BRITISH BATTLESHIPS 1890-1905: VICTORIA’S STEEL BATTLE FLEET AND THE ROAD TO DREADNOUGHT

Reviewed by: LT CDR D B COLLINS RCN

This pleasing 48-page volume is a well-constructed and very well illustrated summary of British battleship construction from 1890-1905 and surveys ships from the Royal Sovereign class to the King Edward VII class, all predecessors of HMS Dreadnought. They were all largely the work and vision of Sir William White, the Director of Naval Construction at the time.

The author, Angus Konstam, is a former short service naval officer who has over 100 books to his credit, including other warship surveys.  His forte is piracy but his general history is well founded and he writes fluently. The book is well enhanced by Paul Wright’s colour illustrations.

Konstam’s approach is to look at the design and development of the ships including advances in construction (iron to steel hulls for example), propulsion and armaments. He concludes his survey by a consideration of how the ships were fought during their service. Anyone looking at the late Victorian politics of ship construction will find little emphasis on that here but passing mention is made to the Naval Defence Act that launched the ‘two power standard’ establishing that the number of ships in the Royal Navy should equal the combined number of ships of the next two rivals.

Under Sir William White (who resigned from office after being publicly criticised for failures in the design of the royal yacht Victoria and Albert) each class of ship is discussed. Konstam shows how each successive class was an improvement on its predecessor through design change based on requirements for speed, armoured protection and fighting power. Each class is fully detailed by ship with specifications and ultimate disposal in easily followed charts. Side bar vignettes such the loss of Victoria after being rammed by Camperdown as well as the fate of the ships lost at the Dardanelles adds a personal element to the somewhat sterile detail of each ship’s profile. Each class of ship is well illustrated in colour.

Well produced for the price, with one proof-reading howler, this volume, in the tradition of a latter day Brassey’s Naval Annual, will provide non-specialist readers with as much as they care to know about the warship construction programme in the pre-dreadnought era. There is a useful index and bibliography. Recommended.