BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942

Author: Andrew Boyd

Total Number of Printed Pages: 538

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9


When writing history, it is frequently a case of ‘First up, best dressed’, with the first narrative to be published becoming the established and accepted story.  Although subsequent research may find that the initial story is incorrect, ‘Public Perception’ may be such that even the most scholarly and well-presented work will ultimately fail to alter well-held beliefs. This Reviewer suspects that this volume, despite its scholarship and authoritative and excellent content, may ultimately fall into this category; that the original narrative will remain, the ‘General Public’ being unmoved by its revelations and caring little for what is presented.

This volume is primarily concerned with the events which lead to the sinking of both HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft on 10 December 1941. However, it also investigates and details British and Japanese naval activities in the Indian Ocean near Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Well-held British popular opinion has it that these events (especially the former), were both failures of naval ability and examples of military incompetence, a viewpoint reinforced by the writings of professional historians since 1945. The author of this publication would argue otherwise.

In his Introduction, The author states that: ‘The starting point for this book…is that the established view of Britain’s eastern naval strategy from the 1930’ is not satisfactory. It provides a one-dimensional account of the Royal Navy’s effort to counter a specific threat from Japan’. A statement in the volume’s ‘Conclusion reinforces this point. It states: ‘Three arguments lie in the heart of this book. Together they represent a fundamental reassessment of the part played by Britain’s eastern empire (defined as those British-held territories between the Suez Canal and Australia) in the Second World War and how we think about the overall contribution of the Royal Navy. Indeed, in some respects we need to view the whole first half of Britain’s war in a different way’. In the pages between these two statements the author carefully and clearly presents his case, using an impressive array of archival material while doing-so. Curiously, the actual details of the action in which HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were sunk is not covered in depth. Rather, that event provides the ‘platform’ upon-which this volume is supported.

A List of Tables and Maps is the first section to appear in this book. It is followed in turn by a List of Illustrations, which repeats the captions appearing under the 30 monochrome images that appear in a dedicated Plate Section within the volume. A Foreword by one ‘N A M Roger’ follows the List of Illustrations. However, while well-written, a lack of information concerning that individual’s qualifications and experience vis-a-vis this title makes their contribution largely meaningless. Certainly the name N A M Roger appears in the Acknowledgements section which follows the Foreword (together with a note that he / she is a ‘Professor’; although of what is not defined), but as this is apparently in a ‘mentor and ‘encourager’ role, the reader is unable to assess the depth of authority behind that individual’s contribution. It would have been helpful to know more. As already noted, an Acknowledgements section follows the Foreword. This thanks those who contributed to the completed volume. The Abbreviations section that follows in turn interprets the many abbreviations that the work contains, while an eight-page Introduction section then précis’ the books’ content.  The largest section of this volume is divided into four Parts. These cover the development of both British (and inter alia Royal Navy) policies and tactics in response to both a perceived and actual war against Japan. Each Part is divided into subsections, and these in turn are subdivided into smaller sections where more detail about specific items/ policies is required. A Conclusion summarises what has gone before. An Appendix (termed an Annex) and titled Warships Completed by Principle Naval Powers 1930-1942 presents that information in largely Table form. Within the volume, additional information is provided through use of endnotes. These are numeric is format and chapter specific. They appear sequentially within each chapter and their citations are collected within a dedicated Notes section placed after the Annex. The Notes section is in turn followed by a 26-page Bibliography. An Index completes the book. Ten Tables and four Maps appear within the volume.

This volume is not ‘light’ reading in the accepted sense of that phrase. It is a ‘Learned Treatise’ on a specific subject and as such is probably most suited to university-level research. Researchers interested in British foreign and naval polices concerning the Japanese and the  ‘British Far East’ may find it of interest, as might naval historians and those interested in British naval tactics in World War II.  University and Public libraries may well find it a useful reference item for their political science or military history sections. The small number of photographs the volume contains may also be of use to modellers, war-gamers or those interested in the Royal Navy, the Fleet Air Arm, the Imperial Japanese Navy or World War II.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942’

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