BOOK REVIEW: ‘British Warship Recognition, The Perkins Identification Albums, Volume 1: Capital Ships 1895-1939’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: British Warship Recognition, The Perkins Identification Albums, Volume 1: Capital Ships 1895-1939

Author: Richard Perkins

Total No. of Pages: 178

Colour Pages: 162

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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Although not generally given to using superlatives when describing a book, in this instance I  made an exception, words such as ‘Remarkable’ and ‘Impressive’ coming to mind on first inspection.

The work is all the more remarkable because it was originally created as one man’s reference work for his personal use; to act as an aide memoir to his collection of naval photographs. It was never intended for public viewing. That it survived much relocation over the years before being donated to the National Maritime Museum is something for which those interested in naval history in general and the Royal Navy in particular, should be thankful.

To quote from the work’s Introduction, the volume’s author decided to ‘…Document faithfully the appearance and alterations made to…many hundreds of British warships…’. Accomplishing this required the taking of numerous images of Royal Navy vessels, which in turn led to the creation of a photographic collection of considerable size. Recognition Manuals were created to detail the alterations that each ship underwent. The scale and accuracy of the drawings within these led to the author being eventually recognised as an authority on the ships of the Royal Navy, the illustrations being both a national treasure and a research tool of immense value.

The volume’s Publisher’s Note states that ‘The aim of this published edition is to replicate as faithfully as possible the experience of consulting the beautiful original…albums. To this end, each page has been reproduced at full size having been photographed at the highest possible resolution’. In the original album, illustrations were drawn on paper rectangles which were glued to a larger page of newsprint. Time has caused both types of paper to turn yellow and when placed on this book’s larger white pages, the result adds to the overall charm of the volume, while implying the ‘history’ which lurks within.

For ease of use, the author has grouped the vessels within this work into a series of subsections (Battleships, Battlecruisers and Pre-Dreadnought Battleships). He then proceeds to deal with each family of warships appearing within that subsection, then with individual members of that family. It is at this point that this work’s value becomes apparent and its creator’s dedication to his craft very evident. A pen and ink image depicts each vessel in profile, with water-colour paints being used to give depth and shade. Clear and legible hand-written details of the vessel’s naval career appear below each image.  Although most vessels are represented by a single profile, others are portrayed through the use of two to four yearly blocks. Doing so required the creation of more hand-drawn images – all to the same high standard.  Smaller ‘scrap-type’ illustrations notate any differences between individual vessels within a class and any modifications undergone by the specific vessel. These can typically include alterations made to armament, masts, funnels and searchlights. The modifications are colour-coded. The effect is astonishing, and it is possible to follow the progress and ‘evolution’ of a ship from its service entry, through its various refits to its final withdrawal.

As would be expected, the volume contains a Table of Contents, an Index and three of the author’s photographs, together with an Introduction by the Curator of Historic Photographs at the National Maritime Museum.

As can be seen from the title, this volume ends in 1939, and as a result, those seeking details of modifications and alterations that occurred during WWII may be disappointed. What is presented is the ‘peacetime’, pre-WWII Royal Navy, with all the well-known vessels (HMS Hood, Renown, Nelson etc.) being illustrated. Despite this possible limitation, the volume should still appeal to a wide variety of readers; ship-modellers, those with interests in or connections to the Royal Navy and to students of naval warfare. For such readers this volume could prove to be a valued and much-used resource.

The work is unique and, by virtue of its accuracy, authority, and the sheer volume of detail, fills a very important gap in British naval history. It well-deserves inspection.

On a Rating Scale (where 1 is very poor, 10: excellent), I would give this book a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘British Warship Recognition, The Perkins Identification Albums, Volume 1: Capital Ships 1895-1939’

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