understanding what happened and why. She also does an outstanding job with the book’s maritime aspects. She explains why Black Joke was an outstanding sailer and the intricacies of a sea chase.

    Rooks makes a few errors (Great Britain has not had a Royal Army since the English Civil War), but these are minor. More jarring is her use of modern jargon. This language will make this book seem dated and quaint a century from now. So too is her attempt to impose twenty-first century values on the eighteenth and nineteenth century. She seems incapable of understanding the altruist motives of abolitionism, which were rooted in Christian piety. It has no place in the utilitarian philosophy of academia in the current century.

    Regardless, The Black Joke is a classic study on the subject. It will almost certainly be to slave trade suppression what Theodore Roosevelt’s The Naval War of 1812 is to the War of 1812.

    • New York: Scribner, 2022
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, 400 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, bibliography. Index. $29.00
    • ISBN: 978-1982128265

    Reviewed by: Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • February 12, 2023 10:26 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Crisis at the Chesapeake: The Royal Navy and the Struggle for America 1775-1783

    Quintin Barry

    The Battle of the Chesapeake, known also as the Battle of the Virginia Capes, fought on September 5, 1781, was in effect the clash that determined the outcome of the American Revolutionary War. The naval battle was tactically indecisive in itself, with no ships taken or destroyed by either side (though one British 74-gun ship was scuttled and burned after the action). Admiral de Grasse's great achievement was to deny entry to Chesapeake Bay to the British fleet under the command of Admiral Graves, so denying supplies and reinforcements to Cornwallis's forces besieged at Yorktown. This strategic victory at sea ensured the British defenders' surrender to the combination before Yorktown of revolutionary forces under George Washington and French troops under the Comte de Rochambeau, "the world turned upside down." The naval battle's importance seems previously largely to have been overlooked in favor of the more striking British victories later on in the war, such as the Battle of the Saintes (la Bataille de la Dominique) the next year which, however, occurred too late to save the loss to Britain of its American colonies.

    This is now addressed in no uncertain terms by Quintin Barry's well-written and fascinating study. As well as covering the background, causes and run-up to the battle itself, he delves deeply into the characters and histories of the commanders involved, from the various admirals to the politicians. The battle itself is then comprehensively covered, with particular attention to the confusion of signaled orders given by Graves and the contrary interpretations of them by his subordinate admirals, Sir Samuel Hood and Francis Drake. The aftermath is well covered, and events up to the end of the war.

    Copiously illustrated as it is with maps and contemporary images, Quintin Barry's work on this strategically influential action will find a worthy place on the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in the naval history of the eighteenth century.

    • Warwick, England: Helion & Company, 2021
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, softcover, 260 pages.
    • Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $37.50
    • ISBN: 9781913336530

    Reviewed by: Roger Marsh, Killaloe. Ireland

  • February 12, 2023 10:23 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Surviving the Arctic Convoys: The Wartime Memoir of Leading Seaman Charlie Erswell

    Edited by John R. McKay

    The theaters of are numerous and unique, with many being notorious for both their environments and the events that occurred. One area of interest that often escapes the public eye is that of the Arctic convoys, a chapter of World War II that is fraught with peril consisting of air raids, U-boat attacks, perilous living conditions, and much more grief.

    John R McKay makes a dedicated and thorough contribution to WWII research by bringing to light this part of the war through discussion of the stories of Charlie Erswell, who predominately served in this part of the war. Aside from needed narrative exposition, McKay focuses on Charlie Erswell’s accounts, consisting of his early life, entry into the Navy, and most notable are the tales of his service during the war. This book shows a great deal about the Artic theatre of this worldwide conflict through the point of view of one sailor, and in doing so shows how the Arctic Convoys are integral to many facets of the war and worthy of being included in discussion alongside other major sections of history from this war.

