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 Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956

Author: Bill Clements

Total Number of Printed Pages: 199

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

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According to well-held popular opinion, the fall of the British possession of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 was largely the result of ‘The guns facing the wrong way; out to sea, when thy should have faced ‘inland’; towards the (then) British colony of Malaya (now Malaysia)’. But was this in fact the case?

In this well-written and exhaustively-researched volume, Bill Clements seeks to clarify the situation. His narrative consists of two parallel themes; ‘Political’ and ‘Military’; the former providing ‘the reasons why’, the latter, the military response.. The tale that results is one of conflicting orders, evolving and changing international policies, self-important experts, technological development and unnecessary expense. An inability to think beyond very fixed perceptions, also contributed to what eventuated.  The miracle is that despite all the foregoing, some of the heavy artillery on Singapore was in fact able to contribute to its defence. The unfortunate aspect is that these guns could have done so much more. The facts are presented objectively and in impressive detail. The post-World War II era is also covered. A subsection in the final chapter lists what remains of the fortifications in 2016 and would be a useful guide for any visitor wishing to view what little is left.

The main part of this work consists of 11 Chapters, and three Appendices.  Several chapters contain subsections which relate to specific topics within the larger chapter. End-notes are used throughout the book and these are listed in a separate Notes section at the back of the book.  A  Glossary, Bibliography and Index are also provided. Although Maps and Photographs appear throughout the volume, the Contents page carries no indication of their existence.

For this reviewer, this volume was something of a mixed bag. As already noted, it is well written and researched, the author’s enthusiasm for his subject being very evident. The facts are presented in an objective way and the technical details are both comprehensive and informative. There are however some serious omissions in respect of the volume’s format. Several chapters contain subsections intended to provide additional information not covered within the main body of that chapter. Their existence (and that of both maps and photographs) is not noted in the Contents section. As a result, should a specific subsection, map or photograph be required, frustrating and time-consuming searching has to be undertaken. As this Reviewer expects the Contents page of a work to accurately reflect what is within its pages, such omissions are unacceptable.

There can be no doubt that this work is authoritative, the quality of the information it contains being such that it may become the standard reference on the subject of Singapore’s defences between 1819 and 1956.  Purchasers seeking details about the ordnance used during this period will no doubt find it very useful. Military historians seeking a more generalist overview of the island and the battle which resulted in its surrender, are also find likely to find it helpful. Students of World War II, Japanese military history and the history of British South East Asia are also likely to find it informative.

In precis, this work is a well-researched and written history of both Singapore Island and the guns that were intended to defend it when it formed part of the British Empire. As such, it is of high historical value.  Unfortunately, the omission of important information from the Contents page, together with the existence of unrecorded maps and photographs within the work itself, serves to reduce the volume’s value. Were that it was not so.

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

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

BOOK REVIEW ‘The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956’