BOOK REVIEW; ‘The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow’

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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

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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.

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BOOK REVIEW; ‘The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War

Author: Steve R. Dunn

Total Number of Printed Pages: 304

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

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In A Note on the Structure and Intent of this Book, the author states that ‘First and foremost it is the intention …to tell a story; a true story of sacrifice and quotidian bravery. The method is to use individual incidents which build to a whole hopefully greater than the sum of the parts…It is not a day-to-day history but a story compounded of many parts. Neither is it a biography, although [Admiral, Sir] Lewis Bayly…provides a linking theme and his character and role are important to the telling of the narrative’. It is an accurate summation.

Within the volume, a List of Plates placed after the two-page Contents section contains the captions and sources of the images placed within a dedicated Images section placed at the book’s centre. An untitled page containing three Quotes relative to the narrative then appears. It is followed by the previously-mentioned A Note on the Structure and Intent of this Book section. The volume’s Preface then summarises the volume. A Prologue follows. Within it a fictional (although probably fact-based) narrative is used to set the scene for what is to come. The main part of the volume follows. It consists of 25 Chapters, divided into three sections (defined as Parts). These cover three specific time periods and periods of action (1914-April 1917; 1917-1918; 1919-2017). Within each Part individual Chapters cover specific time periods, and, where relevant, subheadings are used to provide additional information relevant to the larger narrative. Six Appendices have been placed behind Chapter 25 (Envoi), and these are in turn followed by a section titled Author’s Note; effectively the book’s Acknowledgments section. Within each Chapter, additional information is provided through the use of Endnotes. Numbered numerically and chapter-specific; their citations being placed in a designated Notes section placed after the Author’s Note. A Bibliography placed after the Notes section lists the sources used in the book’s preparation. It is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. As previously-noted, end-note-type Citations provide additional information within each Chapter, However, where ‘additional’ additional information is required, the author uses Asterisks (sometimes one, frequently two, occasionally three) to provide this, these additional entries being placed at the bottom of the page as quasi-footnotes. As previously-noted the volume contains a multi-page Images section placed between pages 128 and 129. The images are monochrome and contain a mix of, ships (both Naval and Merchant Marine), personnel, structures, documents and events relevant to the narrative.  The volume contains a single map (titled Queenstown and the Western Approaches) although its existence is not noted on either the Contents page or within the Index.

Although it is undoubtedly well-written and researched, for this reviewer, the volume was badly let down by its Index. Random searching during the review process found numerous instances where items noted in the text did not appear in the Index. These omissions seemed especially prevalent with geographical locations; Fort Westmoreland (Page 22) and Bantry Bay (Page 238), being but two examples where this occurs. Curiously, Whiddy Island, while appearing in the same sentence as Bantry Bay, merits an Index entry; the former does not. The reasons for this are not known. In light of the above, the authority of the Index must inevitably suffer. Unsourced quotes appear through-out the volume (that of Sir Halford John Mackinder on page 15 being one such example). Regrettably, the absence of supporting citations severely reduces their research value. Despite the use of numerous military acronyms and terms within the volume, there is no explanatory Glossary; What (for example) is ‘Tinned dope’ (page 156)? A layman-reader cannot be expected to know. Although discussed in a Chapter of their own (No. 20 War from the Air), the volume contains no images of the relevant aircraft.

As previously-noted this book is well-written and researched, and may well become a standard reference work on its subject. The ‘difficulties’ noted-above notwithstanding, it is likely to be of considerable use to military historians. American and British naval historians with a specific interest in activities off the Irish coast during World War I will probably find it especially informative. Layman readers interested in submarines (specifically U-boats), warships or British, American and German naval operations during World War I may also find this volume worthy of their attention. Irish Historians, and readers seeking a different perspective on ‘The Troubles’, may also find it enlightening. The photographs of ships within the Images section may also be of use to warship modellers.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War’