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


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