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H.M.S. London: From Fighting Sail to The Arctic Convoys & Tomorrow’s War

03 Mar 23

Originally published in 2003 in hardback, H.M.S. London: From Fighting Sail to the Arctic Convoys & Tomorrow’s War, now in paperback, has been revised and expanded to bring the story of the ships that have served the Royal Navy and borne the name London up to date. This is a story that reflects the wider history of the Royal Navy and Britain itself: beginning in the 1630s, although as the author discusses, ships bearing the name London, including a privateer, had provided service earlier in the 17th century, and one that will endure into the future as one of the Type 26 City-class frigates will bear the name London. The author, Iain Ballantyne, will be well-known to members of The Naval Review, both for his role as editor of the naval periodical Warships International Fleet Review, and as a longstanding naval history writer. Two of his previous books, The Deadly Trade: The Complete History of Submarine Warfare from Archimedes to the Present, and Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom, have been reviewed in The Naval Review.

Across 22 chapters, with an epilogue covering the Russian War against Ukraine, two appendices, a summary of sources, and bibliography, HMS London provides a history of those ships that have served in the Royal Navy under that name. This covers the wooden hulled, cannon-armed vessels of the 17th to 19th centuries, which saw action respectively in the English Civil War, the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the American War of Independence, and with Nelson at Copenhagen in 1803. Londons role in the Crimean War and on counter-slavery duties in the late 19th century are also discussed.

The substantive part of the book covers the pre-dreadnought battleship London in the First World War and the cruiser London in the interwar years and the Second World War. The latter includes notable actions such as the hunt for the Bismarck, pursuit of the Tirpitz, and duty in the Arctic Convoys, including the disastrous PQ17. Following the Second World War, the cruiser London was deployed to East Asia, and notably, participated in the Yangtze incident of 1949. The service of the County-class destroyer London and Type 22 frigate London are also covered, including the latter’s participation in Operation DESERT STORM, and August 1991 visit to Murmansk, of which the author was onboard as a journalist. The final chapter looks forward to the Type 26 and the potential strategic environment it will operate in. The two appendices cover respectively veterans’ insights provided to the author following the publication of the hardback in 2003, and the exploration of the 17th century London wreck lying off Southend-on-Sea.

HMS London provides a highly readable account of the history of the ships themselves and wider context within which they operated. The author writes in an engaging and accessible manner, whilst providing much depth. There are occasional typos, but they do not detract from the quality of the book. This is further enhanced with the various illustrations and photographs accompanying the text. HMS London will appeal to a wide variety of readers, including the interested enthusiast and the historian; this reviewer found the book to be a most enjoyable and interesting read. It is recommended.