warships great war eraA History in Ship Models

Written by David Hobbs
ISBN Number 978-1-84832-212-7
Seaforth Publishing 2014
128pp with photographs

Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated by naval ships. Living in what was then a rural part of Canada with limited bus service, it required a long walk or bike ride to get anywhere. My best friend and I would drive the rest of our social circle mad with our endless talk of relative tonnages and main armament sizes of various battleships and cruisers of a bygone era. As a fifteen year old, and about to embark on my first trip back to England since emigrating seven years before, the morning of the flight I bought a book detailing all the ships of the Royal Navy in the Second World War to keep me company on the long flight. Today my library contains several volumes of Conway’s “All The World’s Fighting Ships”, Conway’s “All The World’s Battleships”, edited by Ian Sutton, books by DK Brown and Norman Friedman and of course my airplane companion, Royal Naval Warships 1939-1945 by WDG Blundell purchased way back in 1973. Poring over the diagrams and photographs contained within these books has consumed a great many hours of my time over the years. They have been a source of detailed reference material, as well as great enjoyment for me.

Now David Hobbs, the author of the excellent “The British Pacific Fleet” also published by Seaforth in 2011, has provided a method of study of these ships from a different perspective. He has produced a book illustrating the evolution of the Royal Navy in the Great War era through the study of detailed models. As almost every ship from this time no longer exists, studying the models provides our only method of obtaining a three dimensional, not to mention coloured, view of the ships in question.

For someone interested in ships of this era, diagrams and photographs are still essential. After all most models will not show the inner workings of the ship. However, as an addition to our understanding, the study of the models broadens our perspective by adding detail, dimension, and colour.

Of course not all models are created equally. As such, one needs to be wary of accepting that every model is a true and accurate representation. However, the models chosen by the author were, in many cases, produced by the actual builders and so are exceptionally accurate as to how the ship looked at the time of its completion. Others are high end constructions produced by skilled modellers, often showing the ship as it appeared later in its career. Many are found in collections held by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, The Imperial War Museum in London or the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney. Some, however, are found in smaller collections such as a fabulous model of HMS Barham at the Scottish Maritime Museum at Irvine. As this is just down the road from where my in-laws reside, the reviewer will be visiting on his next trip to the UK.

The book is broken down by ship type and there are chapters on battleships, battlecruisers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and merchant men at war. There is also a very interesting chapter on other warship types such as aircraft carrying ships, anti-submarine escorts, minesweepers, various responses to the U-boat menace and coastal motor boats.

The author’s approach is to describe each of the models he has chosen and also provide information on the ship it represents. Each chapter has a section on the development of the class and there are a number of pages throughout the book that focus on various aspects of ship type such as battleship superstructure, features of a capital ship, capital ship development 1914-1918, features of a light cruiser, guns and gun mounting and features of a destroyer.

As a result we see battleships evolving from pre-dreadnoughts to dreadnoughts and then to super dreadnoughts. We also see examples of the evolution of the cruiser from First, Second and Third Class to armoured cruisers that were replaced by battlecruisers and scout cruisers that evolved into light cruisers. The development of the destroyer is also outlined. But we also learn interesting little facts such as, while the Queen Elizabeth Class was the first class to burn furnace fuel oil rather than coal, she and her sisters still had to carry 100 tons of coal to fire her galley ranges.

All in all this is a very good book and is recommended to the warship enthusiast as a worthy supplement to books relying on technical drawings and photographs.

Review by Paul McNicholls

 

shipyard at warWritten by Ian Johnson
Seaforth Publishing, 2014, Hardcover £30.00, 192pp, 179 ills in black and white, List of Sources, Appendices.
ISBN: 978-1-8483-2216-5

For lovers of warships this book is a 'must have'. It provides a detailed record of the work of John Brown's Clydebank shipyards during the Great War by using examples from an outstanding collection of black and white photographs of ships under construction, together with details of every ship constructed during the period. These are all brought together in a high quality publication that is a pleasure to read and view.

