Book Review: ‘British Battlecruisers 1905-1920’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines)

Title:  British Battlecruisers 1905-1920

Author: John Roberts

Total Number of Pages: 128

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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Compromise can sometimes have unexpected consequences, with ‘theory’ not being supported by actual experience. So it proved with the ‘Battlecruiser-type’ warship. In theory a warship which was fast enough to overtake its opponents and (by being equipped with very heavy gun armament), be able to then destroy them, was an excellent idea. The reality was somewhat different, and as with many compromises, it was ultimately unsuccessful in its application.

This volume was originally published in 1997, and revised and reprinted in 2016. It covers the rise and fall of the battlecruiser-type warship within the Royal Navy.  Unlike many other works on such vessels, this book concentrates on the technical aspects of the type. Numerous Photographs, Tables, Drawings, Plans and Diagrams, contribute to the narrative. In addition, a set of Original Plans In Colour of HMS Invincible appear in the middle of the work. Looking suitably nostalgic by virtue of the colours employed, these include a fold-out section and are supplemented by an additional monochrome plan (that of HMS Queen Mary, 1913). This resides in a specially-designed pocket inside the back cover.

The volume consists of 16 un-numbered sections. A Preface to New Edition [sic] section is followed by one titled Abbreviations which is devoted to the abbreviations used throughout the work. An Introduction provides details of the World War I operational service of Royal Navy battlecruisers. Three other sections cover the history, development and construction of the battlecruiser-type vessel within the Royal Navy. Additional sections provide detailed analysis of the machinery, armament and armour that such vessels carried. A Summary of Service section details the naval service of most of the vessels referred-to within the volume, although HMS Hood is conspicuously absent.   A Sources section serves as a Bibliography. Within each chapter, sequentially-numbered endnote markers are used to provide additional source information. The relevant sources appear in a separate Notes section. An Index is provided. The existence of the previously-mentioned Photographs, Tables, Drawings and Diagrams is not mentioned within the Contents section, while the Index states only that ‘Page references in Italics denote photographs / diagrams’.

To this reviewer, this volume’s title implied a full history of the battlecruiser type of vessel. Such was not the case. He found instead a work that concentrated almost exclusively on the technical details of the type, and ignored all post-World War I service of its subjects.  He was especially surprised to find  no mention of HMS Hood  (the ultimate, and most famous British battlecruiser) in the volume’s Summary of Service section; this despite photographs and technical details of this vessel appearing within the work. As the loss of this ship forms a major part of Great Britain’s recent naval history, this is a major omission which reduces the volume’s authority.

This volume is likely to appeal to several groups. These could include those seeking technical information concerning Royal Navy battlecruisers per se’. Those interested in sea-going artillery and naval design and Historians with an interest in World War I or in naval, and military matters may find it worthy of inspection.   Warship modellers seeking details about specific vessels may also find it a useful source of information. Those seeking details of the post-World War I service of these vessels, and of HMS Hood in particular, are however, likely to be disappointed.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I give it a 6.


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Book Review: ‘British Battlecruisers 1905-1920’

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