    In writing this thoughtful piece narrative of Charlie Erswell’s experiences, McKay creates a flowing yet comprehensive view of multiple chapters of WWII, portrayed with an obvious emphasis on the convoys and their battles whilst dealing with Arctic conditions. Starting off, aside from a brief glimpse into what was coming later in Erswell’s life, his early life and fascination with the sea and maritime ways of life were described. This leads the way for him to want to join the Royal Navy, which he does after the start of the war. Following training, he is soon put on HMS Milne wherein the large focus of this book takes place; the Kola runs. This entailed a convoy traveling to Russia to deliver a wide assortment of supplies, munitions, and other warfare materials. Due to the importance these convoys held to both sides of the war, many parts of these journeys were fraught with attacks from German U-boats, as well as aerial attacks from the Luftwaffe. McKay describes Erswell’s life during these convoys as a gun layer, protecting merchant vessels by fending off German attacks. Accounts following the Kola runs are given, both to provide a holistic narrative towards this sailor’s story as well as progressing how the war commenced with connotations surrounding the importance of these convoys.

    With the immense detail that is included, historians of World War II as well as the public would find great pleasure and insight from this work. Excellent writing techniques are employed, alternating between first person accounts and general exposition. The Arctic theater of the war is explicitly shown to be a contributor to Russia’s warfare resources, which in turn assisted in the overall Allied efforts. With the emphasis of importance given to the convoys alongside the utilization of Charlie Erswell’s accounts, this work adds an impactful addition of World War II writing due to its intense and in-depth description of a theatre of war this is so often left behind others.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2021
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xv + 181 pages
    • Photographs, maps. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781399013031

    Reviewed by: Dominic A. Fargnoli, East Carolina University

  • February 12, 2023 10:19 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Medieval Maritime Warfare

    Charles D. Stanton

    When contemplating the brutal and challenging nature of medieval warfare, few recall the significant naval actions which accompanied the medieval world’s military engagements. In Medieval Maritime Warfare, Charles Stanton chronicles the history of naval warfare, tactics, and ship construction during the Middle Ages. To best explain and contextualize the period’s maritime warfare, the author splits his narrative into two sections: southern and northern Europe. Natural forces and geography conspired to create two drastically different maritime environments, thereby two different maritime cultures on the Mediterranean and the northern seas. Through a detailed examination of historical records, recent scholarship, and the archaeological record when necessary, Stanton comprehensively documents the fitful history of maritime warfare in Medieval Europe.

    Stanton begins with the southern theater. Providing initial background with the Roman expedition to Africa, the author transitions into the almost perpetual Byzantine and Muslim fight for control over the Mediterranean, continues to the ascendancy of the Norman Kingdom in southern Italy, and concludes with the maritime rivalry of Genoa and Venice. In doing so, Stanton references many contemporary texts, often including lengthy quotations, in order to capture the context of the many battles, campaigns, and innovations, as well as how the medieval world reacted to them. The author’s robust knowledge of the Norman conquest of Italy is evident, as he describes their mastery of sea power during their dominance of the central Mediterranean. He also notes, rightly so, that their conquest of Sicily set the stage for later maritime powers to expand to the Middle East.

    In the book’s second part, Stanton delves into the differences in ship construction and design between the Mediterranean and northern Europe. As the author rightfully points out, archaeological studies of the Bremen cog and the Skudelev viking ships have illuminated much about how northern Europeans constructed naval vessels and conducted maritime warfare. Additionally, northern European naval strategy differed from their southern neighbors. Whereas the Mediterranean witnessed pitched galley engagements and quick amphibious assaults on coastal cities, the clinker-built northern vessels served almost exclusively as troop transports, with the exception of the viking Invasions. The only complaint regarding this section is its brevity, perhaps due to the lack of primary source material on events separate from English and French history.

    The most captivating portion of Stanton’s volume remains his explanation of maritime power during the Crusades. Even though the section is discussed within the Mediterranean portion of the book, the Holy Wars brought Europe’s northern realms to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, briefly intertwining the two European maritime cultures. Focusing on the Third Crusade, Stanton reveals the crucial role which the European fleet had during Richard the Lionheart’s campaign in the Levant. Not only did the fleet maintain supplies to the crusaders, but it played a pivotal role in neutralizing Saladin’s naval forces. Additionally, the author uses the context of the Crusades to explain the ascendancy of the Italian maritime states, Pisa, Genoa, and Venice.

