Free to view

British Warship Losses in the Modern Era 1920-1982, David Hepper, Seaforth Publishing, £30, ISBN 978 1 3990 9766 6

17 Mar 23

This volume is an amazing encyclopaedic, catalogue of British warships lost between 1920 and 1982, by far the greatest number being all those lost in the Second World War. The huge catalogue of losses makes for rather sombre and chastened reading. With a few brief introductions at the beginning of each section the losses are covered in straight chronological order. It is absolutely staggering to see the vast scale of the many hundreds of individual ship disasters, and to try and imagine the tragedy of so many lives lost in the process, not to mention the enormous cost to the nation of all those lost ships. Fortunately, the number of British warship collisions and groundings and the vast number of British merchant ship losses over the period are not included. The many detailed cameos of individual ship losses make fascinating reading and reflect the prodigious amount of research and scholarship which David Hepper must have put into compiling such an exhaustive work, which will be a major source of reference for many years. In Section ‘3’, ‘Losses between 1945 and 1984’, he includes the Royal Australian Navy, which covers the tragic loss of HMAS Voyager on 10 February 1964. The book really concludes with the disastrous losses in the 1982 Falklands Conflict, which includes the Landing Ship Logistics, RFA Sir Galahad but not the MV Atlantic Conveyor.

Obviously, the greatest number of losses by far were the small vessels, the hundreds of minor amphibious vessels, the motor launches (some 200 MLs and HDMLs), motor gun boats and motor torpedo boats (over 160) and minesweepers. The losses of minor landing craft, carried by larger ships to their areas of operation, are so numerous that they are listed chronologically in a separate index of their own in Section ‘4’. David Hepper points out that they were regarded as ‘minor’ vessels and thus not listed in the Navy List. He adds that there is so little officially recorded information of their fate, being merely deleted from the lists with no explanation. The larger landing craft lost, well over 250, such as landing craft (tank)s, (LCTs) and the bigger landing ships are included in the main index, whilst the minor amphibious vessels lost have their own separate alphabetical index.

The main index is limited, being restricted to cover just the names of the ships lost and though it is alphabetical each entry, instead of giving page numbers, gives only the type and date of loss. However, one soon gets used to this method of looking up ships lost, though occasionally it does not quite work, for example HMS Hood is indexed as “battlecruiser, 24 May 1941” but there is no mentioned of HMS Hood (the biggest British warship loss) on the pages for that date.

Whether the book would have benefited from an epilogue or conclusions is perhaps debatable, though realistically the cold hard facts and the sheer ‘mind blowing’ numbers of losses in this catalogue of disaster at sea, speak for themselves. The volume is well illustrated, with a carefully chosen collection of 40 black and white photographs. Whilst not the only book published on this subject, it is nevertheless strongly recommended to historians, and researchers concerned with the history of the Royal Navy and the Second World War.