Ian Johnson's excellent introduction sets the scene by describing the setting up, probably uniquely, of a professional photographic unit at the shipyard which resulted in a fine record of high quality photographs. He describes the origins of the shipyard and covers the acquisition by John Brown & Co Ltd, a Sheffield based forge master, of the Clydeside business in 1899 as part of a diversification strategy. He describes the use of photographs to record the progress of construction and of the photographers employed by the yard. So important were this unit that, at the height of the depression in May 1932 and the consequent large scale lay-offs of workers, two photographers who were 'on the books' in April 1904 continued to be employed. In 1972, with the demise of the Shipyard, some 23,000 glass plate negatives and 20,000 celluloid negatives were saved for the nation and are currently held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Johnson explains the impact of the Munitions of War Act of July 1915 which lead to the designation of the shipyard as a Controlled Establishment enabling the Admiralty to prioritise work by switching contracts between shipyards to maximise the available resources. He also describes the scale of the construction work which occupied a site of some 80 acres divided into two Yards. Johnson also describes the makeup of the workforce which averaged 10,000 workers split 70:30 between shipyard and engine works, and how the peacetime system of hiring and firing used to maximise efficiency ceased to work as men left to join up and the labour market effectively ceased to exist. In order to cope a policy of 'dilution' was introduced which aimed to maximise the use of women labour, but by January 1918 out of a total of 5270 workers only 87 were women, a very small proportion compared with some other areas of industrial production.

The book goes on to illustrate the work of the shipyard chronologically. It covers the construction of capital ships, destroyers and, to a lesser extent, standard merchant ships. Some iconic names are evident in the list of ships constructed, including Barham, Repulse and Hood. In all some 47 ships were built in the shipyard during the Great War.

This publication is more than a photo album of ships and a shipyard but includes some interesting visual commentaries on the life of the shipyard together with some well researched background information. In considering the Great War the importance of industrial production cannot be understated, for it was such places as John Brown's shipyard where the war was won, for the success of the battle for efficient war production ensured British forces had the right tools to finish the job. As someone not particularly interested in maritime conflict, I was nonetheless captivated by the photographs and highly recommend this publication to those interested in knowing more about the battle beyond the battlefields.

Reviewed by Valerie Gray

 

From Millionaire's Cruise to a Battle for Survival

Fred Cofield, Edited by Rob Wood
ISBN Number 978-0-9574459-4-9
Salient Books 2014
215pp with photographs
By Paul McNicholls

Fred Cofield was born in 1892 in Sutton Coldfield. His childhood was difficult and, after his parents split up, he found himself living with an "uncle" who recommended he join the Royal Navy. This he did at the age of 16 and he remained in the navy until 1918.

Fred joined the Invincible Class Battlecruiser HMS Inflexible in November 1912 and embarked upon a lengthy deployment to the Mediterranean. This is the "Millionaire's Cruise" reference in the book's subtitle. Fred tells us about his travels to Greece for the funeral of the assassinated King George and later for the coronation of his successor King Constantine. Along the way we receive some commentary on the Balkan Wars and lower deck gossip (not always accurate) of world events. We hear of visits to Alexandria, Corfu and various other ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. Frequently we read Fred's comments, made in later life when reviewing his diaries, which usually say something along the lines of "and we got paid as well". He certainly comes across as enjoying this part of his life.

A large part of the book (pp 9-117) deals with this pre-war deployment. Fred's entries are quite brief and often deal with the mundane. For those interested in the musings of naval personnel of this era, Fred's observations are not as expansive as those found in "Scrimgeour's Small Scribbling Diary" or "The Enemy Fought Splendidly" for example. However these were written by officers, in the latter case a surgeon. Fred is a man of humble origins and limited formal education, though we find that, despite his spelling errors (which the editor has quite rightly left in), he has intelligence and ambition.

Fred's observations are those of the lower deck and, though they may be mundane, we learn things about the navy and about Fred himself. We are informed of the pride taken by the crew in the speed of Inflexible's frequent coalings. We hear of Fred's normal routine of dodging inspections and his exploits ashore with the ladies of Malta. He is circumspect in his descriptions, but he is young and readers can use their imaginations. We find out about bathing in the sea after charges have been fired to scare off sharks. Occasionally we are told of fatalities such as Boy Telegraphist Percy Stuart being killed by a coal hoist motor that "smashed everything out of him". Life in the navy could be dangerous even in peacetime.