    Charles Stanton’s Medieval Maritime Warfare chronicles naval warfare through an oft neglected period of maritime history. As such, recreating the narrative, especially when seeking to explain tactics and vessel construction, presents a significant challenge. Nevertheless, the author provides a thoroughly researched compendium which explains the rise and fall of contemporary maritime powers and the paradigm shifts which impacted ship design, naval tactics, and the maritime paradigm of the age. Additionally, the author’s inclusion of many archaeological studies of shipwrecks, particularly in Northern Europe, supplement the historical narrative nicely and direct the reader towards even further knowledge of the topic. Medieval Maritime Warfare is the perfect work for those eager to introduce themselves to maritime warfare during the Middle Ages.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2020
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, vii + 359 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781526782199

    Reviewed by: William Nassif, University of South Carolina

  • February 12, 2023 10:16 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    The Power and the Glory: Royal Navy Fleet Reviews from earliest times to 2005

    Steve R. Dunn

    Steve R. Dunn’s The Power and the Glory examines the history of British Royal Fleet Reviews from 1346 to 2005. Known for their pomp and ceremony, Royal Fleet Reviews displayed British Naval might and connected the monarch to the pride of the nation’s military. In times of dominance or decline, these reviews came to reflect the state of the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom.

    Dunn begins his work by explaining the concept of a fleet review and outlining the early roles of the fleet. The navy reflected the ability to project power against France, and many early fleet reviews preceded operations against England’s rival. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, British monarchs regularly used fleet reviews to celebrate themselves, honor and impress foreign monarchs, and to demonstrate the power of the Royal Navy before military operations and after victories.

    With the power of the Royal Navy at its zenith during the nineteenth century, fleet reviews became much more common and took on new roles during the reign of Queen Victoria. Reviews continued to be a stage for diplomacy with foreign rulers, using the impressive strength of the Royal Navy to attempt to keep balance in post-Napoleonic Europe and protect British interests in areas where European empires vied for control. Fleet reviews also showcased technologies advancements such as ironclads, new battleships, and submarines, further demonstrating British naval prowess. The vast expense of a navy as large as Great Britain’s made the pageantry of these events important to instill a love of the fleet in the minds of the taxpaying public.

    The two world wars placed a serious strain on extravagant expenditures such as fleet reviews and they declined in both number and scope. Acceptance of political realities in the post-war era led to a more defense-based Navy which even included other NATO vessels as part of a monarch-attended review. Reviews dwindled in number significantly over the last fifty years and there has not been one at all since 2005, mirroring the serious post-World War II decline of the Royal Navy.

    The book includes numerous in-depth descriptions of fleet reviews over several centuries, including their planning, purpose, execution, Royal thoughts and interactions, and descriptions of the ships involved. Dunn provides a great deal of context about British naval history between his details on each review, essentially telling an abbreviated history of the Royal Navy through fleet reviews. Dunn describes Royal Fleet Reviews as “a history of the Royal Navy and of the United Kingdom in miniature.” This keeps a solid narrative through numerous otherwise isolated events.

    In addition to the chronological chapters of the book, Dunn deftly explains concepts foreign to some readers such as the types of fleet reviews and the Royal Yacht. The high-quality images used (both paintings and pictures) bring the majesty of these events to life and allows for a better insight into the massive scope of a fleet review. The book is well cited and contains several appendices for detail-oriented readers. If this book has a weakness, it is that Dunn does not always examine the aftermath of a review compared to its desired effect. The qualities this book possess certainly outweigh this drawback however, and The Power and the Glory would be a worthy addition to the library of a professional historian or casual naval history enthusiast.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2021
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2021
    • 7” x 10”, hardcover, 320 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
    • ISBN: 9781526769022

    Reviewed by: Tony Peebler, Texas Christian University

  • February 12, 2023 10:11 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Coastal Defences of the British Empire in the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Eras

