BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

98. SUBMARINES

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations

Author: Erminio Bagnasco

No. of Pages: 288

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ¾

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In what is effectively an introduction to what is to follow, the author states that ‘This book deals with thee submarines of the navies engaged in the Second World War and includes those boats or classes which had been laid down, but which never entered service, or which had not been completed until after hostilities had ceased’. As a summary it is clear and concise.

This volume was originally published in Italy in 1977, a detail which has a bearing on the way that it is laid out. It opens with a multi-columned Contents page, which is in turn followed by a multi-functional section titled Data Key / Abbreviations/ Bibliography. This clarifies the volume’s purpose and contains both a Glossary and a list of the abbreviations used throughout the book. Although what is described as a Bibliography also appears within this section, this is a somewhat-loose term to classify what a note accompanying it describes as a ‘…List of books [what] may be of value to the reader who wishes to pursue specific subjects further’ rather than a list of titles and sources used when writing the book. By way of explanation the same note states that ‘In the original Italian edition of this book the author did not furnish a bibliography’. A Preface follows. This elaborates on the statement made at the start of this review, with the author further stating that he has ‘…Endeavoured to furnish the reader with…enough material to compare the technical and operational histories of all the submarines that took part in the war’. It is an ambitious aim. The book’s Introduction is next. While primarily a highly-detailed history of both submarines and submarine warfare from the time the craft was invented, to the end of World War II, a sub-section within it details post World War 2 developments in both submarines and submerged warfare. The main part of the volume follows.  This is arranged alphabetically, and consists of eight named ‘Sections’ (somewhat analogous to ‘Chapters’) of varying size, each devoted to submarine users. Seven of the Sections are devoted to ‘major’ submarine users with the title of the final section (The Lesser Powers) being self-explanatory. According to the author each Section / Chapter’ is divided in turn subdivided into two sections. ‘The first treats of naval policy, preparations for undersea warfare, types of wartime operations undertaken and the characteristics’. The second section…gives a detailed description of the various classes of submarines…lists the names of the boats, description, principal technical characteristics, a brief history of their wartime careers and the fate of each member of the class’. It is an excellent precis. In most (but not all) instances, at least one photograph of the class under discussion is provided. Where appropriate, a profile drawing of the vessel may also (but not always) be provided; in some instances these being expanded to a three-view format. While these are not to a constant scale, the scale to which they are drawn appears alongside the individual drawing. Where there are significant differences between individual vessels within the class, smaller ‘thumbnail’ illustrations may also appear together with any modifications undergone by the specific vessel. Typically, these may include alterations made to armament, or structures. In addition to the previously-mentioned specifications etc., additional information is provided through the use of tables, technical diagrams, plans, graphs, charts and ‘detail’ photographs of equipment. The volume contains numerous unsourced photographs of individual submarines. Although all are captioned, the amount of information presented varies in quantity from image to image. Although submarines operated in a wide range of areas during World War II, no Maps are provided to indicate where these might have been.  An Index placed at the rear of the book is its last section. This lists all vessels mentioned within the volume.

For this reviewer this volume was let down by the very narrow focus of its Index. As previously-noted this section ostensibly lists all the vessels that appear within this book. In fact it doesn’t, and only lists the location of the vessel’s Class / Specifications entry, not the locations of relevant text or photographs outside that section. To use the French submarine Surcouf as but one example of this practice, that vessel’s Index entry indicates it appears on page 53; and, there is indeed an entry and technical specification for Surcouf on that page. That there are in fact other entries for that vessel on pages 42, 43, 54 and 55 is not however mentioned. As this was but one of several examples noted while reviewing this volume, this practice would seem to be widespread. In addition, the section contains no references to individuals, theatres of operation or geographical locations; ommissions which serve to limit its usefulness. Should a reader seek an individual submarine they will find at least a reference to it. However, should they wish to know why it was constructed, who commanded it, where it served or what it did, they will search the Index in vain. This is unfortunate, as it considerably reduces the volume’s usefulness and value as a research tool, removing it from the ‘Work of Standard Reference’ category as a result.

There is no doubt that this volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject, and, despite the ‘limitations’ listed above,  is, indeed, encyclopaedic in its coverage. On that basis it is likely to have wide appeal to readers interested in submarines, submarine warfare and general ‘things naval’. Military historians interested in submarine operations may find it of use, while warship modellers and war-gamers with an interest in submarines may find it to be a useful reference source.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ¾.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

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