With the outbreak of war the Inflexible was involved in the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau and was then dispatched to the South Atlantic, along with her sister HMS Invincible, to deal with Admiral Von Spee's Asiatic Squadron fresh from its victory at the Battle of Coronel. The resulting Battle of the Falkland Islands on December 8, 1914 is described by Fred in two entries. The first, and shorter one, is a contemporary description. The second, in greater detail, appears to have been written early the following year. One interesting aspect is the reception of news aboard the Inflexible that Invincible was claiming credit for the victory. This did not sit well with Fred and his shipmates and ultimately led to Admiral Sturdee addressing both crews.

Perhaps the most interesting wartime entry is Fred's description of the aftermath of Inflexible hitting a mine during the famous attempt to force the Dardanelles on March 18, 1915. I had not seen a first-hand account of this occurrence with this level of detail before and for naval buffs it makes compelling reading.

Fred would continue to serve aboard the Inflexible for the rest of the war and saw service at the Battle of Jutland. Whether due to restrictions of time or the order forbidding the keeping of a diary, other than a 2 ½ page description of the escorting the German High Seas Fleet to its surrender in November 1918, the diary ceases with the aftermath of the Dardanelles mine explosion.

A really nice addition to the book is Fred's autobiography, largely written in the early 1960's. One gets a sense that he is writing for the benefit of his family, perhaps to explain the decisions he made that kept him away from them for lengthy periods. Fred was clearly a man of intelligence and ambition and Britain in the 1920's could be a difficult place for anyone, let alone a man of humble origins with limited formal training and no connections. However, in 1928 he secured a position with the Sudan Government as a mechanical (electrical) engineer. This meant leaving his wife and three children, though they would make regular visits to the Sudan and he received three months leave each year that he spent with them in England. Fred's Sudan service allowed him to mingle in social circles that would have been off limits to him had he remained in England and this comes across as being of great importance to him. He comments with regret that the outbreak of the Second World War, and the consequent dispersal of a number of key individuals, denied him the opportunity to become a freemason.

Fred would remain in the Sudan throughout much of the Second World War, but retired in 1943 and returned to England. He was now in his early 50's, but his adventures were not at an end. Subsequently he found himself going through officer training and ultimately rising to the rank of captain in the RASC. His service would take him to Normandy, Brussels and Antwerp before he was demobbed in 1945.

Fred's post war reflections deal with concerns over the long-term status of his Sudan Government pension after the country's independence, along with a somewhat melancholy summing of his relationship with his wife Annie (Nance). Fred had a wide range of interests and he laments her "couldn't care less" attitude. However in a later addition to the diary written after Nance's passing, he comments on how much he misses her.

Frequently old diaries found tucked away in the family home can be of such mundane content that browsing a few pages is all that is required to derive the maximum benefit. I have to admit that, as I opened the first pages of this book, I wondered if that is what I would be confronted with. It was not. Overall the book made enjoyable and interesting reading and I was happy to overlook Fred's comment in his autobiography connecting Oliver Cromwell with the Bayeux Tapestry. I would recommend this book to those with a naval interest of the First World War, as well as life on the lower deck in the years immediately prior to it. Mostly though it was interesting to hear the tale of a man of humble origins who made good and led an interesting life.

Reviewed by Paul Lyndy

 

german fleetWritten by Admiral Reinhard Scheer (First published in English in 1920 as Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War)
Introduction by Marcus Faulkner and Andrew Lambert
Frontline Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword (30 April 2014)
Includes black and white period photos and illustrations
ISBN 978-1-84832-209-7
375 pages Price 25.00

Frontline Books is to be thanked for reissuing this important out of print account by the German commander in charge during most of the major battles the High Seas Fleet engaged in during World War I, including the famed Battle of Jutland. This account sheds useful light on the motivations behind the actions and methods employed by the High Seas Fleet before being ultimately interned after the war at Scapa Flow. Not only does the book provide an accurate documentary (from the German perspective) about the movements and actions of the German Navy during important engagements like Helgoland and Dogger Bank, it also gives us details about other little known German naval actions.

Even if it were to impart little else of historic value (and that is certainly not the case), this volume reveals the extent of the German military's (and this German high commander's in particular) anger at the way they believed their naval forces were unfairly dealt with by the British, and later the American navies. To the bitter end (and the end was indeed bitter) Scheer and those around and above him, never seemed able to fully grasp that naval warfare had evolved since the great battles of the 18th and 19th centuries, fought as they were then on the high seas between ships of the line!

