BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Wartime Standard Ships

Author: Nick Robins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 177

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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In wartime, the impossible tends to become commonplace, with previously-insurmountable obstacles suddenly being overcome. Such was the case with the merchant vessels of all shapes, sizes and varieties used by the combatants during both the First and Second World Wars. Large numbers of such craft were needed, quickly and at low cost. This is their story. As it was the Allies who had the greatest need for such ships (to carry all sorts of materials essential to the war effort), the main focus of this volume is inevitably on vessels produced to meet their need. Axis merchant-vessel production is not however ignored. Although primarily concerned with the ships themselves, the volume also provides the ‘…Political and military background’ that resulted in the creation of these vessels; something not previously attempted’. The result is a well-written, exhaustively researched and very readable volume about a hitherto-neglected area of maritime history.

A Preface opens the volume. It briefly summarises what follows, while also relating the reasons that this book was written. A Foreword elaborates on what has gone before, and is in turn followed by the 16 Chapters which form the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken in logical steps through the history and development of mass-produced wartime merchant vessels. As they epitomise the success of wartime shipbuilding (at least by the Allies) specific reference is made to the Liberty and Victory ships; arguably the best known of all the many types that were produced by any side. Chapters devoted to German and Japanese efforts to build similar cargo vessels are also included. The volume includes numerous clear, informatively-captioned and clearly-sourced monochrome photographs,. However, the Contents page carries no acknowledgment of their existence, while the Index states that ‘Page numbers in italic refer to illustrations’. Tables and half-tone illustrations also appear where necessary, but again, neither the Contents page nor the Index, acknowledge that they exist. Within some Chapters, clearly-delineated subsections contain reprinted articles that provide additional information relevant to that specific Chapter. A single-page References section is placed after Chapter 16. This acts a Bibliography and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Despite mentioning many shipbuilding locations, the volume provides no maps to show where these might be.

For this reviewer this volume was let down in two areas: article sources and the explanation of freely-used technical terms. Of these, the most important was the absence of source citations and, (specifically) page numbers, for the numerous articles that are quoted within the text.  Although when quoting an article, the author refers the reader to its source volume, when the latter is many pages in length, the futility of searching for a small paragraph within it becomes evident.  Provision of specific page numbers within the source volume would have been of considerable assistance. The absence of any Glossary of the nautical terms used within the volume was also surprising, the author evidently believing that he was writing to an already technically-familiar audience. Unfortunately, not all potential purchasers will be so-equipped. What, (for example), is a ‘Scantling’ (p.68) or ‘Deadweight’ (p.102)? In the absence of any definition and without recourse to a dictionary, a reader with no maritime knowledge can but guess, and, baffled by jargon, could well decline to purchase.

Although aimed primarily at those interested in wartime shipping, this book could well be of value to any merchant-shipping enthusiast. Modellers of ‘Emergency’ cargo ships could also find it of use. Finally (and despite the previously-mentioned ‘limitations’), for this reviewer it is in his (very rare), ‘Must have’ category.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.


 

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

Book Review: ‘Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945’

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Reviewer:  nzrownmines

Title: Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945

Author: John Fidler

Total Number of Printed Pages:  145

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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Although the large and heavily armed naval vessel known as a Battleship is now only seen in museums, and then only rarely, there was a time when they were symbol of national pride and a yard-stick by-which international importance was measured.  This volume tells their story.

The Battleship (and its associate, the Battlecruiser) was the end-result of an evolutionary process by which sail-powered warships had become progressively larger and larger. This occurred over several centuries, with such vessels reaching their zenith in the mighty ‘Ships of the Line’ which were built in the early years of the Nineteenth Century.  Sail-power might have ‘peaked’ with such vessels, but the advent of  metal hulls and reliable mechanical propulsion, ensured that naval development did not, and over time, the ‘big-gun’ naval vessels became ever larger.   This work chronicles this growth and is well-written and easy to read. Logically, it commences with the introduction of steam-power into naval vessels and concludes with the advent of the aircraft carrier – the battleship’s nemesis and, ultimately, its replacement. Between these two events, the development of metal hulls, mechanical propulsion machinery, guns of increasing size and political machinations are covered in impartial detail.  Unsurprisingly, and as it was the largest user of the type, there is a preponderance of information about the battleships and battlecruisers used by the Royal Navy. The end of World War II was also the end of the battleship as a viable military unit, and although the work nominally ends in 1945, a final chapter provides a postscript beyond that date. It outlines the fates of those vessels which managed to survive that conflict, and provides details those that ultimately made it into preservation.

