The World of the Battleship (1880-1992) Bruce Taylor ed.

The World of the Battleship (1880-1992) Bruce Taylor ed.

Rating
4.5
Twenty one chapters, each by different authors, provide us with stepping stones in the story of the armoured warship across the world, from the Chinese Chen Yuen which entered service in 1885 to the USS Missouri which was finally decommissioned in 1992. 'Battleships' are here a broad church which spreads from armoured cruisers via coast defence ships to battlecruisers and finally to the ultimate in battleships, the Mighty Mo. The selection is biased towards ships that have an interesting story to tell, and this makes for a truly interesting book.

For the ships selected, we see how national prestige, and indeed identity, is intertwined with ownership, in peacetime via flagshowing. Each case study flows from the political and strategic gestation of the requirement, to design and construction (with fine detail on tonnage, guns, armour etc.), and then the ship's operational chronology. Also explored is the social (and sometimes racial) situation on board and how the shipborne community reflected, or didn't, contemporary society ashore. Here there is a thread of a disapproving '2018' view of the sailors' messing arrangements which is a touch otiose. There are some fascinating stories - multi-racial manning, mutiny, grounding, sinking, explosions, battles, and some examples of great bravery - relating to ships about which a lot of people outside the owning countries don't know very much. Along the time axis from chapter to chapter we see the progress of technology in terms of boilers, engines, armour and armament, and how different situations required a different mix of weaponry, protection, speed and range. Marshalling it together so coherently as to tell a joined-up story is a remarkable feat of editing.

As to individual monographs, all by national authors except that on the Japanese Nagato, it is not clear whether the various authors (a felicitous selection) wrote in English or have been translated and by whom. Not all the authors are sailors and in some cases that shows. In the editor's own piece, on HMS Hood, he occasionally perpetrates the odd infelicity of terminology, but there is one real howler where he ascribes to the RAF the 1941 reconnaissance mission that found that the Bismarck had sailed. It was in fact flown, in appalling weather conditions, by the Royal Navy. The author of the Scharnhorst piece extols her crew's discipline and courage; such a pity these qualities were expended in such an evil cause; he does not recognise this.

Each entry is lavishly (and often, very interestingly) illustrated and backed by its own section of sources and bibliography. The overall production standard is excellent but I have one gripe - there are no maps and managing the book alongside an even larger Times atlas was a bit of a handful. However I do recognise that commissioning maybe a couple of dozen maps would have driven up the price. Will it fit your bookcase? Dimensions are 10 1/2 " x 9 1/2".

Several entries document wars of which I previously knew little or nothing, in far away countries, which nevertheless affected attitudes in the world wars into which we were drawn. Some extend to a potted history of the nation's navy. I am now much better informed as a result. Overall, a fascinating journey, different navies, different nations, and different times.

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