Scheer never lessens in his outrage at the British Grand Fleet's refusal to fight him by sending out small forces to engage his warships a few at a time, so that his less formidable fleet could attempt to reduce their fleet to a size comparable to his own. He thought this plan would win the naval war for Germany, regardless of the successes of his submarine service, but his plan was repeatedly thwarted by the British tactic of using fleets of overwhelming force instead. Angered by this, he repeatedly implies that the British behaved in a cowardly manner and only avoided the German fleet out of fear they would be outgunned by Scheer's better-trained crews. However, his insistence that when British and German ships were of equal size and numbers his navy would always prevail, did not hold true on most occasions when the opposing sides actually met.

The British refusal to fight on his terms embittered Scheer, and doubtless contributed to his determination that his book about the German naval side of the conflict be published before most other accounts were written after the war ended. It was clearly a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation as a great naval commander despite Germany's humiliating loss.

Reading his account, one also feels his palpable disgust directed at the allies (and some cases the German High Command) as the naval war turned more and more against Germany. It clearly galled Scheer that his vaunted High Seas Fleet became more and more irrelevant, with only his submarine service hindering the British war effort at sea. Ominously Scheer's insistence of having been victimized by unfair tactics used by the allies echoes the all too familiar calls of a later generation of Germans for a future rematch-which we now know does occur 20 years later.

Of course no book by a German naval commander of Scheer's stature would be complete without reveling in the High Seas Fleet's great victory at Jutland (Skagerrak as the Germans called it). Despite having taken the brunt of damage and loss of tonnage in every other engagement with the Grand Fleet prior to Jutland, there is no question that, in strict terms of tonnage sunk and lives lost, the Germans somehow won the Battle of Jutland.

Although we now know there were many factors that allowed the Germans to emerge from Jutland perceived by many as the victors, ranging form weather, pure luck, and previously unknown defects in British battle cruiser designs, Scheer had a simpler take on the battle:

"Success was achieved due to the eagerness in attack, the efficient leadership through subordinates, and the admirable deeds of the crews full of an eminently warlike spirit"!

Jutland was truly the high water mark for the German Navy during the war so Scheer can be forgiven a bit of patriotic hyperbole. Unfortunately for Scheer, the German Naval effort seemed to go downhill after Jutland, a situation that led Germany to the desperate act of beginning unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917. This was the move that ultimately brought the US into the war.

Sensing the limitations of his fleet of surface ships to prevail against the larger British Fleet, ever since the Battle of Jutland, Scheer agitated to all who would listen, up to and including the Kaiser, for beginning unrestricted submarine warfare against British bound shipping, which he became convinced was the only way that Germany could win the war.

While this tactic proved to be the folly that sealed Germany's ultimate doom, he never admitted his advice was incorrect and his analysis of the events leading up to the historic decision to beginning unrestricted submarine warfare was fascinating reading.

There is a great deal more useful information in the book covering many aspects of the German Navy up to and including the mutinies of 1918 that virtually ended the involvement of the German Navy in the war effort. The chapter explaining how Zeppelins were under the control of the German Navy and the ways the Navy found to use them provided a lot of new information about the contributions airships made to the German Navy for this historian.

Although of necessity most of the focus of this book involves very useful backstories about The German Navy during the war, there is much in this volume to interest any historian of the Great War who wishes to learn more about German ambitions, methods, and motivations.

Reviewed by Richard A Orr
US WWI Historian
St Charles Mo USA

 

britannias daughtersWritten by Ursula Stuart Mason

ISBN 978 1 84884 678 4

Pen and Sword Military 2011 184 pages which include 12 pages of photos and a number of pages containing appendixes, bibliography and acknowledgements

When I received this book I will admit I was not looking forward to reading it. It is not a book I would have bought as I have never had any interest in the WRNS. How wrong I was - this is a great read. After only a few pages I was enthralled and had to keep reading.

It is a fabulous mix of fact and eye witness accounts. Ursula Stuart Mason has a great deal of knowledge on the subject and has written this book in such a way that even someone with no interest (like me) cannot help but want to know more.

From the early days in 1917 to the present era, through the Second World War and the enormous contribution the service made to this conflict, this is a story of committed, selfless and courageous individuals.

It is a good mix of the serious and the sometimes wild and hilarious way in which these women carried out their day to day duties and lives.

I am very glad I had the privilege to read this and would encourage others to do so. You will not regret it.

Reviewed by Janette Clarke

 

 

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