The volume consists of 13 Chapters, with these being prefaced by an Introduction which gives a two-page precis of both the Royal Navy’s large warship history and of the battleship type in general. A Bibliography lists additional titles which a reader might find of interest, while an Index provides details of Admirals, ships, and events. The work is profusely illustrated, with images appearing on most pages, where they frequently illustrate the text on the same page. However, with few exceptions, the images are not sourced. There is also no reference to their existence on the Contents page, although the inside page of the volume’s dust-jacket does state that it is ‘Illustrated with over 100 images and an eight page colour section…’

The dust-jacket reference to ‘…An eight page colour section…’ concerns a group of images which can only be described as being ‘Magnificent’ and which depict various battleships of the Royal Navy in all their Imperial splendour. Those appearing opposite page 56 are especially impressive.  However, with no prior indication of their existence, this reviewer literally found them ‘by accident’, a situation which he finds unacceptable in a volume purporting to be a serious and authoritative history of its subject.

The matter of the un-notated images notwithstanding, this volume is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include those with a specific interest in ‘Battlewagons’ and very large heavily-armed warships, naval history; the various navies which used such vessels, and general military history. Warship modellers may also find the photographs a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 7.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

Book Review: ‘Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE KAISER’S BATTLEFLEET: GERMAN CAPITAL SHIPS 1871-1918’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Kaiser’s Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871-1918

Author: Aidan Dodson

Total No. of Pages: 256

Rating Scale (1: very poor; 10: excellent): 8½

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‘Comprehensive’ is a rarely-used word in the Twenty-first  Century, yet it effectively summarises this work; a ‘comprehensive’ examination and analysis of the Imperial German Navy’s battleship and battlecruiser fleet from their origins to their final destruction.

In 1914 (and on the eve of Wold War I), the Imperial German Navy was the second largest in the world, with its fleet of battleships and battlecruisers being of a standard comparable with that of the Royal Navy. This work chronicles the origins, rise and demise of this fleet, while providing details of the political, economic and geographic climate from which it grew and evolved. The range of information that the author provides is surpassing and all-encompassing, and I would recommend this volume to anyone interested in German naval history from 1871 to 1945. The book consists of two sections and three Appendices. The first section (The Rise and Fall of the Battlefleet) occupies the majority of the book. It details the geo-political background which contributed to the construction of the battlefleet, provides histories of both individual vessels and classes, and their deployment in naval service. The histories of battleship-type vessels that Germany sold or gave to other nations is also detailed, as are those that were taken as Prizes after both World Wars. The second section (Technical and Career Data) provides line illustrations of the vessels themselves, and includes drawings of the various unbuilt projects and design competitions which contributed to the evolution of the fleet. The Appendices cover armament, trial and German naval organisation.

The book contains many clear photographs which will provide a useful resource for any student of the era and of contemporary German naval practice. It also contains an informative Introduction, and a list of Abbreviations.  Notes on German practice in respect of the naming and classification of warships and a Table of Contents are included together with a comprehensive Index and a multi-page Bibliography.  Footnotes are provided where necessary. A Ship Timeline section inside the front cover (and repeated at the back of the book) covers the individual career of every vessel in graphic form.

Although for this reviewer the vast majority of the volume is excellent, the Footnotes provided a small distraction from an otherwise enjoyable read. In conformance with well-established practice, the Footnotes in this work appear in small font at the bottom of the column to which they refer. There is however no cross-column dividing line to separate them from the main text. The reader is thus continually led into the footnote area with a consequent disruption of the smooth flow of the narrative. A line separating the Footnotes from the main text would have been appreciated. A small detail certainly, and to many readers of little consequence. However, for this reviewer it made reading less enjoyable than it should otherwise have been.

In precis, this work is clear, concise and comprehensive and would be a valuable addition to the book collections of anyone interested in German and European history, the Imperial German Navy and large naval vessels. It is an invaluable resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor; 10: excellent, I would give it an 8½.

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nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing Contact nzcrownmines@gmail.com

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE KAISER’S BATTLEFLEET: GERMAN CAPITAL SHIPS 1871-1918’