    Daniel MacCannell

    Daniel MacCannell’s latest book explores the coastal defenses of Britain through a lens of military and architectural history. MacCannell’s work primarily covers the timespan between the 1770s and 1815, through the American Revolution, and Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. MacCannell pushes to enlighten his readers on the importance of coastal defenses when defending an island nation. The strategies used in traditional land-based warfare do not properly address the challenges of assaulting a landmass by the way of the sea. MacCannell’s writing guides the reader through the dangers which existed for seaside towns during this period, such as privateer raids, or enemy naval and amphibious infantry attacks. By providing this backdrop, the microhistorical views of particular forts, and defensive emplacements gain relevance for the overall narrative of the book. MacCannell’s choice placement of imagery continues to further the quality of the work by providing a visual stimulus for the reader.

    MacCannell uses a series of full-color photographs, paintings, illustrations, and other visual aids to bring his architectural history to life for scholars. His use of photographs of the modern remains of Martello towers shown in contrast to historical paintings of events exemplifies the durability of these defensive emplacements. By showing the placement and usage of the towers which were destroyed, or demolished, the work helps to broaden the perspective for a historian researching the various forts and Martello towers.

    MacCannell’s writing shows a passion for military history. The fifth chapter of this book, “Power and Shot,” is wonderfully written, giving elements of command decisions, mixed in with the industrial standardization of weaponry during the period covered by this book. MacCannell’s writing could take even a novice historian and walk them through the evolution of the weaponry of this period to a sense of firm understanding of the how and why for various rifles. Cannons and even rockets. The Martello tower history is the pride of this book. MacCannell gives a walkthrough of how and why these towers were built in Britain and the Canadian colonies, and how they were used to defend against and deter French ships. After explaining the nature of these towers, MacCannell writes of how the towers were used to prevent further incursion to British territories worldwide. In the final chapter of the book, “Endgame,” MacCannell reiterates that the coastal defenses of this period were a combination of multiple tactics which had been tested, proven, and then improved during the relatively short window of history covered by his well-designed book.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2021
    • 7” x 10”, hardcover, 240 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, index. $50.00
    • ISBN: 9781526753458

    Reviewed by: Dominick Limle, University of West Florida

  • February 11, 2023 5:02 PM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Battle in the Baltic: The Royal Navy and the Fight to Save Estonia & Latvia 1918-20

    Steve R. Dunn

    On November 11th, 1918, World War I had drawn to a close. The armistice was signed at Le Francport between the Allies and Germany, thus ending the Great War. However, this was not the end of the war for some. In December of 1918, the Royal Navy was sent on a mission to the Baltic for another two years of fighting. This mission was to protect Baltic states’ independence from the Bolsheviks invaders trying to claim this territory, German proxies trying to keep a unified eastern German front, and the White Russian forces trying to rebuild the Russian empire. The continuous battles fought by the Royal Navy in the Baltics are hardly discussed when examining World War I naval history.

    Adding to his growing scholarship on the Royal Navy's involvement in World War I. Steve R. Dunn’s Battle in the Baltic: The Royal Navy and the Fight to Save Estonia & Latvia 1918-20 successfully brings this relatively unknown history to the forefront. What makes Dunn successful is the way he structures the book. Battle in the Baltic is broken down into three distinct parts.

    The first part of the book gives readers unfamiliar with the histories of the Baltic and the Russian involvement a quick yet heavily detailed history surrounding the region during the first world war. Dunn goes in-depth into the political, military, and social situations within the Baltic region before the involvement of the Royal Navy. This in-depth analysis gives the reader an understanding of the working parts of the region and wonderfully sets up the second part of the book with the deployment of the Royal Navy.

    Battle of the Baltic's second part covers the Royal Navy’s involvement from deployment to each failed and victorious battle. Besides covering the battles themselves, Dunn does an exceptional job weaving the political decisions that impacted the naval forces and the consequences these decisions had. Concluding with his third part, Dunn does an excellent job in this final part of examining each failure and successful battle for the Royal Navy and the future of the naval leadership. Finally, Dunn finishes the book by giving the reader insight into the Baltic states' celebrations and honors of the Royal Navy's involvement.

