14 May 21
Posted by: Dr James Bosbotinis

Having a long-standing interest in the Russian Navy, the subject of this book immediately appealed to this reviewer. Architects of Continental Seapower seeks to describe and analyse “two iconic figures in twentieth century naval history”, the architects respectively of the Imperial German Navy up to the First World War and the Soviet Navy from the 1950s to its collapse, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz and Admiral Sergei Gorshkov. In fulfilling this aim, the author, Captain Stocker, goes beyond this and provides an important and timely analysis of two continental states’ approaches to the development of seapower, which has an enduring and contemporary relevance, highlighted by, as Stocker points to, the development of the Chinese and Indian navies. Captain Stocker will be well-known to members of The Naval Review, having written extensively on naval and wider defence subjects, including a chapter on British carrier airpower in Dreadnought to Daring.

Covering 227 pages, Architects of Continental Seapower provides a concise discussion of Admirals Tirpitz and Gorshkov, their legacies, and the wider implications for understanding the development by continental powers of large navies intended to challenge established maritime powers. The book is divided into four parts, encompassing ‘Careers’, ‘Writings’, ‘Fleets’ and ‘Consequences’, and 10 chapters, which provide brief biographies focusing on the careers of Tirpitz and Gorshkov, the navies they served, their written contributions, the consequences of the policies they advocated and enacted, and a concluding chapter on ‘The Continental Experience with Seapower’. Two appendices are included; Tirpitz’s Dienstschrift IX and the 1974 article by Gorshkov, ‘Navies in War and Peace’, originally translated and published in English in the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings.

Stocker provides a multi-faceted analysis, encompassing naval history, the evolution of maritime strategic thought, and wider international relations, which combine to provide a sophisticated, and highly detailed treatment of the subject. Stocker very ably provides both a historical analysis of the careers of Tirpitz and Gorshkov and the navies they played such a key role in shaping, plus a broader discussion of the development of seapower, especially by those states with less favourable geographical circumstances, and the implications of maritime strategy. In his concluding chapter, Stocker draws particular attention to China and India as “emergent continental/maritime” hybrids, and via concluding the analysis of Tirpitz and Gorshkov, provides a wider discussion of the generation of seapower, its connections to national policy and its influence on the balance of power. This is a particularly relevant subject, given the development of Chinese seapower and its consequences.

Architects of Continental Seapower is an excellent, well-written and thought-provoking book. Although an academic text, Stocker’s writing style ensures Architects of Continental Seapower is also accessible; there are only a few very minor typos, for example, the Yak-141 Freestyle is referred to as the Freehand. This book would be ‘Book of the Quarter’ but for its price, Routledge are publishing more titles in much more affordably priced paperback editions, and Architects of Seapower deserves to be similarly accessible. This book will be most valuable to all those with a professional or academic interest in seapower, maritime strategy, naval history, and will be relevant to those concerned with wider issues of the balance of power, great power relations, etc. Architects of Continental Seapower is highly recommended.