BARENTS SEA 1942: THE BATTLE FOR RUSSIA’S ARCTIC LIFELINE

December 2, 2022
Posted by: BRIAN TRIM

This slim book is a recent instalment in Opsrey’s long-running Campaign series; it follows the typical format. Neither author nor illustrator are newcomers to the style. Konstam has written 16 of the 384 books in the series. Tooby is similarly well-established in the genre; as well as rendering work for AirFix, his prints would be familiar from corridors in RAF Officers’ Messes.

The book itself follows a clear and sensible structure. A short introduction setting out the strategic context is followed by a two-page chronology that is useful but not essential to understand the narrative of events. The opposing forces are examined at several levels, ranging from their parent organisations, operational commanders, and so down to individual ships. Usefully, the tactical commanders’ plans are also examined, together with the planning factors that shaped them. This is all followed by a narrative of the battle, forming the bulk of the book, which closes with a short exposition of the aftermath. The overall style is quite good. The narrative is readable and well-supported by the right maps in the right places. The book is sprinkled with pictures that bring life to the text.

All that said, there are a couple of points worth noting. The first and most irritating, is that all references to ships’ guns use the original calibre measures. So all German guns are described in centimetres, with British guns in inches. Perhaps this makes sense as a ‘house style’ for the series, maybe there is a persuasive reason that simply escapes me. In any case, lacking an instinctive sense of metric gun calibres, for me it disrupted the flow of the book to have to do a little mental gymnastics as each new ship was introduced. A simple table would support comparison and could lend value by comparing effective ranges. I seem to recall that even my PWO course (eight Dagger Ns and four hangers-on) cracked this problem way back when, so it was frustrating that Osprey did not.

Finally, it is important to recognise that at 96 pages, this is not intended to be a definitive analysis of naval warfare in the Barents Sea. It does not attempt to treat the entire Arctic Convoys experience. The book is tightly focused on the battle surrounding Convoy JW-51B. In many ways, this is a strength, enabling an in-depth consideration at the ‘high-tactical’ level. However, readers looking for a broader operational survey should look elsewhere. I note the book closes with a full page of recommendations for further reading.

Overall, I recommend the book. It would be useful to junior personnel preparing a presentation, up to about the level of ICSC. It would be interesting to the enthusiast with a particular interest in the ships, the tactical commanders or in Arctic Convoys more generally. I suggest it could also be a useful route towards wider research for someone new to the field. There is an e-book version available for about half the price of a hard copy, making it even more accessible.