    How Dunn sets up his narrative for an enjoyable and educational read is his writing approach. Dunn organizes his narrative chronologically and does not stray from this style. Dunn's ability to use a chronological approach is due to his masterful usage of sources. Though he does use a majority of primary British sources, he does involve primary sources from the Baltic states and Russia, which gives him a broader perspective of scholarship instead of staying with the one-sided view of the British. For any researcher looking into his sources, Dunn's bibliography is neatly organized by category, giving future researchers an easy starting point.

    Battle in the Baltic is a welcomed addition to scholarship on the Royal Navy during World War I, and Dunn’s book uncovers some lesser-known history about the Royal Navy. This reviewer recommends this book to anyone interested in naval warfare during World War I and the Royal Navy. However, what sets Dunn apart is that this book is written to appeal to academics and those with just a general interest in maritime warfare. Plus, bringing a lesser-known naval history to light, Dunn masterfully pays homage to those that lost their lives.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2020
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 304 pages
    • Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $38.95
    • ISBN: 9781526742735

    Reviewed by: Daniel Engelgau, University of West Florida

  • February 11, 2023 4:58 PM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Battleship Commander: The Life of Vice-Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr.

    Paul Stillwell

    Willis Lee was the victor at the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where the battleship Washington sank the Japanese dreadnought Kirishima. He is best known for announcement of his arrival. Using his academy nickname in a plain-text broadcast to PT boats in the area he said: “Peter Tare [PT] this is Ching Lee. Chinese. Ching Lee, catchee? Stand clear, we are coming through.” Politically incorrect today, it was a coded reference his fellow naval officers understood, but the Japanese would not. The battleships had arrived.

    Battleship Commander: The Life of Vice Admiral Willis A Lee, by Paul Stillwell, is a new biography of Lee. It is the first serious biography of Lee, perhaps the best battleship commander and admiral the United States Navy ever had. The book, an outstanding treatment of Lee’s life, was worth the wait.

    Stillwell’s examination of Lee’s life is comprehensive, covering both his professional and personal life with great attention to detail. Stillwell takes the story from Lee’s bucolic Kentucky childhood through the Naval Academy and into his career as a naval officer. It ends with Lee’s death while commanding Task Force 69 at Casco Bay, Maine, researching kamikaze defenses.

    Lee is revealed as a man of many dimensions. A crack marksman, despite myopia, he won more shooting medals (including eight at the 1920 Olympics) than any other naval officer. He acted as a sniper during the 1914 Vera Cruz incident. Stillwell reveals Lee as a man with incredible attention to technical detail, serving as inspector of ordinance during his early career and the Fleet Training Division in Washington just before World War II. Lee was an equally outstanding ship’s captain during stints commanding the destroyer Lardner and light cruiser Concord.

    Stillwell also reveals the many surprising ways in which Lee helped position the United States Navy for victory in World War II. Pre-war, while in Washington D.C. Lee helped steer resources away from building additional Alaska-class cruisers, and towards building more aircraft carriers. More importantly, he championed increased antiaircraft defense, including championing adding the Sperry Gunsight, the 20-millimeter Oerlikon and 40-millimeter Bofors to Navy vessels.

    While commanding battleships in the Pacific, Lee was a strong radar advocate, helped pioneer the combat information center and was one of the first to see the potential of the proximity fuze. His efforts were instrumental in having it available for use against kamikazes.

    One of the strengths of this book is Stillwell’s ability to put the events of Lee’s life into a historical context. Stillwell explains what is going on during different periods of Lee’s Navy career and how and why they affected Lee and the decisions Lee made. He also intersperses the book with those with whom Lee impinged, famous for events unrelated to Lee. Among them are James Van Allen, Sergeant Shriver, and Herman Wouk.

    Battleship Commander is well-researched, and well-written. The descriptions of the battles Lee fought are fast-paced and exciting. It is a highly informative account of a man whose naval career has been long underappreciated.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2021
    • 6-3/4” x 9-3/4”, hardcover, xvii + 336 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $37.95
    • ISBN: 9781682475935

    Reviewed by: Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

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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