This is one of the most remarkable books to come my way for a long time. It is the first of eight volumes of facsimiles of elegant water-coloured line drawings of British naval vessels from Victorian times to 1939. Each is annotated in manuscript and is often adumbrated with sketches of various detailed changes to appearance over successive refits. This first volume covers the core of the Fleet - battleships and battlecruisers – from 1895 and concludes in 1939 with HMSs Rodney and Nelson; the sequence is Dreadnought and later battleships, battlecruisers, and lastly a section on pre-dreadnoughts going back to ca.1895. The capital ship story of course would complete with the KGVs and Vanguard, but from 1939 casual photography of military subjects presented problems. Something over 90 ships are represented, in broadside elevation, mostly individually and usually with several successive representations, in approximately 160 pages of elegant drawings. There are, for instance, five depictions of HMS Hood. Masts are adapted, bridge structures are altered, funnel cowls, torpedo nets and their booms come and go – each change is meticulously noted. Note that with generally details of armament etc. are not included except where changes affect external appearance – you have to go to Jane's for that and for internal details such as propulsion. The focus and indeed the stated intent is to provide an aid to the recognition and dating of historic photographs of British warships, and indeed the originals have been used for just that in the NMM.
Little is known of the author as a person. After decades of remarkable research going back at least from the 1920s he gave his archive of drawings and thousands of photographic negatives to the NMM in 1967. The originals were carefully sorted and bound by the NMM and have now been photographed in high resolution for this published edition which contains two hundred pages of detailed illustrations.
Will it fit your bookcase? The book measures 16” x 12¼” and weighs 5 lbs on my bathroom scales. Cover price is £50 rrp is but Amazon are currently offering at ~£30 plus p&p (UK delivery usually quoted at £2.80).
Seaforth are to be congratulated for bringing to the public this extraordinary gem from the NMM's otherwise unseen treasure house, and for doing so in such an elegant style. This is more than a key work of reference, or even a key contribution to naval history - it's a work of art.