Reviewer: Michael Keith
Title: The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow
Author: Nicholas Jellicoe
Total Number of Pages: 351
Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9
The possibility that a defeated enemy may have a final ‘victory’ even after surrendering would seem, at first glance, to be a ludicrous one, yet what if it actually occurred? This is the premise that this volume is based on; that what was, on first sight, a major ‘defeat’ was in fact a ‘victory’; in that it removed a substantial part of the defeated nation’s military hardware from the grasp of its erstwhile enemies.
This book recounts both the prior-events and aftermath of the mass, carefully planned and very deliberate sinking (scuttling) of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow (Orkney, Scotland) on 21 June 1919. It is a very well-written, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable book about a supposed ‘defeat’ which (it could be reasonably-argued), was in fact a ‘Victory’.
The volume opens with an extended Contents section, the Contents page itself being immediately-followed by additional pages titled List of Illustrations, Abbreviations and Rank Equivalency. While the titles of the first two of these are self-explanatory, the third concerns the similarities and differences between the two volume’s main protagonists: The (British) Royal Navy and the (German) Imperial Fleet. A subheading titled A note on ships’ name spelling within the section, clarifies the spellings used in respect of German naval vessels mentioned within the book. The Rank Equivalency section is followed by the book’s Foreword, which is in turn followed by both its Acknowledgements and Introduction sections; the former thanking those who assisted the author in its preparation, the latter providing background to what is to follow within the 13 Chapters forming the main part of the volume. These take the reader from the origins of the Imperial German Navy, to the Twenty-first Century (specifically 2019), and while so-doing provide in-depth and highly-detailed narratives about the events that form the basis for this volume; the mass sinking of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet. Where necessary, Subsections within each Chapter provide additional information about specific aspects of the narrative. However (and in addition the latter), owever 9and (Hh within some Chapters, borders have been placed around certain blocks of text. These are item-specific and elaborate in detail on those items; The Salvage Men (pages 279-80), being but one example of this practice. Where relevant to the narrative, Tables have also been used to list both events and quantities. Chapter 13 (Scapa Flow in History and Today) is followed by a section that the Contents page states is titled Bibliography and Notes. However, according to its actual Title Page (on page 293), the section’s specific title should be Bibliography & SOURCES, yet even that is problematical, as unlike its compatriots on pages 297 and 299, on page 295 the page header merely carries the word Bibliography. Why this should be is unknown. A section titled Appendices follows. The section is 25 pages long, and contains 10 subsections. These are numbered sequentially and cover a range of subjects. These range from lists of vessels sunk (Appendices 1-2), to President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points (Appendix 5) to Von Trotha’s 9 May Letter to Reuter (Appendix 10). Whether the Appendices should have been lumped together within a single section or been treated as ‘Stand-alone’ items, could be debated. Within the volume, Endnotes are used to provide both information sources and, where necessary, additional details supra the main text. The associated citations are Volume rather than Chapter sequential, and appear within a designated Notes section placed after the Appendices. The Index follows; it is the volume’s final section. The book contains 36 informatively-captioned images. These cover a variety of subjects relevant to the narrative, are largely monochrome in format, and are placed in two separate sections. Curiously, two additional images appear on page 175, evidently placed there in support of the subsection relating to a specific vessel. Where known, the sources for these images accompanies the image caption. The volume contains numerous Quotes, and while many carry the necessary source citations, it was also noted that a large number were uncited. The reasons for this is unknown. The volume contains no Maps; a surprising omission.
This is undoubtedly an excellent book, but this reviewer found it to be let down by ‘the little things’; the small but important details. Chief offender in this area was the Index, with random searching finding surprising omissions. Amongst these (for example) was New Zealand (the country). While the Index certainly carried a reference to New Zealand and indicated that these appeared on pages 27 and 86, investigation found that the reference was to the warship HMS New Zealand and not the country. Similar entries and omissions were found for both Australia and Canada, while entries for Naval Division and RNAS (both on page 120) were similarly noted as being missing. Why there should be entries for the Four Power Treaty on pages 241 and 246 but not 132 is also unknown. With such evident omissions it cannot be known what else might be missing, and as a result the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably suspect. The lack of Maps was also unfortunate, while the ‘mislabelling’ of both the Bibliography & SOURCES section and a page header within it, did not engender confidence.
The ‘little things’ detailed above notwithstanding, this is an outstanding book of the sort that is difficult to put down. It is very well written and researched, is an easy read, and begs fair to become the Standard Reference Work on its subject. It is likely to have broad reader appeal and to be of interest to Naval and Military Historians and enthusiasts. Readers with an interest in World War I and the Royal Navy may also find it worthy of their attention, while warship modellers may find the images informative.
On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 9.