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Disputed Victory by Quintin Barry

Disputed Victory by Quintin Barry

'There's a buzz going round the haaarbour that the Yanks are going to sea ..'
RN words to Halls of Montezuma'

The focus of this book is the action in which the USN sank four Spanish cruisers off Santiago da Cuba on July 3rd 1898 during the brief Spanish American war of that year, which saw the US add Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to its burgeoning colonial empire, following, amongst other issues, a fake casus belli in which the Spanish were wrongly blamed for an internal explosion that sank the USS Maine in Havana harbour. The same period saw the annexation of Hawaii and the wrenching of Panama off Colombia; Texas, New Mexico and California had long been taken from Mexico by aggressive war; the US had also annexed Arizona and Midway and bought Alaska in the course of its Imperial expansion; all this in the train of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which unilaterally asserted US hegemony over its native hemisphere.

All the chief actors and influencers - the technocrat Sampson, Schley, Mahan, Dewey, Porter, Farragut are introduced via well-researched biography. We see how, appositely in point of time, Mahan's writing taught the US (and others) the use and purpose of sea power and how such as Theodore Roosevelt - no gung more ho than his - pushed this apocalypse along.

Author and publisher - this cannot have been easy - have sourced over forty photographs of involved people and ships. Quotations are carefully sourced in the notes and there is a useful bibliography. Perhaps too often, the predictive text mole comes to the surface leaving a typo behind him. Improved maps would have made it easier to follow, for instance, Dewey's annihilation of the Spanish in Manila Bay. An appendix tabulation of the major US and Spanish ships with their captains and armaments would have made it easier to follow events off Santiago.

The author is an English lawyer with no particular connection to the sea but is well placed to analyse the legal proceedings relating to the unedifying squabble between Commodore Schley, who fought the actual battle, and his superior, Admiral Sampson over the credit for the action, for both of whom the considerable fog of war had been aggravated by interference from Washington; and the kangaroo court that was convened to blacken Schley's name. In the run up to this Barry's forensic skills give us a very clearly analysed narrative of US-Spanish relations, the story of the Cuban rebellion and Spain's cruel attempts at its suppression including concentration camps where half of the 'concentrados' died, the capabilities of the two navies and how they came to be what they were - the US hampered by pork-barrel politics and political appointments of duds, the Spanish in worse case - long in bombast but short on means - and other political and strategic factors relating to the conflict. The sweep of the book allayed my initial fear that it would be a bit niche. Instead, I found it profoundly interesting and educational. It is a valuable contribution to the generality of the world's naval history.

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